Desert Feet Tour – 2008
The Love Angel Tour
The third year involved a slightly different touring approach due to funding availability. A smaller team set out in a single truck to remote communities.
The Desert Feet Tour 2008 is for kids in communities. Taking music workshops to kids in remote communities to inspire them to develop their talents through indigenous role models.
Sunday 13th July 2008 – Day 1
I picked up the PA for the tour on the Saturday but did not think to try it out first! A trap for younger players that I fell into with a loud bang. When we tried to set it up for a sound check in my lounge on the Sunday the speaker cables would not fit into the PA head. Being a Sunday I could neither call anyone, hire more speakers or call the shop. In the end I took the only option left and loaded my own into the car.
We left my front door at 8pm only to discover that the new car battery I installed that day had caused the stereo to shut off requiring a code number to operate again. We searched the house high and low but gave up, accepting that we would have to drive the whole tour, some 8000 km without music! Looked like we would need to spend the time praying instead, after the way it had started.
The first night on the road was heavy going, especially as we had a deadline in Broome for an 11am interview at the ABC Kimberley Radio station. We could not afford to lose any time. Kangaroos on the road around Meekatharra slowed us down to 60-70 km and hour around 2am. The road was deserted aside from the multitude of mutilated roo and cattle carcasses. Resembling a war zone, they where strewn in great numbers everywhere. I am not sure what was harder work, dodging the giant bloated carcasses or being prepared for their lightning fast appearances from the scrub as they bounded blindly into our headlights. Once we managed to brake to a grinding halt just in time to give the frozen roo a little tap. Ironically, I broke of the roo whistle I had installed that day. We hit a roo with a roo whistle.
Monday 14th July 2008 – Day 2
The dawn found us just out of Newman and the landscape was amazing. Dry and red, but cliffs of iron loomed out of the valleys of pindan. This scenery accompanied us to Port Headland where we filled up for the final run into Broome, hoping to get off the road before dark on this leg of the run. The cattle up here lay on the warm bitumen to sleep during the cold nights and I have heard some horrible stories about accidents with cattle. The number of dead ones on the road tells a deathly story. A black cow on a dark night is almost invisible till you are almost on it!
The Roebuck plains are amazing to see and with the sun setting to our right an orange glow through long shadows across the hazy road, bleached white from years of salt lake overflows encrusting it with salty brine. During the wet season these roads become unpassable, sometimes for weeks at a time. This whole area is like a giant flat sea as far as the eye can see. With the road only a few feet above the salty plains often long stretches disappear. We arrived in Broome at about 8pm, pretty much as we had planned. 24 hours straight through the middle of outback Australia. We could find no accommodation so Em Geoff and I all slept on a friends’ veranda, while the 3 girls stayed with friends not far away. A good nights sleep, a long shower and some clean clothes were sorely needed.
Tuesday 15th July 2008 – Day 3
All we had to do today was find the ABC studio at 11am then try to be out of town and on the road to Fitzroy Crossing by 2pm so we were not driving in the dark again. Unfortunately Peter Strain had been called away to Turkey Creek to film the giant Boab tree they were transplanting to Kings Park in Perth. He called me from Halls Creek, informing us that Halls Creek was out of fuel and the caravan parks and hotels where bursting with tourists waiting for fuel to arrive. Some had been waiting 3 weeks. Geoff’s Prado holds 120 litres but my little Outlander needs fuel at nearly every stop. I will have to try to get some jerry cans in Fitzroy Crossing.
The road north of Broome is a monotonous repeat of cattle grids, floodways and one-lane bridges that can be very scary when a three trailered road train is heading at you!
Waiting for us at the turn off at the Old Northern highway was the smiling Patrick Davies, son of an Irish drover who married a Camooweal woman from Kalkadoon country. He moved here aged 4 and is now married to a Wankatjunka girl named Emily.
Patrick’s house is situated right on the famous Fitzroy River, just past the old crossing after which the town is named. It is a very narrow little single lane road that descends into the bed of the second fasted flowing river in the world, second only to Amazon (the amount of water that flows down this river in peak flood would fill the Sydney harbour in 15 minutes.), fed by several outlets. The track leading to the crossing is carved into the riverbank like a tunnel with out a ceiling and descends precariously to the bed. The crossing is only a foot above the actual riverbed. In 2002 the river broke its banks and flooded into Patricks house. The water reached the floorboards of his stilted home, just as it peaked.
Meeting Patrick has been the highlight of my trip and travelling experience so far. His warm handshake and welcoming embrace was a luxury of the weary traveller. If one looked at Fitzroy on the map they would be excused for wondering why anyone would live here. But if you became, like I, the lucky visitor of the Davies hospitality you might wish to never leave here. For one thing this land is rich and it did not take long for me to discover how well Patrick lives here. Barramundi are his regular meal and the river is his local deli. “The freezer on my veranda is always full of meat”, he exclaimed. “I can fill it with roo one day, beef on another, even goanna in the hot weather. What ever wanders across my door is my food”. Patrick lit a fire in a half 44 gallon drum, explaining to me about the wood, “blood wood” he said is good for the fire because it is easy to break up, you don’t need an axe, once it is dry it shatters and can be broken across another log. But the snappy gum was the one they like to cook with. Its coals burned longer and at a lower temperature, ideal for baking and in the morning you can always count on the coals being easy to rekindle once you wipe away the ashes. Mikie his son, told me about the… tree how they make the number 7 shaped boomerangs because the wood is soft and pliable until it dries, then it is hard and strong. One of natures little paradoxes.
