Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkins and Infatuation

When I lived in Canada several years ago I fell in love with two things - a boy, and pumpkin pie. The boy is now a distant memory, but for some strange reason the pumpkins have stayed with me. There was something magical about driving down a highway and stopping at an old farmhouse to pick up a fresh pumpkin pie. Usually there'd be pumpkins on display around the front of the homestead - piled up around letterboxes, planted on top of fence posts - like little splashes of orange sunshine along the highway.

A few weeks ago I approached Brisbane artist Danielle O'Brien to discuss the possibility of having her paint something special for my album cover. We had a big brainstorming session during which we discussed the name of the album - Arva - which is a country town in Canada. She asked me what images came to mind when I thought about that town in Ontario ... the answer was pumpkins.

The next day she emailed me an enchanting album cover concept that involved - in part - a love-heart shaped pumpkin sitting on top of my head (along with many other splendid things!). Given the single that I'm launching today is all about love, it seemed appropriate to take the pumpkin-heart element of Danielle's painting and use it on the cover of the single. 

When I locked in the release date, I actually had no idea that October 31 was was Danielle who pointed out the synchronicity when I emailed her about the cover.

I'd like to think of my full album as a pumpkin pie... and the single as a little slice... to whet your appetite for the music and art that is to come when I launch all 11 tracks in February 2013. I will cross my fingers that it makes you hungry for more!

Written by Ange Takats
Recorded, produced and mixed by J. Walker
Main vocal + backing vocals by Ange Takats
Guitar, percussion, vibraphone, strings, double bass, piano by J. Walker
Trumpet by Colin Chandler

For more on Danielle O'Brien click here

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Banishment, Blouses & Buddhist Monks

‘Stranger in a new land’ was the title of my first panel at the Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival – and it’s exactly how I felt as I entered the Shalom Institute gates, past a row of security guards and into the belly of the building where academics and award-winning authors discussed Israeli politics and the ‘Jewish experience’.

I was a self-published, first-time author with no literary credits to my name who could only boast of visiting a synagogue once in her life.

I’d done my best to prepare for the event. I’d purchased a floral blouse. I don’t usually wear blouses but I thought it would make me look more like an ‘author’.

Photo by Elana Bowman.

I’d also familiarised myself with some popular Yiddish words which meant I was able to smile, with pride, when one panelist said ‘chutzpah’ during his speech. Yay! I knew what it meant! I was part of the cool club!

*    *    *

I may not have been forced to flee my homeland, like the Jews of Europe, but I did opt to leave my country of origin at the age of 22 and move to Thailand … hence why I had been chosen to participate in the ‘Stranger in a new land’ panel at the festival.

When I arrived in Bangkok, I didn’t know a single person, didn’t speak the language and had no idea that if I rubbed the head of a monk I would most likely be expelled from the country. (For the record, I have never touched a monk’s noggin, although once I heard about this Thai Buddhist taboo, I often fantasised about doing so … not only because it would be highly daring, but also because some monks are totally hot).

Like many expats I began my time in Thailand with a strong desire to assimilate into the culture. I tried to dress like the locals – talk like the locals. I took my shoes off at the front door. I paid my respect to the King. And a year into my time in Asia, I had convinced myself that I was, indeed, a local. I still remember the moment this notion of self was shattered. It was on a sweltering Bangkok day, about a year into my new life, and I was walking down a busy street with my Thai friend, Peung.

I said to her: “If you were standing behind me right now and didn’t know me, I reckon you’d think I was Thai. I could totally be Thai from behind, don’t you think?”

To which she laughed hysterically and replied: “Oi, Khun Ange, too funnnny! You are farang! You always will be farang – even when you wear fisherman pants and say ‘Sawadii Kha’ … still be farang!”

My second session at the Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival was about travel writing. I was on the panel with an author who was in his 60s, who had written a book about his pilgrimage across Spain. As a well-educated gentleman, he used big words when he spoke – some of which I did not understand.

