Tarago Diaries #19 – Bendigo

Mark Seymour reflects on the horrendous bush fires as the Red Hot Summer Tour starts.

Date: 7 January 2020.


Original URL: https://www.latest.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/2376138405825818?__tn__=K-R


Article Text

Kookaburras arc up in the pre-dawn down by the creek.
The faint odour of smoke through the open window.

Move quietly in socks. Drink reheated coffee. Stare out into the sickly light.

Front page phone picture… the hell on earth headline. Country towns monstered by clouds spewing impossible flames.

Last minute idiot check.. Amp, bag, guitar. Nurse the wagon out into the street. Scan for the ABC fire report. A woman’s voice telling people to leave or risk death.. somewhere in the north east.

One way traffic to catastrophe, the country getting burnt to hell. It’s all bad. Turn it off.

Silence and the wind. No cars on the Calder, the sky thick with dead air, the bush greyed out. Still. The near future is now.

Australia on fire. Last night’s news smashed the PM. Where was he?

“You’re gone son. Goodnight Vienna!”

There’s no solace though, even though he’s mooching ‘round the firies with his hands in his pockets like a twelve years old.. as though begging them for forgiveness. But that’s hardly likely. It just looks like it.

The story is skewed, upside down, a feeling that the entire nation has been truly fucked up. It’s very soul lost in some kind of moral upheaval where the normal boundaries of blame and outrage no longer apply.


It’s not about you anymore mate and your big win. ‘How good is Queensland?’ Spare us.

The sheer magnitude of this tragedy is beyond all bluster. The fire is so huge even the numbers don’t matter. The acreage. The lost houses, towns, animals screaming in the dark.. You can’t fix that with a slogan mate. All the Aussie swagger’s gone. All the shit eating grins and BBQ stoppers. All the pissed up she’ll be rights. We’ve all crossed the line.

Nobody’s special now.

Climate change aint no myth now son. No tiger you can ride. Something big just hit the planet, the bush copped it and now there are literally “millions of dead animals out there somewhere”

Jo whispered last night as we stared aghast at the firey mountain.

Fill the tank on the M1. Two hours fifty to Bendigo. Outside air temp sitting at 22. Not too bad but due to go higher.

Topped Westgate, felt the northerly and suddenly I’m remembering the kookaburras laughing down by the creek. I tear up. Just a bit.

Stop grinding your teeth a voice says.. it’s me.

Wind the windows down somewhere north of Macedon. It’s hotter now. Nearer thirty. Leave the freeway at the Castlemaine turn off. Dust rises from the road.

Bendigo is deserted. Fibro shacks on red dirt, frazzled stringy barks, yards full of junked cars and broken clothes lines. Follow google out to the Racetrack. A flat open paddock with a stage at one end. More dust. Big tents out the back.

Stiff legs in the heat. Shake off the drive. Wander ‘round slowly, body creaking, black tea, one sugar.

The kitchen’s open. Welcome from Mark the chef. He’s small with big eyes. Fastidious about his steaks, wearing a T that reads “KIND IS COOL.”
Asks me about the band. Are they special? Can they take a joke? Last time I checked I say. Mark likes to sledge.

I like his T-shirt.

Sound check is huge. Monster bass and kick. Literally coming up through the floor. The boards appear to be moving. Heaving even. Why is that? Hmm. There are theories. Everyone seems to have one. Even me. Mine’s old schooI. It’s too loud. We play a couple of songs then it’s down to fixing things.

Breath. Don’t think. Just try to keep up. Remember. It’s Hunters and Collectors. That’s how it works. Levels pushed to ludicrous then nuanced. Think aircraft carrier repair. On water. Archer has taken charge. He’s standing on the deck, arms out stretched in the heat. “It’s the cardioid Array phasing with the C sharp.”

Or something.

Or… it’s too loud? Quietly request a small increase in vocal level. Just a pinch. Hope it works.

More phone news in the waiting. Highway’s closed. Temperatures soaring in the northeast now. People are being told it’s too late to leave. Fires pose a serious threat to life.

Leave the track hoping for the best but the news takes over anyway. Spend the rest of the day chasing news and weighing words.. A family save their entire herd stock, cattle, dogs, ducks, chickens and a cat by herding them all down a hill to nearby a dam as monstrous flames nearly engulf them. Incredible heroism. Trauma and transcendence.

There’ll be thousands out front carrying this stuff around like I am. Dread and fear. A sense that the country has been irrevocably changed and the idea of the great Aussie holiday has lost its innocence forever. There’ll be a need to share the moment, to stand with each other, albeit briefly and then move on. So we can be happy for a while at least.

Side stage in the dark. It’s cooler now. The wind is up. Several thousand stretched out across the grass. Murmering.. the big intro. Can’t make it out.

Then full emersion. The clash of drums and guitar. Approach the microphone. Will that hated low end hum be there? The thing that would turn the singer to puny?

No. Somehow. Things are clean, roaring, distinct. Fixed. But by whom? Or how? The cardioid array? the volume knob? And then it’s not an issue. Faces are turned up, engaged.

And the moment arrives in the dark when we honor the firefighters, the first responders..the victims, the dead and the lost. The many towns and villages, the alpine splendour devoured by vengeance.

The air hangs cool and still in Bendigo.

Later in the tent, there’s uproarious conjecture as the beverages go down. You mentioned the war. I swear I did not. Not at all. I was scrupulous. To avoid whatever would offend.

No ‘Scotty’ passed these lips, or will. Ever.

And in the dawn that followed, misty rain and the raucous peel of kookaburras arriving with first light.