Newcastle Walking Tours

Some very clever and lovely Novocastrians have created a series of fabulous, self-guided walks around the city.

These have been prepared and written by David Hampton, one of the splendid people who make Newcastle Museum amazing.

The audio of the walks has been recorded by a couple of very well-known Novocastrians – me and Garth Russell!

The full set of walks is available on Visit Newcastle.

Meanwhile, let me take you on a couple of walks – the Shoreline Walk and the Newcastle Architecture Walk.



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Newcastle Shoreline Walk

Free printed maps are available at the Newcastle Museum or the Visitor Information Centre located at the Maritime Centre both located in the Honeysuckle precinct.


Heavy Walk – 3hr / 3.2km

Explore Newcastle’s maritime and surf culture through a self-guided walking tour of the city.

With its spectacular harbour and coastline, the Pacific Ocean has always played an important part in Novocastrian’s work and leisure.

Explore the city through its relationship with the shoreline. Visit places that once formed a crucial part of Newcastle’s working harbour and maritime culture. Enjoy the city’s spectacular coastline and discover places that Novocastrians have been visiting for generations to swim, relax and play.

This walking tour begins on the Newcastle Foreshore, at the viewing spot for Destiny, a sculpture that commemorates Newcastle’s role as a commercial port. It concludes at the Newcastle Memorial Walk, a spectacular walk that offers 360 degree views of the city and its coastline.

Click here to download the map.

Click here to download the full brochure and map.


Please click here to listen to the audio introduction of this tour.

1. Destiny

Julie Squires’ sculpture Destiny was commissioned in 1999 to commemorate 200 years of commercial shipping operations in the port of Newcastle.

Located on the former State Dockyard site at Dyke Point, Destiny was inspired by the traditional figure heads on the bows of sailing ships, believed to protect and guide ships. This contemporary form symbolises the spirit of the future: Destiny steps forward confidently yet protects and nurtures the past. She stands atop a globe and draws strength from the earth, and the strands of her hair represent the seven seas.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

2. Newcastle Mercantile Marine Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of all merchant mariners lost in times of war.

During World War II the sea was a crucial transport route, bringing resources into and taking completed products out of Newcastle. Japanese submarines operated along the East Coast of Australia during 1942 and 1943. They sank 18 vessels and attacked another 15, killing 277 merchant mariners and 223 medical personnel.

The crews of two ships with strong Newcastle connections are remembered here. The S.S. Iron Chieftain and the S.S. Iron Knight, both owned by BHP and crewed largely by local men, were both sunk with loss of life by enemy action. The Iron Knight was torpedoed by Japanese Submarine I-21, the same sub that shelled Newcastle in June 1942.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

3. Customs House

The Newcastle Customs House was designed in the Italianate Renaissance Revival Style by New South Wales Colonial Architect James Barnet in 1877. On top of the clock tower is a Time Ball.

Up until the Second World War the Time Ball would fall and Fort Scratchley would fire a gun at precisely 1pm. This practice was carried out in ports around the world during the 19th century to allow ships’ masters to adjust their navigation instruments.

The Time Ball has since been refurbished and still marks time daily above the Customs House. The Fort Scratchley Historic Society has refurbished a replica field gun that is fired daily at 1pm to keep this significant maritime tradition alive.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

4. Queens Wharf

In 1858, work began on the first major government structure along the Newcastle foreshore for berthing ships and loading coal. This became known as Queens Wharf. It was 1240ft long by 1861.

The exchange sidings of the Great Northern Railway ran parallel to the wharf, and coal from all over the region was transported in wooden hoppers to this point. A row of steam cranes would lift the bodies of the wagons out of their frames to be emptied into the holds of the waiting ships.

As expansive loading facilities opened around Carrington and Stockton, Queens Wharf ended its days as a loading point for wool and general cargo. It was demolished in the 1960s.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

5. Tugboats

After Queens Wharf was demolished four smaller berths were constructed along Wharf Road for Newcastle’s Tugs. The first tugboat to arrive in Newcastle was the Huntress in 1854. Underpowered and overpriced, ships refused to use her and she left Newcastle within a year. More powerful tugs soon arrived and fierce competition emerged between the rival boats for towing jobs and salvage opportunities.

Tugs of all shapes and sizes have called Newcastle home. One of the most famous was the Champion. Built in 1895 for local mining magnate John Brown, she was not only one of Australia’s most powerful tugs, but also its most luxurious. Lavishly decorated and fitted with a piano, she was often chartered to take her owner and his guests on deep sea fishing trips. She sank at anchor in the harbour in 1954 under suspicious circumstances.

The harbour’s modern fleets of tugs now dock further up river and carry on the long tradition of safely guiding ships into Newcastle Harbour.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

6. Boat Harbour – Newcastle Pilot Station

Newcastle is a very busy port, with 4600 shipping movements per year. The Port of Newcastle is a compulsory pilotage port, which means that a ship’s pilot, employed and certified by Newcastle Port Corporation, is transferred to all ships entering and exiting the harbour.

Pilots provide advice to the ships’ masters (captains) to assist vessels arriving and departing from the port. The marine pilot takes charge of the conduct of the navigation of the vessel while the master retains command of the vessel. About 80% of Marine Pilot transfers to and from ships are completed by helicopter, the remaining 20% being by pilot cutter vessels, which are often berthed here.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

7. The Lifeboat

For 136 years the Newcastle Lifeboat Service went to the aid of the crews and passengers of vessels in danger. The first lifeboat arrived in Newcastle in 1838. The NSW government did not finance a full time lifeboat service in any port and as a result, the crew of the Newcastle lifeboat was made up of volunteers from the harbour department, dredge service and customs service. The volunteer crew received little or no payment and were uninsured for their dangerous task.

During the service’s long history the lifeboats responded to hundreds of distress calls and saved thousands of lives. From the 1860s onwards, the boats were stored here at the pilot station. Newcastle’s last lifeboat, the Victoria II is now in the Newcastle Maritime Centre collection.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The Wreck of the Adolphe

One of the lifeboat’s finest rescues took place on Friday 30th of September 1904.

The Adolphe, an elegant four masted French Sailing Ship had arrived from Antwerp at about 9am. She was met by two Newcastle Tugs – the Hero and the Victoria. The Tugs secured lines to the ship and began towing her towards the harbour entrance.

Conditions at the Harbour mouth were dangerous. A strong wind blew from the south and the seas broke heavily across the entrance. When it came round the southern breakwater, the Adolphe was struck by huge seas that caused the Victoria’s tow line to snap. The Hero struggled on alone but could not hold the ship up and another succession of big waves lifted her onto the remains of a ship previously wrecked attempting to enter the harbour.

The lifeboat put to sea. Battling the huge swells, and carefully navigating the remains of other ships wrecked in the same place years before, the lifeboat came alongside the Adolphe, secured two lines to the stricken ship and dropped anchor. One by one, the French crew came aboard the lifeboat, and once 47 people were on board the lifeboat set off for safety. The rescue took only half an hour.

The crew of the lifeboat were hailed as heroes and the Consul-General for France made a special visit to Newcastle to thank the crew and reward them with a purse of sovereigns. The Adolphe’s remains can still be seen on the Stockton Breakwater today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

8. Grounded

On Friday, 8 June 2007 the coal ship Pasha Bulker ran aground in heavy seas on Nobbys Beach. Her enormous red hull interrupted the beach and the city skyline until she was successfully re-floated 25 days later, leaving nothing behind save a section of her rudder in the surf, which was later salvaged.

This sculpture was commissioned to commemorate that dramatic episode in Newcastle’s history. Created by renowned Sydney based sculptor John Petrie, Grounded is an abstract representation of the ship’s bow, reflecting both the shape and colour of the Pasha Bulker.

An original section of 22mm plate steel from the salvaged rudder of the ship is included at the base of the work.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

9. Newcastle Ocean Baths

Newcastle is firmly associated with shipping, industry and mining but it is also a place of spectacular natural beauty.

During the early 20th century a decline in the local mining industry forced Novocastrians to consider projects to diversify the local economy, attract tourists and capitalise on the city’s beautiful coastal landscape.

The Newcastle Ocean Baths was one such initiative.

The construction of the pool began in 1910 and the distinctive and architecturally significant Art Deco pavilion was built in 1922. The Baths provided the main swimming facility for clubs, school carnivals and the general public for decades. It continues to be a popular swimming spot today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The World Pool

Just next to Newcastle Ocean Baths is the Canoe Pool, the site of one of Newcastle’s most enduring urban legends.

In 1936 a wall was built on the southern end of the Ocean Baths to protect it from rough seas and sand. Within this space a circular pool boasting a pigmented cement map of the world was constructed. The continents of the world were raised 60 centimetres from the bottom, 20 centimetres being above the water line. Countries of the British Commonwealth were coloured red, with other nations in green.

Much about the Pools’ construction and final fate remains a mystery. Considering the Depression of the 1930s it may have been a project to stimulate employment. However, the designer of this unique creation remains unknown. The construction of a map in a public pool was certainly unique, and no similar pools are known to have existed in Australia.

It is generally believed that the World Pool, as it became known, was removed after being damaged beyond repair by a cyclone in the 1970s. However, rumours persist that remnants of the map are still uncovered after big swells.

What is known for certain is that many Novocastrians who grew up between the 1930s and the 1960s have fond childhood memories of playing in the pool and journeying ‘across the globe’ with their family and friends.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

10. Newcastle Beach – Surfest

Newcastle Beach hosted the first ever Surfest and for two decades was the competition’s home beach.

Surfest began in 1985 when Newcastle was still striving to cast off the city’s grime-ridden industrial image and showcase the unheralded beauty of Newcastle beaches and its fantastic surf breaks. Surfest was originally called the BHP Steel International and was the richest professional surfing event in the world at that time.

Surfest has become Australia’s largest surfing festival and part of the international world tour of surfing. It has made Newcastle and its surf culture famous not just nationally but internationally as well.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

11. King Edward Park

By 1860 the area of King Edward Park was clearly identified on maps as a ‘Reserve for Public Recreation’ but it was first proclaimed a recreation reserve in 1865.

During 1898 the park gained a Rotunda and many of the spectacular trees that now define the park were planted. During the Second World War a gun battery was established in the park and bomb shelters were erected. They were finally demolished in 1978. It continues to be a focal point for community recreation to this day, with picnics, wedding parties and gatherings taking place in this spectacular park by the sea.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

12. Newcastle Memorial Walk

Newcastle Memorial Walk was constructed to commemorate the Centenary of ANZAC and was completed in April 2015.

With its striking 360 degree views of the city and coast, the walk commemorates those who enlisted in World War I and features the family names of men and women from Newcastle and the Hunter Valley who served during the war. It also recognises the contribution that BHP Billiton made to the war effort in supplying steel rail, ship plate and munitions.

The Newcastle Memorial Walk provides a striking connection between the City’s CBD and the walk to Bathers Way, which continues south to Merewether Beach, home of the largest ocean baths in the Southern Hemisphere.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Please click here to listen to the audio on Susan Gilmore.


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Newcastle Architecture Walk

Free printed maps are available at the Newcastle Museum or the Visitor Information Centre located at the Maritime Centre both located in the Honeysuckle precinct.

Easy Walk – 1hr 30mins / 2.2km

Explore Newcastle’s Architectural heritage through a self-guided walking tour of the city.

The architecture of Newcastle is defined by a rich diversity of styles that reflect the city’s prosperity and growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Explore buildings that have acted as cultural, political and economic icons for the people of Newcastle. Discover the works by architects not just of local, but national and international significance.

This walking tour begins at City Hall, which has been at the centre of Newcastle cultural and political life since it was completed in 1929. It ends at the Civic Theatre, Newcastle’s premier live theatre venue and one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state.

Click here to download the map.

Click here to download the full brochure and map.


Please click here to listen to the audio introduction of this tour.

1. Newcastle City Hall

Newcastle City Hall has been at the centre of Newcastle’s cultural and political life since it was completed in 1929.

The first actions to establish a new town hall were recorded in 1888 but a final site and design for the hall was not agreed upon until 1925. Newcastle City Hall was designed by acclaimed architect Henry Eli White. The building contains a concert hall that seats 844 people, a dining room and servery, office spaces and the Council Chambers. The Hall is constructed of Sydney sandstone, adorned with Roman Doric and Ionic columns and dominated by its tower and four sided three metre diameter clock.

City Hall has performed a variety of roles in the decades since its construction. During the Second World War it was the nerve centre for the civilian response to an attack on the city and hosted free concerts to international and local troops seeking entertainment.

During the 1970s Newcastle City Council Offices were moved off site and replaced with conference spaces. The City Hall continues to host concerts, ceremonies and meetings of the elected Newcastle City Council today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

2. Corm

Corm was presented by BHP Pty Ltd to Newcastle City Council to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of City Hall in December 1979. The 1.5m tall bronze sculpture was inspired in both title and form by the fleshy stem found in plants. The sculpture was created by artist Marilyn McGrath who has described the work as an organic sculpture designed to provide a link between the constructed environment and nature.

McGrath was born in Sydney in 1939. She was training to be a registered nurse at the Royal Newcastle Hospital when she began attending evening classes in Sculpture and Drawing. McGrath went on to teach at the Newcastle Technical College Art School, and her work can be found in both public and private collections across Australia, including The Art Gallery of NSW.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

3. City Administration Centre

Known by many Novocastrians as The Roundhouse or The Champagne Cork, this building was constructed to accommodate the various departments of Newcastle City Council in 1977 as the City Hall could no longer accommodate the growing workforce. A roughly triangular parcel of land next to the City Hall was chosen to construct a purpose built administration centre.

With deep recessed windows to cut down on heat from the sun, the building’s precast concrete columns were finished to match the colour and texture of the City Hall stone work. The basement carpark spirals down from street level and had to be constructed like an underground dam, due to its proximity to the harbour. The water table beneath the building is very high and special construction techniques had to be used to prevent the water logged earth from collapsing into the excavation.

It continues to support the city as Newcastle City Council City Administration Centre.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

4. Newcastle Art Gallery

Newcastle Art Gallery was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Friday 11 March 1977. It was the culmination of decades of work to realise the belief that Newcastle, a city known for industry, could also be famous for having the best art gallery in the country.

Newcastle Art Gallery is a pioneer. It was the first purpose built regional art gallery in Australia. With its sharp geometric shapes and exposed concrete walls the gallery reflects the Brutalist aesthetic that flourished in the decades after the Second World War. The Gallery has collected over 6000 works since its inception, and is considered one of the most significant public collections in the country.

Today the gallery hosts a variety of exhibitions drawn both from its own collection and from other institutions via travelling exhibitions.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

5. Music, Literature and Art

Paul Beadle’s relief sculptures adorn the entrance to the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre. His heavily stylised work is designed to fit into tight spaces. The two reliefs show aspects of music, literature and art. Beadle included a unique self-portrait carving a male bust in the top of the right entry. The works reflect the community’s desire to be a place of creativity and learning.

English born Beadle was the head of the Art School at Newcastle Technical College from 1951 until 1957. He taught and exhibited widely in Australia before migrating to New Zealand in 1961.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

6. Baptist Tabernacle

The Baptist Tabernacle was designed by one of Newcastle’s most prominent and popular architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, Frederick Menkens.

Constructed from 1889 to 1890, the buildings elaborate painted plaster neo-classical Corinthian façade was inspired by the Spurgeon Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

It was threatened with compulsory demolition during the planning of the neighbouring Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre in the 1940s but both legal arrangements and the Tabernacle’s trustees prevented the building’s destruction.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – Menkens

Frederick B. Menkens was born in Germany in 1855. Few could claim to have had as diverse and striking an impact on the look and character of Newcastle as this creative and versatile architect.

His first trade was bricklaying but he went on to study Architecture at the Royal Polytechnicum at Hanover. He migrated to Australia in 1878. In 1881 he set up an architectural practice in Maitland for a year before moving to Newcastle. Here his practice flourished, and Menkens would go on to design over 100 buildings in the city and throughout
the Hunter.

Menkens developed a reputation amongst local builders as uncompromising and demanding. Having learnt bricklaying as a trade, it is said he would remove his hat and coat, snatch the trowel from a bricklayer and proceed to demonstrate the proper technique for laying bricks if what was being produced did not meet his standards. Menkens even spent time in prison due to his relationship with one builder, sued in the Supreme Court over a dispute with the contractor regarding the quality of their product.

Menkens died aged 55 from cirrhosis on 10 March 1910. His legacy can be seen across Newcastle in the buildings he designed.

