Australian rock band The Drones fill an important gap in the distance between fact and fancy. Their performance last night at the Opera House as part of Sydney’s Vivid festival provided a refreshing and honest reflection on how and why it is that one of the most naturally beautiful parts of the world needs neon.
Have you ever been to a gymkhana? You watch as a horse prances with its mane plaited and its tail held high, and a man sits saddled to its back directing the display of dressage with unseen heel-stabs to the ribs of the beautiful slave beneath, and together they twirl figures of eight to pleased onlookers and seasoned critics.
The dance ends and the horse is led back out of sight, where its bit and bridle are removed, and it is left to shit and piss and sleep off the dance in a stable.
Many New Matilda readers will be familiar with the ironic and inconsistent application of Donald Horne’s indictment on Australia as ‘the lucky country’. The bright lights of Sydney’s Vivid festival boasts an annual, born-again bourgeois branding of a playground within a playground, built on misconception. It’s hard not to let an uneasy tickle test one’s commitment to reconciling a love of our home, with an historical appreciation of its girt by guilt nature.
The curmudgeon within sees our home prancing pretentious and pretty, hair-plaited and past paved, to proud onlookers and perplexed bums: the same bums who, just like last month, will tonight, again, shiver in the darkness cast by skyscrapers’ shadows and sandstone celebrations of contrived convict pride.
The performance that I was about to watch would within a couple of hours restore a little slice of sanity, or at least explanation for, the surrounding circus.
The Drones’ show, as part of Vivid, provided due acknowledgment of the innately problematic celebration of these lit-up testaments to whitewashed walls of amoral conquest.
The entire Drones ethos urges reclamation of Australia’s problematic past as the only basis by which we ought bother measure our progress as a people:
“Ether was the town where I was born
they pulled iron from the ground
and knife wounds from the port
they built a prison and it tempered in the sun
it rose up off a plateau like the last tooth in a gum
you went there by train and you would never be the same…”
The last time they played the Opera House, lead singer Gareth Liddiard made fun of the champagne-swilling season ticket holders sitting at the opera bar as responsible for empty seats in the front, and again last night guitarist Dan Luscombe urged onlookers to come forward and steal back the seats.
There’s nothing heavy handed about any allusions to ‘rightful owners’, and the interaction again played into a broader Australian narrative.
As Sydney parades the opera house as a barometer of ‘lucky’ progress, a truly lucky handful of us entered the Concert Hall — the epicentre of engineered enthusiasm — to hear arguably Australia’s best current rock band reflect back at us with violent noise the truth beyond the walls:
“They made the blacks live outside of town
the weekend come they'd tear the whole place down
chinese came without weekends at all
and the whites complained the pay was better
shooting them in the war
home may be where the calm blinds
but i could see that they weren't lying.”
They finished their set with a cover of Kev Carmody’s River of Tears.
I walked out wiping blurred vision onto my sleeve, feeling emasculated and embarrassed, only to find my two mates doing the same thing.
Together we left, walking down the steps and back through Circular Quay, and the bright lights made a little more sense.
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