Welcome to the Chamber of Musical Curiosities, a podcast exploring the world in and around Musica Viva Australia.
Paul: Hello, I'm Paul Kildea. Welcome to the chamber of musical curiosities, A podcast exploring the world in and around Musica Viva Australia. I'm here today with the writer, broadcaster and commentator Jane Caro. Welcome, Jane.
Jane: Thank you very much for having me.
Paul: When kicking around names for this podcast, the thing that came most vividly to my mind was those wunderkammer rooms, popular in the 16th and 17th century, a room of cabinets full of exotic objects, antlers claws, stuffed birds up works plundered from many different lands, her skeleton playing the violin.
Jane: I reckon I’m a stuffed bird!
Paul: Haha, which I think is a pretty neat way of describing a chamber music concert, a chamber of marvel'. But you know, in a real sense, the same concept could be applied to your career. How do you chart it in retrospect the linear path of it?
Jane: Yeah, it doesn't really have a linear path. Well, I think if there's one thing that holds it all together, and that is my one and only talent, which is a knack with words and an ability to use them, I think, to connect with other people and that I've always considered to be my only real talent and I've honed it, I suppose, over time, as one does when you concentrate on one thing. But when I first started out, I left school in 1974. I did a straight English literature degree, no education or anything, and even in those days, that was really unusual and I had no idea what I was going to do. When I finished my degree, I still had the old fashioned view, which I still hold. That education, for its own sake, is a value I know very unpopular, but particularly under the philistine government we currently suffer under. But that was my view then. It is my view now, and I actually followed it through. It's turned out to be immensely useful, and are the only opportunities I got were to go into marketing, and so that's what I did. And that was really pure nepotism. That was my father was in marketing and well known. So our last name isn't Smith. Ah so people heard Caro and thought, I wonder if that is Andrew Caro's daughter, oh, he's got a big advertising budget, maybe she'd be worth hiring? It was shameless. Nothing to do with my talent, certainly nothing to do with my marks, which were pretty ordinary. I majored in having a bloody good time. So it started from there. It started because I took the opportunities that were in front of me. I didn't kind of plan anything. I was absolutely shit house at marketing. It involves being able to write up quite a great deal more than I ever realized it would and That wasn't useful to me, and I wasn't useful to them. But, well, I secured this route. I found my way mostly again to do with my father's position and reputation into the creative department of advertising agencies, and I found that there I was actually good. I had a way of thinking and a way of looking at things that worked for that. So that's when I started, and it was literally that was the opportunity. I took it. I searched until I found a bit of it that suited me better that was being created rather than administrative, and I still can't organize my way out of a paper bag and I started from there, and I really did enjoy it. I enjoyed it enormously, and I learned things in advertising that I'm still discovering. I learned, Do you know what I mean? Like you do things in a job and you don't necessarily know that you've learnt them from that job or that other people don't know them. You sort of often assume that the knowledge you have, everyone has. And then you find out. Actually, that's because of that.
And I worked in advertising on, and off I mean, I got fired when I was four months pregnant. We talk about the eighties. Feminism was not as powerful then as it is now, though I always identified as a feminist and out loud, proud, irritatingly, I'm sure, to the men who employed me, but stuff that. That's what feminism is. It's meant to irritate powerful men. It's it's job so I got fired When I was four months pregnant and wondered if I'd ever get back in, and I've done a thing on the side where I trained as a group leader and I worked with Relationships Australia and did a counseling course while I had a small baby and all that kind of thing and thought I might go into that area. But trying to practice with two small Children a husband who traveled all the time. I couldn't do it, so again, I thought I've wasted my time. But actually the things I learned as a telephone counselor first. Then there's a group leader and then eventually in counseling, even though I never practiced, have been so immensely useful. And particularly when it comes to interviewing people during the documentaries, I do that ability to listen to what's being said under the words and connect with your emotion that is being often obliquely communicated has been valuable beyond anything again. I didn't plan it. It was just something I was interested in.
Paul: I think I was going to ask you about that. Well, I mean, as a presumably as a slightly bookish child, if you're going to then go and take up on English literature is your degree. Were you more interested in the words, the beauty of language or the message?
Jane: It's the message, always the message. Always the story. I've had to accept that I'm not a poet, I'm a communicator and, yes, as a child I actually, I wasn't just a bit of a bookish child. I was an obsessively bookish child. I would constantly be reading, but I taught myself to skim read. I taught myself to speed read, really, But it was a form of skim reading, which was, and I still do it to this day. I don't read the a, is, the, you know those kinds of words. I don't read the sentence like *noises* I pluck the main words out.