The session started well. I sat in my pretty blouse. I told my stories. The audience laughed. I felt their love. Then the moderator of the panel asked the gentleman author who his literary heroes were in terms of travel writing. The gentleman mentioned a bunch of authors I’d never heard of. The audience nodded and smiled and proclaimed words of acceptance like “Yes, I love that author too!” and “Oh yes, yes, he’s such a good writer!”

The host then turned to me: “And how about you, Ange?”

“Um, when it comes to travel writing I’d have to say that I really liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s – Eat, Pray…”

Before I could add the “Love”, a wave of disgust swept across the audience so violently that one woman in the front row looked as if she was going to vomit on me. The woman sitting next to her shouted “Oh my god, no! Not Elizabeth Gilbert!” The man in the row behind her threw both his arms up in the air. And the woman sitting next to him just buried her face in her hands.

I’d apparently broken the first commandment of the literary festival Torah: "Thou shalt not admit to enjoying the works of 'lowbrow' authors".

In other words - I’d rubbed the head of a Buddhist monk.

*     *     *

I met a lot of expats in Bangkok who were bitter about life in Thailand. Their complaint was that they’d lived in the country for a decent amount of time, learnt the language, adopted the culture … but were still considered an outsider … and this upset them.

But I wonder if the pain we experience as ‘outsiders’ is caused by the people who exclude us from their club / culture / click – or whether it’s caused by our inability to accept that it’s okay not to be accepted?

And what would happen if we not only accepted our outsider status, but actually embraced it?

I think there’s a beauty that exists on the periphery. There’s a lightness of being that can be felt when one is able to skate across the surface, rather than trudge through the centre. There are things that can be observed from the outside, looking through a window, that those living inside will never see.

Unlike my expat acquaintances, I managed to make peace with being a farang in Thailand. I learnt to enjoy the feeling of floating above life. Being an outsider allowed me to witness beautiful moments that would have gone unnoticed had I been buried in conversation. I developed the ability to ‘feel’ my way through the world – to figure out what was going on between people without needing to comprehend their language. I learnt more about human beings in my two years of existing on the edge of Thai culture, than I ever learnt within the heart of my own.

At the same time, my isolation from Australian society freed me from the expectations of my family and friends. I was able to live without the noise of my peers telling me what to think, say and do. And in that silence … I was able to discover my true self.

*     *     *

I’ve never had much of a talent for ‘fitting in’.

I’m a musician who doesn’t drink alcohol and prefers to go to bed early and wake with the sun.

I’m a journalist who gets emotionally involved in almost every story she writes and has a tendency towards tears.

I’m a traveller who has never felt at home in any one place – not even the town of her birth.

I’m a Jew who knows little about the Holocaust and has no opinion about the Palestinian ‘situation’.

And I’m an author who hasn’t read Tolstoy, Hemingway or Twain (I actually had to Google ‘famous authors’ in order to complete this sentence) but who has a fondness for Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.

Strangely enough, the longer I dwell on the outside … the stronger I feel on the inside … the firmer my feet feel on the ground … the greater my understanding of life has become.

A poet once wrote: ‘No man is an island’  but sooner or later we’ll all experience the feeling of being banished from the mainland. All we can hope is that the version of ourselves that ends up sitting under a palm tree on a patch of sand in the middle of the ocean, is a person we’re happy to pass the time with.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Jutta and Me

Who would have thought the ‘seminal event’ in my Jewish life would take place over a plate of papaya salad and sticky rice on a stinky street in South East Asia?

I’d grown up on Sydney’s northern beaches and felt completely disconnected from my European heritage. I remember watching my first episode of Seinfeld and telling my best friend that I thought I might be Jewish … she laughed and told me that unless I went to the synagogue, I wasn’t Jewish. But years later, when I was working as a foreign correspondent in Bangkok, I was introduced to an Israeli by the name of Guy Sharett. I can honestly say that the minute he spoke I felt as if I’d met my long-lost brother. He was hilarious and honest and understood me better than many of my friends back home. I felt like I’d found one of my ‘tribe’.

