Veni, Vidi, Exi – I came, I saw, I went away…

Time Flies like an Arrow, Fruit Flies’ like a Banana 

Finally the final instalment about my trip to Australia…

TANSTAALF rehearsal in 1973. Greg (Hough) is at the front playing flute…

After a packed musical weekend at The National Folk Festival in Canberra, I decide to drive up the Western side of the Great Divide to visit an old school friend who lives in Orange. Greg was also in the first band I ever put together – TANSTAAFL (i.e. There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch).

The trip takes me up some relatively minor highways so I get a really good look at the country. It takes this kind of road trip to appreciate the austere beauty of the Australian bush and the shear size of the country. The distance is around 280 kilometres – or in old money – 180 miles which for my English friends is like driving from London to Middlesbrough without going through or past any towns larger than Tring in Hertfordshire (pop. 12,000).

Watercolour by J R Heywood

Listening to the radio in the van, the interviewees talk a lot about the recent high levels of rain and how this has given a real boost to the local economy – which is basically based on cows and sheep. Looking out the wind screen I see a straw coloured landscape of grassy plains, dotted with copses of gum trees against a backdrop of distant ranges.  I have a watercolour painted by my dad on my bedroom wall that captures the mood pretty well.

The Boorowa Pub

I stopped at Boorowa for lunch which has a classic country hotel on the main street with deep verandahs that passing shearers would have bedded down on on their way to and from the seasonal shearing sheds. I wandered around the town a little, wondering what it would be like to live in a place like this. A good place to hunker down and go to seed I guess.

The road to Orange

Back on the road I pushed on to Orange and arrived just as the sun was going down. Orange is a regional centre and has pretty much the same population as Dunstable, where I live in England. Greg and his wife Sue both went to the same Highschool as me and they both went in to the civil service after graduating. They relocated to Orange when Greg’s department was moved there and have now taken advantage of the early retirement available to governments employees. It seems strange to me that one of my school mates is now a pensioner and enjoying all the perquisites of this station in life – including being a member of the lawn bowls club. I’m not sure that I’ll ever retire, or want to, but I don’t have any problems with anyone else taking advantage of the fruits of a life of hard work.

The van on Mt Conobolas

From Orange I took the road to Oberon via Mount Canobolas for the view and the good mobile signal so I could catch up on my email.  I was heading to Oberon to meet up with Mary for lunch. Mary (then Tierney) was a member of the first ‘pro’ band I was in – The Bluetongue Bush Band – back in the late 1970’s. She sang and played tin whistle and was (I thought at the time) from Tasmania. It turns out that she was originally from the same area of Sydney that I grew up in and had just spent some time in Tassie before returning to Sydney, the band and a teaching course. It was great to catch up and she returned to me a watch I had lent to her over 30 year ago when she needed a timepiece for an exam she was sitting. The watch was my father’s, presented to the first time he left Ainsworth Consolidated Industries, a company he helped found which later became extremely successful.

Leanne and friend…

From Oberon I crossed the Blue Mountains on my way to the next stop at Pendle Hill in Sydney where I planned to meet up with Leanne Lawerence, who was my neighbour in Kingsgrove when I was growing up. Pendle Hill is a suburb of Sydney that is just west of Parramatta and she runs a specialist firm that deals with VW parts and repairs called Volksbahn Autos. Again it was great to catch up and especially with someone who shared so many memories of our growing up. I was also very grateful of the offer of accommodation during my stay as she had a spare room available while her son was away.

The old team back together one more time…

During my stay in Sydney I managed to meet up with a few old friends including George Kyprios, who was also an original member of both TANSTAAFL and it’s successor – MSG – playing keys in both. In fact I met up with George a couple of times, once at his place overlooking the George’s River and once in town at a great little bistro overlooking Circular Quay.

In George’s garage, Kingsgrove

George took a different path from me in lots of ways and it was cool to compare notes. Mind you, I think that we may have got pretty much to the same place despite our different routes.

I also took the opportunity to wander around the Circular Quay area of Sydney, checking out some old haunts and just generally chilling out. It’s amazing to think that I can remember the Opera House being built and the number of times I went there to see plays and other gigs.

On the Sydney Opera House patio with the ‘coat hanger’ in the background…

In fact I remember seeing Split Enz (the predecessor of Crowded House) playing at the Recording Theatre soon after they arrived in Sydney from New Zealand. It was for a live broadcast by the infant 2JJ rock radio station and I was totally knocked out by the show. It was the first time that I had seen a band performance as a complete dramatic show integrating the music, lighting and stage antics of the performers. I reckon I’ve been to events in all the performance spaces of the Opera House at various times A great building, and a great feat of engineering. The iconic location also helps, on the harbour next the the Sydney Harbour Bridge (aka ‘The Coathanger’). Went I first saw the publicity pictures of The Sage in Gateshead at Womex in Seville back in 2003, it dead obvious to me that they had modelled them on the classic Sydney Opera House + Bridge pictures.

Where the dog shat in the tucker box, five miles from Gundagai..

From Sydney I had to get back to Melbourne in time for my flight to Darwin, and then back to England. I was originally planning to drive down the coast but a combination of bad weather (storms coming in over the Tasman Sea) and SatNav failure due to operator error I ended up heading straight back down to Melbourne via the Hume Highway. On the way I stopped at a little tourist stop just outside Gundagai which is famous for a story involving a “Bullocky Bill”, a tale of woe about his bullock dray getting stuck in the mud of the creek and all the things that subsequently went wrong, culminating in finding out that his dog had crapped in his tucker box (tucker=food). This is a famous story which was bowdlerised to “The dog sat on the tucker box”converting the dastardly deed into a “good and faithful” pal type story. The former is certainly funnier than the latter.

Crocodile rock…

The desert heart of Australia – Stuart’s Desert Pea?

From Melbourne I flew via Jetstar to Darwin to see my daughter Tahneen and grandson Brayden for a few days. This is the first time I’d been this far north. Darwin is quite a small place and relies on tourism and so has been hit badly by the dip in the tourist trade. During the flight I noticed that the desert was blooming, another result of the floods I guess – the desert plants have a very short life cycle due to the intermittent nature of the rain fall, so I was lucky to be able see this.

Darwin puts the crocodile back into Crocodile Dundee (or visa versa)…

One of the big draws of Darwin is the number of crocodiles found there. It was the first time I’d seen these up close – and one of them was the one that appeared in the Paul Hogan film apparently. There was an opportunity to go swimming in the croc pool in a specially armoured enclosure for an additional which, needless to say, I declined. A couple did so but didn’t get any reaction from the big reptiles – perhaps they weren’t that hungry.

From Darwin it was back to old blighty to a temperature of 5 degrees C from 33 degrees at take off, with fun and games at the airport check-in with regard to my travel guitar…

In the next blog I will be expanding on my ‘customer service’ experience with QANTAS / JetStar – stay in tune…

About Brian Heywood

Brian Heywood is a free range musician who specialises in edgy roots / country / celtic fusion music. Previous work has received comments such as "... aggressive, top notch fiddling set off by periodic guitar explosions." - Tom Nelligan, Dirty Linen Magazine (USA), "Just when it seemed as if newer electric British roots bands were getting thinner on the ground - Very welcome and very good." - fROOTS Magazine (UK) and Steve Barnes Fairbridge Festival Artistic Director (Australia) - "... a rocking band - I was delighted with the audience response."
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