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Happy Twentieth Birthday Meredith…from all of us

Amongst the big name festivals like Falls and Big Day Out, Meredith Music Festival is viewed as a world unto itself; the rock festival with a lot of heart. As it prepares to celebrate its twentieth year, Meredith is still as stubbornly anti-commercial and community-oriented as it once was.

Meredith: 20 years of memories and counting

In the stretch of endless road between Geelong and Ballarat sits a small town called Meredith. Home to just over 1000 people, it’s the kind of place you might visit on the way to somewhere else. That is, unless it’s December and you’re one of the 12,500 music-crazed individuals attending Meredith Music Festival.

Then, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Welcome to Country Life!” Donna Burt yells, competing with her Ute’s growling engine as she drives through Meredith’s dusty roads towards the festival site. Donna has been a part of the festival since she moved to Meredith fifteen years ago, working at the festival’s community food stall affectionately known as ‘The Tucker Tent’.

After her daughter was killed in a car-accident five years ago, Donna took over her job at the Meredith ‘Roadhouse’ General Store and, when the thousands of inner-city music enthusiasts invade the town every December, she works from five in the morning at the Roadhouse and then heads down to the Tucker Tent to work until the small hours of the morning.

Hung-over festival-goers after cheap, fried food are mostly unaware that the Tucker Tent is run entirely by Meredith locals, with all proceeds going back to the town’s community organisations. But those who know the festival well, know that most things in Meredith come with a back-story.

Meredith Music Festival began in 1991, when mates Chris Nolan and Gregor Peele had an idea to host a gathering on Chris’s parents’ farm in Meredith. Their aim was to create an event where people could get away from the city and experience music in a relaxed setting surrounded by the Australian bush. The first festival saw 250 friends attend and today the festival has well and truly outgrown its Blundstones, hosting 12,500 people every year and even spawning a sister festival held in March, Golden Plains.

Grasping for a cigarette with one hand and driving her Ute with the other, Donna chats about how Meredith Music Festival has now become part of the local community’s fabric. It’s hard for locals to now imagine what things were like before the musical juggernaut began. Suddenly, an out of place hint of seriousness enters Donna’s voice. “Chris Nolan. That’s who this is all about and it’s all about making sure that he’s cared for and looked after,” she says.

In 1996, the festival was almost cancelled when organiser Chris Nolan suffered a multi-organ collapse in his sleep while working in Hanoi. The incident left him comatose for six months and caused him severe brain injuries. Despite Nolan’s tumultuous state, his mates and fellow Meredith organisers Gregor Peele, Marcus Downie and Matt High decided that the festival would still go on that year.

To this day, 1996 remains the only Meredith that Chris has missed. While he remains wheelchair-ridden and finds it difficult to speak, see and hear, he remains an integral part of the Meredith festival, opening the event each year to appreciative cheers from the crowd.

When we arrive at the 1100 acre Nolan family property, the site is disarmingly serene, lush and empty, with the only intervening noise being Donna’s throaty laugh as she jokes with Chris Nolan’s father, John, about the impending storm brewing in the distance. Soon this expanse will be filled with hoards of energetic campers and the constant drone of music. It’s certainly changed a lot since John Nolan broke rule number one in the parenting handbook by agreeing to let his son hold a party there in 1991.

Pointing to the new developments that have been built on the site over the past twenty years including compostable toilets and a huge amphitheatre, John seems incredibly proud of what he and the community of Meredith have built. And especially, what his son has created.

John recalls one year when the festival was still only 3000 people large, after a searing hot day of forty degrees, the temperature suddenly dropped in the evening. “Christopher was well at the time and he said, ‘You’ve gotta go out, get the truck, get a load of wood and build a big fire!” John says, smiling. John and his wife Mary did exactly that, creating a huge bonfire and continuing to stoke it throughout the night so the music could continue.

When I ask John what it is about Meredith Festival that makes it so special, he pauses and says, “It’s a lot freer.”

Indeed, back in the city, there are plenty of people who say they return to Meredith year after year for that very reason. Wearing a black, leather jacket decorated in rock ‘n roll badges, Triple R Radio announcer DJ Fee Bee Squared embodies Melbourne’s grungy rock spirit. Having been chosen to DJ in between bands at the festival for the past few years, Fee Bee is completely enamored by the communal ethos that thrives at Meredith Festival.

