mw-s pic Martin Wesley-Smith

page 2: articles, letters etc

internal links: scheiner | jonsson | pollies | bugs | rumble ... | bottom
external links: mw-s works: | Quito | Boojum! | Cock Robin | Mrs H Remembers | X | Manners | discography

some East Timor links: APCET | ETAN US | ETAN Canada | cartoons

see also
Rob Wesley-Smith & Peter Wesley-Smith

Martin Wesley-Smith's home page; e-mail:

note: some of this is now (2002) out of date; it remains here for the historical record

go to bottom

From Gavin of Capetown, South Africa:

I am a sailor in the South African Navy. My parents live in the suburb of Constantia and one of my sisters, who is married to an Australian, lives in Paarl North.

My father and mother have recently been arrested for growing and selling marijuana and are currently dependent on my two unmarried sisters, who are prostitutes in Greenpoint.

I have two brothers: one is currently serving a non-parole life sentence in Polsmoor Prison, Capetown, for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in 1994; the other is currently being held in the Belville remand centre on charges of incest with his three children.

I have recently become engaged to marry a former Thai prostitute who lives in Seapoint and indeed is still a part-time "working girl" in a brothel. Her time there, however, is limited as she has recently been infected with an STD.

We intend to marry as soon as possible and are currently looking into the possibility of opening our own brothel with my fiancee utilizing her knowledge of the industry working as the manager.

I am hoping my two unmarried sisters would be interested in joining our team. Although I would prefer them not to prostitute themselves, it would at least get them off the streets and hopefully the heroin.

I love my fiancee and look forward to bringing her into the family and of course I want to be totally honest with her. My problem is this: should I tell her about my brother-in-law being an Australian?

letter by Charlie Scheiner (

May 3 1999

Hon. Kofi Annan
United Nations Secretary-General
UN Secretariat
New York, NY 10017
By fax to 212-963-2155

Dear Excellency,

We stand at a critical moment for the people of East Timor. In two days, the Indonesian and Portuguese Foreign Ministers will meet under your auspices to decide the security arrangements and the modalities for the August 8 ballot in East Timor.

For many years we have looked to the United Nations as the only legitimate and reliable body capable of settling this tragic issue in a way acceptable both to the long-suffering East Timorese people and to the international community. The United Nations is equipped with many resolutions which, properly implemented, guarantee a framework for the East Timorese people to determine their own future free from coercion and fear. We refer to Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 on the right to self-determination, Security Council resolutions 384 (1975) and 389 (1976) calling on Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor without delay, and the eight resolutions of the General Assembly on East Timor.

Since you became Secretary General, your office has taken many initiatives to implement these resolutions. We appreciate your efforts and those of your competent and committed staff over the past two years, and share your eagerness to solve this 23-year blot on humanity's conscience.

You began your press briefing on April 23, after the last round of tripartite talks, by saying that this was a good day, and that there are not many of those at the United Nations these days. There are no good days at all in East Timor these days. During the month of April alone, more than 100 East Timorese civilians were murdered by paramilitary militias the Indonesian government has proven unwilling or unable to control.

President Habibie is actively engaged in your East Timor peace process, and is committed to allowing East Timor to become independent if the territory's people reject Indonesia's autonomy proposal. Many of us believe he is sincerely looking for a face-saving exit to Indonesia's long, illegal occupation of East Timor, and would like to work with the United Nations to achieve that end. But his good will is undercut by the Indonesian military and its paramilitary proxies.

Notwithstanding President Habibie's announced policy, the same army that illegally invaded East Timor in 1975 and has brought so much grief and suffering to that territory is still there. Although Indonesia's civilian government has acknowledged its responsibility to enforce law in East Timor, its army and police have encouraged paramilitary violence. The armed forces provide the paramilitaries with weapons, money and training. Senior military and police officers have attended rallies where the speakers have incited mobs to murder and stood by doing nothing as the killing ensued. Increasingly, there are reports of the police and army directly participating in the activities of these death squads.

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom
At the April 23 tripartite talks, much was made of the April 21 Peace Pact brokered by General Wiranto. But the paramilitary violence persists, and Indonesia has made no significant efforts to control it. Murders continue daily, militia leaders exhort their coerced followers to assassinate pro-independence leaders and human rights workers with impunity, and tens of thousands of internal refugees live in fear for their lives. If the United Nations were to conduct a popular consultation in this atmosphere of terror, it would be a cruel hoax on the people of East Timor and a betrayal of the principles the United Nations stands for.

