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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!”

 

Thomas Rehbach | Educator, Carer, Hitchhiker

Thomas Rehbach has been a preschool educator, an administrator, a respite carer, a teacher, a courier, a soccer coach and referee. He’s lived in the area long enough to see kids he’s taught now becoming parents and teachers themselves.

Tom was born in Australia to German parents and grew up in Rosehill. At age 9, Tom and his brother went to live at Dunmore House, a boys’ home in Pendle Hill.

“We got into enough trouble that we had a choice to go to one of two boys homes,” Tom says. It’s a time he remembers favourably, being part of a large family unit with children of all ages.

“I think that was the best thing that ever happened to us. I don’t hold any animosity towards my mum for making that choice.”

After hitchhiking from Sydney to Cairns a few times in the early 1980s, Tom came back to the Northern Rivers and never left. He met his partner, Gail, through Clunes Preschool when they both had sons who were attending. The couple live in Clunes with Gail’s daughter Laura and Laura’s son, Toby. The blended family includes four children and four grandchildren, with one more due to arrive later this year.

Tom has built a career out of caring for kids and helping them achieve the best they can. Currently combining his roles as co-ordinator of after school and vacation care at Clunes Public School, General Assistant at Lismore High School and casual teacher, he’s taken opportunities as they’ve come to him, and rarely turns down a new challenge.

Tom has a degree in Primary Education and a Diploma in Early Childhood Education, but he’s one of few males in a female-dominated industry.

“When I was at TAFE I was the only bloke out of about 40 women,” he says.

Working as a respite carer was eye opening and good for the soul, says Tom. “I’d take my charges with me wherever we went, take them to family things or out,” he says. Spending time with family, in particular his grandchildren, is one of Tom’s biggest loves.

“They’re not bloodline kids, but the thing I’ve learnt from being in the boys’ home is that family is not made up of people who just share a DNA, you can create family just from being connected, wanting to be there, being part of their lives.”

As someone who’s been actively involved in community life, Tom knows a lot of people.

“If I’ve got to go into town and I don’t need my own vehicle, I’ll just hitch and it’s amazing who picks you up. They see you around and they know who you are. Some people say, ‘oh I never pick up hitchhikers but I’ll pick you up’. I mean, some people will actually drive past and do a U-ey and come back and get you because they feel bad that they haven’t done it,” he laughs.

Tom spent many years on the committee for COSA, supervising Work for the Dole projects, as well as playing and refereeing soccer. For the past few years he’s also coached the Eureka women’s soccer team. As a referee and as a teacher, Tom values the notion of a common set of rules that everyone can adhere to. His philosophy is that if you get kids to engage with creating rules, then they’re less likely to break them.

At university, Tom researched playground handball and its rules, trying to find the history of the popular schoolyard game.

“The idea of my project was that if you have everybody, the participants, designing the rules, they’re more than likely going to play by them,” he says. Tom visited schools, interviewing kids about the rules, and then videoed them playing the game. Watching the videos, kids then began to recognise instances where they hadn’t complied with their own rules.

At work, Tom laments the current departmental ban on riding bikes or wheeled toys, even at after school care.

“The reality is if they don’t have a safe place to do it, where are they going to do it? Kids learn through play… if you put stuff out, they learn to do it,” he says.

At the café where we sit, another former student of Tom’s walks past and says hello. Tom waves and smiles. “It just happens to be, the more you live in one place long enough, you see the kids grow up and it’s a really beautiful thing.”

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours

Neighbours. You can’t really choose them, but you can choose your neighbourhood. You can try to surround yourself with like-minded people, with those who share your same values or mowing habits, but in the end it’s still a bit of a lottery.

Where we live can affect so many things besides which corner store we frequent, or where our kids go to school.  It can determine our level of community interaction, who our children play with and how many lemons we don’t need to buy. It can even shape our notions of hospitality and how we welcome others into our world.

