WA arts provocateur
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.