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Kym Strow and Sarah Jones | a.k.a. Flock Espresso and Eats

“I am boss of everything,” jokes Kym Strow, one half of the couple behind Lismore café, Flock Espresso and Eats.

“She’s the whip holder,” agrees her partner, Sarah Jones. “I’m the organised practical one and Kym’s the ideas lady, the creative one.”

“She’s the breaks, aren’t you babe?,” laughs Kym.

Sarah is the barista and taste tester at the popular café that has recently reopened in Lismore following the March 31 Flood. The cooking was Kym’s job, but in their new space she’s had to let go the reins a bit and hire some chefs.

“With a space this size I can’t be in the kitchen and in control of the floor and engaged with customers,” she says.

Like many in Lismore, Kym and Sarah weren’t prepared for the amount of damage caused by the recent flood. Only having lived in the region for 5 years, they were naïve about the extent of the destruction the overgrown river would cause.

“We were still really busy that day and all of a sudden there was no-one,” Sarah says. “We heard people talking about the water going over the levy, so we lifted things onto the tables, and the drains in the back alley started blocking up.”

“We weren’t prepared for not being able to open back there,” Kym says. “We thought within a week we’d be back in business.”

But the damage was too severe: chest height water had left a wreck of asbestos, cracked pipes, twisted walls and bent steel.

Within days Kym and Sarah realised they weren’t going to be able to reopen, and they were gutted.

“We spent three days at home feeling really sorry for ourselves. Our family was saying move back to Brisbane or move to Melbourne, just walk away, you’ve lost everything,” Kym says.

Angry and overwhelmed, the couple hibernated, trying to gather themselves together.

“I totally crumbled, I was really devastated,” Kym says. “I wouldn’t get out of the car in town unless Sarah parked out the back.”

The idea of starting from scratch in a large vacant shop on Woodlark Street gradually took hold, and plans were made to clean the empty, muddy shell that still held the flood’s remains. The new café is four times the size of the old one, and they’ve gone from a team of 10 staff to 22. Almost everything for the fit-out has been bought locally, and the support from suppliers and tradespeople has been incredible.

Sarah grew up in Melbourne and Kym on the Sunshine Coast, and they met in Brisbane after both moving there as teenagers. Sarah had childhood dreams of owning a milkbar (for the free lollies) and Kym’s parents ran fruit and vegetable shops and delicatessens.

“I saw my parents working and thought ‘I’m never going to do that,’” Kym says. But when an accident prevented her from continuing her job as a social worker, her parents offered her an empty fruit shop to run.

Kym and Sarah got together eight years ago and their produce shop in Salisbury in Brisbane’s south grew into a successful café.

“The flood happened in 2011 and we couldn’t get any produce, so we got a coffee machine. It went crazy,” Sarah says.

“It was suburban hell and suddenly it became trendy,” Kym laughs.

After selling the café, they were drawn to the Northern Rivers by holidays they’d spent in Mullumbimby, but it was too expensive there so they settled in Wyrallah for two years, and for the last three years have been in Clunes.

Kym and Sarah rent a big house among 36 acres of bush and creek on the northern side of the village. They share it with three rescue dogs: a corgi, a whippet-cross-dalmation, and a blue heeler; and a temperamental 1973 orange Combi Van named Otis.

The couple have been engaged for six years and would love to start a family.

“We’ve been trying to have a kid and the flood really messed that up,” Kym says. “Some people say everything happens for a reason so maybe there is a reason, we just can’t see it right now.”

For now, Kym and Sarah are looking forward to re-establishing the family they’ve created with their staff and customers at the café.

“I don’t want to do anything else, I just love it,” Kym says. “You know how some people say they’ve found their passion? I’m down with mine being hospitality.”

Kaine and Jade Hunt a.k.a Secret Chef Catering

Still high from the success of their first appearance at Eat The Street in Lismore, Kaine and Jade Hunt were brimming with enthusiasm and ideas to enhance to their fledgling catering business when I caught up with them recently.

The couple run Secret Chef Catering from their 5-acre property in Clunes, where they grow coffee, fruit trees, herbs, vegetables and chickens. They’re about to begin work on a commercial kitchen next to the house.

“It will be great in summer when it’s really hot, you can put your knives down and jump into the pool!” says Kaine.

The impetus for moving out of Sydney to the Northern Rivers in 2014 was to have a quieter pace of life, work from home and enjoy their growing family. They have two cute-as-button children, Axle, 3 and Ryder, 1.

