All posts by Michael Burge

Journalist, author, artist

Reading a lot into homophobia

IT’S NOT THE most pleasant of subjects, but when you’ve written a crime thriller about homophobia, it’s likely that you’ve done your research about this insidious form of discrimination.

Heck, you’ve probably even been on the receiving end!

When I was approached to nominate five Australian books related to the theme of my novel Tank Water, it was hard to go past the critical plot driver in my debut piece long-form fiction.

This novel was a deep dive into prejudice, which often took me into some pretty grisly territory, and even put me on the trail of a real-life suspected gay-hate crime in my home town.

One guiding light for me with this book was to never try to analyse what lies behind the ill will towards same sex-attracted people, but to explore how families and individuals so often dig very deep to overcome it.

So when self-described “bootstrapped underdog” international book site Shepherd offered to platform my choice of five books, it was the conquering of homophobia in Australia that informed my list.

“A century of prejudice is laid bare in these books, but within their pages are countless subtle and overt ways that gay Australian men have given homophobes the big middle finger,” I wrote in my introduction.

“We may not always have thrived, but through resistance, migration, verbal agility, notoriety, and sheer resilience, collectively we have conquered.”

Click through to Shepherd to read my selection, including Indigenous, migrant and pioneering gay voices, and check out their growing list of gay-themed books while you’re at it.

Blowing away Bob Katter’s bulldust

IN 2018 I WAS asked to give a paper at a Newcastle University conference – Surveilling Minds and Bodies. This was a unique chance for a non-academic, and I embraced the opportunity to present some of the research that went into my debut novel Tank Water (MidnightSun Publishing, 2021), which joined an embryonic wave of literature about gay men in rural Australia.

I was subsequently invited to submit an article based on that research for a special edition of the international Journal of Australian Studies.

Fun and frustrating, it was deep dive into the history of Queensland politician Bob Katter’s infamous claim about a minuscule “poof population” in the bush; a ridiculous assertion than needed further examination in the light of what impact it had on rural LGBTIQA.

Here’s the introduction to the article, with a link to read more…

Backwards to Bourke: Bulldust About Gays in the Bush

In his 2006 thesis, “‘Staying Bush’ – A Study of Gay Men Living in Rural Areas”, author Edward Green studied the lives of 21 gay men living in country New South Wales. Green described his subject as the “largely hidden and untold story of gay men living in rural areas”. This year, 2006, became pivotal for the visibility of gay men living in the Australian bush, when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Network Ten distributed episodes about rural gay men on Australian Story and Big Brother. In the space of one 12-month period, this cohort went from “hidden and untold” to prime time. But this shifting narrative was contested. From as early as 1989, rural Queensland politician Bob Katter issued a series of widely broadcast public claims that he would “walk to Bourke backwards if the poof population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001 per cent”.

By analysing media, popular culture, judicial and police records, this article explores the visibility and portrayal of rural gay men in Australia prior to and after this 2006 milestone. It scrutinises Katter’s insistence on a minuscule “poof population” during his generation, from the 1940s to the present, locating the debate at the inland margins of Australia’s population. I argue that as rural gay men became slowly more visible in local popular culture as a result of social and political change, debate about their existence was clouded by a lack of research, reporting and inclusion.

“Scholars ignore the margins at their peril,” wrote the editors of Queering the Countryside in 2016, defining America’s rural queer studies as “an emerging field of inquiry”. A backward-facing walk to the Australian bush in search of the “poof population” feels like an intellectually marginal endeavour as most of the academic literature to date has focused on the lived experience of gay men in this nation’s cities. Yet in spite of Katter’s minuscule population estimates, made over three decades, I will argue that the rural gay cohort has always defied such assumptions.

For the rest of the article, head to the journal page.

Impressionist Champion captures the light

AN EXHIBITION OF works inspired by the effects of sunlight is set to brighten the walls of The Makers Shed in Glen Innes across winter.

The art of Inverell-based painter Peter Champion, ‘Let the Sun Shine’ features an array of land- and sea-scapes of the New England, Northern Rivers and the eastern seaboard of New South Wales.

“They reflect my constant interest in what we see in sunlight at various times of the day, some being morning, during the day, afternoon and when the moon first appears,” Champion said.

An art teacher trained at the National Art School at East Sydney and the Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education, Champion is renowned for his Impressionist-inspired works.

“I work in both the studio and ‘plein air’,” he said, describing the French term for capturing a scene in the field.  

“Studio work is usually larger though not always, whereas plein air is the immediate results of being in the landscape or seascape.

“I try to paint them in one session to capture a moment, hence the works are usually smaller,” he said.

Hunting the landscape

LIGHT TOUCH ‘Poplars at Brodies Plains’ by Peter Champion

When painting in the open air, Champion hunts the landscape until he finds a subject he likes, then sets up to work in oils or acrylics. 

“Both have advantages. Acrylic dries very quickly, enabling the layering of paint within a few minutes, whereas oils dry very slowly and colour application has to be different,” he said.

“In oils it is a case of laying thin dark areas and building up the lights over the top. Acrylics due to their quick-dry quality means that light over dark is not as crucial.”

More than 150 years since the start of the Impressionism movement in France, the technique developed by artists like Claude Monet remains a popular means of rendering light with paint.

Champion’s latest exhibition includes landscapes of the New England region, with riverside and roadside scenes, and a variety of seascapes.

“I paint both landscape and seascape and in an impressionistic way of quick, short brush marks as this helps me fracture the image on the canvas to get the effects of my title ‘Let the Sun Shine’,” Champion said.

Let the Sun Shine opens on Saturday June 18 from 3pm and runs until Saturday August 27 at The Makers Shed, Glen Innes. A selection of works is available for purchase online.

FRACTURED LIGHT ‘Windy Day at North Head’ by Peter Champion