“When you get there, especially your first time at Meredith, when somebody says to you, “Happy Meredith!” it’s kind of beautiful. Straight away you feel like you’re part of something special, part of this community,” she says.

Fee Bee Squared fondly recalls DJing on the Friday night of 2008, the year when campers were treated to three days of non-stop rain and mud. “You’re looking out at all these people and the light hits a certain way and you can see the rain, just sheets and sheets of rain…Everybody’s just smiling and excited and we can’t get any wetter,” she says, gleaming.

Despite its huge popularity – the festival now sells out in a matter of hours- organisers are still trying to maintain the informal and relaxed atmosphere of the festival’s past. The event still has no advertising whatsoever and continues to affiliate itself with community organisations like Triple R Radio and independent record store Polyester Records.

Even Meredith’s ticketing system is organised with their punters in mind. When tickets go on sale, those who have been to the festival since the beginning are given preferential treatment and die-hard fans lining up for tickets as early as nine o’ clock the previous evening are greeted by Meredith employees offering hot coffee to make the queue a little more bearable.

Over the years, the unique love affair between the festival and its punters has seen Meredith develop many inimitable, almost cult-like, customs. One beloved tradition is ‘The Meredith Gift’, a tongue-in-cheek running race held at the end of the festival where all entrants compete in the nude.

Another unusual phenomenon that has developed over time is the mythical ‘Arch of Love’, a portable arch which was brought in one year by an anonymous festival-goer. Since its appearance, Meredith legend has required couples that walk under the arch to kiss. It’s now been taken a step further with some couples choosing to conduct their nuptials under the arch.

Caitlin Tanumyroshghi and her partner Flipp were the first couple to officially marry under the iconic arch in 2009. Wearing a twenty-dollar vintage white dress and a makeshift glittery halo, the free-spirited bride tied the knot in the company of friends, a celebrant dressed as Elvis and girls dancing the Can Can.

“I feel like there’s something about it that sortof channels Woodstock…I remember the year before last year, when it was freezing cold and muddy and terrible. There was a moment when we were walking back on the main hill there was this couple having sex in the mud which was absolutely disgusting obviously…but at the same time, it was sort of that strange, hippy vibe. I guess there’s this certain kind of effervescence when you get up there,” she says.

Like many other Meredith-goers, Caitlin has thanked Chris Nolan at the festival for what he has created. “It started from such a clean and true spot. Just a guy who wanted to have some of his friends over and it kept on getting bigger and bigger. And not to mention the horrible things that happened to him. I think that anyone that takes the time to find out how the festival got started, you can’t not be moved and just feel extremely lucky to be a part of it,” she says.

As Meredith approaches its twentieth year, many of its fans are waiting in anticipation to wish the festival a happy birthday. Amongst those who hold the enduring rock festival in their heart, there seems to be a shared hope that despite growing older, Meredith Music Festival will still remain stubbornly committed to never growing up.

Meredith Town, consisting of the roadhouse, the corner store and the pub

Donna Burt's makeshift Meredith tour

DJ FB2 doing her thing at Meredith 2010

Meredith minus the music... kind of quite and kind of beautiful

just get a ticket already

 

 

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signs of life in an office job

In addition to being a student, I have a very mundane part-time job in agricultural market research. What is agricultural market research you say? (I’m assuming that’s what you say..but maybe you didn’t) Basically, my role consists of calling up farmers around Australia and asking them about their ‘crop protection’ (AKA the chemicals they spray on their crops).

The Moorabin office where i work is basically a caricature of itself. Motivational framed pictures of phoenixes and people running up hills don the walls, a half-alive plant sits in my boss’s room, and at one stage all office workers were required to play daily ‘team building’ games which involved building towers out of pieces of paper.

In the world of office-work, the most dull events become exciting intervals in an otherwise repetitive and meaningless day. The other day the vent in the office started releasing fumes which i wouldn’t be surprised if i were told were signs of asbestos. It took one of my colleagues twenty minutes to find the source of the smell by sniffing every corner of the office and yelling ‘it’s not here, it’s not here!’

The excitement was almost unbearable.

Another momentous event occurred when my boss went a little nuts over the fact that the office forks keep mysteriously dissapearing. “How can i eat my lunch if there AREN’T ANY FORKS?!” he exclaimed. I had to hand it to him, he had a point.