His skills as an architect and his ability to adapt his style to meet the needs of his clients are well demonstrated here on Laman Street. Menkens not only designed the Baptist Tabernacle, but in the very same year designed the very different Gothic influenced St Andrews Presbyterian Church on the corner of Laman and Auckland Street.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

7. NESCA House

Newcastle City Council began to generate electricity for street lighting in 1890. Within two years it was increasing electrification and a district supply was established. By 1937, the Newcastle Electricity Supply Council Administration was providing over 87 million Kilowatt hours of power and had out grown its office space in City Hall.

The Council decided to construct an administration centre for the electricity department on the parcel of land next to the City Hall. Emil Sodersteen, the architect responsible for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, was chosen to produce the design.

Sodersteen’s new building was designed to complement the City Hall, and was constructed from similar sandstone. Despite its consideration of the grand and traditional building next door, NESCA House demonstrates strong influence from Art Deco and European Modernist styling.

The building housed a demonstration theatre, showroom, administrative and business offices and staff accommodation. It opened in 1938 and performed a variety of roles until The University of Newcastle took over the site in 1995 and it became known as University House.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

8. The Workers Club

The Workers Club forms the legacy of one of the most prominent cultural, political and social hubs in Newcastle, as well as being the site of one of the city’s greatest tragedies.

The Newcastle Trades Hall Council Workers Club otherwise known as the ‘Red Inn’ and ‘The Newcastle Workers Club’ opened on this site on the 8th of October 1948, to prepare and teach skills for workers in preparation for the revolution.

During the 1950s and 60s the club played an important role in the local Labour movement, and acted as a platform for organising and staging community events.

By the 1980s it was a popular live music venue. On December 28th, 1989, the Workers Club was due to host a performance by popular band Crowed House, with thousands expected to attend. Hours before, however, at 10.27 am, the city was devastated by an earthquake. Parts of the Workers Club collapsed resulting in nine deaths.

The new Workers Club building was officially opened in 1992 by Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Feature Story – The Earthquake

The Earthquake that struck Newcastle at 10.27am on Thursday, 28 December, 1989 was one of the most serious natural disasters in Australia’s history.

Registering 5.5 on the Richter scale, the earthquake claimed 13 lives in total. In addition to the nine people killed at the Newcastle Worker’s Club three people were killed in Beaumont Street, Hamilton and one person died of shock. A further 160 people were hospitalised. The death toll could have been far worse. At this time Newcastle’s CBD was a dominant commercial and retail hub. Thousands of people would normally flock to the CBD to take advantage of post-Christmas sales, but a public transport
strike meant that fewer people were in town than usual.

50,000 buildings were damaged and approximately 40,000 of these were homes. 300 buildings had to be demolished. 1,000 people lost their homes and the damage bill was estimated to be about four billion Australian dollars.

Novocastrians found that the earthquake altered not only the built environment but also their sense of community identity. The Earthquake, and the devastation it brought to Newcastle’s CBD became a catalyst for decay, change and rebirth that continues to influence the city today.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

9. Miss Porter’s House

‘Miss Porter’s House’, a distinctive Edwardian Terrace, was the lifelong home of Ella and Hazel Porter.

The Porter family built this house in 1910. The building and its contents are representative of the middle-class urban lifestyle of the early twentieth century. It retains Edwardian and 1940s period furnishings, unique stencilled ceilings and a collection of thousands of objects acquired by the sisters over the decades.

Before she passed away in the mid-1990s Hazel bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust of Australia (NSW) who now maintain the property and open its doors to the public.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

10. Bank Corner

The acutely angled intersection of Hunter and Hannel Streets was occupied by a bank for over 100 years. The previous building stood for 50 years before being replaced by the one before you in 1940.

Described in the press at the time of its opening as a simple modernised version of the Classical Traditional, the building also has Art Deco influences in the detail and decorative elements.

The building was a branch of the Bank of New South Wales.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

11. Art School and Trades Hall

This building was opened in 1896. Generations of Novocastrians enrolled here to learn trades and skills, as it hosted courses on everything from free hand drawing to steam engine maintenance.

The building was designed by W.E. Kemp, who also designed the Sydney Technical College in Ultimo. Federation Romanesque in style, the College’s frame is constructed from Red Cedar. The building is asymmetrical, with the right side being larger than the left.

The tradition of training on this site continues today. The TAFE Hunter Institute Newcastle Art School is a combination of the 1896 Art School building, the 1895 Trades Hall building and a 1997 extension that joins the two architectural highlights into one.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

12. Steggas Emporium

Built in 1886, this row of seven shops represents one of Frederick Menkens’ earliest designs in Newcastle.

The shops are typical of Victorian commercial street architecture of the period. Menkens added a touch of flair by putting a dramatic stress on one of the central bays by giving it a crowning triangular pediment surmounted by a raised parapet and broken segmental pediment. Unfortunately this feature has been removed, along with the original single story veranda.

Steggas, with seven separate businesses occupying the same building, was a forerunner of today’s department stores. The shopping habits of Novocastrians changed in the 1880s due to the introduction of efficient public transport networks, including the city’s tramways and the Great Northern Railway, which allowed people from outlying
areas to travel with ease into the city centre for shopping and recreation.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

13. Civic Theatre

Dominating Newcastle’s Civic Precinct is the Civic Theatre, built in 1929.

The theatre was designed by Henry Eli White, the same architect responsible for the City Hall. White was one of the most successful theatre architects in the country with Sydney’s Capitol and State Theatres also to his name.

Originally designed internally in a dramatic Spanish Baroque style for both cinema and live theatre, the building went through many modifications and operators. By the 1960s the Civic was in decline, due to competition from television, and its patronage fell by 63%. It closed in 1973 and Newcastle Council made the decision to transform the Civic into a dedicated live theatre venue. This decision saved one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state.

Today the theatre is Newcastle’s premier performance venue, hosting a diverse program of shows including dance, drama, comedy, cabaret, film and children’s shows.

Please click here to listen to the audio for this part of the tour.

Please click here to listen to audio on Civic Park.

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Working through 2015

Republique Paris
Je Suis, Charlie.


2015 has been an interesting year and, fortunately, most of it has been OK. Not easy, but OK.

The hundreds of redundancies forced upon my colleagues at the ABC have been a shock to a lot of people and very difficult for some. Losing your job is incredibly stressful. Upsetting. Demoralising.

I was chatting with one of my fellow former ABC colleagues recently and she was confiding her hurt, her grief, her feeling of humiliation. She had recently applied for a job that she was well-qualified for only to be told, ‘It might not be exciting enough for you …’

I’m fairly certain the organisation in question would have loved to have had her join their team and I know she’d have made an incredibly valuable contribution, but someone else made the decision about how she might feel. They should have just asked her.

I know that many of my former colleagues are still not employed, and I know that there are to be still more job losses.

Yet I remain optimistic.

I took advantage of my redundancy and took my children travelling. It was the first time they’d been on a plane, let alone to find themselves sitting at the top of the Eiffel Tower with their mum, lunching on jambon-beurre and thé glacé!

I’ve continued to work as a content creator and copywriter for several local, national and even international organisations and I enjoy the puzzle that words can be. I’ve had a lovely year working anywhere between Newcastle, Sydney, Paris … and my sofa!

All forms of media continue to go through great upheaval and I have no idea where the cards that have been thrown into the air will fall, but I suspect that for people like me who simply enjoy the processes of storytelling, of communication and discussion, discovery and collaboration – there will continue to be wonderful opportunities. I enjoy helping others translate their own stories and to make connections.

I have been working as a journalist at the University of Newcastle but continuing to accept freelance writing jobs as they become available – there are a lot of people and organisations who need words! ‘Content’ is a funny word, but content really is king.

The world is digital, digital spaces need words, images, sounds, thoughts and ideas – and for my ABC colleagues who are feeling bruised and bewildered at what so many of us have been through this year, I think we all have reason to feel that the future will still be bright.

But I don’t think I’m where I need to be just yet.

So I’m just going to keep saying YES as I explore new opportunities with people who are supportive, enthusiastic and offering goodwill. There’s been quite a few of you.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my gentle forays into this new world of self-employment and I’m enormously grateful to those individuals and organisations who have been helping me on my way.





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Vale Tom Uren – the ‘conscience of Parliament’

'Gloves Off', Ralph Heimans, 2006.
‘Gloves Off’, Ralph Heimans, 2006.
Tom Uren lived an incredible life and I had the privilege of speaking with him in 2007 prior to his trip to Maitland to deliver the annual Harry Boyle Memorial Lecture for the National Trust.

Tom served during WWII and witnessed the bombing of Hiroshima. He was a prisoner-of-war on the Thai-Burma railway with Sir Weary Dunlop.

Coming from a very poor Newcastle family but raised in Balmain in Sydney, Tom’s greatest concerns as a leading Australian politician included environment, heritage and the ‘national estate’.

In this interview he speaks of his fondness for the Japanese in spite of his war experiences, his determination to protect Australia’s environment and heritage, and his affection for Gough Whitlam.

Tom Uren was 86 when we recorded this interview but sounded as enthusiastic about life as he ever did. Indeed he said, “I’m 86! That’s 86 springtimes!”

I hope you get time to have a listen, I greatly enjoyed speaking with him.

You can listen on Soundcloud:

or via YourListen:

Upload Music - Embed Audio - Carol Duncan speaks with Tom...

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Rob Hirst – The Sun Becomes The Sea

 Rob Hirst
Rob Hirst has a new solo album out – released under his own name instead of one of the innumerable musical units that he’s part of.
The Midnight Oil drummer and songwriter celebrates his new songs with an unexpected collaboration with his artist daughter, Gabriella Hirst.

Rob Hirst oozes ‘proud dad’ as he talks about the achievements of the offspring of some of his bandmates.

“We’ve all got very talented sons and daughters now, all very grown up, and my daughter Gabriella is now in Berlin after finishing her courses at COFA in Sydney and the National Art School. She did very well, got a travelling scholarship and went to Berlin.”

Gabriella Hirst’s art is, indeed, striking and beautiful. And perhaps unsurprisingly, her work seems to share her father’s social and environmental concerns.

“She was looking out over a wasteland where she was in north-west Berlin, went for a walk in the afternoon and asked one of the locals why it was so deserted. He told her that until recently there had been a poplar forest full of birds but that despite the protests of locals the little forest that had acted as a buffer between quite an industrial area and the local residences had been levelled to put in a department store or factory.”

“But he also told Ella that he’d gone for a walk on the day they cut the trees down and found 24 birds’ nests. He sent them to Ella and she painted them as part of her Berlin projects in watercolours on silk flags, which the man then attached to bamboo poles and put back where the forest once was as a symbolic gesture to remind people of what was lost. Being ephemeral artworks, she expected them to be souvenired, which they quickly were, but they fly now from the balconies of neighbouring apartments overlooking this area.”

Rob’s album, ‘The Sun Becomes The Sea’, features 24 of his daughter’s bird artworks in the hardcover booklet version of the album, which he had made to protect Gabriella’s artwork but there are a few of them online.

“I was just finishing a bunch of songs that I’d been doing over a couple of years down at Jim’s (Moginie) studio and I thought for the first time that I’d put it out under my own name rather than under the Ghostwriters or whatever. It’s just one of those lovely synchronicities where she was finishing her artwork at the same time and agreed that I could use these beautiful watercolour birds for the sleeve of the book and for the new website which finally links the Oils, the Backsliders, The Break, Angry Tradesmen, Hirst and Greene, Willies Bar and Grill, etc.”

Unusually, Rob made the decision to make all of the songs on the album available online for free.

“I just thought it would be a nice gesture and I had such fun making these songs.”

I point out that a similar ‘nice gesture’ recently backfired somewhat for U2.

“I would never be so presumptuous as to upload these 11 songs on people’s iTunes!” Rob laughs, “It’s available for those that seek it out and like it and there’s the option for people to go to a few of those old-fashioned record stores that still exist, and which we really want to support, and get the hardcover booklet with all of Gabriella’s birds and other information on it.”

The exhibition of Midnight Oil’s incredible place in the Australian music industry was a huge success at the Sydney exhibition hosted by the Manly Art Gallery and Museum and will be hosted by Newcastle Museum early 2015. How does Rob Hirst feel about his life’s work being treated as a museum piece?

“We had so many people come through and they were pleasantly surprised. I think they thought, ‘Oh Rob’s dug out a few old posters and stuck them on the wall with blu-tack’ or something. In fact, we spent about two years working on it; this is me, curator Ross Heathcote, Virginia Buckingham, Wendy Osmond who did the art direction on it.”

“We’ve got a special film which runs an hour and fifteen minutes made by Rob Hambling about the making of ’10 to 1′ with Nick Launay producing back in London all those years ago, and we’ve sourced all this film from 1984 of the band backstage in South Australia at Memorial Drive, and at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. There’s a lot of home movie footage, the Exxon banner from New York City, a full stage set-up of the band with the exact drums, guitars, amps, backdrop, lights and even the PA to be authentic from 1987 to 1989 which we toured on the back of the Diesel and Dust album.”

“There lots of little early recordings that have never been heard, a song we’ve never released before, and the pièce de résistance is a replication in a box which has sticky carpet, three screens when you walk in and a curtain you pull behind you. It has footage of the band playing at the Tanelorn Festival in 1981 and there’s two sets of headphones you can choose from – one is loud, the other is really loud – and you can stick to the carpet. There’s elbows that come out from the side of the box so that you can be elbowed in the ribs. What I was trying to do was replicate what it was like coming to see Midnight Oil back then at the Mawson Hotel, the 16 Footers or the Ambassador or whatever.”

I enquire as to whether the box also has the special scent that some of our more notorious venues had. Rob Hirst assures me it does.

“I’ve poured so much Tooheys New into that carpet, you’ve got no idea, and I’ve ground some lemon chicken and sweet and sour rat or whatever into it. Remember in NSW in those days the liquor laws stated that the pubs had to pretend to provide a meal if they were serving liquor late. No-one would ever touch those meals but they’d be knocked off the bar and into the carpet. So after three months in Manly it’s getting quite fruity in there!”

“It’s funny, one of the last surviving venues down here (Sydney), The Annandale, has just ripped up there carpet. The carpet was legendary. It was despicable. They could have scraped it for a new form of penicillin! But they shouldn’t have thrown it out. I’d have taken a square metre of it and put it in what became known as ‘Rob’s Folly’, but is now known as ‘The Royal Antler Room’ which is the Narrabeen pub that Midnight Oil first started playing all those years ago.”

“The curator, Ross Heathcote, named it ‘Rob’s Folly’ because he was bemused by the idea. He didn’t think I’d ever build it, but over six months with a couple of hard-working, underpaid friends we actually made it. It looks like a giant road case but it’s big enough for two or three people to cram in and get blasted by Midnight Oil at the Tanelorn Festival.”

Rob describes the opening of the Midnight Oil exhibition at the Manly gallery with great affection and it’s obvious that he still finds great joy in every tiny connection that his career has afforded him – from those with names to the ‘unknown’ members of road crews. Indeed for just a moment he sounds a bit misty when reminiscing about the night of the opening and the loyalty of the huge crowds who were not only Midnight Oil fans but turned out in droves to see the exhibition. I gently accuse him of getting mellow and soft in his dotage as he describes this ‘gathering of the tribes’. This quickly turns his thoughts to Newcastle.

“Newcastle will be the same. After all, Newcastle meant so much to the band. We went time and time again until we finally did a huge gig on Redhead Beach. We expected to find maybe a couple of thousand people, but there must have been 25,000 or 30,000 people on the beach. That kind of paid us back for all the hard work. We’d spoken to The Angels and (Cold) Chisel who’d just preceded us a little bit, and they said, ‘If you get places like Newcastle you’ll get the most loyal audiences on earth’, and that’s what happened. And of course a few years later was the earthquake benefit and we were lucky enough to be on that bill as well, and that gig goes down as one of the great shows we’ve ever played.”

Midnight Oil, of course, achieved success with not just a lot of hard work, but what Rob Hirst describes as an ‘anti-plan’.

“We’d heard all these terrible stories of bands that we’d loved that ended much too early, before their time, through no fault of their own. They were brilliant musicians, songwriters, performers, but through management or lousy agency deals or record company stuff-ups they hadn’t fulfilled their potential. So we looked at them and because Pete and I had done law – Pete finished law, I didn’t – but we knew our way around a contract a little bit. So when we signed with an independent label, even though we were being chased by the majors at the time – that made us too anxious, so we signed with an independent label which we called ‘Powderworks’ after the first song on the first album and gradually eased ourselves in.”

