California is a dancehall set in 1850’s Melbourne.
In the fever of the gold rush, where the population tripled & men dropped everything to seek their fortune, women were still outcast as the town changed from a ‘wild west’ to a vestige of quaint decency. But for the working class, the stench of misfortune was usually irreversible. Women who had accompanied their husbands, fathers and brothers and made the trip from England or another country to find a new life were mostly discarded as gold rush fever hit the newly discovered Victoria. As the goldfields were ‘no place for a lady’, many women were deserted to fend for themselves. A lack of welfare, English traditions and conventions, & the overwhelming struggle of making ends meet meant most women in this situation were trapped and had nowhere to turn.
California, a multi channel video installation, is a re-imagining of a dance hall in 1850’s Melbourne populated entirely by female dancers and musicians. Hallucinatory in nature, the exhausted women partner up, supporting themselves in what seems to be a never ending dance.
My aim is to deliver a feeling of the entrapment echoed by the dancers and a glimpse into the cycle of a brutal world that offered little respite from hardship & desperation.
This piece furthers my investigations of women in C19 Victoria, which was begun with “Lamb of God” in 2009 (Australia Council New Work Grant) which showed the life and death of Emma Williams, who was hung in the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1895.
– Donna McRae
Donna McRae completed a PhD entitled Projecting Phantasy: The Spectre in Cinema at Monash University in 2012. Her first feature film, Johnny Ghost, (2012) has been selected into numerous film festivals here and overseas, winning 7 awards including Best Female Director, Best Feature and Special Jury Prize. The film has North American distribution with Continuum Pictures, and local distribution with Titan View.
Donna completed the postgraduate filmmaking course at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2003 and her student projects have enjoyed success in both local and international film festivals. She has also completed an MFA at Monash University and presented three-channel video installations in Melbourne galleries and overseas after receiving a “New Work” grant from the Australia Council in 2007.
Donna is currently working on several other feature film projects, including a ghostly revisionist version of the life of Ned Kelly’s sister Kate, a “Women in Horror” anthology project with four other directors interested in presenting female contributions to the horror genre and a documentary about a chimpanzee named Cobby.
She has also collaborated with visual artist Michael Vale since 2002, principally on the feature film project Le Chien qui Fume (currently in development with Screen Australia & Film Victoria support). They have also made several short films & videos together culminating in a film award from Asolo Film Festival, Italy, for best film on art, and worked with installation art (The Innocents Westspace, Melbourne 2011).
She currently works as a Lecturer in Film & TV at Deakin University, Melbourne.