hellen rose says...
It’s hard to sum up Hellen Rose in one paragraph. Sieving through the highlights from her raft of accomplishments alone would fill pages. Not one to conform, Hellen has achieved admirable success and commanded high levels of respect from those in the know for more than 20 years now. While she’s not busy pushing musical boundaries, her preceding reputation has also led her to tap into other creative pursuits, including acting and opening her eponymous performing space, the Hellen Rose-Schauersberger LabOratorium. And the list goes on. For a woman who has proven her worth many times over, we’ll keep the superlatives to a minimum and have Hellen shed some light on her past, present and future.
Covered: Back in the '80s…, constant adjustments, The Hellen Rose-Schauersberger LabOratorium, Moonlight film and a one-woman show.
Audrey Lee: You've been making music for more than 20 years now and have sung alongside bands including X and Dangerous Curves back in the 80s. Care to give our readers an insight of how your career in music first began? How have you and your sound progressed since then?
Hellen Rose: I started singing when I was very young. I come from a family where one side is music and the other is… all the other stuff that I’ve never been into. I snuck into a pub at around 14 and pushed my way onto the stage and just got up and belted out a blues number I was making up on the spot! My first live show with a band called Great Dane who were totally cool about it and the crowd loved it!
When I moved to Sydney at around 18 I asked Peter Reid at a venue called Frenches if I could get up and play his guitar and sing when he finished a Moist set and he said yes! That’s how I got to know and work with all the Black Eye folk. One day before then I think, I ran into Ian Rilen on Oxford St when everyone lived in Darlinghurst and I had no idea who he was and I gave him a flyer for a band I was in at the time called Moral Fibro. It was OK but I didn’t really fit in with them and he said, “I’m in a band called X and we need some back up vocals for a tour we want to do”, so I became an Xette for a while. We were rehearsing in our lounge room and all my house mates knew who Ian was, while I sang back up vocals like “I’m Your Dip Stick Not Your Lipstick…” First gig I surely found out that X were great!
Dangerous Curves was a late ‘90s version of the original Peter, Paul and Hellen, only we got Rev Kriss Hades in for this round and new songs. In the ‘80s I was into extreme noise carve-up guitar and caused absolute outrage around town by carving up an SG copy with a kitchen carving knife. I loved the guitarist from The Butthole Surfers and Snakefinger, Fred Frith and Black Sabbath and Diamanda Galas and Yma Sumac and The Runaways all mixed into one with a touch of country.
AL: For the sake of our readers who aren't familiar with your work, how would you describe Hellen Rose's music and who or what has influenced you musically?
HR: Everything has influenced me. The blues and spirituals have always been my foundation. Meeting Jimmy Carter this year from The Five Blind Boys of Alabama at The Opera House and singing a Mahalia Jackson song for him was one of the best moments for me, he held my hand and he was so old, the last remaining member of the original band and the cool thing was that he was really total rock ‘n’ roll; the coolest 84 year old, full of energy and life, I loved that!
I have recently been training with an opera diva and my voice has expanded into further dimensions. I don’t really know how to categorise my music I’ll leave that up to the listener, hell - Sleazy from Coil died last week, they influenced me as well as Throbbing Gristle.
At the moment, I am working with Jeffrey Wegener (Laughing Clowns), just doing drums and voice. It’s amazing that the sound is full enough with just those two instruments. I’m definitely going to get out the carving knife and hack into that axe with a manic energy that will leave me feeling all calm afterwards, haha.
AL: Your work requires you to travel out of Sydney quite regularly, predominantly to Berlin. Do you feel like you have to make constant adjustments as an artiste as a result?
HR: Yes it’s just so difficult shoving those shoes and dresses into one small bag and not getting charged excess. I have to get around like all artists must, especially Australians, as we are so so so far far far awayyy from the hub of the world.
I love performing in Berlin, Switzerland, wherever I can; I got to sing at the Australian Embassy on Australia Day last year. That was weird. I sang ‘Summertime’ in my unique style, in a glass atrium and it was 20 degrees below zero outside - wacky it was. I loved singing to generals and bureaucrats and other artists; a unique gathering.
