Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Kerry O'Brien speaks with Barrie Kosky -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: One Australian who's not paying a lot of attention to the Olympics and
who in fact has a distinctly jaundiced view of what he sees as an unhealthy imbalance in this
country's taxpayer funding for sport compared to the arts, is theatre director Barrie Kosky.

The flamboyant and outspoken Kosky returned to his European roots nearly nine years ago to become
co-director of the Schauspielhaus avant-garde theatre in Vienna, and has lived between Vienna and
Berlin ever since, stirring controversy with some very confronting Kosky-esque productions of
classic opera. His Polish and Hungarian Jewish grandparents immigrated to Australia in the late

Kosky has just been signed as the next director of Berlin's Komische Opera House with more than 400
staff, but he's currently in Australia preparing opera and theatre productions for Brisbane, Sydney
and Melbourne over the next two months with more up his sleeve for next year's Sydney Festival.

Kosky also features in a four-book set of long essays, with Germaine Greer, Blanche D'Alpuget and
David Malouf, published this week. His is on ecstasy.

I spoke with Barrie Kosky in Sydney.

Barry Kosky, you have said recently the roots of the funding and nourishing of the arts in
Australia are not in deep soil and you can be easily uprooted and made expendable. You've also said
that the tendency in Australia is to fund the basic infrastructure, but you argue the funding also
then as to come for the creativity, not just rely on the boxes.

BARRY KOSKY, THEATRE DIRECTOR: We are obsessed with bricks and mortar in Australia, obsessed with
building vast, large infrastructures and buildings and whatever, and then having no money left over
to produce anything. Now as far as I'm concerned, you can do theatre anywhere, you can make
galleries anywhere, and we have seen in the last 20 or 30 years a spectacular obsession with bricks
and mortar, because we know why, politicians like saying "I built that, look at the house I built,
mummy," and what's happened is that vast sums of money have been thrown to these places or to set
up infrastructures, and there's no money left over to produce the stuff, and so you get a
combination of factors in Australia, you get that, you get plus that there's not enough money, plus
you get the fact that it's a very thin surface also in the public's loyalty to a lot of these
things, you know. That there's no longer a loyalty to a particular theatre company or a particular
orchestra, because that's not the way we work now in the 21st century. And that's not the way young
audiences work now. And so we go a lot to cultural events in Australia, but whether, as I have said
for years now, whether people would fight for it if it disappeared, was under threat, I don't know.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Should we set out to plant deeper roots in the soil in those areas? Or do we go with
where our real interests are?

BARRY KOSKY: I think every child should have the ability to go free to theatre and opera and music
right through their school years, you know, I think these are the things that actually then nourish
from the bottom up. But if they're just events that you can by accident come across when you are
older, it will never take place like that. So it has to start with school, it has to start with
education, and then it has to come from different angles. I also think that Australians are happy
to accept the highest level of funding and standards in sport, but are quite happy if the arts
somehow have to sort of fight for themselves. Elitism is okay in a sport, it's okay to send a
handful of the most trained, skilled, perfect Olympic specimens to Canberra and to national sports
institutes, but God help us if we did the same in ballet, or theatre or spent the same amount of
money on a small group of people in the arts. There'd be outcry. So there's a sort of
contradiction, the sport, arts. And you know, I have no problem with sport but I'm just saying that
Australia has a, sometimes in its, what is "Australia"? But the Australia glance over everything
sometimes is just full of just outrageous contradictions.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You were harsh on John Howard, but you don't seem to find reassurance in Kevin Rudd

BARRY KOSKY: No, I'm suspicious of all Australian politicians in the arts, I think with very few
exceptions, that Australian politicians, both Labor, Liberal, National, Democrats are on the whole
ignorant when it comes to the arts. There's been exceptions, I won't name them, but there have been
exceptions, great exceptions, but on the whole, I think it's still seen as an indulgence by most
Australian politicians, it's still seen as something that is not as important as education and
health and as important to the soul of the country.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You can't really define, you can try, to define the soul of a nation.