The night was a delight of song and campfire talk. Patrick enthralled us with his knowledge of the bush stories, law, history and love for his countrymen. We hung off every word he said and it was easy to see that his family and community respected him with great pride. The mental health nurse from Derby dropped by with a new Maton 12 string and Em and I busted out our guitar and viola, Cole Clarks rang out into the night. We sung our life’s stories and cried and laughed at our misfortunes and joys, but I could not help to feel envy for his connection to his land and people. A connection I will never lay claim to. I learnt of the early settlers and the people of the region, the desert people and the salt water people, the fresh water mob and their regions and language, of how the warriors where all taken away in chains to Derby and shipped to Rottnest, of the memoires of this area and the losses caused by the white man. It was an education and entertaining at the same time but be warned, leave your white pride aside when visiting Fitzroy Crossing because the stories you will hear will not make you proud to be white and it is only a man of no conscience that could listen without feeling responsible. It is not forgotten what has passed and nor should it be. To the contrary, more needs to be discovered. There are the bones of men, women and children still white beneath the sun that need to be accounted for, the bullets of the white man are lodged in their bones and the stirrups of the land owner crushed many a black scull. These are crimes unrecorded, unpunished and forgotten but the evidence is here.
Patrick Remised, with the stories of his fore Fathers, the drover life. His memoires reached back to the days before the roads where even here, just gravel tracks and crossings. When I interjected at the idea of how hard life must have been he only shook his head and said “good life”
Patrick spoke of the progress of the communities and his pride at the developments and his hope for the future. We brainstormed ideas for the tour next year and I knew I had forged a friendship, in these small hours, which would last a lifetime. But one thing is clear to me and that is that we stand on the brink of the end of a line of descendants that have witnessed the old law and know the ways of cultures passed down through hundreds of thousands of years. If we do not act now we will lose this precious history forever.
These people might be a minority but they cannot be covered with one blanket. There are micro cultures within a few hundred miles of each other that may house four to six different languages, with different needs and laws. Maybe we could stop telling these people what they need, what we think is best for them, and asked them what they want.
Taking serious action now means owning the past and writing Indigenous people into a constitution set in stone. Making radical changes like 99 year leases on land instead of selling it all to westerners and foreign investors. Look at Perth, the local indigenous tribe, the Noongar people, own almost no land yet the city develops and expands at a rapid rate, these ideas have been acted upon in other countries where the indigenous population is the majority and western development flows into cities.
In an era where we face the destruction of our environment, within a few decades if we do not address our environmental crises, I see both a frightening parallel with the ways of the old law of the aborigines and at the same time a shining opportunity to understand and identify the capability of the indigenous people who lived in harmony with the environment in a way that was sustainable. If this is not the greatest paradox of this world then what is? The fact that now, the most depleted indigenous culture on the earth, an almost erased minority, one on the brink of being destroyed at the same rate as our environment. Also holds the secret of sustainable ecology, their ancient ways are the perfect example of how to preserve this earth?
There is no longer time to debate these issues in cabinet. While one government allocates land rights, the next introduces the 10 point policy and says if the land is already used you can not claim it. In cycles we give it and take it back. We cannot wait for the politicians to find a solution, the time is not running out it has passed, we can only hope to save a fragment if we act now!!
Like the environment, the government has no sustainable solutions to indigenous problems. If they said by 2020 we would no longer be using fuel driven cars but solar and electric power then we would at least have hope. If they said by 2010 all aboriginal children will be schooled with curriculum converted into the thousands of different languages and then I would see hope. This job is in our hands. The power to change lies with the people.
We are the privileged occupants of this nation. We do not have to lose anything to realise that we have a historical and anthological opportunity to see the oldest indigenous culture preserved in its pristine form. If we do not then in a hundred years we will be cry our stupidity at the loss as we do over entire species that we has hunted to extinction, lost cultures and languages that have been destroyed by war and changes in religion or power like all the beautiful libraries of Alexander the Great’s era. We will never forgive ourself because now more than ever we have the resources, the intelligence and the ability to act.
A generation of white children with a proper compassion, understanding and respect for the indigenous owners of their inherited land.
Wednesday 16th July 2008 – Day 4
All the best laid plans of men and mice man… on an indigenous community you have to be flexible to say the least. We had workshops prepared and a tight itinerary we wrote for the tour plan but when we got there that mattered little.
The dirt trail in to Wankatjunka was in good condition, thankfully, it is used by several smaller communities and a station. We followed Patrick’s dust cloud in to the front gate. The open dry ground was littered with old rusted and overturned cars. Old Bedford’s and HJ Holden’s only recognisable by the classic shapes, long passed their use by date. Gutted and burnt out, they are the boundary makers of a time gone by. The first homesteads appeared out of the dusty red heat. Sparse little fibro houses with wire gate doors and corrugated roofs. No yards, no fences, garden beds or grass, just dry red dirt. I tried to imagine it in the wet season, three times hotter and muddy. Just the environment is tough out here, if you get past that, then there are the conditions.
A popular misconception about communities is that it is where the people have always lived, but most communities were set up according to convenience, along the government posts set up for stations. Patrick pointed out to me the range of hills behind us and explained that behind that was the desert, the desert that these people come from, “these mob are desert people” he explained.
The welcoming party was small and we were told that today was football match in Derby so lots of the community folk had gone into town. As it is still school holidays a lot of the residents had gone away too, but we set up our PA in an old hall and started to do a sound-check. Pretty soon kids started to appear and a few of the adults came in to have a look, so we decided to get things going and play a bit of music.