Many of the paramilitary leaders, who represent a small minority of the East Timorese population, have pledged to subvert the peace process and vowed to continue their terror campaign after August 8 if the voters reject autonomy. High Indonesian-appointed officials have declared their opposition to holding the consultation. Indonesia must act decisively to fulfill the commitments they are making to you and to the international community, both to ensure that the process proceeds and to create a climate conducive to peaceful campaigning and voting. August 8 is only three months away.

It is regrettable that representatives of the people of East Timor have been excluded from the development of the peace process, and will not participate in the negotiations and signing on May 5. Their non-participation places an extra responsibility on the United Nations, in accordance with the resolutions cited above, to ensure that their rights and interests are protected.

Available information gives us great concern about the agreements to be signed on Wednesday. The following elements are essential for a legitimate August 8 ballot. We have consulted with many East Timorese leaders and believe that these conditions also represent their wishes.

1. As soon as the 5 May accord is signed, the United Nations must assume responsibility for creating and preserving law and order in East Timor, and for protecting public safety. The Indonesian military has been there illegally for 23 years, and their occupation has taken more than 200,000 East Timorese lives. Even after President Habibie's change of policy, the Indonesian military and police have proven incapable of stopping paramilitary violence. It will be impossible for the United Nations to conduct a meaningful assessment of East Timorese public opinion if those forces - one party to the conflict, are controlling the situation on the ground. Furthermore, the United Nations should implement the voting process and not merely supervise an Indonesia-run ballot.

2. The so-called militias, created and armed by Indonesia's military, are criminal terrorists who openly and repeatedly violate Indonesian and common law. They must be disarmed and disbanded, and their leaders brought to justice. It is not sufficient for them simply to be ordered to 'lay down their arms.' The U.N. must take responsibility for enforcing the April 21 Peace Pact, since the Indonesian government has shown its unwillingness or inability to do so.

3. The principal military adversaries in the long-standing conflict are the Indonesian armed forces (ABRI) and the armed forces of the East Timorese resistance (FALINTIL) who have exercised their internationally-recognized right of self-defense. They must both agree to lay down their arms in preparation for the consultation, and ABRI's troop levels should be reduced below 1,000 (still far above the number of FALINTIL personnel). For a week before and after August 8, both ABRI and FALINTIL should be confined to specific places so that voters are not intimidated by either side. The United Nations must provide sufficient personnel, suitably equipped and with the necessary mandate, to ensure this.

4. Many Indonesian-appointed East Timor officials (including Governor Abilio Osorio Soares, Ambassador-at-large Francisco Lopes da Cruz, and military commander Col. Tono Suratman) publicly oppose their head of state's decision to engage in this peace process. Such officials, whatever their political views, should be required to perform their jobs, meeting Indonesia's commitments to the world community. Those who subvert the process (which is not the same as exercising their right to advocate that people vote for autonomy) should be removed from their posts.
top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom
5. Indonesia has proposed six countries to participate in the peace process: the United States, Australia, Germany, Japan, the Philippines and the United Kingdom. All of these, with the exception of the Philippines, have a long history of supplying weapons, training and/or money to support Indonesia's illegal occupation of East Timor. Latin America, Africa and the Non-Aligned countries are excluded entirely. We urge Portugal, Indonesia and the United Nations to include a broad range of nations. Among the many which would be well-suited are Brazil (the largest Latin American country, whose government has already offered to help), South Africa (president of the Non-Aligned Movement), Mozambique (with long experience in peacekeeping operations), New Zealand, Fiji, Norway, Ireland, Thailand and Canada.

6. If the East Timorese people reject autonomy on August 8, the United Nations should immediately establish a transitional government in East Timor. President Habibie has committed Indonesia to this process. The outcome of the consultation, in the context of international law and U.N. resolutions, must be followed through regardless of the results of the June Indonesian elections and the composition of the MPR.

We urge you to make it clear to the Indonesian government that these conditions are essential for the United Nations to conduct a meaningful consultation in East Timor. If they are not accepted on May 5, we urge you to go to Jakarta and meet with the President of Indonesia and use your high office and powers of persuasion to underscore their importance. If the May 5 talks fail to include these conditions, the resulting crisis will require you to bring the matter to the Security Council and demonstrate that these are elements without which the United Nations cannot proceed.