“I think that stood us in good stead because we were able to build this very loyal live crowd – initially in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong and then interstate. But because we took it softly, softly, I don’t think we made the horrendous mistakes that some of the other great Australian bands had done.”

I point out the obvious that Midnight Oil weren’t trying to seduce an audience with songs of sex and drugs and rock & roll like every other band, but were insisting we have a look at contemporary Australian issues.

Again, Rob is amused, “Yeah, we were decidedly unsexy and we didn’t take anywhere near enough drugs although I was on ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for about 15 years.”

“Probably two of the most maligned rock managers of the time were Gary Morris who looked after us, and Chris Murphy who looked after INXS, although Gary also looked after INXS initially but then just us once he realised we were more than a handful.”

“Those managers were much feared and not very liked in the industry, but they were fiercely loyal to their bands and Gary not only was a real strong-arm, Rottweiler kind of manager which you need to protect a young band that has big ideas but no money in the bank, but he also threw all these crazy ideas at us all the time. One in every 100 of his crazy ideas was brilliant and we’d actually do it.”

“The best bands seemed to have been the most unlikely bunch of people – and I include their management in that – all thrown together and all providing different talents to an end that make the sum much stronger than the individual.”

“With Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel, for example, the songwriters weren’t the singer. In the case of Chisel it was Don Walker writing for Jimmy (Barnes), and with the Oils it was Jim (Moginie) and myself writing for Pete (Garrett). There were others in the band that were great performers – Pete was this extraordinarily charismatic singer, Jim was a whiz in the studio, Martin (Rotsey) was great with arrangements … and everyone kind of had their place.”

“Back in those days you actually sold albums, they weren’t all pirated or downloaded for free so we could quickly pay back that poor bank manager in Chatswood and get going and make our own career even thought we didn’t play Countdown and we didn’t play the industry game.”

They most certainly didn’t. And I suggest that to a then-young and female Australian music-goer, Midnight Oil could appear a bit intimidating. A bit cranky.

“We were a bloody-minded bunch of bastards back then and, yeah, we were cranky all the time. If you look at photos from that time we look really cranky. A lot of bands want to look cranky but we were actually cranky because we were tired and probably hungry and pissed off about something.”

Yes, I detect Rob Hirst pulling my leg a bit, but only a bit. He admits that if you were anywhere near the front of the stage during a Midnight Oil gig, or The Angels, or Rose Tattoo, Cold Chisel, whatever, you were a member of a fairly tough breed. I assure him I was happy at the back of the room but I suspect the safest place may have been behind the drum kit.

False rumours have just done the rounds that Robert Plant had knocked back $500-$800 million to reform Led Zeppelin. Big numbers. What would it take for Midnight Oil to perform together again?

“Robert Plant. I really admire the man, he keeps reinventing himself. It’s long not been about the money for people like that. But it’s one thing cruising around the pubs and just playing a medley of your greatest hits and a lot of bands fall for that trap. But I think Midnight Oil is among that bunch of bands that would be much too musically curious to have ever done that.”

“If we were ever to get back together, it would almost certainly be with new material and we’d have to feel we were contributing something rather than just some nostalgic act in sparkly jackets doing the clubs. Whether that will happen I have no idea.”

Rob Hirst’s new album, ‘The Sun Becomes The Sea’, is a beautiful personal work recorded in memory of his later mother, Robin, who ended her life a few years ago after decades of living with depression.

In a recent interview Rob pointed out that it’s important we talk about depression, that we acknowledge the importance of mental health in order to help people.

“It’s not just my mum, there are other members of the family who have suffered from it and it is as strong as any other inherited disease. And possibly more lethal because we don’t talk about it and don’t address it.”

Rob and his daughters sang ‘Someone Scared’ at his late mother’s funeral and he suggests that this song was the catalyst for the full album.

It’s a terrible thing to admit, but as a high school work experience kid I spent a week at Powderworks when Midnight Oil’s ‘Bird Noises’ EP was being pressed on to gooey black vinyl. I simply wanted to know how music worked.

I wish I hadn’t been such a good kid and had actually nicked one.

And frankly, I’d have pinched one of Gabriella Hirst’s beautiful silk birds from the poplar forest, too.

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Breaking the poverty cycle with education

Nearly 640,000 Australian children live in a ‘jobless’ family. These children are, on average, up to three years behind their peers in reading and maths by the time they’re 15 years of age. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

HSC completion rates in lower socio-economic backgrounds are still much lower (58%) than for students from higher socio-economic backgrounds (77%).

Lisa O’Brien is the CEO of The Smith Family which runs programs purely directed toward supporting education from early childhood through tertiary study and says that with 1 in 10 children growing up in a house where there is no adult working, it puts enormous pressure on the financial resources in the home and the consequences are far-reaching.

“Today in Australia, 1 in 10 children are growing up in a house where there is no adult working. That puts enormous pressure on the financial resources in the home and there are far-reaching consequences of that.”

“We’re seeing young people growing up in households where there have been multiple generations of unemployment and financial disadvantage, and growing up in a home where there aren’t strong moral models around employment.”

“That’s not through any lack of desire on behalf of the parents it’s just that they haven’t been employed, so the things that are often taken for granted such as seeing someone get up in the morning and get dressed and go to work – kids don’t grow up with that kind of role model or example and so it tends to become a self-perpetuating cycle.”

“It’s partly because of the role-modelling, partly access to resources and also a sense of aspiration, that ‘I’m at school and I’m going to work hard so I can go on to university and get a job’; it’s just not the language in those households.”

“So we are seeing that these communities of long term disadvantage are growing around Australia. That puts a lot of pressure on young people who want to break out of that cycle.”

Over 20 years ago, The Smith Family changed its support model from one of welfare and charitable handouts, food parcels, etc, to one of supporting education.

“Our mission has always been to support kids and families with emergency help when in crisis, but it was recognised that we were just seeing the same families coming back through the door and we weren’t achieving sustainable change, that we weren’t making a difference in the long term to these kids and families. Research told us the key was education.”

“So we refocused all of our operations from passive assistance support to early intervention, focusing on supporting young people with their education. We start that support when they’re young and we will stay with the child all through the journey providing them support with the ultimate aim of them completing school and ideally going on to some further study, but definitely with the aim of transitioning into employment.”

“We recognised that there were others that could provide that sort of immediate emergency help and welfare support, but over time we realised by us giving additional financial support targeted to education that they were able to make a long-term change and they (the families) really valued that this money was quarantined to support their kids with education and wasn’t just getting subsumed in the needs of everyday existence.”

Anne Hampshire is the head of research for The Smith Family and she says even something most of us take for granted – internet access – can be a major problem for many Australian families.

“ABS data shows that lots of children are unable to access the internet at home. Research shows that 1 in 5 children aged between 5 and 14 had no internet access at home over a 12-month period and in some communities it was as high as 1 in 3 children.”

“Why that particularly matters, the major reason children use the internet at home is education-related activity. Yes, they might download movies and music, but the predominant reason they use it is for education, and assumptions are made that everybody has access to the internet.”

In our own region, the principal of Irrawang High School (Raymond Terrace) recently told 1233 that 25% of his students had no internet access at home and are earning about $200 per week less than the state average.

Anne says these figures reflect their own, “Around 40% of our families don’t have an email address.”

Newcastle mother, Lu*, says the support of The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program has taught her children more than the basics.

“When they were younger, they had a reading group where someone would phone them and have the kids read with them over the phone. We’ve learnt to budget and it makes a big difference knowing that the money is going to help our kids learn.”

“I’m not as smart as my children, I only went to Year 10 and then to TAFE, but I didn’t really have much of an education. My kids know that they need an education to get a job, to make a career, to get further in life, to have a good home and survive. They know it’s hard.”

“If we didn’t have this little bit of support, it would be another struggle. People say, ‘Oh, just put $10 aside’. Well, what $10!? I need $10 more! It’s a struggle.”

Lu now has a child at university, another doing his HSC and a little one yet to start school, but it was tough to hear Lu say that she’d actually told her kids not to be like her.

“I always say to them, ‘You don’t want to be uneducated like us and not be able to afford things. Look at us, we’re struggling every day, but with your education you’ll be able to do whatever you want and help others.”

Alex* is Lu’s son and this year completing his HSC. It speaks highly of Lu’s work with The Smith Family to support her children through education that Alex doesn’t consider himself to be ‘disadvantaged’.

“I think disadvantage is when someone doesn’t have access to the same resources as someone else. I don’t think I am too disadvantaged, I have a lot of positives in my life and I know there are plenty of others that don’t have the benefits that I do.”

How does Alex feel about being sponsored?

“It gives me education. There’s quite a range of social groups at school but most of my friends want to go to university. I want to study a social science degree, philosophy, theology, a few things because I like to learn and I’m fascinated these topics.”

Research by The Smith Family shows that completely Year 12 ‘increases a young person’s likelihood of continuing with further study, as well as entering the workforce.’

It also leads to higher annual earnings for individuals, greater community involvement and economic benefits for the country as a whole.

But not completing Year 12 can lead to:

Increased crime and poorer health outcomes among early school leavers
Nationally lower levels of productivity
Reduced quality of the labour force
Increased unemployment
Lower growth in income tax collections

Indeed, the Victorian Auditor-General’s Report, November 2012, said:

Education attainment is an important predictor of future employment, welfare and health prospects – and it improves [a person’s] ability to contribute socially and economically in the community.

Lisa O’Brien says that helping children obtain an education is good for all of us.

“There are some kids and families in Australia who are doing it really tough, but with the right support at the right time they can turn their lives around. That’s in everyone’s interest. If we have young people who are well-educated and focused on completing school and going on to employment, we’ll all prosper. It’s a great investment.”

(*names changed)

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Don Walker talks Cold Chisel and other words

Don WalkerDon Walker is a notoriously private man. He just does not talk about the personal stuff. But he does talk about himself, about music and words and prose and work and Chisel and just about anything else you choose to throw at him.

He speaks slowly, deliberately, and laughs with a quiet, low rumble. Don Walker is also very dry and very funny.

Once a scientist who worked on Australia’s F111 program, Don says he worked for a little while with “whatever modest skills I acquired in aerodynamic engineering. I can’t say I was very good at it.”

Words matter to Don Walker and it’s obvious that language is a great love for the man who has written some of Australia’s most iconic rock songs, “I think my love of words, language and humour – which is very much part of it – comes not so much from reading but from listening to regional speech in Australia, listening to the way people talk.”

“I love the enormously intelligent use of language that you get in regional and grass roots Australia. I like to laugh and Aussies say stuff that makes me laugh all the time. I try and write in a way that’s close to conversation, and the conversation that I know is the way that I talk, and the people around me whose company I enjoy, talk.”

Don Walker grew up in Grafton on the north coast of NSW and says there was little choice in radio listening, “Where I grew up there used to be two stations. 2NR was the ABC station on the north coast, and the local commercial station was 2GF. So 2GF was where you went for music; they didn’t play any music on the ABC except for classical programs, so the music that was played on the local commercial station was the music we heard.”

“It was a peculiar kind of faux-country music; a lot of American stuff, but some Australian stuff, and in that curious period between Elvis and The Beatles. Elvis hit and then it all went quiet when he joined the army, but The Beatles hadn’t happened yet, so there was a fallow period there where all sorts of wild and wonderful but now-forgotten things happened in music.”

“Last year, a mate of mine who grew up in the Wheatfields in WA told me he’d seen a movie called ‘The Tree of Man’ which I haven’t seen but apparently it’s the greatest movie of the last 10 years or so. In this movie he was shocked into that period of 1960 listening to commercial radio. He and a friend who worked in a record shop gathered three CDs of what was on the radio in that period and gave them to me. It’s a real shock to listen to them because these are not songs that are widely played since, so to listen to three CDs of them now plunges me straight back to sitting on a verandah on a farm when I was 10 years old. It’s wonderful stuff. ‘Big Bad John’, quite a bit of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline.”

‘Big Bad John’ is one of my own musical memories so I suggest to Don that I could probably sing him all the words of it and throw in a bunch of bad trucking songs about the ghosts of little girls to boot.

“That’s right!” laughs Don, “Six days on the road and I’m gonna see my baby tonight’, or ‘Wolverton Mountain’, or ‘From A Jack to a King’, all that kind of stuff!”

Our memories are strongly driven by sounds and smells and I suspect that as we get older, the guilty pleasures we have in music from years ago and may not have admitted to previously, are now songs that we love and will play loud in the car with the windows down, perhaps to the horror of our kids.

Don Walker is one of Australia’s most esteemed songwriters so of course I had to take the opportunity to try to get him to confess his musical sins to me.

“There’s plenty of stuff that I can go back to and I’d only admit between you and I that at a certain stage I was very passionate about ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’. It is interesting to go back and listen to stuff now and see if it sounds as good as I thought it did at the time. ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’ now sounds appalling! If you put on ‘Bitches Brew’ (Miles Davis) now, it sounds pretty good. So, there are examples like that, ‘bad fashion’ things that you do in any era.”

“I’m sure among the stuff I’m listening to and liking now there’s some pretty horrible stuff. You’re going to ask me what?”

Yes. But Don isn’t telling.

I share with Don that I had recently played The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ in the car for my kids to listen to because I think it’s one of those things that pre-dates my own record collection but still sounds wonderful. Indeed, ‘Pet Sounds’ was released in the year of my birth. So even if the lyrics are a bit cheesy, if something was beautifully recorded and produced does it redeem it somewhat for him?

“Well, you can’t dismiss something just because it has cheesy lyrics, any more than you can dismiss something because it has cheesy music. Often in those combinations there’s treasure.”

“But The Beach Boys, I never got it, or I never bothered. I think because when I was young, nobody in the banc could actually play – nobody could do a solo – and when I was 20 or 25 that was important. But I’ve been doing a lot of long car trips over the last few years and a couple of years ago I bought a ‘best of The Beach Boys’ and listened to it and started to wake up as to why so many of my musical friends are fanatical Beach Boys fans. Not so much musicians, but people in the music business, radio people and music journalists. I started to get it, to realise that this wasn’t just another pop group, there’s actually something unique and extraordinary that’s happened here and everyone else is just imitators. I kinda knew that, but I never got it myself. Now I do.”

Don Walker is perhaps best known as Cold Chisel’s main songwriter and through that band gave Australian rock music fans a new voice. With 40 years of songwriting under his belt, does the legacy of songs like Khe Sanh – released in 1978 – weigh on him?

“Well, it’s nice! There’s a good living in that kind of thing. But once songs like that go out and are adopted by people as part of that canon of what they like to listen to, then it becomes a little bit remote to me.”

“The last five years or so, occasionally, I’ve done Khe Sanh myself with just piano, but that sounds utterly different so I can kind of own that again. It becomes a story with some chords, but it doesn’t sound remotely like Jim (Barnes) and Cold Chisel on the radio because I can’t sing like that. I’m very proud of it. We were a bunch of young guys and we did some good stuff. It’s good that people like that and it holds up decades later, but it’s a little bit remote from my daily life.”

“I didn’t sing Khe Sanh originally. I just wrote it and showed it to the other guys in the band. Jim’s been singing it as an integral part of what he does live, but not me. Neither are any other Cold Chisel songs. It’s just in the last few years I started doing this other piano version of it. I wasn’t avoiding it in all that time, it’s just that it’s not something that sounds like what I do, and it’s not the way that I sound when I sing.”

“With such a song that’s as widely loved as that, if I get up and sing it somebody might yell out, ‘That’s not how it goes!’ he laughs, “The other thing is it’s gotta a lot of words and everybody else knows them better than I do so what if you get half way through and you get stuck?!”

In 2009, Don released his book ‘Shots’ – a collection of short autobiographical pieces. Reading ‘Shots’ reminded me of the way Leonard Cohen uses words, but Leonard Cohen makes me wonder just which words are lies.

“I don’t think songwriters lie, but they certainly make stuff up. Is that lying? It’s an essential part of songwriting.”

“Many years ago I was listening to someone do an interview with Paul Kelly, and they were digging in way beyond, ‘What comes first, mate, the lyrics or the music?’, they were digging in to just what happens and how do you come up with lyrics,”

“Paul said, ‘I make stuff up.’ I burst out laughing, I thought that was brilliant. Of course, you make stuff up. Is that lying? Yes, definitely. Sometimes it can tip over if you pretend it’s the truth. So if me or Laughing Lenny write something that is not fiction but purporting to be a factual account, but that tips over into something that didn’t actually happen, well … you’re on the edge.”

