The West Australian

WA arts provo­ca­teur

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GE­ORGE BLAZEVIC Arts re­nais­sance man Born: Perth, 1952 Died: Perth, aged 63

“Fringe dweller” was an ep­i­thet that sat com­fort­ably with Ge­orge Blazevic, and one that also en­cap­su­lated his pro­fes­sional life as a play­wright and au­thor.

From the first Festival Fringe in the mid-1980s, and for the next 30 years, Ge­orge con­trib­uted to WA’s fringe arts in many ways: as play­wright, critic, pub­li­cist, pro­ducer, pa­tron, and agent provo­ca­teur.

Just as im­por­tantly, his pas­sion and knowl­edge brought artists, in­tel­lec­tu­als, pro­fes­sion­als and stu­dents to­gether for de­bates and dis­cus­sion of pro­gres­sive ideas, pol­i­tics and the arts, mak­ing con­nec­tions and plans that nur­tured the un­der­belly of Perth’s cre­ative so­ci­ety.

Ge­orge’s par­ents were post­war refugees from Croa­tia, who af­ter be­ing robbed in Brin­disi, Italy, found their way to Perth by chance. His mother Ge­or­gia in par­tic­u­lar was a highly cul­tured per­son — she was some­what aghast at the pro­vin­cial back­wa­ter that was Perth in the 50s — and her love of ideas and the arts were im­bued in her son and his younger sis­ter Klara, who re­mem­bers Ge­orge hold­ing other chil­dren in their High­gate street spell­bound with elab­o­rate sto­ries, while their moth­ers bel­lowed im­po­tently in the dis­tance.

Ge­orge was born in Perth on April 13, 1952. His par­ents were ac­tively in­volved in the nascent Croa­t­ian im­mi­grant com­mu­nity, and were among the lead­ers of a group that built the first Croa­t­ian com­mu­nity cen­tre, in North Fre­man­tle. There, Ge­orge first ab­sorbed one of his fun­da­men­tal val­ues — an ac­tive com­mit­ment to the com­mu­nity, what­ever it might be.

But where his par­ents’ fo­cus was on build­ing se­cu­rity for their im­me­di­ate fam­ily and then for their com­pa­tri­ots, Ge­orge’s stage was far wider. He threw him­self into univer­sity life at UWA, edit­ing Pel­i­can in 1973, and de­vel­op­ing his life­long in­ter­ests in pol­i­tics, his­tory, jour­nal­ism, drama and mu­sic.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing he be­came a jour­nal­ist at The West Aus­tralian, and later with News Corp and ABC TV. But the dis­ci­pline re­quired didn’t suit Ge­orge. He was a free spirit and as­pired to be a writer in his own right. Al­though he pro­duced a va­ri­ety of novel­las, scripts and screen­plays, two ma­jor themes per­me­ated his cre­ative out­put.

The first was Amer­i­can his­tory, which he con­sumed vo­ra­ciously de­spite never set­ting foot in that land. With long­time mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tor Dave Ed­wards, Ge­orge wrote and per­formed One Night, One Time in Amer­ica at Ar­trage in 1989. The work was a hit, and reprised sev­eral times in fol­low­ing years.

Ge­orge and In­gle Knight co-wrote The Shadow of the Ea­gle, about the wartime en­counter be­tween Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter John Curtin and Amer­i­can mil­i­tary leader Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur. To Ge­orge’s great joy, the 2003 pre­miere of the Perth Theatre Com­pany’s pro­duc­tion was at­tended by Gough and Mar­garet Whit­lam. Gough praised the play, which then toured Aus­tralia.

The sec­ond con­stant theme of Ge­orge’s work was mi­gra­tion, and par­tic­u­larly the ex­pe­ri­ence of Croa­t­ian em­i­grants. He be­came the first Aus­tralo-Croat to be granted an Aus­tralia Coun­cil lit­er­ary grant to ex­plore the world of Croa­t­ian theatre.

His work Nevesin­sjka 17 (the ad­dress of his mother’s child­hood house in Za­greb) toured Croa­tia and Bos­nia for Deckchair Theatre as part of the Syd­ney Olympics Global Cul­tural Pro­gram in 1999. These links were fur­ther strength­ened through the Perth Theatre Com­pany’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Croa­t­ian Na­tional Theatre in Za­greb in pro­duc­ing Ge­orge’s co-adap­ta­tion of the clas­sic Croa­t­ian play The Cor­po­ral’s Wife for the 2003 Perth In­ter­na­tional Arts Festival.

Ar­guably the artis­tic high­light of Ge­orge’s theatre ca­reer was Giles, is That You? — a con­tem­po­rary opera based on the 19th cen­tury ex­plorer Ernest Giles, which was the smash hit of the 1993 Ar­trage, and per­formed again to full houses at PICA in 1995. Ge­orge was keen to take the work to a wider au­di­ence and thought Op­tus might spon­sor it, given its theme of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions. Re­buffed, Ge­orge wrote back, ask­ing Op­tus to re­con­sider. The hand­writ­ten re­sponse from PR face of Op­tus John New­combe, read: “Mr Blazevic, I want you to know that this is the rud­est let­ter I have ever re­ceived.”

The truth is that Ge­orge’s iras­ci­bil­ity was much of his charm. He had a sly turn of phrase, and could ef­fort­lessly dev­as­tate or il­lu­mi­nate with his one-lin­ers. He was stim­u­lat­ing and un­pre­dictable, opin­ion­ated and ar­tic­u­late. He made friends eas­ily and had lots of them, reg­u­larly hold­ing court in his favoured cafe de jour, any­where be­tween North­bridge and May­lands. Ge­orge’s kitchen ta­ble also be­came an arena in its own right.

There was a bad Ge­orge. He could be grumpy and a lit­tle self-ab­sorbed. A num­ber of re­la­tion­ships ended abruptly be­cause Ge­orge was rest­less and given to bouts of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity and flight­i­ness. But he also re­built en­dur­ing friend­ships with sev­eral for­mer part­ners. Ul­ti­mately too, he en­joyed good re­la­tion­ships with his two chil­dren, Ge­or­gia and Djuro, and was im­mensely proud of them.

In his later years he built a new home in East Perth with his lov­ing part­ner of 13 years, Leonie. He judged Fringe World per­for­mances and gave ad­vice and sup­port to lo­cal artists.

Ge­orge died in Fe­bru­ary af­ter a year-long fight with pan­cre­atic cancer. His pass­ing was marked with the es­tab­lish­ment of a new Fringe World award, The Blaz, for best writ­ing for per­for­mance by a WA writer.

The Festival’s ges­ture is apt — Ge­orge Blazevic’s colour­ful life could give am­ple tragi-comic ma­te­rial for some­one want­ing to cap­ture the zeit­geist of cre­ative Perth.

 ??  ?? Fringe dweller: Ge­orge Blazevic nur­tured Perth’s cre­ative un­der­belly.
Fringe dweller: Ge­orge Blazevic nur­tured Perth’s cre­ative un­der­belly.

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