save the vca

It is a long time ago now, camping on the lawn outside the front of Victorian College of the Arts on St Kilda Road, some nights it rained and all the while we waited for a decision. It has been maybe ten years. A slow death that speaks perhaps of sadism on the one side and unwavering determination on the other.

Which is to say, it is telling that only a year or so after Professor Andrea Hull departed from her long-held position as the Dean of VCA, death is imminent.

At the time of tent city there was much animosity towards her. Student Union politics were often the province of ad hominem attacks as they were in addressing the real issue of tertiary education in Australia. The year after, Andrea invited me to attend the Queen’s Trust for Young Australians Forum in Sydney. Perhaps this, and our occasional chats when I would be passing through Melbourne, relieved me of some naivety.

I came to admire her a great deal, the personal sacrifices she made to be responsible for the College, her love of that odd assortment of buildings in the middle of the city – a more beautiful location for an arts college would be difficult to find – her belief in the staff and students and… in the necessity for and reason why such a place would exist. And of course the endless battle to keep VCA alive, every year losing ground, every year a little more taken away.

When I heard of VCA being digested by Melbourne University, and at the same time of Andrea’s departure, I wanted to write something more considered. Well, there isn’t time. I’d like to think Save VCA can do just that, but it’s been over ten years of intentional eroding of the College. Even if they were to stave off this attack there is so much lost and – I very much suspect – the political will in Melbourne and Australia to set things right is absent.

I was in Melbourne, working on hell, I wandered into VCA, to the Production Department, or School of Production as I think it became. The same pre-fab buildings and sheds with the vast Eucalyptus in the courtyard. Somehow shabby and yet I always felt welcome there. Maybe it was the horses from the Police stables.

So a handful of years since I graduated, and as ever, I was in search of lighting stock. JC was his usual obliging self, as was Roger. For no reason other than their passion for theatre they helped me again, far beyond what was required. I saw Roger again early last year, finding him in the audience at monadologie, and then later when I arrived home, chatting with Caroline, in whose home I was staying.

I don’t want to indulge in historical revisionism because there was plenty at the College I found problematic, but there are people I remember from my time there who inspired me, who encouraged me, taught me from their own vast experience, made time for me – and I was a difficult student – and made real my dim first wanderings in the joy and love of performance and theatre… brought this to life.

And this is what will be lost. There is no other way to train artists than intensely. Long hours in the studio, day after day, for years, a very personal nurturing of talent. It is a special, rare, priceless experience to have, to go through this.