On the Couch with Van Badham

Van Badham - photo by Chelsea ThistlewaiteWho is Van Badham?
A writer and activist. My main gigs at the moment are a column in the Guardian, a bit of arts criticism, writing for theatre, some TV development rooms and a upcoming book for Hardie Grant about left-wing economics. Home is a little cottage in country Victoria with a lad, a dog and a garden – I bake my own bread, make my own jam and pick a lot of fights on the internet. My persona online has evolved into that of some kind of Star-Trek-loving-Marxist-Feminist-infinite-rock-and-roll-galactic-death-womble, which is fair enough, really. A right wing commentator once denounced me as “the red queen” – so a follower made a spectacular velvet cape to kit me out properly; I am currently searching out an appropriate crown.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
In a former life, I was a film studies academic and I’ve never abandoned a dream to write and direct for the cinema. At various times I’ve yearned to transition into a visual arts career, too. In the closest parallel universe to this one, though, I’m still working as a waitress. I was doing that until I was 36, and there are still some mornings where I wake up in a panic that I don’t know where my apron is and I’m going to be late for the bread delivery.

Who inspires you and why?
The American, writer, activist and “yippie” Abbie Hoffman has had the most influence on the way I view the world and the contribution I can make as an organiser and communicator to improving it. My other political heroes are the early English socialist Robert Owen – an instigator of the cooperative movement – and the wartime/postwar British Labour MP, Nye Bevan, who fought the political battles to build the British Welfare State. Whenever I feel despondent about the world, I read Bevan’s speeches aloud to myself (in a terrible Welsh accent, sorry, people of Wales) and it always gets me back on track.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
I try to make a difference every day. My other great inspiration in life is my partner, Ben Davison. In the morning before he leaves for work he asks me what I’m going to be doing and I say “I’m going to build some socialism. What are you doing?” And he says “I reckon I might build some socialism” and we go out there and make sure we do.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Ben and I are just back from the UK – I lived there for over 10 years, it’s my second home. In my dreams I am in a tiny shepherd’s hut watching the sun set over the ocean from the hills above St Ives, running from museum to museum in my beloved Manchester or chowing down on Pizza Express pizza in London with my old gang. I love how my life back in Australia’s turned out but I do miss England; I hope the Boris Johnson catastrophe doesn’t wreck it beyond repair.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Ha. Our town isn’t really a touristy place, and it’s perfect for that reason. When friends visit, they come to our cottage, we bring round our neighbours – we cook messy feasts, and stay up late laughing at wild stories.

What are you currently reading?
Ooh, I’m very enthralled by Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses on Art and Class which is excellent but a bit too stimulating as I keep having to stop reading to sketch out questions for myself and jot ideas. And tonight I wandered into the wonderful Planet Books in Perth’s Northbridge and accidentally came out with Stanislaw Lem’s Mortal Engines short story collection, and Bohemia Hrabal’s Closely Watched Trains, which I’ve been meaning to read for years.

What are you currently listening to?
Harry Nilsson, ELO, the Amazing Bongo Band, Public Enemy, early Stevie Wonder, Dick Dale and heaps and heaps of Northern Soul.

Happiness is?
Ben. Our dog. An ascendant Left.

What does the future hold for you?
Lots of writing. Probably more fights. Jam. Bread.

Van is the playwright of Banging Denmark – published by New South Books – which is currently being presented by Sydney Theatre Company in a critically acclaimed sold out season at the Sydney Opera House until 24 August 2019.

Image: Van Badham – photo by Chelsea Thistlewaite

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