Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I am not sure what this says about the state of world affairs at the moment, but recently, I’ve had some very silly songs stuck in my head.

Don’t try telling me that getting a silly song stuck in my head has nothing to do with world affairs – the subconscious is an amazing thing that we still don’t know enough about. Right, Freud? Yah.

Of late, it seems as if the musical part of my brain is taking a vacation, and, in the hope that I wouldn’t notice, it left out some old vinyls from my childhood, to play on repeat while it lazes in the warm sun sipping cocktails on one of Johnny Depp’s 14 islands in the Bahamas.*

I wouldn’t admit this to anyone who knows me in person but on more than one occasion lately – looking through the stationery cupboard at work was one such moment –  I’ve caught myself humming Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?

Admittedly, Sesame Street was a favourite program when I was about four years old, and I enjoyed the opportunity to giggle at parts of it again when my daughter was a toddler nearly 18 years ago, but I have not watched any episodes since then, so why this song is intermittently lodging itself in my brain at the moment I do not know.

On a local scale, my neighbours seem like nice enough people, although as I’m reserved and shy, (or, you could just come right out and say unfriendly, if that’s what you’re thinking) I don’t really know them well enough, or possess a good enough memory, to even recall their names. Across the road it’s Mark and Roslyn, I think, and someone-or-other and someone-else, next door. Both are couples with 2 kids. Apart from the lack of a second car, which none of us have in our tiny street as it would just be silly to do so, they are your typical “ordinary” families, I guess you might say, at least if you were a politician hoping to appeal to white anglo voters.

I live in the inner west of Melbourne, so I don’t need to travel far, to come across plenty of people who do not fit the politician’s easy “ordinary Australian” slogan. Two suburbs away is an inner suburb that has long been characterised as having a big population of Vietnamese immigrants, but is also home to older Italian and Greek families, as well as a more recent wave of immigrants from East Africa. I could travel for 10 minutes away from the city, and be in one of Melbourne’s poorest suburbs, where after Australia, the most common countries of birth are Vietnam and India. Those people from their diverse backgrounds are my neighbours.

Talking on a wider, global scale, in Australia, our neighbours to the East and North are New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Papua New Guinea and South East Asia. Some bloggers, more well-read on world current affairs and international politics, would be able to sum up our relationship with our international neighbours nicely for you, but I’m afraid I know very little about international politics. I am unqualified to discuss this geographical area, particularly as I may be the only Australian over the age of 2 days old, who has never been to Bali. I have seen some very nice Balinese-style shirts in my time, but that is as much as I can offer on our neighbours in the global arena. I’m aware of continuing political instability in some of these neighbouring countries, but I don’t feel convinced that it’s worry over that geo-political situation that has me humming the old Sesame Street tune.

Perhaps it was some deeper philosophical thought, about the people all around me, and their values, that prompted the song.

After all, there are islands in the region I have mentioned, that are used by my country to detain people who were our neighbours, and who are there because dire circumstances caused them to leave their homelands and seek refuge elsewhere. They may have come from Iran, or Myanmar, or Bangladesh, but if their trip took them via boat from Indonesia, in an attempt to get to the Australian mainland, they were locked up on Manus Island, Nauru, or Christmas Island, where many have been for up to 4 years now. These are also some of the people in my neighbourhood.

And then, there are the people around me who are content with that situation, also my neighbours of sorts, those who comment on social media and write letters to papers to say that we shouldn’t spend taxpayer dollars on helping refugees when there are people starving in our streets already. As if that is the choice. As if there is a pool of money that politicians dip into and will only allocate to one of those good causes, or the other. Why not resent, instead, the money spent on re-branding Border Force, for example, instead of resenting money spent on helping people re-make their lives? I am always disappointed by a lack of compassion for people who are suffering, and even more so when it’s politicians, who know that taking a tough stance is always a vote-winner.

My neighbourhood is a mixture of people with all sorts of beliefs and values, but if it is true that a majority of people in my neighbourhood support cruel detention policies,  I tend to think a significant portion of those people must consume news and opinions from the biased, fear-mongering Murdoch-owned press and media. Essentially, a high proportion of what they read, watch and listen to is filtered through the political perspective of one media mogul, a guy who called Brexit ‘wonderful’ and Trump ‘a very able man.’

If there was a moral to the song I learned so many years ago on Sesame Street, I think it was that there are all sorts of people in your neighbourhood, but you’ll never know unless you get out there and meet them.

Maybe I’m not the best proponent of that motto, (since I can’t recall my neighbour’s name), but I do relish the diversity around me in Melbourne, and I like to think that it’s a strength of this city. It’s the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street.

*

*I don’t closely follow the fortunes of Johnny Depp, but was listening to a usually intelligent writing program on community radio last week where the announcers talked so much about Johnny Depp and his 14 islands that I eventually had to switch off without discovering what writing that dumb conversation was supposed to tie into.

 

 

 

Summertime

Setting: A suburban back garden, a Summer* evening, Melbourne, Australia

Time: 8pm – approximately the time of sunset at this time of year in Melbourne

Temperature: warm

Wind: none discernible

Set:

  • a back garden, comprising of pot plants on a door step, cobblestones, and greenery around two sides of the perimeter, created by some trees growing too close together, a small hedge, and some climbing roses on the lattice on the back wall. The garden is neat but not abundant. In the centre is an area that used to be a small patch of lawn but is now just a patch of dirt, with a scattering of recently mowed weeds.
  • The back of the house faces onto the back garden, and we can see through the windows into the kitchen, and, as indicated by a flickering light beyond the kitchen, a room with a TV on.

