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Words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

“Is an audience willing and still enough to be read to?” asks Charlotte Wood, writer and close friend of the late Georgia Blain.

The answer is easy: ‘Yes, as long as it is from the works of a brilliant writer’.

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At 3 o’clock on Friday the 26th of May, an ordinary group of audience members walked into Sydney Dance Studio No.2.

Row by row, people, mostly women, occupied the seats. Ushered by the attentive volunteer who nearly didn’t let me in until she saw the lanyard of proof, I too found myself a seat. Upon the stage the three kindly faces of Charlotte Wood, Tegan Bennett Daylight and James Bradley awaited to begin.

Even before Charlotte Wood mentioned the fact, one could sense that this was not going to be the usual kind of event. There was a melancholic happiness in the air.

Indeed, the words ‘Close to Home: The work of Georgia Blain’ would have been a clue for those who were familiar with her work.

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At the very beginning, Wood calls upon the “deeper, quieter part of ourselves” readying the audience for their recital of three excerpts from three of Blain’s works of art.
She reminds us of the untimely death of the great Australian authoress Georgia Blain after a struggle with brain cancer.

As Wood holds the tip of the baton in her shaking hand, James Bradley holds onto it and begins to tell the audience about his long friendship with Blain.
“We lived two beaches away from each other… Back then, our parents knew each other but we didn’t,” Bradley reminisces.

Fast-forwarding to a recent conversation that he had had with Blain, he recalls her dry sense of humour: “she once said to me ‘well at least my publicist will be pleased; now I have something to promote my next book with’”.

After drawing this portrait of Blain, he begins his chosen excerpt from her 2008 memoir, Births Deaths Marriages: True Tales. It paints the story of the birth of her only child, from her pregnancy till the reunion of the birthing class. Bradley pauses and joins the audience in their laughter as he reads Blain’s romanticisation of the image of a mother in labour.

Bradley proves Blain’s extraordinary ability to narrativise the permutations of the simple and the mundane as he reads the way in which Blain incorporates a complete stranger at the hospital into a love triangle involving herself and her husband; in her imagination of course. What stands out the most in her writing is the lacking element of cliché.

It is Wood’s turn. She reads from Blain’s most recently published work Between a wolf and a dog focussing on an excerpt that deals with the death of a husband and father.

With the puffs of air that burst onto the microphone at her every aspirated consonant, Wood looks apologetically at the audience. Her every word, in their enunciative glory, enhances the already vivid imagery of Blain. A sudden burst of sadness is imminent.

When it is Tegan Bennett Daylight’s turn, she shares with the audience a personal text exchange between Blain and herself. More than an exhibition, it provides an insight into the loving person that Blain was.

Daylight chooses an excerpt from Blain’s short story, “Far from home” that too explores the death of a parent yet with the added emotional weight of filial guilt.

As Wood concludes the event, her suppressed grief remains no longer thus.

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Whether they had known Blain or not, the audience observed her mesmerising creativity, joining in the therapeutic act of the synchronised lamentation and celebration of her life.

While there was no verbal interaction, there was an emotional telepathy that linked the audience and the writers together; a line of silent communication that caused something more than the simultaneous sighs and the spurts of light laughter.

The story of the four friends was itself worth novelisation.

As a member of this remembrance it was far from easy to be critical of the event, not merely out of respect for the dead but out of honest appreciation. I was truly glad to discover Georgia Blain and her work even if it were posthumous.

It was truly an event like no other.

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