The kids stayed around the outside of the hall and would not respond to any coaxing, we could not encourage them by any means so we just continued on playing. Slowly that brought them out of their shells and before long a few of the smaller ones even started to dance. The music was fun and without the restriction of a formal audience we loosened up and swapped between bands until it just became a complete improvisation. And at one point the whole lot of us where on stage, Patrick, me and Em and all the girls. We laughed and played, taking it in turns to play each other’s songs, making up harmonies and lead breaks.
Soon the hall filled with an audience and while we had their attention we where able to do some workshops. Candice being the seasoned teacher had a dance activity prepared and all the kids joined in as well. That was a big hit and the more we made a spectacle of ourselves, the more the kids where willing to open up.
Soon we had a group up at the microphones singing twinkle, twinkle little star and small groups gathered around instruments of choice and in this way we where able to give little workshops. Em’s Viola was of particular interest and she spent an hour explaining the history and even gave some practical lessons. I taught some basic chords on the guitar to two of the kids that had their eye on it all morning, but like all kids they just wanted to be able to rip it up and play amazing solos in 5 minutes, especially after seeing Patrick play. I had to explain to them the practice comes first the speed comes later, but perhaps the seed was sown. I made one really good friend, a young kid called Ricardo, he was very impressed with my dancing and kept giving me high fives. A sure sign that I had won his esteem.
One thing that I found really interesting was the dance style that the kids, especially the girls, had adopted. It was right out of the Video Hits TV music. They all dances like this and took great pride in the moves. They even emulated with precision the facial expressions of the makeup clad American Negro pop music stars. It starts with hands on the knees and then a pushing in and out of the chest in a semi squatting position. On a beautiful woman these moves are supposed to be provocative, but on red dirt covered kids in unmatching thongs and pants five sizes to large it was absolutely comical.
The girls took control of the situation a few times and organised the kids into groups for games. By the end of the day the kids where hanging off the girls, they didn’t want to let them go. I was amazed to see how extremely affectionate these kids are. Far more so than in any of the other area we have visited around the world. Once again I was amazed, refreshed and inspired by the invincibility of the human spirit, that indestructible childish state and once again I was reminded of why I do this, so that children can be children, can have the opportunities we have been given and know the options of the world available to those with an education, simple things that people like myself take for granted. I dream of a day when through example, encouragement and indigenous role models some of these children will remember, “I remember how I saw those people on the Love Angel Tour, I want to be like that and play music.”
Having the girls (Moana Dreaming) has been a blessing. I could not have found a better group of people, we have had to rough it up a few times and they have never complained. When called upon to do extra activities they are all flexible. They have sat out long rides in cars overnight and cramped sleeping conditions that most people would have objected to, but they see the value of the tour and understand its focus and goals and are all very compassionate and patient. We all get stuck into setting up the PA, unloading the trailer and packing it all up again. We have no roadie, no sound guy, some of the equipment does not even work and with out Geoff Talbot who has donated his car, time and energy to the whole tour as a friend and member of VOW, I do not think we could be doing this.
Thursday 17th July 2008 – Day 5
We rolled in to Halls Creek just before dark and had clocked 3000km of travelling. Fuel is now over $2 a litre here and they have been out of diesel for 3 weeks. So the hotels are all full and the caravan parks are packed, not that there are many of them. My planning has not been perfect, I had organised accommodation for the night of the gig in the hotel but forgot that we arrived here the night before.
We could get no accommodation anywhere but luckily Ems girl friend from Perth had parents here and they had a spare room and a couch, so the girls all piled in there, and Geoff and I slept in our swags on the veranda.
Today will be the first pub gig of the tour and I feel a little nervous. It is hard to believe that this is really happening, that we are a band on tour. I have to check myself sometimes to believe we are really here. And it is all a little lucky that we even got this far. No one knows how to properly work the 15 channel mixing desk, and we have had to run both speakers out of one channel so far because I can not get the other to work. We are basically bumbling our way through the Kimberley; two completely novice bands, 4 girls only just out of their teens that are amazingly resilient, they get up on stage fearlessly and play in places that others would be too afraid to go, myself who has spent so much time planning the tour I have forgotten how to play my own music, and Geoff who has never even seen a PA system before. We are all some how strangely doing really well.
It’s hard to believe that if you want to go on tour all you have to do is do it! The irony is that I am a better organiser than musician and sometimes I get myself into situations out of my league, but I guess that’s how you learn and get things to happen. I am just doing what I want to be doing and that makes it fun. Seeing the effect it had on the kids makes it all worth it and I am just so pleased that the community gig went well. That is what the tour is for, and to be honest that is all I care about. Those kids out there are really the salt of the earth.
It’s hard to believe that if you want to go on tour all you have to do is do it! The irony is that I am a better organiser than musician and sometimes I get myself into situations out of my league, but I guess that’s how you learn and get things to happen. I am just doing what I want to be doing and that makes it fun. Seeing the effect it had on the kids makes it all worth it and I am just so pleased that the community gig went well. That is what the tour is for, and to be honest that is all I care about. Those kids out there are really the salt of the earth.
Friday 18th July 2008 – Day 6
Warmun is a community right on the main road (Great Northern Highway). It is still however classed as a remote community because if you drive through the Kimberley you will see, everything up here is remote. However, I saw some confronting differences between this community and Wankatjunka. I am by no means a expert but if the two examples are the beginning of an experience where I can start to form an opinion, then I would have to say that the more remote the community, the better off it is in some strange way. Communities are dry and have laws and by-laws prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol. In a lot of cases, from what I have been told, the locals use the communities as a place to dry out or get away from the issues of town life. There are of course permanent residents, but everyone at some stage will go to town for football, shopping or drinking binges just like any human on anywhere. The problem as explained to me by one gentleman in Warmun is that people smuggle the booze in and there are lots of bootleggers and people out to make a quick dollar by selling petrol and booze at exorbitant prices. They wait up at the roadhouse outside the community border and deal there. This is a problem which is reduced in other communities simply because people are reluctant to drive up the dirt tracks.