Lighting: 

  • the sky, and the light generally, a sort of twilight: first, pale and almost no colour, then changing slowly to grey as the sky darkens
  • a slight pink flush across the lower part of the horizon, that also fades and disappears into the descending grey
  • warm, yellow, electric light glowing from the windows of the kitchen that faces onto the garden

Special Effects:

  • water arching out from a hose and onto some lush greenery, as our protagonist takes the opportunity to enjoy the warm, balmy evening by taking her gin and tonic outside with her while she waters the garden

Props:

  • a hose is required

Sound:

  • the swishing and trickling of water, as the hose rains water down on plants and the excess runs away on cobblestones
  • the hum of crickets. (Director’s Note: Usually the sound made by crickets is described by default as a chirp but that suggests a staccato sound, with a crisp beginning and end. This sound, the sound that epitomises all the warm summer nights in our protagonist’s memory, just goes on and on, so she thinks of it as a hum.) It’s a soft, low hum, telling us that it’s a warm, balmy night.
  • the distant sounds of football players calling out, their voices carried on the breeze. The setting is about half a kilometre from the local suburban football ground, and we can gather, from the sounds travelling very clearly in the still night air, that the local suburban football team must be doing some pre-season training tonight. If our protagonist hadn’t damaged her hearing by attending bands playing at outrageously loud noise levels, she’d probably be able to hear what they were actually saying, but as it is, her best creative interpretation is a cacophony of voices all calling out over one another, with urgency “come on, come on, come on, come on!”
  • the soft swoosh of traffic on the nearby highway
  • from the house, the sounds of high-pitched voices coming from the TV, indicating melodrama on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!
  • occasionally from the house next door, the pounding of footsteps as a small child runs from one end of the house to the other
  • occasionally from the trees, a rustling of leaves and the weird, high-pitched screech of possums

Smell:

  • the smell of wet, freshly drenched dirt, and of water dripping off greenery

Characters:

  • the main protagonist, a 40-something woman with a gin and tonic in one hand and a hose in the other
  • a cat, whereabouts unknown as Act 1 begins
  • about 1000 worms, in a worm farm under one of the trees
  • a teenager, hidden deep in the depths of a teenage bedroom. She does not emerge during Act 1.
  • a male adult, absent from the house for the duration of Act 1 as his Italian lesson conflicted with the rehearsal schedule.

Synopsis:

Officially, it’s now Autumn in Melbourne (since the beginning of March is officially the designated change of the seasons), but due to the absolutely glorious weather Melbourne has had over the past fortnight, our protagonist has decided to remain in denial about this, and just keep pretending that it’s still Summer. She is determined to try to make the most of every remaining beautiful sunny morning, and every remaining delightfully balmy evening. In her mind, this means making the effort to go outside, where one can more fully appreciate the warmth and light, wherever and whenever possible, and, when not possible, (for example on the days when she is working in her office job) to at least open a window, and take the time to appreciate the sunny morning outside.

Director’s Note: It’s a simple story but simple things can bring a lot of pleasure if you take the time to notice them.

 

Sunset in the suburbs, Summer, Melbourne 2016 (no filter! – I wouldn’t know how!)

© The Antipodean Blatherer 2016

 

You Can’t Stop The Music

What gives a city its character?

I’ve been holidaying in Sydney for the past fortnight (that’s my excuse for the longer-than-usual delay between posts) and while I wandered around enjoying the shopping, the views and the cider, in Sydney’s typically overcast, warm, humid weather, I tried to pinpoint what elements, for me, give Sydney its character, and make it a place that I enjoy coming back to for holidays. Believe it or not, it’s not the Harbour Bridge or the Opera House that I come back for, as stunning as they are.

Sure, they're sweet.

Sure, it’s a nice building, but I wouldn’t want to clean it.

Like most major cities of their size, both Melbourne and Sydney are chock-full of permanent and temporary residents who originally came from elsewhere, and are richer with the diversity of cultures this brings. Some city-dwellers are asylum seekers or refugees, who have travelled over the sea in boats, or flown in from other lands, to escape life under dictatorships, civil war, or risk of torture or genocide. Some are migrants – like our very own current Prime Minister – whose families came to Australia seeking a better life, or to reunite with family members.

Some city dwellers, such as myself, are merely escapees from small Australian towns, where employment prospects were limited, privacy was non-existent, and the number of like-minded people with similar interests could be counted without using double digits.  To us, a city offered all the excitement of open-ended possibilities for our futures, and the anonymity to pursue those possibilities without being gossiped about by friends of our parents. And occasionally I even come across people who were actually born in the city and have lived there all their lives!

Those of us who leave small country towns for the big city have an undying loyalty, not to their home town, but to the city that gave us a break. Or then again, perhaps not. Perhaps I’m speaking only for myself.

I have always liked Melbourne, where I’ve lived since I escaped country-town life at the age of 18. I know there are cities that are bigger and more glamorous than Melbourne, but I’ve always felt that Melbourne is perfect in many ways. It’s big enough to have lots of different inner-city areas with their own distinct flavour made up of different cultural mixes and histories (eg, St Kilda, Fitzroy, Carlton, Brunswick), but still small enough to get around to different neighborhoods with relative ease, and affordable enough to be constantly somewhere near the top on those annually-produced lists of “most liveable cities” that give newspapers something to write about on slow news days. (although the cost of housing and rentals has increased significantly in the last 20 years or so, making Melbourne far less affordable for students and anyone else not earning a full-time, high-bracketed wage, than when I was a student.)

I’ve only ever been a visitor in Sydney, and I’ve always had the feeling that it’s a much bigger city than Melbourne. Perhaps this is partly because its hilly topography makes it very easy to see that high-rise apartments fill the CBD and Northern Sydney, but are also speckled up and down the hilly landscapes surrounding each little bay on the world-famous Sydney Harbour. However I realised on this trip, more than ever before, that like any large city, the monolith can be broken down into different little neighborhoods that have their own distinct character: eg, Surry Hills, Kings Cross, Newtown, Bondi.

Bondi - ok, yes it's nice but I sunburn easily, so I'm just as happy in Melbourne watching it rain, thank you.

Bondi  Beach – ok, yes it’s nice but I sunburn easily, so I’m just as happy in Melbourne watching it rain, thank you.

Walking around Surry Hills last week, I was struck by how Sydney’s inner suburbs seem to have retained a majority of their old pubs (“hotels” or “drinking establishments”), built any time from the mid 1800s to the 1960s, largely intact and reasonably well-maintained. To me, this gives those suburbs a certain character that is missing now in some of Melbourne’s older suburbs.

The Cricketers Arms Hotel, Surry Hills, Sydney.

The Cricketers Arms Hotel, Surry Hills, Sydney.

Pic: Sydney Pub List

Sadly, in Melbourne a large majority of old pubs have been turned into apartments or cafes, and those still operating as hotels are either “gentrified” into fancy establishments with bland interiors that lack any real character, and ‘fine dining’ menus where a main meal costs $35, or, alternatively, where pokie machines have been installed and are the main crowd-pulling feature.

It appeared to me that Surry Hills has a cosy-looking old pub on almost every corner (My research team estimate that approximately 3 corners in Surry Hills do not house a pub). Most of the older pubs I passed by in any suburb seem to have retained their original features, and most were very well attended, inside and out, whatever time of day we walked past them.

It’s interesting to ponder not only what factors give a city character, but equally, what factors can directly, or indirectly, destroy a city’s character.

In the eternal question about which city is better, Melbourne or Sydney, Melbournians like to claim that Melbourne has a far better live music scene. This fact has been repeated since the late 80’s, accompanied by evidence in the form of comparisons with the number of live gigs, the number of bands from cities like Perth and Brisbane who end up in Melbourne, and, tellingly, the number of live music venues. As the story goes, back in the 80s, Sydney’s live music scene was indirectly the victim of real estate development. The scenario goes something like this:

  • Developer builds apartments near well-established live music venue that contributes to the character of an area, making the area a good investment because it’s desirable to younger, up-and-coming (yuppie) types.
  • New residents move in because they want to live in this cool area
  • New residents complain about loud music keeping them awake at night
  • Venue is forced to stop hosting live music because of complaints about noise
  • Owners of venue can’t continue to pursue their passion (live music) or can’t afford to keep hotel running in it’s current incarnation, and put hotel on the market
  • Hotel gets sold to a developer
  • Developer turns old hotel into brand new apartment block.

Sad to say, since the mid 1990s, Melbourne has been slowly catching up to Sydney in this regard. In the time that I’ve been seeing bands, many of the venues that played a significant part in the history of Melbourne’s rock music scene have totally disappeared, to become shopping centres, apartment blocks or cafes. To name just a few that were around in the late 80s or early 90s: the Old Greek Theatre in Richmond, now shops (I think), the Punters Club in Fitzroy, now a cafe, The Club in Collingwood, which I think is also now a shopping centre, and the Continental in Prahran- I’m not sure what is currently in that building now.

A recent case that has drawn a lot of attention and angst from anyone in Melbourne and even beyond, who values live music and/or history, is that of the historic Palace in Bourke St, which has been through many different incarnations as a place of cultural significance to Melbourne. When I was 19 I spent my Thursday nights with other university students, nightclubbing in that very venue, then called The Metro, but the venue had a long history as an entertainment venue, having first been used as a theatre in 1912. After its stint as a nightclub, it began to host live music, and played a big part in the touring scene, as it held an audience of approx 1850. Off the top of my head I recall seeing Jane’s Addiction, Sonic Youth, Kim Salmon and the Surrealists, Grinderman, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, at the venue. Music lovers are missing out – for example there is a lack of sideshows this year when festivals like Soundwave come to Melbourne, because the city is now missing a venue that is the right size for certain bands.

Palace Theatre, Bourke St, Melbourne

Palace Theatre, Bourke St, Melbourne

pic: Melbourne Heritage Action

The Palace was put up for sale in the past year or so, and was purchased by a Multinational Developer in China. Developers are not known for being sentimental about real estate, so it’s unsurprising that a developer situated in another country has no interest in the cultural significance, or historic significance, of a building they have purchased over here. To them it’s an obstacle that simply needs to be demolished, in order to build a hotel or high-rise apartment block.

The building in question also happens to be in a leafy precinct at the top of Bourke Street in Melbourne’s CBD, amongst buildings dating back to the 1800s, an area where nothing else is more than about 3 stories tall. It’s the area referred to by Real Estate agents, who are not embarrassed about using such terms, as “the Paris end” of Bourke Street. Well, alright, I can see what you’re trying to say, but in Paris they realised some time ago, the aesthetic value of keeping buildings to a certain height within the city area. That’s exactly why it’s used as a metaphor for the beautiful part of the city, Mr/Ms Real Estate Agent. And that’s why people go to Paris just to see the city itself, apart from all its other attractions.

I, too, went to Paris and photographed buildings.

I, too, went to Paris and photographed buildings.

Boring as it might sound, when I think about what gives a city character, I’d have to say that “planning,” is pretty crucial, if that means keeping an eye on trying to retain the character a city or area has developed, probably prior to the notion of planning ever becoming a “thing.” A city’s history is a very important part of its character. Areas where its history is respected and well preserved end up being those little pockets that residents love, and guide books recommend to tourists, just to walk around and experience.

When I, for example, remember my visit to San Fransisco many years ago, I remember fondly the inner-city neighborhoods like Haight Ashbury, Russian Hill, etc. As a tourist, I understood the many layers of history these areas contained, because I could see original buildings, maintained from when they were first built, and I could learn more about the artists and cultural figures who had famously lived or worked in those areas, particularly, of course, in the fifties and sixties, giving them another layer of rich cultural significance to the city. I barely recall the CBD, except to remember that it lacked any character at all.

I left Sydney after this holiday feeling less sure that Melbourne is actually streets ahead of Sydney in character, as I used to think. I think we Melbournians might be applying wishful thinking there. We feel like we must have more character, because Sydney got the views and the better weather. But hey guys – Sydney has also got lots of old pubs! Add that to views and better weather and I’m starting to think……well, anyway, I”m less sure now that Melbourne wins that competition.

It’s one thing I really missed when I moved to the otherwise lovely older, inner Melbourne suburb that I live in, and still miss now – there is not one single old pub with any character in the whole suburb. Just some bland, characterless pubs and some wine bars.

In any area, the absence of a good old cosy pub, preferably with slightly sticky carpet and an open fire in winter, my friends, is a big shame.

*

 **The Save The Palace group is running a campaign to fight the developers at VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal). If you would like to support them in their fight against a large multinational developer, you can donate here – they would be grateful for any amount you can donate.

You always take the weather with you

Is there anything better than beautiful weather? I’m sitting at home, on an evening that can only be described as beautiful, feeling as though nothing could be nicer. On a night like this it seems quite feasible that even being somewhere glamorous, involving hot springs, jacuzis and cocktails, would not be any nicer than just sitting here, looking out over rooftops at the pale blue evening sky, listening to birds chirping in the trees, and the intermittent chirrup of a cricket, while I sip on a glass of wine.

Sometimes I think that if it could just be light until 9pm every night, all year round, life would be constantly cheery. Even though I know that’s not true.

The silly thing is that only yesterday I wrote 3/4 of a post about how we were experiencing an early Autumn.

Ha! Welcome to Melbourne, where the temperature ranges from 40 degrees to 12 degrees within the same fortnight, and if you write a post about the weather, you’d better finish in one go or it will become useless! (Or, fiction!)

Anyway. While I’m on the topic (by the way, it’s great that you’re so keen to hear about the weather!) this Summer was predicted to be a scorcher. Last November, or thereabouts, I kept hearing rumours that “they” were saying it was going to be a stinking hot summer.

Tax_experts

After weeks of consultation, a panel of Global Warming experts in Melbourne today announced that if the weather gets any hotter, they will be forced to remove their jackets. (pic: Wikimedia)

Now, I don’t know who “they” are, but as far as I could glean from this third hand information, it sure as hell sounded like “they” knew what “they” were talking about. 

So on the basis of this relayed intelligence, I gritted my teeth, and tried to mentally prepare for an unbearably hot summer where I would feel as though I lived in an oven. I love my little house, and my bedroom with the view of the rooftops and the sky, but my room is upstairs, you see, (thus the rooftops, and sky) and on a 40 degree (Celcius) day it’s about 125 degrees upstairs.* 

But I need not have worried, for we are into our third (and, according to my scientific calculator, final) month of Summer, and so far we’ve only had to endure maybe 2 days that were a sweltering 40 degrees, and possibly another 3 that were around 38 or 39.  Yawn! We’re Australians –  that’s not a HOT summer! A HOT summer is when you cook your barbeque by just letting the cow wander out into the back yard for a while.

Photo: StickerEsq

I object to that part about cows.

I object to that part about cows.

In fact, it’s been a really nice summer – but WAIT!! How much can I say about….weather? At this rate, weather will become most used tag on this blog, possibly outranking even Nigella Lawson’s Ears, and making my blog seem uninteresting to anyone except desperate weather presenters who’ve left it till the last moment to put their report together. (Good luck!)

Well, strangely enough,  I’ve realised as I’ve been writing, that this post probably isn’t really about the weather. It’s about why the weather has been making me feel sad.

That’s because (until today),  it’s been feeling like a premature Autumn for the past week or so. So much for the long hot Summer. In the past week, temperatures at 7am have been as low as 12 degrees. 12 degrees??? Reminder – it’s still summer, and I’m in Melbourne, not in Reykjevik. After 3 ridiculously cold mornings in a row last week, I gave in and flicked the central heating on.

And even doing that made me feel sad, so I suspect that I’ve been affected by the mood that Autumn – especially a premature Autumn, arriving in the middle of bright, warm weather – brings with it: there’s a sudden coolness in the air, a different light, and a sense that things are changing, and dying, and that time is moving on. Turning on the heating reminds me of the first Autumn I spent in this house, and memories of times that are recent, but prior to September 2011, always come with the caveat that my brother was alive then. Not so long ago.

At least, that’s what I’m attributing to the fact that thoughts of my brother have been popping up a lot lately. It may just be that some more of the unconscious work of grieving has been plugging away, deep down underneath my conscious thoughts and has finally reached the surface.

It’s not new that I think about him, but lately, while I’m doing something mundane, like rinsing vegetables at the sink, his presence suddenly crosses my mind for a split second. I see him, exactly as he was the last time he was in my house, or the way he looked at the age of 14, in a photo I was gazing at 2 weeks ago at my parents house, and I can almost hear his voice, and smell his presence. At those moments, some part of me still doesn’t believe this person is dead.

Can I blame the weather for this, or is it yet another “stage of grieving” – 18 months later? Perhaps it’s a little bit of both. It doesn’t really matter. I guess I’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather, whether I like it or not.**

In other words, it’s Melbourne, so it will probably be 38 degrees again by Friday.

*

(*No formal method of measurement was used to come up with that statistic. Any resemblance to a real measurement of temperature is purely coincidental and no correspondence will be entered into on this matter)

** This is a misappropriation of a quote attributed to the poet and critic, John Ruskin, on WorldofQuotes.

***Update, written the following day. Yep, folks, I had no idea what the forecast was when I wrote this last night, but it just so happens that today it’s 38 degrees!!! Call it coincidence if you like.  I would.

Yes Sir I Can Boogee

Yesterday I was inspired with generosity, and made not 1, but 2 donations on Australian crowdfunding website, Pozible. One of these was to Australian Muso David Bridie, who for years was the leader of one of my favourite, although now defunct, Australian bands, Not Drowning Waving.

Now, both of the causes I donated to could have inspired a post, (there’s currently a link on my sidebar to the other cause, Young Vagabond magazine), but I’ve had a draft of a half-written post about Not Drowning Waving languishing here for months, I thought it was a good time to dust it off and give it a run, (just to mix a few metaphors.)

Of course, as I’ve said before on this blog, I am not a music critic/reviewer, so don’t expect a post analysing the music and history of Not Drowning Waving. This will, rather, be about my personal experience of the band (let’s use NDW from here on in, to keep things shorter!)

I have to speak in the past tense about NDW, as they have not played for years now. They were a large outfit, with up to 7 regular members, and often had additional musicians on stage with them at any one time, so I can appreciate that there must be a lot of logistics, not to mention dynamics, to deal with when you have a huge amount of human and instrumental resources that have to travel everywhere with you and no HR manager to take all the flack.

But, I loved this band!  From about 1988 when I accidentally came across them playing live at a tiny Melbourne club,  through to about 1996, their music featured highly in the soundtrack of my life.

I first encountered Not Drowning Waving at a very small club called I.D’s, in Greville Street, Prahran. In the late 80’s, Greville Street was a vibrant, colorful hub of arty bohemia in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, full of groovy little cafes, second hand furniture shops, and vintage clothes shops with a strong bent towards a 50’s/60’s rockabilly aesthetic. Nothing opened until 10am, when the noise of 50’s Rock music, and the smell of cigarettes (various types) and espresso wafted up the street. I. D.’s later became the Continental, a great venue that hosted live music for many years, but that club no longer exists, and I’ve lost touch with what is in that building now.

I think it was 1988, the first year I lived in Melbourne, when I found myself in this bar, expecting dance music, and faced instead by a live band. I was immediately struck by an unusual aspect to the band –  all the band members looked ordinary and unpretentious! In Melbourne in the 80s this was, in my experience, unheard of. The guys had short hair, blue jeans and t-shirts, and the girl (Penny Hewson at that time) looked as though she had a growing-out 80’s shaggy perm, and wore a floral dress – that distinctly lacked the groovy 50’s vintage look that was all the rage at the time. Not a skerrick of black clothing, heavy make-up, or dyed hair to be seen. My expectations were low.

I was, however, struck by their set, which included a washing line, complete with items of clothing. Well, as it turned out, if I’d never seen a band that looked so “ordinary” before, I’d also never seen a band (apart from at large venues) screen audio-visual projections on a screen behind them, and I’d never heard a band play recorded sounds – old men chatting, rain falling – over their music, nor a band that played some purely instrumental pieces amongst their set.

When I picture that gig now, I imagine it playing out as many band gigs would in my band-going days: my friends talked to each other, and I ignored them and concentrated on listening to, and watching, the band.

On that night back in 1988,  my musical knowledge was too limited to know what comparisons to make, and even now their sound still defies any easy comparisons, and not just by me. An article on their website by Jon Casimir suggests comparisons to Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads. I’d probably add Aussie band The Go Betweens, and music by indigenous Australian and Papua New Guinean artists, as well as influences from classically trained musicians like The Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

The Cold and The Crackle....maybe my favourite NDW album

The Cold and The Crackle….maybe my favourite NDW album

But I didn’t make any comparisons at the time, I simply recognised that this music felt somehow “right” to me.

After this I saw NDW any time they played a live gig. No other friends were fans the way I was, but back then, there was always one friend or another available and willing to come along. Their gigs always included projection, (courtesy of sound engineer, mixer, sound/a.v. artist and occasional band member, Tim Cole) which seemed to add an element of drama to music that already had a powerful sense of place and atmosphere to it.

Sweat, from the album, Claim. (If this looks old, it is! I’m pretty sure this is the same clip they played behind the band back in the late 80s.)

In his article, Casimir wrote, Critics loved NDW because they demanded adjectives. Their music was haunting, evocative, brooding, sensuous and a million other words that excite people who type for a living. (1) 

Casimir goes on to say that this gave them an undeserved reputation as a pretentious band – with their poetic name not aiding that impression. Well, I can assure you that they never came across that way in concert. Songwriter/lead singer/keyboard player David Bridie was never too arty or cool to chat to the audience and display a keen interest in the cricket or football scores, depending on the time of year.

In my humble opinion, there were two different sides to the band’s music, and I liked both equally. These different “sides” can be seen on The Cold and The Crackle, the first album on which they recorded Sing Sing, the instrumental that they ended every live performance with – a piece of tribal percussion that builds up into a frenzy of drumming, accompanied by David Bridie on keyboards and John Phillips on guitar. The album also includes songs that seem to harken back to an Irish Australian heritage, like Kerry’s Green, about an apparently mad but happy woman living alone by the sea,

and the purple tea cosy she wears on her head

it has holes for her ears, and why not,

and she’s happy

I was reminded of my mother (for reasons best left to another time) – an experience I’d probably never had before while listening to a contemporary rock band!

Many songs were in the vein of other Australian bands like The Go-Betweens who also wrote about living in shared houses in inner city suburbs, the nuances and difficulties of troubled relationships, and the private lives of ordinary people, with Australian references thrown in. The album Claim included the song Thomastown, which was a depressing outer suburb of Melbourne where my cousins lived. This was subject matter I could relate to, and the songs conveyed empathy for their subjects. For example, The Marriage Is a Mess – a melancholy song about a couple trapped in the suburbs with a mortgage and a failing relationship:

While the banks put up bright posters, scream we’ve got money to give away

well it’s as easy as that right here,

but the bank man is a bastard,

and the marriage is a mess

and they hardly talk any more.

To offer my inexpert comparison with The Go-Betweens, I’d suggest that Not Drowning Waving’s songs about suburbia were less poppy sounding, and drew more on classical training. Both bands had a violinist at various times, but when Penny Hewson left NDW and was replaced by Helen Mountford, the cello became more often the stringed instrument of choice – and is there an instrument more able to break your heart just by playing a particular phrase of music?

Claim - or is THIS my favourite NDW album?

Claim – or is THIS my favourite NDW album?

Where NDW’s sound deviated wildly from bands like The Go-Betweens was in their tendancy towards creating a soundscape, and their (growing) interest in indigenous music. Their arrangements often included overlayed sounds recorded outdoors, (wind, rain, etc), and the rhythmns and sounds of indigenous Australians and surrounding countries (as time went on, specifically Papua New Guinea), with melodies and subject matter that ranged from the outback to the suburbs. They utilised multiple types of percussion, (a glance at the instrumentation on The Cold and the Crackle includes: “congas, cheese drum, bowed cymbal, bongos, tambas, big drums, toms, sticks, gong”, amongst other things). In certain tracks, John Phillips’ electric guitar emitted a  wall of sound that ranged from spooky and atmospheric, to capturing a sense of space that was sparse and empty, a perfect vehicle for conveying the immensity of the Australian outback. Combining all of the above with overlaid recorded sounds – of storms brewing, people chanting, old men talking – their music conjured up the Australian landscape in all it’s variations.

Sing Sing. (First released on The Cold and the Crackle, re-released on Tabaran. If you can imagine hearing this inside a venue,  you will know why the audience would be on their feet when they finished a show with this number.)

I’ve never been big on “World Music” (assuming that term to refer to music by indigenous cultures), but I loved the way that NDW incorporated the sounds, rhythms and beats into their music and made something really unique. They didn’t just appropriate elements of other cultures – they, and Bridie in particular, began to collaborate with Papua New Guinean musicians, and probably their most acclaimed album, Tabaran, was made with musicians from Papua New Guinea.

When I listen to Sing Sing, I am transported back to The Club, in Collingwood, or the Old Greek Theatre, in Richmond – past band venues now long gone and forgotten. I am pretty sure that between about 1988 and 1996 I saw this band every time they played in Melbourne. (Fortunately, perhaps, that was only a few gigs each year.)

A true fan, I have all their albums (except the most recent compilation). I took many friends along to their gigs back in the day, as well as my sister and the eldest of my brothers. Thanks to a few re-union gigs in the 2000’s, I then managed to take my 3 younger siblings, as well as my partner and child, and also gave out copies of the compilation “Through One Last Door” to every sibling’s household for Christmas one year. (one- between-two for my brothers who shared houses.)

