A few weeks back I bought a copy of the Weekend Australian newspaper and printed across the bottom of the front page was an advertisement for a Jimmy Buffet concert scheduled for Australia Day, 26 January, in Sydney at the Horden Pavilion. Two prior concerts at the Sydney Opera house had sold out and this third concert had been moved to the Horden Pavilion as the Opera House was already booked for an Australia Day event. Tickets were going on sale on the 7th. "We’ll have to go," I said to my wife, Lexie, "As he probably won’t come again." She agreed, and after a morning’s walk on the 7th, she went on line to book, fortunately scoring two tickets, albeit up the back in the N section.
For the two weeks prior to the event I had been working every day on a series of ceramic pieces for an upcoming exhibition so it was up to Lexie to make all the booking arrangements. She found a B&B in Paddington, within walking distance from the Horden Pavilion, and so our holiday was set.
I was still working on the ceramic pieces on the Sunday night before our flight and didn’t finish until midnight. Exhausted, I fell in to bed and woke the next day in time for us to pack, drop the dogs off at the vet and get to the airport by 11.00 am for our flight. The four hours in the air gave me time to catch up on some rest.
We caught a taxi to Paddington and met our landlady, Katherine Hart, who showed us our room in her quaint two story house snuggled into a typically inner city Paddington street; a house full of New Guinea artefacts, old furniture and naive art. After unpacking we went for a walk down Oxford Street to find something vegetarian to eat and found it in a pleasant restaurant with tables and chairs out the back located under trellis and grapevines.
|Our B & B|
Sydney was 3 hours ahead of us but it was good to get to bed, their time not ours.
We had a big day planned for Tuesday and decided to walk into the city to see as much as we could; a walk of around 3 kilometres. Lexie was excited by all the 50% OFF sales signs in the clothing boutiques that line Oxford Street and planned to go back on Wednesday for some serious shopping.
Oxford Street became Elizabeth Street and we threw a right at Liverpool Street, walking through Hyde Park on our way to the NSW Art Gallery, our main destination for the day. We were going to see The First Emperor, China’s Entombed Warriors exhibition. Preparations were being made in Hyde Park for the Australia Day celebrations with tents and PA systems being assembled.
The entombed warriors exhibition was stunning, particularly as it started with artefacts and vessels from the archaeological dig before taking you into the room that featured seven different clay Warrior life-size figures along with a cavalry horse and a chariot horse. According to the script on the wall there are estimated to be 8,000 figures at the site with 1,900 excavated so far. The last room featured a bronze chariot and a wooden horse along with a clay figure complete with his crossbow and sword. This was an exquisitely made piece, less than life size, but powerful nevertheless.
|Art Gallery of NSW|
We then had lunch before viewing works from the permanent collection, including the major paintings from the Heidelberg school of artists, works that I had featured in my upper school Visual Art course such as Streeton’s Fire on Lapstone Tunnel, Robert’s Bailed Up and McCubbin’s On the Wallaby Track. It was great to see them for real. I also took in the featured Justin O'Brien exhibition but Lexie was all exhibitioned out by then and browsed in the bookshop.
|Sydney Opera House|
Back outside we walked through the beautiful Botanic Gardens admiring the various palms, ferns and plants, trying to avoid being shat on by squawking flying foxes overhead. Walking past Government House we rounded Bennelong Point and joined the tourists around the Sydney Opera House, many of them Japanese with colourful umbrellas to keep off the sun. A plastic inflatable village was situated at the base of the Opera House with the nameplate Mira Zozo, its pointed extremes parodying the Opera House sail points. Lots of folk were lined up in the heat with the intention of seeing themselves distorted in the mirror like surfaces within the plastic village. All kinds of fun for all kinds of people!
Walking back across Circular Quay we watched as a large freight ship inched its way underneath Sydney Harbour, being nudged along by a plucky little tug boat. I stopped to photograph some indigenous didgeridoo players, one in dark sun glasses, who were plying their trade on the waterfront. The other looked disapprovingly at my camera so I moved on. We made our way to George Street and the Rocks where I made a point of visiting the NSW Crafts Council gallery as I was looking for a suitable Sydney-side gallery to show my ceramics. Unfortunately they only show New South Welshmen crafts people.
We crossed George Street and went into Ken Duncan’s Photography gallery where his wide angle photographs were well displayed. I thumbed through some of his books and found one tilted Life’s an Adventure, where he chronicles his own journey from camera salesman to professional photographer. I knew two of the people in the book and, as it had been reduced from $60 to $30, I bought it to read up on his take on photography.
