November 29, 2017

In 2017, I was given an Order of Australia Membership (AM) for my contribution to the arts through management, teaching and writing. I received this award because my sister, members of Live Performance Australia and generous referees nominated me. On the day of the award presentation at Government House in Melbourne , the number of women made up about 25% of the group. I actively encourage you to nominate people working in the arts, particularly women, for an Award.

At Government House Melbourne on 20 October 2017 with my sister Susan and my nephew Sebastian.

Voiceless Journeys

October 30, 2016

On my return from nearly 3 months of travel, one of my first tasks was to contribute to the launch of a book called Voiceless Journeys published by Ondru, a great small arts organisation committed to provoking thought and evoking change through art: The book consists of strong black and white photos ad the words of refugees who have come to Australia.

My address, which followed a great opening by activist Tasneem Chopra and moving words by some of the participants in the project, follows:

“Whilst I’m extremely honoured to be part of this launch tonight, I’m feeling slightly guilty about playing such an important role. Firstly, I’m someone who avoids having photos taken. Cameras are kind to my face and so I spend my life behind a camera taking pictures of other people. Secondly, I’m a pink Anglo Australian – born and bred in this country and given every opportunity to achieve a good life. The only challenge I’ve had to face is being female in a world where it’s still hard to have our skills and talents acknowledged. But nothing I’ve experienced comes close to the lives of dislocation and difficulty of the people in this book.

Evan Marginson, the Chair of the Ondru, says in his opening to the book that the organisation exists to “create art that seeks to give voice to one or many of the varied experiences of what it means to be human.” What I can offer tonight (I hope) is some reflection on how the arts – whether it’s words or images, movement or music – help us learn about each other.  The “other” might be my ancestor or yours; or someone from a different country or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation or religion. Understanding them helps us find our common humanity, helps us connect, helps us understand each other – and that, in turn, should lead to a better world.

I’ve been travelling for the last 3 months and just got back to Melbourne yesterday. I have great memories of the wonderful people that I’ve met but I’ve also been moved and gained insights about other places and other people through arts and cultural experiences. For example:

  • In the Aapravasi Ghat museum in Port Louis I saw photos of the faces of the indentured labourers who settled Mauritius and saw the hardness of their lives etched in their skin
  • An exhibition in Paris about Oscar Wilde, showing just what we lose when we punish and imprison people who don’t fit traditional definitions of sexuality
  • I listened to old recordings of the story telling and music from the people of the Great Blaskit who used to live on this tiny windswept Atlantic island off the coast of Ireland
  • On the same day in Sardinia, I engaged with the artist who painted small tiles with images of Sardinia’s old way of life and with a jeweller who made a beautiful necklace that contains an image of day to day live for all of us, now and before – clothes hanging out to dry on a line
  • Stepping down into the Roman arcades under Coimbra’s art museum and walking in the footsteps of past generations and then stepping back into the light to see the statues of saints made by Portuguese limestone carvers 1,500 years later
  • Listening to the Fado music of Portugal and the Folk music of Ireland and the Sega music of Mauritius and the Pop music of Italy – sometimes in words I could understand and sometimes in words I couldn’t – but all invoking emotions of pleasure and connectedness.

Whether its photos or sculpture, music or stories, paintings or jewellery, art tells us about ourselves and about others.

One of my favourite arts managers John Tusa captures with grace and passion the contradictions and strengths, the paradoxes and weaknesses, of why the arts are important:

“The arts matter because they are universal…..because they deal with daily experience in a transforming way; because they question the way we look at the world; because they offer different explanations of that world; because they link us to our past and open the door to the future; because they work beyond and outside routine categories; because they take us out of ourselves; because they make order out of disorder and stir up the stagnant; because they offer a shared experience rather than an isolated one….The arts matter because they embrace, express and define the soul of a civilisation. A nation without arts would be a nation that had stopped talking to itself, stopped dreaming, and had lost interest in the past and lacked curiosity about the future.”

Philosopher Alain De Botton makes the beautiful point that “many important truths will impress themselves upon our consciousness only if they have been moulded from sensory, emotive material.” And that’s what the arts do so well – touch our senses, touch our emotions. He goes on to say that “We may, for example, need a song to alert us in a visceral way to the importance of forgiving others…just as it may be only in front of a successful portrayal of an oak tree that we are in a position to feel, as opposed dutifully to accept, the significance of the natural world.” And in the same way, looking at the beautiful photos in Voiceless Journeys, responding to the warm smiles, the demonstrative hands and the often challenging words, we learn the importance of looking deeper into what it means to be human.



