Tarago Diaries #4 – The Trees That Ate Queentown

Travelling and performing in beautiful New Zealand.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 30 October 2018.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/1664480750324924?tn=K-R

Article Text

(* with special thanks to Cameron McKenzie for his occasional poetic brilliance)

One road in, twisting between great walls of forest where no light passes through.

Karl, our driver, we have one this time, slams the van across the curves. We left the coast long ago and now we’re in a hurry for some reason. Karl is beaming. Joyful. Glad to have us on board.

Favaro is up front next to Karl. Thinking the view would help his equilibrium. Not a smart move though. He can actually see what’s coming which isn’t good. He wants to throw up now. It’s the same front to back. There’s no escape. The van goes heaving southward..

Karl talks a lot, about the festival and other points of interest but so quietly, everyone strains to hear, which makes the ride even more, well, sickening.

Maslen sits up the back, gazing through shades. Inscrutably zen as usual, like a bouncer. ‘No, you may not speak to me. Oh but yes please. A Tim Tam would be nice.’ There’s a hamper on the floor. Tim tams and bottled water. I offer them around. It gives me a sense of purpose.

MCKenzie talks. Lots. As I do. I pronounce. McKenzie disagrees. Which is normal. Politics of course. Wentworth. The disarray of Conservative stupidity. We agree on that, thank Christ. How could we not? They’re rooted.

The Dingo groans in the back trying to take bird shots out the window with a Canon DSLR that weighs just shy of 3kgs. We’re moving at 105 kmh. Is he insane?

Or grasping at straws. Hey. We’re all doing that.

Flying through mountain villages, over lakes and narrow bridges, falling into the heart of western Tassie. There are gasping moments. Then just gasping.

Until we’re there, Karl grinning in the car park outside the hotel. Shaking hands. Yes. What a ride it was. Welcome to Queenstown, empty slopes towering over us, poisoned by acid rain, the mine to the south west, railway station across the road, the manager’s red brick mansion high on the opposite hill, where he used to spy on the punters with a telescope through the front window.

The streets are blocked off. Punters wander everywhere, eating out of hands, gazing at shop fronts. There are lots of bands too, all playing at once, in alleyways, outside the post office, a choir in the bar.

Miners drifted here once, from other places, the last to give up on gold and coal, still looking for Eldorado, on horses, carts and feet. There was a mining boom just now. You might’ve noticed. They say it’s over. But there was also this other one. Long before. And long before that another. In fact, mining’s been the thing. People forget. Australia is living on top of lots of very expensive rock. Even now. And don’t think it’s going to stop. The collective will. The invisible hand. If someone wants it enough.

But the Queenstown punters left slowly, painfully, as the grind of unemployment kicked in. And some didn’t. There’s a fierce dignity here, where history speaks loudly of workers defiance and pride.

People said hello from verandahs and front doors. And fronted up the next night. Looming at us out of the dark..

On the hour, across the town, low subterranean rumbling builds to cacophony, like some kind of pre-recorded mining disaster, blasting out from black boxes placed strategically in the middle of the square. Right outside the IGA. The girl at the check out rolls her eyes..
‘Friggin’ hipsters’.

There’s a day to kill before the show. We wander off, along broken lanes. No apple orchards here. Crumbling asbestos shacks hang from the damp hills, and further out, houses have been left empty, where punters have walked away, leaving keys in doors, yards full of wrecks and plastic debri, Rotten Furniture, sheep roaming loose, bleating in the rain. The forest is moving back in, branches crawling back over rooftops. The town stops hard.

At the forest wall.