The Indonesian authorities must understand the absolute necessity of bringing their own forces into line with the policy announced by their head of state three months ago.

Over the last few months, the major consequence of the U.N. peace process in East Timor has been a marked escalation in violence. The world community has been shocked as machetes and guns have taken well over a hundred innocent lives. We know that you share our abhorrence of this blatant subversion of the process, and hope that you agree that action along the lines described above is the only way to rescue the process, the credibility of the United Nations, and the lives, rights and futures of the people of East Timor.

Since April 23, many key governments, including permanent members of the Security Council and most of those in the countries represented in IFET, have bly urged the Indonesian authorities to stop the paramilitary violence. They would welcome your decisive action.

Thank you for your attention and concern. We in the international NGO community have worked on East Timor for many years. We stand ready to assist the United Nations peace process in any ways you feel are appropriate and helpful, and assure you that our concern and actions will continue until a just and lasting peace is in place.


Charles Scheiner
United Nations Representative
International Federation for East Timor


top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom


If you are concerned about the situation in East Timor, please let Australian parliamentarians and others know. In particular, please stress the need to pressure Indonesia to allow East Timorese refugees in West Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia to return - if they wish - home.

E-mail addresses of some Australian federal politicians:

John Howard,
Prime Minister
Alexander Downer,
Foreign Minister
Kim Beazley,
Leader of the Opposition
D Adams Mr A Albanese Sen L Allison
Mr P Andren Mr N Andrew Mr K J Andrews
Mr A Bevis Sen N Bolkus Sen V Bourne
Mr M Brough Sen K Carr Sen B Cooney
Sen C Evans Sen J Faulkner Mr L Ferguson
Mrs C Gallus Mr A Griffin Mr G Hardgrave
Mr J Hockey Mr C Hollis Mr H Jenkins
Ms J Macklin Mr McClelland Sen D Margetts
Sen J McGauran Mr D Melham Mr F Mossfield
Sen K O'Brien Mr M Ronaldson Mr R Sawford
Sen N Sherry Sen N Stott-Despoja Mr L Tanner
Dr A Theophanus Sen J Woodley

top | mw-s bio | more links | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

letter by Gabriel Jonsson (Swedish East Timor Committee):

March 29 1999

Kofi Annan
United Nations

Dear Mr Kofi Annan

Xanana Gusmão today called for the United nations to send armed peacekeepers into East Timor to stop the atrocities against innocent women, children and men by the Indonesian army and its militias. The army and militias are being given enormous financial backing to torpedo the letter and the spirit of the agreement on East Timor's future reached at talks conducted under the auspices of your office and brokered by your Special Envoy.

Sir, you would know better than I that this is a major change in the position of Mr Gusmão, who had been hoping he could work out a peace agreement with all groups in East Timor without the need for outside intervention.

But he is there, he is in touch with everyone involved in East Timor, and he has found that there is an urgent need for action. Making his call today for urgent UN armed intervention, he said:
"It is the only way to stop an escalation of the violence and the killing of defenceless civilians. Unless the militias are immediately disarmed and dismantled, the peace process, reconciliation and diplomatic negotiations on the future of East Timor cannot be effective or long lasting."
Two of the things that have moved Mr Gusmão to make this urgent call are the revelation that the militias and the army have made a firm plan to assassinate all the pro-independence leaders and to smash the pro-independence groups in a concerted attack in the near future, and the information about the huge amounts of money being given to support and expand the militias in their vicious killing, and to support the anti-independence campaign.

Sir, please order urgent action. The militias must be disarmed and disbanded now, the Indonesian army must get out of East Timor, and a UN force must take control.

Please help.

Yours sincerely,

Gabriel Jonsson
Swedish East Timor Committee

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

Bugs in the System

An edited version of the keynote address
given by Martin Wesley-Smith at the 1998 conference
of the Australasian Computer Music Association, Canberra, July 10.

Whatever the virtues of economic rationalism, its principles are being applied across the board, even to areas - such as education - where they are clearly inappropriate. This is having a disastrous effect on the quality of the education offered by Australian universities.

While most publicly-funded institutions can be made leaner and more efficient without adversely affecting the quality of their work, lecturers and students at universities in this country are suffering from budget cuts so severe that in many cases the very nature of the educational experience is changing for the worse. This is particularly so in the study of music, especially in the composition and computer music areas. I base this claim on my own experience at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music as well as on anecdotal evidence from colleagues at universities across the country.

