Earlier this year, I wrote an obituary about a friend, Tony Medina, who died at the age of 43 from mesothelioma – the disease related to asbestos exposure. Tony was a former union official who fought for better health and safety laws and he was also active in the Chilean community, serving as president for many years.
More than a thousand people attended his funeral and the eulogies delivered indicated that he spent his life in the service of his community and the working class.
I submitted the obituary to The Age newspaper and the editor was somewhat hesitant to put it in.
He said he hoped I understood that he had other priorities and he would do his best.
We left it at that and in the following weeks and months, I looked at the obituary page and noticed that there were more well known people than Tony who were featured on the page, but there were also ordinary folk who had worked in welfare and had helped others in the community.
There was a woman called Ethel who was educated at MLC and worked in Aboriginal communities, someone else who volunteered at the Commonwealth Games and someone who was simply described as a ‘beach character’ from Brighton.
I wondered why they deserved an article and Tony didn’t so I phoned the editor and asked him.
He once again gave me the ‘priorities’ reason and I pointed out that the only difference I could detect was that Tony was not a middle class person of Anglo Australian heritage.
I pointed out that The Age is Melbourne’s newspaper and being a culturally diverse city, the newspaper could do better at reflecting that.
The article appeared the next day. While I was pleased and grateful, I wondered why, once again, I had to push for something like this.
Recently, the newspaper featured an article on Cafe Rebetika, the play that was staged at the Arts Centre earlier this month.
The piece was written by staff writer Katherine Kizilos, I wondered why it was not reviewed or promoted by the regular arts reviewers. This is not a criticism of Katherine Kizilos.
She is an experienced journalist who clearly also has a passion for Rebetika, and I am a keen follower of her work.
But why was not an arts reviewer, a theatre reviewer, sent to review the show?
I can’t remember The Age ever sending an Italian to review Italian Opera.
Several years ago, I read a review in the same newspaper about the performance of Maria Farandouri in Melbourne. I cannot recall the article in its entirety, but I remember it began by talking about how Maria Farandouri’s music is nothing like Greek wedding music.
I was astounded.
This was such a sneering approach to reviewing one of Greece’s finest singers, a woman who is renowned throughout the world.
Who was he writing this review for? Did the writer know his audience?
People who read The Age include people like me who would appreciate an intelligent review about her performance.
The Age needs to grow up. I could never imagine a review in Ta Nea (a daily Greek newspaper that is similar to The Age) writing about a serious Australian musician – someone like Nick Cave for example – by saying his music is nothing like Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.
Or saying to its readers: Forget about those drunken Aussies you see on our islands each year singing Waltzing Matilda, this is something else entirely.
I live in Melbourne and have friends from all over the world including many Anglo Celtic Australians.
Many of them have listened to Greek music and developed an interest in it and can, discern the difference between Eleftheria Arvanitaki and the band playing at the Greek wedding reception.
A former boyfriend of Irish Australian lineage knew more about rebetika than I did.
Why does The Age assume its readership live in an inner city, middle class, cultural vacuum with limited exposure to artists from other cultures?
And why do they duck for cover when it involves featuring something, or someone, who is not from an Anglo validated creative mainstream?
It’s about time The Age examined their city and the articles started to reflect the cultural and creative diversity that makes the city what it is.
Lest we forget that it would serve The Age’s sales if it were more responsive to a diverse readership. The newspaper does, after all, place itself with some pride, at the cultural heart of this city.
Jeana Vithoulkas is a freelance journalist and a published author.