I just do this unconsciously and fill the rest in. And I taught myself to do that as a child, so that was a form of impatience. I am, there is a part of my nature. I'm very energetic. I'm a very, you know, fast moving person, not physically actually quite slow when I walk. But in my approach to life, I want to do things quickly and get them done and do them now. And I think the downside of that energy is impatience. So sometimes I get impatient with poetry for its own sake.
Paul: I'm just wondering if being a bookish child is in the sixties and seventies is slightly a reflection of there being so little to do in Australia at that time on, I'm just wondering if music managed to creep its way into your life at the same time.
Jane: It didn't really until I was a teenager, and the reason for that is that my father is completely deaf in one ear, and so music is not something that he has ever. I mean, he likes music, but he's not all that interested in it. I think deafness has that effect for obvious reasons. So we didn't even have a record player at home until I was a teenager, really, And I don't remember hearing much music in my home. The radio was always turned to talk. We were an intellectual, verbal family. My parents read all the time, so music didn't play a huge part, until I mean, I was lucky enough to, my neighbor across the road was quite interested in music, and I could remember she had good popular taste.
So the song she played over and over, and this is my best friend's mother, who would have been, I suppose, in her late thirties, early forties at that time was sunny. She used to play that sunny oh so true. I love you. You know that kind of music? She would play all the time and I still have an absolute love of that kind of good sixties popular music. And then, of course, I went to a very musical school. Forest High was like a lot of public schools in Australia, very big on the brass band. I've never played an instrument. I went to Chatswood public in the OC Class, and we were all meant to play the flute. And I have always been contrary. And if you try to make me do something, I'm very unlikely to do it
Paul: Yes, because young girls were meant to play the flute.
Jane: Oh yeah we all had to, this little piccolo thing and I never learned to note just refused to. They let me in the band in the end, the flute band because I was the only kid in the class who wasn't in it. And the music master just said to me, You can dance it in a move. Your fingers just don't blow.
Paul: I’ve heard that story. I've heard that story with some people in choirs. It was very common in choirs where the music master would come and just tap the person and just say Just just mouth if you wouldn't mind but, I've never heard that with a flute player.
Jane: That was me. Well, I wasn't a flute player. That was the point. But it meant that my peers had a real interest in music. And, of course, I was a 12 13, 14 year old in the era of the most fantastic rock and roll you know, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles were just coming to an end. The richness of that particular era of music and the passion with which my friends particularly absorbed it affected me I spent my teenage years at Forest high going to rock concerts with my mates, And I saw the most extraordinary array of people I was at that Led Zeppelin concert in Sydney, which is now the focus of photographic exhibitions and things that was in, um, I think it was in 1972 and it was the only concert they played here, and I still remember the first concert I've ever been to in my life. Apart from the monkeys, which was hilarious when I was 11 and where we just screamed with the music, and I went to see people like Muddy Waters and John Mayall and Santana and Osibisa and Bryan Ferry and Jethro Tull, the most extraordinary array of bands at the Hordern Pavilion. And my schoolmates would organise it because they were so passionate about music, and I just go along, cause they were my friends. But of course I got exposed to it and came to love it.
Paul: We had a Livestream concert from San Francisco by the pianist Garrick Ohlsson, and he talked about the tour that he did earlier this year in Australia and how overwhelmed he was by the concentration and passion of the audiences and almost what you're describing there. Jane is that experience that you had on a very formative experience as part of an audience and the kind of the chemistry that comes and that reaction between the musicians on stage and those in the audience. What do you think of when you talk about that kind of chemical reaction?
Jane: I think it's always exciting to see any performance in the flesh, be it a Shakespeare play or a concert. There's something much more engaging and involving about being there, and I would always get up and dance. I do love to dance. Still, this embarrasses my Children enormously, But I still love to dance. I get a physical reaction to the music. I wanna move with it. I want to sing along with it. I want to participate in it. And I think one of the great things about rock music, in a way is that audiences don't have to be silent. You know, you could get up and dance at the Hordern in those days. You could run down the aisle to the front in front of the stage and all dance. It wasn't a mosh pit. It was a dance floor. You know, that's what you did. And you could sing along at the top of your voice because it's so loud no one would ever be able to hear. You weren't interrupting them. And so I'm Yeah, I think I like that ability to participate. I have, of course, been too many classical music concerts and very much enjoyed them. But I find what I love about that. I feel less of a participant there. Often, while I find I love about that is my mind drifts and goes into all sorts of places and imaginings and thoughts and ideas. While I'm listening to the music. It's somehow freeing to have your ears occupied with something lovely. It allows your mind. It's a bit of you're going to hate this because it sounds so prosaic. But I'm sorry I'm a bit prosaic by nature. It's a bit like doing a very good gym class or dance routine where your body is occupied. So your mind it's free or even doing the housework. I sometimes have my best ideas doing some housework because my mind is free to wander while my body or my ears are doing something else.
