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The Forum Down Under: Hello Sydney!

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Dave Lee | 11:56 UK time, Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Forum team have flown out to Australia for the first of two special shows. This week, they'll be broadcasting from the Sydney Opera House. Next week they'll be at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, New Zealand. The show's producer, Emily Kasriel, wrote us this post:

I am feeling excited about the journey across the world to make three special Forum programmes.

emily_sydney_300.jpg

The trip from London to Sydney Australia echoes a semi fictional trip made two centuries ago by William Thornhill. He too spent his working life along the Thames, not in Bush House but as a waterman ferrying the gentry up and down the river; until he was convicted of smuggling and narrowly escaped a death sentence.

He chose instead to spend the term of his natural life in the penal colony of New South Wales. William is the hero of the celebrated novel, The Secret River written by Kate Grenville, one of the special guests featured in our recordings down under.

William spent nine long months in the convict ship Alexandra, and he travelled across the globe via Cape Town. Ours is courtesy of the rather more modern airbus A380 with a span of a day and a half, and a stopover in Dubai. William spent the crossing in shackles; we are merely going economy class. When William arrived, Sydney was a frontier settlement peopled by some of Britain's more interesting characters escaping poverty, prison, or death.

Many of the early settlers felt themselves at risk from the native Australians who resented the encroachment on their land. Today I don't feel in too much danger: I've heard that the huge red dust cloud which had engulfed the city last week has disappeared though I'm not quite sure how I can best prepare myself for our first recording, it is part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Now all I can see outside is a pitch black sky some 41,000 feet above Mosul in Iraq and we are about two hours away from Dubai. In a day's time, I am looking forward to staring out the oval window and see if I can spot the iconic wings of the Sydney Opera House - where we are recording the first show. Not in the cavernous main auditorium, but in the slightly more modest Utzon room, the only interior in the Opera House designed by the architect Jørn Utzon, who was the original architect for the Opera House.

On the back of the room, according to an image on the website, hangs an enormous floor-to-ceiling brightly coloured woolen tapestry which he created; great swashes of purple, yellow, black green and orange. I am trusting that it will inspire a vibrant discussion between our Aboriginal novelist and lawyer, Asian Australian cultural studies professor and singer, writer and arts advocate.

I am travelling to this part of the world with historically-tinted lenses. So many of the pre-conversations I have had with guests in the lead up to this trip have revolved around negotiating, reconsidering and questioning Australia's history and their place in it. Kate Grenville's books immerse you in the settler's early history.

She herself has come under criticism from some Australian historians who see her writing as a flawed way of recreating the past. This is a charge she dismisses, the events and characters in the novel are adapted from the historical record she argues, "these things really did happen, even if at a slightly different time and in a different place." Another guest is the historian Marilyn Lake - who will be challenging the country's infatuation with her national hero, the Anzac: an anonymous white, male soldier from the First World War era revered for his bravery and loyalty.

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Bridget Kendall (far right) with guests on the Sydney edition of The Forum (L-R: Robyn Archer, Larissa Behrendt, Ien Ang, Bridget Kendall.)

The guests for the Melbourne show tried to convey to me the strength of feeling which the Anzac icon inspires in their compatriots. To understand them better I searched my mind to find a British equivalent, but I could think of no figure like the ANZAC or indeed a hero like Jefferson or Lincoln honoured by the American psyche.

In Melbourne we are recording a show at the Melbourne Arts festival, and we plan to ask the audience for a show of hands to get an idea of how loyal they feel to the ANZAC legend today. I hardly think that we will get too many of the macho Australians willing to defend their legend in the arts festival crowd; it would be interesting and make a better programme if I am proved wrong. Let's wait and see.

Thinking of icons, Susan Clark, the ABC producer who we have been working very closely with, replied to my offer of an English gift with a request for Marmite, "so much better than the vegemite you get round here" she insisted.

A few jars, still intact I hope, lie in the Airbus hold below me. I hadn't realised quite how subversive her request was until I just read a story in a copy of The Australian newspaper. Kraft has been forced to kill off the launch of a new Vegemite spin off. After a competition they had chosen the name iSnack2.0, but this name was met with a storm of national outrage: Kraft was accused of tampering with an Australian icon.

Emily Kasriel is executive producer of The Forum

The Forum is first aired at 8:05am GMT (9:05 BST) on Sunday mornings, and repeated at various times after that. You can listen again here.

Over To You is your chance to have your say about the BBC World Service and its programmes. It airs at 10:40 and 23:40 every Saturday, and at 02:40 on Sunday (GMT).

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