Desert Feet Tour – July 2011
Saturday 25th June
Hello friends, patrons and readers. Thank you for joining me on our next adventure. The Desert Feet are about to hit the red earth again and in only hours we will begin the first ever fully commissioned tour, a tour that is partly the result of a request instead of an application, and partly because we don’t like to leave unfinished business. For the latter reason we will head to Port Hedland via Alice Springs! “Alice Springs?” I hear you cry, “How do you get to Port Hedland via Alice Springs?” Well the answer is as outrageous as the statement. You drive through the Gibson Desert! And so that is what we will do. Unable to get to Punmu from the west side of Australia in April, we will come at it from the east, drive out across the sand dunes of Gibson Desert and intersect the old Canning Stock route through to Telfer to visit Kiwirrkurra, Kunawarritji and Punmu on the way to deliver the PA and music equipment that we couldn’t get to them last time.
Arriving, we hope, in Port Hedland on a whim and prayer in time to deliver workshops and concerts for BHP in Warralong, Yandeyarra and Hedland, culminating in a concert for Port Hedland as part of the NAIDOC week celebrations. If that is not enough of a task, I might digress momentarily to put you in the picture, give you a sense of the departing scene at 3 Krugger Place, the suburbanite residence of the Desert Feet army, where noises have ensued into ungodly hours of the night. These are the noises of the Desert Feet team. Noises of preparation, diligence, sleepless determination and multi-tasking volunteers, keeping radical hours to meet the demands of normal work, family and study commitments, supplemented with the extra curricula activity of Desert Feeting. So who comes on a Desert Feet Tour? I mean, who has time to do that? Well its usually people with an overwhelming desire to be a part of an adventure. This type of person is often excited about doing it, but also grateful for the opportunity too, they are conscience of the disparity between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds. It is a desire to help. Anyone that gets excited about visiting remote Aboriginal communities is my guy (or girl), and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
The elements, like that of a good brew, make the whole flavour; there is the sweetener, the milk and the fine china. The Desert Feet Tour has all the ingredients now it just needs the making. To really make it this trip we have a film crew coming. Sean Crank was an obvious choice; we met in Bali and his mothers training organisation has taken a major role in our project there, with the children we have been schooling for the past 4 years. We were already discussing doing some filming later in the year over there and when I suggested that this trip I might have bitten off more than I could chew, he suggested, make or break, it would make for interesting footage. We quickly added to the team his 2nd cameraman, who just happens to be a Native Canadian Indian lady and his fiance! (Chantelle is as charming as she is beautiful and we welcome her to the team.) The idea seemed too good to be true, a fortuitous occurrence and a merging of cultures. I love synchronicity! The rest of the team will be the same. Emily Minchin; Secretary, Violist, Tour Coordinator and treasure. She has just about single headedly organised the itinerary, budget and funding while simultaneously finished a degree and practised a Brahms Sonata for a recital 3 days before we left! (all in days work hey Emily) There is our loyal Tony MacDonnell, who we had to pull out of a love affair with a green eyed, blond bombshell from Holland, while on holiday in Bali to get back on tour, (shows how much he must love me? Or at least the Tour). The dedicated Ewan Buckley, who has now joined the committee and worked tirelessly for 4 days before we left helping us get ready, and a new addition to the team at Ewan’s recommendation, Simon Phillips, a singer-songwriter and music teacher from Melbourne. The rest of the team, Rob Findlay, Brian Lloyd and Candice Dempsey, we will met in Port Hedland in a week, as they had other arrangements for the first part of the tour. The only thing we don’t have yet is the money. A small hitch? But there is no stoping us now and we pull out at 4am tomorrow.
Sunday 26th June – Day 1
The trip has started well so far, Bella took the opportunity at our first toilet break to roll in a nice, smelly poo, she returned to the truck very proud of her enhanced perfumery, wagging her tail with pride, very eager to share the new improved scent with us all. Consequently, she has been banished to the back of the truck with the music equipment and sea container. She didn’t seem to understand the reason she couldn’t ride in the cab anymore and looked over the tray dejectedly when we fuelled up at Kalgoorlie. I must admit I felt sorry for her, so I bought her a doggy bed from a pet supplies store that happened to be open on a Sunday in the mighty city of Kalgoorlie Boulder! Red Rooster, McDonalds, Chicken Treat, Bunnings and a huge abundance of Hookers have found a place in the dusty, red outback, metropolis that has sprung up around the biggest hole in the world. The Super Pit, that lines the pockets of the FIFO workers, the residents and those willing to bear the heat, the remoteness and the flies in return for the smell of gold. The gold, that glints in the midday sun like a diamond on a rat, now converted to the material desire of miners and their wife’s, in the shape of big cars, luxury four wheel drives with massive obnoxious wheels and all the glimmering toys that a hard days toil in a gold mine might bring to those that make the trade. But then that’s what life is isn’t it? A trade. A trade off for the hours we give in return for the things we want. Or at least the things we think we need.
And what do you want Damien? Why are you driving into the central desert again with a convoy of vagabonds and excited misfits? For who else would be willing to accompany me on a mission of outrageous propositions. While my relatives applaud with amused scepticism and my sponsors write the cheques with hopeful indifference. Once again we have a program of seemingly impossible distances and once again I ask myself how I ended up with a schedule that looks more like Around The World In 80 Days and reflects a need for super human effort, after all my promises to make it easier next time. I guess that is the nature of the beast. Or perhaps it’s just this beast in particular (time will tell I guess).
Dinner in Leonora was bleak after a call from the convoy car saying they had a fuel problem and they would have to stay in Kalgoorlie to have it looked at in the morning. A mechanic and accommodation for 4 people are extra costs we don’t need now, especially as the funding hasn’t cleared yet and Tony only had about $600 in cash when we left which was the last of my saving that I had pulled out of an ATM as we drove out of town, not to mention the uncertainly that this throws over the itinerary at such an early stage. It was agreed that we would push on without them, in hope that they will catch up and stay on time, and so, after an anxious bistro meal of dry roast pork and undercooked potatoes, we set off in silence. One good thing so far has been the phone range. I think it is the longest I have ever driven in the Australia outback and maintained coverage, which has kept us off the expensive satellite phone so far.
Just after Laverton the road turned to gravel all too soon and so we said goodbye to the bitumen already. By the look of the map this will be the single longest dirt road I have ever driven. Our top speed dropped to about 60km/hr, and as the darkness opened a brilliant Milky Way above us, the Goldfields disappeared and the Central Desert closed in around us. After a few hours, the familiar floodways and cattle grids marked our progress. We lost a headlight somewhere near Tjukayirla, but determined not to lose time and knowing we wouldn’t see a garage now till near Alice, we pushed on into the central heart like a one eyed pirate truck, fortunately (or unfortunately, I’m not sure) we did not see another vehicle the whole night. Although this is the Great Central Road (yes apparently it’s a Road), and I assume well traversed, there is always some element of anxiety inherent in driving on gravel tracks. Not the least because of the obvious nature of them, loose and mostly unmarked, but because time seems to slows down and the miles become a question mark at the begging of each sentence. “Did I miss the turn off, was that a road back there, I must be there by now, where the hell are we?” these are the internal dialogue of the off road driver. And so we drove on for 12 hours we did not see another human or anything other than the endlessness of the corrugations before the single headlight, like a microcosm our world was an infinite jangle over a billion bumps, 10 million an hour? Mean while the poor shitty dog is precariously perched on her new doggy bed like a jack in the box on fast forward. Trying to keep her nose tucked under her tail while bouncing at 90 kilometres an hour, the vibrating canine. Poor doggy dog.
I have to ask how a road this long can be unsealed. Surely the costs to grade it for a few years would be more than sealing it? The mind boggles, how can one of the richest countries in the world still have 1300 km of unsealed Highway? In the mean time we had got a call from the other car. They had done some research and realised that the fuel consumption was not that bad considering that they had the trailer. I offered to tow it for them if they could catch me and so they decided to head off instead of staying in Kalgoorlie, we decided we would all meet at Warburton.
Monday 27th June – Day 2
We had to get to Warburton last night, nothing else would be open between Laverton and Alice Springs after 5pm, so we needed to judge it right. We pulled up to a dark road house about 430am, discovered that the toilet at the side was open and even had a hot shower! This was luxury. Clean but tired we decided to grab some rest till the others caught us, however I discovered a notice on the front door of the rickety little fuel station announcing that it would be closed for stock take on the 27th of July. Most people might have seen that as a stroke of bad luck but I found it comical, to have managed to arrive in central Australia in synch with its annual stock take, you can write a book about stuff like that. This meant trouble for the convoy though, if the guys are only getting 600km to a tank, it meant they would need to drive into Laverton to fuel up and fill two jerry cans as well to make it through to Warakurna, a total of about 850km. But when I called them they didn’t answer the satellite phone. I fell asleep for 2 hours waiting for them to call, they had stayed in Kalgoorlie after all and had only just left! That meant we were nearly 8 hours in front of them and there was nothing to do here so we pressed on to the next roadhouse.
By the time we reached Warakurna roadhouse I had a splitting headache from coffee withdrawals. I hadn’t even had a cup of tea or anything to eat since last night. I was so desperate for coffee that I indulged in some roadhouse instant Nescafe Blend 43 from the little straw satchels, the type you get on planes. It was black, stale, bitter and tasted like corrugated iron but I drank three of them, 4 hard boiled eggs, 5 cheese sticks and an apple, it might as well been a seafood smorgasbord, I was so hungry it didn’t matter.
It cost me $600 for some fuel and a feed! $2.50 a litre for the diesel, but that is half of what we’ll pay out in Telfer. Anyway, the bitumen is within cooee now and we turned back east for the final hike into the Olgas and Ayers Rock. The road became bad pretty quickly out of Warakurna and stayed that way, but some of the scenery was impressive. Warakurna sits at the foot of the Rawlinson Ranges a beautiful and strangely very green outcrop of hills in stark contrast to the desert below. If you could climb to the top of them, behind and to the north you would see the endless sand dunes of the Gibson Desert. For now we took the Sandy Bright Junction Road and cut between the end of the Rawlinson Ranges and the Kathleen Ranges. Along this part of the road the trees and the land reminded me very much of the Martu region around Cotton Creek. But most impressive was the bird life; a huge flocks of bright green tiny finch-looking arthropods did impressive acrobatics in the turbulence of the truck. Several times I thought we would collide with the manoeuvring flock only to see them dart collectively out of the way. It reminded me of a school of fish, how they all seem to move unanimously, as if it was all intricately choreographed in pre flight acrobatics. Their brilliant green feathers glinted like fish scales, and if I didn’t know I was in a truck travelling across the Central Desert I could just as well been in Aqua World as I watched them.
