Archive

‘We were witness to magic’: ex-Drones drummer Mike Noga’s posthumous swansong

Photo: Wilk

Originally published in The Guardian, October 2021

In July 2020 a jubilant Mike Noga took to social media to announce the forthcoming release of a new solo album, Open Fire. “It’s been a long time in the making but I couldn’t be prouder of this one,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

One month later news broke that the singer, songwriter and former drummer for the Drones – who played with the acclaimed Australian band over 10 years and three albums – had died suddenly at the age of 43.

Continue reading

From Eric Bogle to Ziggy Ramo: the Australian music challenging the Anzac legacy

Ziggy Ramo, Photo: Emma Pegrum

Originally published in The Guardian, April 2021

Eric Bogle’s And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda sits among Australia’s best-known pieces of wartime songwriting. Occasionally mistaken for a traditional standard, this Banjo Jackson-interpolating folk song has been covered by everyone from the Pogues to Joan Baez in the 50 years since its composition.

“I wrote the song in 71 after I’d seen my first Anzac Day parade – I’d never seen one before of course,” the Scottish-born Bogle tells the Guardian. “The Vietnam war was still going on, Australian boys were still dying across there, [but] it was hard to know that because the war had been relegated to page six. It was old news. I thought the time was right for an anti-war song. I set the song in Gallipoli because it’s deeply embedded in the psyche of most Australians.”

Continue reading

Restoration Australia: an easy watch about heritage glow-ups or another coat of whitewash?

Photo: ABC

Originally published in The Guardian, October 2020

Like a kind of Grand Designs with more trips to the library, Restoration Australia has returned for another season of genteel Victorian houses, crumbling cottages and rambling pastoral homesteads, and the brave (or foolish) homeowners working to rescue them.

Hosted by architect Stuart Harrison, it’s easily watchable, occasionally delightful television. We root for the country husband-and-wife teams who roll up their sleeves to give old beauties some TLC. We cringe when hubris or inexperience leads to baffling misses, like last season’s “stainless steel mesh cocoon”. We revel in millennial renter schadenfreude when unexpected structural issues start to bleed money, and nod knowingly at a well-restored wrought iron veranda (having learnt about the intricacies of “Italianate” motifs moments earlier).

But the limitations of its historical inquiry can sometimes prove frustrating.

Continue reading

Revisiting Parklands: a bittersweet slice of 90s Adelaide noir

Cate Blanchett in Parklands, Photo: National Film and Sound Archive / Helen Bowden

Originally published in InReview, June 2021

Starring a young Cate Blanchett in her first film role, writer/director Kathryn Millard’s  1996 film Parklands remains a surprisingly evergreen – and very Adelaide – reflection on memory and place.

The film opens with sprinklers and birdsong, shots of a lush and manicured Botanic Gardens, and a ’90s model Holden idling by. It’s all very quiet and genteel – until the Commodore bursts into flames. Something, it seems, is rotten in the state of South Australia.

Blanchett’s Rosie enters by airplane a moment later, staring out the window as it makes its descent over a skyline still capped by the Santos building. She cuts a familiar figure: another 20-something who has fled Adelaide for Sydney, only to be drawn back by a death in the family – that of her father, a policeman. An uncomfortable conversation at the wake, followed by the discovery of his old journals, sets Rosie on a slow-burning investigation into the “secrets and shadows” of his life and death.

“Adelaide’s my hometown, I moved to Sydney while this film was in development and came back to make it,” Kathryn Millard says over the phone. “I have enormous affection for Adelaide – I think you can say things about your hometown that you wouldn’t let other people say.”

Continue reading

Dušan and Voitre Marek: sibling reverie

Dušan Marek’s Equator (1948), and Voitre Marek’s My Gibraltar, (1948). Image: AGSA

Originally published in The Saturday Paper, July 2021

For a pair of brothers raised in the landlocked woodlands of Bohemia, Dušan and Voitre Marek spent much of their lives drawn to water. In their hands it’s a transportive and transformative medium, a place of contemplation, inspiration and the divine.

It’s present in Dušan’s 1948 painting Equator, as the backdrop to the soft pink outline of a woman’s torso that melts into the hull of a ship, with cogs and motors swapped in for her breasts and womb. There it is again in Voitre’s My Gibraltar, this time as a site of longing for his future wife, Vera, who earlier in 1948 fled the onset of communism alongside the brothers only to end up on a different Australia-bound ship. The separated lovers’ faces merge into one as another vessel traces a dotted path across their foreheads towards the horizon. In their own way, both paintings betray a restlessness for whatever’s waiting beyond that big, infinite blue.

Continue reading

Echoes of a golden age at the Piccadilly

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, October 2020

North Adelaide’s Piccadilly Cinemas has lived through times of war, recession, home video and Netflix. It has now spent much of its 80th year closed or half-empty, but not even a pandemic can dim the magic.

“My father said there was no future in cinema,” Bob Parr tells The Adelaide Review. “Television had come, and he wanted me to get a trade. So I went to Holden’s and became a fitter and turner – but I still worked at the cinemas at night.”