“When we found out we were having our first child we set things in place,” Kaine says. “Secretly Jade knew all the time that this is where we were going to live, before we even met!” 

Kaine worked as sous chef, then head chef of the Beach Café in Byron Bay while they settled in, before moving to Northern Rivers Seafood in Ballina and launching Secret Chef with Jade. As well as running the business side of the venture, Jade also works as a sommelier, wine wholesaler and hospitality trainer with Nortec.

Jade and Kaine met and fell in love while working together at upmarket Sydney restaurant, Cafe Sydney. Each had come to the city to make their mark in the restaurant industry; Kaine as a chef and Jade as a restaurant manager and sommelier.

“I grew up in a food and beverage family, I used to have to set the restaurant up before I went to school,” says Jade. She worked at an Italian-Portuguese deli in Brisbane’s West End for five years before signing up for a science degree, then deferring so she could study commercial cookery and hospitality management at Sydney’s William Blue College.

Jade went to London in 2003 and helped some well-connected friends open a Spanish restaurant, Fino.

“It was the place to be, where all the celebrities hung out,” says Jade. As assistant bar manager, she worked 80-hour weeks and went out with the rich and famous. She returned to Sydney for a knee reconstruction in 2005, and ended up staying put.

Kaine’s love affair with food started with his mother’s cooking.

“She would always embrace large amounts of my friends at one time,” he says. “I’m still trying to get some of her secret recipes, but she won’t hand them over freely.”

At 15 Kaine moved out of home, found a job and put himself through a full-time cooking course at TAFE. On completion, he was offered an apprenticeship at the Radisson Playford Hotel in Adelaide.

“It was very strict, and they mould you into something that will allow you to pursue a career as a chef.”

Kaine ended up back in Sydney, working at Cafe Sydney as a chef de partie. With 30-34 other chefs and 150 staff on the roster, it was like being part of a big family. He spent over 6 years there before deciding he needed to expand his knowledge of other cuisines, and he got a job at two-hatted Thai restaurant, Longrain.

Now, when creating a menu for a client’s, Kaine incorporates Asian cooking techniques and flavours alongside Mediterranean and Australian elements.

Kaine relishes the personal interaction that comes with being your own boss and dealing closely with clients.

“You get to see the reactions and you get to see them enjoying it. It’s an individual experience that you’re able to create,” he says.

For Jade, it’s all about the thrill of pulling off a perfect event.

“Seeing it all orchestrated and it being a beautiful musical, that thrill of service is what I love the most.”

Vlad Kolas | Artist

Prize-winning painter, Vlad Kolas, is moving about his studio, brush in hand, music blaring, when I appear at the door one hot afternoon. Startled, he turns and jumps off the ground and walks over, wiping his hands with a rag.

Music is a crucial element to Vlad’s artistic practice, giving him energy and inspiration. Today, as with other days, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie are on high rotation.

“You know how you dance when no-one’s looking? I’m doing that with the paintbrush. Then you stand back and assess what you did, and make some adjustments. It’s a balance between those critical decisions and the intuition,” he says.

Vlad’s white-walled studio is a relatively new addition on his Clunes property, where he lives with his partner, Jessica, and their four boys aged from 3 to 15. There’s not a clean surface in sight, with couches and office chairs spattered with paint, and entire tables serving as mixing palettes, covered in oils blended together in endless colour combinations.

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Growing up in Bondi Beach, Vlad loved surfing and music, and tried his hand at carpentry before he realised it wasn’t going to deliver him the creative and career freedom he desired.

It was Jessica, a glass artist also originally from Sydney, who recognised Vlad’s talent and prompted him to study art instead. Vlad’s mother and grandfather were both artists, and he’d absorbed much of their skills and knowledge, but hadn’t paid it too much attention.

“Visually being around it from a young age, it gets ingrained in your head, you don’t even realise it,” he says.

Vlad spent two years at the National Art School in Sydney, learning a lot about drawing, before moving to Lismore to continue his studies at Southern Cross University, where he majored in oils and painting. “It was a bit more self-directed, which is good for me, because I already had the drawing under my belt,” he says.

In 2012, Vlad won the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize with a self-portrait, after hardly painting at all in the preceding years.

“That was the first drawing I actually did for ages. I was into abstraction, but I thought, I’ll draw and paint, and people liked it.”

