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Interview with Arthur Kratzmann Print-ready version

ABC RadioNational (Australia)
June 2008

Dr Arthur Kratzmann, second from left, with his wife Mary, brother Keith (left) and his wife Gayle (right) during their visit to Vancouver Island in 2013

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Interviewer: Arthur, before we talk about Joni, I'm curious: how did somebody come from Kingaroy - you're from Kingaroy in Queensland, I believe...

AK: That's right.

Interviewer: ...end up in Saskatchewan?

AK: Well, what happened is that - and, by the way, I'm 83, not 77.

Interviewer: Oh, OK!

AK: I joined the Royal Australian airforce late in the war, and was sent to Canada to train as a pilot, and, while I was there, at the tender age of 19 years, I met and married my present wife, Mary. We came back to Australia and lived there for a few years, and then emigrated to Canada, which was a marvellous move for me, because I've just had a wonderful career here.

Interviewer: Well, it's certainly a beautiful country. And maybe, in some ways, not dissimilar from Australia. And you came from what would be called outback Australia, I suppose, and you ended up on the Great Plains of Alberta.

AK: Yeah, somewhat, I guess, from farmland to farmland, anyway.

Interviewer: Yes, so how did you end up in, was it Saskatoon?

AK: Yes, well, my wife was from the province of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon is its largest city, and I started teaching in a one-room school in Saskatchewan, and then moved into a village, and then into the city of Saskatoon.

Interviewer: And you were an English teacher, Arthur?

AK: Well, I was a teacher of all subjects, really, as primary teachers are. But I would say, of all the subjects that I did teach, I did my best work with English.

Interviewer: So, tell us about your memories of Joni Mitchell. Well, in fact she was Roberta Joan Anderson back in those days, I think, wasn't she?

AK: Yes, she was. She was a small, sort of delicate, blonde-haired girl, and I first met her in Grade 6. As a matter of fact, across the way from my room. I was teaching Grade 7. There was a lady who was a chain smoker and almost had to dash off every once in a while down to the basement to have a fag, and she would have me keep an eye on her room across the hall. And that's where I first met Joan Anderson. She was doing some artwork at the time when I first noticed her - a beautiful artist, by the way, and still is. And she told me how scared she was to come into Grade 7 because, she says, "Oh, all the kids in there can write, and I can't." Isn't that amazing when you think of it?

Interviewer: What age are we talking about here?

AK: Eleven.

Interviewer: Eleven, right.

AK: And she says, you know, oh, I don't remember a lot of the things. I remember some. When she said she was scared, I said, "Well, don't be scared at all, because anybody who can paint such beautiful pictures with a brush can do the same thing with a pen. And that was one of the things that really stuck with her. Anyway, she came into the room, she did well. I had a lot of people who could write really well in that group. Most kids can, given a chance, and given the opportunity to talk about the things that are close to their hearts and minds. Yeah, she did well. She had a tendency to copy, particularly when she painted. And the other thing that she remembers, and I do too, is that I told her that she had to write and paint in her own blood. And that was a quote from a German philosopher. And that also took on with her and she kept trying to do that and, of course, we now know she's such a creative genius talking about things she experiences.

Interviewer: And that... you would have been, what, in your late 20s when...

AK: Let's see. It was 1955. I would be 30.

Interviewer: OK. You sound like the sort of teacher I would have liked at school, I must say. I think a lot of people would have liked. I think that phrase you used, that most kids can write if they're pushed in the right direction.

AK: I always had a great respect for writing. Anytime a kid, no matter what age, sits down and pens some words, that person does it in a manner that is never been done before, really, when you think about it, and if you can see it, nurture it, get their heart and soul into what they're writing, great things happen. And they feel good about it.

Interviewer: Did you have any inkling that Joan Anderson might turn out to be... Joni Mitchell, superstar?

AK: As a matter of fact, when I last talked with her, and we talked about those things, she felt a little as if she almost fell through the cracks, which she didn't do really, because she did dedicate her first album to me, and she has talked nicely about me through the years many, many times. But no, I didn't realize that at that desk was the talent that would emerge. Not to the degree that it did.

