Transmissions from Down Under: Week 3 and Conclusion

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This is Port Phillip Bay, as seen from the St. Kilda promenade, the final photo I took in Australia. It was pretty early on July 16th. A light morning drizzle had peppered an excursion that Joshua Pitt and I went on to get a photo op by Roland S. Howard Lane, but the clouds were beginning to part, and the view of the Bay was sublime while an older gentleman and I stood waiting for the Airport shuttle. I had spent the final four days of my trip Down Under in Melbourne, which was quite a way to conclude things. Joshua was the prodigal host, doing everything within his power to ensure I had returned to the states with nothing but positive affirmations about his hometown. As I’ll catalog shortly, my time in Melbourne felt like a victory lap after three jam-packed weeks of equal parts academic business and legitimate holiday-making*.

I believe I left Part II off with a gripping cliffhanger of an announcement that I’d booked a speaking engagement at Victoria Uni in Wellington. Let me tell you about my excursion there, the beginning of which saw me with a (deliberately planned) extended layover in Brisbane for musical reasons.

BRIZBN (Brisbane)

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Stopping by the Go Between Bridge, Brisbane, QLD. 3 July 2019.

I don’t understand the cultural undercurrent NSW, ACT, and VIC Aussies have where they rib Brisbane. It may be because it’s in Queensland, a target of some political antipathy given Australia’s contentious relationship with mining and fossil fuels**. From what I understand, given how much research I’ve done about the Go-Betweens, Brisbane was always the also-ran city of Australia, home to bogans and not to be taken seriously as a cultural center. Whatever it was, I found a beautiful city with quite possibly the best public transit I rode on while Down Under (not that Sydney’s mess of a bus system set the bar too high, but I digress).

I walked all the way from the Queen Street Mall across Victoria Bridge into South Brisbane and up to the south exit of the Go Between Bridge, where the city had placed a plaque honoring the eponymous indie legends. I snapped that photo (above) and crossed the bridge, finding a Metro station that I could hop on toward the suburb Toowong. I debated whether the excursion was worth it, but the unapologetic Go-Betweens fanatic in me (who caucused with the pragmatic side that knew I wouldn’t be back in Brisbane anytime soon) won out. Their earliest records, which they put out themselves on the Able Label, carried the address 19 Golding Street.

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I need to check my sources on this, but apparently Damien Nelson, who founded the Able Label, ran it out of the Toowong Music Center, which may have been in this building. It does look like the type of building to house a record label in the 70’s or 80’s, so that facet checks out. My initial (incorrect) assessment was that Grant McLennan lived in a house on this lot at the time and ran the label out of there.

I took the beautiful train back to the airport in a timely manner to board my flight for…

WELLINGTON

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Last year, a pair of my best friends from my life in DC announced to our extended friend group that they were going to be based in Wellington for the next few years. Although this entailed an additional international flight sandwiched in between a series of intra-national flights sandwiched in between a massive international flight, I was not going to pass up this opportunity. I am ecstatic to report that everything outsiders report back about Welly is absolutely true. It’s a big city that feels like a small town. You can easily walk to the “Shire” (or at least scenes reminiscent of it). Also, Kiwis are spoiled rotten with good beer. Every single thing I drank was delicious. My friend surprised me with a can of Fugazi, a fantastic low-gravity lager made by Garage Project, a brewery built into an old garage in the overwhelmingly quaint Aro Valley district.

What’s that? You want more beer tourism photos? Don’t mind if I do! I don’t normally go overboard with this type of content, but I can’t overstate how good the beer was in Aotearoa. On my last day in Wellington, my friends and I drove up to Paraparaumu to visit the Tuatara brewery and tasting room. I actually never bothered asking where the name came from, but upon some light googling, the tuatara is a spiny lizard, not unlike the iguana, endemic to Aotearoa. Who says that drinking isn’t educational?

When I decided to add a jaunt to Welly, I reached out to the Geography department at Victoria University, Wellington, who welcomed me to come and deliver a talk about Capitals of Punk. The faculty were incredibly enthusiastic, and Dr. Sara Kindon was a wonderful host. The timing of the talk (right before the term started back up) prevented a number of faculty from attending, but I had a great time meeting with Sara and her colleagues to discuss the path I’d taken to the book’s publication. I also learned about Shane Greene’s work on punk in South America from Eduardo Moreira, which was a bonus.

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After some more quality time hiking and learning about the regional landscape, I took off early on Monday, July 8th for Melbourne. This was only a brief stop-over before the IAG meeting on Tasmania, so I’ll hold off on making it a separate section, but it was a fun stop-over. I met up with Josh, who took me through the neighborhoods he used to kick around. We met up with his better half Julie at a Mexican restaurant/dive bar (which displayed an unmitigated love of the Descendents). I learned a lot more about Aussie culture than I’d bargained for. I’d already learned about “cultural cringe” from friends in Canberra, but Julie told me about “Tall Poppy Syndrome.” Such a good preview of Melbs.