By creating something of beauty such as this book; by taking such wonderful photographs; by enabling the hearing of so many disparate voices; the photographers and designers, project managers and other Ondru staff, have done us all an immense favour. And to the people who have bravely changed their lives and shared their stories – of hurt and loss, of struggle and success – I am honoured to meet you and our shared country is richer for your presence.

To end I’d like to share a poem from the Nigerian writer Niyi Osundare from another great book From the Republic of Conscience: 

I sing

Of the beauty of Athens

Without its slaves

Of a world free of kings and queens

And other remnants of an arbitrary past


Of earth

With no

Sharp north

Or deep south

Without blind curtains

Or iron walls


Of the end

Of warlords and armouries

And prisons of hate and fear


Of deserts treeing

And fruiting

And the quickening of rains


Of the sun

Radiating ignorance

And the stars informing

Nights of unknowing


I sing of a world reshaped.



Brokensha, P & Tonks, A 1986, Culture and Community: Economics and Expectations of the Arts in South Australia, Social Science Press, Sydney

De Botton, A 2009, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Hamish Hamilton, London

Stover, CF 1984, ‘A Public Interest in Art – Its Recognition and Stewardship’, Journal of Arts Management and Law, 14 (3)

Tusa, J.2007a, Engaged with the Arts,  I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London


Book Launch

February 1, 2016

The A to Z of Arts Management was launched late last year in the eponymous Tonks Bar in the Southbank Theatre. Kind words were said on the day by Professor Glyn Davis, Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Derek Young, ex-Chairman of Melbourne Theatre Company and Professor Kate Macneill who runs the Arts Management program at the University of Melbourne. The audience consisted of friends and family, new colleagues and old ones, visitors from Perth and from Sydney.  One of the highlights was a present of freshly baked olive bread from the elderly mother of a friend.He carried it on a plane from Sydney and it was still smelly freshly baked when it arrived at the Theatre. It must have had the crew and customers salivating.

I normally avoid photos but there wasn’t a chance this time so I do want to share some from that special night.

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch

Ann Tonks Book Launch









Peter Brokensha

August 13, 2014

I did my post-graduate Arts Management studies at what was the South Australian Institute of Technology (now the University of South Australia). At that point in the early 1980s it was the only course of its type in Australia. The Director of the program, based in the Elton Mayor School of Management, was Peter Brokensha. Peter passed away on 24 June and I felt the need to acknowledge the importance of his work as the Director of that early arts management program and the impact on my life in opening a range of opportunities and challenges that enabled me to become an arts manager.

Peter was a fascinating person. He had an eclectic set of interests and life experiences that contributed richly to our learning process. He’d started his career as an engineer working for Caltex first in Adelaide and then working his way to the top as Managing Director of Operations at the Head Office in Sydney. Still only in his early 40s and one of Australia’s first sea changers, he resigned from the corporate world and conceived and developed the Argyle Arts Centre in the historic Rocks area in Sydney. Peter’s life-long passion for social justice and culture then led him back to University to complete a Masters in Anthropology which involved long periods in the central desert in the NW of South Australia living with and doing research on the art and craft of the Pitjantjara people. If you’re interested in this work from 1975, the book he published as a result, The Pitjanjatjara and their Crafts,  is still available via book sellers such as 

All these experiences informed his passion for art as an integral part of life as well as the desire to produce good managers who could help in the creation of art and culture.

That passion fed through into his family life with his children all involved in the arts when I knew them. Peter had by then  Randells Mill, a 19th century abandoned butter factory in the Adelaide Hills converted into a home and art gallery that he shared with his wife Elizabeth, a  house full of paintings, pottery, sculpture, hospitality and conversations.

Peter also bought a set of intellectual and analytical skills to the work of an arts management teacher and researcher and together we created a cultural statistics framework for the Australia Council and the Australian Bureau of Statistics as well as undertaking cultural economic studies on the Adelaide Festival and the arts industry in South Australia.

Peter was a great example to his students, combining care for art and culture with worldly experience as a manager and leader. His autobiography is called Getting to Wisdom Slowly and is still available:


August 11, 2014

If you haven’t already joined the Australian Arts Party then you should. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing that instead of having someone from the Motorists Enthusiast Party in the Senate we had an artist…or two or three?