Interviewer: Had you followed her career? Did you...?

AK: Oh yes, yes. I didn't know much about her. You see, we left Saskatoon, and I was working as a professor at the University of Alberta later, and a colleague of mine came back from Toronto and he brought a copy, a weekend copy of the then Toronto Telegram, and there was a whole page spread, really dedicated to me. It was... Joni was singing at a nightclub up north of Toronto, in York, and this gentleman named Cobb, the journalist, interviewed her, and they spent all of their time really talking about me and her association with me, in Saskatoon.

Interviewer: How many years was that association?

AK: The association I had with Joan?

Interviewer: Yeah

AK: Oh, just fleetingly in Grade 6 and then a full year in Grade 7.

Interviewer: OK, so a bit over a year. Have you ever actually seen her perform?

AK: Oh yes. Yes, I was really invited to Toronto some time ago. about four years ago now, when Harbourside [ed: actually Harbourfront], an arts-oriented community of people there, decided that they were going to honour the top 20 creative geniuses in the arts world, and she was invited to be one of them, and I went down there and at the tail end of the presentation, after which she sang, and other people paid homage to her, I was invited to the stage, interviewed her, and actually gave her the award.

Interviewer: Oh, terrific. and...

AK: That was a great night.

Interviewer: Has she made an effort to remain in touch with you? Or did your paths just cross here and there?

AK: Well, I leave that to her. Celebrities don't like people knocking on their door or phoning every so often. She has called on occasion, and we chat at some length.

Interviewer: And I'm interested on what Tony picked up on too. You said that everyone, a lot of children have this creative ability. It's just a matter of tapping into it.

AK: I believe that's right. You know, I started thinking about that seriously when I went to Saskatoon and I had an upstairs room, and I would look out on the playground, and sometimes, of course, I had duty out there. And I'd see these kids who felt that they couldn't write, and didn't seem to want to, just so effusive in sharing experiences with their fellow students out on the playground, and I thought, there has to be some way to tap into that, because they're saying things that are really vital to their peers, and we're going to get some of that onto paper for them. And I really worked hard, and I read and I read. I talked to other good teachers and yeah, things happened.

Interviewer: Arthur, it sounds to me like you should still be teaching, 83 or not.

AK: I have been teaching, but at the university level, up until two years ago actually.

Interviewer: But you are retired now.

AK: I'm retired now, yes.

Interviewer: I just... one other thing, Arthur, you mentioned in passing about writing in your own blood, and it was a quote from a German philosopher. I know Joni's cat... She had a cat at one state called Nietzsche.

AK: Well, yes, that's the man.

Interviewer: That's him.

AK: Yes, that's the same guy.

Interviewer: So you were a fan, and she was a fan?

AK: Right! I guess so!

Interviewer: Well, it's been fascinating chatting with you, Arthur, and you're fit and well. What do you do with yourself on Vancouver Island these days? It's such a beautiful part of the world.

AK: Well, relax, read. I'm a bit of a computer nerd because I'm an ardent learner. I photograph quite a lot, I travel, we travel, Mary and I, and I give travel talks and displays, as many as 50 a year, volunteering, mainly to retirement homes. So, we keep active.

Interviewer: What about Australia? Do you still keep in touch with events down under, or are you sort of...?

AK: Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I'm sitting here in front of the computer right now and on the screen is "The Australian". I read the headlines in "The Australian" and the "Courier Mail" because I'm a Queenslander, and then go in depth on anything I'm interested in. And of course we've been following so very closely the U.S. presidential race, and really, the best comments I received throughout that whole period of campaign was from a U.S.A.-based journalist of "The Australian". They were superb.

Interviewer: Terrific, Arthur. Sounds like you're still interested in a lot of things in the world around you. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

AK: Well, thank you for including me in your program.

Interviewer: Our pleasure. Arthur Kratzmann, Aussie mentor to Joni Mitchell.

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