hey leonie, so you know how anything you whisper in the ear of matt turns out as a fully formed thing: radio shows, bands, late night talk shows, perth version of monopoly, deep fried kangaroo, gatorade poached pears to celebrate the return of basketball to collective interest in the state of WA, etc?*
anyway, now matt’s become indestructibly more powerful, linked up romantically with mei saraswati. swamp clubb was another one of their children.
nick and me drove in to the city, listening to classic fm, talking a bit but not much. as we walked to the urban orchard i saw a man i knew from shopfront (soup kitchen) and wanted to stop and talk to him. he is an indigenous man. i’d never seen him affected by drugs and alcohol before but this time he was – it was 7 in the morning and he was drinking white wine i think from a water bottle and sort of talking strangely. but he was happy to see us and we stayed there for a bit. his teeth were all broken. what we were going in to the city for was to be part of a tour of northbridge all about how it used to be before all his family and ancestors were thieved of their patrimony. leonie, what are we going to do? we’re on stolen ground and there’s still no treaty, and i know 15 year olds from this people who pee their pants still because they’ve suffered trauma all as the direct lineage of everything being taken and shaken off them, deep troubles for their parents, their grandparents, their ancestors and down through to their children.
well, while we were still there listening to this man on the bench go a bit round in circles with his talking, making a mixture of deep sense and no sense, him mainly directing his babbling at nick, peter bibby came up. so it was the four of us, me, nick, pete and this man on his bench. eventually we left to go get the early coffee. on our way in the morning – an early rise for us had it not been for all the recent paddle clubb days and nick’s general insomnia – nick had said “it better not just be hamish djing when we get there”, because he was only willing to go to the city early for some real information, some real new experience, but i knew in my head that when we got there it was “just going to be hamish djing”. i even did a little drawing of that scene in my diary – nick saying that out phrase loud, me thinking that but not daring to say it out loud because i wanted us both to go.
anyway, yes when we got there it was just hamish djing, BUT also, a lot more than that. there was already a crowd, maybe 20 or thirty people, a mixture of all music friends (all the links and friendships have been so developed by our shared experiences through things like camp doogs, as well as just shows and parties, but yes, these outside experiences where even in a half hour of conversation in nature can propel depth of friendship a year or many years in advance) and then some fifty or sixty year olds who looked like the lovely sort of people double our ages who would be interested in something called a “ Swamp Clubb Eco Ghost Tour of Northbridge”. so music people and local history people, all beginning to form around a little table of bagels and cafetières, and a wooden sign cut by benjamin konto that said SWAMP CLUBB.
matt aitken was wearing a liegionaires hat, a few people were wearing swamp clubb shirts, and hamish was djing. i said shy ‘hi’s’ to all the deep friendship music people and then went on a little tour of the urban orchard with lockie, showing him which plants he could eat even tho i wasn’t always sure myself. then matt and mei and mikaela called us all together and the tour was ready to begin.
matt explained we’d be going on a tour of this land that used to be – and still is if you dig a bit – swamp lands, with a series of 7, no 12, lakes, that used to make up the entertainment and food district of the city. then matt said “first we’re going to do a toilet stop.” we all followed him, people half giggling and quizzically-browed not knowing if he was actually leading us to a toilet stop or it was a real start of the tour. but it was the real start. we all crowded into the small toilets at the top of the art gallery carpark and there was a map up on the wall, covered in plastic, used to guide tourists and locals to wellington street or the central train station or their office job. matt started explaining and drawing onto the map where the lakes used to be. the biggest lake was known in invasion times by the name of the engineer who ended up draining it. we learned how the river used to flow down to a big reef at fremantle, blown up by my hitherto hero c.y. o’connor.
matt drew the lakes in and already the transformation had begun. we were now in a new version of northbridge, an old and ancient version of northbridge. when it came time to move on, matt tried to wipe off the texta from the city of perth map, but it just smeared, and the wonderful political nature that this tour was creating started showing through more. everyone’s giggling continued as we left the toilets, the lake smears still there with ctv footage now showing an inadvertently council-approved graffiti act taking place.