The kids in Warmun were like kids anywhere in the world, the same influences in their dance and dress as in Wankatjunka, a real phenomenon on which a whole thesis could be written. The kids here were a slightly older age group and really hard to reach to start with. The front was very tough and they were obviously used to adversity. One would have to understand their culture in great depth, which I don’t, but in short from what I learnt from others there is that they have a boundary that they cannot cross in front of the other kids at the cost of being ridiculed. They call it ‘shame’ and I cannot think of a better way to describe it. Basically it means that if you are good at something and you do it openly you will be ‘shamed out’ by the other kids. To get around it, you just have to get all the kids doing it at once. This was a tough audience and they would participate in far less games or dances that the others in Wankatjunka did.
I tried to tempt them to participate with prizes of CDs and shirts for the winner of dance competitions and so forth but all to no avail. Then in exhausted frustration I had to bring out the big guns! It was evident by the Eminem shirts and hats on backwards that these kids liked rap and break-dancing and it just so happens that I am an old school popping and bobbing kid from way back. We got the kids into a big circle and I busted out a few backspins and moonwalks and then it was off. The girls came out strong with their interpretation of the black American rap moves, which I can only describe as a funky version of the chicken dance, but with such passion that you have never seen. With eyes closed and expressions of passion they waddle themselves to the floor and back up. Very entertaining.
In the early afternoon Richard Thomas, the elder who had given us permission to play at Warmun, showed up with an old Dolboro Gibson. Two other elders also joined him one producing a beautiful Nemesis bass amp and then the show was on. The girls once again improvised this time with a full band behind them and it made for a great show. By 2:30 in the arvo we were all exhausted, and after a great hamburger at the Turkey Creek roadhouse, the best burger I have had on the road yet, we set off for Kununurra, through some of the most majestic country to be seen anywhere in the world. With the setting sun throwing red flames across the landscape, one instantly understands why the indigenous people of Australia have such a profound connection to this land. It is without a doubt the most amazing.
Saturday 19th July 2008 – Day 7 – Kununurra
As we drove out of Fitzroy Crossing last Tuesday, Patrick passed me a CD through the window. The night before, he had sung a song that I instantly loved, and this was the artist. Loudon Wainright. I slipped it into my CD player straight away and it has stayed in there ever since. I have chosen a sober path for myself and sacrificing the intoxication or elevation of sensations through inebriation means I have no medication for any state of mind, aside from copious amounts of caffeine (which I absorb in the form of coffee in a volume large enough to kill a small horse. I am pretty much entirely sober and have to deal with my anxieties, losses and victories in the moment. Being sober does not mean I am bored, quite the contrary. I am motivated and I find things that affect me profoundly, like a natural high you could say. Finding music that I like is one such experience.
There is something captivatingly enjoyable about discovering a new song or artist that you really enjoy and just cannot stop singing, I love being moved in this way. I am always amazed that there is still yet another song that affects me in this way. The sense of nostalgia must be a deep well within me. When I hear music like, I always wonder about the artist, when was the song written, why? Sometimes I discover this song has been around for years and I have only just found it. That’s what I love, songs that latch onto the receptors of my mind like a narcotic to a brain cell, all this time just waiting to be discovered. As a musician that is my only goal really, the idea that I might one day, somehow generate these same emotions in another, have the same effect on another human, then I would have done my job. That is all, no more, just that moment of peace. That is my wish. My own doubts about my ability always plague me and I never feel adequate. I worry that my music is the wrong kind or the wrong style. So why do I book gigs to stand in front of people and sing with this fear ever before me? Just in the hope that someone will discover in its melody what I have discovered in others.
The roadhouses up here are full of music stands overflowing with little known country artists and local musicians, known only in the surrounding area with loyal support and followings from communities and towns. There are some real gems amongst them and I made it my duty to listen to the bush poetry of the Kimberley dwellers like Peter Brandy. A lot of these musicians will never be heard anywhere else, maybe they do not even care but they capture the essence of a brutally harsh but mesmerizing and spectacular land, the challenges and adversity of the explorers and drovers that forged the paths to waterholes and landing points. All the while, for thousands of years prior, an unbelievably resilient indigenous people had discovered the secrets of this outwardly inhospitable land.
Sunday 20th July 2008 – Day 8
Among my own doubts and concerns, my own inadequacies, today I had to find the time to console another member of the tour that found their own challenge in the isolation and remoteness of the Northwest. Frayed tempers and strained emotions got the better of all of us at the halfway mark. I think the confrontation of the truth, the overwhelming nature of what we have seen has challenged us all in its own way, each of us has looked into our own darkness.
For me, today started with intense feelings of depression and an overwhelming feeling of impending doom. The first thing that came to my mind was that laying bricks is easier than this. Last night left me despondent and that familiar old companion of low self-esteem rushed into the slightly opened door that the wedge of fear had jammed ajar. After a disagreement between the tour crew, I got a proper dressing down from the hotel manager on a separate issue. On top of all that the crowd had not responded well to my set and aside from being ignored we got a lot of vacant looks.
How a man finds it in himself to believe in his music and carry on I do not know. Being a novice and an inexperienced musician on his first tour I feel like a ball bouncing off every obstacles and every one seems to have a tennis racket.