Where does Don Walker place the Canadian wordsmith, Leonard Cohen?

“The big attraction for Leonard Cohen, and like The Beach Boys I’ve become a Leonard Cohen fan late in life – never took much notice of him before the last five or ten years but the big attraction is his humour. I don’t think anything has got much legs if it hasn’t got humour. You can look around and look at all the recording artists in history and divide the ones who have humour from the ones who don’t. And that’s a pretty profound thing, that really sorts them out, and Leonard Cohen is one of the funniest people out there, and one of the driest in his lyrics. And that’s why now, late in life, I buy every Leonard Cohen album.”

Jimmy Barnes, of course, has deflected a lot of the heat of Cold Chisel’s success from the rest of the band, but after Chisel disbanded Don Walker has put himself up front.

“It’s never all about me, even when you’re up there in front of a band. It’s about the songs and the story. You’re trying to put that over and connect. You’re trying to whisper in the ear of everybody who’s listening, whether you’ve recorded something that’s being played on the radio or if you’re playing a big show and there’s thousands of people there. It’s just one person trying to communicate to one other, and in some situations there’s a lot of ‘one other’. It’s not about ‘you’, the person standing up there.”

“The fascist thing about it is that people can’t talk back,” laughs Don, “And for people in our position, the beautiful thing.”

I find it interesting to think about how songwriters see their own work given how precious it can sometimes become to others. To fans. To listeners. We listen, we love, we lose. We perhaps get married to the words in these songs. Live our lives through them. Die. We carry them with us and consider which of them we’d rescue from our burning house or take to a desert island. But how does the songwriter, the storyteller, see them?

Don chips me about just wanting to ask what his favourite song is, but I think it’s more complex than that and he concedes it’s difficult to answer.

“There’s a lot of stuff over the decades and I don’t think of them as valuable or otherwise. Although there’s a few things I’ve written that I would regard as ‘value-less’, but I’m not going name them. I admire people who use their songs to help people – that has value – but the songs I value most often have no correlation between how good a song is in my eyes and how well-known it is or how much money it’s made or anything like that. It’s not an inverse correlation either.”

“Probably one of the most – in my heart – beautiful songs I’ve ever written I wrote about 15 years ago – at the turn of the century! When I wrote it I thought, ‘This is going to be massive all over the world because it’s such a beautiful song’, and I wrote it about a personal situation but it was universal, it had what I thought was a beautiful melody, it was simple, and it had everything that I thought was good about songcraft. And yet, everybody who heard it in the publishing world acknowledged how good it was but I couldn’t get it recorded.”

“So that’s what I’d call one of the top five songs that I’m proud of and yet nobody knew about it for 13 years.”

“But Missy Higgins has just recorded it and done a stunning version of it (The Way You Are Tonight) and now people are hearing it. In the meantime, there’s a lot of other songs I’ve written that are enormously popular and have been all over the airwaves that I didn’t think were nearly as good.”

Don Walker is a storyteller, but are there stories he hasn’t been able to get out yet?

“Yes, yes there are. There are things like that that have hung around in the back of my head for a long time, but they’re difficult to describe because describing them will be in the song or in the prose writing and I haven’t figured out a way of doing that yet. Where they live now is in pictures and movies and landscapes and feelings and maybe a few scraps of words.”

How does he know when the song is done. When the words are finished. When to stop and leave it alone.

“You just know. It’s like a big bell goes off. ‘This is right now.’ And it’s something that is the same with a piece of prose writing. I can’t explain that but I utterly know when something’s right. At the same time, the reverse side of that is that you utterly know when something is not right. But knowing it’s not right doesn’t mean that you know how to get to where the bell goes off. I’ve put things out without waiting for the bell to go off, when they’re not quite right but good enough.”

Will he tell me what they are?

“No. But there’s an internal thing that defies all logic. Surely, all of these things are subjective. What is right to one person is not right to another, but there is something in me – and I know it exists in others – where it’s not a subjective thing, there’s an utter certainty when something is right. And a nagging, cold dissatisfaction and itch when it’s not.”

Meanwhile, after a 40-year career in the music industry, Don Walker is still touring larger shows with a full band, and smaller intimate shows to just a few dozen people.

“The beauty of doing things like that is to deliberately put myself in a situation where I didn’t know if I could pull it off and I had to do some work. I had to do a lot of preparation and figure out a lot of things I hadn’t had to figure out before to make a show of that length work with just me and the piano.”

I suggest that to do so is gutsy.

“It’s not so much the size of the audience. It doesn’t really matter. It’s what’s going on onstage. In that situation I have no band and nothing to hide behind. So I have to make it work with those few tools. That’s confronting. I did a night in Nundle and it worked. The night I did in Mayfield, the first set didn’t work. I just couldn’t make it work. The second set worked and everybody got it and we all had a good time.”

“I’m hoping that they didn’t feel like it was a waste of their time. That they’re thinking, ‘That was a worthwhile thing to do’. That’s what I’m wishing and hoping for. People’s time and attention is valuable and if you’re going to use it up you’ve got to do something worthwhile, make it work, and try and figure out a way of transporting them into the stories. Sometimes you don’t manage that and if you don’t manage that, well that’s a failure and instead of transporting them somewhere, you’ve seat-belted them into a dark little room for an hour when they could have been enjoying themselves.”

When all is said and done, what does Don Walker feel he’s gotten right?

“The things that I’ve done right have nothing to do with music because they’re far more fundamental things than that, and they’re not public things. There haven’t been many of them and there’s a lot of things I’ve done wrong. But they’re the things in the end.”

“While I’ve been doing this interview, I’ve got a call from my daughter. It’s in that world where you really succeed or fail. If there’s a couple of things I like myself for, it’s in that world.”

And with that, I encourage Don Walker to go and call his daughter.

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Being a Muslim woman in Newcastle

After a recent visit to Newcastle’s Mosque I was invited to take my family to the Newcastle Eid al-Adha celebrations. I took the opportunity to try and bust a few myths about being a Muslim woman by asking a group of them to tell their own stories over vast quantities of cakes and sweets.

Diana Rah is the vice-president of the Newcastle Muslim Association and I joined her along with a small circle of Muslim women as she explained the celebrations underway at the University of Newcastle.

“We have two Eids each year; one is Eid al-Fitr and that’s the celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramandan, and we have this second celebration which is Eid al-Adha, this is a time that Muslims perform the Hajj pilgrimage, the pilgrimage to Mecca.”

“As Muslims, and you can see that we’re from so many different cultural backgrounds, our God is the God of all and we send, on this day especially, our best wishes to everyone from every race culture and religion.”

The group of women gathered to chat on this warm Saturday look like a tiny United Nations. Diana points out that there are 28 countries represented among the families busy with barbeques, conversations and children swarming over the jumping castle.

This small group of women, amongst other things, includes a dentist, a science student and a fitness instructor.

There are many questions I want to ask them, but firstly I want to know how they feel in the Newcastle community, given the broad discussion of all things Muslim at the moment – and not much of it positive.

Despeana has lived in the Hunter all of her life, and is not a Muslim by birth, or marriage.

“Newcastle has always been a lovely place to live in, I’ve noticed that some of the sisters have mentioned to me that they’re a little bit concerned about stepping out on their own.”

“I came into Islam as a choice, prior to finding out about Islam in 2002 I had no idea who Muslims were. I became involved with the Muslim community and discovered what beautiful people they are and I became one of them because of the love I felt here.”

“I don’t see what all the hype is about, I don’t understand it, but now we, and me myself are in a position that we feel threatened.”

Avelina doesn’t actually wear a veil, “I don’t normally wear a veil, my husband would like me to I’m sure but he’s happy with me to not wear a veil. It’s up to me 100 percent and he supports that decision.”

Avelina says when she has worn hijab in public she has always felt safe and hasn’t experienced any problems, but she does say she notices how people behave when she is out in public with her mother-in-law who does wear hijab, “When I walk with my mother-in-law who wears a hijab I often see people – she doesn’t notice, I notice – if anyone was to approach I would definitely say something.”

“I think people just need to realise it’s (hijab) part of who we are and whether we wear it or not it doesn’t make us any different.”

Avelina is a fitness instructor who works in women’s gyms and with children in schools and relates what is probably a common experience.

“I was actually in the gym doing my own workout and waiting for the class to start when the lady next to me commented on the stories in the news, “It’s terrible what’s happening with these terrorists around our country,” she said. I asked what she meant and she said, “These Muslims, they’re taking over and the women are wearing burqas and they’re scary and they frighten me.”

I said, “I’m a Muslim, do I frighten you?’ and she said, ‘No, I don’t mean you, I mean like those other Muslims!’ I explained to her that we’re all the same, that we might wear hijab or burqa and that I don’t but that we’re no different. She was shocked.”

There has been a prominent social media campaign over the last week or so called #WISH – Women in Solidarity with Hijabis – in which non-Muslim women are sharing photos of themselves wearing hijab.

There has also been some criticism of #WISH so I sought the opinion of the Muslim women I had in front of me – what do they think of it, is it offensive?

Unanimously the women assured me that it wasn’t seen as offensive. Indeed Diana Rah thinks women are doing an excellent job with #WISH, “No-one in our community is offended by it, we actually feel very supported by it and we love them for it.”

Dalia agrees, “I believe this is very supportive, you should try it yourself and see how the Muslim woman feels.” I assured her I did on my visit to Newcastle’s Mosque a week ago but that I got hot and sweaty.

Dalia says women at her gym often express concern about her being too hot, but she laughs, “I’m used to it! They keep telling me, ‘You must be very hot’, and I understand but when you’ve been wearing it for years you get used to it.”

Gym instructor, Avelina, “I can’t imagine (wearing it at the gym). I get so sweaty and so hot, even my hair I wish I could cut it all off let alone wear a scarf! I admire every woman who wears a scarf, their faces just glow and they look so beautiful, it’s admirable.”

Farida has come to Newcastle from Cape Town but is originally from Burundi in Central Africa, “I left my country 15 years ago because of the war but I just arrived in Newcastle two years ago.”

Generally the women I spoke with have had mostly good experiences of being Muslim women as members of a minority. Diana Rah says it’s only recently that problems have occurred.

“So far in Newcastle we’ve had a very good relationship with the wider community and we haven’t really ever had these problems that have happened in the last couple of months. I think that they’ve seen that in Newcastle and they do feel safe here but I think there are isolated instances of abuse like verbal abuse and the odd finger (gesture) here and there.”

Farida is concerned that this may change in the current environment, “I hope and we pray very hard that the government must find a solution to see how they’re going to protect the country because Australia is a peace(ful) country. We have the right to choose any religion we want and to wear what we want.”

Dalia has found the recent media discussion of what Muslim women wear to be shocking, “What I’ve known is that Australia is a free country and they support women and I know that the government usually supports women rights. So the idea of discussing what to wear is not what I expected. I wear hijab because I’m a Muslim lady and this is what I believe in. I believe that a women should cover her hair and it shouldn’t be seen by strangers.”

It is often claimed that Muslim women who wear a veil are oppressed. Despeana begs to differ, “No. We are not oppressed. It was my decision to wear the veil. Yes, I decided to become a Muslim in 2002, I wasn’t married at the time, my husband didn’t have a say (in it) – nobody’s pushing me to do this, it was my choice. Yes, it was a bit difficult becoming accustomed to it after being a non-Muslim and not wearing one, but I believe Allah gave me the strength and I just want to please my God. No-one is forcing me to do anything.”

Diana Rah agrees, “There is no compulsion in our religion and wearing a hijab is entirely a woman’s choice. There’s a huge misconception put out by the media and others to say that a women is forced to cover her head by her husband, by her son, her father, whoever, but this is entirely our choice.”

“I had an incident in Beaumont Street last week when we were stopped by two men who wanted to teach us about Christianity. He was very loud and overpowering, very tall and wanted to tell us what he thought about his religion. We accept that because we believe everybody has the right to converse and exchange ideas. But we need to respect each others opinions without becoming angry. He disagreed with something I put forward and then he refused to speak to me further. There is no need to be aggressive. But we need to converse and learn from one another. He was looking to agitate me but I walked away.”

What I have taken away from spending the morning with these women is that, for them, wearing hijab is simply an act of faith – the same as a Christian may choose to wear a crucifix or other religious icon.

If you want to know what a Muslim woman thinks – just ask one!

There is a national Mosque Open Day coming up around Australia on October 25, however the Newcastle Muslim Association will be opening their mosque to the public on Sunday 19 October so as to not clash with state government by-elections in Newcastle and Charlestown.

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Megan Washington

Carol Duncan - Australian broadcaster and journalist
Megan Washington


Megan Washington says that ‘Skyline’, one of the tracks on her new album ‘There, There’ is about ‘choosing hope’.

“I think that’s a choice we have to make daily. Choosing happiness and choosing positivity is something that you have to make a priority. For me, it’s a daily thing.”

“That song was inspired a few years when I became very ill and woke up in hospital, figuring out how I felt in that moment and what it meant. Those moments can be extremely formulative? Is that a word? The highest of highs and the lowest of lows is when you galvanise your resolve to overcome things and that was one of mine.”

Whilst not new to the music industry it would be surprising if her audience hadn’t increased substantially after her appearance on ABC TV’s Australian Story and her frank discussion of growing up with a stutter. It was wonderful to watch the flood of support from many thousands of people sent to her via social media after the program aired.

“To be honest with you, I cried a lot after that. I watched the show – because I couldn’t not watch it – with some friends and we made a dinner and watched it.”

“Afterwards, the overwhelming – you used the word ‘flood’ – and I think that’s a great description of it, all these people … it wasn’t so much the goodwill that struck me, it was the resonance, the ‘me toos’, that I heard and I found really moving. I found it incredible that people could see some of themselves in what I had said.”

“You’ve got to understand, I don’t know any other version of life than my life. It isn’t like I never had a stutter and then I suddenly got one. This is how existence is. To see that brought so many other people together with each other, not so much with me, there was a real sense of us being on the same side, the same team. It’s great.”

“I think it’s universal. When I meet anybody the first thing they want to do is tell you their story. People like to tell each other who they are. It’s not surprising to me when people do this and drop the act, stop acting out their role.”

The shortest song on Megan Washington’s new album was written in just a few minutes and she says she had the aim of trying to describe a sensation.

“There must be a word for that like ‘onomatopoeiac’ but that describes the sensation, the sound reflects the sensation. There must a word for it, a German word!”

“I wanted to write a song about falling in love that was less about falling in ‘lurve’ than literally FALLING in love, falling down the stairs or something. The dizziness or giddyness that comes with that. That was the plan. It is the shortest song I’ve ever written.”

Megan Washington’s new album ‘There, there’ is out now and is our 1233 ABC Newcastle Album of the Week.

You can hear Carol Duncan’s full interview with Megan Washington in the audio attached.

If you missed Megan’s exceptional TedX talk, the link is here.

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James Reyne

James Reyne has an enviable career in the Australian music industry – first appearing on ABC TV’s Countdown in 1979 with both of his arms in plaster after being hit by a car in Melbourne.

Australian Crawl held court around Australia’s pub rock scene for just seven years, but the sound of the band and the themes of their songs are the story of numerous Australian summers.

As a solo artist, James Reyne has released over a dozen albums, continued to tour Australia and internationally with audiences of up to 200,000 people.

ABC Newcastle’s Carol Duncan caught up with James Reyne ahead of his Anthology tour.

“I’m enjoying it more now than I ever have. I’ve developed an attitude over the many years that I’ve been doing this that it’s amusing. You can’t let most of it worry you. Certainly most of the people of my generation who were in it for the wrong reasons or the shifty ones have been weeded out. There are still a couple floating around and you run into them occasionally and think, ‘How is this person still here?’

Knowing my attempt to get James to name names will be rebuffed, I ask anyway.

He laughs, “No, I’m not going to name any names because they’re usually quite litigious people anyway.”

“I just think it’s quite amusing. It’s like a crash-course in human nature. You see a lot of extremes of human personality in quite a short time, and up close!”

“I’ve made some fantastic friends and there are some wonderful, wonderful people who work in this industry and most people are genuine with depth and credibility.”

James Reyne, particularly given the success and image of Australian Crawl, is perhaps seen by many as the quintessential sun-kissed Australian, yet like so many of his generation of peers he wasn’t actually born here.

