Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saving the Palace Theatre, top of Bourke St

There is such a battle underway in the city of Melbourne. The battle to save the Palace. Let's hope it's not too late. Photo of interiors removed in November just before a heritage report on them to the City of Melbourne recommended their protection, taken by Jessica Adams of Australian Music Museum Project (AMMP) Here's a story I co-wrote in the Age with Aisha Dow on the issue, and the history of the Palace Theatre site, stretching back to the Gold Rush and 1954.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Rock Country

Being included in a great big brick of a book called Rock Country is a turn-on. One thing I love is a good editor, and Christian Ryan goes the extra kilometre. My story is about Michael Hutchence, Ollie Olsen, Max Q... and was Michael happy? Some of my favourite pieces are Clinton Walker on Barry Gibb, Jeff Jenkins on early Ian 'Molly' Meldrum and... well most of them. And then there's the photos, oh God the photos. There's never been such a wild and ambitious compendium on Australian music history. So do yourself a Molly, and buy someone one for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy birthday Bobby Kennedy

Happy birthday Robert F. Kennedy. You would have been 87. "Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation...It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Day of Affirmation Address, University of Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hey sports fans, One of the things I have the pleasure of doing from time to time, outside of journalism and teaching and of course my own writing, is writing stuff for other people. This can be really fun, like '... in-depth liner notes'(with David Laing trading licks in spots) of double CD Boogie! , 'by Jen Jewel Brown who, as Jenny Brown and Jenny Hunter Brown, was one of the most incisive Australian rock critics of the day.' Thanks guys, but 'of the day!' I aint dead yet! But it was really great to be able to talk about this sizzling double CD of Australian gems, 'compiled by David Laing, who anthologised Australian garage rock of the punk-era and beyond with the acclaimed Do The Pop! compilation some years ago.' The set includes gem-like relative obscurantis like Buffalo, Kahvas Jute and Band of Light as well as the more recognised Stevie Wright, Daddy Cool, the Hooks, Sports, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons and so much more. Pop-up appearances by me, including on ABC radio; both 774 (with sporty ex-Novocastrian Lindy Burns)and RN in The Drawing Room with Mr Ubiquitous Waleed Aly and my great value ex-housemate Ross Wilson. The hot pressing and fabbo Ian McCausland cover package booklet of Boogie! make it a unique class act. More, Warners, more! Glad it's selling well for you. Cool Baby Boomers Xmas gift for sure. And right along track with my aim of seeking to have us remember our great arts creators from times past in my ongoing Australian Arts Living Museum Project...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