BARRY KOSKY: No, but you can't, but the soul of a nation, as we know, over time, is reflected
through its cultural enterprises. You know, we look back at Ancient Greece because of the
architecture, the philosophy, the politics and the literature of Ancient Greece. We look to the
renaissance now and we look back and we see, in a way, how they reflected themselves through their
painting and their music and their literature. So I think it's a responsibility of a culture not to
say what it should be but to allow these things. And the Government has a very important role now
because we don't have patrons, and we don't have the Medicis, and in Australia we don't have the
Rockefellers and the Carnegies to give millions and millions of dollars. We don't have these
billionaire philanthropists that just can give billions of dollars, the politicians are incredibly
important when it comes to the arts and they have an enormous responsibility. And we see now, I
mean, I know it's been talked about endlessly I'm sure on your program about the whole Bill Henson
thing and what happened here, but it really was from where I was sitting in Berlin,

I was just thinking, "Oh, this is the first debate artistically in the Rudd Government and it's all
been terribly, terribly mishandled." And regardless of what people think about it, this is, we were
talking about an artist here. I mean, we're not talking about some unknown artists; we're talking
about Australia's greatest living photographer and an internationally acclaimed artist who had
exhibited all these photos beforehand. So regardless of that I am incredibly aware that Australian
politicians tend use the arts when they need to as little footballs, to sort of kick around. They
are very happy when we win an Oscar in Hollywood and they're very happy when whatever has a large
media presence, but that's not the issue. The issue is do they really believe that without these
things the soul of the country is diminished. That's what I want to know. And we need to look into
these politicians'' eyes and say "If you let these theatre companies or dance companies, or if you
don't make this cultural landscape rich, the soul of the country will be diminished and do you have
a problem with this?"

KERRY O'BRIEN: So as you're enmeshing yourself back in production in Australia, how are you

BARRY KOSKY: Great. I mean, it's always a little bit of a mind warp, you know, to come from Berlin,
and to come from directing in German, and to come from the work that I'm doing there to come back
to Australia.

KERRY O'BRIEN: To Brisbane?

BARRY KOSKY: To Brisbane. And the Berlin/Brisbane axis is very surreal, let me tell you. But it's
something that I'm used to, as I said before, in terms of gypsy living, but it lightens me too. I
do feel lighter in Australia, physically something is lifted, but to tell you the truth, the honest
truth, I'm actually glad to always go. My parents hate me saying that, but there comes a time after
about seven or eight weeks where I'm actually, I need to go. Now I can't explain what it is, that's
something between me and a future psychiatrist, but it's something that is profoundly there that I
know, "Right, I'm ready to go now." And it's not like "Please, get me out of here," it's not that
at all, but I just know that my home for the moment is in Europe, and that I don't think I'll come
back here to live permanently.

KERRY O'BRIEN: As a Jew whose parents and grandparents had that European background, particularly
through the Nazi history in Europe, how does it feel as a Jew with that background to be living in

BARRY KOSKY: Very interesting question, and very interesting response that I'll give you because I
have never had a glimmer of a problem with being in Berlin and feeling that, because the Germans
have gone through such an extraordinary process in the last 60 years, post war, an incredible
dialogue with themselves and their culture which has resulted in some very weird things happening,
but a very open dialogue, you know, and you are now dealing with a few generations after it. I
refuse as a Jew to blame, you know, someone my age or whatever for anything that their grandparents
did; I think that it's repulsive, completely not acceptable. I refuse to blame German language for
what Hitler did to it. I refuse to blame the extraordinary tradition of German music for what the
Nazis did with it. I refuse to do that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: There must be something eerie living with that history.

BARRY KOSKY: It's eerie, but much more eerie in Austria for example, where it's scary, where every
single day when I was in Vienna I was palpably aware of some terrible dark presence. And as I said,
terrible to say that, when that Fritz thing happened in Amstetten with the man and his daughters
and his children in that cellar, I said "That's what I've been trying to articulate that I felt
going through the country." To me that cellar in Amstetten is the absolute soul of Austria. And
there's a repressed darkness, an incestuous, morbid, depressed darkness that is absolutely far more
terrifying to me than anything I have experienced in contemporary Germany.

KERRY O'BRIEN: What would bring you back to Australia to live to? Do you have any idea?

BARRY KOSKY: No, I don't know. It would be very hard for me to entertain the thought of living here
permanently again. But I can't say never, I refuse to say never at 41 years of age. But it will be
hard to entertain. You know, I've got projects, you know I've got this long sort of film project
that I'm bubbling with, and of course if I did the film project I'd have to come back and work here
for a long time. But in terms of thinking to myself what would draw me back, I wouldn't run a
theatre or opera company here, because the structure are just not set up for me be able to operate
like I do in Europe.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Barrie Kosky, thanks for talking with us.

BARRY KOSKY: Thanks Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And if you want a glimpse of Barrie Kosky's essay on ecstasy published this week go
to the web site.