Josh and I woke up quite early on Tuesday morning to catch a ride to the airport. It was time to take our very quick flight to…

HOBART

0710190822_hdrIf someone were to ask me what my favorite city was Down Under, I would be diplomatic and say they were all amazing, with so many unique qualities and charms (which would be the truth). But if someone got a few drinks into me and pressured me into picking one, I would go with Tasmania’s “fishing village at the end of the world” (h/t Chris Gibson): Hobart. My friend and erstwhile department chair Ronald Kalafsky (who travels to Australia annually) predicted that I would really like Hobart, and as with most everything non-hockey-related, Ron was correct.

As I mentioned, the Institute of Australian Geographers was what brought me and Joshua Pitt to Hobart in the first place. The IAG brass had been as welcoming as any academic organization committee from the day I initially emailed them last year. It was a fortunate stroke that Hobart was their location this year. Despite being in the middle of the winter cold*** period in what many claim is Australia’s coldest city, the days were gorgeous and sunny. Despite the conference’s setting at the Wrest Point Casino, it was still easily accessible on foot, and Hobart’s radial bus system used numbers for their stops – such a novel concept that makes perfect sense for the metro area.

Vickie Zhang hosted a pre-conference doco session with filmmaker Molly Reynolds, which was a fitting ‘welcome to Hobart’ moment. The conference itself was packed with fascinating presentations, few of which shared any serious thematic overlap with anything I’d seen at AAG. I rarely play favorites, but the highlight for me was seeing a paper on “political fatigue” and mental health in qualitative geography by Nat Osborne, a Brisbane-based geographer and host of Radio Reversal.

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Dr. Nat Osborne cleverly applies memes in her presentation on perceptions of powerlessness and activism fatigue at the IAG Meeting in Hobart (July 2019). Every single one got a laugh.

Outside of the conference, Hobart was also packed with highlights, including a game-time decision I made to visit MONA, which was clearly the work of a madman. Josh and I grabbed dinner at the Brisbane Hotel, a beautiful dive so clearly crucial to culture in that isolated city (so of course it’s being threatened). I also stopped into the Shipwrights Arms Hotel on my final night there, catching a performance from the Dave Sikk 4Tet and running into (and getting schooled on cricket by) Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren. I also bumped into Vickie Zhang on the walk home and we chatted for a few kilometers. It all just fell together so nicely. I love Hobart and want to go back pretty much all the time. Here is some photographic evidence:

With great reluctance on Friday afternoon, Josh and I hopped into a cab and headed back to the airport (where I snapped a photo of that adorable Tassie Devils statue above), and made our final return to….

MELBOURNE

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Here it is. The grand conclusion.


This is where I’m picking up this entry in May 2020, 10 months later. Please pardon my dust, but I do this blog out of passion (read: I don’t get paid anything) and the timing never really felt *right* to just hit “publish,” but it felt even worse, after all this time, to just let the conclusions just languish in my drafts. So, I’ll piece it together here; forgive the brevity and directness of the writing from here. 


Upon our return, Josh took me down to a bohemian bar in Thornbury, where we packed into a tiny room with about 50 locals and a four-piece band for a special screening of Wake in Fright accompanied by a live band. We also stopped for souvlaki on the way in, so if there was a more Australian way to spend the first night back on the mainland, I couldn’t imagine it. If you’ve never seen Wake in Fright (as I hadn’t), words cannot describe just how jarring and disturbing and good that movie is. After the band wrapped up their credits song, I turned to Josh and said, “That was a great documentary about Australia!” A few people chuckled and thankfully did not jump me.

I spent most of my day Saturday exploring the Melbourne CBD via bike-share. Like any good tourist, I paid a visit to Victoria Market for brunch. Like any bad tourist, I didn’t bother to check how far the bike-share stand network ran. In retrospect, I should be prouder of how far I biked (Brunswick), but getting there to find nowhere to park my massively heavy cruiser felt like a huge egg on my face. I biked all the way back down to the CBD, and once I found a bike-share stand, I parked and treated myself to an amazing vegan ice cream churro pile.

Moving on…

Saturday night: an entity cool enough to inspire songs by Elton John, Suede, and The Cure. I met up with Joshua and our NZ-based friend and colleague Tamara Bozovic in Collingwood, a district made legendary by years of punk documentaries. Naturally, the area has become so gentrified over the past two decades that The Tote, one of Australia’s most legendary punk venues, was forced to close in 2010. Fortunately, because the Tote was so beloved, it sparked an ahistorical public outcry about Melbourne’s stentorian liquor laws, leading to a rally two days later that drew somewhere between ten- and twenty-thousand people to the city’s CBD. What I wouldn’t give for Americans to have such a communal dedication to their cultural hubs, all of which are under siege by COVID (and capitalist accumulation) as of this writing (a-HEM).