LIVING MUSIC SHOWCASE: CHOICE AS ‘Raw, real and beautiful…’’ ‘Out there talent.’ ‘Brilliant collaboration. ‘Authenticity.’ - Audience comments from last year’s Living Music show ‘No Place Like Home’ * HIGHLY COMMENDED Melbourne Fringe Festival Awards 2011* REVOLT - 12 Elizabeth St Kensington - Melbourne Fringe Venue of the Year 2011 27-28 September – (Thurs 27 Sept 6pm & Fri 28 Sept 3pm & 6pm) Living Music Showcase: Choice As is an original Fringe debut that mashes up music, multimedia and theatre, written and performed by participants as young as fourteen. Many of them have been facing family violence, uncertain housing and youth detention. Some songs were actually written inside Victorian Youth Justice Centres Malmsbury and Parkville Precinct. Last year, Living Music’s show won a Highly Commended Music gong at Fringe, and 2012’s Choice As is sounding just as impressive. Come witness how even the hardest road can rise, with music, in one of the three Living Music Showcase: Choice As shows at REVOLT in Kensington 27-28 September.
Living Music’s highly effective youth mentorship program has been operating since 1999 under artistic director Andrew McSweeney, himself a singer/songwriter/producer. Mentors like indie hip hop producer Julez (discovered byTriple J’s Unearthed in 2008) help fledgling artists build confidence and see new possibilities through self-expression, enterprise, teamwork and accomplishment. The standard is high. McSweeney and a range of other muso mentors like Pete Satchell (Dallas Crane), Thomas Butt and MC Pat Marks (Pataphysics) have helped nurture great songs from Living Music Showcase: Choice As contributors like nineteen year old Big Bear, whose ‘Back Then’ - so honest it shocks - is moving and melodic with its straying piano, strings and beats. Lil Darcy’s audacious ‘One In 7 Billion’ (featuring Toxman and Julez) throws up lyrics like ‘shark’s meat’, ‘fresh allegations’ and ‘voice box is under persuasion’ over organ grinder keyboards and loping horns. There’s a big slice of Islander R&B from various participants; stories that reach out with humour, honesty and verve. Living Music Showcase: Choice As also features film and projections, with participants in the thick of it, getting skilled-up. Fourteen-year-old Lil Darcy: ‘When I was in Parkville [Youth Justice Precinct], which is like a boys’ home, they gave me the number for Living Music. It’s a good program. I’m pretty pleased with my producer Julez; he’s the best.’ Other mentors working on Living Music Showcase: Choice As include writers Simon McSweeney and Rebecca Lister, Dan Ryan kicking in with film and visual arts, and movement expert Dominique Miller.
Living Music Showcase: Choice Is CONTAINS GRIT HOPE AND INVENTION: HANDLE WITH CARE. Focus issues: social issues, youth, justice system, multimedia, music, education. Enquiries LIVING MUSIC Ph 03 9329 0503 Fax 03 9329 7857 53 Little Baillie St, North Melbourne PO Box 880, North Melbourne 3051 Email Living Music including First Sunday All Ages Open Mic at REVOLT The Living Music Radio 3CR Mondays 3-4pm Living Music is a part of Living Learning Australia which assists the development of disadvantaged young learners through cooperation in artistic, environmental and community building endeavours.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RIP ANDREW McMILLAN - Writer committed to life in Top End