After nearly 24 hours straight, of driving over corrugated gravel roads, just when I was sure I could not take another bump; the Olgas loomed through the bush into view ahead. After being rattled like a can of marbles for so long, they where a site for sore eyes. According to the map, the sealed road starts ahead and thus we would finally be back on bitumen. The Olgas seem out of place, at first I thought they were giant low lying clouds. They are like an alien backdrop to an endless landscape of vast flat and empty scrub. The only thing native about them is the colour. They are the same earth red of the Kimberley’s, the Western Desert and Central Australia, its western face aglow in the afternoon sun like a vast anthill skyscraper. Its ridges on fire in the setting sun amongst a dreary landscape of endless desert. We pulled off the gravel at 4pm and took the road back south to watch the setting sun fall across Uluru arriving just in time for the glorious rock to explode with deep reds under a falling sun. Like a frozen sand dune of cinnamon powder, if you didn’t know it was a rock you would swear it was a dune, etched with silky groves like a colossal bowl of ice cream, smooth scoops missing at its edges as if attached by hungry children with giant spoons from above.
Scores of tourist lined the roads in dozens of air-conditioned coaches snapping photos for the album. And then, like peak hour, the single lane road filled with traffic, it was out an out back traffic jam! Most of the traffic heading for the famous Ayers Rock Resort. We decided to have dinner there, I found a good coffee maker and drank three!
Tuesday 28th June – Day 3
Daybreak found us parked on the side of The Todd River. We had pulled another all-nighter and driven through to Alice. Taking advantage of the lack of traffic and the night air which seems to help the truck run a lot better, cooler and faster. I have a lot invested in her making it across the desert, both emotional and financially and aside from praying there is little I can do now but hope she will weather the storm that is brewing, a storm in the shape of another 1500 km of some of the worst gravel roads in Australia, that awaits her. So far she has purred like a cat and as I get to know her with time I am becoming quite attached to her. I added an R on the Hino Badge so it reads RHino now and we have affectionately dubbed her the White Rhino. it’s a polar extreme from my old life on ships at sea, but it holds many comparisons and I can’t help feeling like she is my desert ship. I never understood the whole truckie life style thing ’til I hit the road like this. It is a freedom but also a bond. You learn your rig and live with it the same way we did on the in the fishing industry. Your living depends on its functionality, so the work is sort of like a by product of the relationship, I guess only a truckie would know what I mean, it’s weird to think that you can have a relationship with a machine, but it’s true. You care for it, clean it, feed it and then it carries you, supports you and houses you. I remember reading Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ when I was a kid. The vivid description he gives of the difference between man/animal husbandry and it imposing enemy; machinery and the industrial revolution. He talks about the horse in the stable, how it snorts and calls out all night and how he loved its smell and looked forward to its company and the disparity between its replacement, the tractor and how at night it grew cold and lifeless. Maybe he just didn’t give that tractor enough time? One thing’s for sure, no horse could keep up with my White Rhino!
Any way today’s itinerary would keep me occupied enough and the ongoing problem of money is still upon us. We checked the accounts first thing this morning and they still have not cleared. This is now a real issue for us. Ewan, Em and Tony have been working for a week now without pay and Ewan has been purchasing stuff on his own credit card. Tony has had to buy all the fuel for the Patrol since Leonora and I have now exhausted my visa card and all my own savings. So we are now officially stranded in Alice Springs. On investigation we discovered there a was problem with the payment and now, best case scenario, we will not have a cent till Thursday. In the mean time I have to shop for the next weeks supplies for 7 people and fuel up for a big run into the desert. The hire car is not insured for off road, plus there is the ever mounting bills owing. It’s getting frustrating, embarrassing and stressful.
Next, I get a call from Tony, the trailer sheered a bolt on the springs and they had to jerry rig a shackle out of fence wire (Tony the bush mechanic, God bless him) now the next issue is how do I put everyone up in a hotel and feed them for 2 days while we wait for our other performer to arrive? Then I get a call from Virgin Credit thanking me for my credit card application and telling me its approved?! To which I replied “but I didn’t make a credit card application” and so with some embarrassment they inform me that someone has all my personal details and is going around trying to build a credit empire in my name! I found that pretty funny to be honest, I don’t like credit cards, I have only ever had a Visa debit card and I don’t like borrowing money, I guess that makes me the prefect host for credit card fraud because I have no credit applications. Seems God has a sense of humour. When I laughed, the guy on the phone seemed horrified, “but sir your credit rating could be affected” I said “Oh My God!! what effect will it have on my personality?” But he didn’t get the joke. I just explained to him that I didn’t want a credit rating and don’t use it so feel free to discredit it, delete it, or even blow it up, if you want. (not sure if that was a border line terrorist joke).
So now here’s the real irony. It turns out my father is working for a training organisation in Alice Springs. I have not seen him for some 4 odd years. I’m parked out the front of his door at 6am, in a truck. When he comes out of his house in the morning he finds me parked on his lawn sleeping in the truck like some hobo and when he wakes me up and feeds me I ask him for a loan! What for he asks, to pay for the Desert Feet tour I reply. I don’t think he saw the humour it in either, but he was willing to help and means everything.
There was some delays in getting ready due to the complications of having to get fuel orders and credit authorities to do the shopping. But we needed a good rest after such an arduous trip and BHP organised us a hotel for the night. In the morning we would only have to pick Simon Phillips and head into the desert.
Wednesday 29th June – Day 4
However, life is never that simple is it?! Simon missed his plane (I never did find out how) and that caused issues all round. I was keen to get moving ASAP, not least because the sooner we are in the desert the less expenses we will have, but because we have already done over 3000km and still haven’t achieved anything. I have this anxious preoccupation with the distances we have to travel, the unknown quantity of it all and the lack of funds. Our budget is already stretched as it is and there is no room for any problems now. Ewan, very conscience of the work load and the reduced numbers, was really pushing to let Simon fly in again on the next plane. Wanting to keep him happy and also aware that Simons assistance would make his huge work load more achievable, I decided to break my golden rule again and split the convoy up. The truck would go out immediately, make the first leg of the big push into the central desert (a drive we anticipated would take up to 6 hours if the roads where ok) Tony would wait with the car pick up Simon in the morning and be out on country in time for the concert tomorrow night, bringing a fridge load of meat for the BBQ (or so we planned anyway)
We saw last of the bitumen about an hour out of Alice and a wide open road of deep mineral red sand yawned before us like a crimson river as we turned West and drove into the falling sun. 6 hours tuned into 9 on the road before the White Rhino pulled into Kiwirrkurra, and although we still haven’t actually played a gig or done a single workshop, a feeling of relief was written on the signpost of Kiwirrkurra, a weight fell from me, out here on the most remote Aboriginal community on earth. Having got this far meant something, and now worst case scenario I would get at least one community workshops and concerts done. But it was more than just that, it’s being back on country. There’s something addictive about the emptiness and space here. Its screaming silence calls you back. It’s the brilliance of the stars, it’s the lethargy of the heat, it’s the honesty of the environment unwilling to lie to you about its brutality yet challenging you to discover her secrets.
Our quarters in the home economics room at the school were really nice, with full cooking facilities and even a heater, yes! It’s cold out here this time of year but we didn’t have much time for celebration, it was 1:30am and we were all shot.
Thursday 30th June – Day 5
I awoke today to the sound of kids laughing, two seconds later the front door was pulled open. In walked the teachers and it was time to get up. I looked at my watch. It was 6am. When the teacher made a joke about us sleeping in, I realised it was still on NT time here. So it was 7:30am for them. That meant we had arrived at 3am and got 4 hours sleep. I was mostly staggering around in the school grounds from exhaustion trying to wake up when several of the kids climbed on me calling my name?! “Ah, I member you from Parnngurr, hey!” said Jerry with his thick Kiwirrkurra accent. (There is a photo of him with a football stuck under his beanie at Cotton Creek in May) Troy, Lyndsey and Kingsley where all here too, some girls I recognised, and a few dogs too that I had seen at the football carnival.
Well this was a cool welcome! As is tradition they came in and ate porridge with us. (Not sure why the kids here like porridge, I’m pretty sure they don’t ever get it.) I met the headmaster and his 3 teachers. Catherine and I had already met by email in a quirky fortuitous introduction some time earlier this year. It happen when we had planned to come out here last time. I had trouble finding a contact for the place and tried all day to reach the community. In the afternoon I gave up. In the morning I had an email from Catherine stating she had heard about the Desert Feet Tour from a friend in Perth and wanted to know if we would be able to come?! When I told her we were planning to that very moment and that I had been trying to reach the community, she nearly fell over dead with her leg in the air, “What? Nobody comes out here.” She sounded confused.
Of course we were not able to at that time because of the floods, thus the compounded sense of achievement, just to arrive here. I was beginning to think I was not meant to come here and the more stories I hear the less the possibility seemed to become. The only other live band to tour here was The Yabu Band, and they broke an axle on the Canning Stock Route and had to leave the trailer in the desert. That adventure was funded by the CANWA who turned us down for funding because of the experience. Thus, further highlighting the difficulties in getting musical equipment out here. However, it seems we got very lucky. Kim (The Headmaster) told me that the locals had stopped taking their cars into Alice because it the road was so bad, instead they were making the 1100km trip into Port Hedland for shopping and town trips. You know the road is bad when the mob out here won’t even use it. We had actually passed the graders party last night, sleeping out just passed Papunya and so we had absolutely freshly graded roads for the first 4 hours. After Kintore they got pretty bad in spots but that was two thirds of the way in, after that there was a few tricky bits, like some holes we hit that nearly stopped the stuck outright. One sounded so bad we stopped to see if the trailer was still there. Amazingly we have lost nothing so far and it seems the path has opened for us with fortuitous grace. In fact our timing could not have been better. After the rain and the floods, the road had just been graded all the way to Telfer! So it seems our schedule is now very achievable and our chance for successful completion of this whole project has increased dramatically, failing any major breakdown or accident.
Bobby West is the elder on Kiwirrkurra but he is much more than just that, he is the senior law man for this language group and as such he holds the most political power in the area. Hi is also the son of Jimmy West, the man that brought in the Pintubi 9. Pintubi is the name of the language group here, they are often referred to as the lizard eaters, which was made famous by the book of the same name. The Pitubi 9 where the last Nomadic Aboriginal Australians living in the desert in their traditional way (One of them walked back out there in 2001 never to be seen again). They walked into camp here in 1984. Four of the nine are still alive; 3 women that still live here in Kiwirrkurra, and the elder who is in jail. You may be as amazed as me to discover that in Australia we store our invaluable anthropological wealth in prisons. Have you seen the scene from “The Gods Must Be Crazy”, when they put the Kalahari Bushman in a prison cell? (don’t bother going to the movies, this is the real deal right here in Australia). Can you imagine spending half your life living off the land; the desert, the law, and the dreaming all you ever knew existed; then the other half in a prison cell for crimes you don’t understand? In traditional culture there is no written record. All Law is passed down by the elders during ceremony. The boys only become privy to much of the Law after and during ceremony and many of the language groups out here had several levels of initiation. Our Pintubi Elder locked in a cell would hold information no other man on earth knows. Secrets passed down from thousands of generations, it can never be regained or rediscovered, dug up or found in a cave, it is in his head only and it is soon to be gone. Its existence is like mist of intuition, intangible intelligence, blowing towards the hot coals of capitalisation to be vaporised before our very eyes. Stand ready Australia! for we will be called to accountability, our children will ask us what we did to save an anthological haven while it was right before us. When I told Tony the story of the Pitubi 9, he was so upset that he wanted to go bust him out of jail. Just as well we were not in Alice, he’s the type that would have done it too and being prone to compulsiveness as I am, I might have even joined him.
Bobby was really good to us, it has been the highlight of all the tours for me so far. His knowledge of the dreaming was profound he knew the story for every ridge, hill and plain. The Hugging Owl rock of Ngaami the ‘cooking women boulders’, a ridge of stones that looked like just that. He told us the story of Walla Walla and how the water came to be. He showed us where his parents lived on the land before they came in, and took us to the very place they camped during the wet, under a rock ledge full of carvings. He performed a welcomed to country ritual using gum leaves. We paid respect to his forefathers under a hill and he stopped to show us some wild tobacco which he had spotted on a ledge with his keen eye. (He then made his nephew Eric climb the ridge to get it which was pretty funny because later I would learn he gave it to his wife as a present. Seems our traditional Elder is also a bit of a sweet heart too.) Lorna, his wife, is also an amazing artist and is never seen without a wad of this dried tobacco in her mouth. I tried it too, as you would, and was particularly taken by it. I ate it green which bobby told me was not the best, but it gave me a warm sensation all over and made my skin feel like a pin cushion for a while. So I ate some more.
Later we met up with the school out on country. They had been hunting and had several Goanna by the time we got there, which they proceeded to put on the fire and so I got to eat Goanna at long last. Of course, it tastes just like chicken, only much better, gamey and full of flavour. There is a strip of fat on the belly at this time of year, which is the most sought after bit, it is yellow and very rich.
I could talk forever about this time with Bobby, but I am always in a rush to write this stuff for the blog. There is never much time spare and its either stay up late while the others are asleep, or get up before them really early to get it done, so I feel like I am rushing all the time. But to conclude this experience and properly translate it seems impossible. Just before Ewan and I were about to set up for the concert Sean asked us with the camera rolling what we thought of the experience. When we were asked to express it we both stared silently into space for a while, then we looked at each other and laughed because that was it, there were no words, it’s just a sense of something greater. And if I had to say what it feels like to be here I would say it’s like a narcotic. I feel sedated and full of love. Both Ewan and I were sort of high, really. I think we just realised that we had just been given a gift of real value, not one from the store that someone bought but something far rarer, something subtle and ephemeral but the indicator of much more, like a peek into a doorway that that was once an open source of light, now just a slither at the end of a corridor. A look into a world upon which the door is closing fast. I think the thing that I feel most about the people here is they know they are connected and thus there is no need to explain it. Their silence and their stillness is the truth.
I just feel so good to be back out here and I just want more than anything on earth to be of use to my fellows. Meeting Bobby again, being treated by the community like old friends, is the real value for me. The rest is just and extra, however now we have to earn our keep and the community is looking forward to a big concert. The office has organised BBQ, the school staff are very keen for some entertainment and the Kiwirrkurra Band are ready to rock!
The only dampener on the whole show so far is the funding. Emily got access to the Internet at the office and checked the bank account. We had been categorical promised that the funds would be in there today and that a critical payment had been authorised, but still nothing. This was a real drama now. Even if it went in on Friday like they promised we could not access the money. I would have to transfer it over to my account so I could use my Visa card, which would take another day or two to clear. That would be too late and we needed fuel now, and at $2.50 a litre I was not going to get any change out of $1000. It is getting ludicrous now and I am really desperate. I checked my personal accounts and I have about $200 in my savings. Emily and I counted up our loose change and that was about $100. I found another $300 in my credit card that I thought was gone already so that would get us a bit of fuel which would get us to Kunawarritji and we have enough food to get to Port Hedland.
Earlier up at the shop I had met up with Milton again (captain of the Kiwirrkurra Football team) and soon the boys were all there Eric, Lazarus and Adam (the drummer) plus some new additions to the band I had not met yet; Bobby’s son Tristan playing keys (which is cool), Morris who is a bass player for the Central Desert Band (very popular up this way), and comes from Warburton, and Jin the real singer of the band (that was not in Parnngurr for some reason). Adam played drums for all three bands at the Football Carnival when we met him last time and he is not even from Kiwirrkurra, he is a Punmu boy, but for some reason he is here along with his brother Chris who is a great musician and has a heap of songs he wants recorded too. The guys are really happy to see us, I feel like a long lost brother. Ewan and I are basking in the glory of it! Everyone wants copies of the CD’s we recorded of the Kiwirrkurra band in Cotton Creek, they are like gold, and the boys are super keen to lay some new tracks. Bobby has sent the bus back to Kintore to pick up more people (and apparently another band), and the community is putting on a huge BBQ.
Ewan and I where keen to do an early set-up as we had not powered up the gear since the Sorry Day concert in May, plus it has been rattled along corrugated dusty roads now for some 3500km! But the set up went smoothly, in fact with 2 men down we still had it done, with just the 3 of us, in just over an hour and a half. When Ewan flicked the power on and turned on the music, another concern disoloved (imagine coming out here and your gear not working! You can’t go down the local store and buy a missing cable or some simple item that you just forgot.) Ewan and I built this custom road case for the front-of-house gear, which aside from being the most expensive of all the equipment, is also very labour intensive to set up all the time so I bought a huge steel box on wheels from Supercheap Auto and we fit everything into it with foam and a bit of home engineering. It completely locks up, sealed and dust proof, and means everything is together in one place so we don’t have to load it all out one bit at a time. Once the sea container is on the ground, he just wheels it around to the front, lifts the lid and connects the multi-core. The lid flips back and becomes the desk for his recording station and he stands there with all the buttons and lights flashing like an airline pilot. It is his pride and joy now. Emily and I played a pretty mellow set as a duet but we got the kids up dancing with the help of lots of cool giveaways and prizes, Ewan got up and did a solo set (did I tell you he is a musician too?) Oh yeh! Ewan can sing and play. (When we got back to Perth after last tour, Ewan invited us to come and see his Band play. Tony and I decided to stop in and have a look. We thought “Yeh, let’s support him, he is a great guy.” We were there for him not out of any expectation but then the guy gets up and starts belting out these epic original rock songs at the top of his lungs like Eddie Vedder. The whole place just falls silent! The song stops, there is a pause as people take it in, then the little audience that had been sitting casually around on the Velvet Lounge couches explodes with applause! Tony and I look at each other lost for words. All the sudden I realise that I have just spent 4 weeks on the road with the next Jeff Buckley, who has been modestly posing as our sound engineer. That’s true humility. Never once in four weeks did he talk about his own skills or ability, he came with us as an engineer not a performer and he never asked to perform?! Yet he is better then any of us!
As yet there is still no sign of the other vehicle. By about 6pm I had tried them on the sat phone a few times but nothing?! In the mean time its now Kiwirrkurra Bands turn to get up and play and the community were really looking forward to it. Everyone was there, even Booby with his wife Lorna, and so began the desert reggae sound, chiming out its off beat rhythms very appropriately, booming across the desert plains, to the desert children, who danced in the dust under a trillion candle milky way on a basketball court in the middle of Australia. I felt like I was home at last. These bands out here are pretty fluid and interchangeable as far as the members go. It’s mostly a case of who is around, I think. They are really interesting to watch because they sort of communicate without really talking at all. Its not like going to the pub and watching a band play songs from start to finish through a set list. It seems like they are making it up as they go sometimes. Then, at the end of a song there will be a little interlude where some musical ideas spring out of their various instruments, It seems like they are just hunting around for a key, then when they get it they all just play and fall into place. Then at the end of the next song it starts again, there is this orchestration of noises and ideas and false starts, opposing riffs, meandering scales and almost working concepts that suddenly just jump into full swing. Next thing you know you are listening to the next song. Sometimes it might sound so much like the last one that it seems the same song has been played for 20 minutes, until some one changes something and then off it goes again but at the base of them there is always the same feel, and I don’t know any other way to explain it other then ‘Desert Reggae.’ It really is their own genre of music and it really is like nothing else.
The night was a great success Ewan, Em and I cannot stop smiling. You would think we had fallen in a vat of happy juice. The kids are climbing all over us, every man women and child is dancing and it’s happy days all round. The only other thing to report for the night is that Tony and Simon finally arrived safely some time during the concert. The Patrol pulled up next to the stage. I was watching from a distance. Simon popped his door open and stepped out onto the red dirt. Just as his foot hit the ground, a kid ran at him full pace and jumped into his arms like a long lost son, buried his head into his chest and hugged him. For a second I thought, “Oh, they must know him”, then I remembered that was not possible. His first second on country was initiated by love. Two seconds later Bobby and Lorna walked up to him and welcomed them to their community as if they where royalty. I don’t remember telling Bobby they were coming but I guess he figured they were with me. Simon and Tony have never been here before in their life, but they will always be welcome here now.
Friday 1st July – Day 6
We checked the accounts again first thing but still no money! So I did the only thing left I could think of, I transferred money out of my self managed super fund into my card. I really hope no one from the ATO reads this, or I guess I’ll get into trouble. Anyway, I did what I had to do to get us to Port Hedland. Right now that is all that matters. When I fuelled up the two vehicles, it came to $800. I will have to do that again tomorrow too. But the office girl over heard Emily and I talking about the problem and offered to invoice us for the account. That saved us some money for now and we were really grateful to her for her generosity. People are so trusting out in the country but that doesn’t help the fact that I still feel like a bit of a dill. Its just bad management on my part.
We will do another concert here tonight so there was no need to pack the truck away completely last night, which saved us lots of time. We just threw a tarp over the stage and put away the electrical stuff so it doesn’t get damp. We got up early to get ready for some workshops with the school today and we sat around the breakfast table writing a song for the kids to play. Workshops are fun and I have written a lot about them in the past so I wont bore you with the details again here. However, if you are reading this for the first time you can go to YouTube and type in Desert Feet Tour, there are several videos on that page, it has much more informative than I could give you now anyway. We are running a short crew for the first part of the trip. I don’t have Bryte MC (hip hop) or Candice (music teacher from Abmusic) till we get to Port Hedland, but we will just focus on doing a song writing workshop and get the kids to write the lyrics and sing the songs with us. There are many examples of these recording on our web site too if you want to have a look go to www.vow.org.au and click on music player.
The school was small, about 20 kids. Which was very manageable. We had a lot of the community come too as there has been a lot of hype this trip. It was funny ’cause the whole room was full and I think we had more adults than kids. Later, Fiona from the women’s centre told me she was outside listening with some of the women. The song must have gone down well because thy all wanted copies of it. The teachers here have just been so nice to us. Jim has made us feel so welcome and spent a lot of time talking with us and telling us about the area and stories of his experiences out here. People that these remote communities attract are always interesting but Kim is exceptional. Sometimes teachers will take jobs in remote communities straight out of University because they just want to get a few years experience or a better posting. But mostly you meet people like Kim, who is really interested in the people, has made an effort to learn the language and understand the culture. One thing he said really stuck with me, “its us that need to learn Damien.” He explained to me how misunderstood the culture is. “We forget, Damien, that English is not a second language out here, it is a foreign language. How can you deliver a curriculum in a foreign language and expect people to learn it? If you came to school and couldn’t understand anything, you would not want to come either!” Kim had much insight but admitted that most of the information delivered inside school was of little value to the Pintubi. He used the example of time. “In school we learn to tell time, what the days of the month and week are and this becomes the basis for much of our western ideas. However, to a Pintubi, time is of no relevance. One of his older students had been coming to school for 4 years and could not tell the time because the concept held no interest to him. The same kid could play guitar, keyboard and was great at football. “He lives purely in the moment, yet to meet western academic ideals of education, not being able to read a clock means he has been held back a grade twice.”
Kim the headmaster flew out in the morning but I had the opportunity to talk with him for a while at the concert last night. Another remarkable person, he had been a part of the first expedition to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle, however, the venture went broke and he was left stranded there for months, where he lived amongst the indigenous people there! He had developed a keen interest in indigenous culture after living and working with the Aboriginal people in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the 70’s. At that time they still lived in almost complete isolation, and he told me of stories from the days before I was born. How he went from geologist to explorer to school teacher I forgot to ask. He recounted one story from the Pintubi people that I just have to relate. It was about one of the locals who had walked from Kiwirrkurra to Warrakurna. You might remember that is the place I mentioned above, we fuelled up there behind the ranges which meet the Gibson Desert. Kim told me that he had set off without water because there were several holes he was familiar with, but the first was empty! The next was a day away and the camels had fouled it. The next was dry too. The story goes that he walked the whole 6 days to Warrakurna without water, just chewing plants and shrubs and the odd bit of desert food. When Kim asked him, “How do you live in the desert without water?” He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and said, “You just walk happy.” Mind you, this is the same man that walks to Papunya every year, a trip that takes him 3 months in the desert.
Back at the open basketball court on a stained and red concrete slab in the open desert air, the Desert Feet Tour reassembled the transformer truck back into the shape of a stage under the stars of heaven. Optimus Prime, eat your heart out, the White Rhino is an 8 tonne, 4×4 truck by day, but at nights she is the desert theatre. Bobby had sent the bus back to Kintore again today and this time it came back with not only more people but the Kintore Band. The boys where very keen to get some recording done too, the word must have spread far and wide. Tony had the meat and sausages that we didn’t eat last night, and so we had another massive cook up. Simon kicked off the set and amazed us with some really fancy skills, the guy plays a tambourine with his right foot, a stomp box with his left, with a spoon strapped onto his toes, then he plays the bass line the rhythm and the melody on an acoustic guitar, sings like an angel and never misses a beat! The guy is insanely good. He spent his childhood playing flamenco then studied Jaz guitar at the Con’ he can literally play anything you ask him to. You know someone is really good when they play originals like they are famous radio hits. The night was a cracker and I am so glad that it is all being captured on film too. It is just great having Sean and Chantelle along; they are so keen right into it, plus they are just so nice. Chantelle is the sweetest person I have ever met and her and Sean make the most gorgeous couple. They are obviously in love and the energy they have on the group is very positive. They are quiet, unassuming and reserved but kind, generous, thoughtful and never stop smiling. They love their work and huddle in the corner for hours editing film and photos, cleaning, prepping and working on their equipment, which is state of the art and highly professional. I sure tripped over a real winner meeting them and am so glad they are here on tour.
It was a good turnout for the night and Bobby and Lorna took the front row seats again. Some of the older women got up and danced, and I had a great chat with a couple of the teachers’ aides, who mentioned that they really enjoyed our workshop with the kids. It is really rare to get compliments like that and even rarer to talk much with any of the women, so I felt really privileged. Then after I played, Bobby himself called me over to tell me he liked our music! I think that was the pinnacle of my musical career so far, and I can safely die satisfied now. (But I probably wont just yet). I have asked him if the Kiwirrkurra Band can come on tour with us over to Kunawarritji tomorrow and then on to Punmu, they seem keen to do it. Bobby said they could use Lorna’s old 60 series Land Cruiser, and when I looked at her for confirmation she nodded then told me her feet where cold, so I fetched a rug for her old, bare, dusty desert feet and covered them for her. Then she gave me a cup of water from her bottle and offered me some of her chewing tobacco from her mouth, which I politely declined. I sat with her in silence watching the concert and the people dance their crazy desert style dance for the rest of the night. Our PA system calling out to the vast emptiness, literally a cry in the night, while the chirping crickets and the rolling Spinifex crowded in around the edges of our sound, but even the loudest of noises out here is futile, can’t effect the supreme silence that eventually owns us all and even the heavy beats of the Desert Feet Tour are infantile under her domain. A feeling of lightness came over me and I could sense that all around me was connected and somewhere in the desert I came home at last.
Saturday 2nd July – Day 7
I set the alarm on my phone for 6am and when it went off I felt like I had not slept for one second. I didn’t wake the others but the noise of putting on the coffee and the porridge got a few of them up. After 3 attempts to wake Tony didn’t work I took him out coffee and set it under his nose. Then I started the truck to warm her up. We had packed everything except our personal gear so all we had to do was roll up our swags and load the car but as I was checking the oil it struck me as odd that it was not getting light yet. Back in the kitchen we sat foggy eyed around our cups of hot coffee, packed and ready to go, when someone noticed the clock on the oven said 4:30am. It was then that I realised my phone clock was wrong. “What are doing up a 4:30am Damien?” Tony asked with annoyance. “Ops” I had got up an hour an half earlier than I meant to, still a bit confused by NT time, no wonder I felt so tired. The guys where good enough to laugh at the outrageousness of it all and we decided we might as well take advantage of an early start, so we fell into the vehicles and set off into the red roads ahead.
Just out of Kiwirrkurra, we passed thought the famous sand dunes of the Gibson Desert and the road wound and snaked through the path of least resistance, which caused our pace to be reduced considerably. I picked up some pretty bad vibrations in the steering and the pump is starting to whine now too, which doesn’t surprise me too much, but is a bit of a worry. It was a worthwhile trip to Kunawarritji, and the landscape was really phenomenal. However, it was another 6 hour push into the desert and it was midday before we arrived at the tiny and remote Kunawarritji.
Lynn is the teacher at the RAWA School, a lovely and obliging English lady. She has been here 4 months and found the job in a newspaper while in Sydney. The job needed a qualified teacher with a partner or spouse that could do handyman work and would be willing to live in a remote area. Lynn’s little posting was a dream job for the like minded. She had her own school; all of 7 kids and a nice little house. She is basically the head mistress, teacher and community liaison officer all in one. Her husband is the grounds man, the maintenance man and mechanic. She said she just couldn’t believe they had to advertise for a job like this, she thought people would kill for such a great job and they are the happiest they have ever been. Their hospitality was second to none, they put on a huge BBQ for the concert and made cups of tea and organised all our accommodation. Kunawarritji is only a small community, but a small business has sprung up there to cater for the gray nomads crossing the Canning Stock Route or passing through the centre on the Tanami Track. Graham the owner of the little store and some hotel rooms there has a made a living from fixing cars that break down out here. The night that we stayed, there were two other campers that had their cars in, waiting for parts to arrive. He told me they get a semi through once every 3 months (if the road is open), which costs $9000, and that’s before they put anything on it! He does a road trip in his Ute to Pupunya store once every fortnight for fresh vegetables. Other than that, they are at the backwater of the world. Needless to say they don’t get too much live music let alone a touring convoy of bands!
We did a workshop at the school for the 7 kids in the afternoon, which Simon handled with ease. We ran it on the lawn in front the stage before the concert. We had a quaint mix of local residents from the community, an assortment of grey nomads and the shop owners, who watched and encouraged the kids from the side. The kids got right into it and sang loudly for their proud parents and the onlookers. We played a concert in one of the most remote locations on earth to an accidental but grateful audience. Just after dark, the Kiwirrkurra boys showed up as promised in Lorna’s 60 Series, with their keyboard, ready to rock. They took the stage after Em and I had played and I had the most charming night talking with some of the travellers. I met people from all over Australia. Kylie was on her university break and had decided to join her mum and dad for a week on the road, only to break down in the middle of nowhere. She couldn’t believe it when a graffiti painted truck rolled in and set up a stage for a concert. She was so happy to have a bit of peer company, that she joined us in the workshops too. Turns out she plays the piano and reads music. The highlight of the night was getting the kids up to perform their song with the Kiwirrkurra Band, which Ewan recorded. It was hilarious, the kids loved it and it was an experience they will never forget, nor any of us for that matter.
To top it off, Emily checked the account on the schools internet connection and at long last the money is in! Not that we will be able to even access it now till Port Hedland, the next nearest bank is only about 1100km from here. However we can set up the transfers for the wages to my poor (laterally) performers. My next problem is the steering box on the truck; it is beginning to whine badly and looks like I have blown a seal. It is spraying oil down the side of truck onto the trailer.
Sunday 3rd July – Day 8
We had a bit of a sleep in today which the crew needed pretty badly. I have pushed pretty hard to meet the schedule so far and the guys are a great team, but i don’t want to take it for granted. Spirits remain high so far. And the success of this tour is not a destination. I have no idea what it even look like really but success is just in each moment and completion of our task ahead depends on those little victories. Victorious moments are the bricks of triumph. The Desert Feet House is a building with out any real blueprints. That’s how I feel most of the time out here; there is no instruction manual for how to run music workshops and concert in remote communities. I’m just making it up as we go along. Keeping a stiff upper lip in front of the team. Making light-hearted jokes when things seem serious. Getting the porridge made for 13 people in the morning, getting the crew ready to roll, making coffee. And every second the truck keeps moving, every time that I hear laughter, every time someone smiles, every time we finish a concert, or we do a workshop, or we set up and it everything works, or we put it all away again and we do it faster than the last time, or I play a song and someone claps! These are the victories of the Desert Feet Tour and that is my measure of its success.
Soon we’re in convoy again, the truck and trailer, the Patrol and the Kiwirrkurra boys in Lorna’s Land Cruiser. Punmu is our last central Desert location and the end of the first leg of the Tour. We will meet up with the Ryder Loxton from the Lakeside Band and the footy team that we came to know so well in Parnngurr. I am very keen to see if Bobby will let the Kiwirrkurra boys come right through with us to Yadiyarra, Waralong and the big final concert in Port Hedland. But it raises a few issues that I can’t get my head around yet. Like, how do I feed another 5 guys for another week plus fuel and accommodation? I have decided to give Newcrest, BHP and the Martu Trust a call from Punmu and see if I can get some support for the idea before I ask the guys if they want to come. I know they will, because what musician on earth would say no to going on tour, let alone playing at a big concert with a famous headline act like Mary G on the bill. Mary G is big out here because he broadcasts the Mary G show to all these remote communities every Wednesday night. He has been doing it for 21 years! And never misses a show, no matter where he is in the world. If you haven’t heard Mary G, tune into Noongar radio on a Wednesday night. Personally, I think he is the funniest radio host in Australia. Professionally, he is well recognised overseas, as unfortunately seems to be the case with a lot of Indigenous performers. His live concerts are gut wrenchingly funny. Em and I watched him play in Perth at His Majesty’s Theatre, and were in tears, I have not laughed so much since I saw ‘The Party’ with Peter Sellers when I was 10. He could be described as the Indigenous equivalent of Dame Edna Everage, but far funnier. I believe he is comic genius and seriously under-recognised in Australia. This will be the first time I have had the opportunity to play with him and I am really excited about it.
The drive to Punmu was mostly uneventful (which is really good) my steering box is rattling but as long as I keep the fluid up it should hold out ok. We pulled in it was about 2pm. So we bumped into the workers quarters, and fed and watered the crew. Ryder was waiting for us in the street and showed us to our lodgings. Most of the Punmu footy team (and consequently the Lakeside Band) are away at a footy carnival in Roebourne. But Kerwin and Kingie came up to meet us. It was a warm reception and Chantelle laughed at us as everywhere we go people keep talking about that Footy Carnival. John the CEO here was really good to us. The community got right behind the event and put up the meat for the BBQ. Mike the local CDP worker here offered to cover all of Ryder’s travel costs if we would take him on tour with us and get him to Perth and enroled into Abmusic. Kerwin took me over to meet Milton, the Elder for this area. Milton remembered us from last time we came here in 2009 and was really happy to see us. I asked him for permission to be ‘on country’ and thanked him for inviting us out here. There was Sorry Business on the football oval and he asked me to make sure my guys stayed away from the grieving. He pointed with a crooked and calloused old finger towards the ridges to the west. “Law is being practiced out there” he swept the horizon with an arm of authority and an invisible fence rose up to meet the arch of his gesturing hand. It’s power absolute. “Don’t go West”, he said, “Punmu welcomes you and other than that you are welcome to go anywhere on country.” That included any of the sacred water holes and the famous Punmu Hill. Punmu hill is the dreamtime home of the Eagle. Women that go there receive the child spirit and so it has become know as a place of fertility. I have heard stories of people going up there if they are having trouble falling pregnant.
There were about 50 people at the concert that night and maybe another 20 kids. That would be about the entire population most of Punmu most of the time. It was enough for a really fun night. There were several workers that came along too, the schoolteachers, the HACC workers and the CDP people. The Kiwirrkurra Band learnt Ryder’s song ‘Lonely Boy’ so that he could play it live for the community and that went down well. Emily and I did a duet set that seemed well received and Simon mesmerised us all in his usual manner. If you happened to be passing by while Simon Phillips is playing your destination is forgotten. He is the most invoking performer I have seen. His songs are full of intriguing melody, intricate arrangements and colourful stories.
As always the Kiwirrkurra boys played till late; they never get tired of performing, they absolutely love it. Ewan has become really close with the Kiwirrkurra boys and seems to have an inexhaustible enthusiasm for recording and working on their music. It is like a dream come true for the guys, he has recorded and mixed over 15 hours of live music for them and every spare second he gets he is locked in a room with them or bent over that big orange road case pressing his magic dials and mixing his musical potions of engineered ear food. I think he is the only person I have met that has more energy than me, and he is definitely drawing on a different source than others. His belief in the Desert Feet Tour and our project, his unquenchable thirst for culture and country and his obvious love of the people out here inspires me. He is really marching to the beat of an unheard drum.
When we came home Tony had a huge pot of stew ready for dinner. We all packed into the lounge and kitchen a cultural smorgasbord; full blood desert mob, a bunch of whities from all ends of the earth and a Canadian Indian. 17 of us in all now. The boys chattered in language and shared jokes in broken English, while we bantered and kidded, trying to translate our humour into simple English for the boys. Sometimes they seemed to get it, or perhaps they found some other funniness in the situation. Regardless one thing was sure, there were two very different worlds sharing one common emotion, happiness and the laughter it ensued. Whatever was translated, or lost in translation, was overcome with our one common language, music. So after dinner the guitars passed between hands along with hot cups of coffee and tea, Simon’s Hawaiian ukulele twanged out desert reggae riffs while the strings of my Cole Clark sang harmonies to the high pitched wail of Jins Pintubi language songs, and we all took turns singing while another improvised to it. Meanwhile, Ewan stared out of blank, red, exhausted eyes, delirious with happiness, too tired even fetch his swag, so I made his bed for up for him and I watched him crawl in nearly unconscious after 6 hours straight of standing at that mixing desk. The last thing he said before he fell instantly asleep was “Thank you Damien.” Ewan has not been paid yet, has used his own visa card to help pay our shortfall and has not had a moment to himself since we left. Everywhere we go he is constantly asked for more of “those Kiwirrkurra CD’s” and his computer has been cooking up playlists from previous recordings non-stop. Never before has anyone thanked me for working them to exhaustion.
Monday 4th July – Day 9
A good sleep in was needed and with nothing on the agenda except some recording worshops and a trip out country at some stage of the day, the crew roused slowly. I made the porridge and coffee but left it to simmer on the stove and just let them wake up as they needed to. I sat out the back writing the blog for some time until Kerwin showed up in an old Land Cruiser, he wanted to take us on a guided tour so we piled in to the two cars. I was wondering how this trip would turn out, as his car had no windscreen, amongst other things, but Kerwin didn’t seem to be concerned, so I thought it best just to trust. However as we went to leave a very suspicious sound emerged from the gearbox and although the motor continued to run, the car would move no further. So far, we had gotten to the front driveway and that was a good start I suppose. The issues caused a small commotion and some other locals had a lengthy discussion that I could not understand. But the outcome resulted in several men pushing the car back to its original and probably final resting spot at the front of the house next door. Our options being considerably reduced, we piled into the Patrol, all 9 of us. It was a little squashy, which was further exacerbated by the discovery about a mile out of camp that Bella was running behind the car. So we let her in too. A fine site we must have made; a carload of whities, packed to bursting, hanging out the windows with their dogs and swags, driving around a Remote Aboriginal Community. You’ve go to wonder about irony some times.
Kerwin was a good tour guide and it was really interesting to hear about law and dreamtime from the younger guys this time. Kerwin and Ryder both talked a lot about law and their initiation. Soon they would both partake in what they called the ‘hard law’. They spoke of it with pride but also with hesitation. Hard law involves excommunication from the community for a period of time. They would have to survive in the desert for 6 months on their own with no help from the camp, “With no shoes” added Ryder proudly. Kerwin took us to the sacred brine pools. He explained that these little rock holes (about 4 in all) held water all year, “They are magical”, he explained, “because they can heal.” The site has been used for healing for as long as can be remembered. Often those with wounds would soak in the briny solution and this would always aid the healing. A mixture of the ash from a small trees that borders the lake is often used to form a paste with the brine. The concoction is known to have powerful healing powers and is used for ceremony and medicine.