The house our family lived in for 7 years was down the end of a road, in a part of town where none of our friends lived, and hardly anyone dropped by unannounced.  The only surprise visitors we had were our parents.

If people were coming over, I had invited them.

I rarely worried about keeping the bathroom clean or having an emergency supply of biscuits in case someone wanted a cup of tea. Our neighbours were nice, but they had their lives and we had ours.

When we moved away from our hometown, we found a new rental property and, ipso facto, new neighbours. To the west lived a 90-something year old lady who still climbed the ladder to pick fruit from her giant mango tree. To the south was a retired couple with flourishing veggie gardens, a bromeliad greenhouse, and a woodworking shed the envy of any industrial arts school.

To the east lived a 70-something year old over-sharer who would stand in her driveway and yell out, I mean, YELL OUT, my husband’s name at the top of her lungs when she came home with a car boot full of groceries and needed assistance carrying them up the stairs to her kitchen. Try putting a toddler down for their daytime nap when they have struggled against you for ¾ of an hour and you’ve already sung Baa Baa Black Sheep 20 times, only to have Old Yell-Face suddenly start screaming through the bedroom window. She did have a swimming pool, though.

Ours was the only rental house among these long-term residents, and they welcomed our family as if we’d been there forever.

Fruit was exchanged, dogs were fed, hedge trimmers were borrowed, groceries were carried. Still, these were mostly over-the-fence relationships.

Soon we moved to a decidedly different neighbourhood. We lived on a corner block in between two cul-de-sacs, with a bus stop out the front. A never-ending parade of mothers and fathers pushing babies in prams and toddlers on bikes streamed past our front lawn. Neighbourhood dogs came visiting through the always-open farm gate.

In a matter of weeks we made friends with a family who lived across the road, the four of them not too dissimilar in age to us. It wasn’t long before we began to exchange baked treats, child-minding and play dates.

At first I was pretty uptight about the timing of our get-togethers. A lot of them happened spontaneously, and they’d catch me off guard.

My son would pester, ‘Can I go over to their house?’ day in, day out, and unless I had mentally scheduled it in, I would find an excuse to say ‘No’.

As a mother to a newborn and a toddler, I had things to do. Swanning over to the neighbour’s house to chat while our kids played for two hours wasn’t usually on my radar for the day. Who would hang out the washing or cook the dinner?

Luckily, my neighbour seemed to have a completely different sense of time and purpose to me. No time was the wrong time for chatting or playing, and if it were, then we could always come back tomorrow. Naturally, this meant that they might pop over to our house at any time, no warning, no invitation necessary.

I admit, at first I was slightly put out by the thought of this. With two small kids and a sleep debt as big as a budget deficit, I didn’t always manage to change out of my pyjamas or have a shower before midday, and I certainly didn’t expect to have company.

Gradually, I became accustomed to the idea that someone might come to visit whenever they liked. I decided I needed to face it like a girl scout, and be prepared. I made sure I was dressed early in the day, and that our schedule could accommodate an impromptu hour or two being spent in idle conversation, cups of tea or just being outside watching boys drive trucks in gravel.  I became fond of hanging around the front gate saying hello to neighbours as they drove slowly around our corner or stopped to collect their kids from the bus.

As renters, though, we eventually got moved on in favour of kitchen renovations and new carpet. Our new house, though bigger and newer, is on a busy street on the side of a hill. We hardly see our neighbours over the tall wooden fences, and I couldn’t tell you the name of the man across the street, nor recognise him in a crowd.

No one stops in unannounced anymore, and I don’t go visiting other people on impulse.  Our old neighbours moved to a different town and we are yet to form those bonds with anyone new.

At least I have kept my appreciation for spontaneous socialising, and I try to have room in my day for unplanned events. And I always get changed out of my pyjamas.

Jim Richardson | Teacher, Librarian, Environmentalist, Volunteer

The son of a dairy farmer from McKees Hill, Jim Richardson started his education at a one-teacher school at Clovass. Since those early years, he has been fortunate enough to take advantage of the educational opportunities that came his way. They eventually led him out of rural New South Wales, to the city, and the wide world.