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Prior to that, Vlad had been trying to find his own style, trying to make something different to what had been done before.

“I thought, everything’s been explored in art, and I didn’t want to place myself in the past. Now I realise no one’s going to draw like you or paint like you. You just do what you can do.”

Vlad’s semi-abstract style is inspired by his mother and grandfather’s portraiture and figurative work, as well as expressionists and abstract artists such as Willem De Kooning.

“For me it’s about drawing and then the movement of paint. There’s a design and a pattern; it becomes a jigsaw puzzle that you have to solve,” he says. “It self-directs in some ways, you’ve got to figure out how to finish it, and what works.”

Sometimes Vlad will instinctively know when a painting is finished, but other times they can be more difficult to read. A work hung in a different light will reveal issues he hadn’t noticed before. “I read that Margaret Olley used to take paintbrushes to her exhibition and change something after it’d been hung. I totally know that feeling,” he nods.

Vlad’s adding the final touches to a portrait of a cow, and he has others hanging in Barebones Art Space in Bangalow. He loves the features and personalities that come through in portrait painting, whether it’s animals or people.

“It shouldn’t matter what you paint really, it’s how you paint it. You should be able to paint a tin can and make it a picture.

I’m dreaming of a light Christmas

This Christmas, instead of running around like a turkey with an aversion to stuffing, I’m going to be channelling my inner John Farnham. I’m going to “take the pressure down”.

In my household, with two small kids and two working parents, we’re pretty busy most of the time. At Christmas we’re even busier, with Christmas parties, preschool graduations and no end of end-of-year gatherings. That is part of what makes this the most wonderful time of the year. It’s spending time with people we love, celebrating our achievements and remembering how much we have to be thankful for.

Of course, there’s also gift giving and feasting on holiday foods, as well as the cultural or religious traditions your family adheres to. But if all these events are going to make it onto the calendar, and if I’m going to make it to January with any calm left, then something will have to give this year.

I’ve decided I can’t do it all, and I don’t have to.

Our family is doing a Secret Santa for the grown-ups’ Christmas presents, so we each only need to buy one thoughtful present for one person. It means I can focus on really thinking about the needs or desires of my one gift recipient. It’s a nice alternative to hastily running around shopping centres or spending hours online, looking for minor gifts for 7 different people which will probably end up thrown away or cluttering up a cupboard somewhere.

When it comes to Christmas food, I usually love baking special treats, making reindeer faces out of pretzels, or trying to stick walls of gingerbread together with nothing but the magic of egg whites and icing sugar. I cook fruity, boozy Christmas cakes and experiment with summer sorbets.

This year, I won’t have time. And I’m not going to let it get me down.

I’m grateful that I live in a place where I can buy mince tarts from the bakery, that mangoes are a perfectly acceptable dessert option, and that we have the means to be able to enjoy these little luxuries.

I won’t be making hand-sewn gifts for my friends’ children, or supplying the neighbourhood with shortbread, but something tells me it’ll be alright. Instead, I’m aiming to farewell the year feeling relatively relaxed, enjoying the festive season and getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

The only one putting pressure on me to deliver a particular Christmas experience in the past has been myself. And this time I’ll be taking it easy.

Kevin Hogan | Politician

Kevin Hogan is a busy man. I meet him over morning coffee on his way to a radio interview, before he heads into work during a week when he’s not in Canberra.

The Federal Member for Page has a lot of ground to cover, representing an electorate that goes from the QLD border to just north of the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour. For 20 weeks each year, Kevin is in Canberra attending parliament, and for the rest of the time he’s in the electorate.

“This is seriously a 7 day a week job” Kevin says. On weekends there’s always an event to attend or a cause to support, but it’s also the time when a lot of people manage to speak with him.

“They’re busy during their work week as well, so they can’t ring me up or come to see me, so it’s at those weekend community events that people do get access to you,” Kevin says.

Kevin grew up in the regional town of Port Augusta, South Australia, before studying Economics at university in Adelaide, and then worked in the financial markets in Sydney where he met his wife, Karen. The couple have raised their three children, Bridget, Sean and Rosie, in Clunes, where Karen also grew up. Her parents, Kevin and Pat Webber, have lived in the same house on Main Street for 60 years.

After the birth of Sean, Kevin and Karen wanted to move back to a regional area to raise their family. That was 1998.

