By Derek Strahan BA Cantab (Modern Languages, French & Spanish)



My name is Derek Strahan. I am an Australian citizen. Like many Australian citizens I speak Australian with a foreign accent. Because of it, and to my continuing aggravation, people often assume that I am English. I am not. I am Irish. However, it is also true that I am British, being a native of Northern Ireland . Why don't I speak with an Ulster accent? To explain why I sound more "English" than "Irish", I feel I should briefly outline my background. I've been resident in Australia since 1942, though circumstances kept me away from this country between the years 1945 and 1961. I was born in Penang, in Malaya , as it was then called, when it was a British colony. As was the custom among British colonials, I was sent to boarding school at the age of four. I would have spent most of my childhood in boarding schools. Fortunately for me, the Japanese Imperial army caused a disruption in British colonial life by invading Malaya, which caused my mother, my sister and me to escape to Perth , Western Australia . You could say we arrived as boat persons. Given the political circumstances of the time we were not turned away. I spent the best part of my childhood living in the Perth suburb of Claremont , where I went to school as a dayboy, learning to swim at Claremont Baths and at Cottesloe Beach .

Sadly, my mother did not want to prolong our stay in Australia . She preferred life in a third world country, occupied by a foreign power, run by fundamental religious bigots, and riven by sectarian violence, rather like present day Iraq. So, in 1945, we moved to Northern Ireland . Here, although I had committed no crime, I was sentenced to seven years incarceration in a Protestant Boys' Boarding School in Belfast . Disregarding my desire to study music at tertiary level, it was decided instead that I should study modern languages, French and Spanish, in order to gain entrance to Cambridge University . An unintended side effect of my studies, which alarmed everyone, was that I quickly became imbued with the radical anti-clerical political views of the 18 th century French philosophers, and, as natural progression, with the Fabian socialist views of George Bernard Shaw, whose entire literary output I devoured at the age of 18. Further details of this era in my life can be found in my article "Ted and Sylvia - I was there", which also covers the time I spent at Cambridge University (1953-56), where I met and briefly dated Sylvia Plath before she met Ted Hughes -an episodewhich earned me a brief mention in her Journal.

Yes, I did go to Cambridge on a scholarship, which was means-tested, so my father had to pay anyway - which infuriated me. I had earned the money. Why did I have to be indebted to him for my further education? After graduation in 1956 I spent five confused years in London , gaining employment as an actor, an assistant film director making commercials, and as casual teacher, while crawling back into music by writing songs for myself to sing with guitar. I dipped into rock'n roll, which had just burst upon the scene, led by Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, but also emulated the songs of the French chansonniers of the 50s and 60s, of whom the most famous, in the English-speaking world, was Jacques Brel - but there were many others. It was another unintended consequence of my education, that my French studies helped me return to music. I also began composing. Though I was singing in clubs, by 1961 I realised that I did not want to remain in London 's concrete jungle. An obscure impulse, a dimly remembered recollection of a time of sun and beaches caused my then girl-friend and I to book on a boat to go to the Canary Islands . We were late, and missed the boat train. Returning in chaos to the flat of our best friends I said: "Well, if you wanted to get as far away from London as possible, where would you go." The flippant answer was: " Australia ." But a light bulb lit up in my head. I said: "We'll go there". And we did.

Apart from 3 years working in television in New Zealand, and one year visiting family in the UK, I've been in Australia ever since.

I hope all that explains why I speak Australian with a foreign accent.

Next >>


Part 1 - Biography
Part 1 - Preamble
Part 2 - Agenda
Part 2 - Arts Organisations - History
Part 3 - Rise of the Committee
Part 4 - Radical Proposition
1. Direct support?
2. Funding?
3. Funding bodies?
4. Bureaucrats?
5. Not empowered.
6 Statistics!
Part 5 - Loose Ends
The Medici Program
Part 6 - No Reasons
Part 7 - Summing Up
Part 8 - Composers earning money
J.S. Bach
Josef Haydn
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