According to the local newspaper, no other event in the history of Bingara caused more interest and excitement than the opening of the Roxy. Saturday the 28th of March, 1936. The Roxy was packed to the rafters and many were turned away. A short stocky Greek man, George Psaltis from Peters & Co, the company behind the project, stood up before an excited crowd and says it’s the proudest moment of his life. Such a golden moment in the history of Bingara. Then six months later, the venture was broke and the whole thing folded. Why such a lavish project in a small country town?
Just got back from four days in Moree and Walgett working with William Verity. William is a large man, a freelance radio producer, a former Fairfax journo and now he’s our producer on the Freedom Rides Soundtrails.
Fifty years ago, this February, a group of ratbag Sydney students set forth in a bus into outback NSW to highlight entrenched segregation and racism in outback NSW. With its name drawing parallels to the civil right struggle underway in the American south, the Freedom Ride bus went to a number of outback towns like Wellington, Walgett and Moree. The trip drew international attention on the reality of the issues and is today considered as a pivotal precursors to the 1967 referendum.
Fifty years later, William and I were in Moree and Walgett to scope out the Freedom Rides Soundtrails, to talk to people, ask them what, if anything, has changed, and explain what we were doing – no easy feat explaining a GPS sound app that works on mobile devices to an eighty year old Aboriginal aunty! There will be two Freedom Rides Soundtrails; one at the Walgett RSL and one at the Moree pubic baths. Both were sites of significant protest during the original 1965 Freedom Rides and it was outside the Moree baths, that the famous photo of Charlie Perkins was taken as he was escorted from the premises. Talking to prominent Aborigines was a humbling experience for me. Never far beneath the surface was a sense of the brittle race relations of the day, the heavily regulated life on the missions, the fear of the welfare who took the kids away, and a two-tiered outback economy that relied on a pool of cheap, albeit, free black labor.
Supported by Catholic Schools Armidale and in particular, the fabulous Sharon Cooke, an Aboriginal women from neighbouring Brewarrina, the Freedom Rides Soundtrails should be up and running mid 2015 to coincide with the 50 year anniversary of the Freedom Rides. We understand that Sydney University is planning a reenactment of the bus ride. This will be travelling the same route as in 1965 and, fingers crossed, will have our William on board. Go Will!
Four months after Soundtrails launched, we now have five new Soundtrails in the offing. Five New Soundtrails! We’re very excited.
Ten days in Bingara. I survived the searing November heat in a drought that is challenging everyone out here. The farmers, the businesses, the council. I was never far from an air conditioner, but never uncomfortable.
And here they are – drum roll please – the ‘long and short of it’ as Jen says. The faces that meet us all when we arrive at Bingara after a long day’s drive. The hard working women who take the public on the Roxy tours, who set up shop for each and every performance, opening, closing, running here and running there. Jenny Mead and Georgia Standerwick striking a pose for me outside the box office. Thank you.
Thank you Carmen Southwell for your help in the research and procuring the material that will make up the Bingara Sountrails. Thank you to Bingara Central for allowing us to record with the kids. I will not miss the heat, but I will miss my long walks, the friendly people, my office upstairs in the Roxy.
See you all again in February.
Two times today I’ve braved the Bingara heat and been to Patricia Brown’s on the western side of town. The first time was to talk to about the war. The second time to talk about the circus.
Born in Bingara in 1930, Patricia grew up on the banks of Halls Creek, as one of 10 kids. Her dad sewed up feed bags and her mum worked in the local hotel while the kids ran free and easy. When the second world war came, five of her bother’s enlisted. So keen were they for adventure and to see the world, two brothers, faked their age.
Only three brothers made it back to Australia. One was just out of a POW camp. While the word sacrifice often seems overused when it comes to war, the full weight of its significance hit home when I listened to Patricia talk about what it meant for her family to live through this time, the price they all paid. Two medals were issued to the Brown family in recognition of this sacrifice; one with five stars hanging – the number of sons who enlisted; the other with two stars - the sons who died. Patricia says these medals mean a lot to her, but she doesn’t know where they are today. All she has is a picture.
The second time I went to Patricia’s place today was to talk about the circus and while it was even hotter outside, it was cool inside and the conversation was more lighthearted. From my stool with Patricia, her daughter, Judy, and son in law, Rick, before me, I waved my microphone around madly as the conversation flew. It was all about the circus and Patricia’s favourite brother, Alec, or ’uncle Alec’ as Judy referred to him. He joined Ashton’s circus on a whim shortly before the war ended and worked with Ashtons for the next thirty years. Alec became the clown and married Lorna the glamorous trapeze artist cum showgirl. Judy spoke about how each year when the Aston’s cavalcade drove up, it would all start up again: the setting up, a monkey one step behind Alec, the dancing dogs, the bearded man, the fat man and fat woman, the free tickets, the supping with the Astons after show time. For the Brown’s the circus was family.