We had coffee and cake at the French style Renaissance Cafe and Coffee shop that had been recommended by the salesperson at the NSW Art Gallery and they were right. The coffee and cake was great. Lexie had had enough of walking by this time so we made our way back to Circular Quay and caught the bus back to Paddington. Very crowded it was too. This time we decided to eat at the local Thai restaurant and weren’t disappointed. We stayed up late watching the TV benefit concert for the Queensland flood victims. Ross Wilson outshone everyone. Eagle Rock still rocks!
Australia Day festivities were all over the local newspaper so we figured we’d go into town and see what might be going down. We caught the bus into Elizabeth Street and got off at Park Street, making our way to the Galleries Victoria Station of the Sydney Monorail. Our thinking was to have a look at Sydney from above to see what we should do. We went around twice, staring down the grid like pattern of streets, and decided to get off at Paddy’s Market and have a look at Chinatown. This turned out to be a street of restaurants so we made our way down to Darling Harbour to have a look at the Chinese Garden of Friendship.
Visiting the Chinese Garden was a particularly pleasant experience, with pebble tracks winding around a waterfall, a central pool full of lotus plants and golden carp, grey rocks, green palms, bamboo, trees and assorted plants plus a range of different Chinese architectural pieces. It gave us a chance to slow down and relax amid the noise and bustle of the city. We ordered some Chinese tea and drank it sitting in the Teahouse Pavilion watching the carp swimming around in the Lotus pond. Tranquillity indeed! Well worth the $6 fee.
By this stage midday had passed so we decided to go and find a vegetarian Chinese restaurant for lunch. It took a while of walking around China town before we found something that fitted the bill and it was the Silk Road Uygur Restaurant. The Uygurs are in conflict with the Han Chinese back in China so it was nice to see them all getting along in Sydney. Upstairs we were treated to the stir fry vegetables, an egg plant dish and rice that was the best meal we’d had in Sydney so far.
By this stage we decided that going down to the harbour and participating in the Australia Day shenanigans was not for us so we walked up to Elizabeth Street and caught the bus back to Paddington. I needed to take a copy of my The Kimberley Series book to the Ariel Bookshop in Oxford Street, so I left my camera behind and caught the bus back down to the bookshop while Lexie went off on her shopping spree. I walked back up Oxford Street poking my head into boutiques and clothes shops along the way but my heart wasn’t in it. I met Lexie on the way and she hadn’t bought much either. It appears the specials were all for young thin things. We spent the rest of the afternoon resting up while waiting for the Jimmy Buffet concert.
|Australia Day revellers|
The support act is a girl from Darwin and she comes on at 8 pm with a bass player and an instrumentalist. She has a good voice but we can’t understand what she is singing. Doesn’t she have a manager who can tell her these things?
Jimmy Buffet wanders on stage at 8.30 pm in board shorts, a colourful T shirt and bare feet, the classic beach comber, carrying a guitar. He starts with a song on his own and then the Coral Reefer Band joins him and they blast away. The crowd cheers. They go crazy when he does Volcano, banging away on the wooden floors with a rhythm to wake the dead. The stage is set with palms and two large South Sea Island Tiki faces on either side. There are at least nine band members including two female singers, one black, one white, who spend a lot of the night fanning each other as it's a hot night and pretty hot on stage. The songs build in the first hour to a cover version of Van the Man’s Brown Eyed Girl, and everyone sings along to "Sha la la la la la la la la" etc. Buffett leaves the stage and the black girl sings a soulful New Orleans style number.
Buffett comes back on stage for the second half playing all his hits and makes the point that this is not a short show. Beach balls bounce around the crowd and lights swirl on and off. The crowd are up and down like yoyos. By the time the band gets to Margaritaville the entire crowd are on their feet, including us, clapping and singing along to the music. He even adds a new verse about Sydney blokes in speedos. The song finally ends and the band leaves the stage waving goodbye. The crowd goes wild and eventually the band returns for an encore.
