Kate Mulvany: What travel has taught me

Kate Mulvany, Western Australia-born and trained, award-winning actor and playwright, won the 2017 Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Play for her performance as Richard of Gloucester in Richard III. Her 2014 adaptation of Jasper Jones, the 2009 coming-of-age novel by Craig Silvey, has had several stagings and is set to play in Adelaide.


The little island of Naoshima in Japan is tricky to get to, but worth the trip. What looks like a tiny industrial port town is actually also a haven of art – much of it free. Walk into a village hut and you'll find a James Turrell light installation. Wander along the beach – there's Yayoi Kusuma's spotted pumpkin. Around a corner … Monet's Water Lilies! Industry, port and art live happily side by side on this beautiful island, a reminder that art is, and should always be, a community experience.


In 2012, my husband and I took my very reluctant dad, Danny – a Vietnam veteran – through Laos and Vietnam for our work with MiVAC (Mines, Victims and Clearance) – an organisation that assists communities still affected by land mines and Agent Orange. When we landed, Dad was visibly shaking. He had not been back to Vietnam since 1970. For three weeks we travelled by minibus, visiting communities still dealing with the horrifying legacies of war. Dad chatted with farmers who had lost their limbs from land mines. He played with children severely disabled by dioxin. On the last evening, he had dinner with ex-Viet Cong soldiers – men and women who were once his enemy. They got drunk together, swapped hats and stories, laughed and cried. He left the trip feeling strong, empowered and with new friends he never expected to find. His shaking stopped.


I'm short – five foot two (157 centimetres) and shrinking. But nothing makes me feel smaller than the Nullarbor Plain. I have driven it four times and it never ceases to astound me. It changes subtly yet dramatically before your eyes, mile upon mile. It reminds me I am on Aboriginal land. I am a newcomer to this country. At night on the Nullarbor, I like to lay on the warm road and look at the vast galaxies above and indulge in smallness ... and then get out of the way of the road trains as I hear their rumble.


New York is not my favourite city in the world – London holds that mantle – but it's the one that seems to keep luring me back. My husband proposed to me in NYC. We eloped to NYC. And now we are living here, as I am shooting a new television show set in 1977 New York. I'm not doing any of the tourist stuff I usually do. I'm working long hours in back alleys and disused lots, dive bars and swamps. Days off are spent unblocking our notorious NY toilet, or listening to two ice-cream van drivers argue about who gets the one parking spot outside. And lo and behold – I find myself falling in love with this big, wild, grimy, magnetic city. Sorry, London ...

Kate Mulvany's adaptation of Jasper Jones for State Theatre Company South Australia runs August 16 – September 7 at the Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre. See statetheatrecompany.com.au