“We made a lifestyle choice that we wanted our children to grow up here,” Kevin says. They bought a property on the edge of Clunes where they still live today. “I couldn’t get Karen to go too far,” Kevin jokes.

While the financial sector had been quite rewarding and great fun, Kevin says that once children came into the picture his focus shifted. Besides, jobs for bond traders were hard to come by outside the city.

“I really wanted a job where I could be of service and I thought teaching I could do that.”

Kevin completed his Diploma of Education and  went on to teach business studies and economics at St Mary’s High School in Casino.

Through his teaching connections, Kevin  became involved in the Catholic schools’ industry superannuation fund. Initially a board director, Kevin went on to run the fund’s investments, which led to him leaving the classroom and travelling to Sydney for work each week and mingling with politicians.

When Kevin first stood for parliament in 2010, he lost. “Karen and I put a lot into that and really enjoyed that process, and I said would put my hand up if the party preselected me again,” he says.

He’d joined The Nationals the year before, citing their grass-roots, community-based feel as his reason for picking that party over others.

Being a politician has had a significant impact on his family, Kevin says, but his children have never been targeted as a result of his job.

“The community is protective. I know certainly everyone doesn’t vote for me, in Clunes or everywhere else, but it’s a protective community in the sense that no-one was ever going to attack [them],” Kevin says.

While in the electorate, Kevin often spends more time out of the office than in it. He has two electorate offices, in Lismore and Grafton, and he travels constantly, clocking up 2,000kms a week in his car.

It’s a huge contrast to his time in Canberra, where, he was surprised to find, on parliamentary sitting days, everyone is stuck inside the walls of Parliament House all day.

“You actually can’t, from 9 until 8.30 at night, leave the building, because if there’s a division you’re gonna have to be 5 minutes away. I couldn’t even go outside to get a sandwich!”

Kevin greets a friend passing by the cafe, a tennis buddy from Clunes. He and Karen have been playing in the weekly competitions since they moved here. Those friends keep him in check, Kevin says, no matter what job he’s doing.

While he has the chance, Kevin is enjoying representing his fellow citizens on a federal stage. “I love this role. You have great availability, great opportunity to actually help people.”

Creative writing: It’s all in my mind, and it’s glorious!

I’m mid-way through a creative writing course. On the surface it’s all about creating characters, getting to know what they know, and imagining situations in which they might have things happen to them.

In reality it’s about me paying money to give myself permission to skive off to the home office for several hours a week and, in the words of author Matt Nable, “make s@%t up.” And, may I say, it’s wonderful!

I’ve never been particularly interested in creative writing up to now. My study, my practice and my work has been grounded in reality. My go to sources of material have been facts and real events ever since I first fell in love with the feature articles in the Good Weekend as a teenager.  I thought creative writing was for ‘other people’. I hated it in high school. I excelled at English essays, but flunked at tasks involving imagined situations.

As part of this course, I’m learning that writing and thinking creatively is just a skill to be taught and learnt like any other. I reckon there are two main reasons for my delight in this project.

One is the fact that I’m spending time immersed in an imaginary world. Here, characters are formed in front of my eyes by the neurons in my brain subconsciously firing signals down to my fingertips. It’s a pleasurable sensation, guilty as heck, and produces little of actual value to the world around me but it makes me feel good.

The second reason is terribly simple and obvious; the act of learning something new. These ideas of how to craft a story and how to flesh out a characters are concepts which had previously been hidden to me, but now they’re being presented to me by someone in the know.

In our internet-enabled world, I get tired trying to work my way through a topic about which I know nothing. Since I’ve got a world’s worth of knowledge at my fingertips, I think I should be able to figure it out, how this or that works, what this or that means. With no direction or guidance, I am a tennis ball bobbing in a pool, bumping into things, occasionally dipping under the surface, popping up again all of a sudden.

I haven’t studied seriously for about 9 years, and I would hardly call what I’m doing now serious study. But the beauty of having someone set a course of action before me, a course constructed to take me from nowhere to somewhere, cannot be understated. I could be learning how to brew beer, or how to speak Latin, I don’t think it matters. I’m following instructions, doing my homework, flexing my grey matter. It’s refreshing and enlightening, and I’m sure I’ll miss it when it’s over.

What have you learnt about lately that’s made you happy?