Anyway, this story actually has a happy ending: The Tote reopened under new management a few months after in 2010. Nine years on, I would have the singular opportunity to see Slush, Pistol Peaches, and VOIID tear the roof off. What a great show, and I’m still grateful that Josh made it a reality for us.

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Brisbane’s VOIID, who rocked too hard to be captured clearly on camera, light up the Tote (Collingwood, VIC, 13 July 2019)

One additional note on that night: When I was in Sydney, I recalled an anecdote a friend in Knoxville, TN had told me about the local brewery Balter Beerworks. Apparently, they could not franchise under the name “Balter Brewing” because some brewery in Australia reached out and said they beat them to it. Australia, by virtue of ‘the tyranny of distance,’ has always necessitated notable branding controversies. I looked up where the Balter Brewing Company was located, and it turned up a Queensland town called Currumbin, not far from Gold Coast.

“Oh, well,” I thought, “It would have been fun to hit the brewery and send pictures back home, but I’m not going to be anywhere near there on this trip. Maybe next time.”

A few weeks later, I found myself at a very hip pizza place down the street from the Tote with Josh and Tamara, the latter generously offered to buy me a drink in honor of an IAG conference well done. As I was thanking Tamara, I interrupted myself with a shout, which I have no doubt frightened her. I was face to face with a Balter Brewing tap, in the heart of Melbourne. I had never bothered researching whether Balter distributed throughout Australia; I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

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Forgive the stream of consciousness here, but posting one Melbourne beer memory reminded me of another, perhaps the most serendipitous of the whole trip. Earlier that afternoon, I was walking around in Fitzroy when I spotted a Big Bad Wolf mural and decided I needed to get this picture:

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As luck would have it, a woman was photographing a colorful can of beer set against the backdrop of another mural nearby. I worked up the courage to ask if she would take a picture of this admittedly ridiculous pose with the Wolf mural, and she was more than happy to help. We got to chatting, and LeeAnne told me about her beer/street art Instagram project she had going with her partner Corey called “ForRicherForPourer.” I asked her if I could take a look at the can she had been photographing, and she told me about how the Mr. Banks Brewing Company, aptly located down on the Port Phillip Bay, had dropped a limited batch Pale Ale…aptly named “The Drop.” As I stood there clearly impressed at how cool the can and exclusive batch sounded (apparently, beer fans had to be lined up at the opening that morning to get it), it likely hit her that no other Yank on Earth might have the opportunity to drink it, and made my day: “Why don’t you just keep it?”

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The following night at Josh and Julie’s place in St. Kilda, we cracked open the can of Mr. Banks’ Drop over dinner. Waiting a full day and a half to do that was nearly impossible, and it was delicious. Thanks again to LeeAnne for her kind gesture, and I’m sorry it has taken me almost a full year to immortalize it here!

Back to the timeline: on Sunday morning, Josh and I headed over to Marvel Stadium for what would finally be my first Australian Football League match. Despite the cold and rainy weather, as well as the absence of Josh’s preferred club (see his hat), here was our assessment:

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I’ve never been a fan of American Football, but I do appreciate rugby whenever I have a chance to watch a quality match (which is usually relegated to highlights on YouTube). Watching a sport that combined rugby with the spatial elements of cricket and good-times tribalism of American Football was a lot of fun. I don’t remember the finer points of the match itself, but I felt like, similar to the baseball experience, a lot of folks were there for the spectacle and weren’t necessarily die-hards. I was expecting to learn about the rules and structure of the game, but Josh surprised me with a bit of history and geographic context for the sport. I had no idea that AFL had been (until recent decades, at least) largely relegated to Victoria and South Australia, whereas rugby proper dominated elsewhere in Australia. Neither had I realized that Aussie Rules Football grew out of necessity to use the cricket pitches during the off-season; I have to admit that one was truly in front of my eyes the whole time.

I spent much of the afternoon catching up on work before I took the train down to St. Kilda, where we split the aforementioned limited-release beer, ate a wonderful dinner, and watched Dogs in Space. It was the most Melbourne weekend that I could have possibly Melbourne’d. Revisiting it all these months later (again, sorry) makes me miss it terribly.

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Victoria Market, Saturday Morning, July 13, 2019.


LINER NOTES

* I picked up that term, perhaps my second favorite Australianism behind “Nice/Lovely day fer it,” from a recording on the Kurunda Scenic Railway, which I took out into the rain forest from Cairns. See Part II for more on that.

** One bank even centered the fact that they did not support the mining industry in many ads all over Sydney and Melbourne.

*** I’ll apply the term “cold” here to be respectful of my Australian hosts, who claimed it to be so. Most of you know I grew up in New England, did my undergrad at Syracuse, and moved to Michigan with the utmost enthusiasm. That’s all I’m going to say.

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