AL: Sounds like you already have so much on your plate. What's more, in 2007, you actually opened The Hellen Rose-Schauersberger LabOratorium in Surry Hills. What gave you that idea? How has the space evolved since its launch?
HR: Well now. I have spent a lot of time living in warehouse spaces since squatting The Gunnery in Woolloomooloo in the ‘80s with many Black Eye folk and painters and dancers. Then I moved to another warehouse space called Gearco with Bain Wolfkind and the painter Adam Cullen, but I missed being in a space that was full of constant thriving creativity and where all artists must have freedom to create. I think there should be a bohemians and artists strike march downtown to demonstrate about the ever-crushing state of trying to fight for a studio, living space and exhibiting/performing space where artists can be free to create what the buyers fight over, and what all the punters pay to see and hear: music and art!
This town is constantly crushing the goose that lays the golden egg. Galleries are in a sense a dead space for the final processed product of the artist; studio galleries are a place where art is in full throttle and the work is whirling straight off the hands and lips and out of the soul of the artist.
AL: OK, music aside, let's talk about your acting pursuits. I've read that you once trained as an actor at the Victorian College of Arts. What fuelled your decision to pursue an acting career? And how has that endeavour been going for you?
HR: In Melbourne training as an actor at VCA, I became interested in performance art rather than traditional ‘acting’, I wanted to incorporate music into my work too. This was considered bizarre at that time as no one really knew or understood what I was exploring. Many times the police were called to my shows or they were described by the media as shocking, dangerous, satanic, haha. My work at that time looked heavy and some of it was, but in reality I was playing with the hypocrisy around me and directly attacked homophobia, misogyny, paedophilia. A lot of my work was pranksterish – the world was much darker in the ‘80s and ‘90s with Roger Rogerson running Taylor Square cop shop, Frank Arkell getting killed by Mark Van Krevel, Justice Yeldham committing suicide etc.
In the ‘80s I formed a group called ACHHAC and we performed at the old Performance Space and other galleries around at the time. Around 1987, I was asked to join a group called Butchered Babies; this group had a huge influence on the band Thug and contributed to the whole artistic oeuvre of that time. That group as well as another group I was in called Big Mac Overbite with Joe Claxton and Sybilla Vassali, both from the legendary riot girl band Matrimony, used to perform in between bands like Thug, Lubricated Goat, Box The Jesuit. We’d do these strange theatre pieces that converged with music; it was great, though for some reason we weren’t taken very seriously as no one really knew how to sell or promote what we did. And probably because we were girls (in BMOB) we really got ignored or vilified for even being on stage. Jo really copped it when she shaved her hair off! Bloody weird now to see that level of sexism in retrospect, I’m so glad we busted through that!
In 2009 I did a performance at the MCA dedicated to an Afghani friend. She had told me in an email that she was going outside without a burqa on as she just wanted to feel the sun on her face and the wind in her hair; for this she was killed and mutilated. Wade Keighran from The Scare accompanied me on bass and I worked with the fabulous interactive sculptures of the genius sculptor Philip Barnes.
I am currently working on a neo magic realist/surrealist play called Ladders By The Sea by Keiran Carrol. It’s going to be on here in The LabOratorium – 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18 Dec 2010.
AL: You were recently in Pakistan making a film with the Australian artist, George Gittoes. Tell us, what was the experience like, and perhaps you can also tell us a little about the upcoming film?
HR: Well I could write a book about that! Working with George is like working with the high priest of ‘uberpranksterism’. Just getting me into the country was a kind of intervention and prank. After shooting the film Moonlight on location in the day, we would shoot all the nightclub scenes, in the large dining room of the hotel at night. This became like doing live theatre every night as it attracted many men from the mountain villages. They came to see girls without burqas and word had got around that there was a foreign actress on set: me. The scariest thing we did was to make a dance video clip in the film where I come up wearing a pretty ‘risqué for Pakistan outfit’ - very tight fitting - and performed a super-wild “vampire” themed interpretive performance/dance with the small guy actor/comedians Bul Bul and Arshied, Na Na and plastic AK-47s. The local Taliban were in the audience and they seemed both shocked but thrilled to see something like that, seeing women live without burqas was a big drawcard. What personally cracked both George and me up was that we did it to ‘I Wan’t Everything’ by The Ramones - nice way to introduce a legendary band to the good folk of The North West Frontier Pakistan, now officially known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It was scary because it could have been seen as really overstepping the mark and we may have had to face the wrath of locals with real AK-47s, but somehow we seem to have got away with it so far.