ANDREW McMILLAN AUSTRALIAN WRITER 29-12-1957 - 28-01-2012. Just realised I hadn't put the obituary I had the honour of writing for author, journo and mate Andrew McMillan up here. So here t'is ... From the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. ANDREW McMillan, lanky, soft-spoken author of five published non-fiction books crucial to Australia's history, has died peacefully at home with friends in Darwin. He was 54. The evening of his death was the first day he hadn't been able to get out of bed to enjoy the tropical breeze on the patio of ''the hacienda'', as he called it, at Darwin's Marrakai apartments. After his terminal cancer diagnosis in February 2011, McMillan adopted a ''party on'' palliative approach as a stream of local and fly-in friends came to visit, sharing drinks and stories. Among them were the musicians Paul Kelly, Ed Kuepper (the Saints), federal Education Minister and former Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett, Rob Hirst (also Midnight Oil) and Don Walker (Cold Chisel). As a RAM (Rock Australia Magazine) reporter from age 17 and a widely published freelancer, McMillan had been instrumental in all these careers. His patient, ironic openness and probing eye had made them lifelong friends. An only child, Andrew McMillan was born in Melbourne with a hare lip and cleft palate. He moved with his parents, John (a public servant ) and Lorna McMillan (a former nursing sister) to Brisbane at three. He attended Oakleigh State School and later Brisbane Grammar, where he was bullied over his appearance. A shy boy speaking in a near whisper with a lisp, he underwent repeated bouts of lip and palate surgery into his early teens. McMillan discovered seminal punk band the Saints in Brisbane, selling two stories about them to Britain's influential Sounds in 1976. Joining the RAM staff in July 1977, he moved to Sydney. There he helped break unashamedly Australian bands like Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil, who sang with political awareness about ordinary Australian lives, in the suburbs, by the shores, in the country towns and outback lands. He hitch-hiked all over the mainland.There were important relationships in Sydney and 'a subsequent roll-call of steamy liaisons in Darwin and beyond', but no children. Influenced by New Journalism and the subjective, gonzo techniques of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, the young McMillan reported the youth-rally-like reception in the pubs for the Angels, Radio Birdman and others from the late '70s through the '80s. His reportage from the road with Warumpi Band and Midnight Oil reflected his shock at conditions in the interior, leading to his first book, Strict Rules (1988). That year he paddled 300 kilometres of the flooding Darling River in New South Wales and moved to Darwin, ramping up a lifelong engagement with indigenous music and affairs. McMillan's quiet ability to listen, watch and simply report the complex truth from the inside, earned him respect. He became media liaison officer for Yothu Yindi's Garma Festival. In January 1990 he visited East Timor for a holiday gone wrong, finding himself soon testifying at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva about mass killings of pro-independence demonstrators and starting a second book (Death in Dili, 1992). His following books include the beautiful story of our incredible flying boats in World War II, Catalina Dreaming (2002), Tiwi Footy (2008) and An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land (2001), the 2009 reprint of which won the inaugural NT Chief Minister's Book of the Year. An award-winning poet, he earned songwriting royalties from songs co-written with Kitto and Neil Murray. McMillan had been living in Darwin at ''the bunker'', a flood-prone bolt-hole where he sweated over manuscripts now archived with the NT Library. Alas, the place offered poor sanctuary from the wet season for a previously bushie-tough, now frail fellow riddled with liver and bowel cancer. In support, his friends organised a benefit and art auction, raising $20,000 to install him at the more comfortable Marrakai for Christmas 2010. McMillan, meanwhile, worked steadily. He oversaw a theatre adaptation of An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land and followed roads and dirt tracks inland with friends, deep into the Northern Territory country that was so precious to him. There he selected a last resting place beside a remote billabong at Larrimah. McMillan is survived by his mother, Lorna, and his extended family. He outlived his prognosis by four months, completing in that time an EP of music and spoken word for Laughing Outlaw Records, and a sixth book, a compilation of his journalism. Both will be released posthumously. The author's estate and royalties now go to the McMillan Fund, administered by the NT Writers Centre. The author is a Melbourne writer and ex-RAM colleague of McMillan's. Jen Jewel Brown February 07, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Lisa Bellear-shaped hole in the universe

Warning image and name of a deceased person .... Vale Lisa Bellear. Photo: Antoinette Braybrook May 2 was the birthday of black poet and razzle dazzle woman, photographic historian, teacher, agitator, comedienne, writer,out lesbian ... and instigator and co-writer (with John Harding and Gary Foley) of the amazing street theatre work The Dirty Mile, staged at various times by Ilbijerri Theatre Company in and around Gertrude Street Fitzroy. She was a friend of mine and like thousands more, I miss her. She died far too early unexpectedly in bed in her sleep at 45. The other day I found something I wrote about her and thought I'd put it up here... Title also links to an obituary I wrote just after she died (July 6 2006). 'I only met Lisa Bellear a few brief years before she died. She featured at a gig I ran for Overload Poetry festival at St Kilda's Linden Gallery, which had previously exhibited her photography. There were two great things about this. One, I got to drive car-less Lisa from her home in the People's Republic of Moreland (Brunswick) to the gig, and get to know her, and two, she was very good. She had a nose for tokenism balanced by an appetite for poetry and performance. Her presence was warm, with bear-like qualities - both cuddly and terrifying at the same time. A mate of hers called her 'the general' and I could get with that - you know, if you were lacklustre with words she would be onto it like a dingo onto a pizzly wether (sick sheep), cutting out the crap. She'd tell you the blackfella point of view and a bit of the history, and you'd know the scars were still a bit raw. Then she'd crack a wicked take on it and raw would become roar - she'd be a woman laughing with another woman in a little car cutting across the Yarra on the way back home after a gig.'

Thursday, April 12, 2012

JL Obit, The Age 10.4.12


1-3-1937 - 2-4-2012


JIMMY "Gentleman Jim" Little, Australia's first indigenous top 10 recording artist, has died in his sleep at his home in Dubbo, aged 75. His doctor suspected heart failure, following years of ill health caused by diabetes and kidney failure that led to an organ transplant in 2004.