Bangkok 2001

We got talking about my past and I told him that I used to joke with my friends about being Jewish. I also told him about my family history and how my grandparents had fled from Europe in the late 30s to escape Hitler’s regime. He then said: “Ange, there is no question about your heritage. It’s plain and it’s simple. Your great grandmother was Jewish. Your grandmother was Jewish. Your mother is Jewish and therefore, my darling, you are Jewish”.

My grandmother, Jutta Hübsch, was the result of a love affair that my great grandmother had with a man named Franz in 1919 whilst married to a man who was 30 years her senior. You could say my great grandmother was a non-conformist … not just because of the men she chose to love, but also in terms of her career. Unlike other women her age who were happy to be housewives, she set up her own business – a kindergarten which she managed for many years. She also studied psychology – attending lectures by Sigmund Freud at Vienna University. It was this radical streak, along with her bloodline, that led to her becoming a target of the Nazis. In March 1938 Hitler annexed Austria and my great grandmother, who had been blacklisted by his regime, was forced to scrub pavements on her knees as anti-Semitic crowds taunted her and other Jewish women on the streets. Thankfully my grandmother Jutta managed to find a way to escape the chaos in Austria.
My grandmother Jutta, late 1930s

She had become a ballerina and was selected to tour throughout Europe with a dance company. She performed in France and Italy – dancing in ballets, operettas and vaudeville shows. Whilst she travelled around Europe, her mother and sister fled Austria and travelled to England where they were granted permission to work as housemaids. Jutta later joined them in the UK. After an intense letter writing campaign by my great grandmother (in which she pleaded for refugee status for herself and her daughters) the Church of England Council of Empire Settlement agreed to assist my grandmother Jutta to travel to Australia. She arrived in Sydney in February 1939 with a bicycle and £2.

In 1940 she attended a dance at the Maccabean Hall at Darlinghurst where she met and fell in love with a young German named Walter Mattersdorff. They married on the 7 February 1942 at the Neutral Bay Presbyterian Church.

Jutta & Walter, Sydney in the early 1940s

Jutta had high hopes of continuing her dancing career in Australia but after auditioning and being rejected by the Theatre Royal she decided to become a seamstress instead. A few years after moving to Australia she contracted Polio. The disease took its toll on her body and she never danced again.

I don’t think she ever forgave the world for giving her such a crippling illness. She often complained about being in pain. She became a glass-half-empty kind of woman … focusing on the negative side of life … and although I have memories of the darkness that surrounded her, I also have memories of the light that would shine from her soul when she spoke about things that made her truly happy - like classical music.

Whenever I would get into my grandparents car as a little girl, my eardrums would be blasted by ABC Classical FM. I used to hate that music. I didn’t understand it. But looking back now, I imagine my grandmother found comfort in the symphonies … that maybe the music allowed her to dance inside her mind, the way she used to dance across the stage.

She also loved to paint. She always said she wasn’t any good at it, but I used to seek out her folder full of paintings when I was a child, and delight over their colours and content. She often painted mountains and quaint hilltop villages. The images didn’t look anything like the dry gum trees in her front garden in Chatswood but I’m sure they were her way of transporting herself back to Austria … maybe to a peaceful time when she was a girl, playing beneath snow-capped peaks.

Painting by Jutta
But mostly, my grandmother loved to travel. She and my grandfather focused on working hard and saving their money until they had enough to treat themselves to a holiday. When they were young, with three small children, their adventures would lead them to the Blue Mountains or south of Sydney to Kiama. In their forties they managed to save enough to go on regular overseas cruises and trips and they continued to travel well into their 60s. 

Their house was always full of strange trinkets and exotic fabric from distant lands. I used to love sitting next to my grandmother and asking her about her overseas adventures. There was such pride in her voice when she told me how she used to sew all her own clothes and save all her pennies - whilst her workmates wasted their pay cheques on flashy cars and fancy shoes. She'd say that living simply was a small price to pay for the opportunity to explore the world.