As a founding member of the Arts Party, I’ve just received some good old fashioned car stickers through the mail and I’m going to proudly mount the one that says: “I support Art and Creativity and I vote”

Even if you’re a member of the Labor, Liberal or Greens parties, I don’t see why you also couldn’t join the Arts Party and spread your vote around. After all we have a preferential voting system so you get the chance to have and exercise a complex set of views about politics.

The vision of Australia’s newest political party is to help create a more unified, more creative and economically more prosperous Australia, built on vibrant and diverse communities, which will benefit us all. The aim is to get more support for Australia’s artistic and cultural practice and organisations so that all the reasons that we love and work in the arts can be experienced by more artists, arts workers, audiences and Australians.


November 27, 2013

I’m back from my travels full of wonderful memories of people, buildings, water, animals (up close and friendly with the odd elephant), food, wine and of course the thing that drives our desire to explore other worlds: culture. Sometimes it was actual art – the 18th century painted ceiling in my room in Umbria and the 21st century fresco in my hotel in Singapore. Sometimes it was seeing traditional dances recreated by energetic young people in Molyvos and Kandy. Sometimes it was exploring the extraordinary Bronze Age and Hellenic sites in Turkey and Greece. Sometimes it was seeing craftspeople at work – the old man making Kolombi beads in Nafplio and the young woman selling her brooches off an umbrella in Athens. Sometimes it was wading through the puddles to explore Corinth and climbing up the endless stairs to reach the Lion Rock Fortress in Sigiriya.

Admittedly, some of the explorations I chose to make had art and culture at their heart – the archaeological tour of the Aegean coast of Turkey; the photography tour of Sardinia; the watercolour tour of Greece. But in every town, every moment of every adventure was touched by the art and culture of that community. Yes, I lounged around the odd beach and did a lot of floating in the Mediterranean but each day contained a new vista on the world through the prism of art or design or music or architecture or storytelling.

Why don’t we invest more in Australian arts and culture in order to ensure that our community is rich in colour and movement and sound?



August 25, 2013

From 28 August 2013, I won’t be available for anything serious for the next couple of months. I’m taking what I call my Melbourne Theatre Company Long Service Leave. After an unexpectedly long time at MTC, I decided to have a break before I went searching for the next challenge. For the last 7 months that break has including some personal time but a surprising amount of work. The University of Melbourne has kindly offered me a part time research fellowship; I’ve done some consulting and teaching about arts philanthropy; I’ve taught a post-graduate arts management course; I’ve co-presented a paper on arts leadership; I’ve been on an Arts Victoria advisory panel; and I’ve had lots of mentoring-type conversations with arts managers. Which has all been rewarding but not quite what I had planned for this year! So now I am departing Australia’s shores and heading towards the Mediterranean. I will be checking emails…but not regularly and not over-eagerly. The next couple of months are about exploring the history and culture, the art and food, the people and landscape of Turkey, Italy, Malta and Greece.

I don’t have a specific return date at this point. It depends on the impact of the ongoing slump of the Australian dollar on budget; it depends on how long I’m prepared to live out of a 20 kilo suitcase and wear the same five t-shirts; it depends how much I miss family and friends and the comfort of my own bed.

So if you have a fabulous opportunity to offer me, by all means send me a message…but you might have to wait. I can’t imagine that I’ll sacrifice the white limestone of Malta or the blue grottos of Capri for just another job.

Life-post MTC

July 24, 2013

If one more person asks me how retirement is going….

I haven’t retired. I don’t want to retire. I can’t afford to retire. All I did was leave MTC. Perhaps its the grey hair. Perhaps it’s the fact that people offer me a seat on the tram. But the truth is that I’m trying to have some of the holidays that I didn’t have for all those years at MTC before I look for the next job. And as my holiday plan was Europe, I wanted to wait until the summer was over but before the snow set in. I leave on 28 August 2013 and will be back sometime before the end of the year.

In the meantime, I have been busy. Honest. The University of Melbourne has very generously offered me a part time Research Fellow position which is giving me the chance to see if I have a book on arts management in me. I taught an Advanced Arts Management course in tthe University’s school of Culture and Communication in first semester. The RE Ross Trust, a generous Melbourne-based philanthropic trust, asked me to review their Scriptwriting Awad. I’ve been on three Helpmann Award committees as well as an advisory panel for Arts Victoria. I have lots of informally mentoring conversations with people about arts management. And as you know from other posts, I have taught in Vietnam and presented in Colombia.

There isn’t nearly enough time to relax, read a book, get fit, go to the movies, catch up with friends. But I’m doing my best to squeeze some of those activities in as well.