The guys showed us several of the 15 water holes of the area. They are remarkable in the sense that each one was an oasis in itself in a sea of endless desert and white, crusted salt lakes. They all emerge from the earth’s ground water but are practically invisible until you are right upon them. In some cases, they are so small they could only afford access to a single mouth, but one was like a miniature haven with a grassy verge and trees. All it needed was a date palm and it could have been a scene from a movie. The lake here is the site of a huge battle between a goanna and a snake. The dreaming beings died locked in battle, and so the shape of this massive rock formation is explained, in the centre of Punmu’s salt lake. This salt lake looks like a snowfield, only it is literally its polar opposite. It is pure white and caked with a hard crust of salt, which once broken exposes a deep red mud, it’s beautiful in a barren and foreboding sort of way. But it’s amazing to think that this salty land of brine is home to life-giving fresh water if you know where to look.
The highlight for me was the discussion on kinship. I remember a lecture once about how anthropologists were very impressed with Australian Aboriginal matrimony systems. What they call kinship lines, is a system of marriage that keep the skin groups clean and prevented interbreeding for thousands of years. The lines move in a basic box shape arrangement but are highly complex on the larger scale. The fundamentals of it are that one skin can move laterally along this pattern but not horizontally and visa versa for the opposing skin group. Kerwin explained that the skin groups for this area are Karimauda – Jungula and Burungu – Milanka. So in this case Karimauda can marry Jungula but not any other way across the grid, however what is really interesting is that the Burungu skin group is then a maternal relationship, (all Burugu are parents to any Karimanuda child and vis vera), and the Karimulda – Milanka relationship is then an uncle/ aunty paternal relationship, regardless of the directness of the blood. In this manner a boy has many fathers from which he can learn the law and must be respectful of and many mothers which can tell him what to do (the women bring up the children) and of which he can not disobey. An uncle or an aunty is always obliged to provide shelter and food and so a child is always cared for. (It is common to hear a boy here call several women Mum.) It is an ancient and intricate system of balance that has held a people in complete and absolute perfect harmony with their surrounds and environment for 45,000 years. When anthropologists discovered the Balinese irrigation systems they marvelled at the complexity of the engineering, it was considered a feat of mathematical genius, and one of the wonders of the world. The same can be said for our indigenous inheritance. From an anthropological point of view, our indigenous peoples kinship laws are among the wonders of the ancient world too. It is something we can be proud to know about and it still lives very strongly out here. Considering that there were as many as 500 skin groups you can imagine how complex this system must have been. Each skin group held its own language and each corresponding skin group had to know the language of at least the other four that surrounded it. Some early counts of indigenous people accredited aboriginal men with speaking up to 7 different languages.
Kerwin is also super football player. He has played two seasons with the colts and is seriously being looked at for league selection. I watched him play at the Western Derby earlier this season at the Subiaco grounds. But he is also next in line for the Law. He is torn between two worlds. The call of professional football career and his place as the next Elder for Punmu. His English is exceptionally good and he is the perfect gentleman. When he speaks his eyes are always cast downwards but his manner is never submissive, just respectful. He has a wiry little frame but takes a wide stance with his hands crossed behind his back, he looks like the quintessential footballer but he is a true Martu man, from a long line of desert People, his ancestry is old and strong. As he speaks, Ryder listens intently. Ryder was in the same position as Kerwin about 3 years ago, but a tragic car accident stole his fine motor skills. Kerwin spoke briefly of this incident. It was a family member that was driving drunk while Ryder was in the back. The uncle was punished by law for causing the accident. They both called it ‘pay back’ as if it was the obvious, but neither of them could be drawn into the discussion on how it is executed, no matter how hard we pressed for an answer. The subject was taboo and both the boys looked blankly out across the lake. The conversation was finished. As was the incident, done and forgotten, resolved without regret, blame or resentment. That’s just how it is. That’s the law. The incident, the punishment, then its finished with and life goes on.
Tuesday 5th July – Day 10
I’m at a Telstra phone box. The housing has graffiti across the front which says “Punmu Boys Rule”, an old, greasy, dirt encrusted cage shelter offers some shade but only at a 45 degree angle. The sun steals my energy like an oxygen thief. I look down at my feet, my RM Williams are caked with red mud and the toes are frayed through to the leather underneath the shoe polish, the ground is the desert red sand that reaches out past my eyes perimeter, it’s the phone box at the end of the world. The wind has swept the dusty sand into silty ridges around the empty wrappers of phone cards that lay discarded in multitudes. Behind me lies Lake Dora. Flooded now with her disappointing brine, useless to all but the traitor of many a thirsty eye. Like a glistening illusion on the horizon it has fooled many an explorer, like the aptly named Lake Disappointment further to the south, only a smaller version. Its white crust is a glaring reflector like a desert solar panel. The hand piece of the phone is greasy and when I place it back in the rack my fingers stick together like spilt coke. The words of my last conversation hang heavy in my mind. I have a decision to make now. I cannot find any further funding at such short notice to take the Kiwirrkurra Band on the rest of the Tour. If I do it, it’s at our own expense. Newcrest have offered to pay some fuel costs, but have indicated that there is too little planning and the risks are too high for anything more. In fact, I have been advised against it. “If something happens to the boys while they are on tour with you, Damien, you will be held responsible, and the community will see it that way too. If you take the guys to town and they hit the grog and get in trouble, you’ll be responsible.” Newcrest also mentioned that I’ll be expected to get them home too, a cost I had not factored into any budget, and a time issue that I could not see a solution to either. All of a sudden, the enormity of the cultural gap yawned before me. The void of difference between our worlds was a chasm of fear at my feet. Am I an over zealous do-gooder that would cause harm with his good intention? Am I just jeopardising the wellbeing of others for my own ambitious desire? Have I bitten off more than I can chew, has my audacious luck finally dried up? Self-doubt crushed me as I fell back onto the old tractor tyre that served as the Telstra bench at the phone booth at the end of the world. My pride poo-pooed the naysayers, but my fear crippled me. I could drive out of this community with or without the boys.
This is the Desert Feet Tour; our job is to expose indigenous talent, to create employment and performance opportunities for remote and isolated musicians. If I walked away from this chance, then have I failed to walk my own talk? If I take the chance and fail, will I lose all credibility with my sponsors for good? Would it ruin the Desert Feet Tour full stop? Was it better to just stick to the plan? I needed council.
Tony heard me out in full; the sun beat on my black hat while he listened with squinted eyes. Then he was silent for a while. He looked at me and said “Damien, if you do not take this opportunity because you are worried about money you will never forgive yourself. Just follow your heart, the rest will manifest.”
Six hours later when we pulled into Marble Bar, the boys were there, waiting for us at the roadhouse, their beat up 60 Series looking worse for wear. “God, I hope that thing keeps going” I thought to myself. All smiles and waving furiously the guys greeted us excitedly. The tour had begun in earnest. They followed us down to Chinaman’s Pool and we pulled out the guitars, threw two huge roasts into a camp oven and filled the billy with coffee. The rainbow serpent lives here and if the wind changes the snake would smell them and take them while they slept. So they refused to stay, but they agreed to rest a while. (the roast had some influence in the decisions) Ryder had an uncle here and two of the boys disappeared for a while to seek accommodation. I unpacked the guitars from the cases and song burst out like fire. Soon the flames danced in time to our joviality and as I searched the fire lit faces, framed against the blackness of the night, I realised we had stumbled into a situation of great significance, we were not just on tour with a bunch of able musicians, we were the participants to the birth of something else. A friendship built on a common interest; music and discovery; culture and respect. I asked myself where this little impromptu journey would lead. What would this spontaneous association and quirk of fate result in for each of us around this fire? Where would we all be, five years from now, this group of eclectics that providence has cast together? Each of my crew here on the Desert Feet Tour has a different reason to be here, some of us are seeking adventure, some a lucky break, for some it is just about healing, for me its reconciliation. But for the Kiwirrkurra boys it’s about music. After all is done and said, when the curtain comes down and the ashes of this fire grow cold and blow away, it is only the friendships we have built that will remain, that are of any value. To form long-lasting and meaningful relationships; is that not what life is for? It is a path that can be veiled, obstructed and hindered but never broken, like a bridge that passes over our limited and finite humanness, a bridge across worlds. The bridge of love. The Kiwirrkurra boys are in need of nothing, their bond is filial and therefore they have all that life can give in each other, this is the law and the land made it this way. We look like the bearers of the gifts, the bringers of technology, industry and might, of information and law. But the real gift is here already, waiting for thousands of years. It can’t be learnt by a western mind, it can only be unlearnt.
Ultimately, I do not presume to understand what is happening here, I have some ideas but I don’t trust them. I feel the guys see the skill and ability of the Desert Feet Musicians as an opportunity to expand their knowledge, the idea of playing concerts defiantly excites them too, but their skill set is stand alone; something to be admired. They play by ear, have no theory, nor could they tell you what they are playing, they simply strike up a feel, search for the key and then all join in, that is how they do it around the camp fire, exactly as they do it live in front of an audience on the stage. Fearless musical energy from the heart, without self consciousness or ego, like leafs falling to the earth, their music is an autumn song. A note to fit here, a word there, a rhythm that just comes from within. I almost fear to teach them anything lest we destroy the beauty that exists.
I search the sky for answers. The fire burns bright. Big white smiles in the dark night, wild frizzy hair and thickly accented words of economy. Offset by pink faces reflecting the flames, the chatter of western extroversion and comical pursuit. Our intellect hides our ignorance, we assume we know…… but it’s what we don’t know that is the problem. These guys don’t talk much, but when they do it has meaning, we talk all the time and say nothing most of the time. We feel obliged to respond. These guys feel no need to respond and often don’t even need to be facing the person they are talking to. There is great economy in this. They never waste energy, there is great strength in the way they treat each other. They are my heroes.
