Australia journal - June 1999

Playing in the Bush Band

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After dinner, Rita and I went back to our room and hung out for a while.  Rita was exhausted and planning to read a while before going to sleep, and I went back to the bar to play music with Matt.

It was "casino night" at the other end of the large room, so he turned off the muzak and we sat down in chairs to run through some stuff with a few guests and staff members kibitzing.  We played "Hotel California," "Yellow Submarine," and "Proud Mary" - that kind of stuff, responding to requests from guests - and then somehow we got to "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" - whereupon a group of Heron employees charged off for a moment, returning with jug band instruments!

That's "bush band" here.  The "Bush bass" was made of a pool cue, a length of string, and a box about two feet on each side made of thin wood or particle board.  The washboard was not made of metal, but I'm not sure what it was; it was enclosed in a frame and had a box behind it.  And Jon, the bartender, had a tall wooden stick with a shorter crossmember near one end and several dozen beer bottle caps nailed close together over about half of its surface; this was referred to as a "lagerphone."

The piece de resistance was the wobble board.  Matt ran off to the other end of the club and returned with a piece of masonite about two feet by three feet, which he held out in front of himself. He bowed it slightly and then moved it back and forth in time to the music, creating - the sound you hear at the beginning of Rolf Harris's record of "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport"!  A mystery solved!  I always wondered what that woob-woob-woob-woob was!

God, this was fun!  Matt Zarb and three of the Baillie's Bar crew standing next to the stage, banging on these primitive instruments and singing "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" - and after the second line of every chorus, Jon interjected "root a wallaby!"

They were all amazed that I knew the words.  I explained that it had been a huge hit in the States when I was a kid, and that I had been wondering for decades what that wobble-board sound was.

I also had a lot of fun with Tracy, the dining room supervisor.  She had offered me a cigarette at the bar the night before, and I replied that I didn't smoke.  I also pointed at the large warning message on the pack and intoned, in an exaggerated Aussie accent, what was printed there: "Smoking while pregnant harms your baby!"  Tracy replied in the universal language of popular culture, "The dingo ate my baby!" (which phrase was used to great effect by Elaine in an episode of Seinfeld, which is very popular here in Australia, you see).

We laffed and laffed, and I had great fun twanging along in my exaggerated Australian accent.  The impromptu bush band performed a few more Aussie numbers I had never heard before, and the the bartender they call The Rev went and got his didjeridu.  Well, it was actually a length of PVC pipe, but he played it just fine through the PA while Matt rhythmed along with a pair of claves.

After that, Matt and I picked up the guitars again, and he insisted I play "Desert of Love" for the assembled company.  I was thrilled at the response to the song - every punch line a winner!  And while I was singing, Rita wandered in.  She had missed a great deal of hilarity, but we still had some fun and some good music in us, so we hung out there in the bar until the on-duty members of the staff had finished closing everything down and were ready to turn out the lights.

The cloud cover was thin enough that we could tell were the moon was, though we couldn't see it.  We went to bed optimistic about our prospects for gettiing Out In It on Thursday.

I was awakened a couple of times during the night by wild winds and hard rain, but Thursday dawned with a clear sky overhead and a gentle breeze from the west - a very good sign.

At breakfast I was raving about my new Rolfe Harris knowledge to a couple of fellow resort guests, and a woman named Liz from the Hunter Valley joined in to add some information, noting that she had lived near Harris in England or a time.  It seems Harris started out (as so many pop musicians do) as an art student.  He would go on stage with a large blank panel and a huge brush (more like a house painter's brush than an artist's), and as he spoke he would make a few strokes on the board - and before long some sort of amazing picture would emerge.  Liz didn't go into much detail as to the content of the stories or the pictures, since she was recalling things from her own childhood.  But it's clear he was some kind of "Mr. Australia" folklore guy.  Harris became passé, as novelty acts tend to do, but kids love his stuff and so do lots of Australians of a certain age.  Harris has lived in England for many years, but he comes back to Australia at least once a year because he says it's too easy to lose the accent.  "He is very proud to be an Australian," said Liz.

After breakfast we stopped by tthe dive shop to see if the snorkel boats would be going out today.  They weren't going to confirm until 10:30, but everyone seemed pretty optimistic.  Rita put on her wet suit and walked over to Shark Bay for some close-in snorkeling, and I sat down to write this morning's journal entries.  She came back at 10:15 very excited, having seen sharks and rays right up close!

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