July 15, 2013

In June, I had the pleasure of visiting Colombia for AMAIC 2003, the International Conference on Arts and Cultural Management. I confess that Colombia has never been on my “must see” list partly because it’s so far away (32 hours travel time from Melbourne to Bogota) and partly because of its history of political and drug-related violence. But I’m glad I made the effort. To recover from the long flight I had a weekend in the warm, colourful, historic town of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea.


It’s both the classic tourist town, full of churches and museums, forts and restaurants, but also a town that felt as if it still belonged to the people who lived there rather than peripatetic visitors like me.

Whilst Bogota shared some of the historic buildings and colour, in La Candelaria, the old town, it’s a large (8 million people) sprawling metropolis and not a wildly attractive one. It’s full of graffiti and men with guns. Not a combination that appeals to me. But the hospitality of the staff and students at the Universidad de los Andes and the local people who attended the conference was warm, even towards incompetents like me with not a word of Spanish. The conference traditionally provides a strong cultural programme and this year as well as some great galleries, the highlight was music. You’d be surprised at how many meek cultural academics have a salsa soul.


I co-presented a paper on Co-Leadership in the Performing Arts (email me if you’d like a copy) with my partners-in-crime from previous years, Kate Macneill from the University of Melbourne and Sarah Reynolds who is now the Performing Arts Co-ordinator at the Burnie Arts Centre. Kate and Sarah had done most of the hard work in terms of the academic content of the paper so I just provided the colour and movement. Whilst I enjoy the AIMAC conferences, I always feel that they look back rather than forward, analysing what companies and artists have been doing. I’d love to find a way of bring practitioners and cultural researchers together to choose topics of exploration that could inform the future.


In addition to the wonderful people that I met and the conference itself, my favourite moments in Colombia were:

  • Wandering the history laden streets of Cartagena
  • Swimming in the warm Caribbean waters
  • Museums such as Museo del Ora, Museo del Santa Rosa and the Museo Nacional
  • Art graffiti (as opposed to the endless depressing tagging and paint balling)
  • Looking out over Bogota during day and night from Montserrat peak
  • The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira.

A short stay but a rewarding one.


April 30, 2013


In March I had the privilege of working with Jo Caust, Jane Haley and Thuy Do to co-present workshops on Income Generation in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The workshops, jointly funded by the Vietnam Institute for Cultural and Arts Studies and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, were designed to give practical tools as well as inspirational stories on all sorts of ways of raising income including audience development, business partnerships, philanthropy and fundraising activities.


The audience was made up of cultural managers, artists, academics and government officials. They were amazing in their concentration and their interest. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy  – giving up 3 days’ work to spend hours in a room listening to presentations in translation. Their responsibilities and interests included theatre and circus, public and private museums, cultural centres and arts management programs. One of the most wonderful parts of the seminars in both cities was when the participants would perform – sometimes it was to provide some inspiration on the day, sometimes to illustrate a case study, sometimes to thank us and sometimes just for fun. I haven’t been to any other training programs where art was such an integral part of the process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Presenters, translators and Ho Chi Minh

The challenge for Vietnamese Arts Managers is that in difficult economic times, the government is pushing them to become more self-sufficient but the policy and taxation framework isn’t yet there. One thinks of Australia 20 years ago, before Abaf, before the Cultural Register, before Prescribed Private Funds, where the culture of giving to arts and cultural organisations existed but wasn’t wide spread. And of course each country will have its own traditions when it comes to donations. In Vietnam, people clearly donate to temples and churches but they also have to provide financial support for the health and education of family members. So one suspects that cultural giving will be low on the list in the current economic climate.

We met some inspirational people during our time in Vietnam but I just want to mention two in case you are going to Vietnam and have a chance to visit their museums. The first was the director of the War Remnants Musuem in HCMC, Huỳnh Ngọc Vân, and the second, Vu Duc Hieu, established the first private cultural museum in Vietnam, focusing on the art of the Muong people.

And if you happen to be in Hanoi and don’t think that the Water Puppets are quite your thing, try the Tuong Theatre in the Old Quarter. It combines live music, dance, story telling and comedy and is a great way to spend an hour before dinner.

Other cultural experiences that are worth exploring include:

Women’s Museum, Hanoi:

Temple of Literature (and antique shop), Hanoi

Cultural Village Tour, Hanoi e.g. through Intrepid’s Urban Adventures

Fine Art Museum plus all the small art galleries that are on the same site, HCMC

Mekong Delta for village life, homestays, markets, food manufacturing e.g. Asia Trip Advisor: