Letters from Australia 2006



2006 Australian Tour

Koala, photo by David

Shane and I played many fine places in Australia - I enjoyed them all. For the sake of brevity, however, I wrote only about the festivals and some of our travels.

Nannup Folk Festival, Nannup, West Australia

We were part of a grand company of people in Nannup, in a foreign landscape with strange beasts. There was great music in a beautiful setting. All references to temperature aside, it was a warm place to play. I first heard Bernard Carney there, and excellent guitar pieces by Simon Fox.

Back in Fremantle, we watched the sun set into the Indian Ocean, where we had only just been swimming, set to the shattering cries of parrots returning to roost in the enormous pine trees that line Cothesloe Beach. The sky was a fiery orange wash of once the sun had sunk below the horizon and been swallowed by the sea. Above the fire, the cool blue of night was in no rush, just slowly deepening down, slowly revealing the stars. And the stars are different - imagine that.
A perfect moment brought to us by our friend Neil in Freeo.

The Great Ocean Road

Shane and I drove from Adelaide to Port Fairy along the Great Ocean Road. Every turn off is worth the time - every road that takes you to the coast is not to be missed.

The landscape there is a work in progress, a slow sculpture garden of immense proportion. Some landforms are as solid as the body earth. Others are more spectral, once and future ghosts, their separation from the mainland in the final stages of abandonment, left to the wind that howls and carves, even on the brightest of days. These winds blow unrestrained, having met no obstruction for thousands of miles. They are relentless and headstrong, joyous at landfall. Their confrontation with terra firma and the creation of inadvertent earthworks are spectacular.
And there they stand. London Bridge, The Twelve Apostles, lonely out there, in the wind, in the sunlight.

London Bridge is showing no signs of falling down, but down she'll come someday. That's all right. We can see them for now and my children and their children will see them too. Humans don't last long in the scheme of things anyway, a blink of recognition and we're gone. Although the waves of the Ocean lay relentless claim to them, these landforms will still be standing for many lifetimes to come. The Ocean of course, can outwait us all.

Port Fairy Folk Festival

Port Fairy was the town at the end of the Great Ocean Road, at least for us. It is a town transformed for a few days by the return of the festival. There is music everywhere, a small spectacle everywhere. Kids put bands together and rock out on the street, sometimes at the end of their driveway. They rock out next to the country and western singer with the back up band in a box or next to the God Bus, music and puppets, amen. They are all there because a river of people continually passes to and from the Fairground at the end of these streets.
People are drawn by the big top tents in the fairgrounds, flags and banners flying. The festival is like a big circus, the big show - and it is, it certainly is. An astonishing array of talent performs under the canvas. The venues are great and the crowds (great singers to a man - and woman) are welcoming.
Bernard Carney ran the Beatles night in the beer tent. I was asked to sing a cover so I asked to do 'Ticket to Ride'. Pandemonium ensued. I have never been in front of such a wall of sound - the entire tent sang back at us. I had a riot!

I saw Eric Bogle's evening set, right after ours. He had John Munro with him and their set was brilliant and warm, a celebration of stories and songs. I saw it all from the stage side. I'd like to see it all again. At the end of the set he mentioned that I was one of his favourite songwriters. Imagine that! The man who penned 'William MacBride' and 'Safe in the Harbour' said that. (That would be the same man who wrote Little Gomez, mind you, and I know little Gomez off by heart.) He said that! I could say the same of him, and now would be a good time to thank him for all he did on our behalf. It was a pleasure to see Eric on his home turf. All in all I had a grand night. Like the festival itself, one to remember.

Melbourne Days

We couldn't have had worse timing. Shane and I drove into Melbourne at the height of rush hour on the busiest traffic day in twenty five years. The opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games were about to begin. There we were in the left hand lane and lost among the infamous Melbourne Trams. Then it happened, a botched right turn, a moments panic. I was somehow reprieved and we emerged unscathed from an advancing sea of metal, crested with chrome, onto a quiet side street. I found a phone and heard a happy, reassuring voice down the line, just what I needed at that moment.
We followed the perfect directions imperfectly but still managed to find our host's house - Annabel lives in a workers cottage in a quiet backwater where we were treated with unselfish kindness.

The next day we toured the Victoria Market, stall after stall of fruits and vegetables, fresh fish and meat, from kangaroo to emu. Souvenir stalls abounded, a blaze of t shirts, hats, flags and colour. You could find anything there, including Kangaroo Scrotum letter openers. I didn't get one, couldn't even bring myself to pick one up.

I took in a murder trial while I was in Melbourne seeing as I have a predilection for that side of life. It was very, very interesting, with much pomp and ceremony, wigs and wood panelling, the high dais of the Judge and the red robes, quite solemn and fascinating.

Blue Mountain Festival, Katoomba, New South Wales

An hour north of Sydney, out the Parramatta Road, we drove into another world. Katoomba is the home of The Three Sisters, a World Heritage Site rock formation in the Blue Mountains. It is also the home of the Blue Mountain Blues and Roots Festival, a hot bed of musicality centred round the old Clarendon Hotel. We played some terrific sets there to yet another great singing crowd. In a festival loaded with talent, I managed to catch a two hour solo set of Richard Thompson. It was like a private concert from the side stage. Hits old and new were masterfully performed.

I made the hike across town to view the Three Sisters, only to see them slowly but inexorably disappear into the lowering clouds. What I saw was spectrally magnificent. It just wasn't a day for viewing, yet behind me buses full of Japanese students unloaded in the rain and fog, their enthusiasm undampened.

Got in a visit with Harry Manx and caught Mosaic (with Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny) in full flight. I had a good time in this place, a good time indeed.

Yackandanda Folk Festival, Yackandanda, Victoria

Yackandanda is just down the road from Wolagong. We got there by crossing the Snowy Mountains - Australian ski country. Three words I bet you never thought you'd see together. The countryside is beautiful as is the town itself. It gives itself over to the festival, closing down the main street for the weekend. I think the whole town comes out to the shows, as well as the hordes of visitors. There is a town fair feel to the place, with an impression that everyone in town is involved in the proceedings. Great music here as well. We ran into the Wailing Jennys, and it is always good to see them. Out of many talents, Liz Springer stood out for me, soulful and powerful, with a sharp eye on the world. Got in a good visit with David Ross MacDonald, a singer/songwriter/guitarist and drummer for the Waifs.

On our down time we went fishing for the mighty Murray Cod, in a tributary off of the Murray River. The fact that we didn't catch anything took nothing from the experience. Fishing on the banks of a small dam, lowing cattle and the jungle sounds of strange birds echoing across the still surface of the water, the sun low and warm on the horizon with dusk steadily falling. Our host, Gary, actually found a big one, but none of us could tempt it to strike. It was a splendid afternoon in the back country.

The Brunswick Music Festival, Melbourne, Victoria

The Brunswick Music Festival was a great night of music. We split the bill with Colum Sands from Ireland, an excellent songwriter and storyteller. The audience was warm and we made many new friends there.

My Melbourne experience was complete when Annabel took me to an Aussie Rules Footie game in Geelong, to watch the Cats and the Kangaroos go at it. Geelong romped to victory in a packed stadium, and there we were, eating meat pies and cheering the boys on. It is a quick and fierce game, not for the faint of heart, as a player or a spectator. I knew upon leaving the stadium that if I lived there I would be a fanatic for both Footie and Rugby League.

Thanks to our host, I had a wonderful tour of Melbourne and Victoria. I am lucky to have spent the time in her company and it was with great reluctance that Shane and I said goodbye to Annabelle. By the way, she has planned the next visit to include some quality industrial landscape and a trip to the farm in the country. I can't wait.

The National Folk Festival, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

"What a way to spend Easter," right enough. That's what the bumper stickers said. No shortage of stages or talent at this festival on every day of the four days it runs. Many people camping in the decidedly autumnal weather, with a soaking rain on the Friday night. Socks, sleeping bags and blankets blossomed among the tents in the warm sunlight the next morning and the crowds remained. I took in the many stalls offering everything from a massage to spiritual enlightenment, Karma to candy. I like the traders, the people who travel to Thailand and Laos and bring back their wares to sell. It is a timeless thing to contemplate, making your living like that. Not unlike the traveling shows of the middle ages, with wandering minstrels and traders from far away lands. All that to say the festival looked nothing like a medieval fair, nor wanted to.
Dick Gaugin

I managed to hear and meet a long time favourite of mine, Dick Gaughin and he did not disappoint. Still forthright and political, but humorous and personable in concert. He walked onto the stage like the legend he is.

I enjoyed the festival very much, and did my last ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) live radio interview, played to a packed tent on the last evening of the festival. Later I met up with Jim McQuarrie, an ex-patriot New Brunswick boy, who booked our tour and helped us through the new terrain. We sat in companionable conversation; sipping on flat white coffees and watching the festival close down around us. It was a satisfying place to be, with a successful tour behind us and the trip back home a wonderful notion, the reality of the flight still far enough in the future to be ignored. I thanked Jim for working so hard to get us over to his side of the world, and I sincerely look forward to the next time, whenever that adventure presents itself. I have good mates over there now, musical and otherwise. It'll be good to see them all again.

So far David and Shane have had a fantastic time in the land of sunshine and kangaroos...I will share with you some of the e-mails David has sent so far...

