Grace Tame

Grace Tame is the perfect combination of a talented artist, mixed with a little dark-humour, and a whole lot of anti-establishmentarian, and we are here for it.

With her memoir, The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A memoir (PanMacmillan) just moments off the press, we caught up with Grace between her hectic schedule, which takes her for the better part, around the whole country.

Grace’s schedule doesn’t allow for such a thing as an average workday and counts herself blessed to live such a creative and purposeful life.

From living the LA dream in Los Feliz, in amongst an art studio brimming with plants, finished and unfinished canvases, books on art, oils, pencils, easels, brushes, and the smell of work in progress, to a home in Tasmania amongst the rolling hills of Mountain Kunanyi, Grace has seen and done a lot in her life, which can make the average person seem kinda lazy tbh.

Grace captured the public eye, with her tireless work to campaign for the long-overdue change in public perception and Government recognition when it comes to sexual abuse, which earned her the Australian of the Year in 2021.

Known for her advocacy for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and for her ongoing open and candid conversation, Grace has become one of the most prominent voices in the country.

On the week of her highly anticipated book release, The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A memoir we caught up with Grace to chat about her creative process, her penchant for visceral masterpieces by David Cronenberg, and we discuss her ultimate day, which includes a convoy of boats somewhere off a white sandy beach in Freycinet, far away from the hustle and bustle.

grace tame

Happy: What are you up to today?

Grace: Today I delivered a speech and Q&A to a group of students at the University of Wollongong, then drove myself to Sydney Airport in a rental car, listening to Paul Kelly’s Song’s From the South the whole way up The Princess Highway to take the edge off a week of chaos before flying home to Hobart.

Happy: Tell us about your suburb, what do you love/not love about where you live?

Grace: The city of Hobart and its surrounds will always be unbeatable for its Goldilocks quality. You can be at a funky wine bar one minute, and up the Mountain (Kunanyi) the next.

If you’re game enough, you can chase that with a nude swim at one of any number of beaches on either the Eastern or Western shores.

The community is small enough to feel like a family, but big enough to feel like you’re not the next cab off the rank in Midsummer Murders. My only complaint is that sometimes the Winter winds are a bit hectic for someone with hair as long as mine.

Happy: Describe your average work day?

Grace: There’s no such thing.

Happy: What about your ultimate day?

Grace: I’d be woken up by our pets, as usual, next to Max. The weather would be comfortably warm. We’d roll out of bed and go for a run or a ride and eat a big hearty breakfast.

The rest of the day would be spent on the water amongst a convoy of boats somewhere off a white sandy beach in Freycinet, far away from the hustle and bustle, with my cousins and close friends, swimming in the ocean and
listening to classic rock n roll.

Lunch would be a barbecue and beers, that’d keep flowing until a fairy floss sunset, with the Hazards in the background. There’s no need for tele with a view like that.

To cap it all off, there’d be a family games night, full of laughter hosted by our quiz master, uncle Greg. All the aunts, uncles, and Nan would be there too.

Happy: Tell us about your creative community.

Grace: The last time I was a part of anything that resembled a creative community was when I lived in Los Angeles for nearly four years from early 2015 to late 2018, and enjoyed a short-lived, unplanned career as an illustrator.

For about six months, I worked at a family-owned art store in Los Feliz named Blue Rooster, after the shop’s founder Nick Gallo — ‘gallo’ is the Spanish word for rooster.

That’s where I met my future roommate and fellow artist, surrealist oil painter and muralist Chris Slaymaker. He had a one-bedroom hardwood-floored apartment in Echo Park. I lived at the edge of his kitchen.

My door was a Japanese divider and my bed took up almost the entirety of my private space. I didn’t mind that. The whole place was essentially an extension of an artist’s studio, brimming with plants, finished and unfinished canvases, books on art, oils, pencils, easels, brushes and the smell of work in progress.

Everything was stained with paint. Chris and I were still lives in motion, with a paralleling passion that would often see us share sleepless hours enmeshed in our personal projects.

I would draw at my desk by the window overlooking the steep street that descended and intersected with the world-famous Sunset Boulevard, while he painted at his setup by the perpendicular wall.

Sometimes we’d play music, other times we would operate in loud, harmonious silence. Zach, Meredith, and Gabby were our other coworkers at Blue Rooster.

They are all brilliant, distinctly talented artists as well. While I was working there, I briefly illustrated for my friend Erika’s ‘International Girls’ column while she was interning as an online writer for a magazine called Galore.

Blue Rooster is also where I met my dear friend, and stop-motion animator, Jason Spencer-Galsworthy. Jason got his start at Aardman Animations in Bristol, hand-making models for Wallace & Gromit. He and I became friends after he caught me listening and singing along to Dire Straits in the shop one day.

We had (still have) many things in common, not least of all our daggy dad music taste and our being ex-pats in a foreign land. We would go on to spend countless Fridays drawing, experimenting with modelling clay, laughing, and hosting schlock-horror movie screenings for our friends at his studio apartment in Silverlake, which is the adjacent suburb to where I lived at the time in Echo Park.