I have worked with George a few times now, but it was great, and a real privilege, to be the first person George has ever taken into a war zone. Many soldiers and male artists have asked him many times, but it was good to be a woman and going to a place where there is apartheid against women so that I might fight against the misogyny we face today through art. George has always been a staunch supporter of women and that has been something that attracted me to him as an artist. Bullets of the Poets, a film about the female Nicaraguan freedom fighters and poets he made in 1986, totally amazed me.
Wearing a burqa or niqab was a very strange experience for me and gave me a very deep understanding of the nature of that form of oppression and torture, a combo of a type of Stockholm syndrome and Chinese water torture – a subtle psychological daily torment that can drive you mad. It was strange to be bullied/shunned/ignored openly because of my gender.
AL: Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
HR: 2011 I’m in heaven. I hope not literally! I will be working again with George, this time in Afghanistan working on more films and… radio plays! I have always wanted to do that mainly because I love Orson Wells’ radio plays and now I get to create some. Happy day! I am also planning a move to NY at some stage, which will be great fun I hope. I will be recording with Jeffrey Wegener and fantastic bass player Mme Julie Kim, someone whom I’ve had the privilege to work with previously in a performance music group called Young Shaved Pissing Boys and more recently Prowler with The Rev Kriss Hades.
I am also working on a one-woman show with the very clever actor and director David Field helping in the background, and I am almost popping to get that on a stage in Sydney and show everyone a work that will be a real conglomerate of my experience and styles in performance, acting, writing and music.
Hello and welcome to my side of the block. I’m Audrey. Or better known as the bargain hunter, shark advocate and the girl who has a penchant for lomography and anything handmade, from the past or out of the norm. I’m a lot of things but mostly just a simple gal with an aspiration. In pursuit of my young upstart’s dreams of encouraging a new trend from the monochrome-clad and career driven crowd that is Singapore today, here is where you’ll find all that inspire, delight and question. I also purport to be a rising platform for emerging designers and artists through my knack for words. So come join me on my journey in search for our little town’s hidden talents and traits. I think we are off to a good start!
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This story was featured on Reportage Enviro on 6 September 2010.
Beneath the first blush of an early September predawn light, a fierce wind lashed the sullen, logy waves, stirring up a blast of fresh salt air that consumed me. The loud droning of the engines interrupted the tranquility of the untamed sea as our speedboat jetted across the ocean just off the coast of Gansbaai in South Africa. With 15 others onboard this 11-metre catamaran, we were on an expedition most would call a ‘reckless’ one. The one animal we fear most was the one we were hoping to meet that morning: the great white shark.
Buckets of diluted rancid minced fish parts, tuna blood and oil, or otherwise called chum, were tossed into the water from the stern. The bristling breath of the sea was engulfed by a long, unbroken trail of this malodorous concoction, snaking its way towards the horizon. The sharks’ sense of smell is so sensitive it can detect even a single drop of blood in the water up to 5km away.
The boat finally came to a complete standstill and we found ourselves stranded in the beasts’ lair. The choppy waves shook the boat like a rag doll, with the surrounding waters turning crimson from the chum. The cold wind blew harshly, cutting my face like piercing needles. The ocean was a sepulcher. Still raring to go, I climbed into a large cage that was fixed to the starboard at water level. The icy water restricted my legs a little, but I continued to tread to stay warm, as I waited anxiously with bated breath. All other eyes on deck were kept peeled for a triangular fin that might break the water surface.
“Shark!” It wasn’t long before a fellow member cried out in a keening falsetto. My heart began to race. Most would scurry to shore at the sound of that word, but I put on my snorkel and ducked underwater. The three-metre shark lunged towards a chunk of tuna carcass attached to a line next to where I was. Its huge jaws exposed, baring row upon row of deadly serrated teeth. Its formidable tail was thrashing around wildly, churning up sea bubbles and impairing my vision.
