By Julius Grafton
I had one of my best Australia Days this 2013 mixing monitors at an aboriginal festival near the city of Sydney. You wouldn’t know it was on unless you were part of their network. It wasn’t for white Australians, but it wasn’t closed off either. It was free to attend.
The scene: a large park on the edge of town. Main stage where I was had all kind of acts to sort out, and a Young Black and Deadly stage did more edgy, rap and hip hop stuff.
There was a long row of concessions selling anything from juice smoothies to sausage on a bun – with the usual and strange things in between. There were tents for Elders, a giant STOLEN sign (with an information tent) and a lot of networking places.
I was hired by a long established Sydney production firm who usually employ my clever colleague Jimmy for front of house and live multitrack record. He can walk and chew gum at the same time. They needed a monitor guy, and were brave enough to hire me.
INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA & THE DAY
It wasn’t until the corroboree that I started to think about what this day meant for these descendants of the original owners of the land. I’m offspring of their invaders. Here were koori, murray, whites, and the whole melting pot of Australia, under a blue sky.
Between a Morten bay fig and the stage, a circle of ancient sand in front of the modern stage created a contrast, as the smoking ceremony and the rituals were performed – not for paying whites, but for the people. Suddenly I realised: those amongst us who think this is all a version, like a pizza in Australia is a version of a different thing in Italy, are wrong.
Elders, children and tribes did their routines and sitting quietly on a corner of the stage, I found myself moved.
There were some heated words, and some firebrand speeches later on. ‘We are the sovereign people of this land’. ‘We have to fight the system’. ‘This is invasion day’. I understand.
So where were the filthy-drunk noisy down-and-outs? Here there were all people; families, young couples, kids, oldies, dogs, prams, picnic blankets. One clearly mad guy was cavorting around in front of our stage a little later on, and eventually some people talked him away.
Not everyone smiled in return, my white face was not one they wanted to mirror. But most did. Archie Roach’s tour manager stopped for a picture with me, he was really together and got the act on stage with us technical guys understanding they needed 10 wired choir mics, not the 5 we prepared. We saw why – they have a flow of singers backing the beautiful, gentle Archie who plays with four older sensitive white guys.
The first band blew me away. Dubmarine describe themselves thus: ‘High-powered and high-energy the nine-piece tour-de-force somehow smash together dub, dancehall, reggae, drum n bass, and just a little touch of rock into a groove all their own. It’s heavy, in the best possible way’.
No kidding, I was grooving once I got the monstrous keyboard jiving with the enormous bass and the kick sample in the sidefill. The connection with the event was the lead male singer – who is koori. Top band, awesome.
The show rolled along, compared by Constantina Bush – a very tall and flamboyant Aboriginal drag queen who quickly won everyone over, especially me. I respond very well to big hearted people.
Every act had a black leader or members. Some DJ, some rap, and some smoking hot bands. Highlight for me was the unspeakably bluesy Marlina Cummings who did five songs with that A-list of session musicians which included Craig Calhoun and Rex Goh. They were so, so, good. More grooving at the desk, massive smile. How can I enjoy myself on monitors so much? Push up the drum send in the listen wedge, feel the beat! Flick the scenes, scanning the mixes.
I actually had a failure in the first of their songs, I couldn’t get Rex’s acoustic anywhere near high enough, I was chasing it all over the M7CL, while Craig Calhoun is yelling for more, just next to me at stage left front. But once that passed, it was all smooth sailing.
We had a lot of last minute surprises in the afternoon heat. Seb Parisi was the stage guy, he is one of my favourite industry people. Seb is a graduate of my college who now is the venue manager at Metro in the city. He is unflappable, energetic, smart and charismatic. He saved the day for me plenty of times, as we battled short changeovers and tried to find why Trombone line 2 would not take a DI. Where is the phantom power switch? Go to a page, find the button, hit without muting, BLAAATTT! Sorry Jimmy. Then Mick Curtale turned up – another grad from 2008. He told me he is now an infrastructure manager at top accountancy Delloites! He left our college, worked on gigs, and then did what we told them all to do, if they wanted it, and that was to get into the AV dept at a top 100 company or for government. Success!
One of the things I remember that I love again about the music industry is how you meet people. Old faces and new. Glenn Maddock turned up from Victoria, here to support the All Star band behind Aboriginal Vic Simons, a 64 year old groover. His band had Jimmy Manzie and Rockpile Jones from Old 55, and Merv Dick the impossibly enthusiastic and terrific rock drummer for The Delltones.
Earlier on, a really harassed young volunteer – Joe Wallace – from 93.7 FM Koori Radio kept turning up at monitors to request more left or more right level for the broadcast feed. He was so stressed that Jimmy went over to their broadcast van out the back, only to find John Maizels doing what John Maizels does best! Hilarious and nice to see him, given the current politic around our magazine reporting of other matters that John disagrees with.
Eventually we ran out of daytime, and the gig ended. We were swamped with crew, since the production company had already stripped the other stages. No kidding, Jimmy and I were out of there one hour after the last encore, all the PA was packed and ready to load – there was no point us staying on the payroll, and we had been first to arrive at 8.30am.
By 8.30pm we were at CX HQ unloading Jimmy’s multitrack gear. We sat on the steps outside and drank a beer in the evening twilight.
It was my best Australia day for a very long time.