#WoopWoop for Russia’s #LGBTearth

IT might be on the other side of the world, but Russia is not off the radar for Australians who believe in human rights.

And with the planet watching during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, now is the time to show you care, by using the social media to shout loudly into the anticipated awkward silence on Russia’s ‘thing’ about gay rights.

On Friday, February 7, the same day as the games’ opening ceremony, UK-based website LGBTICONS is asking tweeps to do something very simple – take a photo and use the hashtag #LGBTearth.

Even if you’re not on Twitter, sharing this with your Facebook friends will help bring hope to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender social media users in a country where there’s been a marked rise in homophobic violence and a decrease in the protection LGBT are able to access from authorities.

Why? Because Russia has passed laws prohibiting the promotion of “non-traditional” relationships.

Many feel this goes against Principle Six of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits all forms of discrimination.

Founder of LGBTICONS Barry Church-Woods said of the event:

“We’ve been profiling LGBT people of significant achievement, and sharing news about LGBT communities globally, for over a year now and the more we research and write, the more depressing it gets. Coming from a position of privilege as an out gay man in the UK, it struck me that so many people are still being oppressed across the world. You need only look at the situations in Uganda, Russia and Malaysia today to realise how far behind we are, as a planet, in realising basic human rights. As such, I’m hoping that LGBTearth will offer a great showcase of exceptional people all over the world. A digital pride so to speak.

“Our last effort was a massive success, with an estimated a reach of 2.4million people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We hope that you’ll join us this Friday and help us shout through the noise of the opening ceremony,” Church-Woods said.

Take a photo, use the hashtag – #LGBTearth – and help start this day-long event from Woop Woop, where the world’s celebrations always begin!

© Australian Country Life, all rights reserved.

Follow Michael Burge on Twitter @burgewords

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Breaking heartland in August: Osage County

UnknownSIX decades ago, great American playwrights like Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams only ever alluded to addiction, sexual diversity, mental health and suicide, or portrayed them in the hands of villains who always ‘got it’ at the end.

These days, there’s a growing number of storytellers courageous enough to begin where their antecedents left-off, helped by more relaxed censorship laws and a broader understanding of the human condition.

Tracy Letts’ play, and now screenplay, August: Osage County, is one of those, and has already become a benchmark in 21st century storytelling.

There are no spoilers in revealing that Violet Weston (played by Meryl Streep) opens this film with a frank revelation of her pill popping and her mental maladies in the kind of scene Eugene O’Neill could only have dreamt about including in Long Day’s Journey into Night (published in 1956).

Streep marks out a battlefield within a crumbling, overheated Oklahoma country house, and proceeds to destroy every member of the family who steps inside it in the wake of the disappearance of her husband (played by Sam Sheppard).

With a sister, three daughters, their partners, a Native American housekeeper and a granddaughter, she has plenty of adversaries, and she goads them until they all bite ferociously back.

Just who takes it up to her, and why, is the story of this film, revealing the life changing consequences of staring-down and surviving addiction.

It’s a bitter conflict, with violence, assault, and enabling wrapped into every scene. Letts’ greatest achievement is that not one character, not even Streep’s, could be described as either purely hero or villain.

They are all as bad, and as good, as one another, an unthinkable concept in 20th century drama, where every protagonist had to battle with their equivalent antagonist, so that the audience knew who to barrack for, and who won or lost.

On this score, it’s hard to know if August: Osage County is a comedy or a tragedy.

Streep has never climbed higher in an entirely convincing portrayal, a tribute to her risk taking. It will be hard to topple this performance, which spills off the screen like vomit.

Yet Violet has grace. She has you hating her and sympathising with her in turns, never revealing anything ultimately honest, yet claiming to be the “truth teller” of the family. Nothing about Streep’s Weston is absolute, apart from her total inability to be saved.

Julia Roberts as Violet’s eldest daughter Barbara wears the family angst as a barely concealed boxing glove which she is not afraid to wield. There is little that can be said about the role and the performance which will not reveal the plot, just know this is Robert’s most controlled, and most out of control performance.

In the midst of the family intrigue, it’s easy to forget the isolation and hardship of the American heartland (and remote communities everywhere), but Letts reminds us now and again that we are not in the city, we are in dangerous country, stolen from Native Americans, fought over by settlers, and reminisced in the poetry of Violet’s husband.

This is a universally rural story about the experiences of country souls, those that escaped and those who got left behind. In the final scene, with Julia Roberts caught at an emotional crossroads, this reality becomes a painful reminder of what can go wrong when great, unsustainable dreams are created in farming regions.

August: Osage County is a heartbreaking elegy to all broken heartlands and the souls they failed to nurture.

Follow Michael Burge on Twitter @burgewords

Monet’s island garden?

THE iconic water-lily pond and Japanese bridge within artist Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny in northern France (Fondation Claude Monet à Giverny) has often been emulated in landscapes throughout the world, but it’s the last thing I expected to happen-upon on a subtropical island in Queensland.

Here on Coochiemudlo Island, pedestrians are treated to a glimpse of a shaded lake scattered with native water lilies, sporting a bridge that would have caught the eye of the French Impressionist, with a reflection to match.

The lake is part of a property known as ‘Mudlo’, sporting extensive gardens set back from the island’s Main Beach, open on occasion to visitors during various island festivals.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) escaped the confines of Paris for Giverny after the tuberculosis death of his wife, Camille, in 1879. He spent the rest of his life creating, and painting, his own little corner of Woop Woop.

Passing Coochiemudlo Island’s lake in the evening, you’re likely to hear the unmistakable croaking of cane toads, but don’t let that spoil the delight of our own little taste of France!

© Australian Country Life, all rights reserved.

Follow Michael Burge on Twitter @burgewords

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