As the bubbles soon began to clear, the shark had already devoured its prey in a matter of seconds. Overwhelmed with a feeling of awe, I edged in closer, instantly captivated by the animal’s majestic performance. The shark glided gracefully towards the cage, its large, unblinking black eyes fixated onto mine. With only so much of a couple of steel bars separating us, I was centimetres from it. I was almost certain that the shark could easily wrench the bars out and attack me if it wanted to. But it didn’t. Like an inquisitive child, I saw a flickering light within its barely visible dark pupils, as it gazed upon me. Unthinkably, the great white disappeared abruptly into the murkiness. The most feared predator on earth… was afraid of me.
The ocean covers about two thirds of the world’s surface and is home to over 80% of life on Earth. The first sharks are known to have lived in the ocean for more than 400 million years, about 150 million years before the age of the dinosaurs. When all other life on Earth was wiped out, sharks have managed to survive five major mass extinctions. They are the apex predators in the marine environment, helping to maintain the proportional balance of various marine species in the ecosystem. They control the populations below them, essentially eliminating weaker species and thus, creating new ones.
Sharks are to known to have terrorised the hearts of people, many of whom are victims of traditional misconceptions and beliefs portrayed by the media. Steven Spielberg’s fear-provoking classic movie, Jaws, released in 1975 is a prime example. “Jaws was a completely unrealistic and over-dramatised portrayal of the great white shark,” Rebecca Davis, founder of Save Our Sharks Australia, says of the film. “Unfortunately, the fear it instilled into people who saw the movie has continued to influence generation upon generation.” Even Peter Benchley, the late author of the novel Jaws, wrote an article in 1995 titled “Misunderstood Monsters”, admitting to the damage his book has done to the reputation of sharks. “I couldn't write "Jaws" today”, he wrote. “The extensive new knowledge of sharks would make it impossible for me to create, in good conscience, a villain of the magnitude and malignity of the original.”
Scientists and experts have long tried to debunk the myth that sharks are “mindless killing machines”. Dr. Demian Chapman, a research scientist currently based in Peru of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science and head of the Institute’s Shark Research Program, has been struggling to do the same. Growing up in New Zealand, Dr. Chapman spent most of his childhood on the beach. Like most children, he was fearful of sharks, but became fascinated with them and was “hooked” by the time he realised they were not the “monsters” he perceived them to be.
His fieldwork involves the studying of shark reproduction and behavioural patterns, and he has found them to be amazingly tame. “I’ve been near thousands and thousands of sharks,” he says. “All the ones that people are very afraid of, and I’ve never been bitten by any of those. In fact, I’ve been bitten more by my dog than sharks.”
According to a statistical study conducted by Taronga Conservation Society Australia, there have only been 52 human fatalities due to shark attack, in Australia in the last 50 years. The last fatal attack happened to actress, Marcia Hathaway, at Sydney Harbour in 1963. Michael Skoletsky, Executive Director of Shark Savers, says of death from shark bites is usually caused by blood loss. When a shark does bite a person, he claims, “it’s extremely rare that it would bite a person twice”. The bites are often not predatory. A surfer in a wetsuit on a surfboard may resemble a seal, a prey favourable to great white sharks. “Sharks don’t have arms so sometimes the only way for them to tell or to taste whether something is food is by taking a bite, and they have big mouths!” Skoletsky says.
Upon hearing my shark cage diving experience, Skoletsky says the only reason the shark approached the cage was because of the chum. “That shark probably would not have wanted to come near you if they weren’t attracting the shark, and they had to work pretty hard at that. They may be chumming long before you got into the cage. So that shows you that the sharks are not there to eat you.” Albeit sharks are often seen as the “bad guys,” Dr. Chapman argues that in reality, “we [humans] are the bad guys because we kill more of them”. Much more.
Research has shown precipitous declines in many shark species. Michael Aw, founding director of OceanNEnvironment and a shark expert, estimates over 100 million sharks are killed each year, where 26 to 73 million sharks are killed purely for their fins. As a result, over one-third of the shark species are classified as endangered or threatened by extinction under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.
