Late on Saturday night I’m struck with a comforting kind of awe. I’m lying on my back in an open field, tabletop mountains running like the rim of a basin around all sides. Earlier I climbed to the top of one to watch the sun set. The horizon was still glowing when the stars came out - first Sirius, then Canopus and Archenar. Then constellations, Taurus and Orion, Centaurus and Crux. The Western glow faded from red to grey to black and left me sitting in the light of the Milky Way. I’m in the Warrumbungles, Australia’s only official Dark Sky Park and the site of the Siding Spring Observatory. Sydney is five hundred kilometres away, spraying photons up the wall of the heavens like a pan full of hot oil in a clean kitchen. But from where I’m sitting, the view is perfect. Light, after commuting at the universal speed limit for thousands of years finally gets to work on my retina with no terrestrial distractions. Yes, its very dark. Even the moon has opted to stay below the horizon instead of barging through the celestial dance floor. Its very dark indeed. And I’m on top of a rock, that sits on top of a scree slope that sits atop a steep, forested mountain side. Shit.
By the time I get to the bottom my shirt is torn and my hands are full of cactus spines. My legs are heavy from the precipitous decent and I collapse onto my back in the middle of a field. Indifferent to my suffering the stars shine on and I become acutely aware of my size. The mountains rise up around me and beyond them the planets spin across the plane of the ecliptic. Further back stretch bodies with masses beyond comprehension at distances we can never travel that will burn and explode and swirl and collapse for scales of time we do not have the language to describe until the universe cools and light becomes a forgotten thing. At that moment a shooting star slashes the sky over head and my heart slows. In its destruction, that selfless object burning through the atmosphere has shown me something. I can see one hundred and twenty kilometres straight up to the top of the world. Through the layers of swirling atmosphere held tight by the mass of the earth I lie upon I watch the ceiling keep out the rain and I feel safe. I feel grateful. I fall asleep.
Sydney is beautiful and anyone who says otherwise is just bitter because they can’t afford to live there. No one, in fact, can afford to live there. Slowly the entire city is being turned over to the lucky few. The moguls and the developers are taking extensive bites out of the place and going back for seconds before they’ve even finished chewing. Professional opportunists; they leave no stone unexploited. The infamous lock-out laws, the sanitisation of King Cross, the unregulated madness of the housing market - these are all chips and gravy to the buzz cut bin chickens who call the shots in NSW’s capital. Despite its corporate ownership, Sydney remains vibrant. While the law has a vice grip on liquor and noise they can’t slow the stream of creative brilliance that pours from those members of its four and a half million who defy the cubical dream and refuse to get a ‘real’ job.
My first show is at Cafe Lounge in Surry Hills, I perform solo after Jack Millar and his band. The night is orchestrated by Fran; a shining example of the Sydney music community’s refusal to lay down. She’s a little over five feet tall, smiling and grey with a kind word for everyone. She MCs the Cafe Lounge show without a microphone, silencing the bar with her bull horn voice.
Show number two is at Hibernian House, a labyrinthine former hat factory next to Central Station. The doorway smells like piss and the elevator is dodgy enough to give me claustrophobia and vertigo at the same time. Its an incredible place, full of artists, musicians, graffiti and rats. Once, several years ago, my cousin Oskar and I saw a stallion sized rat gallop down the stairwell. It had biceps.
High Tea is a fortnightly acoustic show in an apartment on the second floor. Its probably the best acoustic gig in Sydney with an audience that borders on aggressively attentive. I play for a very long time and would have continued if the host hadn’t used the humidity as an excuse to stop me.
Early Friday the band arrives on a Jetstar flight. It took them a while to disembark after landing as the airline couldn’t find the stairs. Our show is in Manly and we perform to a room of drunk, toned bodies. Every song is greeted with shouts of “Yeah the boys!” and “Anal!”. The crowd are there to get loose and most of them can’t keep their eyes open. After the show we jump off stage, straight into the old van and jet back to civilisation.
On Saturday morning Oskar and I take the ferry out to Cockatoo Island to see the Bienalle. The crowning jewel of the exhibit is a huge piece by Ai Weiwei; a long dinghy crowded with life-jacketed figures, all moulded from the same rubber used to build the boats that tackle the Mediterranean every day. It is heavy work on the part of the Chinese dissident and we’re silent for a long time. Later we sit at the top of a cliff and discuss the future of humanity while racing dinghies flap among the leisure craft like cabbage moths.
That night we’re at the Union Hotel in Newtown with our friends Ruben Neeson and Caitlin Harnett. Ruben sings country songs with a strong voice that picks out the melody lines I want to hear. There’s nothing cliche’d about what he’s doing and when his debut drops everyone should give it a listen. Caitlin Harnett and her band deliver the best set I’ve seen in months; her songwriting is delicious and the interplay between guitar, drums and bass is red hot. If you see her name around, go check it out. Post show the crowd dissipates without me noticing, I’m having too much of a good time. When the Union closes Oskar, Martin and I head to the Town Hall Hotel. Within a few hours the quantity of booze imbibed could be measured in the kilos. We have a flight the next morning and naturally, we miss it. After a Kafkaesque experience with the Jetstar team we arrive in Victoria stumbling, green and confident that gin and turbulence don’t mix. Oskar and I are rescued from the airport by my beloved Monique who feeds us salad sandwiches while she drives us to our show in Warrandyte. We play outside on the main stage at Warrandyte Festival. There are children everywhere, touching things and stomping out of time. I threaten them but they don’t care. Eventually I announce to the audience that I am getting sterilised. In response one of the parents delivers, via their toddler, a promotional stubby holder advertising Dr. Snip Vasectomies. A gust of wind blows dust into my eyes as one of the darling youngsters pulls at my guitar lead. I suppress a sob and think back to my time in the Warrumbungles. “Life is precious” I tell myself, “Even when life is a little shit”.
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