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Archive for April, 2009

Well the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak
I ran for the trench but I had no time to speak
My heart said yes but my head said no
When the English colonel said, “It’s time to go.”
He said, “What’s a few men?”
– Mark Seymour, 1987

Here I am, sitting at home at the end of a long weekend. Today, Monday, is a public holiday in lieu of ANZAC Day falling on a Saturday this year and observed only in the ACT and WA. I’m okay about the public holiday falling on the 25th not being observed on another day; in my view, a holiday is not required to remember. Perhaps the karma for this thought is that I’ve ended up doing some work on all three days this weekend.

It’s also been a weekend on which I enjoyed some particularly Berran experiences.

Most importantly, all local wisdom says that after ANZAC Day it’s time to turn on your heater and get out the flannelette sheets.

ANZAC Day dawned grey and soggy-sleety, officially 11.6 degrees but feeling more like 6.5 degrees at 6am according to the Bureau of Meteorology. In fact by 6am I was heading home. The Bald Man and I got up to attend the Dawn Service; it was our first ANZAC Day in the Berra, and this national service at the Australian War Memorial is one of the local landmark events. We have a work presence there each year that I was keen to see. And although the vile weather meant the assembled crowd was down by a third on last year, the Dawn Service still attracted some 20,000 people.

I have to confess a whole host of reservations and anxieties around events like ANZAC Day, mostly to do with ethnic background (mine) and ignorant bigots (others), and so I’ve stayed away from dawn services until now. This Dawn Service laid some of those fears to rest. The service itself was brief at half an hour, simple and humble. There was no glorification of war, though I found it moving and important to be reminded that at this time of day 94 years ago men were preparing to get on the boats and make that run at that beach, hence the significance of gathering at dawn. The part that made the biggest impression on me were the prayers. The priest acknowledged not everyone was Christian or indeed religious before he offered four prayers: one for all service men and women past and present, one for those who don’t fight but whose efforts are at home, one for those left behind to wait and grieve, and one for all the people who work for peace. That covers just about all of us, doesn’t it? Inclusive, not exclusive.

The whole tone was humble, thoughtful; there was no arrogance and no misplaced, boorish displays of so-called nationalism. It was an arresting sight, 20,000 people gathered on the parade ground before the War Memorial, holding candles and remembering, in the dark before the dawn. A fitting remembrance for those who fight and die. (I also have to admit to being weirded out by the Lord’s Prayer said in the modern parlance; I was incapable of saying “who is in heaven” and “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, and no doubt looked to my neighbours like a time-warped lapsed Catholic, which isn’t true but isn’t miles away either.)

I was glad to have attended the National Dawn Service, and will probably go again.

I’ll write about the rest of the weekend when I can summon the strength.

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She usually just reads between the lines
– Effigy, 1998

I got back from Albury this afternoon and there at work was a care package from my old housemate Damian, who now lives in London. We’ve been collecting and sending random mementos across the world for some time now, about once a year (or whenever we remember).

Along with the ceramic bull from Tijuana and the signed Weddos t-shirt (Australian band plays in London, t-shirt flies back to Australia, how’s that for carbon kms?) there were three books of poetry by three London poets (I did say ‘random’). Not being familiar with any of them, I took the book by Linda Cash and did the open-page test: you open a book at a random page, and read the poem, see what it tells you. I suppose it’s a bit like a poetry version of the Tarot, or the I-Ching.

How about this, I got a poem called Woman with Exploding Head. It reads, in part,

Meanwhile fighter planes with improbable names
rev up in her temporal lobes

Hmmm. I’ve had quite a few days like that lately. There may be something to random poetry.

The Dog on the Tuckerbox, five miles from Gundagai

The Dog on the Tuckerbox, five miles from Gundagai

On the way back from Albury, my colleague and I stopped at Gundagai, or more correctly the roadside stop five miles from town, to refuel and stretch. It’s always a pleasure to see the dog sitting on his tuckerbox. It makes me think of the real story of the dog on the tuckerbox, which I first heard from Jim Haynes when we talked about one of his published collections of Australian rhyming verse. I recall it mostly because it was one of the few times I found myself helpless with laughter whilst on air. And if you wonder what’s so funny about Australian folk verse, it’s not the version of Five Miles From Gundagai that you probably know, but the doggerel that you don’t.

A tract I bought from the little shop at the truckstop ($1, 20c of the cover price donated to the Gundagai District Hospital) also tells the story.

Back in the day, more than a century ago, Gundagai was the halfway point on the inland route between Sydney and Melbourne, and bullocky teams camped at nearby Five Mile Creek on the highway. That’s where the dog’s story was said to have occurred. The tract says,

A faithful friend, the guardian of the teamster’s possessions, a dog accompanied every waggon that pushed inland. It was the action of one such dog in spoiling food stuffs whilst he sat on a tuckerbox that so amused the [unknown] poet that he wrote:

Good morning mate, you are too late,
The shearing is all over,
Tie up your dog behind the log
Come in and have some dover.

For Nobby Jack has broke the yoke,
Poked out the leader’s eye
And the dog shat in the tuckerbox
Five miles from Gundagai.

