While mentions of the “boom” have been thrown around in recent years like so many frisbees, the importance of digging hunks of stuff out of the ground is hardly new in our big western state. These days it’s all about the iron ore, but back in the bright-eyed, sepia-toned 1890s, the name of the game was gold. Entrepreneurs seeking their fortunes flocked to WA from all corners of the globe (does a globe have corners? anyway) – with swags on their shoulders, gold pan-sieves in their paws and dreams in their hearts. But out in the sun-parched goldfields, rain was scarce. You can’t spend too long prospecting without a sip of water; and you can’t sip if it doesn’t rain. So, gallons of aqua vitae would have to be carted from Perth to your pursed lips. Look out, here comes a non sequitur! DUCK!
A gold-coin donation gets you a beer tonight at Paper Mountain. I bring the $2 lager to my pursed lips. The charming space (previously the Burlesque Lounge/Ginger’s Garage) rises out of William Street like a cubic origami volcano erupting with artists and poets and zines. It’s home to a bunch of studios, a gallery space, and an auxiliary bar. With freshly constructed partitions and a nice lick of white paint, the establishment tonight plays host to a very special launch, an event dubbed ‘Yesterday’s Gulls.’ Two zines are being birthed, both the brainchildren / hand-children of local illustrator, film reviewer, Doctor of Music Videos (seriously! he did a PhD on Chris Cunningham et al) and all-round good bloke Tristan Fidler. One zine is the latest issue of Fidler’s periodical “I Am Still In Yesterday’s Clothes,” which compiles a whole heap of submissions from the Perth arts community written to a particular theme (this issue’s is ‘Transit’), and features plenty of T-Fid’s distinctive illustrations. The other is called simply “Gulls” and revolves around the adventures / misadventures of the titular Perth music duo. The titular Perth music duo comprises Matt Acorn and Amber Fresh, who, apart from making music as Gilbert Fawn and Rabbit Island respectively, both also boast extensive CVs of general creative wondrousness. It’s quite exasperating writing about these guys because, simply by way of introduction, I’m suddenly compelled to write about their radio show or poetry anthologies or cover-song compilation curatorships or ingenious fundraising ventures. Suffice it to say, the pair won’t sit still for a minute and always have something remarkable, wholesome and imaginative on the go. More of Gulls in a minute.
First, some readings. As a sort of live manifestation of the “I Am Still In Yesterday’s Clothes” zine, three contributors take to the microphone and give recitations of their writings. Jarred Robb, with an endearing demeanour and conversational tone, offers up his musings on civilizations as seen from aeroplanes, anthropomorphized art gallery buildings and more. Kate-Anna St Valentine eloquently, stirringly ruminates upon the finer points of dancefloor dynamics and the internal tensions of sexual relations. Nicholas van Hattem spins a compelling (albeit abridged) tale about two young Australian bachelors taking the bull of life by the horns in the big, bad US of A – but he stops before the relaying of a particularly dubious raunchy encounter (bait for potential zine-buyers! And seriously, the zine itself is worth getting your mitts on).
Soon the night’s celebrity figures, Matt and Amber, appear in the loft. As a sort of live manifestation of the “Gulls” zine, Gulls are here to play live. Their setup is exceedingly simple: one mic (for Amber), an electric guitar (Amber) and an Athenian bouzouki (Matt) – plus plenty of reverb. It’s this simplicity, plus a lack of stage and an uncommonly nonchalant aura, that gives every Gulls set a tremendous sense of honesty and intimacy, as if you’re listening to them play a song about your friends in your loungeroom (indeed, it’s not particularly farfetched to suggest that some local readers will have had Gulls play a song about their friends in their loungeroom at some point). “It’s too bright for us to play!” Says Amber, so the lights are dimmed. The set begins.
In the cool darkness we climb aboard the Gulls’ backs. They fly us to Gravelmount, in County Meath, Ireland, where a baby named Charles is born to farmers John and Mary O’Connor. We follow Charles Yelverton to Summersea, where he witnesses the great exhibitions of 1851 (“the great works come/take them in/young Yelverton/the future’s here”). The Gulls do a u-turn and soar back to the goldfields: Coolgardie now, where men seeking “a fare a day … to buy my smoke and tea” find employ working on the water scheme. A young girl from Kalgoorlie dreams of water; we hear from Charles’ innermost thoughts; we revisit the dry plains of Coolgardie and, finally, sail through a jam entitled “We Know Who The Real Heroes Are.” Yes, tonight’s Gulls set is – inexplicably, but delightfully – a tribute to the great late Irish engineer C.Y. O’Connor, who oversaw the construction of Fremantle harbour, copious WA Railways and, most famously, the mighty pipeline from Mundaring Weir to the Kalgoorlie region, which elicited much doubt and criticism from the media, ultimately driving poor Charles to suicide. It is an undeniable tragedy that the great man rode into the sea and took his own life with a revolver, thinking to the end that he was a resource-squandering villain in the public’s eyes.
But, as Gulls remind us, we know who the real heroes are, even if they don’t know it themselves. I wonder if The Gulls and Tristan Fidler know they’re heroes too; heroes of the sung, spoken, and written word, heroes of musical intonations and quotidian joviality. Because everyone else in the Paper Mountain cave tonight knows it – beyond the shadow of a doubt.