author of Michael Kirby: Law, Love & Life
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Melbourne, raised in Hughesdale and went to Murrumbeena High School – famous for educating comedian, Bob Downe, who was one year below me, and the former captain of Melbourne (AFL team), Robbie Flower who was two years ahead of me.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
At 12 I wanted to be an architect, at 18 I had no idea and at 30 I had already embarked on a career as a film director. I wanted to be an architect because my father was a hobby builder and he used me as his labourer. At the same time my mother was artistic, her father had been a painter, so I had that in my blood. But I saw the incredible power of the idea of creating something, virtually with your own hands. It seemed to me that an architect, who had the idea and made the plans, was in the most creative of all jobs. The results were so tangible and impressive. Architecture is described as ‘the first of the arts’ in part because it must overcome all that the physical world can pit against it. A painting, after all, doesn’t have to stand up on its own.
At 18 I was in a state of confusion. Having graduated in sciences and math, I decided to enrol in an Arts degree, but I continued with math. I ended up majoring in visual arts and that was my path to filmmaking. Finally I had found the unusual combination of technology and artistic endeavour that inspired me.
White Australia knew how best to overcome Aboriginal disadvantage.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
Like Orson Welles I studied the black and white westerns of director John Ford, over and over again – he did it in the back rooms of RKO studios, I did it on the floor of my aunt’s lounge room in front of their (fully functioning) black and white TV. We had a host of TVs at our place but none of them actually had a watchable picture. Sometimes my dad had two set up, one for a rolling distorted picture and the other for the sound and both with their backs removed with all the highly dangerous electrics exposed. He was, amongst other things, an electrical engineer but that didn’t stop my sister getting electrocuted, thank goodness it was only superficial! The next major event in my life as a cinephile was going to the pictures, in the city, for the first time to see Ryan’s Daughter. That was the film that set me on a course to movie-making although I didn’t know it at the time.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Well there you go! I’ve been making films my entire adult life and have never imagined I would write a book. So I’ve come at this game from exactly the opposite direction. I’ve made many films for theatrical release and for television and I have even made radio programs and online media. When the VHS home video player was introduced in the late 1970’s the claim was made that eventually nobody would ever pay to go to a cinema, it was an old technology and would disappear forever. That claim was a little premature, in fact the cinema experience has continued stronger than ever; it has changed over the years, but there is no likelihood that it will leave us. Similarly, I can’t imagine a world without books. I refuse to read anything lengthy online and I don’t think the printed word will ever lose its attraction. There will just be a lot of other options available and competing for the reader’s attention. But there is nothing, for me, quite like the tangible experience of holding a book in your hands and being drawn into its world. Even the smell of the paper and the print is unique. It is every bit as satisfying as sitting in a darkened theatre and watching a world of ideas and images unfold before your eyes.
6. Please tell us about your latest book, Michael Kirby: Law, Love & Life…
Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has been the most well recognised judge in Australia for most of his long career on the bench. But it was not until 1999 that he officially came out as gay. My biography of this unusual and fascinating Australian reveals a career-obsessive, but also a man devoted to his close family ties and his forty-year relationship with Johan van Vloten. I was fortunate that Johan agreed to be interviewed for my documentary film about Michael Kirby’s life. This was the first time that he had chosen to speak publicly about their life together. This unique interview, along with others with Michael Kirby himself, his father, and brother gives a picture of the judge that has not been revealed before. Michael Kirby’s father, Don Kirby, amassed an archive of materials on his son’s life and I have been able to access this material for the first time for this book. A series of letters between Michael and his father reveal a tragic family conflict, which even his siblings and mother were unaware of, and that threatened to engulf them all. How Michael Kirby dealt with this period in his life tells us so much about the man.
(From the Publisher:
The intimate biography of High Court justice Michael Kirby.
For most of his life, Michael Kirby has been a man on a tightrope. A man of strong views working in a world governed by duty and objectivity, he has had to balance the potent, sometimes contradictory impulses of passion and duty, honesty and discretion, advocacy and neutrality.
He had to hide his real self from the world for decades, while being the public voice of countless human rights and legal issues. And his thirty-six years as a federal judge afforded him tremendous authority and power, but often demanded silence and impartiality on matters closest to his heart.
This intimate biography takes us behind the bench to explore the personal, moral and spiritual convictions of one of our most beloved and brilliant citizens, a man who made the law accessible, humane and interesting, a man who was never blown along by the prevailing political winds. It draws on a wealth of previously unavailable letters and papers, as well as interviews with Kirby, his family, friends and – for the first time – Johan van Vloten, his partner of more than forty years. Michael Kirby: Law, Love & Life looks back on a controversial career of dedication and success, and a private life of great love, secrecy and, finally, openness.)
Help more people embrace difference, change and creativity rather than be afraid or just tolerant of it.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
People who are innovative, thoughtful and unselfish – or any one of the above.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Play a small part in the moves to rid the world of fear. It is well known that President Franklin D Roosevelt in his speech to Congress in January 1941 called for four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. But he went on to say the fear he spoke of was, ‘translated into world terms’, a fear generated by the growth of armaments. This proliferation unfortunately has increased exponentially since he gave that famous speech. It remains true to this day that there will be no freedom from fear in the world until there is a real reduction of armaments so that eventually ‘no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour — anywhere in the world.’
As with any artistic process – make sure you do it. Just sit down and start, it doesn’t matter what you write, the beauty is that you can change it if you don’t like it. The first person you have to please, no matter what you are creating, is yourself. Others will come if you are true to your own ideas.
Daryl, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.