Gary and Pam Lovell | Leaving as locals

When Gary and Pam Lovell first came to Clunes in 1978, Bangalow Road was still a stock route for farmers taking their cattle to the dipping yards. “Old Billy Noble used to drove 100 head of cattle down there with his dogs, and no-one blinked an eye,” Gary says.

The couple married in 1980, when Pam was just 18. “She was a child bride,” laughs Gary.

“He was nine years older than me. Still is,” Pam teases. “Funny that!” replies Gary. “I was a… what do you call ‘em? Cradle snatcher? But we’re still here.” They both chuckle. 

Gary knew the area from visiting on surfing trips with a mate from Sydney. “One thing led to another and Pam said she was going to do teachers college and I said, ‘well there’s a good one up the Northern Rivers.’

After finishing her studies Pam taught in Kempsey for a few years before returning to Clunes and retraining as an Indonesian teacher. She has just finished at Eltham Public School after 27 years there, and still teaches and runs the library one day a week at Clunes Public School.

Gary found work as a manager on macadamia farms, when the local industry was just in its infancy. “I probably planted a hundred thousand of them, and grafted them. It was quite interesting, especially getting a new fledgling thing off the ground,” he says.

Gary and Pam raised their two boys, Clancy and Jackson, on their property on Booyong Road, where they brought together various bits of local history to make their home. They were living in an annex until they bought the first building, the old pay office from the Byron Bay Norco factory. That building became their shed and music room a year later when they bought the old Newrybar School residence, and moved it onto the property under police escort during a flood. The Booyong bridge was the trickiest part of the journey.

“We had to get crowbars on each side and actually push the bridge so we could get the house through there. It was pretty exciting times,” smiles Gary. 

Both sons attended primary school in Clunes, and the Lovells became involved with the P & C and also with fundraising to enable the community to maintain control of the old school buildings after the new school opened. “If we didn’t do something about it, they were just going to take it away and put houses and everything there. It seemed like too good a thing for the community,” Gary says.

Gary enjoyed being part of the many musicals and plays that were staged during that time. “We’d do them Friday and Saturday night and both nights were just chock-a-block full,” he remembers. “I don’t know if it was really good, high quality drama, but it was even better when they forgot their lines,” laughs Pam. Talking over each other, laughing at the silly things, it’s clear these are fond memories.

They played tennis at Clunes, and Gary joined the fire brigade. Gary’s musical and organisational talent was also put to good use with the Christmas carols, which he ran for about 20 years.  Initially held in the park opposite the store, the event gradually grew to attract large crowds over the years. “We had fireworks, it was really amazing, it was really big,” says Gary. “Oh, that’s right, we had the burning bush one year!” exclaims Pam. “Well, the fire brigade was there, so it was alright,” Gary says calmly.

The Lovells have recently sold their 22 acres on Booyong Road, and are living at Skennars Head while they build a new home at Ewingsdale. They’re getting older, and the farm was a lot of work, but they’re also keen to spend more time on their other interests. For Gary, those are surfing, lapidary, and playing music with the Wilson Cooper Band. He admits it will be a struggle, though, to leave their close knit community, just as they were finally starting to feel like locals.

“We’ll miss the place, but it’s not as though we’ve moved to Whoop Whoop or anything,” he says. 

One legacy that will remain is the war memorial in the park opposite the general store. One day many years ago, Gary was asked why Clunes didn’t have an Anzac day service. Gary, a Vietnam veteran, replied, “well, I dunno?” and he set about arranging one.

The next step was a permanent memorial, which Gary helped organise, with funds from local individuals and businesses.  “Within about a month we had thousands of dollars raised,” says Gary. Being asked to unveil the memorial was a humbling moment, and he’s proud of what he’s helped achieve. “I’ve done all this other stuff, but this is something that’s going to be there for a long time, hopefully.”

Gary and Pam have loved raising their family in Clunes. “Clunes has been really good to us, and the people accepted us,” Gary says. “Everyone keeps saying ‘are you gonna keep coming back and doing the carols and doing the services?’ Well, I don’t know. Can’t I pass it onto someone?”

Paul Kelly takes on Shakespeare | Byron Writers Festival 2016

Paul Kelly has a new album out, Seven Sonnets and a Song, a collection of William Shakespeare’s works set to music. Coincidentally, or maybe not, this year also marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death in 1616, and we can’t stop talking about him. Paul Kelly, himself an author as well as a musician, was recently at the Byron Writers Festival to discuss the way that art can outlive the artist, and you’d hardly find a more fitting example of artistic longevity than the great playwright himself.