The original doggerel was crude and vulgar and verse after verse ran on depicting incidents along the track that leads to Gundagai.

I suppose that says it all. Poetry in (bowel) motion.

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If you sing me a song, you know that I’ll come running
Whistle me that tune that brings a tear to my eye
– The Go Set, 2004

dust21There’s a pall hanging over The Berra this afternoon. A furious windstorm has dragged in a massive dust cloud from somewhere way out west; driving around earlier, everything was quite indistinct, even the Tamil protesters camped en masse outside The Lodge, and their police minders. So much for the washing, of which there’s quite a bit, after a weekend at a shack up in the Barrington Tops.

It was nice to get away, after working on Good Friday. The OB was a success, great news for both our first foray into live broadcast of a new medium, and for a new community partnership. And what, you ask, would I be working at on Good Friday, doing all those things? It was the National Folk Festival.

When we first started getting our crap together for this year’s activity some months ago, I immediately began to wonder how much it might be like the Country Music Festival at Tamworth. I’ve covered six of those, replete with large hats, chaps (the leather kind), linedancing, and buskers of wildly varying quality. Back in the old days, I even covered the first six Big Day Outs (or should the plural be, Big Days Out?) I was looking forward to covering a whole new festival. Indeed, I was looking forward to adding to my collection of stubbie holders from unusual festivals, amongst which my CMF ones are dearly loved.

I was also a bit worried about having to learn a whole new set of eccentricities in order not to draw undue attention to myself, or commit some fatal faux pas. It took some time, but I learned that country music is a serious business. For example: at the CMF, it’s important to know you can laugh with those in country music costume, but not at them; not at the elderly lady in the leather fringed vest without a shirt under it, not at the feral ute driven by that large fellow in the even larger black hat, and certainly not at the bloke playing guitar with the chicken on his head (I’m not making these up). Folk music lovers are preceded by their own special stereotypes: freaky folkies, feral folkies, beardy weirdies, flutes ‘n’ fiddles, twangy-twangy, fiddle-de-fiddle-de-fiddle-o. You know. (It also brought to mind words uttered by Mick Thomas at a particularly feral Tasnarnian gig, “I’m your worst fucking nightmare, mate. I’m gunna play folk music all night.”)

And it’s no small deal, this National Folk Festival. Five days, 22 venues at the Berra’s EPIC showgrounds (it’s a ticketed event), hundreds of performers, thousands of campers on site, and some 50,000 patrons through the gates overall.

So, what was it like?

Well, overall it was a very civilised affair. A family festival. Calm, well mannered, pleasant; some stereotypes were borne out, and some were exploded.

instrument1There were a surprising number of teenagers there without parents, well behaved (if a little prone to wearing long velvet capes) and having a good time. There was no conspicuous drinking or drunkenness (unlike the CMF, in which drinking to excess is an integral part of the festival for many); and so, sadly, there were no NFF stubbie holders; I only twice caught a whiff of wacky tobaccy. The music was quite good, a little broader-appeal than what you might expect, and yes it was taken seriously. Trad-folk, folk from non-Anglo traditions, local and overseas performers, protest music, contemporary and loud music, comedy, and even a spooky men’s choir, it was all there. There were men with beards (who had the good grace to laugh at themselves at our OB) and some really crusty old Deadhead-types. There were certainly weird (if beautifully crafted) instruments; over in the instrument-makers’ tent there were arrays of expensive wood-whistles, handmade harps, medieval dulcimers, mountain mandolins (I am not making these up) and a number of contraptions that didn’t seem to be related to normal instruments but evidently made music, somehow.

mulledwineThere were pantomimes and poets, most of which seemed to have strong left leaning, anti-establishment themes (I spotted a brace of children gathered around a man with a guitar conversing in parable-style with another man dressed as a tree about the importance of trade unions in democracies) (I’m not making that up, either). There was a yurt. Amongst the many venues there was actually one called Flute & Fiddle. And for a festival with definite alternative-left socio-political tendancies, there was a lot of commerce. Many stall names sported bad puns, and most touted some sort of perceived virtue (organic, eco, fair trade, hemp, hand-crafted, recycled, vegetarian, etc.) but it was still dirty, profit-making commerce. This kind of tension makes for interesting business and goods for sale. Two eye-catchers were an organic-halal gelato (I don’t know why, it was a very anglo crowd) and a fast-food stall called Voodoo Hamburgers (the logo was a smiling skull). There were vendors of goods you might not expect to see at a folk festival, including a broom maker. I heard one borderline feral mum saying to her 8-year old, “I’ve already bought you a firestick, I’m not going to buy you a puppet head too. I don’t care if it’s hand-made hemp.” Of course I was pleased to see mulled wine, though being at work I opted for the mulled and spiced orange juice.

mugsThe thing I liked best was only a little thing, but it summed up so much about the NFF: what it is, what drives it, and what it strives to be. Almost all the drinks on site were sold in sturdy plastic mugs. When you finished your drink, you dropped your mug in one of the many wire-cage mug collection points. Volunteers (the ‘mug jugglers’) regularly emptied out the cages, took the mugs away, washed them, delivered them back to the stalls, and the cycle began anew.

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