Not Drowning Waving carved out an individual sound, and I can understand that their music is probably not to everyone’s taste – which is probably why many Australians have never heard of them – but I loved it.

The Little Desert - occasionally I think THIS could be my favourite....

The Little Desert – occasionally I think THIS could be my favourite….

(1) Jon Casimir, 2005,  Not Drowning Waving – A Brief History, http://www.followthegeography.com/ndw_start.html, viewed 8 Sept 2012.

*The youtube clips above are from Tim Cole’s youtube channel

* There is music available on the Not Drowning Waving website, Follow The Geography, and that’s where I took the pics of the albums from too!

*This post is named after an instrumental piece by Not Drowning Waving – NOT after the 70’s Disco hit by the same name!

A trip down memory lane…via City Link ™

A few weeks ago I took a little trip down memory lane.

Ah, memory lane. It sounds like a quaint little winding pathway, overhung with greenery and tinted with nostalgia, but in this case, the route I took was City Link ™, and Moreland Rd, a dull route which involves a lot of asphalt, tollway gantries, and congested intersections. Nevertheless, we got there – the destination being the house that my grandmother had lived in when we were kids.

I took this trip with my sister and two of my brothers. Due to the recent death of one of our brothers, even the guys seemed not only willing but quite interested, to come along and visit at some family memories together. Until September last year it was unheard of for Brother #1 to come along on any family outing…but since the death of his younger brother, he seems to be trying to change that. And my sister lives in Ireland and was only here for 4 weeks. So this little trip was pretty significant to all of us, for lots of reasons. In some ways, it wouldn’t really have mattered what the destination was, but this seemed like a nice expedition to do together.

Nana’s family bought their house in a suburb of Melbourne called Reservoir, in 1949, when Reservoir was on the outskirts of Melbourne. Nowadays, Melbourne has expanded and Reservoir is probably about half way between the CBD and the northern outskirts of Melbourne. It’s an area that I remembered from childhood as the height of concrete suburbia. I was probably about 18 when Nana was moved out to a nursing home and her house was sold, and I’ve never been back there since, so that’s the image that has remained.

To my surprise, on pulling up in front of her house, I discovered some of the tricks that memory can play over the years.

I’d remembered her street as being a very busy main road. It now appeared to me to be a fairly narrow little street, and no busier than any quiet residential suburban street. I now think my perception of it as a child was affected by coming from a country town. I used to lie awake in my grandmother’s large back bungalow at night and listen to the unfamiliar sounds of the city, and I would hear cars intermittently speeding up the street – sounds rarely, if ever, heard at night in the country town where I lived, so that fulfilled my childhood impression that it was a very busy street.

No doubt also, my perception as a child would have been affected by my parents and other adult relative’s perception of the street. I can recall that we kids were not even allowed to play in the front yard, for fear that we might end up out on the street. That sufficed as an indication that it was a very busy street, as opposed to my own home in a country town, where we could literally go out and play on the road if we cared to. (Well, we certainly rode our bikes on it, anyway.)

Seeing it for the first time as adults, the four of us stood and looked at the house for a while, pointing out changes, trying to recall what trees were gone, which ones had always been there (such as the unusual and old-fashioned row of tall cedar trees along the fence line, a very 1940’s touch). We wandered up the street a bit, to see if we could find the house that we had labelled as “haunted” when we were kids. Alas, not a sign of it now. If the house was still there, the dense garden of 10 feet high cactuses was gone, and it’s absence made the house unrecognisable.

After we’d taken in the house, we got back into the car to drive to the Lake reserve. All I remembered from my childhood about this, was a tediously long walk along another very busy road, and a big old train engine – which was a selling point for kids up to about the age of 11, but by the time I was a teenager, the reserve held nothing of any interest.

Rather halariously, we discovered that the Lake Reserve was a drive of about one minute away – barely worth getting into the car for. Once again, my perception at the time must have been effected by being so much younger that it seemed a long way, and so countrified that it seemed like the road was busy. It didn’t strike me as a particularly busy road now.

To our surprise, we all discovered that the Lake reserve was actually quite a lovely area hidden away in the middle of the suburban sprawl. The train engine is still there and still well maintained, although the sign of the changed times we live in now is that it is barricaded so that kids can only enter the cabin. The body of the engine, the carriage, and the wheels are all  screened off with fencing, clearly for fear of injury and public litigation. Ah well….at least it was still there!

There was birdlife everywhere. It seemed we’d stepped back into the past when a family arrived with a bag of bread to feed the birds, a pastime that is strictly forbidden nowdays at most wetland areas (including this one, where a sign requested that people did NOT feed “The ducks” – although there were surely many other kinds of birdlife there as well as ducks.) This felt like something I haven’t seen since I was last there as a kid – a family with a pre-planned bag of bread for the birds.

Birds at Edwardes Park Lake

Did someone say bread????

We strolled together around the lake, past wetland areas which were bird habitats, and I wondered if my sister and brothers were, like me, marvelling at how lovely this place was, when we’d written it off in our memories as dull and suburban. That was, of course, when we were teenagers. (What a shame for teenagers – that they are so caught up in extreme self-conciousness and self-absorption, and so repelled by anything that their parents admire, that they are unable to appreciate the beauty to be found around them. Or am I just talking about what I was like????)

