3 February, 2009
Sometimes control-freaks need to let go. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I had decided before flying down to Tassie that I would not book accommodation between the two festivals I had to play down there, even though the control-freak within was rather traumatized at the idea of rocking up to a new town without a place to stay.
You see, I used to be good at the whole “letting go thing” when I traveled around the world and lived overseas…but after a few years back in this western world I’ve become a little more anxious about things that I don’t really need to be anxious about….like accommodation in Hobart between music festivals.
So I set myself a goal on my Tassie tour to, well, ‘wing it’... like they do in the movies. You know - that conversation between some hippy chick holding her guitar sitting in a bus station and that handsome stranger who pulls up in a cool car and says “Heya honey, where you heading?” (Of course those movies often end in some kind of filthy sicko crime being played out by the not-so-kind-stranger…but I am talking about movies with happy endings!)
I flew down to Tassie and headed for Cygnet, which happens to be one of the cutest towns in Tasmania. As I walked around, surveying the sweetness, I pulled out my roll of sticky tape and pile of gig posters and began plastering the town – as you do. It didn’t take long for a tall young man to approach me and begin asking about the poster, my gigs and my time in Tasmania. We got talking about my plan to “trust in the universe” and my current struggle as I fought off the fact that - come Monday - I had no place to stay.
Turns out, this tall stranger owned a little concrete boat. He said it was ugly and green and moored in ....Hobart.... and that he’d been planning on taking it for a little run, over to some island. He asked whether I wanted to join him on such an adventure and ….I said "yes".
I spent the next two days asking random festival-goers if they thought it was a wise idea to set sail with a tall stranger. Most of them said “no”.
The following day I asked the tall stranger two questions, which I’d decided were vital when it came to my final decision: What’s the name of your boat? What is the name of the island?
Both began with the letter “B”…. it was a done deal! The lucky letter was the alchemist-style omen I was looking for. That, and the fact that my gut had registered goodness from this young man right from the start.
And so, after a delightful festival and some memorable gigs, the tall stranger and I set sail for Bruny Island - with a box full of nectarines and a few good books. I was a little uncertain I’d made the right decision as we left the harbour and entered rough seas. He kinda went all quiet on me as the white water began crashing over the boat and the pots and pans began falling to the floor.
Then came the “Yeah, I’ve never really sailed down this passage when it’s so rough. You don’t mind if we stop talking for awhile – do you? I’ve just got to focus for a bit” (which was followed by his tongue doing that concentration thing when it sticks out, searching with uncertainty for the top lip).
There was little a control-freak could do but support this tall stranger’s battle with mother nature by offering up occasional words of reassurance (“um, I don’t really know you very well but you are doing an AMAZING job and I am sure we are not going to die”) and catching the kitchen goods as they fell.
Thankfully, as expected, the letter “B” pulled through and we made it to calm waters….cheers-ing the victory with our first two nectarines.
We anchored in a peaceful bay where the surface of the green ocean seemed glass-like … where the almost full moon cast luminous triangles of light in the night blackness.
There we spent the week - far from cars, bars, televisions, telephones, computers, commuters, reality and responsibility.
Back to simplicity… where the goals were just to sleep, eat, listen to the water lap at the side of an ugly green boat and believe that the conversation you were having - be it about the state of the global economy, the nature of human beings, the beauty of a veggie patch, or the way the heart can break from loneliness - could quite possibly change the course of history in some way.
A week later, after my first gig at the second festival, on my last weekend in Tasmania, I fell asleep on a patch of grass in the late afternoon sun in Georgetown. I was woken by a man in his early 60s. The following conversation took place:
“Hello, are you okay there?”
“Yes, sorry, just taking a little nap”
“Oh, did you know that you are napping on my front lawn?”
“Shit, no, oops. I was so tired, I just saw this nice patch of grass and thought it looked like a good place to rest”
“Ha! Well you keep sleeping then. I just wanted to make sure you were OK”
He went back into his serviced apartment and I stayed in that square of fading sunlight for another half an hour before he reappeared from his balcony:
“Are you hungry? I can cook you some dinner if you like?”
Sensing this man was a little lonely and after a week on a boat, realising I could trust the universe to keep me from being murdered - horror-movie-style, I picked up my bag and walked towards his door.
He cooked me a beautiful meal….and as I sat in his swanky apartment, full of the latest gadgets and appliances and big screen everythings, he told me about his wife and grown-up daughter back in Melbourne. About how hard he has worked, and still does, to provide for them. He works for a big company - most of the time seven days a week - interstate, overseas – he works, and works, and works. ....
He looked weary and at the end of our time together I asked him a question that I was certain would end the conversation on a high note:
“So, you work so hard…surely you must have big dreams for your retirement?! What’s the big dream??”
There was a long pause, and then:
“My wife and I used to talk about traveling around Australia in a campervan but we don’t really talk about that anymore. I think I stopped dreaming ten years ago”
I wonder whether, at one point in his life, he sat on the roof of an ugly green boat in a silent bay with a box full of nectarines and dreams. And if so, what happened to him in the years that followed that made him stop feasting.