Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Moomba – “a kind of camp concert”

In the mid-1960s, camp concerts could have meant two quite different things.  Writing in 1965, Mavis Thorpe Clarke (1909-1999), presumably had cheery and low-budget stage productions in mind when she wrote this:

The [1951 Melbourne] show was written, rehearsed and produced within three weeks. It was called 'Out of the Dark, an Aboriginal Moomba'. The word 'Moomba' means a kind of camp concert. The word was later adopted by the organizers of Melbourne’s annual week or carnival, who widened the interpretation into ‘Let’s get together and have fun’”.
-         Mavis Thorpe Clarke, Pastor Doug (1965) p 155.

Writing just the previous year (1964), but a generation and a continent apart from Mavis Thorpe Clarke, Susan Sontag (1933-2004), in her “Notes On ‘Camp’” essay, sees the camp concert (or Camp orchestral concert, at least) as oxymoron:

“Concert music, though, because it is contentless, is rarely Camp. It offers no opportunity, say, for a contrast between silly or extravagant content and rich form”.

Fortunately for Tchaikovsky, who may have rolled (theatrically) in his grave at Sontag’s doctrinal strictures, the concert hall in 2012 is an increasingly flimsy marquee – at risk of being declared a camp structure and/or Camp structure.  A kind of “camp concert” that neither Mavis Thorpe Clarke nor Susan Sontag could presumably conceive of  exists –  orchestral in scale and yet minimalist in execution.   Welcome to the East Kimberley joonba – and other allied or subsidiary song and dance (and above all, stage) spectaculars from that region, including the Krill Krill.    

How one improvises a campground “stage” is a solid topic indeed.  Perhaps it suffices to say for now that the fineness of the art is in the withholding – whether orchestral or cadastral. Oh, and never forget the wall between “stage” and “green room”*.

The previous paragraph should explain why “street theatre” – of the sort that infests present-day Melbourne’s Moomba festivities – is the opposite of the camp concert:  in street theatre very little, if anything, is withheld, and the “green room” is of pointedly vague and distant location.  Susan Sontag may have regarded “street theatre” as properly Camp, but its cadastral promiscuity, in my book, makes it more akin to a parade without a route.  One should not mistake the temporariness of camping (or a theatrical event) for casualness in content – nor should we take our land or audience for granted, however temporary the engagement.

The naming origin of  Melbourne’s “Moomba” is explored in detail here.  I would simply add my suspicion that the East Kimberley (Gija?) word “joonba” can be added to the list of possible progenitors.  

There is also a pleasingly circular vice-regal postscript on Moomba and camp concerts.  From then-Victorian Governor Sir Reginald Dallas Brooks in 1955 (same URL) to then-Victorian Governor John Landy’s 2001 “Reconciliation Gayip” speech, whichadopted the above Mavis Thorpe Clarke quote, without attributionthe Tchaikovsky-esque spectacle of calibrated withholding rolls on.

 * No Name Station (2010), pp 12-13, 130 (an audience member/photographer infringes Krill Krill performance backstage area at Warmun).

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