Kelly’s love affair with Shakespeare began in 1976 when he put down a $5 deposit on a collection of the bard’s comedies and tragedies at a bookstore in Melbourne.

It would eventually cost him $34, a hefty sum in those days, equivalent to around 20 percent of the average weekly wage.

Kelly has made a career of collecting words and stories, including poetry, and he encourages the audience to get into reading poems, saying it doesn’t have to be difficult.

“You only need one from a poet and you put it in your pocket, and it’s with you for life,” he says.

It’s not long before Kelly picks up his guitar and sings us a tune from his new album. As he sits down, the presenter, Sarah Kanowski, remarks how it sounds quite similar to his other, regular songs, and I can’t help but think what an obvious observation that is. Of course, it’s Paul Kelly’s interpretation of how a tune might accompany Shakespeare’s words, so, naturally, it sounds like a Paul Kelly tune. With his chords and his voice, and a talent for crafting poetic lyrics of his own, it’s not surprising that the result is oddly familiar.

It is certainly beautiful, though. Kelly defends his own style, arguing that he wanted to avoid the idea that setting poetry to music has to be ‘arty’. “I’m just gonna do it in the way I do it,” he says.

Kelly says he grew up on folk music, bluegrass and Appalachian music, so he’s comfortable with poetic style of language that is often found in old folk music. “There’s not that far a jump between Elizabethan music and the language in bluegrass.”

In some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, Kelly explains, it’s hard to know whether the subject of affection is male or female, but it doesn’t matter too much.

“It’s really normal in folk music for people to take on a persona,” Kelly says.

He is used to a bit of role-playing; he’s one of the best at inhabiting a specific character and telling a story from their point of view.

Even the format of the Shakespearean sonnet, explains Kelly, “is really suited to the structure of pop songs.” 14 lines in total, with a shift after 8 lines, and ending with a rhyming couplet.

The presenter asks, rather predictably, what comes first for Kelly, the words or the music. Most of the time it’s the music, he answers, but there’s always a sound attached to it, like a sort of gibberish. His lyrics end up having to match those original sounds, because, he says, “I don’t ever get pure melody, because I get it with my voice.”

An audience member asks Kelly which song he would want to outlive him? “All of them, except the bad ones,” he replies, with a shift of his eyes.

Kelly stands up to close the session with another sonnet, and as soon as it ends he’s urged by the crowd to play another. He breaks into a bashful smile and lifts his hand above the strings again. He doesn’t take much convincing.

Writing as Salvation | Byron Writers Festival 2016

The smell of menthol wafts from the sodden woodchips lying in the muddy grass. You can’t escape the wet, it’s coming up through the soles of boots, and down from the heavens.

If the punters at a writers festival needed another reason to stay indoors and read books, the weather at this year’s Byron Writers Festival would’ve been a good one. Thumbs up then, to the record number of attendees at the event, adorned with raincoats and gumboots, scarves and beanies, braving the latter stages of a mighty low-pressure system hovering just off the coast.

I spent a lot of the festival in volunteer mode, fundraising for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, rattling the can and handing out brochures.

It was my virgin volunteer experience, and I absolutely loved it! You should’ve seen me, smiling away, wedging myself into people’s conversations with the utmost charm and enthusiasm.

The foundation has been the official charity of the festival for the past three years, and it was heartening to see so many people keen to donate their leftover coffee change, or their un-needed $50 notes in some cases, to support the programs and book deliveries that the ILF runs in remote communities across this wide brown land.

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Since I can collect money and listen at the same time, I managed to eavesdrop on some of the sessions, starting with an introspective discussion on writing as salvation between authors Thomas Keneally, Matt Nable and Liam Pieper.

Now 80, the veteran writer, Keneally, comfortably held the audience’s attention beside the two younger men. Having written over 30 books, Keneally is by now quite confident of his writing ability, and clearly still passionate about putting words on the page. He mentioned more than once how keen he was to get back to his computer and continue working on his latest novel back in his hotel room.

Nable, who is an actor and former rugby league player as well as a writer, spoke openly about being bipolar, and how writing helped him stay stable. Keneally responded with charming self-deprecation and support. “Matt didn’t have to say he was bipolar, just that he was an author.” He was only half joking.