I hope to make both recordings available to the local library for this is a rich assortment of memories for these people, for this town. For Soundtrails, I’d like to explore these two recordings in a much shorter form. Two to four minutes. So short is people’s attention when they do soundtrails, I’m told they tend to move on after two minutes – though I’ll go to four minutes because I can’t resist telling a good story. What form these stories will take will depend on the quality of my recording. What supporting material I find in the process, and how things travel while editing, remains to be seen.
Patricia’s recount of the war – I’d like to position this story somewhere amidst the side of memorial orange tree that symbolise the fallen soldiers. This will be amidst a range of other stories connected with the war. Where exactly it is in relation to the other stories, I don’t know. With uncle Alec and the circus, I will place this story behind the IGA supermarket where Ashton’s used to erect their tent before they moved down to the showgrounds at the other end of town.
One town, one map, so many landmarks, so many stories, so many voices.
In searing heatwave conditions I drove down to Bingara last weekend. An interesting road and after working on Soundtrails here last year, it’s a bit of a coming home to be in this part of the world: the cyprus pine covered hills, the electric dry air, the wide roads of town.
For three days I’ve now been in Bingara and the weather has thankfully cooled down. We’ve begun compiling material for the Bingara soundtrail. Jan and Tony Miller are putting me up (thank you) and I even have my own little recording spot in the upstairs part of the illustrious Roxy Theatre.
This is the first of three trips and I am working with Carmen Southwell and Georgia Standerwick from the Bingara Shire Council. With Carmen I’m working on a suite of stories that connect up with the memorial grove of orange trees in the centre of town. As with many of these regional towns, Bingara saw a high percentage of its young men head off to both wars and the orange trees, which were planted in the fifties as a tribute to the fallen soldiers, are now as close as it gets to hallowed status here. First they were Valencia – no good for eating I’m told – and now they’re Washington Navels. Each year there’s an orange festival where a bugle call announces picking time and the kids are unleashed. Alan Mitchell, told us this morning how as a teenager he once kicked the oranges down the street and threw them on the roofs – so poorly were the oranges regarded. Then as a school teacher things turned around and he started to see the symbolic importance of the orange trees and he found himself teaching the kids to guard over the fruit lest anyone steal them. Hence the orange police today. That’s right all you visitors to town. The orange police. Don’t even think about it!
Meanwhile Georgia and I, who have now two sound trials under our belt, are scoping out a range of other stories and sounds for town and where they might fit into a GPS map: the movie picture wars, the vision of the Greeks who built the Roxy theatre, the story behind the cumbersome rocks along the river. On and on. Am attending meetings with heritage group, the local theatre troop, the ex mayor and kids at school. Fun, challenging and much to get my head around.
Regional towns have the coolest cafes! Here’s stories, music and theatre from Uralla’s cafe culture in the 1980s. Just one of the many stories featuring in our upcoming Soundtrails app. The pic is the Uralla Arts team recording ‘The Accidental Poke”, a play that was performed back in the 80′s in one of Uralla’s wonderful cafes.
What a massive few days it’s been; fixing up the finer details of the stories, sound levels up or down, sound field shifting up the road twenty metres, adding new versions to the back end, on the blower to developers, then back down the streets testing on both IOS and Android.
Tomorrow I am back in Bingara with Georgia Standerwick testing in Warialda and Myall Creek. Yesterday I was with Andrew Parker from Uralla Arts. Today I was on my own. That tall skinny man walking the street with his ear phones and strewn with cords. In the evening, during the middle of the day, there I am writing down notes on my pad, walking past, walking back again, stopping and staring into space. You doing that sound recording thing? A group of people cross the road to where I am. I show several of them the map on the phone in my hand and we walk together for a few minutes while a man tells me about the old morgue as we pass it by. Or the man from heritage who wants to shake my hand and tell me about his backyard museum; or Sam and Liz from White Rose cafe who are making their wifi freely available a week before the launch.
So many people are interested or know something about what is happening and want to stop to talk. The motel owner at Stokers, the gentleman at the Hunting Haven who is closing up while I stand right there on the footpath. Have a listen. I proffer my earphones and I watch from a distance as he concentrates then starts to smile. Ah, that smile. How I love to see that smile as people connect with what they hear.
For nine months now I’ve worked alongside a team who’ve not only been there to support me, but believed in this project. Then there’s the many many local people: musicians, actors, historians, and salt of the earth story tellers. Each story is but a small part in the collective picture. Each story entails a weave of connections and an underlying trust that’s written into the relationship; hundreds of relationships. Thank you all. I’ve cultivated these stories, nursed them into shape with generous help and support of so many. To think that soon they will be pubic. Overlaid across a town via a GPS map or online. Over fifty stories at three locations. It’s getting close but it’s not quite there yet.
