Beloved Australian musician, actress and author Clare Bowditch is reflective at the best of times. She is an expert at extracting gleaming kernels of truth from her life experiences – it’s what has fuelled her career as a writer and musician, after all. So it’s not surprising that she has found this period of isolation fertile ground for new ideas. And while this time has been devastating for creative Australians – many of whom fall through the cracks of JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and still have no clear path to accessing government support – Clare is confident that the work that will be produced by artists following this period of isolation and fear will be profound.
Clare has been bunkering down with her husband Marty Brown and their three high school-aged kids Oscar, Elijah and Asha in Melbourne’s inner-north. Last week, the morning after she won an Australian Book Industry Award for best new Australian writer (Clare published her autobiography, Your Own Kind of Girl, in October 2019), we spoke about the resilience of creative Australians, Clare’s outlook on the arts and entertainment industries, and her advice for artists feeling lost right now.
How are you today – and how have you been overall during COVID-19?
Today is an interesting day. There was a lot of beauty outside when I went for my walk this morning. It’s also the morning after I won my first ever writing award. It’s really odd because normally on a day like today – it’s such an honour to be noted by your peers – but to not be able to celebrate in person with them, there’s a sense of melancholy. It’s not an easy time for any creative arts industry. The reality is we are still waiting for our government to show up and announce how it’s going to support creative Australian businesses and individuals throughout this very difficult time, where there is a lot of loss of work and a lot of people volunteering to take pay cuts just to keep things going.
There’s a good sense in my bones that all of the industries I’m part of – music, writing and publishing – will very much survive and come through this time. There’s also this real sense of concern that I’ve got inside me. I woke up in a mixed mood.
What is the root of that concern?
I’m an established artist 20 years down the road on my arts career, I’m fine. I will be able to find a new creative project to do and I have an established audience. My real concern is for emerging artists or mid-career artists who can’t play live at the moment, they can’t connect with their audiences in the same way. So many of them fall through the JobSeeker and JobKeeper cracks. So my number one concern is how can we continue to support creative ideas, creative minds, during this time?
Now the beautiful thing about being creatively inclined is that we will always make gold from straw. We know how to perform alchemy. And I think in a year from now we’ll be in quite an interesting place. And guess what? Us in the arts also know how to make a good bean stew! We know how to live on a frugal budget.
What do you think the industry is going to look like in a year?
We are enjoying the way our artists are pivoting. We’re getting to see them in different lights. But the really interesting thing for me in a year from now – we’ll have had a bunch of artists who have been isolated and had time to reflect and work on new ideas. We need that longform support because in these industries we can’t just click our fingers and create a new work in five seconds. We need time to develop that work. So at best, I think this is a time of development for many people. It certainly is for me – I’ll be taking a little bit of long service leave for the next couple of months over the winter just to work on ideas.
Were you already planning to do that, or was this spurred on by COVID-19?
I’m one of the many thousands of Australians who have been caring for a sick family member during this time of COVID. My mother has pancreatic cancer. She hasn’t been well but I just want to take some time to really enjoy life and be present for my family in a different way, and to work on some quieter projects. That’s what I’m planning to do.
I’m a natural-born introvert and I haven’t had a chance to be introverted for about 10 years! I’m looking forward to a true winter where I get to have reflection and get my head around the year that has been. I was already leaning in this direction, but this time of COVID has reminded me that you can actually do it.
What has your family’s isolation situation been like?
I live at home with my partner Marty Brown and our three children. We’ve got two boys who are doing year 8 and our eldest daughter Asha is doing year 12. We also have two Burmese cats and one dog called Charlie. So our time here at home has been homeschooling. I’ve got to say I think we have an easier time than our friends with much younger children.
There are nights when we all just shut ourselves in our bedroom and nobody can talk anymore because we’ve hit our talking limit, but it’s been precious in a way to be playing board games and card games, watching movies together, it’s been a pretty precious time with the family.
How has your work been affected?
March and April are when I make about a third of my income for the year because of events. And I got a phone call on a day in March when the restrictions were starting to be put in place where I was told that 13 of my 15 events had been completely cancelled. So there was an initial time of panic and fear, but we reshuffled some things and settled into a quiet pace. I didn’t sleep for a while when it was first announced, but like many other sensitive creative types, I felt in my gut that being glued to media updates was not going to serve me. And now I just listen to Coronacast every morning and that’s how I get my updates.
What have you been reflecting on?
For me this time, and really the last year, has been a profound reminder of how little control we have over circumstances. But how ferociously important it is that we take care with the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we choose to believe. So not catastrophising in an already catastrophic situation is one of the lessons I’ve been reminded of again and again. And for me, this has been an important reminder of how central and important is the writing of music, writing in my diary, creative conversations with friends, the reading of books, how they have relieved my deeper worries and questions during this time. They are the things I have gone back to.
What are you feeling hopeful for?
I feel enormously encouraged by the sense of local community that has sprung up in Australia. I live in the north [of Melbourne] – and to see the way the businesses have pivoted, to be able to support them and see that sense of camaraderie and how we’ve all checked in on each other – this has given me enormous hope. But I think most of all I look forward to how we rebuild Australia. We obviously care about each other in this country otherwise we wouldn’t have done what we’ve just done. That gift of social distancing has been profoundly disruptive and really important. I guess I feel hopeful about the Australian spirit in a way, which sounds like a song from an ad, but I really do!
I think the main point is perhaps the gift of this is simplicity – we don’t actually need heaps of things to be able to access pleasure and hope in these uncertain times, and I think that’s a profound lesson.
What would you say to an artist who is afraid of what their future might look like now?
Your future success as an artist is based on what you do with your feelings.
Last week, Clare was announced ‘New Australian Writer of the Year‘ by the Australian Book Industry Awards! Her first book, Your Own Kind Of Girl, is available from all good bookstores.
Clare and fellow creative/podcast co-host Jamila Rizvi have started a Facegroup group, Quarantine with Jam and Clare . Join for company, community and fun online events – including a book club hosted with Readings!