Computer music composers face great difficulties in their work. They have to be not just composers but, in effect, instrument builders, conductors, performers, recording engineers, roadies and acousticians. They have to keep up with rapidly-developing and expensive hardware and software, they are rarely commissioned to compose new pieces, and their work is rarely performed and/or broadcast. On top of this, those working in universities must cope with increasing work-loads, short-term contracts, and lack of funding appropriate to the job they are required to do. Yet the area of music technology is fundamentally important to young musicians being trained for the music industry of the future.

I've recently been setting up, and attempting to compose in, a modest computer music studio at my current home, which is in a rainforest near Sydney. Some new gear, some old, lots of software to learn - from, in some cases, poor manuals (one in German, with no English translation) - cables running everywhere (never the right length or with the right plugs, and one gnawed by an antechinus), software compatibility problems, a blown fuse, storage media stuffed into every nook and cranny, and bugs in my system - as my librettist, Peter Wesley-Smith, writes:

Bats in your belfry
A frog in your throat
Bees in your bonnet
A flea in your ear
Flies in your ointment
And ants in your pants

In case you missed 'em
There are bugs in your system

Several problems due to location - including a dodgy power supply, a painfully-slow internet connection, and a python I recently discovered curled up next to my fuse box - have contributed to the task being frustrating and difficult. And to a depleted bank balance. Many's the time I've thought of forsaking it all and going back to pencil and manuscript paper and writing for simple wooden flutes.

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

But who would perform it? It's not only computer music composers in this country who experience great difficulties: all composers face a lack of interest, even hostility, from most performing groups. While I think that composers haven't helped their own cause - at least until modernism started to collapse - the commitment to new Australian work by performers is and has been, with some notable exceptions, generally pathetic. We're told to "Buy Australian". How about "Play Australian" and "Sing Australian"? The benefits, which would be significant, would be partly economic, partly cultural.

The problem is partly that most performers, and concert and radio programmers, and record companies, are plain ignorant of what is being created. Besides, they want to play it safe. The notion of something exhilarating and rewarding but challenging frightens most concert managements; they'll program such pieces rarely, if at all, and usually only when pushed; they will, in their ignorance, often make poor repertoire choices; and they will usually present them poorly, with inadequate rehearsal time. Next time: "We would love to perform your work, but the last time we programmed a contemporary piece our audience hated it!" No wonder, especially since, in addition, there has been little or no development of the audience's interests in Australian music or in Australian composers. Performers and conductors have their photographs in concert series brochures; composers never.

Thirty years ago Australian theatre cultivated an interest in Australian drama and playwrights with the result that today Australian audiences are actually keen to see new Australian plays (albeit mostly conservative plays). Thirty years ago I was told by various groups that they would love to perform Australian music but that they had to build their box office first. Today box office has in many cases shrunk. I believe that if Australian music had received proper attention during the last thirty years then there would be a sense of excitement whenever a performance or broadcast was coming up of a new opera or symphony orchestra piece or chamber piece or, even, computer piece by a major Australian composer and that box office would have in most cases grown. As it is, Australian audiences for art-music are greying and dying. Without conscious attempts to engage young audiences in art-music that's not only powerful but relevant to them, the situation will only get worse.

The fundamental cause of all this is, I believe, the conservatism of our tertiary music education system. Most Music Departments and Conservatoriums concentrate on about two hundred years of European art-music, with only a passing glance, if that, at medieval and contemporary music (not to mention ethnic music, world music, and the myriad forms of popular music; all of these are worthy of serious study). Yet our society's relationship with music has changed radically over the last few decades. Our students are imbued with the belief that contemporary music is generally weird and impossible to play and to listen to. When they finish their formal education and get jobs as performers, teachers, broadcasters, and so on, they carry these conservative, even antagonistic, attitudes with them.

The arts community in general is finding it hard these days, with decreased funding and opportunities. Many other people, too - they are crying "Enough!", and are supporting Pauline Hanson. Although she's not likely to form a government in the near future, her policies - including cutting funding for "Aborigines and Artists" - will directly influence those of politicians in power (OK then, Ms Hanson, how about printing some money for a "Computer Music Composer's Bank" from which we can get loans at 2% interest?). Tough times ahead. Correction: even tougher times ahead. Look at the poor old ABC, which has suffered even more under this revengeful Federal Government than it did under the last few Labor governments. The ABC's Audio Arts department is, remarkably, still going, and doing a marvellous job under difficult conditions (as are many other areas of the ABC), but its budget and facilities are far too small to cater properly for the needs of such a culturally-diverse and potentially-vibrant society the size of Australia's.