Fast forward to the 1970s, and Jim was a scholarship student at university in Armidale. Originally aiming to become a marine biologist, Jim realised he wanted to be involved with education, so decided to become a science teacher instead.

During university, Jim had been to the Nimbin Aquarius Festival in 1973, and it made an impression on him that would shape both his professional career and his environmental outlook.

“I was right into this concept of needing to educate yourself and to free up education, do whatever courses you can as long as they don’t cost too much money”, says Jim.

Contracted to take up a teaching post after graduating, Jim ended up in Bathurst, where he taught for 3 years before having saved enough money to embark on a year-long backpacking adventure. The plan was to go overland from Singapore all the way to Europe, but he got stopped at the border to Afghanistan. “It was 1978, the border was opening, it was closing, it was so hot, 40 degrees in the night time”, Jim recalls. “So we just flew to Greece!”

Back from his travels, Jim jumped at the chance to take a short course in teacher librarianship in Sydney. This fully funded course added another string to his bow and from then he went on to work as a teacher librarian in schools in Sydney and later Casino.

“Most North Coast people want to come back to the North Coast ‘cause we know how good it is”, says Jim of his appointment to Casino High School. It meant he could be closer to his family and also start to fulfil some of his environmental goals. “Since the Aquarius Festival I’d had the idea that it would be really good to get some land and grow some food.” Jim and his partner, Vicki Ross, and their young son, Sam, had a property at Jiggi where they grew coffee and had begun some reforestation.

When Jim got a transfer to Byron Bay High School, the family needed to move east. “Eventually we found this paddock here and thought ‘this is ok’, and we didn’t realise just how ok it was”, says Jim of their 2.4 hectare property in Clunes. Over time it has been regenerated with flourishing vegetable gardens, fruit trees, bamboo pockets and a cabinet timber plantation which Jim hopes to keep intact as carbon storage.

Jim’s work on the property reflects his love for environmental diversity, and draws on botany and plant ecology knowledge he gained while at university. “I could go all hippy and say, ‘heal the land’, he laughs. “I don’t ever use those terms, I always see it more as restoring a little bit back to the way it was.”

Since retiring from teaching in 2012, Jim has been using his library and computing knowledge in volunteer work among the Burmese refugee community in northern Thailand.

“As I got towards retirement age I started taking some long service leave and I thought ‘it’s time to put some stuff back in instead of just going and consuming the culture’”, he says. Jim had travelled through South East Asia and was interested in the politics and the diverse ethnic groups in the area. Working with the Burma Study Centre, a non-profit organisation in Chiang Mai, Jim has helped create online library services and provide education and training to migrants.

Jim is passionate about community engagement, including being active on council-based initiatives and community planning panels. Councils like to formalise community activism through panels and committees encouraging people to do things for each other, but Jim says that in reality, residents in small communities are already highly engaged.

“They don’t need council encouragement”, he says. “What we want is council to help us do it, to fund it. Somewhere in between there is a meeting point, if we can get a bit of both happening, that’s good.”

Nikky Morgan-Smith | Artist

Nikky Morgan-Smith lives in Eureka in a house tucked away on the side of an overgrown gully. It’s the house she grew up in, where her parents still lived, until Nikky and her then six-month old daughter, Morgan, moved back from Melbourne about 9 years ago. “We moved in and when it was apparent that we weren’t going to move back out, they moved out”, Nikky says, smiling.  Her parents now live in another house on the family’s 50-acre property, while Nikky and Morgan share the old house with their menagerie of dogs, cats and birds.

Both Nikky’s parents are artists, and as a kid being dragged around to gallery openings, she wasn’t keen to follow in their footsteps. By the end of school, though, Nikky enjoyed art enough to enrol in a Visual Arts degree at age 18.