After living for years in Sydney's industrial Lilyfield, Little had retired to live in Dubbo in the house he'd always wanted for his family, with lemon and orange trees he'd dreamed of out the back.

Trees were important to the singer-songwriter and his wife, Marjorie-Rose (nee Peters), who had picked the Dubbo house because of its tree-lined street. Sadly, she died just two weeks before their 55th anniversary last July.

The charming, mellifluous-voiced man of faith who would scale musical heights over seven decades, was born under a tree, to his mother Frances (nee McGee) and father James Edward "Kunkas" Little, near the Dhungala (Murray River) at Cumeragunja Station. He was a descendant and elder of the Yorta Yorta and the Yuin/Monaro peoples.

His first crib was a suitcase. The family hut was made of hessian bags, mud and newspaper. "The best way to describe it," Little said, "was highly flammable." His family followed the river and work, picking fruit, singing and playing with the Wallaga Gumleaf Band and at indigenous vaudeville shows.

At 18 months, first-born Little joined his parents and hundreds of others in the 1939 Cumeragunja Walk-Off, the first Aboriginal strike in history, over draconian conditions imposed by the Aborigines Protection Board. Disease was prevalent. Two of Little's six siblings died from tuberculosis. His mother also died, suddenly, of tetanus from a cut by an oyster shell.

Little was 13 years old and Auntie Jane helped care for the remaining five kids to stop the Aborigines Welfare Board taking them away. He attended "Cumera" Aboriginal School, Terara Public School in Nowra and Maruya Catholic School, but left at 15 and found work at a cordial factory in Nowra.

At age 16, he jumped on the back of a Sydney-bound truck to enter Australia's Amateur Hour radio talent show on radio 2GB, coming second. He formed the Continental Duo, and then the Jimmy Little Trio; the group did the town hall circuit, dances and concerts with an all-indigenous line-up.

At age 17, he met Marjorie-Rose at a barn dance, and after a three-year courtship he produced a ring but was too scared to pop the question; "Marje" just slipped it on her finger. Later, strapped for cash, he sold his beloved guitar to pay for the wedding dress.

The couple shared a house at the top of notorious Eveleigh Street in Redfern, Sydney, and their only child, historian and filmmaker Frances Claire Peters-Little, was born when he was 20. Later, when Frances became a single mother to James Henry (now a musician and performer), she said Marje told her "We'll all raise him" so the three of them did, and her father became "a loving father to my son".

Little signed a contract with EMI in 1956, and in 1963, after 17 singles, his sweetly arranged Royal Telephone hit No.1 in Sydney for Festival Records and notched triple gold.

But for some Aboriginal radicals, Little was too quiet in terms of speaking out on issues affecting indigenous people. Yet he was genuinely kind. "Don't let the gentlemanly side fool you," Frances said. "He was sharp as a blade. He knew what he wanted and he did it by shaking your hand."

Little had worked with outback indigenous charity since before the 1972 Tent Embassy in Canberra, spoken out for Aboriginal self-management, and helped Charles Perkins on the Freedom Rides, collecting evidence of unofficial apartheid in country Australia such as when the Mooree Spa Baths refused him entry on racial grounds. Ever constant was his soothing music, and not surprisingly, the public voted him 1964's Australian Pop Star of the Year in Everybody's magazine.

The crooner continued to weave his magic, extending to his versions of tracks recorded by other Australians, such as the 1999 Messenger album, which went gold. Another of his reinventions was Resonate in 2001.

Little was also active in "giving back" to his community. In his final months, he cheered the arrival of the Big Purple Truck, to provide mobile renal dialysis to Central Desert communities through partnerships with his not-for-profit Jimmy Little Foundation. He had also worked with far-flung communities since 2006 in teaching healthy eating through the "Thumbs Up" initiative, assisted by his long-term manager and drummer, Buzz Bidstrup.