Here's the question the Fellowship of Australian Composers has been asking the ABC for thirty years or more: why does it still use its old news theme, one written by a non-Australian? Thousands of dollars in royalties are sent off-shore annually instead of helping support an Australian composer. Try singing it with the following words (from my piece "Songs of Australia", 1988; lyric by Peter Wesley-Smith):

Closed down by Government decree
Poor old ABC
That was the News

In most universities these days there is inadequate funding for equipment, staff etc, and lecturers are having to work harder and harder, often at bureaucratic tasks we never had to do just a few years ago. This is in the name of "accountability" (the managers who control lecturers' lives, however, don't seem to be accountable - try finding out, as a tax-payer, the details of how your tax dollar is spent by university managements). Yet, at the end of the day, we still have to maintain that all-important research output. In many cases, I imagine, the quality of the research (and of compositions) is slipping, meaning that while we might in the short term meet our managers' requirements, in the long term we are letting down not only ourselves but society as well.

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

Most university managers (VCs, Pro-VCs, Principals etc) are academics, or ex-academics, who for various reasons saw a more rewarding career path in administration than in continuing to teach and do research in their academic discipline. It stands to reason that many of them will not be particularly good administrators - after all, most of them were never trained in this area, one in which there have been enormous advances in recent years. They are now required to manage huge but shrinking enterprises while implementing major Government-led changes to the entire tertiary sector. Many of them are out of their depth. They forget that they themselves were once at the all-important front line of teaching and research, they seem to forget to stand up in public and shout loudly against government policies and funding cuts that will effectively destroy quality education in this country, and they make decisions based on short-term expediency. Three examples:

1 Most academic jobs these days are short-term contracts (typically for three years with an option for two more). This means that academics - especially those with families and mortgages - are subjected to the stress of worrying about their futures; they know they must toe the managers' line (sit down, shut up, keep your head down - if you buck the system, or even disagree with a manager's favourite policy, your contract probably won't be renewed); they can't engage in long-term research projects; they have to publish as much as they can wherever they can; and they have to work, and be seen to work, incredibly hard in order to impress the people who will shortly be deciding their future. As a result there's a culture of compliance developing in the very place that must be the last (if necessary) bastion of free speech. A place where a genuine spirit of free and independent enquiry leads to - encourages, in fact - bold statements of views, however controversial. This will, I predict, be disastrous for research, education and, ultimately, for the country as a whole.

2 Faced with, we're told, a funding crisis, the University of La Trobe last year axed its Music Department without proper consultation and without a survey of Australia's or Victoria's music education needs. That decision is a dreadful blow for Australian computer music composition and education as well, of course, for that department's staff and students. I was a member of a Review Panel that was looking in detail at the department's operation at the time it was cut; while there were areas that could have been improved - as there are in every Music Department and Conservatorium in the country - the department was generally doing a good job and playing a vital role in Australian music education. Protests apparently fell on deaf ears. At the end of next year, that department, with such a proud record, will close not only its doors but a viable option for future generations of music students whose interests and needs are not being addressed by the conservative music departments in the rest of the country.

3 The Sydney Conservatorium of Music's Greenway Building is being re-developed and expanded by the State Government at a cost of A$69M plus. Great news? I hope so. But I fear that this wonderful but damp and leaky old building will again prove, as it has in the past, to be unsuitable for a modern conservatorium. As I understand it, the Premier, Bob Carr, wanted the Conservatorium to remain where it is in order for it to be part of his grand idea of a cultural precinct stretching from the Opera House to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, taking in along the way Government House (where there's a concert hall), the Conservatorium and the Public Library. Lovely. But Conservatorium workers are thereby forced to work in an unsuitable building chosen for a reason other than the needs of music education. What's more, the workers were not consulted for their views on the matter, and apparently no-one protested to the Premier, or even calmly pointed out, that his plan was not in the best interests of the Conservatorium. The reason, I'm told, was that we so desperately need a new or re-vamped facility that we had to grab and run with any offer that would result in an improvement on what we already had. The culture of compliance increasingly seen in university lecturers also applies up the line, so it seems.