“In a way I didn’t really have a choice because it was the one thing that I knew how to do the best.”

Nikky transferred her studies to Melbourne and became involved in art therapy, volunteering at hospital brain injury and spinal units and being mentored by the Melbourne Institute for Experiential and Creative Arts Therapy (MIECAT). She now works at The Buttery rehabilitation centre in Binna Burra as an art therapist one day a week, but the rest of her time is devoted to painting.

“Art, I feel, is like a jealous lover,” says Nikky. The choice to make painting her full time profession is one Nikky made quite early in her career, but it hasn’t always been easy.

“A friend said to me that if I want to do something, don’t split my energies. Just believe in myself and don’t get a day job. Just do it and then you don’t have a choice but to make it work.”

Morgan, now 9, has emerged from her bedroom to join Nikky on the comfy old couch on the verandah. It was partly thanks to her that Nikky’s focus changed from art therapy to painting.

“For me having a baby just changed my whole perception of time and what mattered to me and what I wanted to do. I remember the first show that I had after she was born. I think she was one. I’d just done this painting and I was really happy with it. I came out and she went in there and painted over this painting, just totally sabotaged it. It was totally from jealousy because she wasn’t allowed in the studio at that time. She doesn’t do that anymore”, Nikky grins, glancing at her daughter.

Nikky is influenced by both her father’s abstract painting style and her mother’s mixed media work, as well as the early work by British painter, Antony Micallef, who blends abstract drawing with hyper-realistic elements in his paintings.

Nikky has recently begun a new series of paintings exploring flight and movement, which will be shown at an upcoming exhibition at the Lismore Regional Gallery from 11 June to 17 July. These new works signify a change in direction from her previous style, incorporating screen-printed wing motifs and more meticulous detail layered over her signature, dreamlike backgrounds.

“As an artist it’s important to keep pushing yourself and keep exploring new ideas. If you just keep doing the same thing over and over again it just becomes bankrupt of ideas and energy after a while, and even the viewer can sense that”, says Nikky.

The idea of art as therapy, and the joy of being able to express herself are what cements Nikky’s love for her work.

 “It makes me feel good when I paint. It’s the best job in the world. I keep trying to get other jobs but then I just come back to the studio and remember how much I love it.”

Girl Vs Internet Logins

In the battle between saving the forests and saving my sanity, there can only be one winner.

At last count I have about 25 online accounts of varying kinds. Each has their own web address, client number, username, password, secret question, mother’s shoe size, wizard’s spell to be chanted at midnight under a full moon.

In an effort to save trees and, while they’re at it, shift responsibility, companies are constantly pushing us to access everything online.

Sounds good in theory, everything at your fingertips. In reality, you’re in password hell.

As I see it, you have only two options. You could use the one password for all your accounts, or use a different one each time and write them down somewhere useful, but not so useful that a robber or cyber-hacker can find them. Either way, you’re screwed.

Here’s a rundown of the companies I’m in online relationships with:

  • bank
  • other bank
  • insurance company
  • Centrelink
  • Medicare
  • superannuation fund
  • other superannuation fund
  • electricity company
  • digital newspaper subscription
  • motor registry
  • domain name provider
  • email host
  • other email host
  • social networking site
  • other social networking site
  • employer intranet
  • salary packaging provider
  • internet and phone provider
  • supermarket rewards program
  • web auction site
  • online trading post
  • ticketing site
  • local cinema
  • airline company
  • other airline company
  • road tolling company

Recently I phoned my bank (yeah, another one) to instruct them to withdraw my term deposit at its maturity date. Interest rates are so low at the moment, don’t even bother, just put your money under your mattress. The bank had a linked account on file, but I would have liked to choose a different one to receive my money, but I couldn’t arrange that over the phone (security, y’know).

I could do it through online access, though. Did I want him to talk me through setting that up over the phone now? I politely declined. It’s a term deposit, for goodness sake. You put your money in at the start. You leave it there until they send you a letter saying that it’s time to take it out.  You realise that you’re likely to get better interest keeping it under your mattress, so you withdraw it. So, no, I didn’t want to set up online access, thanks.