Paul: I don't find that too prosaic at all, not least of all because I do think sometimes music and at least I'm hearing music or participating as an audience member is a form of almost spiritually meditative practice. So I love where my mind goes, and in fact it's slightly different from the dance class and also being in a live rock concert pop concert because you are so still and you are so quiet and therefore all that you have in terms of escape is the chamber of the mind.
Jane: Yes, and I do find that, And it is a form of concentration, even though it feels like your mind's wandering. But it's. I don't mind that I think if my mind wants to wander to places that are inspired by the music I'm hearing, good. Who knows what I'll find there?
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Paul: I'd be really interested to hear a little bit about your experiences working with Gonski on. I mean, education seems to be such an important part of the way that you think and your conviction that it's at the core of a civilized and advanced society, and you've kind of put your money where your mouth is on this one. And so I'd love to hear about that experience.
Jane: Unfortunately, because I'm an absolute aficionado of public schools, I haven't put much money there, which has been a great boon for, my kids went to public schools, and have done fine all you people wasting hundreds of thousands of buying status and prestige. Stop it immediately. You don't need to do it. It's a con. I feel very strongly, I think, my passion about education comes out of my passion for social justice and my fundamental belief that every child in a civilized society should have as equal as possible an opportunity to develop their potential regardless of who their parents are. I do not like the idea of inherited anything.
Now it's unavoidable. I got my break because my father was somebody and therefore my name. It is inevitable. I understand that, but an education system, ought work to narrow that inevitability to actually narrow the gap between those who are members of the lucky sperm club like I was on those who are not. But we, uniquely in Australia, use our education system to drive. Those inequalities to widen and those gaps to ensure that the privileged stay privileged and the disadvantaged stay disadvantaged from childhood. And that, to me, is deeply offensive. And it was John Howard's education policy that really got me active because it was so blatant. The giving of extraordinary amounts of public money to schools that were exclusive by nature and privileged by nature just struck me as so profoundly anti democratic that I had to get active. And so I did. And I've been active in the space for at least 20 years now. And whilst we have not won in the way that we would like to, the Gonski reforms have been thoroughly warped and undermined. Unfortunately, first by Malcolm Turnbull's government and even more egregiously by Scott Morrison, who hands up gifts to private schools. For no, discernible reason and gives absolutely nothing to public schools, even during COVID and everything else, which is disgraceful. But what we have managed to do, and I am a very small part of this. There are an awful lot of people who are working in this space, is change the rhetoric.
When I first got active, the whole thing was sort of driver of education, bizarrely was claimed to be parental choice. You know, it's terribly important to give parents choice where we never actually gave parents choice. We gave some schools choice over which kids they would or would not educate. We didn't give parents any choice.We gave schools, some schools, public and private choice over which kids they would allow to come to them or not. And that's disgraceful. But we have changed that rhetoric. We don't hear parental choice, talked about much anymore. We do hear about needs based, and the fundamental thing about Gonski was that it was meant to be a needs based sector blind scheme. And then they decided to legislate that the federal government would give 80% off the SRS, to. Private schools and 20% of public in the states were supposed to, and then it became a sector based needs blind. Ponting's scheme yet again. So we're still fighting.
Paul: It's interesting that whole thing of shifting rhetoric because it is so immensely powerful and. I'm just wondering if tracing your history as a feminist thinker and activist, how the rhetoric has changed in that time and how much for the good and how much do you think that you've either stood still or or stepped back?
Jane: Well, I think feminism is dynamic and exciting and energetic and vigorous. I've never minded that feminists fight with each other, that they disagree with each other that they have very strong contrary views because that, to my mind, is the sign of a dynamic and vigorous and still, um, engaged movement. You know, feminism is not a cult, it's a revolutionary movement and therefore people have strong views about it. That's fine. And I do think that what's happening now is incredibly, both incredibly exciting and incredibly scary. And those two things are inevitably going to go together because we always knew that the more successful feminism was the more. We managed to make the argument that women are entitled to be taken seriously to develop their potential, to live the kind of life they choose to live rather than the one they are told to live.