Shark finning is a common practice where fishermen would pull a shark on deck and slice off its fins while it is often still alive. The rest of the shark is then thrown back into the sea to die either by bleeding to death or suffocation. As shark meat is relatively inexpensive and less profitable, their fins are primarily the reason behind this lucrative industry. According to Dr. Chapman, there is about 20 to 25 species of sharks that make up the fin trade, such as Whale Shark, Mako, Hammerhead, Thresher Shark and Grey Nurse. Putting it simply – the larger the fin, the higher the price. As far as species that are highly valued, such as the Hammerheads, their fins possess certain “characteristics that the fin traders and consumers find desirable, and can fetch up to $140 per kilogram of hammerhead fins,” Dr. Chapman says.
Depleted shark populations are hard to rehabilitate, as Skoletsky puts it, “because sharks have very slow reproduction rate, there’s no way for them to reproduce quickly enough to overcome the fishing.” An average shark can take up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and even then produces only 2-3 pups a year. “Shark populations may take decades to recover, if they are given a chance to, or may never recover if this slaughter continues,” Skoletsky says. However, there are currently no international laws protecting sharks, as most of the oceans are not within the jurisdiction of any one country. At the conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held this March in Doha, Qatar, four species of sharks, including the Hammerheads, were up for consideration in their endangered list. Unfortunately, Japan opposed this move. “The Japanese are extremely active in lobbying against these proposals and using what influence they have to get other countries to vote the same way. It was very disheartening. The sharks came very close, which just goes to show that a majority of countries do recognise this problem and are willing to deal with it. But it’s this handful of countries that are blocking it, simply because they are making a lot of money out of it,” Dr. Chapman says of the Japanese at that meeting. “And also what’s important to note is that the proposals that were up were not to ban trade in shark fins of these species. It was just to monitor the trade in this species. Just to monitor. Which is ludicrous!”
To date, only 17 countries including the European Union (EU) have laws against shark finning, and Australia is one of them. In most of these cases where the practice of shark finning is prohibited, fishermen would have to land the entire shark and not just their fins. Australia also has regulations that protect some shark species such as the Great White and the Grey Nurse shark and has limit fishermen to a certain quota per year. Nonetheless, sharks are still allowed to be fished and fins are exported overseas.
There are nations that have banned shark fishing altogether. This May, Hawaii became the first US state to have passed a complete ban on all types of shark fin commerce. Not only are fishermen not allowed to fin sharks, landing or marketing shark fin is also strictly prohibited. In September 2009, Palau established the world’s first shark sanctuary and banned all shark-fishing activities in its waters. Early this year, Maldives banned shark fishing within a restricted zone that covers 90,000 square kilometres of water. Instead, both Palau and Maldives rely heavily on tourism for economic survival.
The global trade in shark fins is largely driven by the Chinese demand for shark fin soup. According to Aw, over 80 per cent of shark fins are consumed primarily in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta. The IUCN Shark Specialist Group states that Hong Kong alone handles at least 50 per cent to as much as 80 per cent of the world trade in shark fin. They have also found a significant mismatch in a comparison of some national shark landings data and Hong Kong fin import data. They conclude that tens of millions of shark fins ‘missing’ from the landings data are in fact appearing in Hong Kong, which does not provide a detailed report of the extent of shark finning undertaken by fishermen.
Shark fin soup is an Asian delicacy that symbolises wealth and prosperity. Otherwise known as an emperor dish, it was historically served only to wealthy people. A bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to $100 in high-end restaurants. “Serving shark fin is a way to honour guests. Since it's expensive, it shows that you want to spoil your friends and show off that you can afford such luxury. Asia is seeing huge growth in their spending power, and more people can now afford shark fin,” Ran Elfassy, founder of Shark Rescue, says.
“Since I was 10, I have been told by my teachers and environmentalists that sharks are dying out there. And till today, they are still saying the same thing. It’s not like I eat shark fin soup everyday anyway, so really, what difference does it make,” Hung Leung Chee, a 24-year-old Hong Konger, says. Conversly, Ben Birt, a Marine Campaigner of the Australian Marine Conservation Society says, “It is difficult to know where to start when you are trying to change a culture but it is a simple fact that if nothing is done and people continue to eat shark fin soup, there will no longer be any sharks left. And of course no more shark fin soup. The sensible thing would be to stop eating it now and save the species.”