Instead of sending me a letter or manning a telephone line as methods of communication, these internet lovers have decided they’ll spend their budget on paying web coders and then sending bulk emails with monetary rewards attached if I switch to email statements. Sounds fine, sign me up! Just don’t send me those emails saying that I have a statement but not attaching the actual statement, because that would be too insecure and you’ll have to login through our online portal in order to access what we would have ordinarily just delivered securely concealed in a paper-thin envelope with a see through window to your totally password protected petrol-drum-metal-cat shaped letterbox.

Superannuation funds are the worst. A statement used to come in the mail every six months. Now I get an email with a friendly little pointer to the online site.

I’ve still got 40 working years ahead of me, so I’ve no idea what my superfund does in between writing me reports twice a year.

Login details, what? In the email, I’m guessing for security reasons, it doesn’t even list my client number, so I can’t do that awesome thing where you put in some of your details and they tell you the rest. Hmm. Solution? A letter, methinks!

So, a few months back I did write a letter to my friendly superannuation provider. I gave them my address, my name, my telephone number. I asked them to kindly email or post me a copy of my statement. I received a reply saying they would respond to my email within 7 days. Winning.

A few weeks went by. No statement, virtual or hardcopy.  Another letter got written. I made reference to my previous request that seemed to have been ignored. I also explained that since I didn’t have my statement I didn’t have my client number to type into the “forgot your password?” section of the site to get the statement I didn’t have. I didn’t mention that I might have had an old statement lying around from years ago when chopping down trees was in fashion. It’s probably expertly filed away somewhere, and anyway, I was trying to make a point.

Someone in the superannuation office must have taken pity on me, because a week later a statement arrived by post. Now that’s what I call winning!

Lauren Campbell | Potter

In a weathered, open-sided shed behind an old house in the middle of Clunes, Lauren Campbell is in her favourite place. A mud-strewn pottery wheel sits at one end, at the other are shelves laden with vessels in various states of undress. Finished mugs, bowls and platters glisten in the afternoon light, brightly coloured glazes dripping sea blues, lilacs and speckled creams over their earthy bodies.

“Getting my hands dirty, sitting on the wheel, it’s just a place of calm,” says Lauren.

Lauren discovered pottery about 5 years ago after being captivated by some beautiful ceramics while on a work experience placement with furniture designer, Mark Tuckey, in Sydney.

“He had a big shop and had this ceramicist’s products in there and I fell in love with them”, she says.  Now in her second year of TAFE, studying the Advanced Diploma in Visual Arts, majoring in Ceramics, Lauren divides her time between classes, throwing clay on her wheel, teaching pottery workshops and taking care of the hidden necessities of being a self-employed businesswoman, under the name Sit Still Lauren.                                                                                                   

“It’s hard because you’ve got so much on the back side of the business as well, it’s not just pottery. You’ve got your marketing and networking and PR stuff”, she says. “You can’t get sick, you just have to rely on yourself to do everything, which is a blessing but it’s also the most challenging thing as well”.

Originally from Sydney, Lauren was working in financial firms before leaving the big city to start up a small creative business in Bellingen.

“But I was doing too much and I tried to do everything”, says Lauren. So she decided to cut back and concentrate on having fun working with clay and honing her pottery skills.

“I can’t ever imagine going back to Sydney, walking the penguin walk,” says Lauren. “I’m a bit of a country girl even though I’m from Sydney”. After a few years Lauren left Bellingen and headed north, recovering from Dengue fever and in search of new experiences.

“I had no money and I moved to Byron and stayed in a tent for a month, then I got a job and moved into a house”, she says. From there Lauren settled in Eltham for a year and has only recently relocated up the hill to Clunes.