During another seemingly endless shift, one conversation with a particularly beautiful farmer touched my bored, little heart. I forget his name, but for the sake of clarity let’s call him John (99% of the farmer’s are called John anyway.)

In his thick, aged, Australian accent, John told me of how he had beaten cancer with the help of some special miracle vitamins called ‘Mannatek”. He explained to me how after being told he would almost certainly have to undergo chemotherapy, and with what he termed the “unbelievably down to earth faith of my wife”, he found his way to ‘Mannatek’ products and has been cancer- free for 5 years.

While John started going on about the miracle of ‘glyconutrients’ and how Mannatek can cure almost everything, all I could hear running in my mind were the words: ‘PYRAMID MARKETING SCHEME, SUCKER! SUCKER!” But while these products may indeed be bogus, i asked myself if really had any right to tell John that his faith and belief were misguided. Who knows, perhaps something that sounds as dodgy as ‘Mannatek’ ( it really is an awful name) is the solution to the world’s ills. For some reason something about his warm, wide-eyed kindness made me not want to hang up.

John’s story is one of the many which I’ve heard during my time at the call centre. I’ve chatted to climate change skeptics weary that i might be another one of ‘those crazy environmentalists, I’ve had the pleasure of learning about local political land battles in Queensland, talked to exhausted farmers’ wives about the affects of constant drought and have even been informed recently by one farmer of a grassroots farmers music/sustainability workshop in NSW (invite and all).

It’s these convesations that add the extra colour that the highlighters in the office just can’t possibly cover and they prove that you can experience meaningful moments in even the most dull of places.

Unfortunately the office plant hasn’t had the same rehabilitative experience as I have, and it continues to cling for life.

But I’ve got faith.

So everything has changed.. did you notice?

So, in true Australia larrikin style, our top public official and spinster, Kevin Rudd, has been rolled. Slung. boned. Sounds sexy, but the only threesome that’s been involved in Wayne Swan, John Faulkner and the entire Right Wing NSW Labor Faction. That’s one hairy, unsexy thought.

After all the excitement, and with no preparation and no time to organise any pretty banners, Australia has a new prime minister. A female, a red head, a believer in the liberating power of pants-suits (Hilary Clinton should truly get the credit though for breaking that glass ceiling).

Commentators have been writing and blogging furiously about this being a significant moment in Australian politics and Australian history, and indeed it is, but for many this is just another cynical political assasination which confirms that politics is a slick, dirty game. it’s the Wild Wild West with more cheesy grins, shopping mall expeditions and mining hard hats. Always the hard hats.

K-Rudd

On the day that Gillard was signed in as our new Prime-minister, I happened to be at a gig on Brunswick street. The music was ‘indie-pop’ and the crowd was as scenester as it gets. As i looked at the crowd, all dressed in angular, alternative and androgynous garb, I remember thinking that despite the momentous leaderhsip change, it felt like nothing had really changed at all. At that very moment, either no one noticed or no one cared. Perhaps this was an indicator of the strength of our democracy, but i suspect it could be an indicator of our collective political apathy. At least on this side of town.

As i watched the first band pack up their gear and make way for the next, i noticed that both bands playing that evening had female musicians. One (a guitarist) was pretty average, and one (a drummer) was pretty awesome. For some reason, this seemed to be more significant to me than the political circus of the day. This was another final frontier in which women, red heads and pants-suits wearers could reach the highest of peaks (playing in a dingy pub) minus the barriers of the past.

Amongst all the Gillard-hysteria, i didn’t see any journalists from ‘the Australian’ quoting feminist tractates here. Just heaps of disinterested and attractive young people (men AND women) who don’t really care who is steering the ship…just as long as they don’t take away Austudy.

julia gillard takes it in her stride

...but could this be more significant?