I completely refuse to play covers I would sooner go back to selling real estate. I don’t know what type of music I play but I know that is all I have and all I can give. There will be a place for it but Kununurra sports bar is not it. I tell you this not from my own strength but from the advise of my friends. A friend is someone who, when seeing you at your ugliest, looks past it and stays by your side. Today was an ugly day for me. But lucky for me, I have friends.
Last night tempers erupted as the forced intimacy and lack of sleep caught up. Thanks to the calm interjection of others it was diffused quickly but we all saw the fragility of our mission. Then today we nearly lost one of the crew who decided to leave straight away. The tension of hanging out in pubs and an incidental meeting in the street with an old drinking friend had set fire to old fears. We took a drive out to Ivanhoe crossing to have a bit of time out and talk but hit a sharp stone that blew the tyre out. Upon replacing it we discovered that another wheel had a large soft wall bulge and might go any minute too. It turned out to be a good distraction.
Changing the tyre gave me a chance to get my hands dirty with some of this red earth. At one stage I walked a few metres off the track into the scrub. I noticed the soil here is actually like a mudflat; the deep cracks evidence of a flood at some time. In the wet this must all be covered in water. I bent down and crushed the parched but rich cake in my hands, smelt its warm mustiness. I felt strangely alive, grateful to understand the harshness of this country and respect it. Vulnerable but safe, like a child in its mothers arms. I got a glimpse of how it might feel to be an aboriginal, the true child of this land. A furiously tempered but rich, secretive, silent mother. A mother without mercy that has made men strong as steel. This endless land has parched the throat of many inquisitive wanderers to death.
We limped back to town but being a Sunday could get no help. The only tyre place we could get hold of was all sold out. He told us there was a shipment coming in tomorrow morning but he couldn’t tell us what time. We need to leave at daybreak to get to Broome before nightfall, a thousand kilometre drive. We decided to send the girls on first in my car and Geoff and I would wait in town and fix the car then make a run for it, even if we had to drive through the night. The girls could go an ahead and get there before dark to stay of the roads when it was dangerous. They might as well get some sleep and have a rest. Tuesday will be a hard day of travelling 3 hours up the King Sound peninsular on unsealed dirt roads to Beagle Bay community and back again in the same day.
Monday 21st July 2008 – Day 9 – Leaving Kununurra
The gig last night went better than the night before, we sold a few CDs and had some really kind comments on our set. A few couples even got up and danced to a few songs but my nerves were shot by the end of the night, worrying about the gig and the one thousand kilometre drive back to Broome. I am usually really nervous before a gig at the best of times but the added stress of getting the PA system to work gets me really in a fluster. I have at last devised a system and numbered all the mics and leads but in the start it was a comedy of errors. Especially with everyone wanting to put their two bobs worth in. In the end it would be so confusing that I would reach breaking point. I am sure the girls must have thought I am mad a few times. I now know to test the fold back first then the front of house. That way I don’t have 4 girls yelling different orders at me. Also I have realised it is better if I just set it up myself in my own time and give myself lots of time to do it. Geoff has been good with that too and always helps me lug it in and out. There has been many a time this last week that I wished Rob Findlay was with me to sort this stuff out. I will never tour without a sound guy again I swear.
I also got a call from Ros last night saying that she was coming to Broome to do the love angel workshops for the last of the schools. Ros’ mum has been really sick and it was not looking good for her arrival as planned on the tour. The call came as good news and a big relief for me and I am really looking forward to being able to hand over the reigns to her. She is a great organiser and a powerhouse lady and I feel a great sense of relief.
We saw the girls off early and then went in for breakfast at the hotel. We got lucky at the first tyre place we went to. (Thanks to the love angels that Ros asked to help us, so she said) It was open early and had two of the 17-inch tyres we needed. As a result we got away by 830am and where on the open road again.
I had 10 hours to reflect on the week so far and the near misses we have had that could have ended the tour instantly. Like the Roo that Em hit, stopping only in time to knock off the roo whistle. And the time that Geoff pulled into Broome from Port Headland with the back trailer doors swinging open, imagine my heart sink as I saw them swinging in the wind and my relief as I approached it only to discover all we had lost in 500 kilometres was a water bottle.
There has been some comical mistakes that I can laugh at now that where not too funny at the time. Like playing the whole gig in Halls Creek and struggling through the set like a waking nightmare adjusting the sound on the PA frustrated at my inability to get a good sound only to have Candice walk up to the PA at the end of my set and ask me why I had the fold back off altogether!
Then another time when I had got myself a great fold back sound and played for fifteen minutes wondering why I was getting blank stares until I realised I had absolutely no sound coming out of the front speakers and no one could hear a thing.
In the end I would have been better off with my little 8 channel PA out of my studio and just borrowing some fold back speakers, as it was I carried this huge bloody 16 channels Amp thing all over the country and paid a fortune for it and it only ever worked through one output so we had to run both speakers out of one side and never had stereo the whole trip. But all is well (as my dear mum used to say) and we are well past the half way mark with out any major drama.
We got into Broome just in time to drive straight into the airport and pick up Ros and Lara from the airport. And we now had the nicest surprise in stall for us all so far. Ros has been offered the use of a beautiful house in Broome for her whole stay. When we pulled up it was a site for sore eyes to the bedraggled travellers we were. The house was amazing and huge with all the mod cons’ like a dishwasher, double beds, washing machines and dryers. Oh the joy of small rewards. It could not have been better.