Lauren’s pottery style is reminiscent of mid-century West German art pottery, with thick glazes of vibrant colours changing from light to dark and free-flowing drip effects.  Her inspiration, however, can come from anywhere, and working with clay is such a long process from start to finish, that things may not turn out as originally intended.

“You just don’t know what you’re going to get sometimes, there are just so many elements that affect the finished product,” says Lauren.

As well as creating pieces for her local and city stockists, at the moment Lauren’s also working on her major TAFE project making wine amphorae, ancient clay vessels used for fermenting and transporting wine. Wheel thrown and hand built, it’s a new challenge for her, which brings experimentation and uncertainty.“It’ll end up that size, hopefully that big.” She holds out her arm about the height of the café table. “It’s as big as we can fit in the kiln,” she smiles.

Working with clay can be problematic and surprising, so you just learn to deal with it, Lauren says.

“Cracks happen a lot. It can be a really happy moment or a really sad moment, opening up that kiln. You just can’t have any attachment.”

But it’s the risk that makes it exciting.“It’s what keeps you hooked, for sure. It’s an addiction. The gamble is definitely part of it, but I think clay teaches you a lot about humility and attachment, because you can’t have any attachment to any of the things. One because you’re selling them on, but two because they’re prone to breaking at any stage. It kind of transfers to anything in life.”

Main photo: Bethany Ryles

Dave Rawlings Machine, East Coast Tour @ Bangalow A & I Hall

Dave Rawlings sings sweet and country. His hat’s not as high as some but it’s perfectly clean and cream. He plays that 80-year-old guitar like it’s gonna take him away to another planet.  At once caressing it, then tugging and working it round a solo to within an inch of its life.

When Gillian Welch sings, her straight, wide mouth hides the smooth and effortless sound that escapes it. There’s no confusing whose voice that is. She smiles frequently, at us, at Dave, enjoying herself and the music they’re making.

It’s Dave’s name on the bill, but on stage the two are equals. One wouldn’t be without the other.

Gillian jokes that it’s going to get hot and sweaty, which is just as well because that’s how they like it. For sure, the night is still and the old hall is an oven full of bodies.

The guitars are pretty high, the jeans straight and not-too-narrow, and the denim double. Americana for the clothes as well as the tunes. Long dresses brush ankles, all checks and laces up the front. Gillian hitches hers up to hoe-down along with us.

Sweet harmonies blend like honey and golden syrup warmed up on the stove. Country, folksy, bluegrass, twang. I’ve no idea what it’s called but I don’t really care. I feel like I’m in a movie, watching myself in the audience of the old hall. Their accents (they all live in Nashville these days) upset my sense of place, so I imagine that instead of surfer vans and nice hatchbacks, outside there are pickup trucks and red tractors.

Willie Watson is a character. Short, with a scrunched up face and raised eyebrows when he sings. Sounds wonderful. Even though the two stars don’t seem to need him, he makes himself indispensable by tying them together and keeping them riding high. When left on his own, he commands the audience like he’s done it since he was five.

The fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked American boy (of 29) on the double bass is Paul Kowert. He takes a song and a low baritone emerges from his body behind the big, shiny instrument. He twists and lifts his wooden partner around behind the others, finding the sweet spots where he can listen to the lead vocal and follow a string solo.

Brittany Haas is the girl on the fiddle. For a lass who’s not even 30, she’s got the thing by the balls and steals the show time after time. Who needs a voice when you can make strings sing and skip like she can.

Beside me Tim floats off to heaven. He’s seen the Promised Land, or rather heard it with his own ears, and he can hardly believe it.

The Axis of Awesome – Melbourne Comedy Festival

So, I got to interview my first comedy act last week, The Axis of Awesome. Luckily, they were awesome, so they’re not liars. And, even more luckily, they are playing soon at a comedy festival near you! Which would be true if you live near Adelaide or Melbourne.

Get along to see them if you can, and if you can’t just google them or hit them up on YouTube. You’ll thank me later.

Read the funny stuff they had to say over at Aphra Magazine here.