The year 2010 is an auspicious year for 27-year-old Michelle Tang and her 29-year-old fiancé, Tan Ting Feng. The Singaporean couple will be holding their wedding banquet at Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore this October. Needless to say, shark fin soup was on their menu. “It has always been a customary tradition for us Chinese to have shark fin soup on special occasions,” Tang says. “Sharks harm people so I really don’t see why we can’t eat them. They taste so good!”
Unfortunately for them, Swissotel The Stamford no longer serves shark fin soup to their customers. In 1990, Fairmont Singapore and its sister property, Swissotel The Stamford proactively launched its Green Partnership program, a commitment to reducing their hotels’ impact on the environment. The program aims to save Singapore’s environment, and promote responsible tourism. In December 2008, Fairmont Singapore removed Chilean Sea Bass and Blue Fin Tuna from its menu. Last year, shark fin soup was also taken out from various Chinese restaurants in the hotel complex, including Szechuan Court.
“Asians’ affinity with shark fin soup is more of a cultural dilemma rather than a culinary,” Carlos Monterde, Hotel Manager of Fairmont Singapore, says. “And so far, the changes in our menu did not reflect negative results in our banquet. In fact, we are pleased to note that couples who are planning their wedding banquets at the Raffles City Convention Centre including organisations conducting their events at our hotels' meeting venue are quite receptive to this eco-friendly change.”
As the struggle to save sharks reaches to new heights, Fairmont Singapore’s banquet team served 600 complimentary bowls of eco-friendly and equally delicious soups to the public in the course of 3 days in early October 2009. The soups served were Double-boiled Herbal Ginseng Soup with Organic Pumpkin and Silky Bean Curd and Bamboo Fungus, a more sustainable replacement for shark fin soup. “We believe that chefs in hotels and restaurants play pivotal roles as gatekeepers to a more sustainable seafood preference,” Monterde says. “Chefs are catalysts in spreading awareness about the essence of marine animals conservation and they have the responsibility to influence diners' culinary preferences.”
Tang says that she is not upset that the restaurant has implemented an economical change in their menu. “If the chefs are able to substitute the fin with something else and still retain its taste, I’m fine with that too. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment. At the end of the day, real or fake shark fin, I’m only just sticking to my family tradition,” she says.
Shirley Chong, a Singaporean in her 70s, says she likes the taste of the soup, and believes it has medicinal value. Contrary to popular belief, the taste and nutrients of the soup are purely derived from other ingredients such as chicken or pork broth, and none from the fin itself, most of which is cartilage. However, its appeal is due to the inaccurate notion that sharks do not get cancer. Elfassy explains that while sharks do get cancer, “there is no scientific evidence showing that shark tissue, especially cartilage, has any protective benefits when it comes to cancer”. Moreover, sharks are found to carry high levels of methyl mercury, a substance the World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies as highly toxic to people. Methylmercury, is a lethal toxin that seeps into the oceans. Mercury accumulates in marine animals and it is magnified in concentration as it moves up the food chain. With sharks being the top predators of the ocean, their meat essentially has one of the highest accumulated mercury content.
Sharks have evolved in a co-dependent relationship with the ecosystem, shaping different populations for over 400 million years. Sharks keep all those populations in the right balance. Sharks, “are really the lions, tigers and bears of the ocean, they’re the chief predators,” Dr. Chapman says. “It’s reasonable to assume that if you take the top predators out, it’s going to destabilize the whole ecosystem.” Sharks are a vital source in restoring our oceans to health and enabling sustainable harvests of the sea protein upon which so much of our planet depends. Skoletsky says, “We humans need sharks—alive, in the oceans.”
Sharks have survived 5 major extinctions. But can they survive this one? “Sadly, the public in general is those who have been misinformed by movies, media and generational stories. I feel that the responsibility lies with councils, governments and international conservation bodies to help protect shark populations and initiate public education programs,” Davis says. “It is only through education that we can create a greater understanding and empathy for sharks. It is up to the individual to seek the correct information, to want to find out more, to challenge what they have heard.
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