The more successful we got making that argument and actually achieving those things the harder, some people would fight back, and that's called the backlash. And what we're seeing at the moment is post me, too. I think this terrible backlash, particularly on, and I'm quite blunt about saying this religiously driven. It is about patriarchal religion wanting to push women, LGBTQI people. Anyone they see is different. Not a white straight male really back under white, straight male control. That's what those religions were designed for, and that is what they are fighting very hard to maintain. I mean, if you think about what's happened recently, certainly in Australia and a lot of the West, equal marriage is now legal all over the you know, so many places around the world that you would never have thought so. Even Ireland, who beat us to it, which is incredible. Abortion was decriminalized finally in New South Wales last year. Now there are lots of pushes going on, and it's certainly legal in Victoria, and I think there's moves afoot to have it happen in W. A, which will happen soon, which is voluntary assisted dying. What that means is the church is losing control of birth, death and marriage. What the hell else did they have, so that I put to feminism.
I also put to feminism the growing awareness, horror and action about systemic child sex abuse in religious institutions, but across the board, really, and that when you give women more voice more power more agency, you inevitably give children more voice, more power, more agency, because generally, women are the caretakers of children when you diminish women and you diminish children and you silence than you make the world safer for those who would do them harm and riskier for those who are at risk and, that's why the speaking up is so powerful and why it’s, so confronting. The language doesn't bother me so much it can get a bit academic, a bit, not the kind of language I trade in. I try to be a straight clear speaker, but things concepts like Intersectionality very powerful and important to recognize the levels off discrimination that I mean, I'm a straight white woman from a privileged background. The discrimination I've experienced his minor in comparison to if someone is a person of color and indigenous woman, a woman with a disability, you know, a woman who comes from a very poor under privileged background, all those things. But I am experiencing another intersectionality now, the one that's not quite so recognized sometimes, and that is a judge, and the real weight of age discrimination, particularly against women in our society, is only just starting to be looked at now.
Paul: You wrote a book with just a wonderful title that I think speaks to a very large phenomenon, which is Accidental Feminists and it’s this idea just from that that women wouldn't identify as a feminist, but then find out in the course of their lives and their careers and and all the rest of it that, of course, that they have to be, you know, to stand up. But I still find it astonishing that you will have female political figures to say, Well, I don't identify as a feminist. Is that basically what was behind you writing that book?
Jane: No, I wanted to draw attention. The title came after the book really. I can't remember the previous titles, but no, what I wanted to do in that book was draw attention to the fate of my generation of women, and what made it happen was that I um, had a bit of an epiphany. One afternoon, hanging washing on the line as I do, and I suddenly thought, My God, my generation is revolutionary. We're the first generation of women ever in the history of the world, ever in the history of the world, who have mostly earned their own money for most of their lives. This has never happened before, but no one's noticed. We’re not talking about it we’re not saying, Look at this amazing generation and this change, you know? Wow. And I thought, But I am part of that generation I've noticed I’ll have to write about this. And I was feeling rather smug. I was thinking aren’t we clever, aren't we a fabulous generation? And then I heard that terrible statistic, which is that the fastest growing group amongst the homeless is women over 55. And I went Hang on. What? How can those two things both be true?
Paul: That doesn’t correlate all, yeah.
Jane: And so that's what sent me on the journey off investigating the fate of my generation. And what I found tragically was that it wasn't the bolshy, outspoken feminists like me, who did decide to go out and get careers. When we left school and university in the mid to late seventies and did all of that who were the ones who are ending up poor. It was the good girls. It was the girls I went to school with, who said, Oh, no, I just want to get married and settle down. They're the ones they've been left high and dry. They've been used and abused.
It's appalling. The stats are horrifying. 34% of single women. That's women who are never married, divorced or widowed. So it's a lot of women. By the time they're 60 34% of them live in poverty by the time they are pension age. By the time they are 67 above, that's 50% of them are living in poverty. And is there an outcry? Is there outrage? Do we have people in Parliament slamming tables saying we need to do something about it? Nuh. These are women now wants to fuck. Couldn't they just go off and die? If they can't do that? Well, live out of your car darl. Oh, who cares about you? It is outrageous. That's what makes women feminists. Let me tell you, the women politicians who say and it's usually politicians, some business leaders, a lot of the business leaders, I noticed stay very quiet until they leave the corporate scene and then they start saying, Oh yes, I believe in quotas Oh yes, I believe it. But you know, then they speak up and they do it because and I'm not going to condemn them for it. They do it for the same reason that women have always done things like that. They do it because to survive in the male dominated environments in which they find themselves, they have to.