Politicians come and go but Conservatorium buildings must last, and must cater for society's music education needs, for fifty or a hundred years or more. Squeezing the entire Conservatorium into that site means that the Electronic Music Studio, and a recording studio, will be housed three floors underground - for me, at least, an appalling prospect, especially when millions of dollars have been spent in the past trying unsuccessfully to solve noise and drainage problems.

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

To me the greatest failing in the whole process was that the new facility was designed without being guided by a well-debated philosophy of music education. As far as I can discover, and I work there (though I'm currently on leave), its philosophy is "The Conservatorium's staff of musicians and scholars are committed to providing quality music education and training at preparatory, undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study." That seems to be it. What, in this day and age, are "quality music education and training"? What is "music" at a time when there is an enormous number of genres of music, including popular music, each with its own categories and sub-categories, requiring and deserving serious study? What is, and what, as far as we can see, will be the impact of music technology on music education? These vital issues have not been properly debated. It's simply assumed that our business is those two hundred years of European art-music. What's the justification for this? I've never heard one. I fear that a lot of public money is being spent on a facility that will in a few years' time prove to be inadequate but which, had there been proper debate and consultation, could have catered much better for future (even current) needs.

Renovations to the existing building have revealed an 1820s road which various Heritage groups insist be preserved and displayed. The Conservatorium disagrees, and has mounted a demonstration insisting that the renovations proceed no matter what. I've taken issue with a number of Conservatorium people here, for it seems to me that their argument is precisely the same as the one that has been used in the past to destroy most of Sydney's architectural heritage, most of Australia's old-growth forests, numerous biological species, and so on. The old State Bank building, for example. There's ALWAYS a pressing reason, usually to do with money, to destroy the old. Or for not to destroy the new (that building near the Sydney Opera House). Sure, we desperately need a new Conservatorium, but perhaps Sydney needs, even more desperately, to preserve a rare example of an old road. That calls for rational debate, not tub-thumping by people with vested interests.

con elevation east

East elevation of the new Sydney Conservatorium of Music
from the New South Wales Government Architect's plans;
colour rendering by the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales)
[Note (Dec 12 1998): While my concerns in this article were the proper preservation of heritage items, and the lack of a well-debated music education philosophy to drive the design of the re-building, the illustration above displays yet another concern: the shocking visual intrusion of the additional structures, which will destroy our ability to experience Francis Greenway's romantic Gothic-Revival building in an appropriate landscape setting. See National Trust of Australia (New South Wales). Note that as a result of protest by the National Trust and the CFMEU, amongst others, the high building on the left (a Botanic Gardens Visitors' Centre) has been snipped from the plan ... The original article continues:]

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

I must admit that I had not realised, until I sat down to write this, that things were quite so bad. They didn't seem to be: the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and I'd been able to fix the fuse when the python slithered up onto the roof for a sunbath. But it's clear that we've all got to do whatever we can to improve not only our immediate situation but the political and human environment that allows un-thinking and un-intelligent conservatism to reign supreme with dismal, often viciously-applied results. But what?

First and foremost, and, ultimately, perhaps the only effective thing to do, and the hardest: we composers must compose the best music we possibly can, despite the difficulties, with absolute integrity and honesty. There must be never, ever, be any compromise there. Secondly, we - particularly those of us in educational institutions - must gird our loins and stand up and be counted, protesting at every opportunity at the attacks currently being made on the quality of education and the arts in Australia. There are bugs in the system, but we can ourselves become bugs in the system - and bats in the belfry, frogs in the throat, bees in the bonnet, fleas in the ear, flies in the ointment, and ants in the pants - of those who would threaten these fundamentally-important areas in our society. Easier said than done, of course, but if some of us don't shout loudly then matters will only get worse.

I see the current attacks on the nature of employment in this country, with its attendant culture of compliance, as one of the greatest threats we all face. John Pilger writes about this in his recent book "Hidden Agendas" (Vintage, London, 1998), which makes clear how the post-Thatcher agenda in Great Britain, and in Australia, is essentially anti-democratic and to do with concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few.

In case you missed 'em, there are bugs in the system.