“The ten-pound Pom thing, and Adelaide – the ten-pound Pom into Adelaide. It astounds me. A little city like that, the amount of music that came out of there either British or Scottish-based. We owe Adelaide. But yes, I was born in Nigeria,”

“My father was an Englishman in the Royal Marines, he was ADC to the Queen, but he left. He didn’t want to be a career soldier. He got a job with BP and he was posted to Nigeria. My (Australian) mother and he were not long married and they went to Nigeria when he was posted there. He’d be out in the field and she’d be sitting in a house in Lagos and my brother and I were both born there.”

“I was tiny, three or four, when we came to Australia. I have a really vague memory of one little thing in Nigeria, but I don’t really have any other memories of it.”

James Reyne is heading toward 40 years in the Australian music industry with a career that has taken him to stages around the world with massive audiences, but names Creedence Clearwater Revival as one of the first bands he remembers hearing on the radio.

“There were probably things I heard before that but I remember hearing Creedence and thinking, ‘Wow! What is that? I want to do that!’ I’d have been 10 or 11 and it was probably Proud Mary or Born on the Bayou or something like that. I’ve been a total fan of John Fogerty ever since. I love all the Creedence stuff and some of his solo stuff. Like everybody, it was my formative years, I just love all that and that led me into other things and I was just hooked,”

“There was a great show on the ABC called ‘Room to Move’ and it was hosted by a guy called Chris Winter. I think it was a Sunday or Monday night, quite late; we used to listen to it on the radio under the bedclothes. A few years ago I did a show with Tracee Hutchison on ABC 2 and Chris was our producer, I remember going, ‘Chris Winter WOW!'”

“He was brilliant, and I was hooked. His whole approach, his on-air style, his whisper – it was brilliant. So I fell in love with that, it was the first sort of album show. Then I started to get into albums with my friends at school. We’d collect albums and we had a little folk club – we got quite serious about
“I remember really loving records from Creedence, Little Feat, Ry Cooder, Jerry Jeff Walker but I think Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks ‘Last Train to Hicksville’ – as a whole album there’s not a dud moment on it. So if anyone can find it, get it. It’s brilliant. The whole history of Dan Hicks and his influence – he was in a band with a guy called Robert Hunter who essentially invented the San Francisco scene. This is before The Grateful Dead and so on. I was really in to the sociology of it – the background of who influenced who,”

“I used to pore over the album covers and sleeves and read all the liner notes. I don’t know that there’s much you can put on liner notes now that would be as interesting as they were then. That was your only access because there was no Google or anything. Your only access to any information about the band is what was in the liner notes.”

By the time James Reyne was just 20 years old, his band with a group of art college mates had been renamed Australian Crawl and taken off on the pub circuit, and although James admits that although they had no idea what they were doing, they were having fun.

“I was never thinking, ‘This will be my career’ or ‘this will be my job’ or ‘this will be something I’ll do for another 30 or so years and keep doing’,”

“We weren’t very good. The first band was terrible! But you’ve got to do your apprenticeship and you start learning. But I wasn’t aware of it, we were just doing it.”

James Reyne has always appeared to be a complex person; well-spoken, intelligent, thoughtful, possibly a bit feisty. What about the 20-year old James Reyne?

“I was at the Victorian College of the Arts Drama School and it was about then that we all had to make a decision, are we going to do our tertiary courses or are we going to do this band thing? I guess it wasn’t so much ‘serious’ but we figured, ‘I guess you’ve got to make a decision and if you’re going to do it you have to dedicate yourself to it’.”

“But the 20-year old was, I dunno, pretty happy-go-lucky. He had a big mouth.”

Was he confident?

“I guess relatively confident, but if I saw what I thought was a ‘real’ band or anybody from a real band somewhere down the street, (I thought) they were a cut above me. I never thought I’d be breathing that rarefied air. I just thought ‘those guys must have an extra gene’.”

“Joe Camilleri. I’d see The Falcons all the time, I’d see The Sports, I’d see The Pelaco Brothers and Joe and Steve Cummings were in The Pelaco Brothers.”

“Where we grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, in summertime they used to have bands come down and play in the boat clubs down there. Every club had a boat house that they’d put a stage in and bands would play in there,”

“In my last year of school I used to go to a place called Reefer Cabaret in Melbourne at a place called the Ormond Hall and I remember I loved Arial, I loved Spectrum, Chain – I loved all those great 70s Australian bands. I remember going to the Myer Music Bowl when Thorpey (Billy Thorpe) had 200,000 people there. I was a fan of all that stuff. I remember seeing Skyhooks before Shirley (Strachan) joined. I was aware of Shirley, I didn’t know him, but I was aware of him because there was a surf band that played around where we grew up called Frame and Shirley was the singer of that band. He was such a personality, everybody was aware of him.”

“It was certainly a very unique time and a very formative time for Australian music, for Australian rock and roll and pop music. This is pre-Countdown and any of that stuff and there were so many great bands around; The Dingoes, Carson – I was a huge fan of Broderick Smith. What an incredible presence on stage, incredible singer and harmonica player. He was in a band called Carson, sort of boogie/blues band, and then they went and formed The Dingoes,”

“I used to see as many Dingoes shows as I could. There’s a pub in Prahran called the Station Hotel, I used to go to the Station Hotel quite a lot and they’d have Saturday afternoon sessions where The Dingoes would often play. That would just devolve into fantastic mayhem.”

I’ve interviewed James Reyne a few times over the last 20-plus years and I’ve never quite felt convinced that he’s entirely at peace with his back catalogue of wonderful work. I have often wondered if he perhaps underestimates the importance of his music to his fans. Is this why it’s taken so long to get Anthology together?

“Well, it’s actually got very little to do with me! A record company merger meant that the new label realised that the Australian Crawl back catalogue wasn’t available digitally, and although they can kind of do whatever they want because they own the masters, they asked if I wanted to do it and bring it up to date. I paid for my more recent solo records so I made a list of about 50 or 60 songs, cut it back down to about 40. And good on them. They’ve put the solo stuff on there, the ones that people would know, but it’s a good cross-section of all of it right up to the most recent stuff. Why did it take so long? I never thought of it! It’s just the story so far, I’ll keep making records.”

But has he been dissatisfied with the big machine of the music industry?

“I’m not so naive as to think that’s just the nature of how it works. You’re there as long as they need you and then you’re not and that’s fine and that’s the way it works. No, it’s not dissatisfaction, a lot of my amusement or ammunition I can get for song writing is just human beings. So aspirational but so easily impressed. People get so easily impressed with all sorts of things, not just the entertainment industry,”

“But I think we’re all aware now with the media generally people are drip-fed what they’re supposed to be hearing and seem to lap it up. And adopt these opinions! They read a crappy headline and that becomes their opinion and they know all about it! Well, no, you don’t. You haven’t studied the situation in the Middle East. You don’t know.”

“In terms of the entertainment industry I find a lot of fodder in the way people are so easily impressed and so aspirational about all this silliness.”

In a time when independence is increasingly a healthy option for artists and creatives of all sorts, does James Reyne feel there is a disconnect between the work of an artist and what a corporate entity only sees as ‘product’?

“I think the role of the big, big record companies is getting less and changing. Certainly changing, they’re less significant in the scheme of things. They’re still there and still part of it but I think the disconnect between art and commerce is always going to be there.”

And yet independence is creating a healthy relationship between the artist and the audience, particularly via crowd funding – Kate Miller-Heidke being a good case in point. Kate says that crowd funding O’ Vertigo cuts out the middle man and brings her back into a relationship with the people who love her music.

“That’s right. I think the response was so good she raised more than she needed, which shows how loyal her fan base is. I didn’t understand it when it first started happening, but I do now. I think it’s a very viable development.”

“The last four solo records I’ve made I’ve paid for myself and then licensed them to a distribution company – it gets quite expensive and you’re never really going to make your money back.”

“I still love writing, I write more now than I ever have and I think I write better because it’s a craft and I’ve been doing it longer, I apply myself more to it now than I ever have.”

“I’d like to think I’m a songwriter who is always learning, trying to get better and trying to improve the craft. I’m quite self-critical. I’ve also written a few other things but I won’t talk about them because I’ve learnt that you jinx them until these things get up and running!”

James Reyne’s career has also included varying degrees of success as an actor – harking back to his tertiary studies at the Victoria College of Arts Drama School. Is there more he wants to do other than music?

“Oh plenty! I’ve got about five things bubbling along at the moment. A few times people have said, ‘James, you’ve got to write the book’. I’m not going to write the book! The world doesn’t need another rock autobiography and I think unless you can write the real book and name names,” James laughs, “you’re going to get the pasteurised version of something of nothing ….” Who wants to hear that stuff? It’s boring. It’s been done. That’s not to say anything bad about anyone who has written a rock biography, because some of them I know and they’re lovely people. Mark Seymour wrote a great one. I loved Mark’s (book). He’s a friend and a good writer.”

On a roll, the tongue remains firmly in cheek.

“I always wanted to do ‘Australian Crawl The Musical’ and you either do it as a really bad kids’ play and get kids to play it with terrible home-made props or you do the most stonkingly gay thing you’ve ever seen with a chorus of boys in tight board shorts! We could do that!”

I suspect I’d be happy to see either version and after interview number whatever over a couple of decades, James Reyne actually sounds more genuinely comfortable in his own skin than he ever has.

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Joe Camilleri

Joe Camilleri
Joe Camilleri

I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many of Joe Camilleri’s Australian music peers and I’ve often remarked on how many of them were ‘ten pound Poms’.

Joe Camilleri says he was a five-pounder, but not a Pom, “We came on the five-pound scheme from Malta. There was only four of us when we came out – my Dad came out in 1949 and me and my two sisters and brother came out in 1950. I think for Mum it would have been an incredible struggle on that boat.”

“Four kids under six. Phyllis was six years old, Frank was five, I was three, and Maryanne was one.”

“I’ve never really had the opportunity to discuss it with them, but Malta was war-torn, it got a heavy beating, Malta. For Dad, he was going to go to Canada and I think someone who had just got back from Australia said, ‘That’s the place you need to go.'”

“So he chose Australia. They’re both buried here. I think they gave up so much for their children, and their own life, because the thing you have most of all is you want to be around your friends, but you come to a foreign land and all you have is your family. Most of the time, it’s not until years later that you connect, sometimes your friends come to Australia, and if they come to Australia, where do they go? It’s a big place! Malta is 16 miles square so it’s pretty easy to get around but if you’re living in Sydney and your buddy’s living in Perth – it’s a long walk.”

“I think for us, the hardest thing for my Dad was he would work two shifts. He wanted to get ahead,”

“He was a baker at night and a metal shop worker by day, so that was his two gigs for a number of years. He was a good handy guy, Dad. He was a spray painter for a number of years, worked on the wharves for a few years, he was just able to do that.”

“I envy carpenters, really, because anybody who can do something out of nothing … I forget that I do that with songwriting, too.”

“When I was working as a first-class machinist there was always some amount of pride in whatever it was I was finishing, they were one-off things whether it was for a big crane or a motorcycle, that was a nice feeling. Do I like putting nail in a wall? Yes I do!”

“I envy carpenters, really, because anybody who can do something out of nothing … I forget that I do that with songwriting, too. It’s an empty page and then it’s a full page and sometimes it’s really good, but there’s nothing quite like a tradesman who can come in and whip up a kitchen. I’m still amazed by that. Or they can fix a bathroom. We get an IKEA thing and look at it like it owes you money.”

“What was great about Countdown was that people knew about the bands, someone like Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons did very well.”

Joe Camilleri first came to my attention through television music show like Countdown. I was still in high school and lived for Sunday night when Countdown was on the telly. It seemed to be a really interesting time in Australian music when the industry became really healthy.

“I think because we didn’t have that information – the frontrunners like The Twilights and Johnny O’Keefe and all those people – you never got to hear about their successes or the hardship. If you won Battle of the Sounds, you didn’t win anything because you had to work on that boat for four weeks before you got to England, and then you had to work your passage back. So they were the real frontrunners. Countdown just became something else,”

“Of course it was looking for stars because it was a popularity thing, if the kids liked something it would automatically go on the charts if you were on Countdown. It was exciting. But they were looking for bands that didn’t necessarily have a record. And there were other shows that were like a fraternity of shows. The ABC had a 10 minute show just before Bellbird and they had lots of different acts, Billy Thorpe, The Pelaco Brothers – we didn’t have a record but we were playing in Sydney and they asked us to come to the studio.”

“What was great about Countdown was that people knew about the bands, someone like Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons did very well. I remember going on that with a single called ‘Run Rudolph Run’ but I hadn’t played as ‘The Falcons’ before that and they just put it on. One minute I’m playing and just having a lot of people come to see you play but no record, no anything, and the next thing you’ve got a record and no-one knows anything about it. They put you on Countdown and it’s in the charts. It’s amazing.”

“What was really great about Sounds was it went for a few hours on a Saturday morning. You could pretty much just ring them and say ‘We’re in town, can we pop in?’ and they’d have you in. They’d have you in and you’d just sit there in your drunken state, as shabby as you can be from the night before, and if you had a video, they’d play it. If you didn’t, you’d just have a chat.”

“You couldn’t do that today, today you’ve got to go through the wringer. It’s really tight. There was a beautiful time, not only because of Countdown but because there was something that was going on, I’ve always put it down to late night closing, the 10 o’clock close, it changed everything because instead of bands playing in halls, they were now playing in bars. So all of a sudden if you were half-decent, like The Falcons were, you’d have 700 people coming to a gig and getting on board a whole bunch of songs that nobody knows.”

“The word would get out, kind of like Facebook does today but with drums and smoke,” laughs Joe.

“The live thing is healthy again, I think. I’ve played pretty much everywhere around the world and Australian bands can rock. I think it’s because of the pub scene. The pub scene was a really hard scene because if they didn’t like it they’d let you know pretty quickly. It was tough. You were kind of invisible, but not invisible. You would know what a good track was. You would play your repertoire, you would play your album, you would play it in, you would know pretty much how the audience reacted to it,”

“I remember ‘Shape I’m In’ at Croxton Park – I can remember it like it was yesterday. I said, ‘I’ve got this song, it’s called The Shape I’m In, and the audience started grooving to this half-finished song. The roadie came up to me and said, ‘I think that’s your single.'”

“Many a song got left on the road because you develop. If you did 10 shows to get to Sydney, by the time you got to Sydney you’d have a pretty good idea of what you were playing and what you thought was pretty strong, because the last thing you wanted to do was be downtrodden by the audience. It was tough, but it was good training. That’s why I think when the (Black) Sorrows played in Europe for the first time, it didn’t matter if we were two miles apart from each other on a stage, we could play together and it made a really big difference to us.”

“It can be stressful, there’s peaks and valleys in all this stuff. You’re always having a good look at yourself and you’re always asking the question because no-one taps me on the shoulder to say ‘Look, I think it’s time to make another album’.”

“I was never a popstar. I don’t know how people perceive me really, but I imagine have followed what I do on a different level, not just from the hit songs but because my audiences have liked what I’ve done as a collection of music on an album. Not necessarily the Shape I’m Ins or Hit and Runs or the Harley and Rose … those things are valuable to you as a performer but maybe I realised kind of early that my whole thing would have to be (that) we’re all in the same boat – the audience and the performer – so I’m more than happy to leave Harley and Rose out if it didn’t work on the night. But there’s nothing scheduled, there’s nothing planned. I haven’t had a song list unless doing something really small, or filming or something. With the APIA tour I had to actually do those songs because it wasn’t my bad so I had to behave a bit. But when you’re doing your own show it’s more about the event of what you’ve got to offer.”

“Even though it’s my 50th year (in the music industry) I didn’t start recording really until 1975, or 1972 … around that time … so my whole thing is that if we can do it where there’s no trigger points, each song belongs as part of the collection of the night rather than ‘here’s the songs, you can buy this’. My thing is to be as free as I can both musically and from a performance point of view. I think what I’ve been able to achieve is that people realise if they come and see me in a couple of weeks time it’s not going to be the same. Some of the songs might be the same but there’ll be different things.”

“It can be stressful, there’s peaks and valleys in all this stuff. You’re always having a good look at yourself and you’re always asking the question because no-one taps me on the shoulder to say ‘Look, I think it’s time to make another album’. It’s kinda good. I like being an independent artist on that level.”

Joe Camilleri is already up to album number 45 and working on another.

“I’ve got this new double album called ‘Endless Sleep’. I’ve already got a title for it. When I was recording Certified Blue I was also recording other songs for what I just thought was entertainment value. I tried to get inspired by something so I’d play on the piano something like Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, and then I’d find another way of getting into that song and maybe we’d record it and just leave it. But then I realised it’s the inspiration of these people, whether it’s Gil Scott Heron or Lou Reed, so when I finished Certified Blue I had about nine of these songs and I realised that they (the artists) were all departed.”