Introspection was the order of the morning, and it was hard to tell whether these guys were trying to encourage the audience to take up the practice of writing, or rather justifying their own insane professions to themselves.

“People who run marathons aren’t sane,” Keneally said. “People who write novels aren’t sane.”

Bold, considering the present company. He only got away with it because he’s old and smiley.

Pieper, a journalist and author, and the youngest on the panel, had a foot in each camp. He’s written a novel and two memoirs, with the latter from material inspired by struggles he’s had to overcome in his relatively short life. For Pieper, writing is both a catalyst for crises and a creative goldmine.

“If I can keep writing books to create problems in my life then I’ll always have something to write about.”

The Buckleys | Musicians

Musical talent runs deep in the Buckley family. Mick, Sharon and their four youngest children have recently returned from the USA, where their family band, The Buckleys, played shows in Nashville, wrote songs with Grammy-nominated country music songwriters, and met with record labels.

They played at the famous Bluebird Café, on the same stage where Bob Dylan and Taylor Swift have trodden. “For them to get invited to play there, that was cool, man,” says Mick.

Sisters Sarah and Molly are out in front on guitar, mandolin, ganjo and vocals, while brother, Lachlan, plays bass and dad, Mick, keeps time on the kit.

“We’ve been around instruments our whole life,” says Molly. “We’ve always been writing songs,” ads Sarah. The US trip was a dream come true for the girls, who love country music.

“When I was 12 years old, I was going to get to Nashville by the time I was 16,” says Sarah. “So everything in the last 4 years has been leading up to that.”

Lachlan prefers ‘70s and ‘80s rock and roll over country, but he “does what we tell him to”, jokes Sarah. Mick starts singing a Deep Purple riff in solidarity and Lachlan just laughs.

The kids’ orientation towards country music wasn’t accidental. Mick wanted them to have a broad knowledge of the different types of music out there. “I don’t like doof parties and all that sort of stuff and drugs that go along with them,” he says. “So I thought, the furthest away from that you can get is busking on the street at Tamworth.”

The band went to the Tamworth Country Music Festival to busk, and ended up in the grand final of the busking competition, playing on the main stage to thousands of people. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, appearing on the bill at festivals up and down the east coast, and winning song-writing accolades in the USA.

Mick was brought up in the traditions of jump swing and 1940s boogie woogie. “I had six sisters, and my dad and my uncle played boogie woogie New Orleans piano. Apparently I used to sit on their knee and all my sisters used to sing in the lounge room in north Sydney,” he says. He got taught a few chords on the piano and the rest is history.

Mick has had a successful and varied musical career. He’s played in bands since high school, and has been a professional musician ever since. He spent several years as the drummer for the legendary pub rock band, The Radiators, touring constantly.

“Playing 6 nights a week, full houses everywhere. 1980s A Grade rock and roll, really crazy stuff,” he says.

Apart from those rock and roll days, most of the music Mick plays is grounded in jump swing. “You go out and play all sorts of stuff, but it’s always based on that,” he says. “It’s all about entertaining. Smiles on dials,” he grins. It’s how he turned himself from a drummer into a solo pianist playing in clubs around Sydney.

“I knew how to play rockabilly piano. There was a job going at Penrith Panthers Leagues Club for $350 a night playing a grand piano. So I got that job, wearing a suit and tie. I had an hour’s worth of material, and I needed 4,” he chuckles.

That led to Mick joining the Yee Haa Boys, a country swing band who had several hits and top ten country singles with songs he had written. These days Mick has a number of ensembles that keep him busy: a big band, two duos, a jump swing/rockabilly band and solo work, as well as the family band.

“I like to keep local, because as soon as you start playing on a bigger level you’re touring, and I’ve done that all my life,” says Mick. “All that glitters isn’t gold. I’d prefer to be doing what I’m doing.”

For Mick, that means playing shows up and down the North Coast and in Queensland, and coming home to Clunes in between, where he’s now lived for 18 months. Sharon is a midwife by day and band manager by night, or maybe that’s the other way around. “That’s the big achievement, keeping everyone happy,” says Mick. “We came to Clunes, and everyone is happy.”

At the moment The Buckleys are busy working on some more songs for an album (they’ve got an EP already), as well as co-writing songs with songwriters in the USA.

They are also looking forward to playing at the Mullum Music Festival in November this year. It’s shaping up to be a good year, and Mick is enthusiastic about what’s coming up. “I can’t help but bloody get excited about it!”