The enigmatic Aldous Harding: ‘I’m like the Jim Carrey of the indie world’

Photo: Emma Wallbanks

Originally published in The Guardian, March 2022

“Part of what I do is treading the line between flow state and dissociation – being present and being somewhere else,” Aldous Harding says thoughtfully over video call.

For the duration of our conversation at least, the songwriter is quite present. She is bundled up in her mother’s back yard in rural New Zealand, puffing on a cigarette as she looks out over a lawn, a shed and a ball of ginger fur that looks like a cat.

“That’s a dog,” Harding corrects me. “It’s not your fault – she looks like a cheap wig. Her name’s Jessie, she’s a pomeranian, she’s a nightmare.”

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‘People started walking out of my gigs’: Darren Hanlon on losing faith and moving home

Photo: Simon Fazio

Originally published in The Guardian, March 2022

“It’s kind of strange, being plonked back into your former life, as an adult,” Darren Hanlon says. The 48-year old musician is on the phone, sitting in the old housing commission home he grew up in. The story of how he ended up back in Gympie, in southeast Queensland, has a New Testament ring to it. First, his partner, Shelley Short – the US folk singer who first duetted with Hanlon on his 2010 single All These Things  discovered she was pregnant. Living on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean, the expectant parents reunited in Portland in February 2020, when a plague spreading across the US west coast forced them to make a snap decision to flee.

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Sole of a nation

“Man working” (Rufus Wilton), Nepabunna, circa 1930. © South Australian Museum

Originally published in The Monthly, May 2021

The young man looks straight ahead, both eyes fixed on the camera even as his hands feed a piece of leather through the sewing machine. Daylight streams in between gaps in the corrugated iron and pinned animal skins around him, and at the front of his workbench sits a pair of elastic-sided leather boots.

It’s a recognisable style that’s come to evoke the Australian outback, pastoralism and one name in particular: R.M. Williams. But the photograph isn’t of Reginald Murray Williams – it’s of an Adnyamathanha man of the northern Flinders Ranges named Rufus Wilton.

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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

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.”

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‘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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.”

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