Musically, this could be the birth of a new and popular band. This could be the beginning of a career for these guys. But even the advantage of that, I have to question, would that even be of benefit and if so, or if not, who am I to judge? But something has begun out here, in the desert. Truth be known, I don’t know what, but time will tell.
When the roast was retrieved from the hot coals and the cast iron oven was opened, a feast fit for Kings was dished out on paper plates, a shortage of cups filled jam jars and plastic containers with tea from the black charred billy and in the flickering light, the 13 of us shared the hungry complement of silent mastication while the cows called out somewhere beyond the shadows and the cold night closed in on our circle of warmth.
As the boys walked off into the darkness I wondered if I would see them tomorrow. Travelling on tour together though remote dry communities was worlds apart from hanging out in town. Then as an afterthought I yelled out, “hey guys we roll out at 9 so be here early” I heard a vague acknowledgement from the darkness drowned out by the wind and then the old Landcrusier croaked into life and limped up the track, its headlights the only measure of a world beyond our camp fire, till they took the bend and turned out of view, swallowed by the desert from which they came.
Wednesday 6th July – Day 11
The Kiwirrkurra boys pulled back into camp before we had even gotten up. They are keen that’s for sure, my concerns were all proven hollow. I woke up to find them happy and joking around the fire while Tony boiled coffee. The massive pot of porridge went on the hot coals and we woke slowly from a smoky slumber as the fire rekindled our warmth. If I’ve done nothing else in my life I think I can take credit for introducing a healthy breakfast to everyone that comes on tour. Slow cooked oats in the morning is the best way to start the day and everyone seems to love it. Chantelle tells me she is converted now for life, and both Sean and her have become fans of using honey instead of sugar too, which is what I like to do, on my porridge in my tea and in my coffee.
This weather is hurting us a bit, my lips are chapped and the cold has exacerbated the flu that a few of the guys have picked up. There are a few rattly chests and all of us have sniffily noses now. Still it was nice to camp out last night and have a night off from setting up the truck or having to perform. The excitement of the Kiwirrkurra boys and their obvious enjoyment of being on tour is all the payment I need now and ever so slowly as they let their inhibitions fall away, we get to know them a little more each day.
We headed for Port Hedland in a relaxed manner. I’m in no particular rush to get there because I still have a fear (seeded by the conversation with Newcrest earlier) that I might lose the boys to the big smoke, the pull of the city lights and the availability of grog, is playing on my mind a bit. I feel a huge inner conflict over these feeling as I am aware they are adults with their own car and can do what they want, and as Tony has pointed out to me, there is no changing what the outcome is going to be, there is just a willingness to see it through. “You’ve given them a great opportunity Damien, and they realise it.” But I can’t help feeling like it is ‘them’ giving ‘me’ the opportunity. I feel grateful to be on tour with these countrymen, to be around their unassuming and reserved disposition, their inhibited glances and calm stillness. I feel privileged to hear their quiet discussions in their ancient language and I can’t help but wonder what is lost in translation between us. I would like for the Kiwirrkurra Band to know that I am in awe of their ancestry, their heritage, their ability to speak their own language and their lack of material desire. I love how they stick together and the strength of the family bond that ties them to each other. Their lack of worldly concern and their intrigue with the natural world around them and the way they relate to it and talk about. I hate how our world has affected them, how the grog has been a scourge and capitalisation has forced them out of a once forgotten land, a once utterly isolated world. I did not do that and I cannot change it but I can refuse to be a part of it.
I have no idea why I told the guys to get here early. I realised when they pulled up at 7 am that I had jumped the gun. I figured if I said 830 they would come at 930 but I misjudged them and once again and I see how fear is enemy of the peace. I want the tour to be a success and I have a vision of them standing up there on the stage in Port Hedland in front of hundreds of people getting their shot in the limelight. However, those are my desires and might not be the best outcomes. I still struggle with just being accepting, after all, the good is sometimes the enemy of the best.
In Port Hedland we met up with Ben Lanzon (drummer) Rob Findlay (guitars) Candice and Brian (Indigenous performers) at the shopping centre. They had arrived literally 20 minutes earlier by plan and so all of us had lunch at a cafe there, my full contingent now at 17! It cost me $150 just for coffee and the question of the budget was still a huge concern. Em and I need to sit down and balance the books, add up our receipts and make a few projections. But the first thing to do was pay everyone! The accommodation in Port Hedland was luxurious (thanks to BHP). A huge double story set of rooms with shared ablutions blocks right on the waterfront overlooking the ships at sea. There was much for Em and I to do; pick up the keys for the venue on Saturday, load the music equipment on to the truck for the next three communities, go to the bank, organise the shopping for the next three days, fuel up the three vehicles, refill the jerry cans and pay a truckload of bills off. That was a big weight of my mind and it felt good to finally refund Ewan and Tony. I was personally in debt for nearly $10,000 by the time we reached Port Hedland.
It was great to see Ben and Rob again and I’m looking forward to being able to play as band for the next three concerts. These guys will have their work cut out for them as they both have to play for me and Candice. Also on Saturday night, they will have to play with Mary G too. That will be 3 hours of gigging, which is a lot of work if you add set-up and pull-down on top of it.
We got back to the rooms by nightfall, and Tony had a huge feed of curry chicken and rice made up. Rob, Ben and Ewan have set up the band equipment in the kitchen and had been practicing, the Kiwirrkurra boys where still hard at it when we walked in. Tristan had his electric key board on the ironing stand and Ewan had a clip board and was making notes on their set list, making them play the intro over and over again till they had it tight. The place looked like a recording studio.
After dinner, Ryder asked me if he could go into South Hedland. (Exactly what Newcrest had predicted would occur), and fear jumped into my heart. I told him we were leaving early in the morning and it was best if he stuck with the crew but then he asked me if Tony could take him in. I had another predicament now. Ultimately, I would be looked at for the final decision, and thus the responsibility is mine too. However, I can’t stop Brian going out and I wouldn’t stop Tony, so to say ‘no’ seemed patronising. Self-doubt was a stone in my throat. I could not swallow. Ryder is 21 he is a grown man. Fear overcame me again and making the wrong decision felt like a double-jointed hinge in the outcome of the tour, which way will this swing? What is right? How can one know! Disastrous results flashed like a neon sign, the boys would get sucked into the night life and I would lose them, my schedule was so tight I had no time to be driving around looking for anyone. The fact I even had to think like this annoyed me, I felt foolish and condescending. The Kiwirrkurra boys were sitting on the steps smoking. “Can we go into town Damien, walk around” they asked. Then Tony walked up, hands in his pocket, calm and thoughtful. Tony; my friend Tony! Tony has a demure that says I am incapable of lying, but you might not like what you hear. “I’ll go into town with the boys Damo.” He said. The dice was rolled.
I slept in the back of the truck as all the rooms were full, but I had been too tired to take a moment to cover the plastic seat with a blanket and I woke in a cold sweat. Sticking to the bench. Milton was standing at the end of my bed. He had a spear held high and was about to launch it into my thigh, Ryder was in the room but it was his ghost. The ghost was covered in blood and broken glass from a shattered windscreen, he was saying, “See Damien you let us down, now you get payback” I had failed, and Newcrest was there, shaking their heads at me. The tour was over and my luck had finally come to an end. I jumped out of bed. It was 130am. I walked down the corridor to Tony’s room and shone the light in. He turned over and squinted into my torch. “You’re back?” I asked, sounding surprised. He got up and fetched me a cup of water, watched me drink it then forced me to drink two more in a row. “Have you slept?” he asked. “Not much.” I answered, “I mean this whole trip?” He asked again. “Not much.” I answered again. “Damien, the boys are fine! They just wanted to tell their friends they are playing on Saturday. We did a big poster run and we were all home by midnight. It was fun.”
Thursday 7th July – Day 12 – Yandeyarra concert
I got a call from Bobby West first thing this morning and he is driving into town from Kiwirrkurra to be with the boys! I am so excited that i want to yell. Once again my fears where pointless. With Bobby here i know the boys will get home safe and most importantly it means i am no longer their ward. He is keen to see his son play at Port Hedland alongside Mary G like a proud Dad and i am really looking forward to seeing him again tonight. He has said he will be in Yandeyarra by the time the concert starts. So with a rising sprit i can begin the final run now and it’s going to be a hard push. We have a workshop and a concert to perform each day, plus travel. Three communities , three days. It means full set up and pull down every day, plus Yandeyarra is two hours south, and Warralong is three hours north of Port Hedland. There are 17 of us now, in 2 four wheel drives and a truck. To get to Yandeyarra by midday and be ready for the school assembly at 1pm we needed to be on the road by 9 and I had the crew up and the porridge and coffee ready by 7am. With Ben and Rob now here we even had a little Yoga session in the dining area at 5:30am. Rob led it, and it was very energising.
I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m pretty stuffed now. I’m a bit run down and as a consequence I’ve got a bit of a sore throat, not want you want when you need to sing. Candice and Brian both have bad sounding chest coughs they have brought up from Perth, and Emily has picked up a pretty bad flu from the kids. Both Sean and Chantelle are sick but are still soldiering on. Tony has a bad cut on his foot that won’t heal. Looks like blood poisoning again. All in all, we have done well. We are on the home stretch now, it should be downhill from here and with the fresh reinforcements arrived, we will be ok, but the next 3 days will be hard work no matter how you look at it.
Yandeyarra is not far off the Newman road and so is mostly sealed bitumen. It’s absolutely luxurious after what we’ve come from. The last 50 km was into the Pilbara cattle country and back onto the dusty gravel. We crossed the Yule River and pulled into what is quite a big community, Yandeyarra.
We were well received by the school principle Grahame who had nice quarters for us to bump into straight away. I left Candice to make the lunch sandwiches and the rest of us went over for setup.
It was great to have my full team back again. I had forgotten how much I missed Bryte, and his new Hip Hop workshop was so cool. He got the kids to write a rap song then recorded it. He had prearranged a funky beat and some hooks for the kids to call out then he dubbed them into the song and mixed them up like a master DJ. The result was a catchy song that was as good as any. He is such a pro that guy!