This weekend I’ll be participating at the Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival. One of the sessions I’ll be taking part in is called ‘Stranger in a new land’. It has caused me to reflect on my Jewish heritage … and think about my grandmother who died eight years ago. I wouldn’t be taking part in the festival if it weren’t for Jutta and her brave journey to a far away land ... and her passion for travel which inspired me to leave my homeland for Thailand ... where I met an Israeli called Guy Sharett who declared one humid Bangkok day ... “Darling, you are Jewish!”

I will leave you with my interpretation of an old Yiddish song, set to images of my beloved grandparents.

More information about the Sydney Jewish Writers’ Festival here 
More information about Guy Sharett's 'StreetWise Hebrew' tours here

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sowing seeds....

In August last year I decided to conduct a little experiment. I took three copies of my memoir, The Buffalo Funeral, to Thailand and left them in three different tourist locations, with this note on the back. I called it 'The Buffalo Experiment'.
The goal? To make a stranger smile... to share my stories with see whether my buffalos would manage to get themselves a free ticket to a new land in the backpack of an avid reader. I labelled the copies B1, B2 and B3. At Bangkok Airport, before boarding a flight to Koh Samui, I noticed a herd of water buffalo on the screen on the airport TV. I saw it as a sign....
So I took one of my books (B2) and placed it in a magazine stand in the terminal before hopping on my flight.
Weeks after leaving the three books behind, I wondered whose hands might be cradling them ... whether they were making someone happy ... or helping a backpacker pass the time as they waited for a flight. 

Months after leaving the three books behind, I began imagining that they'd ended up in a rubbish bin - tossed by a Thai cleaning lady who couldn't understand the text on the back.

I concluded that the experiment hadn't quite gone to plan ... and I stopped thinking about B1, B2 and B3.

*         *         *
Much of my time, as an independent artist, feels like it's spent sowing seeds. Each time that I try a new way of getting my art 'out there' (whether it's entering an online song competition, posting a comment on a social networking site, or leaving a copy of my book at an airport in Thailand) I imagine myself sowing a seed. 

Sometimes these seeds are like Alfalfa. You soak them overnight, give them some love and soon enough you have yourself a jar full of sprouts ... a nutritious feast within four days!

Sometimes these seeds never make it through the top layer of soil. You water and water them ... you stand aside to let the sun pour down ... but they die underground ... and you have nothing to show for them.

But sometimes these seeds have a way of popping up where you least expect them ... like Switzerland.

Dear Ange,
I found your book B2 at Bangkok Airport last August when we took the airplane to Koh Samui. Unfortunately I couldn't finish the book in Thailand. I took it home to Switzerland and now in my next holidays in Turkey I will finish the book. Your book is really very good. I like Thailand very much. It was my third trip to Bangkok and the Islands of Thailand. I'm very fascinated from your description of the area of Bangkok and the Thai culture. These are the same impressions I have from Thailand. 
Best wishes Corinne

With my second album Arva now recorded, Corinne's email couldn't have come at a more perfect time ... I'm about to do some major seed-sowing. The next few months will be spent planning my album tour, rehearsing with musicians who will be part of my band, putting together arts funding applications, organising album artwork, getting the CD off to the printer, withdrawing thousands of dollars from my bank account, liaising with venue managers and publicists, and sending the album off to record labels in order to discuss distribution. It's enough to leave a girl feeling rather overwhelmed!

Whilst contemplating the road ahead of me, I am experiencing intense moments of self-doubt: "Will this album be good enough?" "Am I good enough?" "What will people think of me?" "Will the new songs get any airplay?" "Will this album be worth all the effort?".