“And I thought there’s some kind of message here – I was just doing it because I liked the songs, I wasn’t paying any attention to this, and so when I realised that most of them had departed I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is what I need to do’, even though I’m writing new songs, I need to make this record. The song from the 1950s by Jody Reynolds called ‘Endless Sleep’ came up in my head and I thought ‘there it is, it’s the title of the album and the reason I’m doing this record’.

What’s the first song Joe Camilleri remembers hearing?

“There was this woman in Carlton. Some of the houses in Carlton had their windows right on the street, there was no front yard. There was this woman called Aunty Darcy, we used to call her that, I don’t know why, but she was a music fan and she would open the window and just give us stuff,”

“She would say ‘come and have a listen to this’ and I remember her saying ‘this is the new thing’ and I guess I probably thought it was going to be Doris Day or something, but it was Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley and The Comets. I remember hearing that.”

“I think those days everybody had a piano or some sort of musical instrument because that’s what you would do at night, you’d sit around the piano and sing songs. My brother played the piano accordion and we would do that.”

“I used to love the radio and I loved to sing the songs of the day, but wasn’t until about 1961, 1962 – it was when I heard The Searchers, I probably heard The Searchers before The Beatles because they all came out around the same time. There was this noise about this new thing, this British beat, and there was The (Rolling) Stones, The Animals, and The Kinks – all this music was coming out at the same time and that’s when I got pretty much hooked on the whole idea.”

“I loved all the Elvis Presley things but I didn’t have the money for that sort of stuff. The Shadows was the first record I bought, maybe it was the only album I could find at the time, but it wasn’t until the sixties really that I went nuts and went back and found all those records that the Rolling Stones did great versions of, Otis Redding or Howlin’ Wolf, that was a kind of secret, this thing that kind of came upon you and WOW! It was insane staff. It was dark and it was mysterious and it had something else. But it was kind of like the British beat going back 10 years and buying that stuff. There was an album called, I think, ‘Fresh Berries’ it had just Chuck Berry songs. It had ‘Carol’ on it and it had all these other songs that the Rolling Stones were playing, they did pretty good versions and they souped them up a bit, but you realise the depth of Chuck Berry playing those songs because he really was the Shakespeare of rock & roll.”

“I’d just had enough. I had this really beautiful 13-piece band and we went around the country and we had two hit singles, a pretty big record with a chart record but I wasn’t very happy with the record.”

The early part of Joe Camilleri’s career, the Countdown era, was one thing, but then in the 1980s Joe returned with The Black Sorrows which went huge.

“By accident of course! I was pouring coffees. I’d just had a hit with Taxi Mary and Walk On By – the great Walk On By which I think I ruined although it was an interesting verison of that song. I just gave up. I said ‘I’m just gonna take some time out’ and I got a job as a vegie roadie working at the Footscray market. It was just taking vegetables from trucks and putting them on other trucks, so that was my gig,”

“I’d just had enough. I had this really beautiful 13-piece band and we went around the country and we had two hit singles, a pretty big record with a chart record but I wasn’t very happy with the record. It could have been so much better and it was my fault that it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but anyway, it yielded these two songs and we got to play and I got to do something that I wanted to do which was play with the cha band and six horns and high-heeled boots and gay cavalier and all that nonsense, but it just left me wanting. It was nice, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I thought, ‘I’m just gonna get a job’, it wasn’t much of a job, it was three hours a day but you had to get up at 5am, done by 9am, and you had $20 a day and all the vegetables you can eat, so I got this other job by meeting a guy who loved Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons. He’d just opened a restaurant and he said, ‘Why don’t you come and work for me, I’ll give you a job, you can pour some coffees’, so that was my gig at this place called the Cafe Neon.

“So I did that and Chris said, ‘Why don’t you do something on a Sunday afternoon?’ and that’s how it all started.”

“I was in love with this music called zydeco music and no-one really knew much about it here, maybe some taste-makers might have known about it, it was an unusual connection. We had the piano accordion/violin sound, and then there was the clarinet and saxophone – we made up the horn section and the four of us made up this sound, it was kind of a nice sound,”

“I recorded an album of covers really, except for one song called Blow Joe Blow, and we did a couple of shows and people went nuts for it because it was different. It might not have been great but it was heartfelt. And of course it yielded a hit out of the weirdest thing,”

“Elvis Costello was in town, we toured with Elvis. Across the road from where he was staying was this place called ‘Discurio’ – somewhere like that. I would go to the record stores and actually sell them to the record stores. In fact next door to the Cafe Neon was a butcher shop and I sold him 10 copies, that was a new cut of meat!”

“But that’s what you did. We made the record in a day, a guy I knew designed the cover, another guy could make a screenprint, so we screenprinted them and put them on the line, we did some t-shirts at the same time and got them out there,”

“But he (Costello) found this record and I swear to you that he spent more time talking about this particular record than talking about what he’s doing on tour.”

“Most of this record was from an album called ‘Another Saturday Night’ and that’s where I got to hear someone like Bobby Charles, and zydeco music was sort of like New Orleans music but they used it in a different way, they used those R&B songs where they went back to the fifties and sometimes sang in French. I did a song called ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ and that particular song turned it around for this band,”

“We’d only done maybe two or three shows for this record. It was recorded in an afternoon and that was under circumstances – we weren’t allowed to keep the tapes, we only had a day to record, it was a demonstration for the studio because they got a new desk in and wanted someone to try it out. That’s how it happened. We recorded a couple of extra songs but I never got to keep the tape. Everything was just by chance,”

“I don’t know if you run out of gas, but from the point of view of playing together it was so manic. You’re doing 300 shows a year and you’re playing all over the world and something had to go. Unfortunately for me I got a thing where I couldn’t fly anymore.”

“But that led me to that point where we were a really big band and we were recording things like ‘Chained To The Wheel’ and we had the Bull sisters and we’re playing all over the world and we’re getting gold records in different parts of the world and platinum records in Australia and multi-platinum records. It took us on a wonderful journey,”

“But once again the bigger you get, the harder it is to stay there. I always ask, ‘Why is it that Paul McCartney wrote so many songs but he can’t have a hit record anymore?’. I don’t know if you run out of gas, but from the point of view of playing together it was so manic. You’re doing 300 shows a year and you’re playing all over the world and something had to go. Unfortunately for me I got a thing where I couldn’t fly anymore. I didn’t fly for about four years so if I was touring I’d have to catch a train. If I was coming to Sydney I’d have to go overnight and it was kind of annoying for people.”

“It was just really tough. We had a hit in Germany and I just couldn’t go. But I couldn’t tell anyone I couldn’t fly anymore. And flying really killed my overseas commitment to taking the band there, so if you can’t go there … today you can do different things. I remember I made a decision to go and live in England because if we were going to do it we had to base ourselves somewhere in Europe where we could jump off. I was with Sony at the time and they were trying to get me to go to Germany. They said, ‘This is going to be a top single, top 10, it’s already 18, get your keester down there and do it pronto!’ They’re not used to people saying, ‘No’.”

” I’d only get on a plane under certain circumstances; I had to have valium, I had to be in an aisle seat, I had to have water, I had to have someone to talk to, I had to be allowed to get off if I needed to get off.”

“They think I want a business class ticket. I don’t care what sort of ticket it was, I couldn’t get on a plane, and I thought at the time that I was the only person in the universe who couldn’t do this, I thought it was a real sign of weakness and that created a really bad thing in me. I was at a point where if the sky was grey I felt claustrophobic. I couldn’t get outside the house unless it was a blue day. So I’m putting all these things in front of myself not knowing how to get any assistance,”

“It was Harlan (Joe’s son) strangely enough who saved my life, because I decided I was going to fight it. I was ready to get off this plane. I’d only get on a plane under certain circumstances; I had to have valium, I had to be in an aisle seat, I had to have water, I had to have someone to talk to, I had to be allowed to get off if I needed to get off – all these different things. And then Harlan got sick on a plane and somehow everything changed. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about the things I really loved,”

“It was a small trigger and it took me another three years, but I was then able to slowly do things and strip away these things. It was all about fear of failure, I think.”

“Here I am, 66, and I’m still throwing it out, but you wouldn’t have thought that at the time, you’d just think it’s the end.”

“All those little things that I didn’t have with The Falcons. When I was playing with The Falcons, even though I was the leader of the band I only ever felt like I was just one of the musicians because we’re all in it together. It’s a nice thing to know that nobody got anymore than anybody else. Sometimes these are the things that you struggle with. Even in a world where money becomes evil, some people will start making money and if you don’t look after everybody else some of them don’t make anything apart from their gig fee. All those things were able to be rectified but in those days we were all in it because it was all beer and skittles! Wagon Wheels and malted milks! There was NO money so it wasn’t an issue!”

“We’d do 300 shows a year with The Falcons, or The Sorrows, we’d get $300 a week, or $250 a week, we’d have four weeks off, or six weeks off – two weeks making a record, and you’d get paid those six weeks. The roadies were being paid while we weren’t working for those six week as well. So of course when the band finally broke up, we didn’t have any money because everyone else had it. Everyone else that wasn’t involved in the band made the bulk of our hard work. But no-one felt bad about it. We all felt, ‘Gee whiz if you can hang out til you’re 30 and you’re in a band, are you crazy? There goes your rock & roll shoes!'”

“Here I am, 66, and I’m still throwing it out, but you wouldn’t have thought that at the time, you’d just think it’s the end.”

“Making those first four records independently with The Sorrows, it wasn’t that hard, apart from the Dear Children album, which is my favourite record. Not because it has great songs on it, but because it was what I call my ‘wedding album’ – I must have played a hundred weddings to make that album. To get a gold record from Sony for that – it’s the only record that I have anywhere in that house. I don’t have any paraphenalia, nothing. Just that gold record. And I’ve had multi-platinum records and gold singles and all that kind of nonsense, ARIAs, but nothing belongs in my house. Nothing beats that ‘wedding album’.”

“It was the struggle of that record. It was, ‘I’ve got to make this properly, I’ve got to record it on two-inch (tape), I can’t be muching around with that A-DAT stuff, I’ve got to make this on two-inch, I’ve got 24 tracks, I’ve got a limited amount of time, I’m going to run out of time, I’ve got $400 and it’s like putting money in a machine. They gave me some liberties and I got it done and it was just beautiful to hear it on the radio.”

“Some people are really blessed and they have a beautiful voice – I don’t have all those things. I have a different thing but I have things that other people don’t have. Maybe it’s called tenacity.”

So is Joe Camilleri a happy man?

“Yeah. I am happy. I do believe that it’s always half-full. As you get a bit older, you get a few barnacles and you struggle. With pain. I don’t call it real pain because I imagine people with real pain, but I still have an upbeat concept and I still love doing the things that I like to do and that makes me good.”

“The really nice thing is playing music, I think that’s the only time I can say I really get lost. I have responsibilities like we all have. I’ve got five children. I’ve got a whole bunch of things I have to deal with on a financial basis, I have a record label, I have to look after certain things, and I’m only good if people allow me to be that, if they want to hire me. If I don’t have a job, I don’t have a job.”

“On some levels I’ve been really fortunate, and I think some of that is because of the way I’ve navigated through things. Whether it’s been a dumb way or not, I don’t know. I don’t worry about it. You’re gonna get ripped off; I’ve been ripped off. I don’t care for thinking about it. It doesn’t put my stomach in a knot. There’s been plenty of guys who haven’t paid me. There’s been lots of stuff where record companies have … I mean, how do you know what your royalty rates are? Who cares? I’m interested in the day. I’m interested in what’s going to be tomorrow. It doesn’t take much for me to smile. I look forward to playing and it’s kinda nice when people say nice things about you but also if they say nice things about your art, or your work, or whatever you want to call music.”

“I love having an idea and finishing it. That’s my tradesman bit! I actually do love that and I’m working on four or five songs at any one time. Like we all are! Some people are really blessed and they have a beautiful voice – I don’t have all those things. I have a different thing but I have things that other people don’t have. Maybe it’s called tenacity. Maybe it’s a bunch of different things. I look forward to getting better at what I do, so that’s good. I kick myself up the keester for being lazy – if I’ve got an idea and I can’t finish it.”

I mention to Joe that having this conversation with him is a bit like watching an artist with six unfinished paintings on easels and is figuring out at which point they each become finished.

“Imagine Picasso doing that! Putting his brush in a bit of paint and walking past and just going ‘splot’ – that’s done! As a producer I fight the struggle with songs because I know every note on there. So I can’t listen to the record. I can listen to playing it live because it’s happening, but I can’t listen to the record.”

“Unlike The Falcons where you work through the song, with The Sorrows you don’t have that opportunity to work through the songs, you have that time in the studio to work through the songs because it is a band, but it’s not a band. It’s a band of people that get together.”

“I’m just honoured to be part of the Australian musical landscape, really. Forget about the hits and stuff, although the hits made a big difference, but there’s just something about people enjoying what you do,”

“The best drug you can have is when an audience is singing back something that you’ve written. It’s an incredible feeling. I do it on a small scale but imagine what it’s like for the Stones. People just going nuts and saying, ‘I really dig this song and I don’t even know what it’s about.'”

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Iva Davies – March 2014

The number one song on the Australian pop music charts in 1980 was The Buggles ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, accompanied through the year by such gems as Michael Jackson ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’, The Village People ‘You Can’t Stop The Music’, Split Enz ‘I Got You’, The Vapours ‘Turning Japanese’ and Queen ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’.

In May 1980, Australian radio stations started playing a song by Sydney band, Flowers. ‘Can’t Help Myself’ made it into the Australian Top 10 and was the first song from their debut album, ‘Icehouse’.

ABC Newcastle’s Carol Duncan caught up with Iva Davies for a conversation about his remarkable career.

Iva Davies
Iva Davies

CAROL DUNCAN: What did it feel like was going on around you with that music at the time?

IVA DAVIES: We came from quite a distinct stream of music which generated by the punk movement out of Britain, but then it morphed into a strange hybrid because of technology. There was an explosion of technology, especially synthesizer technology, at that period so we were a kind of punk band with synthesizers which was a bit odd. But clearly these other people were not, including Michael Jackson! There were all sorts of strange things going on, strange fashions; it was a very interesting time.”

The first song we put out was called ‘Can’t Help Myself’ and we’d been playing all these classic punk venues for about three years before we put out that first record. I remember being told it had become a disco hit in Melbourne and I was semi-horrified. I was very pleased it was a hit, of course, but a disco hit – we weren’t a disco band!

By the time we got to 1980 we’d been playing quite a few of our own songs but still had lacings of the odd cover version of things not even particularly fashionable at the time, things like T-Rex songs, but by then we’d really turned into an original band and signed with a small independent label in Sydney called Regular Records and we’d recorded our first album, and although they constitute really the first 10 songs I ever wrote, they did have a certain flavour about them that I guess was, again, a hybrid of punk with synthesizers.

CAROL DUNCAN: Iva, you mustn’t have been very long out of the conservatorium by this stage?

IVA DAVIES: I dropped out of the (Sydney) Conservatorium when I was about 21, so I was about 23 or 24 by this point.

CAROL DUNCAN: So how did you decide to steer your song writing and music releases in that environment at that time?

IVA DAVIES: It’s a terrible admission to make considering that ‘Can’t Help Myself’ made it into the Top 10, that I was probably fairly unaware of radio except for 2JJ. That’s a terrible admission for somebody who’s trying to break into getting airplay on radio!

CAROL DUNCAN: Something like The Vapors ‘Turning Japanese’ would have been all over 2SM (in Sydney) at the time. 2SM would have been the number one commercial pop music station in the late 1970s.

IVA DAVIES: Indeed, and I missed a great deal of that. I think we were pretty well buried in our own world and our own world had been dominated by what I’d listened to as I grew up, quite a lot of classics, psychedelic and heavy rock bands including Pink Floyd and so on. And then when Johnny Rotten (the Sex Pistols) arrived, the world was turned upside-down quite literally.

He put all of those big bands out of business overnight and London was the place to be. I remember very clearly when Keith (Welsh) and I, our bass player and co-founder of Flowers, we’d been playing almost every night of the week, sometimes nine shows a week. There were clubs all over Sydney, there were clubs all over Melbourne, there were really great bands everywhere and on any given night down the road there’d be Midnight Oil and INXS and any number of bands.

When we arrived in London for our very first international tour, we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s get a copy of New Musical Express (NME) and go and see a band ’cause this is where it’s all coming from!’ And there was nothing on!