Simon is the man now at the song writing workshops. He is such a seasoned performer and can improvise on the spot. I would even go as far as to call him a virtuoso at his instrument. In some communities the kids like Country music and in others Reggae, but Simon can find a chord progression and change the feel on the spot to anything you can think of. Rock, folk, reggae, you name it. For the kids to see that the same chords played with a different feel changes the type of song is impressive stuff. Because he is so proficient with the guitar, he can fearlessly write the song on the spot, words, feel and chords; then sing it play it and remember it!?. All I have to do now is sing along and help the kids with ideas, this is a big help for me. Before I finish blowing Simon’s horn I just want to add one other thing. A song is only as good as its hook line or melody. Simon never failed in all the workshops to pull a hook line out of the air that had the kids screaming at the song at the top of their lungs. After the workshop the kids where still singing that song. So at the concert we got them up again with the Kiwirrkurra band to sing it live on stage. The recording from this song is the one that we will use in the reports. It should be available from the website very soon. www.vow.org.au
Unfortunately, the community did not have a local band, but with Candice and Bryte both here now, there are five acts, that it’s just about enough for a festival, let alone a small concert. We got a very nice response to our work here and the principal was so happy with us I found a glowing report Cc’d to BHP and several other agencies in my inbox the following morning! I was pretty blown away by that.
Friday 8th July – Day 13
It was a big day for us today as I write this entry i found myself nodding off. The torchlight over my shoulder in the back of the truck lights my mobile desk. Twice I woke with 20 lines if dddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd as I fell asleep on the keyboard. But once I drooled onto the keypad i called it quits. The day has been a success by all accounts but by no means a normal one. And although my worst fear was realised. Its outcome was nothing like I expected. In fact, I would even say it has been positive.
It started at 5am. I woke the crew early as it was a five hour drive to the next community from here. We had to pass back through Port Hedland. As we rolled out, Bobby stopped the. He told us they would meet us in Warralong and so we left with out them.
At Warralong we set up on the open basketball court as we had done last time we were here and once again not having anywhere to stay caused issues for us. We had nowhere to rest in-between the workshops and the concert and Tony had to make lunch at the back of the truck, which was not ideal as it meant all 50 of the kids running around wanted to eat too. In the end, after much pleading, the Principal offered us one of the school rooms to make a cup of tea. When asked if we needed help with the BBQ that night we meet with some strange resistance and then it seemed there was an issue over who was supplying the food, utensils and so on. By the time we had started to play we were all pretty stuffed and then Bobby showed up in his Troopy with Eric, Morris and Adam but the 60 Series and the other boys were nowhere to be seen. Bobby had no idea where they were either and thought they were here already.
It was just as we finished our set that the 60 Series rolled into the community with a few hitch hikers aboard that I did not recognise. One of to the boys was asleep in the back, out cold; and the others where pickled like an owl. The elder for the community, Clarry, was not impressed, this was a dry community and there were kids here for the workshops. He told me categorically that they would not be allowed to play. Eric, the lead guitarist, is the senior man in the group and he said something to the whole band; then there was a silence until Adam asked me if they could still play, but then Bobby began to speak and all fell silent again, I don’t know what he said but he sounded angry. He turned to me and said “Drink grog, no play. No grog tomorrow, then play.” That was the final word, and nothing more was said about it. Since I have know Eric I have never seen a single emotion pass his face, he rarely smiles or joins in any conversations, he has an impressive countenance, immobile and expressionless, his little wiry goatee like a traditional sign post pointing to a heart of red sand. He never makes eye contact with me but tonight, I am sure I saw a look of disappointment, maybe it was me, or maybe I just imagined it. In two weeks we have shared not more than three words, but I feel like I would trust him with my life. He is the most powerfully charismatic person I have ever ‘not’ spoken with.
Saturday 9th July – Day 14
We had more workshops to do in the morning and so I woke the crew up early again. We had driven back to Port Hedland last night so it was a pretty late night by the tine we packed up got in. Emily and I had forgotten to include today’s workshops in the itinerary so I think the crew had all thought they would get a good sleep in and a bit of rest before the big show. Rob was anxious to rehearse with Mary G and Ewan was very distracted about getting the set up under way as early as possible so he could iron out any hitches and do sound checks for all six of the performers. However, today’s workshops are the most important of all as the BHP sponsors will there. It is a basketball carnival at the youth centre in South Hedland, but we are expected to run some of the workshops there for kids as an adjunct, over in the hall.
With everybody’s combined effort we had the whole show set up, completed and packed away by 11:30am. So I took everyone down to the Hotel restaurant for lunch before the big final set-up. It was the first time we have eaten a nice sit down meal together the whole trip, and it was a real panacea to ease the stress that has built up over days of not stopping. I ate a huge T-bone and so did Emily, and so Bella got two huge bones to chew on in the back of the truck. The whole lot came to $450.00! That’s an expensive treat and I was glad we didn’t have to do that too often, but it was well worth it, these guys have been just super and I could not have done it without their enthusiasm and the extra work that they have all have contributed. With a belly full of good tucker, we all felt better.
This year we outsourced the publicity and promotion of our major concert to another company. Amber from White Room is a force to be reckoned with. A small petite, blond haired, blue eyed bombshell, she has had to excel above the norm to overcome the stereotype of the beauty that might misrepresent her. A lawyer by trade, she drove the Haulpacks for BHP for years before setting up her own business. A business that has accommodated some world class acts. The association came about by chance. We saw the promotional work they had done for a previous concert as we left Newman last Tour and we were impressed by the work. The relationship is a blessing and the effort tripled our attendance.
The Kiwirrkurra boys did their bit to promote the concert too and had a massive following arrive before sundown. Consequently, the audience was a cultural fusion and from that point on I was happy. Only one moment during the night did i worry when some people arrived with a few cartons of beer to drink in the park, and unfortunately I could not get hold of the police. However it turns out that the captain of the Hedland Police was sitting in our audience and so once I pointed out the situation to him, it was resolved instantly. Ideally, it would have been better if it had been prevented rather than stopped, however no further issue resulted and the dancing was orchestrated by Countrymen and Englishmen combined. It was the cherry on the pie for me.
Ewan also had a teary moment or two when his beloved pride and joy, the Kiwirrkurra Band, opened the night with their Desert Reggae. The transformation was complete. They got up in their new outfits. All in white shirts. They played their songs like seasoned professionals, their set list now developed and tweaked under the guiding eye of Ewan with instructions from Simon and Rob. They had turned up this morning and practiced all day! I cannot describe how proud we where to perform with them. And Bobby was at the mixing desk every ten minutes asking Ewan for another CD to hand out to another relative. His pleasure at having his son and the boys up there was obvious, and quite cute. Bryte MC had his DJ spinning and scratching it up, so his set sounded full and dramatic, the sound Ewan pulled from the system was perfect. Candice with her huge soul voice and a band behind her is an act worth paying to see but tonight was free! My band pulled a pretty tight sound too if I do say so myself! In fact, i think I had the most people dance to our songs ever. The headline was Mary G and as always she was hilarious. She made me get up and do a duet which was comical but the real treat was when at the end of the night we asked Mary G to introduce Ryder Loxton onto the stage to play his song ‘Lonely Boy’. The Kiwirrkurra boys got up as his band and the crowd really went wild. In the end these guys had the biggest crowd dancing out of all of the acts and they played the final 3 song of the night with relaxed ease and grace. I think I was more nervous than them. Just two weeks ago these guys got up on stage in Kiwirrkurra and played a mostly broken and disjointed set. Tonight they got up and delivered a professional and ordered set to an adoring audience. Moreover, the real irony of it is the majority of the crowd were here because they were playing and as a result of their promotion at South Hedland that night. They delivered their set with the same stoic and unaffected impressiveness, in front of the masses, as they did around a campfire. Then all the sudden it hit me! I realised why I love these guys so much. They are just so honest! They never try to be anything other than what they are. They are incapable of anything else and they are always just that. Just here. As they always have been. Waiting and watching through the eons, through the ages. Like a mountain. Like a spirit.
Sunday 10th July – Day 15 – Homeward Bound
Ryder sleeps in the seat next to me. His new career as a student at Abmusic to begin in the next few days. Ewan is stretched out in the back cuddling my dog. We are about 600km south of Newman and it is about 11:30pm. The night is dark, cold and a steady drizzle has fallen since we left Port Hedland as if the Pilbara weeps at our departure.
This night fell on us while we passed thought the astounding Legoland mountains of the Munjina Ranges. The sections of the hills looked like they had been pulled apart by a baby God who put them back together in the wrong order. A line of giant ridges stacked incorrectly like an ill fitting macrame set. Sections of the ridges seemed to hang out over the lower part, other sections looked like they were from a different ridge. In places the open cliff faces looked like bricks without mortar, stacked precariously high, as if the whole range might just collapse any second. The landscape here is almost alien. Powerful and vast. A forgotten part of the world on a forgotten road. Red rocks and immeasurable green plains of ranges, caves and valleys. The beauty; mesmerising.
Reflection is my only companion now as I try to understand what happened. What really transpired. And how my life came to look like this, driving a dirty, red mud caked truck down an endless open road. Ambitious and determined for a result that I cannot even visualise. All I know is it is not a material result. The white line of the highway is flashing below me like a story-less movie screen, my headlights show the road and its verge which form a tunnel in the night, the extent of my visual world. The darkness ahead is a void, drawing me in like a black hole. The purring diesel motor and the vibrating steel chariot put me into a trance, and then I had a moment of clarity. It’s not what I thought it was going to be. The Desert Feet Tour. Its has turned a corner and from this day, it will never look the same again. The real outcome was so near I had missed seeing it. It was not the music or the recording, or the concerts, or the workshops, or the lessons or the experience. Most importantly, it was the friendships.
It was then I realised I had started something that I could never walk away from now. I had started friendships that are mine for life, if I choose to grow them.
I guess I have fallen in love with this land and with the salt of the earth, its people. I have fallen because that is my purpose. The purpose of my life. I used to believe life was for living, to live life to the max! But now I doubt that. Living is the state that occurs, like a present. Life is for loving. Love is our choice; to give it or not to give, to know it or not to allow it, to own it or fear it. To be without love is worse than to be without life, for life will end but love never will, and the measure of your life will be the quantity of your gift.