Little, who was declared a National Living Treasure in 2004, was also awarded three honorary doctorates by Australian universities, and honoured at the Mo Awards, the ARIAs, the Deadlys and elsewhere, and appeared in films, plays and operas.

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2004 "for service to the entertainment industry as a singer, recording artist and songwriter and to the community through reconciliation and as an ambassador for indigenous culture".

Elders are bringing sand from Little's birthplace to be buried with him at Walgett, where he will lie with his wife, Marjorie. A small private service tomorrow will be followed by a state memorial service at the Sydney Opera House.

Little is survived by his daughter, Frances, his niece, opera soprano Deborah Cheetham (who wrote Pecan Summer about the Cumeragunja Walk-Off before she realised her parents had been involved), and extended family.

His grandson, James Henry, is performing at the Malthouse in Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word until April 14.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thank you Jimmy Little

Dr Jimmy Little AO was buried today at Walgett with his sweetheart Marjorie and some sands from his Cumeragunja birthlands. When I have a link to the obituary I wrote for him in The Age I will post it. Thanks you Jimmy for showing us that louder wasn't better, that exquisite expression wasn't just for poets, that love was the ultimate message from the kindest messenger we could hope for. Your versions of songs rewrite them. You built sturdy bridges made for every colour of feet. Vale.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paper Trail

Ah yes, the Planeteers (or some of them - Pepperell missed out this time) by Planet/The Digger/Rolling Stone Australia art director Ian McCausland. Far too flattering of me! But captures the vibe superbly.

The ABC RN Hindsight doco Paper Trail is now up on the websiste. Link is on the title above here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did the making. What a blast getting to do this! And a wonderful opportunity to remember those days and the great papers. Apologies to those who contributed so much, like Colin Talbot, especially as early go-to administrator at The Digger for instance, Jan Flett at Planet and Greg Taylor at RAM, who due to time constraints have not been painted into this limited portrait. More images on the website/podcast.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bit sad, bit glad ... Seems I've finished Paper Trail, the Hindsight program I've been working on part-time for a while now. Features .Daily Planet, Planet, The Digger, Nation Review and RAM.

And Andrew McMillan, Michael Leunig, Germaine Greer, Mungo MacCallum, Richard Walsh, David N. Pepperell, Virginia Fraser, Terry Cleary, Alistair Jones, Anthony O'Grady, Phillip Frazer and more and more ... I feel overwhelmed. At last I cried for Andrew -RIP. Will let you know when the program is going to air.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Melbourne - fireworks taking themselves too literally

2012 was the first New Year I woke to where both my kids were staying off elsewhere, separately doing their own things with their own friends at their own parties. It was a bountiful eve, driving Sienna up into the tangling hills of Research, hairpin bends writhing like a a cut snake, moon a cantelope slice hanging fat near the horizon in the warm air, pygmy possum eyes glowing overhead as we climbed and climbed and I left her at a high stone gate with friends and wound back down and home to absolute peace and solitude. Just loved it. In the afternoon of 1/1/12 went over to my lover's and we spent a sensational day partying, dancing, singing and whatnot ... Lots of whatnot. A very happy 2012 to all of you.

Monday, February 07, 2011

stealing away ... For Steve Prestwich

Death doesn't mess around ... Except when it does. Age's sombre march can have many mis-steps. Lost two old friends recently, both in their 50s. Harvey James's loss we saw coming, his lung cancer spreading. Steve Prestwich's second, fatal bout with a brain tumour came out of left field.

Writing obituaries is an honour and a fierce challenge. You deal with the fresh grief of those closest. There's often family dischord, and people are angry and easily upset. Yet with luck the tribute stays up on the net for people to read from anywhere, for a long time. Like a vitual headstone in space. It's an important memorial to read about the marks artists make on the wall of life.
Artists can get too easily forgotten in this country, in my opinion. Vale.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I've never used a toilet as portrayed in pictures 1 and 2 in this official poster on a Swinburne University toilet wall, but I guess at sometime someone has, or else they wouldn't have put this up, right?