Tuesday 22nd July 2008 – Day 10 – Beagle Bay
Peter Strain joined the team again today as well so we now formed a full contingent with a camera man, producer Ros and her personal assistant with a load of Love Angels, the two bands and also a friend of mine that just happened to be up from Perth and her and her cousin jumped in the car too. Twelve of us in all and we headed for Beagle Bay for the day. The track out to Cape Leveque is one of the worst around and we wanted to avoid taking the trailer so we loaded all the stuff into Petes Troopy.
Pete took the lead, being a local he had done this trip many times. Geoff’s Prado was loaded with women (five in all), so they went second. Pete gave me a UHF radio and I took up the rear so that we could not get separated. The dust clouds can hang in the air for ages at times so it is easy to lose site of each other. Cape Leveque road is notorious for bogging trucks and overturning Land Cruisers, many a life has been lost on this old track. The first time I ever travelled it was to take a job at One Arm Point as a shell diver 13 years ago. It was to be the first time I ever dived for pearls and the beginning of a 7-year career as a commercial pearl diver for Paspaley Pearls. But since then some of the road has been sealed, not much though. The problem with this old paprika coloured tack is that it has been graded so much over so may years that it is now so far below the land height in some places that in the wet it turns into a flowing river. In the dry it is still just as dangerous though and has almost invisible speed humps that can send you airborne, as Geoff and the girls where about to find out.
I came through a huge could of dust to see Geoff’s Prado sideways on the opposite side of the track. When the dust settled a bunch of trembling women fell out of the doors. In the comfort of the Prado Geoff had got a little to much speed up, hit a hump and just had so much momentum that he sailed through the air landing on the next hump. These humps seem to run in lots of threes and fours and can really send you into a veritable roller coaster ride if your not careful. They had spun out of control and had been on two wheels until they finally regained control on the other side of the track. A near escape!
But that was all the scary stuff for the day, the rest of the day was to fall into place like a jigsaw, much to all our delight.
I could now hand the tour over to Ros and let go of the reigns a bit, plus with Pete here to direct and produce, the workshops took a more formal shape. With the teachers marching kids into the basketball court Candice stepped up to the mark with her experience as a teacher and organised the music workshops into effective little sessions of 15 minutes each.
We took groups of 20 to 30 and rotated them through the different workshops, colouring in angels with Ros, dancing with the girls and then gathered them all under the stadium for one last concert. The girls wrote a song on the spot and then got the kids to make the words for it. They set up a huge white screen and Lara wrote the words as we made them so every one could sing. My job was to do a lead break in the bridge and lucky for me the Aminor pentatonic scale fit in there cause that is all I know!? We all got up, Emily found a Viola part and all the girls did harmonies. It was hilarious going but to my amazement after 3 or 4 trials the whole school, teachers and all, sang the song right through. Candice’s management of the process was incredible and the way she could see how the song needed to go and teach every one how to write a song at the same time was really impressive. These absolutely fearless girls constantly amaze me.
The day was huge success and the cake was iced when leaving the community we ran into Wayne Barker, indigenous artist and very famous musician. He took us out his lake on the reserve where we wandered through the glorious freshwater lily covered shallows of its edges. He talked to me of the dreamtime and explained the how he had been taught by his elders how the land breathes if you listen and how all things are connected. He told me the story of the formation of his ancestors, passed down through thousands of generations and I became transfixed and mesmerised by the energy that surrounded him. He named all the concepts of the dreaming in his native language when he had no English for them and they rolled of his tongue like poetry. All the while he spoke, I could not help drawing parallels to almost Buddhist-like philosophy in his ancient law. Especially his ideas about the connectedness of all things and the ball of energy that all things are born from, how cells have eternal lines that be traced to each person back to the origin of time and that all people and cells come from the water.
I cannot remember the words he used but I remember my fascination as he spoke, and I asked him before we left if I could come for a week soon and sit with him in the long grass to learn this and to understand it. He accepted and we shook hands white fella, black fella. This man has the power of freedom from the needs of all white mans goods. He knows his traditional ways and culture, and I would like to learn from him.
Wednesday 23rd July 2008 – Day 11 – The Oasis Bar
The morning was full of radio interviews including RTR in Perth, which was exciting. They seemed really interested in our story and gave us a good 20 minutes live on air, plus a song off the album.At midday I had an appointment to meet with the manager of the Roebuck Hotel. I felt a little apprehensive about that, as our promotion of the tour has not been as good as could have been an from the turn up at other venues I would assume, aside from a few friends we would have an empty house. We had done a lot on radio and had run a big ad in the newspapers but no one up here knows us and we have Darrell Braithwaite and the Miss Roebuck competition on the nights either of us. It is an important gig for us because this is the only gig on the trip where we charge entry and the hotel takes the bar, a risk for the hotel to take because if no one comes they pay staff, security and doormen for nothing. So it was with mixed emotions that I walked up the old front driveway of the Pearlers bar. Not least because of the memories it invoked for me as a 23 year old man sleeping in the back of my ute in this very car park, 13 years ago, hoping to find work as a pearl diver. It was a hard time for me then and I did some heavy drinking in the front bar at the pearlers. Also I am not sure why the management decided to give us a gig here, probably because I sold the idea to them so well, but in reality we are way out of our league.
Imagine my distress when management open the door and lead us through to the Oasis Bar, a huge venue capable of holding 1000 people! I stood up on the stage and reflected on all the great names I was about to follow in the foot steps of, Diesel, Ian Moss and Alex Lloyd just to name a few that I had seen here all those years ago. But the venue had been renovated and was really nice. The stage had a green room (where rock stars wait to go on) a massive PA system and a giant dance pit under it, lighting and smoke machines and in all I felt a little overwhelmed.