We wandered back to the car. The demands of life meant that we had to end our trip there  – I needed to get home to meet some deadlines for work. I dropped my brothers home, and took my sister, via City Link ™, back to my place.

I think that little trip together meant a lot to all of us.

Slow Train Coming

So, the question on Plinky was, would I use public transport if it was in my neighborhood.

Can I put a qualifier on my answer? Yes, if public transportation THAT RAN EFFICIENTLY were available in my neighborhood, I would use it. There is public transport in my neighborhood, but for some reason, almost every time I happen to try and catch it, it is either late or cancelled, so I don’t put much faith in it getting me anywhere in a hurry. (and anyone who has read my previous post will know that I’m usually in a hurry, because I always leave it until the last moment to catch the damn train in the first place.)

Here is one example of the inefficiency of Melbourne’s public transport system. While it takes me 15 minutes to drive to work, a few suburbs away and accessed via a freeway, it can easily take an hour and 15 for me to get there by public transport. I think you will agree that makes it very difficult to choose public transport over driving.

So in recent years I have stopped using  public transport regularly, because of the increase in my travel time. I don’t get up early voluntarily for any reason, and certainly not to allow an extra hour for catching the train to work.

In Melbourne, to all appearances, we are spoiled for choice. We have trains, trams, buses, and even ferries! Of these forms of transport, however, the only one I find reliable and efficient is the tram. Unfortunately for me, I live in the Western suburbs, traditionally an industrial and working class area, and apparently it was not deemed necessary to extend the tramline in this direction. Perhaps it was preferable to try and keep Westies in the West, and not make it too easy for them to venture into the city, lest they mingle with the upperclasses. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, this has not changed, not even when the dreadfully dull Docklands precinct was built on the Western side of the city about a decade ago. Developers managed to find enough money to extend the tram line from the CBD  to Docklands, but not the 5 km further that would  take it to the first main train station in the Western Suburbs. So I am stuck with trains, or, usually even worse, buses. (I mostly avoid buses, since once having waited in the dark in an industrial area for 75 minutes for  a bus that never came.) So since living where I do, my main experience of public transport has been on trains.

Melbourne’s trainlines were built….um…a long time ago. If I was to draw a picture of the train lines in those days, I could draw a circle in the middle to represent Flinders Street Station, and then lines representing the lines out to the suburbs. It would look a little like the sun, with rays coming out of it, as drawn by a primary school child.

In those days, the outer suburbs took a long time to get to, but Melbourne has been steadily expanding ever since, and those same suburbs, once the “outer” area of Melbourne, are now in the “Zone 1” (inner zone) area and take about 20 minutes to reach on a modern train, or even on the trains currently running on Melbourne’s lines, some of which could possibly have been running back then.

The only significant addition to the train system in the last 100 years is the City Loop. In 1981, this was a radical new system which allowed trains to travel underground to stations around the CBD!! (They may have got the idea from some little thing over in London).

  • steam train

    I may as well catch one of these to get to work.

    Melbourne has continued to expand since those days, and now, what were little country towns 10 years ago are swallowed up and have become outer suburbs of Melbourne, but the problem is that the basic rays–of-the-sun sketch I mentioned earlier has not changed. The CBD still continues to be the circular centre, from which radiate out the sun rays, which are the train  lines. The only thing that changes is that the rays get longer, as country train lines eventually became part of the metropolitan line.

    Now, bear with me here, because I have come up with a notion that may seem a little far fetched. But it occurs to me, and I’m sure any good physicist would corroborate my theory, that if you draw a basic sun-with-rays-coming-out-of-it diagram then continue to tack more and more length onto the rays of the sun, what you have, more or less,  is a loose model for the expansion of the universe.

    Therefore, much like the expanding universe, as the circle, (that’s the city) expands, and the length of the sun’s rays (that’s the train lines) is increased, there is increasingly more and more space between those rays (that’s the outer suburbs that are situated in the middle of nowhere, or, in other words, miles away from any train lines). To conclude my scientific hypothesis: As the universe expands, galaxies are rushing further and further away from one another at a speed that is increasing exponentially. Similarly, (so my theory goes), as the city expands, at an also exponentially increasing rate, the outer suburbs of Melbourne are being pushed further and further away from the train lines.

    A diagram illustrating the expansion of the universe, apparently drawn on an old record.

    Melbourne is a huge city and needs a train system with lines that connect up at interchange points all over Melbourne – the way they do in other large cities. In Melbourne it’s still often the case that the only way to get from A to B – for example, from where I live, to where I work only about 6 km away, is to go via C, which stands for CBD. I think it’s time that planners expand that radical City-Loop idea into loops all over the city that are not CBD-centric.

    Hmm….I seem to have got off the track (notice my witty pun?) a bit.  I intended to talk about the inefficiency of the public transport system in Melbourne and instead ended up drawing a similarity between the expansion of the universe and the expansion of Melbourne and lack of public transport infrastructure in the outer suburbs. I am not sure what took me down that path, particularly when I don’t live in the outer suburbs, never go to them, and the only reason I know they exist is because I’ve driven through them on the way to the country.

    So going back to the original question, I would really like to say that I’d use public transport, since it is supposed to be the environmentally responsible choice…..but in Melbourne it is not efficient enough to be worth using, if you are lucky enough to have another option.

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