That little slice of happiness known as the ‘Music Festival’

When the summer descends on Australia a wave of music festivals overcome even the most cash-strapped student. Each week brings another unmissable event which promises to define your summer and your life. While our generation is often described as self-centred and careless, the worlds young people collectively create during these festivals is as close to utopian as you can get. Granted, most people are on mood changing substances, but still there’s a heartwarming sense of camaraderie. Want to use the toilet? Go ahead, what’s the rush! Need an extra peg for your tent? Sure, take mine! Need a blank surface to chop up your MDMA and snort it? Here take my make-up container! It’s simple and it’s beautiful, and I think Marx would totally be into it.                                      
                                                         
                                                                                                                                                                             
  Often set in beautiful, isolated settings, the native creatures that usually live in these open spaces (including possums, owls and local townspeople) seem to make way for the new owners of the land in a weird act of natural harmony.  And my god are these new owners a sight for sore eyes. People arrive in their festival best, wings, dress-ups, colourful make up. All the elements needed to create the very personality, which doesn’t always cut it in the big smoke of Melbourne. Fire-twirling, guitar playing and basic construction skills have way more cred here then anything a 4-year law or business degree could have prepared you with. (although when those tripping take a turn for a worse, the med students become a cherished commodity).

 

Each festival has its own dress code and personality. Meredith, for instance, attracts a hell of a lot of androgynous, fashionable, black clothsed entities, each sporting a swoopy fringe which covers the left eye (I guess for some of the hipsters, the world is so blasé a two-eyed vantage point is just superfluous). Hippie festivals, like Confest and Woodford, are also an entirely different world where earth-worshippers from every corner congregate to do experimental yoga workshops and thank the traditional owners of the land on an hourly basis. And the best thing about the hippie festivals, the ABSOLUTE best thing is: Hippies are hot. Seriously. I don’t know why their boobs don’t sag or how their skin seems to remain tanned and earthy without looking dirty. Perhaps it’s all the organic living and idealism that keeps them young and supple. Either way, it makes you feel both admiration and inadequacy at how your attempts to wear a bindi just make you look like you have some leftover rissoto on your head.

While the worlds created at these festivals are unrealistic, temporary and some would say naïve, this is our paradigm for what the world should be. Fashion, music, youth and flirty smiles. Lots and lots of smiles. In a modern world which lacks any overarching philosophy like communism to believe in, us youngsters need something to spend our time and money on. As long as corporate greed, corruption and pictures of new born puppies on the front cover of the Herald sun continue unabtated, we will continue to construct and de-construct our festival worlds every few months with purpose and conviction.

 At 250 dollars a pop, I think it’s a pretty cheap coping mechanism. 

Meredith music festival: Something to believe in

construction at Meredith music festival

Hare Krishna festival food, providing both spirituality and sustenance

Peats Ridge festival: getting in touch with the west african dancer within

drumming and feathers often feature prominently

at festivals mud is not only accetable, but embraced

come festival time, nature makes way for the new inhabitants and their ways

and after all the fun and memories to last a lifetime, you pack up, take your costume off and go home.

It’s tough living in a chic city like Melbourne

Sometimes living in a city like Melbourne can be exhausting. Being vigilantly hip can take its toll on even the most fashionable, literary, cultured city-sider. I do not consider myself any of those three things, so keeping my finger on the ever-changing pulse of this place is tough. While some fads have come and gone, I have learned several things which remain constantly ‘cool’ in our loveable, sea-side city.

Black is certainly up there. While Melbournians occasionally dabble in colours and prints when the summer heat becomes too unbearable, once winter descends everyone sighs a collective sigh of relief as our fave black, angular numbers make a comeback for the remaining 7 months of the year and our non-perscription glasses seem less contrived.

Melbournians also love any bar where you can sit on crates. For some reason sitting on crates, or anything remotely industrial is ‘trendy’. Even though crates are often uncomfortable, plastic and let’s face it…they’re CRATES… for some reason as soon as I see crates I feel calm.

Melbournians also love creating their own charities, collectives and ‘zines’. Doesn’t it surprise you that you know at least 5 people who are starting their own enterprise selling organic babywears with trees and bird graphics printed on them, or are starting their own charity for Africa or even their own avant garde ‘anti-pop culture zine (which they eventually hope will garner enough corportate interest to fund their coffee drinking lifestyle).

Another constant here is our religious obsession with coffee. We like talking about it, sipping it, criticising it, buying it and when possible, making it as a means to get through our performing arts degrees. Chai tea rates a mention but only if home-brewed by you or your swami.