During a recent consultation with my kinesiologist, to address some of this mind-noise-trash, I was given this affirmation and told to say it out loud, each day:

"Even though I'm unsure how to expect success, I choose to be optimistic about my future"

My album-seeds, well, I like to think they are Perennials. I am uncertain whether they'll all burst through the earth at the same time. I have no clue if they'll be blue, red, pink or orange ... but I will keep saying my affirmation - and keep faith that when the Winter passes, and when the sun returns to warm the soil, my 'Arva' garden will bloom.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My new album!

Guess what? I'm flying to Victoria next week to spend ten days in the recording studio - laying down the tracks for my second album (eeeeeeks!). I'll be working with award-winning composer, producer and sound engineer Greg J. Walker whose clients and collaborators include Baz Luhrman, C.W. Stoneking, Dan Kelly and Clare Bowditch. His most recent project has been composing the music for the ABC TV series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (a-m-a-z-i-n-g!)

Some of the songs may already be familiar to you, as I've tested them out at my live shows (i.e. Arva & Edna's Song) but I've been keeping others as sweet-little-secrets ... to be unveiled when I release my album. The good news is that I've been working hard in recent months and have saved enough cash to cover the recording costs (hence my trip to Vic) but there are additional costs involved in releasing an album - such as mastering the tracks and getting the CDs printed. The sooner I raise the money to cover these costs, the sooner I can share my new songs with the big wide world .... which brings me to this question:

Would you like to help me? 

If so, you can support the project by clicking the link below. It will take you to my song 'The girl and the glass' which I am offering up as an MP3 download to anyone who makes a donation towards my new album. The song can be downloaded for $2 (the minimum donation) or you can enter another amount ... like $10 or $20 or $50 or $100 (hey, it's worth a try, right?). Just click the 'Buy' button and enter the amount that you'd like to give to the cause.

Donations of $50 or more will include your name in the 'special thanks' section of my album booklet (and a super-big hug for you at my gigs). Actually, anyone who donates will get a hug at my gigs! If you know of anyone who might like my quirky little tune, please send them the link.

With gratitude and excitement!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Guestroom" - ABC Radio Interview

An hour-long chat with ABC Radio host Kate O'Toole about how I became a I landed my first gig...and the musicians that have shaped me along the way.

Click on the link below to listen to the podcast.

Guestroom - Ange Takats - ABC Darwin - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Amazon Experiment

If you'd asked me, as I was trying to teach myself how to construct an electronic contents page within a Word document, whether I was hopeful my attempts to reformat and upload my book The Buffalo Funeral to Amazon would be:

a) successful
b) worthwhile

I would have said:

a) no
b) probably not

The uploading task included cutting and pasting every chapter from my print-ready PDF into Word - and then sitting through 100 online tutorials to teach myself how to 'Kindle-fy' the document (it was during tutorial #54 - How to add electronic tables to your Kindle file  that I realised I would need a university degree to achieve a list of contents at the front of my memoir!). After many cups of herbal tea (and a little bit of Rescue Remedy), I managed to complete the job ... minus a certain table.

Why was I giving myself such brain-pain? Well I'd read a blog about Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) which is a scheme that has been set up by Amazon to allow self-published authors to sell their books through the site (which happens to be one of the biggest online book-selling sites in the world). What interested me about KDP is that it also allowed authors to sign up for a promotion that promised to give them some 'traction' if they offered their ebook for free, for a limited period of time.

My three day free promotion began on April 10 (Pacific Standard Time... which was actually April 11 Aussie-time) and after sending out emails to my mailing list and posting some info on Facebook, I sat patiently...waiting to see what would happen.

The first thing that occurred was the lovely folks at Intrepid Travel (which was the adventure trekking group that I booked my first ever trip to Thailand with) were kind enough to let their 25,000 Twitter followers know about my promo. How cool!

At the end of my first day I'd had 56 downloads and I was pretty chuffed. The next day many of my friends and supporters helped share the 'free love' on their Facebook pages. I had 65 downloads that day and went to bed feeling blessed for my total of 121 downloads. Very cool!