The management were really kind and even gave the girls rooms though we had made no arrangement for any, and even gave us meals. The nicer they where the more terrible I felt and when I showed up at 7pm to take the door they had even allocated three giant security men to help us with the door. So it was with great embarrassment that I climbed the stairs to the stage, dwarfed by the massiveness of the complex about me, lit up in proper fashion and decked out like Elton John but with only 5 people sitting in the giant beer garden.
I do not know what is harder, playing to a crowd or playing to a few intimately observant friends. But the sense of embarrassment I felt standing on that stage nearly killed me. Here I was, an organiser of the biggest event that no one would ever come to. I struggled through my songs thinking all the time that the staff must think me a total loser. Look at this tool standing up there singing songs no one knows to no one! I wished I could just evaporate.
At the end of my set Rex came up to me. I held my breath for I was sure this was the bit where I get run out of town. “Shit!” he exclaimed, “you guys are amazing!” he said. I was a little taken aback, then he profusely apologised for the lack of attendance which he ardently claimed was all the their fault, he said that he thought that we looked and sounded better than anything he had seen there all year?????
Well I nearly fell off the stage backwards. The sentiment was lovely and it was the nicest compliment I have ever had but I guessed perhaps a sympathy vote? Later on one of the duty managers told me that Rex is really a tough critic, so it seems that he really meant it, but better still is he was totally supportive of our cause and offered full support for next year. He excitedly expounded hundreds of ideas and promised us to fill the venue next time! Well I must say we certainly made a good friend there. Big thanks to you Rex!
Thursday 24th July 2008 – Day 12 – Derby High School
We rolled into Derby and passed the Boab Inn, where we would be playing our last gig of the tour tomorrow night. A big sign on the lawn declared “The Love Angel Tour, playing here Friday night.” At least they got that right, in Kununurra they had written angle instead of angel. I am sure a few punters came along expecting skimpy waitresses or some dubious stage show doing ‘The Love Angle’ as they called it. We were running a bit late and it was 1030am before we finally pulled into Derby High School. The deputy principal welcomed us and Ros organised to have the kids brought out in age groups. This was a big school; kids from several smaller communities come in every day so the groups were up to a hundred at a time.
This time the workshops had to be really structured and teachers marched kids into the basketball stadium in their class groups then sceptically observed from the boundary the goings on of the Love Angel Tour. The first group was the littlest kids, up to about grade three. As we had a few more groups to get through, we had to keep it short. Ros did her Love Angel talk and then I jumped up with Em, I had no idea what to do so I gave out CDs as prizes for right answers about music. Then I invited several kids to join us on the stage to play percussion and sing along. I then offered a CD for the loudest singer in the crowd and busted out the Kookaburra song, which the kids seem to love with its loud chicken noises at the end. They all joined in and it was a real blast. We quickly wound it up and Moana dreaming did the same and invited kids to come to AB music school if they felt inspired by anything they saw.
After the workshop kids ran up to me asking for my autograph and hanging off us. It was hilarious and Em and I felt like wiggle style rock stars. We laughed for hours later about how fantastic an audience the kids were; uncritical, mesmerised and completely grateful for the excitement, more then you could ever get out of an adult. The next group where a bit older but were just as excitable and we repeated the process with ease. I snapped into this Fat Cat and Friends type personality, I kept thinking of Keith McDonald, (who I grew up on) and the way he used to talk with big high noted questions in a kid like voice. It came really easily which surprised me as I don’t have any siblings nor children of my own.
The next lot where teenagers and I was well aware not to patronize them with the simplicity you can offer kids. These are guys that don’t show emotion and don’t really know what their own emotions are doing anyway. I asked them how they liked school and what they had learnt. Of course I was ready for their bleak answers so I offered them a chance to miss some class and listen to some music to which they all agreed. I was unable to coax any participation but you could have heard a pin drop when Em and I played Time Flies, they were particularly impressed with Em’s Viola.
I felt like I made good contact with them and had their attention. I was hell scared that I would mess up and lose it, but God is merciful.
The grand finale came and all the students filed back into the stadium for the concert, over 300 kids of all ages. We just went full steam and played them stuff off the album. I had the little ones in the front dancing and jumping like a High Five episode. At times I had to stop singing and ask them to sit down again. At the end of each song the cry of applause was deafening. I can honestly say they are the biggest and best audience I have ever had. I would have to say it is the most fun I have had on the tour yet and the best reward I have ever got for playing a song.
Friday 25th July 2008 – Day 13 – Final Gig: Boab Inn, Derby
Yesterday we checked into the Boab and it was nice to get an early night and wake up for the first time this trip and not have to race off somewhere. I did the last radio interview for the trip on the local station and was well received. Playing every day has finally got me up to speed again and now just as the tour is about to end I have my confidence back.
I had a good feeling about the gig because the hotel had lots of calls asking about us and the management assured us a guaranteed crowd of two or three hundred people, as it was pay week and a Friday night. So it was with great relief that I set up the PA system for the last time after doing a bit of Derby site seeing.
