Hannie Rayson’s speech
GPAC’s 2016 Theatre Season Launch
December 3, 2015
It seems fitting to be launching this play this week during the Paris talks (COP 21) which as you know is a massive conference, with some 40,000 diplomats from all over the world, policy experts, journalists, activists and so on, all engaged in high-stakes negotiations about climate change.
This international climate summit goes on for about two weeks and has been budgeted at costing the French government around $200 million dollars. But as with all big international conferences they’ve sought corporate sponsorship, and some of those sponsors are involved in the fossil fuel industry. The very industry the conference is aiming to dismantle.
So Big Coal is involved in keeping the lights on and the tea and coffee urns boiling while the talk in the conference rooms is about reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions and basically phasing out the viability of some principle sponsors that have written the cheques. I am telling you this not because I want to grand-stand here, but because this is precisely territory of this play.
Where does the money come from? And what are the implications for the conservation business when the money is coming from outfits that have a completely different agenda. Or do they? Is this merely greenwashing – as in, making themselves look good by association, or are these corporations needing to find new solutions. Should we be skeptical or open-minded? But to be open-minded is that just naive?
In Extinction, a man hits an animal on the Great Ocean Road at Cape Otway, in the dead of night. And it’s a wild and rainy night. He recognizes the animal as a tiger quoll. He knows this country. He grew up here, on a dairy farm. When he was a boy, tiger quolls were running around, everywhere. In fact he used to shoot them with his dad when they got into the chicken runs. Now the tiger quolls are on the verge of extinction. And as an apex predator, the largest marsupial on the Australian mainland, if this species vanishes, this effects a whole complex chain of relationships.
The man works in the mining sector. He’s an executive for an outfit that mines coal and has an eye on the Otways. When he puts two million dollars on the table to kick-start a massive bio-diversity project involving a local university, like a fictitious university in Waurn Ponds for example, and you head up an Ecology department, do you take the money?
What’s involved in getting into bed with Big Coal? And then the man who works for Big Coal is very attractive and single and you’re single and what would happen if you got into bed… literally.
Can a mining executive be an environmentalist? Is it sensible to take the money while it’s being offered? You have to consider you have a staff of twenty, all of whom are relying on you to keep the doors of the institute open. These people need their jobs. They all have families and mortgages. Maybe the writing is on the wall - spelling the end for fossil fuels?
I wrote this play because I wanted to understand what it means that a species might go extinct in my lifetime. Just wink out of existence. I wanted to understand the human cost. So this is a story that lives in the shadow of death. As we soon learn that one of the other main characters, the local vet, is looking down the barrel at his own mortality. His life is in as much danger as the species he’s trying to save.
My husband’s family has a house in Airey’s Inlet. I used to be a Sorrento person, as you may know, which is where Hotel Sorrento comes from. But I married into this side. Which is a bit like changing footy teams. But now I feel very attached to this country. So Extinction is the first of my surf coast plays, which is why I wanted it to open here at GPAC.
When I first began to research this play down at Lizzie’s Conservation Ecology Centre in Cape Otway, I was struck by the question, how do you know if something is worth saving? I wondered if the search for the tiger quoll, with their detector dog, trained to find communal latrine sites was really a lost cause.
But between then and now, there has been five pieces of evidence of tiger quolls, including photos. In fact on the day I sent my first draft to America – as this play was commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club – I opened The Age and there was a report that a tiger quoll had been seen and photographed in the Otways. Prior to that there hadn’t been a confirmed sighting for a decade. I thought – the stars are aligning.
I want to finish by telling you about this funny little incident. One of the characters in the play loses her wedding ring after she goes swimming in Urquarts Bluff. After I’d finished the play, I was in the IGA at Anglesea and I saw a handwritten note on the community noticeboard in the supermarket. A wedding ring had been found at Urquart’s Bluff. I thought, that’s weird, someone has actually found my fictitious character’s ring. My husband said, ring them up, ring them up. You’ve got the mobile number. I said, And say what? “I sort of know the woman who lost the wedding ring. She doesn’t actually exist…”
Welcome to my weird life.
This is not a play that will divide you. This is a play that will fill you with hope.