On the morning of the third day of my promo I logged onto Amazon and looked up their Best Seller List. I could not believe my eyes when I saw my little memoir sitting at #1 in the Travel section in the Top 100 Free ebook list. I logged onto my KDP account to discover that I'd had 700 downloads overnight. Insanely cool!

(Note: Also relatively cool is the fact my book ranked higher than Mark Twain on this list. I'm not sure how that happened but I had to take a screen grab of it) (Note: The Dark Side of Disney is not a book I'd download for $2.99...or for free. Do we really need to know how many kids have died on rides and what evil-hidden-messages lie within the fun-park-puzzle?!)

I watched the downloads increase, rather rapidly, for the rest of the day (at one stage I received 50 downloads in the space of half an hour!) and started doing some online investigating, trying to find the source of my Amazon download frenzy... which led me to the helpful people at Ereader News Today. I'd read about this site (which offers subscribers 'hot tips' on free ebooks each day) whilst doing some online research about Kindle marketing. I had sent the Ereader team an email, with my book promo info, imagining that it would sit in a pile of 1000 emails from eager self-published authors - all trying to get themselves some free publicity.

But to my utter amazement, Ereader listed by book in their first blog of the day, as well as posting it on their Facebook page which has 266,800 + followers. Mega cool!

By the end of my three day 'Amazon experiment', my ebook had been downloaded 1797 times. During the promo it achieved a #1 ranking in four different Kindle Store Best Seller categories:

#1 Best Sellers in Travel - Top 100 Free
#1 Best Sellers in Travel: Asia - Top 100 Free
#1 Best Sellers in Memoirs: Women - Top 100 Free
#1 Best Sellers in Memoirs: Specific Groups - Top 100 Free (not exactly sure what this means but I'm claiming it!)

What does a self-published author in Oz think about all of this? Well, I think it's MIND-BLOWINGLY cool!

What does all of this mean? That remains unclear. Part of me imagines there's a group of ebook-hoarders who like to download every single book that is ever made free online ... and that these files sit, gathering electronic dust, never to be opened or enjoyed. 

But maybe, just maybe, half of the people who downloaded my book will actually read it. And maybe, just maybe, half of them will like it. And maybe, just maybe, half of them will tell their friends about it ... or look up my music online ... or join my Facebook page ... or come to a gig ... or watch my youtube videos ... or buy my album off itunes.

Which brings me back to whether my attempt to reformat and upload my book to Amazon was:

a) successful
b) worthwhile

The answers are:

a) yes
b) yes (If nothing else but for the adrenalin rush of seeing the numbers of downloads increase hour-by-hour and the thrill of wondering who these downloaders might be and where in the world they might be reading my stories on their Kindle).

It's the first time I've had the chance to offer my book to people who haven't been to a gig ... who haven't heard me on the radio ... who are not from my neck of the woods ... people like Zelda, from 'The Heartland' (which I'm assuming means the mid-west in the USA or maybe she was being metaphorical ... either which way, Zelda is a stranger to me). This is what she wrote about my book on Amazon the day after my free promo ended:

Five Stars - A thoroughly enjoyable read and entertaining author!
My first read on my new basic Kindle and it was a page turner. The descriptions of the landscape and people fully allowed me to use my imagination even without illustrations or photographs. Funny and well told. I hope for more from this author.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Finding my 'Dylan song' - I Shall be Released

Bob Dylan. When I think about his songs, I think about words. Lots of words. Endless words. Verse after verse. Songs that seem impossible to perform unless there's a cheat sheet of lyrics sitting at your feet. I have attempted to learn some of his tunes, and failed, due to their wordiness (was it a black dog or a white man who was wounded in love? Six crooked highways and how many misty mountains?). I have contemplated cutting out a few verses of some of my favourite Dylan songs, in the hope I'll be able to cover them, but it just doesn't seem right to chop Bob's poetry.

Surely all good folk singers should have at least one Bob Dylan song that they cover. But what would be my 'Dylan song'?