One of those was the Piccadilly, where five years later a 20-year-old Parr quit his Holden job at the first sign of a full-time gig. It was 1964, a time when Parr and then-manager Clem Williams faced a “battle” to lure audiences back to suburban cinemas, which received the latest films eight weeks after city theatres.

Such slim patronage was a long way from the fanfare that greeted the Piccadilly when it opened on 23 October 1940, the “latest link” in an empire of suburban cinemas run by local theatre baron Dan Clifford. As Clifford’s 20th and penultimate cinema before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Piccadilly was built at the tail end of a boom era for suburban moviegoing, and promised a suite of mod cons making it “the most modern theatre in the Southern Hemisphere”.

Continue reading “Echoes of a golden age at the Piccadilly”

Weyes Blood’s sinking feelings

Photo: Brett Stanley

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, February 2020

Natalie Mering’s work as Weyes Blood is, on its surface, a shimmering throwback to the singer songwriters of the 1970s. But there’s a stormy undercurrent beneath those classic sounds.

On the cover of her 2019 album, Titanic Rising, we find Mering literally adrift, floating in an underwater facsimile of her childhood bedroom. “I wanted it to be submerged as a comment on the rising sea levels, and all these places that will be underwater soon,” Mering explains. “But also how water can represent a subconscious realm.

“I kind of felt like the bedroom was a really formative space for young, westernised youth; this is where you formulate your ideology, what you think life is really about. In some ways it’s this weird initiation into adulthood, but it doesn’t really prepare you for reality, and disappointment.”

Continue reading “Weyes Blood’s sinking feelings”

Parwana’s plated history: ‘It’s an act of reclamation, an act of preservation’

Farida, Zelmai and Durkhanai Ayubi. Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, October 2020

For just over a decade the Ayubi family has won hearts, minds and bellies at Parwana Afghan Kitchen. In a new book of stories and recipes, Durkhanai Ayubi shows how each dish is steeped in history, loss and preservation.

When you look at the arc of history, it’s so short-sighted, right?” Durkhanai says. “I just knew it was so important that if anybody was going to engage with Afghan food and our story, I wanted it to be from a place that was much deeper. It wasn’t just this superficial, ‘Aw, refugees come good’ story, but actually challenging myself and everyone who reads it to think about our place in the world today in a much broader context.”

Between her mother’s vividly photographed recipes, Durkhanai weaves together the broader story of their homeland – the longue durée of an oft-misunderstood ‘graveyard of empires’, that for centuries sat at the juncture of continents, trade routes and conquerors.

Durkhanai writes that the modern nation state of Afghanistan is simply the current label applied to “a bricolage of unlikely races and cultures, each with its own gods, languages and customs”. On such a scale, Parwana’s blend of dumplings, curries, rices and sweets becomes nothing less than centuries of history and exchange served up on a plate.

“Our histories are so intertwined, all this imperialism and this redirection of resources, occupation of peoples’ lands… that stuff’s still playing out and we haven’t reckoned with it in so many ways. I really needed to write everything from a place that factored it all in – and that’s not necessarily history, that’s alive. You can’t separate the past from the present.

Continue reading “Parwana’s plated history: ‘It’s an act of reclamation, an act of preservation’”

The last days of the family-owned fun parks

Greenhills Adventure Park, Photo: Sia Duff
Greenhills Adventure Park, Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Saturday Paper, November 2016

It’s an overcast Friday morning on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula and Greenhills Adventure Park, one of the state’s last outdoor fun parks, is being quite literally carved up for sale.

Since opening its doors to the public in 1982, this once inconspicuous patch of rolling grassland has provided generations of children with peeling sunburn, countless rounds of mini-golf and that brief flood of endorphins as you head into the final dip of a waterslide.

But time has not been kind to Greenhills, or its business model.

Continue reading

Herbs give New Zealand’s 1980s land rights movement a reggae soundtrack

Protesters occupy a rugby pitch during the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand, Photo: Robin Morrison, courtesy Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira and Morrison estate

Originally published by Lindsay Magazine, July 2020

Sometimes it’s actually pretty easy to judge a record by its cover. Musically, Herbs’ 1981 debut Whats’ Be Happen? is a stirring example of the spread of reggae across Oceania in the 1970s. But it’s also a vivid political document, from the second you glimpse the black and white photograph on its sleeve. The aerial shot of the final standoff between police and protesters at Bastion Point in May 1978 captures the moment government forces ended a peaceful five hundred-day-long occupation of Ngāti Whātua ancestral lands north of Auckland earmarked for development.

These political tensions are entwined with the band’s early music, starting with the needling guitar riff of opening track ‘Azania (Soon Come)’. It’s a song that traces a line between the civil rights battles facing Pasifika and Māori communities in Aotearoa and the oppression of South African apartheid, all over a rocksteady beat. After name checking Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, the chorus offers a call to “bow to the freedom fighters” and “send racists on the run”a message of decolonisation sounding across the southern hemisphere.

Continue reading