Here in the Sunshine Coast, while producing the stories for Myall Creek and Warialda and Uralla, I come across the name Henry Dangar most every day. Henry Dangar the squatter, the surveyor, the society gentleman. The man who vouched for the guilty stockmen during the Myall Creek massacre but who clearly didn’t like his hut keeper, Anderson: Anderson who couldn’t ride a horse, who was there the day of the massacre and whose testimony brought the practice of killing blacks to the attention of the Australian public. Up and down the east Coast, today Dangar’s name is like council confetti; used for streets, lagoons, islands and waterfalls. When I walk the track at Myaall Creek, as I read the court transcripts for the massacre; I can almost feel his breath upon my shoulder.
In February this year, I took trip out to one of Dangar’s former homesteads with locals from Warialda, farmer David Conway, former school principle and researcher, Peter Hancock, and local heritage expert, Jeanette Wilson.
We drove out over a land long cleared. While many of the old squatter runs have fallen into disrepair or been sold on or carved up for soldier settlement blocks, Yallaroi still operates today. Today it stands, albeit a little sagging in places, in the middle of vast wheat fields. Build in the 1840s, Yallaroi is slowly being restored by its owners, Paul and Sue. The old homestead sits level on black soil country, has a large old cooking range in its kitchen and has survived countless droughts, flood and storms. In the old store smells abound. Smells my grandfather must have known, and smells strangely familiar to me. We are shown the old post office, the linking irons arrangement in the chain measurement and even Dangar’s branding iron. The land dry and cracked. The renovating task for Paul and Sue seemingly huge, the thirst of the land unquenchable as the water for their strip of green lawn pumped up from the artesian bores.
Amidst the endless stubble, Yallaroi is a marker of many things to many people; Australia’s glory days riding on the sheep’s back, pioneering days, our collective colonial history; what comes to mind to me are land grabs up the Liverpool Plains, this remote white domicile, the decimation of the Kamilaroi people, and the hardships of convict labour.
Near the abandoned tennis court, I walked out to the dam armed with my H4N recorder. I watched the farm dog stalk a wallaby and cloud burst far off in the west as I tried recording for atmos. I didn’t really get much other than flies and the odd galah. I was both impressed and a little underwhelmed with what I saw at Yallaroi. From soldier settlers in Uralla, the Government run at Warialda and the Myall Creek massacre, so many stories come back to these once-grand stations like Yallaroi and squatters like Danger.
Even today, I have a sense that the sound stories I am producing, that carry the voices, the songs and sounds from the region, are but the latest manifestations wrought from this tough land and Australia’s penal years and beyond? Secret faultlines that go far beneath the surface and tell another story. There must be, even today, still hundreds of places like Yallaroi, there would have been many squatters like Dangar; English upper class quick to take advantage of the rich pickings; the cattle prices, who had deep pockets and political willpower to determine their own laws in remote reaches of Australia. Dangar wasn’t the only one with land aplenty, guns at the ready and a free labour force to support his enterprise. Just the most salient at this point in the sound stories I am producing.
It’s mid February and the tail end of summer with heat waves reported down south. I’m driving down to New England, first to Armidale to talk with local musicians, then to Uralla and then onto Bingara – North West, as it’s called by the locals. On Tuesday I have a meeting at the Warialda library to discuss ensuing sound walk with locals. My first time back there since November. The sound walks are at an exciting point for I can now start to test the back end of the app on locations using GPS, testing the sound levels and recalibrating the sound fields. Spend some time with our developers yesterday testing the app in Maleny. Many things still to do but I’m very confident we’ve got a strong and dynamic app that will travel far. So far, I’ve collected nearly all the primary material for the sound stories for Warialda, Uralla and Myall Creek and now it’s about testing the rough edited sound stories and gleaning additional material – readings, original material,, music on site sounds.
I’m working on forty something stories. Many of them I’m particularly excited about. To name a couple: There The Call to Arms story for Uralla which I think will be something of a stand out. It’s based on a number of rare archival documents from the area that are now housed in the Armidale archives. The documents were part of recruiting campaign in world war one. Have interviewed academic, Bart Zino, who paints a compelling story around the dilemma young rural men in the area faced when it came to making the decision of whether or not to go to war, and how this situation played itself out on their family and their communities. Then there’s also a story I’m dubbing ‘Why Did You Come Forward?’ which will be part of the Myall Creek sound walk. It is based on Beulah Adams and Des Blake and steps listeners through their decisions to come forward as living descendants of the perpetrators of the massacre.
Four and a half months to go before we launch on June 28. Very exciting.