The arts world was abuzz with Thalia Meyerhold’s first contribution to Crikey last week which seriously annoyed Robyn Archer such that Thalia is still musing on the subject a week later.

The nice Stephen Mayne, Crikey’s CEO, was not exactly hit with a writ but someone called Noel Turnbull rang him as a mate claiming all manner of inaccuracies in Thalia’s report. This brought on a severe migraine and forced your correspondent to bed for an hour or two, most of which time was spent lamenting her unwary excursion into internet journalism.

Noel, Thalia later discovered, is the bloke who’s taken over from that Falstaffian figure Harold Mitchell as President of the Melbourne Festival. Leading, as she does, a sheltered life dedicated almost exclusively to needlework, reading improving novels, sketching and passive enjoyment of the yartz and the work of local yartistz, Thalia was unaware that Noel is also boss cocky at Turnbull Porter Novelli. TPN is a PR outfit proclaiming itself to deliver strategic innovative, intelligent and imaginative communication and can’t help thinking how incredibly lucky Robyn is to have a flack as her boss to protect her from those meanies who suggest that you can’t be the public face of a yartz festival and remain ignorant of the financial side of the operations. When they wanted a story, the hacks didn’t beg for interviews from the financial controllers. They went straight to the diva herself who was rarely unavailable for comment.

Rifling through the file of press clippings she keeps in a Grosby shoe box under her bed, Thalia found one from The Australian written in August 1999 by Jennifer Sexton. Now Thalia makes no claim to having a perfect memory but wasn’t little Jenny a real estate reporter? No matter. As Greg Hywood once observed to a friend of Thalia’s, yartz writers are at the bottom of the journalistic shitheap, or something like that.

Anyhow Jenny, in a piece with more gush than a Texan oil well, quoted Robyn at length. The five or six day cultural festival preceding the 2002 Gay Games in Sydney has the potential to be one of the world’s biggest celebrations of gay and lesbian talent, said our Rob. But didn’t Thalia read somewhere in one of those racy rags they give away at art cinemas that Robyn has discreetly shucked off her leadership role in the Gay Games? This, of course, could not have anything to do with money, or with the Gay Games’ principal sponsor, the once bright pink dollar Satellite Group, plunging irretrievably into the red. Or with the failure of Games organisers to provide the three assistants and car Robyn thought necessary to carry out the onerous tasks of Artistic Director. Of course Thalia only reports what she hears and you know what chatterboxes those queens can be. Robyn may just have asked for a PC and a moped.

Anyhow, Thalia wonders how Melbourne will take to Archer. Sydney didn’t. In a two horse race with the then Deputy Director Brett Sheehy, Robyn came in second. She told Ms Sexton that missing out on the gig was ‘appropriate” and her “fairly radical model” was out of kilter with Sydney’s aims. If that fairly radical model was the cause of Adelaide’s thumping loss, then it probably was.

A couple of months later she told another hackette from The Australian that “We are in a state of secession. There is a tectonic shift away from the old monolithic institutions like big festivals.”

So where has Robyn landed? In one of those big monolithic festivals that this year will be the most humungous ever. Thalia’s friends inside the Flinders Street Festival fortress tell her that that clever little pixie Jonathan Mills, the bloke you bought you a bucket load of Bach last year, persuaded Jeff Kennett to earmark $16 million for this year’s hootenanny by the Yarra. Thalia’s Carlton coffee clatch reckons this will finally prove what Jeff used to claim, that Melbourne is not just the Most Liveable City in the Universe but the Cultural Capital of the Country. Really and truly.

Go, Melbourne.

Peter Fray

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