Right wing women I find always very sad. I feel very sorry for them because a lot of them have what I call Nancy Reagan eyes, Nancy Reagan always had that look, could have been the plastic surgery. I don't know. But she always had that look. And that look is, am I doing okay. Am I doing okay? Is it all right? Am I approved of, am I thin enough? Am I sweet enough? Am I nice enough? Do the guys still like me? Is that okay? Is it okay? Is it OK? It's like a lifetime seeking of male approval, and that's exhausting. And the problem is, it's a zero sum game. You'll never get it. You'll never get it.
They keep withholding, withholding it and withholding it and withholding it because that's how they keep the power. And the sad thing is, they get a little bit. They get ahead, they get, you know, they get to be the tame girl who proves that feminists wrong. You know, bahbahbahbah until they get to a certain age or a certain stage. And then the guys go *clapclap* *rasberry* and the trouble for those poor women is they’ve alienated The only people who would have stood by them, which is other women on the men, were never really their friend. It's really Yeah, so I don't blame them. They're doing what they need to do to get what it is that they want. They are working within the system, which puts them in an impossible situation.
Paul: I think I know the answer to this. But do you find it helpful to have enemies, or do you go out of your way to cultivate enemies? Or do they just line up because you're saying things that are so confrontational to them?
Jane: I don't have any enemies myself. People may think I'm their enemy, but that's in their heads. This is not personal. I mean, I could get irritated and annoyed, and there are particular public figures who have said or done or routinely demonstrate attitudes that I find obnoxious and actually harmful. And certainly I may hate the idea of thumb, or I may hate the ideas that they propound. I try very hard not to hate any person. I could even find it in my heart as long as I'm not actually seeing or listening to his voice to have some pity for Donald Trump. Because I do see a tragically isolated, lonely, pathetic human being within that, he reminds me always of the Wizard of Oz. You know who had all those projections and big noises and machines, and the curtain blows up and reveals that he's just a little man on. And when he's not in front of me and he's not, I can and I'm not hearing that awful voice. I can find it in my heart to have some human empathy for the person he could have been and once for all sorts of reasons.
I don't believe that any baby is born evil or wicked. I don't believe in evil. I really don't. But I think we damage people along the way, and they can therefore then do terrible damage themselves. So I don't feel like I have any enemies. I know there are a lot of people who hate me, but I think they hate the idea of me. They don't know me. So it's not me they hate. It's some construct they've created. And that's how I managed not to let it worry me because I think well, you don't know me. So why does it matter what you think of me? I certainly have enemies that are ideas. Yes.
Paul: Yeah. You left England at a very young age. Do you have any pull at all to that as either a memory or a construct? In that way, that Tony Abbott seems to be so drawn back to a country of mystical power?
Jane: Yes. Interesting is that I think Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and I arrived more or less the same time. Quite kind of interesting. They’ve had much rockier roads, I think, than I have. Yeah, I am. In some ways I will culturally always be English in the same way. I think that great Australians, often culturally always Greek, on Italian Australians, always Italian and I'm sure Sudanese Australians as well, because it's in the marrow of my bones, which I was brought up with. I did English literature, university. I still find myself drawn much more to English culture than I am to American culture. I like English humor more. I like English literature, and I'm very interested in English history of it in historical novels about Queen Elizabeth the first. So I'm very engaged from that perspective. But I think I'm engaged in an England that doesn't exist anymore. That is probably the England of my parents childhood. So yes, I'm not drawn particularly to the England or the Great Britain of today. But yes, it's past, I find endlessly fascinating, and I think I have to accept that Englishness is part of who I am.
Paul: And that would be the distinction, actually, between you and Tony Abbott that you recognize that it's a mirage of England If you like. Where as he Still feels as though that place exists and wants to be, you know, part of it. It's a funny thing to watch.
Jane: Well, he's a man, and I think people don't understand that women are always outsiders. Men are insiders and the old Britain Of my parents childhood was very male centric, and Tony Abbott probably could have had a place there, but I couldn't and my mother didn't and my mother felt very strong. She loved Australia from the minute she landed here as a mother of 3 at 33. I suppose she was, young young mother because she grew up in Manchester in Lancashire and she has a Lancashire accent. And my father was Manchester, too, but posh, posh Manchester went to Manchester Grammar school and to Cambridge University. So he's got a non regional accent. And my mother said that the reason she loved Australia was that for the first time in her life, when she came here, nobody listened to her speak and judged her class and thought she was common. They just thought she was English and that was so liberating. To her. That made such a difference to how she felt about this place. And I think that had a huge effect, particularly on her daughters.
Paul: Jane. I feel grateful and privileged that you do have a role in Australian society. Please keep up the fight. It's been a delight talking to you today\.
Jane: Thank you very much and right back at you. Paul.