I first discovered this song back in 2001, when I was living in Bangkok. The guys in my band decided, one humid afternoon, that we should take a break from rehearsing and watch a movie. They put on The Last Waltz and I was utterly blown away by the movie, the music, and one song in particular - I Shall be Released.

It felt so different to any of the other Bob Dylan songs that I'd heard. For starters, it was learnable! But it also had soul. It dug deeper than the rest. It planted itself in my heart. I began performing it with my band. I later discovered that I was not the only singer to fall in love with the song. Some of the artists who have covered it include Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez ... even Elvis Presley! 

When I was asked to contribute a track to the Festival Folk Sing Bob Dylan CD, I knew exactly which song I wanted to do. I put my name down for I Shall be Released and then, in the weeks leading up to the recording session, began freaking out about whether I was capable of it. It's a big song. I tried to learn some other Bob songs. I went on the net, looking for chords and lyrics, but nothing felt right. I kept coming back to I Shall be Released.

This song has been swirling around inside my soul for the past ten years. It carries with it happy memories of my time in the band in Thailand ... of releasing myself from my old life ... of creating for myself a new life ... of finding my voice ... of finding my people ... of finding my 'Dylan song'.

The album will be available through in mid April.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Train Singer

I have never been so excited to see a camel in all of my life.

It was the middle-aged German woman, travelling alone on our train, who spotted the beast beside the track.

“Camel! Camel!” she cried, as we all jumped to the right side of the carriage to catch a glimpse. By the time we held up our cameras, the camel was nothing more than a speck near the tail of the train, but we managed to talk about the humpbacked-creature (and how we’d wished there were more of its kind, to provide us with entertainment as we crossed the barren desert) for at least 45-minutes following the sighting.

There was another adrenalin-filled moment later that day when the same woman let out an “Oooh!”
“Camel?” I exclaimed as I ran over to the window.
“No, it’s a bird!” and we all stood glued to the glass, watching one blackbird circle above the red earth.

How did this common (relatively unattractive) bird manage to hypnotise my fellow passengers and I? Well, to answer that question I need to tell you a little bit about train-time.

You see – one day of train-time is equal to about 25 years of real-time. When you’re stuck in a confined space with strangers, you basically discover their entire life story within the first three hours of the trip…which means on day two (after living together for approximately 50 years) you resort to conversations that include “If you could eat ANY flavour of ice cream right this minute – which flavour would you choose?” (Thank Christ for the Brazilian guy onboard who answered ‘pineapple champagne’ – adding some confusion to the conversation and allowing us to probe deeper into the strange culinary traditions of his homeland) (Mine was Jaffa…just in case you were wondering). The camel-blackbird incident occurred on day three (i.e. 75 years into our journey)…so was it any wonder that it caused such a hoo-ha?

Don’t get me wrong. I can handle some down time. I very much enjoy disconnecting from the outside world and watching the clouds roll by. I can survive without mobile reception, Internet access, televisions and radios. I love talking with new people. And I don’t mind playing a card game or two to pass the hours but there’s a certain kind of cabin fever one gets when one is trapped on a train.

We were scheduled to do several ‘whistle stops’ during the three-day journey from Sydney to Perth, which would have allowed me time to stretch my legs, suck in some fresh air, go to the supermarket to buy some fruit (and take a break from the 65-year-old man onboard who’d begun making romantic advances, despite the 100 times I’d mentioned that I had a boyfriend).

But unfortunately our train left Sydney four hours behind schedule, which meant our stops were shortened, dramatically. For example, the three hours we were due to spend in Broken Hill became ten minutes – during which we were ordered not to leave the platform. The six hours we were to spend in Adelaide became 40 minutes and we were advised not to exit the station compound (three cheers for my mates Geoff and Wendy who arrived with some bananas and nectarines for this fruit-deprived passenger!).