I was absolutely gobsmacked that Sydney was a hundred times more active than London on a club scene. It absolutely mystified me. All the pubs shut early, there was nowhere to go!

CAROL DUNCAN: Who did you admire at the time?

IVA DAVIES: I didn’t buy albums of anybody, I didn’t consume music. I was very curious about music but most of what I listened to was via 2JJ. 2JJ was a very progressive station; I think it’s been forgotten to some degree. 2JJ were playing things that had been bought on import – they hadn’t even been released in Australia yet – and so it was fascinating.

We were hearing things we thought before anybody else in the world had heard them, things like Elvis Costello, XTC, mainly British bands but the odd thing coming out of America. There was a real movement of punk and new wave.

CAROL DUNCAN: So you and Keith have taken off to London, you’re going to see all the bands but there’s no-one home?

IVA DAVIES: There’s no-one home! I remember thinking at the time, ‘Well where did The Cure come from and where did The Clash and The Damned and The Jam come from? Where are they all’?

I had imagined that London was heaving with little clubs with all those names playing in them every night but it was really something created through the tyranny of distance, I guess. We had amplified that whole thing that had started with Carnaby Street, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones; and in my mind, and I’m sure in the minds of many other Australians, this was the mecca that we were going to visit. But it turned out it was really as much a product of BBC1 and radio and record companies than it was of an active pub music scene which was exactly what we had in Australia.

CAROL DUNCAN: So, what did you do, turn around and come home?

IVA DAVIES: We went off touring. We went off touring with Simple Minds who were just starting to break through in Europe. They’d a quite successful album and we did a reciprocal deal with them where we said, ‘OK, if we are your support band in Europe, that will help us, and you come to Australia and be our support band there because nobody knows you. In fact, to this day, and I’m sure Jim Kerr from Simple Minds would take credit in saying that tour we did with them really broke Simple Minds in Australia – it was off the back of that tour that they started achieving success here. Of course, many many albums and many many successes later I still catch up with Jim Kerr quite frequently.

CAROL DUNCAN: I remember seeing the two bands at the Manly Vale Hotel.

IVA DAVIES: Very possible! That was one of many hotels in that northern beaches area and I ended up living on the northern beaches by accident. It was quite tribal. There was a very big pub at Narrabeen called the Royal Antler and it was our first proper gig, I guess, and almost residency. At one point we and Midnight Oil were alternating weekends. We never met them but there was this kind of unspoken rivalry for the same audience of mad, drunken surfies.

CAROL DUNCAN: It was one of Sydney’s great beer barns.

IVA DAVIES: It was and they were mad, of course, mad drunken surfies and probably a few other substances, as well. But they were great nights. It was a big place; I think it held something like 1500 people. And you’re right, we probably did attract slightly different audiences, and certainly we also had the other side of us which was playing the inner city hotels which, of course, were very driven by the punk movement, so we’d look out on a place like the Civic Hotel and there’d been a sea of black and safety pins.

CAROL DUNCAN: Why did the name change come about? Was it as simple as swapping the band name and album title?

IVA DAVIES: It was, but we actually had no choice. What we hadn’t realised was that while we were happily going along as Flowers in Australia and New Zealand, as soon as we signed to an international record company and they said, ‘We’re going to release this around the rest of the world, we need to do a little check on the name. It hadn’t even occurred to me that a band name is like a company trading name and, unfortunately, there were at least three other acts around the world trading on the name ‘Flowers’. One of them being the very, very famous session bass player, Herbie Flowers, who you probably know best for being the creator of that wonderful bass line that introduces Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.

So there were objections and we simply had no choice, we had to come up with another name. This has happened to a number of Australian bands. It happened to Sherbet who became Highway, and The Angels who became Angel City. Our logic was fairly simple – people here in Australia and New Zealand only know us by two things, that is the name of the band ‘Flowers’ or the name of the album ‘Icehouse’. So, we became Icehouse.

A band name becomes its identity in a far bigger way that just a set of letters. I’ve had this discussion with my 17-year old son who has got a collection of friends in a band and they haven’t been able to think of anything. I keep asking what the band is called and they’re called something different every day. I said ‘you better get it right because it will end up owning you’.

CAROL DUNCAN: Your son has actually played with you?

IVA DAVIES: Yes, oh you know about this! I had a fairly mad idea last year, although the idea had been around since 1983. I remember we were touring in Europe and we had a number one song in Europe so there was a lot of pressure on me. I was doing millions of interviews and we were playing very big festivals of 30,000 people.

We were playing on one and I was standing on the side of the stage next to my band and Peter Tosh’s band was playing – Peter Tosh was the co-founder of Bob Marley’s Wailers – and it was a big band, 9 or 10 people on stage, backing singers and whatnot, and I said to my bass player, “See the guy at the back going chukka, chukka, chukka on the guitar, the laziest job in the world? I want his job. I had a conversation last year with somebody about this moment and they said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’

Our manager thought I was mad, a number of promoters thought I was mad, too, but what we did was completely re-invent Icehouse as an eight-piece reggae band. We added some extra guys from Melbourne to give us a brass section and we re-arranged every one of the hits that we’d been playing in the classic repertoire as reggae songs.

We put two shows on – one in Melbourne, one in Sydney – as a kind of Christmas party because my feeling was that the reason we were doing it is because reggae makes you want to dance and smile and laugh, and we had the best possible time, it was just fantastic. We’ve just released the recording of the Sydney show and re-named the band DubHOUSE – the album is DubHOUSE Live.

I wanted to get my children to come. My daughter is OK because she’s 20 but my son was under age, under the drinking age, and the only way I could get him in was to put him in the band. So I said to him, ‘Look Evan …’ he’s17 and a very good guitarist, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not going to get a rehearsal, you’re not going to get a sound check. Here’s a recording of a rehearsal of Street Cafe done in this style, you’ve got the guitar solo, go home and learn it and I’ll see you on stage.”

And so the poor guy was thrown on stage with absolutely no preparation whatsoever, but fortunately he had done his homework and had a great night.

CAROL DUNCAN: How do the kids see your career, Iva?

IVA DAVIES: Well the strange truth is that they didn’t. I finished the last tour that we did back in the day, as it were, when my daughter was six weeks old. Effectively, we didn’t play again and my children grew up.

In 2009, our long-time tour manager, Larry, who works for a very big audio production company – he’d been working for with us since 1984 – came up with the idea for Sound Relief (concerts held in Sydney & Melbourne for 2009 bushfire relief) and actually volunteered us, so we were the first band on the bill for Sound Relief.

By that time in 2009, my daughter would have been 14 or 13, and my son 12 or 13, and that was the first concert they ever saw me play. So they’d grown up all those years not knowing anything about it, or relatively little.

CAROL DUNCAN: Did they think Icehouse was cool or were you ‘just Dad’ and therefore couldn’t possibly be cool?

IVA DAVIES: Strangely enough, I seem to have breached the cool barrier into the cool area. A very strange thing happened, before that Sound Relief show and before my daughter really got to appreciate my association with it. She came home from school one afternoon, waltzed in the door and announced, ‘I LOVE THE EIGHTIES! I love EVERYTHING about the eighties!’

Strangely enough, the eighties are going through a whole new generation of cool at the moment. Except for the hair, and a lot of the clothes.

CAROL DUNCAN: When you look at that part of your career, the pop/rock part of your career, what do you see, Iva?

IVA DAVIES: I’m proud that we worked very hard, I believe, to maintain a kind of class and a quality. That went through everything, even the recordings themselves. I went through the graduation from vinyl to CD, which was a massive turnaround, and it happened incredibly quickly.

I remember having a talk to a record company about it and they said, ‘Last year we manufactured 80% out of vinyl and 20% out of CD, this year we’re manufacturing 80% out of CD and 20% out of vinyl, and the following year we’re not making any vinyl at all. That’s how fast it turned around. But ‘Measure for Measure’, our fourth album is one of the first three fully digital recordings ever made in the world, which was a real milestone, so it’s the first completely noiseless recording that was made for the new format of CD. It’s moments like that that I reflect on and think, well, that’s because we really put a lot of care and attention into these things.

CAROL DUNCAN: Iva, you’re also seen as one of the pioneers in Australia of bringing in synthesizers, computers, the Fairlight and so on. You mentioned an interesting word there, ‘noiseless’, and that’s perhaps where the feud happens between the vinyl purists and people who are very happy to purchase their music in a digital form whether on CD or via digital download. How do you see the vinyl vs. CD war when it comes to audio quality?

IVA DAVIES: I noted with some amusement touched with horror a program that Linda Mottram did on 702 in Sydney where there was this discussion about vinyl, and she spoke with a so-called expert who was out of a university, and with due respect to that professor I desperately wanted to call in and say, “Can I just tell you about what actually happens when you’re making pieces of vinyl and why they sound the way they do, and how it is absolutely possible to make CDs sound exactly like vinyl IF that were the endgame that you wanted to have in mind.

I won’t go into it now but the fact of the matter is it’s all about a process called mastering. The way that tapes, mixes, were mastered for vinyl had to be very particular because of the intolerance of vinyl – vinyl can’t carry very much big bass. I found that out with the Flowers album when I insisted to the co-producer that we put lots of bottom end into it and then realised a bit later on when the mastering engineer said to me, “I can’t cut this to vinyl, it’s got too much bass in it.” They’re the sorts of mistakes that you make when you’re young.

I’m a firm believer in anything that doesn’t have moving parts and that is digital. I’m afraid I’ve moved on from anything old-school quite happily.

CAROL DUNCAN: Did you call in?

IVA DAVIES: No, I didn’t, I just thought it’s probably too difficult a conversation to have in detail over the radio but it does infuriate me because I’m sure if you got any mastering engineer on to the radio they’d say to you it’s mainly because people don’t understand how these things are made.

CAROL DUNCAN: What gave you the confidence to leap into these new technologies?

IVA DAVIES: Perhaps it was more out of ignorance than anything, I certainly didn’t see any risk involved, but the main driver for me was that these were new toys. Every time something new was invented, my eyes would light up and I’d think, ‘Imagine the possibilities!’

I remember expressly that conversation I had with our management where, out of sheer co-incidence they’d moved offices from where they were in Bondi Junction to the top storey of a two-storey building in Rushcutters Bay and the ground storey was where they made Fairlights, believe it or not. Management were oblivious to this, they had no idea what was going on down there. But I did and I came to the managers one day and said, ‘I desperately want to get one of these machines, they are amazing.’

Of course, I was proven correct because they revolutionised music forever. I think apart from the technology of recording, the sampler – which is what a Fairlight was – was the single most influential piece of technology ever created. I said this to my management, that I was desperate, that I’d really like one, but the catch was they were $32,000. That was in 1981 or 1982 so you can imagine how much money that was then – it was half a small house.

But I got one, and interestingly enough my management were quite philosophical about it. They said, ‘Well, it’s a lot of money, but according to our calculations you’ll pay for this with the first two projects you use it on.’ And they were right. The first project I used it on was my very first film score for Russell Mulcahy’s ‘Razorback’, which is about 95% Fairlight.

The great irony of that was that I kept producing bits of music, because Russell Mulcahy was out in the desert filming scenes and he kept dragging up Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, the one with Shock The Monkey on it, and they were out in the desert with this blasting away on a ghetto blaster and I got it into my head that this was what Russell likes. So I kept producing Gabriel-esque soundscapes and so on, and the producers of the movie kept coming back to me and saying, ‘No, no no – that’s not what we want, we don’t want this.’ In the end I was getting various clues from them but didn’t really know, but I had another go along the lines of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ – a fairly mad piece of classical music. I constructed all this with the Fairlight, it was a quasi-orchestral thing. I took it back to them and they said, ‘Yes! That’s exactly it!’ and I said, ‘Well, if you wanted that sort of thing why didn’t you go and get a classical composer.’

In its day, ‘Rite of Spring’ was a controversial piece of music, and Iva Davies shares a birthday with Stravinsky.

Considering that it was 1913 when that piece first hit the stage for Diaghilev’s ballet company. It wasn’t just the music; it was actually the subject matter of the ballet that I think was fairly upsetting to a lot of people. It’s all about primal sexualism, basically, so you can imagine that to an audience of 1913 that sort of idea was fairly horrifying.

CAROL DUNCAN: In 1984, you’ve got Razorback, also ‘Sidewalk’ – the third album from Icehouse, at this point did you consider that you didn’t actually have to be a pop star?

IVA DAVIES: No, I had a very strange life prior to that because I had a completely Jekyll and Hyde existence. I took up the guitar when I was 13, and taught myself, and it was probably also the year that I started taking oboe lessons. I had these two parallel lives and completely separate lives. I had a set of classical people – when I was in high school I played in a wind quintet and we used to rehearse every Saturday morning. We all had our first cars at that point. They were my friends and we went off and won the City of Sydney Eisteddfod and so on. They never, ever met the guys that I was in the acoustic band with. Ever! Because I just had these two lives. So my course was fairly accidental all the way through, it was probably always going to be accidental.

To this day, I keep remembering things that I did. I remembered that I was in the orchestra that was primarily made up of members of the Sydney Symphony and the senior Conservatorium orchestra, of which I was a member, for the staging of the two first Australian ballets in the Opera House. I would have been about 19 and, of course, that’s a fairly big moment for the Opera House to have a night featuring Australian opera in that building, and I’d completely forgotten about it. There are things from both lives that I’ve forgotten about.

CAROL DUNCAN: 1985, your double life really starts to change as you start working with the Sydney Dance Company.

IVA DAVIES: I have to give credit to our managers to some degree who recognised – Ray Hearn was managing us from the beginning. I think he considered himself to be a very erudite individual, he was very widely read, he’d seen every movie possible, and he had a huge record collection. He wasn’t a musician but I think he spotted in me the potential that if I kept on that very two-dimension wheel of ‘write an album, record an album, tour an album, write an album, record an album, tour an album …’, that I would burn out, that I needed something else to do. So it was he who went and pursued the soundtrack idea with Russell Mulcahy, and it was he who introduced me to the Sydney Dance Company who were a very dangerous company at that point. People forget that they did ballets entirely naked and this was quite revolutionary stuff in its day. They had a very young, hip audience. So it was a very smart move. But it was also a move that was good for the dance company. I had also forgotten until reminded about a month ago that in the Opera House’s entire history this has never been repeated, but they did a very dangerous thing. They put two shows on a Friday and a Saturday night, one at a conventional hour and then a whole other audience would turn up at 10.30 at night and we’d do it all again. The staff at the Opera House thought this was going to be an absolute disaster, ‘Nobody’s going to go to the Opera House at 10.30pm to see a show’, but they did and they were all my audience and they were coming to see what all the fuss was about. It was the most successful season the dance company has ever had.

CAROL DUNCAN: Were you worried about your pop/rock audience coming over to see what you were doing and being disappointed?

IVA DAVIES: I’ve always utterly failed to understand what the problem is between the various tribes of music. I started of as a bagpipe player when I was six, and although I went through that very, very particular stream of classical musicians, and they are, and they are a very exclusive lot – a lot of them, and they are a very intolerant lot – a lot of them, I think things have improved. But at that time they very much looked down their nose at ‘popular music’ and rock and roll, but by the same token it was equally prejudiced the other way around. I’ve never understood why. I don’t get that you have to be one or the other but not all of them. In my head there was absolutely no problem with my audience turning up to the ballet.

CAROL DUNCAN: What gave you the confidence to follow both streams?

IVA DAVIES: Only because I can kind of speak both languages. I had a discussion with somebody the other night about music and it is another language. It’s certainly a language when you read and write it and I learned how to do that. But my dialogue with rock and roll musicians has to be completely different because most of the people I played with all these years don’t read and write music. But rock and roll musicians communicate in a different kind of way. So because I’m comfortable in both of those languages, I can happily flick between the two of them, at whim almost.

CAROL DUNCAN: Which is why I don’t’ let my kids drop out of their violin lessons – I want them to have that other language.

IVA DAVIES: From my point of view, by miles the single biggest advantage I’ve had in my work and succeeding in the broad framework of popular music is the fact that I was highly trained. That is the most sure, certain way to cut every corner you can – to actually know what you’re doing.

CAROL DUNCAN: December 31 1999 and Icehouse isperforming at the Millennium New Years Eve concert outside the Sydney Opera House and there is a moment on your face where it’s just occurred to you how very special that moment is.