National Trust of Australia (New South Wales)
See danger!

for information about the Trust's position
re the Conservatorium redevelopment

The rumble of the 6.23 to Central ...

an article by Martin Wesley-Smith,
"The Sydney Morning Herald", Dec 24 1998

Note: this is the original, unedited version
As a lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, I want it to have proper facilities so that it can get on and do its job at the highest standard possible. As a supporter of the National Trust, I want the Greenway building, and the heritage items found there, properly conserved. We need nourishment for the soul. This comes from various sources, including listening to music and contemplating our history and heritage.

top | scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ... | bottom

Just as true appreciation of music comes through the experience of live performance so that we can hear it as it was meant to be heard, true appreciation of Francis Greenway's building must come through the experience of seeing it as it was meant to be seen. Classical music-lovers want to hear a composer's music played in its proper context. We should, likewise, view the building in its proper context. Remnants of old drains and roads are as important to an archaeologist as dusty old manuscripts are to a musicologist.

I oppose the redevelopment. Why? Because I can't see that what we will get is worth what we will lose. The project compromises the Greenway building which in turn compromises the design of a much-needed new-millennium Conservatorium able to meet at high standards Sydney's future music education needs. The result: less nourishment for Sydney's soul.

Other staff-members support my view, although few are prepared to do so publicly (one wrote to me privately that this is "yet another case of a vested interest being able to shout down the concerns of real people about the preservation of the local environment and heritage"). In 1995, staff - the people who have to make the building work - voted overwhelmingly for a new Con somewhere else.

The location of the Greenway building is inappropriate for a well-functioning music school: the Con is part of Sydney University, and should be physically close to other faculties. The building itself - originally designed as stables - is inadequate, with endemic noise, damp and flooding problems that have never been fixed despite many attempts by Public Works. A few years ago the Joseph Post Auditorium was re-built at vast cost in order to eliminate the rumble from underground trains. At the official opening, the then Minister of Education, Dr Metherell, had to raise his voice, while saying how pleased he was that the trains had finally been silenced, in order to be heard above the rumble of the 6.23 to Central. A nervous laugh tittered around the room. Will the problems be fixed this time? I hope so, but I can't be confident.

The Con says that because it has had a long association with the Greenway site, it must remain there. I ask why should future generations of staff and students be condemned to suffer the inadequacies of the building and the inappropriateness of the site just because previous generations were? While the project will undoubtedly give us, in some areas, vastly-improved facilities, I believe that in a few years' time its various problems will generate pleas for a new, purpose-built Conservatorium and that $69M of public money (plus other costs of $20M or so), and the sacrifice of aspects of our heritage, will ultimately have been largely wasted.

The Con doesn't know what facilities it will need for it to cater for society's and its students' needs well into the twenty first century, for it has never properly asked the question, much less tried to answer it. It's a conservative institution whose focus has always been, and is still, on the classical orchestra and its repertoire of, mostly, nineteenth-century European music. Other music (early music, recent music, popular music, indigenous music, and music of multi-cultural Australia, for example) receives relatively scant, if any, attention. Public money is being spent on a project designed not for the future, not even for the present, but for a limited past.

Ten or so years ago a new Conservatorium was costed at $160M. Have prices fallen sharply in ten years? Clearly, the budget is inadequate. Much-needed facilities are currently being snipped out of the plan because of insufficient funds. In some areas, space is too restricted even to cater for our present needs, much less allow future expansion. Much of the new Con will be underground - but people need fresh air and blue sky in order to fulfil their creative potential.

I think that the clutter of new buildings around the Greenway building is plain awful. Visual desecration, in fact. Point your browser at and see if you agree.

The solution to the Con controversy is simple: move it to another site and build what it needs and deserves. Keep the renovated Verbrugghen Hall in the Greenway building and use it for concerts, thus maintaining the Con's association with the site. Let's stop, take breath, and consider all aspects properly. Let's consult widely. Consider all views, be they from experts or amateurs, and develop a philosophy of music education that will drive the design of something marvellous. Far better, in my view, to have happy people working in a purpose-built building than have disgruntled people in an inadequate building (much of it underground) on an inappropriate site where there's no possibility of future expansion.

internal links: scheiner | jonsson | pollies' e-mail addresses | bugs | rumble ...
external links: Quito | Boojum! | Cock Robin | Mrs Hargreaves Remembers | Manners for Men | X | mw-s discography
Martin Wesley-Smith home page | Rob Wesley-Smith | Peter Wesley-Smith

page last updated Aug 2 2002