Melbournians also love to ‘rough it’, they love to talk about their weekends away where they put on their vintage blundstones, leave their blow dryer at home and ‘get back to nature’.  Short stints away give us a taste of nature but remind us that proper I-phone reception is only dependable when you’re back in the big smoke.

I, myself, like all of these things and am happy that my kind (that is, the pseudo-hipster breed) are not persecuted for our vain attempts to follow the trends, but are embraced, celebrated or promoted to a plum ministerial position promoting women’s health or the arts.

It’s what makes this place great.

Popular bar 'Section 8' is made from an old shipping container. So hip.

If you have to be in a hospital, get the music right

The other day I went to visit a loved one in hospital. The first thing I noticed when I entered the patient room was an art-deco style wall hanging of Jesus on a crucifix. It’s strange to think that no matter how good a Jew you may try to be, your end of days will still be greeted by a hanging picture of Jesus (just in case you decide to change teams). I guess while stereotypically us Jews are told we control the world, we haven’t managed to infiltrate the public health system just yet.

Hospitals are not very fun. Unlike an episode of ‘Scrubs’ hospitals don’t feautre Zach Braff’s comedic musings followed by a touching montage accompanied by the latest indie music. Rather, hospitals are just big, white, disinfectant-smelling institutions where we are reminded of our mortality.

According to Regina Spector, ‘nobody laughs at god in a hospital.’ Is that because supposedly a higher power is the only entity able to end our time with the flick of finger? By that logic then nobody should laugh at a doctor or a nurse or a wronged ex-wife in a hospital. I think in a place like a hospital all you can do is laugh. Laugh at the fact that hospitals continue to supply chocolate croissants to patients with diabetes or obesity, laugh at the fact that all high earning professionals inside the hospital wear practical, albeit hideous, orthopaedic shoes or laugh at the fact that whimsical quotes from the old testament are painted on the walls of the very same place where meth addicts probably scream the loudest and most blasphemous of profanities.

Whether joy, or sadness, any visit to the hospital is heavy and manages to either tug at your heart or remind you that your heart isn’t invincible, particularly after last weekend. No wonder Zach Braff ends each ‘Scrubs’ episode with an indie-music montage, because without a ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ number and a beautiful cast of actors, no one would be watching anymore.

Stuff white Jewish people from Melbourne Like

I recently stumbled across the blog ‘Stuff white people like in Melbourne’, a local version o the popular satirical blog, ‘Stuff white people like’. To give you an example, some of things listed in the Melbourne version include: Northcote, confest, fingerless gloves, Bonsoy, Tibetan prayer flags, pretending to hate cars and hidden, Chinese dumpling restaurants. I was surprised that I, myself, liked 99% of the things listed and the remaining one percent I simply hadn’t heard of yet but found enticing. In response to this blog I’ve compiled a list of things white, Jewish, Melbournians (myself included) often like.

1)      Being only ‘culturally’ Jewish.

2)      Volunteering with indigenous Australians…or planning to.

3)      Living with their parents, yet saving all their money so they can travel to exotic places, popular destinations including India (although that’s now a little passé), central Asia, or basically anywhere underdeveloped where travel is still ‘organic’.

4)      Trance festivals, but only before they were ‘cool’.

5)      Israeli backpackers who might have herpes…but ‘know how to treat a woman’

6)      Viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of ‘narratives’, and accepting that there is indeed a Palestinian narrative, but still deep down thinking that the Israeli narrative rocks just that little bit more.

7)      Having token ‘non-Jewish’ friends, preferably Muslim.

8)      Failing to mention that the school they went to was a private, Jewish school in conversations with their token ‘non-Jewish friends… rather mumbling ‘oh…you wouldn’t have heard of it…it’s kindof in Burwood.’

9)      Dreaming of moving to the North side of town, like Northcote, but settling for Richmond instead because it’s still halway between the ghetto and the city.

10)  Studying Jewish civilization subjects at Uni because they take a secular look at Jewish culture and because they’re a great place to meet attractive other left-leaning white Jews and lecturers.

11)  Being obsessed with genocides.. the more recent the better.

12)  Dissing AUJS

13)  Dissing Adas Jews.

14)  Saying things like ‘Well my wedding will be different…”

15)  Road trips, drinking beer and being Australian…(but still not being able to shake off that weird, American, yiddish accent.)

Bush Doofs.. a totally 'organic' experience, just with the help of many chemicals