Buffett starts with a jazzy number and then gets the crowd to do the shark fin hand gestures above their heads. The band strikes up the Fin song off the Volcano album. The crowd sing along and do the fin signals as one in the chorus; “Fins to the left, Fins to the right, you’re the only bait in town.” The band leaves the stage but the crowd calls for more so Buffett picks up his guitar and finished alone with an acoustic number titled For You. It’s a poignant moment. The crowd cheer. He puts down his guitar and walks along the front of the stage waving goodbye and touching hands that reach out. Then he falls off the stage and into the crowd. The audience goes quiet. Nothing happens for a few seconds, and then the announcer comes on stage and asks everyone to leave the auditorium. The crowd are uncertain, but he persists. He says, “There’s been a nasty incident, so go away and pray.” Quietly, we all leave.
As we make our way out and around the back of the pavilion we hear the sound of an ambulance coming and it pulls in and stops at the back stage door. There is a tall metal fence that separates us from the scene. The ambulance officer gets out and takes a stretcher out of the back of the ambulance and goes inside. We wait to see what will happen. The security guards are silent. Some people move off and, eventually, we do the same. We don’t know what has happened to him so we make our way back to the B&B in a subdued manner. We can only hope that he will be all right. He seemed to give everything that he had and must have been pretty tired causing him to misjudge his step. Funny how things can change so dramatically. I hope he’s OK.
We wake at 6.20 am and Lexie checks for news stories on her iPhone. It seems that Jimmy Buffett has suffered a severe blow to the head when he hit a metal beam as he fell. He was unconscious for 10 minutes but will survive the ordeal. The hospital reckons he will be discharged in a couple of days. We are very relieved.
After another one of Katherine’s fabulous fruit breakfasts, with scrambled eggs as well for me, we set off to visit Sue Whillas and Mike Muir and their family at Palm Beach. They are friends of ours who I worked with in the Waringarri Aboriginal Corporation in Kununurra in the 1980’s. The trip involves catching a bus to Circular Quay, then the ferry to Manly, where Susie has agreed to collect us. The harbour is magnificence. As we pass the Sydney Opera House and head out to the Sydney heads I take lots of photographs.
Susie collects us at Manly and we follow winding roads to Avalon on the northern beaches where we stock up on provisions for lunch before driving to Palm Beach. Mike has rebuilt the house since we were last there. It looks like a Japanese feudal house with a courtyard in the middle. Everything seems to be made of wood and it is simply beautiful. Mike is an architect of note whom we stopped and interrupted in his office nearby on our way in. His first comment is, “So Jimmy fell off the stage!”
We get to meet three of their four boys, Joey, Tom and Jim. Ben is away in Japan. They have all grown since we saw them last. After tea and croissants, served by Jim, we give Tom a hand with screen printing one of his wild skull designs on a T Shirt. He is a lovely boy, as they all are.
Mike joins us for lunch which Susie has ably prepared and we talk for ages. I show Mike the page in my The Kimberley Series book that we have given them, which features a story about him and Susie. After Mike leaves for work Susie takes us on a walk through the bush to view Pittwater and I take more photographs. It’s a long walk and when we finally get back we’re hot enough for a swim, so the girls collect something to swim in and we drive down to Palm Beach. I had my boardies in my camera bag. We change at the Pacific Club where Susie is a member and head for the beach. The water is wonderful. Good bodysurfing waves. After the swim we change at the club and Susie mixes gin and tonics, which we sip while sitting on the veranda. The view across the Palm Beach to Barrenjoey Point is magnificent. A little touch of heaven.
Mike and Susie have offered to drive us back to Paddington and they also have to return Joey’s friend, Kirk, home, so we are spared the public transport journey back in the dark. It has been a lovely day.
Time to go home. The alarm goes off at 5.45 am and we’re ready for the taxi by 6.30 am. The taxi driver is friendly and helpful, much like all the Sydneysiders that we have encountered on our visit t’otherside. After checking and having breakfast we buy a copy of the Daily Telegraph before boarding our plane, Virgin Blue again, and take our seats. We’re hoping for more word on Jimmy Buffett and are not disappointed. Either by coincidence or something deeper, a Daily Telegraph columnist, Dr Gordon Fulde, who just happened to be the director of emergency services at St Vincent’s Hospital, just happened to be sitting in the front row of the audience when Buffett walked off the stage. He was able to take control of the situation and accompany Buffett to St Vincent’s where he applied several stiches to the gash on Buffett’s scalp. Fulde left at 2.00 am as he had just worked an 11 hour shift before the concert. Whatever your take on this story, Jimmy Buffett sure was lucky to have Dr Fulde at his show.
Our trip to Perth is uneventful, except for the entertaining view of this big land below and we arrive to 37 degrees Celsius at 10 am, Perth time. What a great trip.