Michelangelo believed that a piece of marble already contained a work of art – his role was to liberate what was inherent. But the majesty, grace and beauty he saw in the stone that became David remained invisible to sculptors who had previously tackled it. In a similar way, the interview can be all or nothing to writers, journalists and oral historians. A person sits across a table, with stories to tell, ideas to impart, facts to confi rm or deny, perhaps a lifetime of emotions to convey – but our ability to perceive who is before us, and to engage with what we are hearing, will critically affect what ensues. I once interviewed a man who worked down a coalmine outside Sydney, shovelling shit – the human alternative to a Portaloo. A beefy bloke in regulation singlet and stubbies, he spoke matter-of-factly about hanging around deep underground, waiting for his mates to have a crap. I asked him what he did to pass the time. He pulled a delicate piece of white crochet out of a pocket, pointing out the intricate patterns with the enthusiasm of a mother expounding the charms of her children. I was astonished, having subconsciously written him off as Macho Man. Instead he showed me that you can transcend your circumstances. Surrounded by shit, he created beauty.