we walked past the gallery and onto a footbridge kind of blocking traffic and the information continued, and perhaps at this point nandi chinna, local writer who it turns out wrote an entire book of poetry called “swamp” about just these ancient and mainly unknown things read her first poem. we were all in there, in the old times, with her words. then we headed down into another stairwell, the stairwell of some car park, one by one. we were given pieces of purple material each as we descended and through the doorway we started to hear singing. it was mei and andy williams (aj wigwams) and tessa (akioka) acapella-ing mei’s song “swamp gospel”. i’d heard and connected to this song so many times before, but new words became apparent after getting this new insight, like “see that tennis court, those manicured lawns? that used to be a food bowl but now it’s gone.” https://soundcloud.com/mei-saraswati-overflow/swamp-gospel (pls listen). as we descended the music became stronger. everyone was moved. tears started coming.
then we were all down the bottom of the carpark, but it was changed. we all stood there on the concrete, in the swamp, in a circle. we were given pieces of paperbark to touch, we were told to use the purple material to cover our eyes, and aj, mei and tessa created a soundscape of all that used to be there. them and surely the spirits of the land. tessa can make noises so much like magpies that i slitted open my eyes a few times just to see what recording device the magpie calls were coming from, but they were coming from a mouth. there was water noises, there were frogs, we were taken down.
then we went on, out into the day, walking on concrete, walking through the swamp. nandi told us more in her reading and in her stories of people digging up the ground to make car parks and finding the swamp flooding back in – it’s all waiting there leonie, for us to leave it alone to recover itself, for us to dig up and make space for all the plants and animals, the whole food bowl to live through again, supporting us and the thousands of species that were and are there.
in another outside carpark andy williams was sitting in the open boot of a station wagon. it began gently to rain through the sunshine and he sung about all that was not lost but still there, his smile and everyone’s eyes lighting up through time to be dewy and new.
it keep sprinkling on us and we moved on through the transformed landscape to all shelter at tables under a moreton bay fig and a young botanist told us more – all the species that were there, the species lost, explained that to be a biodiversity hot spot, as all our south west is, you need at least 6,000 endemic species but we have 12,000, but that the “hot spot” appelation comes if more than 70% of your native land is cleared and that in fact almost 90% of ours is. she passed around small species – nick, pete, me, lockie, will stoker, hamish, tristan, 30 other people touched and smelled the plants. she explained a few we could eat that live still down by the river.
well, can you imagine? this one 2 hour stretch on a friday morning 7-9am, changed us all. it’s happening again but you’re in melbourne, but maybe you’ll go down to a river near you then and just let it really sink in to you.
i also saw andy wilson (andras fox) and john tanner (eleventeen eston) play as wilson tanner in the enormous dark basement, now gallery, in fremantle under the Many building. behind them was a big screen showing a video filmed deep in the swan river/derbal yerrigan of a toy piano they’d sunk down there and all the fishes swimming by and exploring it.
we missed the start because of watching masterchef, but the last part was like this: you are in the early nineties. you’re in a loungeroom in the late/night early morning, the only light is coming from the telly, on which you’ve watched a whole stack of videos, from the video shop, and now it’s on to rage, and you’re in the friendship and video coma, on a floor covered with mattresses and doonas and pillows in the dark with a few friends around, you’ve all eaten lasagne, mandarins and dry cocopops and lots of cadbury chocolate and you let your eyes finally start dipping and staying dipped, so relaxed in an australian early nineties style of luxury. you would have liked that too.
*but really, it’s no-one whispering in the ear, it’s just matt, all this creativity pouring out of him. where does it even come from. i got an insight into it going to his dad’s 60th birthday. his mum invited me and a few of our friends and heaps of their family and friends and made costumes for everyone who came to the viking theme she’d decided on. we all got costumed up at the next door neighbours house and did a viking parade over to their house, ready for the viking feast, she got joni and the moon to play, this crazy emotional political deep set with her and tera’s shaved heads and feathers in front of all their negatively gearing friends. so weird and so transformative. in the speech his mum had such a potty mouth and when it was time to cut the cake – a silver herring – his dad poked out the eyeball first.