Here are some of the letters David wrote home from Australia

Thu 02/03/2006 Well, we made it. Have yet to be stung to death by jellyfish, eaten by hammerheads or bitten by redbacks. I'd say we are in good shape, all things considered. The people are wonderfully open, thats all I can think to say about them. They seem a breath of fresh air, quick to laugh at you or themselves. You'd love it I am sure. Just your kind of folk. Off to Nanup tomorrow. Can't wait. Lots of love from the far far south, from summer,from the whitest white man in Oz,

Sat 04/03/2006 I have been taking pictures. I will no doubt take more. Missed a kookaburra today, mores the pity. No camara handy and it sitting in a tree, completely content. There are loads of them apparently. Our first gig was fun but insanely hot. \blast furnace weather and the audience in the shade, about 200 feet away. We play in half an hour. Evening mainstage.\wish us luck.
Love from the lucky country, from a lucky man, David

The photo of a very hot David below was on a website about the Nanup festival. I could not see the photographer's credit anywhere - if anyone knows who took this photo - please let me know! thanks, Beth

Sat 04/03/2006 Am just in town to get ready for the workshop. All is well. We had a great show last night. Just the workshop and an afternoon show and then we are done. I plan to take some pictures and find some shade for the rest of the day. It is intensely hot, fierce is the word that leaps to mind to describe it. Fierce and unrelenting. Drinking lots of water and slathered in sun screen as it is obvious even to me that you could do yourself some severe damage in a very short time.
There are a huge number of people staying at our billet - it is a great sprawling place with lots of room. All the inhabitants are delightful as well. Lucky us.
Anyway, best be moving on I think,
Love you from afar, more than ever.
Miss you very much.
Lets do this together if we get the chance.
Off to turn to steam, quietly.

Sat 11/03/2006 How are you? Am missing you so much, and so wanting to share this trip with you. I really think this is worth flying for, honestly. the place is waiting for you. Besides you are now very well known to quite a number of Australians. Port Fairy festival is enormous. I think it dwarfs Edmonton if I am not mistaken. I am relly enjoying the place and the people, busy though so I'll have to write later,love David.

David and Shane at Port Fairy Folk Festival, photo courtesy Garry Chapman

David Port Fairy, photo courtesy Garry Chapman

Tue 14/03/2006 Hullo Gorgeous, What ever day it is there, I hope it is as nice as the one here. Sunny skies over Melbourne, and bright blue sky. We have yet again landed squarely on our feet. We are billited in a house on a side street of St. Georges road. The houses are jam packed together, little workers cottages from early in the last century, with a round shouldered, inward look to them. A least from the outside. Once inside it is for all the world like walking into the Tardis, Dr. Who's time machine. The place unfolds into hugh living spaces, all light and angles, pocket doors and banks of windows. It is architecturally as beautiful a home as I have ever seen, and rivals anything constructed from a similar house in Cabbagetown. The area in fact reminds me a great deal of Cabbagetown in its diversity and stage of redevelopment.
I am so glad we took the Great Ocean Road route. It is, no word of a lie, breathtaking. I so want you guys to see it. It is a humbling experience. The rock formations are gargantuan and alternately finely sculpted and tortured works, sometimes a bit of both at the same time. It is amazing to think that we were looking out on the Southern Ocean, as far from home as one could see, the next landfall being Antarctia. The wind was tremendous though not a chilling thing, and the swells were only 15 feet or so, but utterly impressive.
Have seen a lot of wildlife, marvelous creatures from the pages of books. It has been grand that way. Stuck my feet in the water at Airey Reach, and it was surprisingly warm. So, from the Indian Ocean to the Southern Ocean in a week.
I hope you are well and happy, and taking time to enjoy the first hints and signs of Spring. There is no such deliniation between the seasons here, just a melding of one beautiful day into another. We have had one day of rain and cloud, but they were burnt off by noon the next day, and the insistant, unrelenting Sun returned to its rightful place.
Hope this finds you all well, I miss you a lot and think of you often,
write again when you get the chance and I will do the same,
Love you always, even from this far away,

Wed 15/03/2006 How ya goin' mate? All well down under, festivals are a blast and people are as nice as us. Weather is wayyyyyyyyyy better. Am roasting up nicely thank you, while trying to avoid a bout of SHC(spontaneous human combustion).Must run, there are roo's to roundup and wombats to wrestle.
Yours from under the Southern Cross
from the Lucky Country

David and Shane at the Blue Mountain Folk Festival, photo courtesy Margret Robertson

Tue 21/03/2006 Here I am on a warm and windy day in Brisbane, shaded by clouds and beautiful trees. Have arrived safe and sound, in great digs with a lovely family of musicians and sportsmen. Grand combo to be around. Shane has headed off to wander the city and I am writing you.
Spent yesterday in Sydney, walking down to the harbour twice. The ferries decided that yesterday would be a great day to strike for a few hours, so did not get to tour the harbour on one, as I had planned. Did not get to cross the top arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, as that costs around 300 $ for the privilage. That aspect of things was not that great, but I enjoyed walking around the city. I did meet one maniac with his face tattooed, sniffing solvents from a bag, who liked the cut of my jib. Lucky me. He was easily cajoled.
Must away, a city tour awaits.
Love always from between the Gold and Sunshine Coasts

David and Shane's Geelong gig photos by Adam Burke

Annabel's house concert

photos by Kevin Rafferty

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