The only time we were actually allowed off the train for more than an hour during the journey was in Kalgoorlie on day three, where the train arrived at 10pm…just in time to have a drink at the topless cowgirl bar and take part a brothel tour. (I opted instead to search the streets for an ice cream parlour to get my Jaffa-hit…a mission which I failed to achieve).

Why was I riding this delayed-train across the desert? For an adventure! And as with most adventures, you never exactly get what you bargained for.

The deal I’d brokered was a free ride in the Red Class in return for putting on two performances in the Gold Class. (A quick summary of red versus gold: Goldies get a decent-sized cabin with a private bathroom and they dine in a ritzy restaurant that serves three course meals - with different options for entrees, mains and desserts. Meanwhile, down the other end of the train, the Reddies get a tiny cabin, shared toilet/ shower facilities, and the choice of either a Subway-style sandwich or meat pie for lunch). And so, twice a day, I lugged my guitar up the length of the train, to sing in the luxurious lounge as the Goldies sipped their complimentary champagne.

Which brings me to the phenomenon known as IPGT (otherwise known as Indian-Pacific-Gig-Time), in which train-time (as opposed to real-time) moves even slower, resulting in a half-hour set stretching for approximately 200 hours/years.

The IPGT clock began ticking, ever so slowly, when the train manager introduced me as a bush poet. Maybe that’s why the crowd seemed uninterested in my music…they were propped up on their leather lounge chairs expecting stories about Clancy of the Overflow and Ned Kelly...and all I had was a song about knitting and a nudist.

Then again they never got the chance to properly hear my music due to the fact there was no sound system onboard. Well, there was a microphone that was connected to a few small ceiling-speakers inside the Gold Lounge but it did not come with a stand, which meant I had to rely on the kindness of an old chap called Ray who held the mic up to my face during my first gig, dropping it a little during each song (no doubt due to the fact that his arm was being drained of blood) so that by the fourth tune I was forced to lower my head so that my chin was almost resting on the top of my guitar. I gave him a rest after that and decided, despite the noise of talking passengers and the moving train, to sing without a microphone.

On day two I was able to gaffa-tape the mic to the top of my camera tripod (MacGyver would have been proud) but that didn’t make up for the fact that my guitar had no amplification. If I’d had Internet access, I would have been tempted to recite some Henry Lawson and give up on the music-thing all together.

Although it wasn’t part of my contract, I put on a few performances down in the Matilda Café, which was in the Red Section of the train. Despite having no sound system whatsoever (not even a gaffa-mic), and despite the train staff choosing to bang and clang in the kitchen while I was singing…I actually thoroughly enjoyed those gigs.

The Reddies listened with interest to my songs and stories. Maybe it’s because we’d shared our icecream flavour fantasies. Maybe it’s because I knew that David used to earn pocket money when he was a kid by blowing up beaver nests with dynamite and that he’d been in trouble with the law in recent years. Maybe it’s because I knew that Ted had been an alcoholic and regretted ruining his relationship with Maggie, the love of his life. Maybe it’s because I knew that Malcolm was on his way to Mandurah to try and find a woman called Tess who he’d fallen for 15 years ago in Thailand. Maybe it’s because I knew that Edward was leaving his friends and comfort zone in Sydney to start a fresh in Perth and he was scared shitless. Or maybe it’s just because Reddies are the kind of passengers who run to the window with enthusiasm when someone cries ‘camel!’.

They say that happiness is a choice…and despite some challenges, I chose to be happy on the Indian Pacific. I found a little pocket of happiness in the Matilda Café, with my gang of Reddies. In saying that, I also chose to break my contract with the Indian Pacific, opting for a flight back to Sydney rather than three more days and nights on the train. And let me tell you, plane-time is a bloody beautiful thing! 

Monday, February 6, 2012

An adventure in central Victoria

Hand puppets, bonsai trees, mosaic hearts,  a horse head, a rusty old car, music (sweet music) and a plate full of soggy nacho chips ... just a few things that feature in this video blog about my very memorable weekend in central Victoria at the Newstead Live Music Festival!