To this day, Jason and Erika remain amongst my closest friends. I still keep in touch with the Blue Rooster crew too.

Happy: Which TV show are you currently watching?

Grace: None! I don’t have much time to spare for television series. If I do have the time to sit in front of the screen, I tend to rewatch my favourite films for the sake of comfort. Max and I watched The Fisher King the other night.

Happy: What did you read or watch growing up that fuelled your passion for storytelling?

Grace: It’s almost impossible to zero in on singular stories. There are so many that have moved me, for myriad reasons, at different times in my life.

Tim Roth’s film The War Zone had a profound impact on me. It is a raw, honest, unfiltered portrayal of the pure horror that is child sexual abuse.

When I was in year 12, our edgy Art Appreciation teacher, Wayne revolutionised my already eclectic cinephilia. Like me, he was a subversive punk-rocker and a dark-humoured anti-establishmentarian. It was he who introduced me to the dystopian surrealist dreamscapes of stop-motion animator Jan Švankmajer and those of filmmakers David Lynch and John Waters, during lunch breaks at Hobart College.

Werner Herzog’s bleak documentaries such as Grizzly Man (which follows the story of a man who thinks he has a special bond with bears, only to be mauled by one) and Into the Abyss (which poses the biggest questions of morality, ethics and indeed existence itself within the setting of death row and the stories of its prisoners), and David Cronenberg’s visceral masterpieces like Spider (a minimalist, delicate portrait of a fictional schizophrenic patient and his childhood trauma adapted from Patrick McGrath’s novel of the same name) would later rock me as well.

I’ve always been drawn to stories and storytellers who favour confronting truth, grit, and the intersection of the two, over whitewashed fiction and frill.

Happy: What did you read or watch last that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?

Grace: My perspective is constantly shifting! It shifted just a minute ago…When I was 18, at the end of 2013, I took a yoga teacher training course in Santa Barbara California. One of the optional texts to study as part of the course was a documentary called Kumaré. It follows the journey of a fake guru who amasses a cult following of students who worship him as their messianic teacher, but who ultimately turns himself in. The messages are manifold and profound; friends can be foes and vice versa, none of us is immune to predatory marketing, there is a leader in each of us, and the best teacher, therefore, is ourselves.

Happy: What kind of things do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

Grace: Spending time with loved ones, swimming in the ocean, yoga, running, drawing, listening to music, reading, and watching old classics.

Happy: Transparency is an important theme in your work, which we love, what do you wish had more transparency in the world?

Grace: Politics, media and the criminal justice system. The chances of that happening are slim to none though, if you ask me. The invisible force of intelligence that binds and drives them all to a greater or lesser extent globally, for better or for worse, will operate in such a way as to make sure that facts remain the rarest commodity on the market. There’s no better way to control people. Knowledge is power, after all.

Happy: Study or Self-taught?

Grace: A bit of both. I believe in always keeping one’s mind open to learning new ideas. Having only done two years at a community college, I’m mostly self-taught in the academic sense. I’m a bit of a maverick, in some ways. The sausage-factory wasn’t for me. You can read as much into that statement as you like…

Happy: What was your favourite part of writing your book?

Grace:  Oddly, as gut-wrenchingly painful as it was, I was relieved to finally be able to detail a chronology of the experience of abuse with clarity in my own words, backed by evidence, and a second disclosure from another alleged target.

Something I don’t think a lot of people understand is that even if family and sexual abuse survivors do get the rare opportunity to tell their stories in the media, rarely if ever do they do so on their terms.

The very process, ironically, involves once again relinquishing control to the media; to journalists and reporters, some of whom will write in good faith, but seldom do justice to the breadth and complexities of a life sentence of trauma that they don’t wear the bullets for.

It is much easier to be an armchair critic and an armchair commentator. It’s the reason why we must keep sharing the platform. No single survivor could possibly be able nor should ever be expected to speak to every single experience.

1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls is abused before their 18th birthday. And although the balance of power is rightly shifting, society is still largely beholden to insidiously harmful perpetrator beliefs and perpetrator systems. The odds remain stacked in their favour because our laws and textbooks, even in their current state of positive reform have not caught up with tides of change.

First Nations people, people of colour, visibly disabled people, the LGBTQIA+ community, refugees, migrants, low-income earners and other marginalised groups face even harder if not impossible paths to justice due to added systemic disadvantages that will take a long time to dismantle and rebuild.

Evil thrives in silence. However, in each of us is a story. A story which could be a catalyst for change. While I can’t deny their horror, so much of the success of abusers relies on constructed myths. In believing in their bullshit. By sharing and reconnecting with each other and with the community, we at least remove the veil of secrecy and the silence in which perpetrators operate. And they fucking hate that.

Happy: Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?

Grace: This is my Bernie Sanders fence-sitting moment. I am indifferent.

Happy: Rollerskates or rollerblades?

Grace: Running shoes.

grace tame memoir

Grace Tames The Ninth Life of a Diamond Miner: A memoir’ is out now at all good booksellers.

Interview: Tammy Moir

Photos: Supplied