My relief was to be short lived however as I could not, for the life of me, get a good sound in the pub. The walls where lined with corrugated tin and big glass doors everywhere. The PA running on only on channel could not get sound levels up without feeding back horribly and as much as I tweaked and played with it, in the end I had to just play by feel, ignore the horrible bass buzz on my guitar and try to sing really loud so I could keep the mic volume down but still be heard. There was a huge game of football on and locals gathered around a TV at the far end of the bar and screamed and yelled at every mark, kick, or point then went hysterical on every goal. Very disconcerting to say the least. At one point I could not hear anything at all. There were pool tables set up and aside from two drunks, the rest of the pub completely ignored us. I was used to that and took no offence. Knowing now that Moana Dreaming would turn it all around and get them out on the dance floor but as the crowd grew the noise grew louder and so did the girls frustration. I tried desperately to turn up the levels but every time I got it up a bit the quality just disintegrated. The bar was becoming packed but there was a completely empty area in front of the band as if the area was jinxed and the girls had to sing on to no one. No one would dance and as the night got later my anxiety increased. I had 4 girls and a bunch of gear in a pub and now way to get out fast and the crowd were getting more and more drunk. One guy started showing me his martial arts ability and I was sure soon I would be dead in a giant bar fight. At half past eleven I pulled the plug on the PA, quickly cranked up the jukebox to full throttle and did the fastest load out in the history of the Roadie profession. We packed all our stuff into the trailer ready for a fast exit to Broome at first light. The accommodation at the Boab had been great and the food was awesome I had the best steak and the best Barra that I had had anywhere in the Kimberley. The staff were kind and hospitable and went to great lengths to make us all happy. But the tour was over and all we could think about was heading home.
Saturday 26th July 2008 – Day 14 – Heading Home
We got away at first light and headed for Broome, I had a few things to do there and then we had to drop off the 3 girls, they had all decided to fly home. The thought of another 24 hours cramped in the car was too much for them. I can’t say I blame them and if I could I would too. By the time we had picked up our stuff and left Broome it was one in the arvo and it was with a little bit of nostalgia that I reflected on the trip. Somehow we had met all our objectives, travelled some 5000 km in 13 days had no major incidents. We have slept little yet not missed a single gig, we have improvised and developed our workshops on the go, played to empty houses and full pubs. Most importantly, we reached a lot of kids, some of whom I think will never forget us and I hope to remind them of us again next year by coming back.
I have made friendships that I look forward to developing and contacts that are invaluable but most of all we did it! We did what we set out to do and now we have the runs on the board. Now the hard work begins. Next year will be bigger, longer and better, and I will have to start planning it now.
For me I will have a few thousand miles of reflection to analyse the tour. Then I will have to start work again on Monday to pay my bills.
I wish we could have taken a week to drive home and spent some time at the amazing Eighty Mile Beach, after carting my fishing rod around for five thousand mile I never made a single cast. It would be nice to stop in at the glorious little Port Samson and stop over at Exmouth, where one could spend a lifetime exploring. It would be good to see the blowholes of Carnarvon or the Red Bluff or stop in with my family in Geraldton but this will be a straight run home. Em is sick, her flu has been really bad, and she also needs to be at school on Monday. Geoff is burnt out and just wants to go home, he has his new friend in the car, the adorable little dog we found on the way to Beagle Bay. Rescued by Anne, adopted by Lara and delivered by Geoff all the way from Broome to Perth, and me, well I miss my dog, haven’t been to the gym in two weeks and cannot wait to sleep in my own bed.
Sunday 27th July 2008 – Day 15 – Nearly Home
Last night somewhere just out of Karratha I hit my first roo real hard. It scared me to death! I had no warning and had not even seen any around. Usually before you hit one they get thick, you see them on the roadside and then start to see the dead carcasses smashed by road trains. I must have just got unlucky. I was only doing eighty kilometres an hour as I really am not happy about driving in the dark but I had arranged to meet Geoff to refuel at Karratha and decided to push though the night. This big roo jumped all the way across form the opposite side of the road in two giant leaps and I had hardly time to even brake when we collided. It actually hit my passenger side, that’s how fast it all happened. It went right across the front of me from out the blackness in a second. I was a bit shook up after that as Em and I have already seen two badly crashed cars on the road. One looked like it had hit a bull and was completely flattened at the front. I pulled up and slept in the back of the car till morning but had a horrible sleep, the huge road trains shaking the car as they passed with a sound like a plane landing on you. Too tired to wake up and move but not tired enough to sleep through it. I kept dreaming I had fallen asleep at the wheel and would wake up with a jump. A little depressed about wrecking my poor little car, I woke up with feelings of despair and that familiar sense of being overwhelmed, there will never be peace for me in this world, and maybe I don’t deserve it.
2008 Desert Feet Tour Summary
In summary I would have to say that I have no solution, I feel an incredible overwhelming sense of shame at my own inability to understand and I think that these are a people that none of us now reading this, from the comfort of our homes on our new computers, can comprehend. They are a people who suffer the most terrible form of poverty, the poverty of hopelessness. I think many of them see no solution. In all my travels to film poverty around the world, this is the worst poverty I have experience and ironically it is the wealthiest county. In the rubbish tips of Manila they have hope and structure, in the slums of Delhi they have a culture and religion, in Afghanistan they have a fierce belief in God, in Africa they have pride and are the majority, in Bali they have nothing but are content. Here, there is nothing we could give them they want, except their land. In the words of Wayne Barker, when I asked him the one simple question, “What is it that could save the tradition, culture and language of our indigenous people?” he said “Empowerment.”
Dear reader, thank you for joining me on this journey into our own heartland. Please remember in your contemplation of what you have read, that this is only my opinion and it is worth what you just paid for it. I am no scholar but I am smart enough to know that what I have said and think is not right or wrong, it is simply the truth as interpreted through the existence that is my life, subject, as is yours, to all the conditioning and experiences that living on this earth has rendered. I am without a doubt imperfect and flawed but also furiously compassionate. My love you all and good night.