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:
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’”. Melbourne
- 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
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
’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. Melbourne
The naming origin of
“Moomba” is explored in detail here. I
would simply add my suspicion that the Melbourne 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 attribution, the 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).