IVA DAVIES: The penny really didn’t drop, I mean, there was such a lot of pressure involved in that. The transmission, the TV director, Greg Beness, had synchronised a whole lot of footage to be running in parallel with shooting the performance. We had backups of backups because, of course, everybody thought that every computer in the world was going to blow up at midnight being the Y2K bug and so on. It was going out to about four billion people. It’s not as if you can get to the end of it and go, ‘Oh, we mucked that up, can we have another go?’, ‘Oh, they’ve already counted down; we’re in a new millennium’. So I was incredibly aware of all of that and actually I’ve watched back some of the footage and it takes me a fair old while to settle down, it’s (The Ghost Of Time) a 25-minute piece and it took me a number of minutes before I was, ‘OK, we’re up and running, everything seems to be working, everybody knows where they are, I can hear everything ….’

I got to the end of it and stepped off the stage, Frank Sartor the Lord Mayor of Sydney gave me a glass of champagne, Richard Wilkins counted down from 10 and the fireworks went off directly over my head and I went, ‘Wow!’

CAROL DUNCAN: From this point, your other career really takes off and you head off to work on Master and Commander.

IVA DAVIES: Yes, I’ve said to other young bands over the years, ‘Just be aware – you never know who will be listening,’ and so it was with thus that one person who was listening to The Ghost of Time on the millennium eve as it was going out, one of those four billion people, was one Peter Weir – an iconic Australian film director.

This is how bizarre the next few years ended up being for me in terms of things just popping out of seemingly nowhere. I was sitting in my studio one day up on the northern beaches and the phone rang. A voice said, “Iva, this is Peter Weir. I’m filming Master and Commander on location in Baja, Mexico. I’ve fallen in love with The Ghost of Time. I want you to reassemble your team and give me a score like that.”

The whole experience was incredible, to go to Hollywood. I remember I had a colleague of mine, my music editor, had worked quite a bit in Hollywood on ‘Moulin Rouge’ and other things. He took me to the Fox lot and was very well recognised, but the thing that became immediately apparent was how incredibly well-respected Peter Weir is in Hollywood. Even though you don’t necessarily associate him with massive blockbuster success time and time again, he’s respected by directors and quality people in Hollywood and that’s the difference.

CAROL DUNCAN: Is it difficult to do this sort of work, to create something to someone else’s demands?

IVA DAVIES: I was very fortunate because Peter Weir has immense respect for music. He said to me not once, but twice, ‘Music is the fountainhead of the arts,’ that’s how important it is to him. But having said that, he uses it very sparingly and in a very subtle way. So I had the great luxury to have three months to work on what equated to, in the end, not much more than 35 minutes worth of music. If you go and see a movie like ‘Lord of the Rings’, the composers had to write music from end to end of the film, so we’re talking two and a half hours of music. Three months to produce that amount of music meant that it could be done with care but at a fairly unstressed pace, as it were. And that was fantastic. I have no doubt that Peter Weir quite deliberately planned the whole thing that way, so that it would be NOT a stressful operation. He’s a consummate film-maker and he knows exactly what he’s doing, so he schedules and plans things very well.

Having said that, I always knew that the brief of a score writer is to write what the director wants to hear, not what the score writer wants to hear, so that was very apparent and so be it. Very often these films are the vision of a director and music is just one component of that. It should feed into their vision.

CAROL DUNCAN: What are the professional moments that you hold dearest to your heart?

IVA DAVIES: In terms of recording, I had a quite surreal moment. I was very influenced by one Brian Eno who was an absolute pioneer of synthesizers and electronic music, and in fact probably invented the term ‘ambient music’. Of course, he was a founding member of Roxy Music but went on later to become incredibly successful in his own right and especially as a producer, he produced almost all of the U2 albums – massive albums. But I’d been following him since he was an early member of Roxy Music and especially been guided by his approach to synthesizers, which was very esoteric and completely at odds with a lot of the nasty noises that were being produced in the 1980s, for example. And I thank him for that because it probably stopped me from making a lot of bad sonic mistakes.

The producer I was using at the time was a friend of his and I found myself having a conversation with the producer about the song we were working on at the time – a song called Cross the Border – I had in mind Brian Eno’s backing vocal style. I knew that the producer, Rhett Davies, had worked with Brian Eno. I turned up to Air Studios, another very famous studio in London, to do the vocal session and in came Brian Eno. So there was a moment where I was standing in the studio, standing next to Brian Eno who was singing my lyrics and my backing vocal line. That was a real moment for me because he was a real hero of mine.

CAROL DUNCAN: At what point did you realise that you had been successful enough to truly pursue anything that you wanted to do?

IVA DAVIES: I spent most of my career not quite believing that things would work. In fact I remember very clearly – we’d been working for years and years, working around these pubs, the first album came out, and I remember the first royalty cheque turned up. The accountant for the management company asked me into the office and said, ‘Well, here’s the cheque for the Flowers album for you,’ and I looked at it and I’d been broke for years. My parents had to keep paying the odd rent payment for me and so on. We weren’t earning any money at all, the album had only just come out, and I saw this cheque and it was for $15,000.

I looked at Gino, who I had lunch with today – same accountant, and I said, ‘Gino. This is amazing. This is incredible. I know I’m just going to fritter this away. I know I’ll never get any more money out of this business. What’s the deposit on the cheapest, cheapest, cheapest house in Sydney? Well, I bought the cheapest house in Sydney with that deposit but of course it wasn’t the last cent that I made out of the music business.

But for many years, for a long time, I really didn’t consider that it was going to last, that I was going to make any money out of it. It’s that classic thing where, luckily my parents didn’t call me on the phone and say, ‘When are you going to get a proper job?’ they were very supportive. I think I was the one secretly calling myself and saying, ‘When are you going to get a proper job?’

CAROL DUNCAN: What are you still learning?

IVA DAVIES: I’m still learning technology because unfortunately it won’t sit still! The industry standard for recording is a system called Pro-Tools, you very possibly use it in the studio there and it’s certainly in every recording studio in the world. I’ve been working with Pro-Tools for a very long time but, of course, like any other software there’s a new release of it every five minutes. So I’m actually getting to the stage when I really am going to have to run to catch up! So unfortunately at my age I’m still having to learn technology because it’s the basic tool of my trade and that’s never going to stop.

CAROL DUNCAN: Are you still as excited by it as you were in the mid-1970s when you and Keith Welsh started ‘Flowers’ and when you went and harassed your management to allow you to buy that first Fairlight for $32,000?

IVA DAVIES: I think I take it a bit more for granted these days because things have exploded in the way that they have. You can imagine the climate in which a piece of technology like the Fairlight came out, it was just mind-numbing. It was unlike anything anybody could ever imagine, whereas I suppose every time there’s a new release of Pro-Tools, it’s got a couple of lovely new features but it is a development of something which has been around for much more than a decade now.

However, having said that, there seems to be a whole new generation of software writers who are incredibly interested in music and incredibly interested in playing with sound, and these are the people who are coming up with all the new noise generating bits – soft synthesizers and all that sort of stuff. That’s kind of where the interesting new area is.

CAROL DUNCAN: And Keith Welsh has been on this whole journey with you?

IVA DAVIES: Indeed. In the music industry the whole time. He and I have been working closely over the past three years and we’ve started playing again and we re-released the entire catalogue. We put out a compilation called ‘White Heat’ which is about to go platinum.

CAROL DUNCAN: What would you want the young Iva Davies to know?

IVA DAVIES: That’s a good question! I think I probably did seize most opportunities that came my way so I wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘just go as fast as you can with every opportunity that you can’, I probably would have said, ‘Put more attention to the money and where the money is going and who’s getting it!’ As a forensic accountant, I’m a kind of ‘overview guy’ as opposed to a ‘detail guy’.

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Kylie Kwong on insects as food

Kylie Kwong
Kylie Kwong

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says insects are the food of the future and that Western consumers need to open their minds. Australian cook and restaurateur Kylie Kwong already serves insects in her Sydney restaurant.

“It’s just so exciting, I’ve been serving insects in my restaurant, Billy Kwong, since February (2013) and the response has been just so positive but just from a simple cook’s point of view insects are delicious!”

As well as the restaurant, Kylie also shares her love of cooking at her regular stall at Sydney’s Eveleigh Markets on Saturday mornings. Very much in the style and tradition of Chinese street food, the stall offers a few selected dishes featuring native Australian ‘bush foods’ and also a gentle introduction to eating insects.

“In my restaurant I serve the whole roasted crickets with, for example, the cricket and prawn wontons or I might serve a stir fried cricket dish with black bean and chilli where you do actually see the whole body (of the cricket), but with market stall I thought I would just gently, gently introduce the products to my clients so I’ve got the steamed sticky rice parcels with warrigal greens, macadamia nuts, goji berries, and I put crushed roasted crickets on top.”

“There are some people who would like to see the whole beast so I’ve got a little container of whole crickets underneath my table which I’m very happy to show people, but it was deliberate (to not serve them whole) as I thought it might be a bit early for the whole beast.”

In other parts of the world eating insects is completely acceptable and this is the point of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their recommendation that Western consumers should ‘open their minds’ to an environmentally friendly food source.

“There is so much to love about insects. They are super-sustainable to breed and produce very little methane gas. They’re incredibly rich in iron and protein and incredibly delicious! The roasted crickets taste like dried shrimps, roasted wood cockroaches are extraordinary in that they smell and taste like chocolate and coffee beans.”

“The wood cockroach’s natural habitat is the forest so they feed on the wood and so on, but the difference with my insects is that I have them bred to order by Skye Blackburn, an entomologist in Parramatta. I actually give Skye organic vegetables which I source from Eveleigh market and she feeds the vegetables to my insects, so it’s fantastic because I know absolutely what I’m getting, how they’ve been bred, what they’ve been eating and it’s this great story that we can tell our customers.”

“Just in my Chinese heritage we’ve been eating insects for thousands and thousands of years, just like indigenous Australians, so it’s a wonderful cultural, historical and sociological story as well. I am completely obsessed with it!”

Kylie Kwong has long been an advocate of sustainable and ethical food production and puts this into practise in her cooking.

“I’ve had the Australian native plants on the menu for two years now and I was really inspired to take them up after I listened to Rene Redzepi give the opening address at the 2010 Crave festival.”

“All of us just walked out of there feeling completely bowled over by what this remarkable chef had to say. I left there thinking I really had to offer more natives on my menu at Billy Kwong.”

“Discovering Australian natives, just the plants to begin with but now I’ve wallaby on the menu, has completely revolutionised our cooking there and it’s allowed me to give our customers a truly authentic Australian Chinese food experience. Nowhere else in the world will you have vegetables like this.”

“For example we do steamed vegetable dumplings like the Chinese have been doing for thousands of years but I fill my dumplings with warrigal greens, or we’ll make a crispy organic saltbush cake – very similar to a Chinese shallot cake that you’ll have in Chinese street food but I simply fill mine with saltbush leaves instead of spring onions.”

“I’m very inspired and driven by ethics and sustainability but the actual produce is also just so delicious, it’s so tasty and there’s so much texture.”

“Truly unique flavours, they’re very simpatico with the Chinese flavour profile. The sourness of the Davidson Plum is like an Umeboshi Plum so I serve that with my crispy skin duck. Sugarbag honey from the Australian native stingless bee is extraordinary. It’s very rare, very expensive, the bees only produce about one kilogram per hive per year so I’ve been hoarding it in my coolroom, but it has a lovely lemony acidic flavour.”

The UN acknowledges that ‘consumer disgust’ is one of the biggest barriers to the consumption of insects in Western countries.

“I guess it takes cooks like myself (to change things). I’ve got five different insects integrated into the main menu at Billy Kwong, they’re on offer every day, they are not just a special every now and then.”

“My whole goal is to make edible insects the usual hence the reason I serve them at my market stall as well, I want these creatures to be an everyday thing in our diet.”

“So I guess the more coverage we get, the more people will buy them, the lower the price will be – they’re very expensive, about $100 a kilo.”

“They’re a little bit like dried scallops in that they’re considered a delicacy in indigenous Australia and certainly the Chinese culture.”

Cricket and prawn wontons
Cricket and prawn wontons

“We must remember that most insects are actually crustaceans. When I started to think about eating insects for the first time – and you need to know that I have been a terrible arachnophobe and insect-phobic person my whole life.”

“I’m the person who used to jump and run out the door when I saw a Daddy Longlegs in the room, but now my cupboard at the restaurant is full of roasted insects. I’ve actually got some live green tree ants on offer at the moment, they’re fascinating creatures.”

“When I brought the first packet of roasted crickets into Billy Kwong, there’s me screaming and squawking, four of my five chefs are Chinese and they all looked at me as if I was crazy and like, “Yeah, we’ve been eating those all our lives in China, what are you going on about?”

“The more I read about the subject, the more obsessed I get but on a very simple note they’re very delicious. To deal with the ‘yuck factor’ if we think of insects as crustaceans and bring to our minds the image of a prawn or crayfish or yabby – we all love those beautiful seafoods.”

“If you look at a grasshopper or cicada or locust or cricket they are in fact tiny little crustaceans and that reduced my fear.”

“The Chinese call insects ‘prawns in the sky’ and insects are here to stay on my menu.”

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Denise Kelly – Wiradjuri Woman

childDenise Kelly is a Wiradjuri woman who has been working with Liz Mullinar’s Heal For Life Foundation since 2005. Denise is now translating her experience in culturally appropriate education to helping support Aboriginal people who are survivors of child trauma and abuse.

“I work with children in schools and I know some of these children have been abused, so a friend asked me to look at the Heal for Life program for an Aboriginal perspective.”

“Even though we’re all Aboriginal, we’re all unique and all from different nations so for me to go all the way to Katherine, that’s a lot of nations that I travelled over to work with these people.”

What might be considered an accepted and standard approach to working with survivors of child abuse and trauma might not, however, be suitable for remote indigenous communities.

A very large part of Denise Kelly’s role is around understanding and developing strategies that take cultural sensititivies into consideration.

“The main issue for me is that I can’t work with Aboriginal men.”

“I can work with Aboriginal males up to a certain age but going to the Northern Territory when they’re initiated is when I need to back away.”

“I can, and will, work with all the ladies, any of the women and children, but not the men.”

“With setting up programs I do them specifically for Aboriginal women and girls.”

“Where the men are involved, it’s up to me to find males that can work with males and then train them to be carers and facilitators to run the programs.”

“So when I next go up to Katherine I can take a men’s group and they go off in their own area and the women in their own area.”

“We’re trying to do it in a way in which we can heal a whole family but we need the men trained.”

“One of the differences in working with people in remote areas and here in Newcastle is that in Katherine, for example, we would ‘heal’ them family by family, but in Newcastle you’re working with people from different families and different nations that will come together as one.”

One of the great difficulties in helping people who have been abused is in finding out in the first place.

Many people have been reluctant to tell others about what they’ve been through and Aboriginal people, in particular, have been subjected to numerous forms of abuse and trauma over many generations.

“The protocols are through the elders. I work in with elders so I need to get to know them first and for them to tell me individually which areas I can work in with the young ones.”

” Some of the kids don’t talk to their elders, they will talk to somebody else but they need to be able to trust me.”

“It makes it easier for me being Aboriginal and something we’re very good at is what you would call ‘gut feeling’ but Aboriginal people instinctively know if they can work with you or not.”

“Every Aboriginal person I know has been through some sort of trauma or abuse and has had to hide it.”

“It’s time it was out there and shown to people. Other people might not even realise they’re hurting Aboriginal people so it’s time we had a voice.”

With the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse getting underway, will it be difficult to get Aboriginal people to tell their stories to the commissions?

“We’ll be able to help them but for them to talk to people in authority straight up – I don’t think they’ll be able to because if there’s just one person there that they know isn’t going to believe them they’ll think ‘well, what’s the point in telling any of them’.”

“There’s going to be many stories (untold). They need to have the right people sitting out at the commission so that these people can put their walls down and be able to talk.”

“They need to have sensitive people sitting there at the commission, not the hierarchy that usually do sit out the front.”

“I feel the abuse is still there, there are still kids being abused.”

Given the cultural sensitivities that Denise Kelly has to work with, what’s it like for a Wellington, NSW, woman to head to Katherine?

“It is very hard to go out of country. Very hard. Because I know there’s a difference within the Aboriginal nations and how they do things, the things they eat.”

” People just assume that in Katherine, for example, they eat kangaroo. I don’t eat kangaroo.”

” They might just seem little things but they’re big things to me.”

“I look up to the people in Darwin because they were allowed to keep their language, they were allowed to keep their culture, but I’m still learning my culture and learning my language, I’m teaching my language to the kids out my way.”

“I feel proud of the people in Katherine but at the same time I feel for them because their hurts are bigger.”

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