‘Warra warra wai‘ is written on the footpath, just south of the spot where Captain Cook first set foot on Aboriginal soil in 1770.
It means ‘Go away.’
How humbling to stand here 242 years later.
Not long after I moved to Sydney in 2009 I headed up to Palm Beach, famous as the setting for the TV soap Home & Away, and I noticed there was a lighthouse at the top of the Barrenjoey Headlands. I didn’t have time on the day to check it out, but after taking a recent tour of the beautiful Wadjemup Lighthouse on Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth, I was inspired to return to Palm Beach and make the trek up to northern Sydney’s very own towered beacon.
Constructed in 1881 close to the point where the Hawkesbury River meets the ocean, the sandstone lighthouse still remains in operation today, although it has been automated since 1992. It can be accessed by foot via the ‘Smugglers Track’, named so as the location was a popular for said activity in the early 19th century, up until a customs station was constructed in 1843. Currently, the spinning beam of 75,000 candlepower can be seen around 35km out to sea.
Here are some photos I took of my afternoon exploring Barrenjoey Lighthouse and the superb surrounding scenery. If you’re ever in the area, it’s totally worth spending some time up there yourself!
For nearly two years now I’ve lived in the Sydney suburb of Kirribilli, and I love it.
It’s central yet secluded, quiet yet free from dreariness, clean, colourful, scenic, friendly, and altogether just plain awesome.
Today, I’ve been inspired to write this blog post about my beloved locality. Firstly, my tribute to the gorgeous Lady Gowrie Lookout, and secondly, some snaps I took at this afternoon’s open day at Admiralty House (the official Sydney residence of the Governor General of Australia) and Kirribilli House (the official Sydney residence of the Prime Minister of Australia).
Not long after I moved to area, I went for an afternoon walk past the two Government residences, and ended up at the bottom of a neighbouring lookout named after Lady Gowrie, the wife of the 10th Australian Governor General.
It was there that I noticed a heartfelt couple of lines painted onto the rocks, just a few metres from the shimmering waters edge:
Where else in the world could you get away with emblazoning your love for all to see on the outer walls of the Prime Minister’s residence? James & Georgie’s tale inspired me, and together with my penchant for songs about Australian locations, I couldn’t help but write one about it.
This is a video I made recently to accompany the tune, featuring scenes from around Kirribilli and the lookout itself. It’s even a finalist in this years SydneyVision song contest! I hope you like it:
(if you happen to know who James & Georgie are, please let them know somebody has written a song about them!)
I was up fairly early this morning and went for a stroll toward the lookout, to sit at the park bench overlooking the harbour and read the paper. I noticed a number of people were queuing up outside the gates of Admiralty House, and it soon dawned on me that today was the annual open day, put on by the Australiana Fund.
I collected my camera from home and returned to the open day where I spent a good part of the morning exploring the normally-concealed gardens. Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed inside either of the houses, but there was still plenty to capture outside their walls.
After two years of wondering what lay behind the heavily-secured boundaries, this is some of what I had the pleasure of seeing today:
Isn’t Kirribilli beautiful? 😀
Earlier this afternoon I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney specifically to take photos of the sulphur-crested cockatoos that hang out in the trees and on the lawns. They were so damn adorable and surprisingly tame. Here are my favourites of the snaps I took:
I want one as a pet now!
In May 2010 I got myself a busking licence and decided to hit the streets of Sydney to get back into the swing of all things musical – and also to try an earn a little bit of tax-free cash on the side, of course 😉 After only a few sessions I’ve come to realise it’s an enjoyable, mind-opening pasttime, perfect for getting my performance chops back up to scratch, which is what I need if I want to start gigging again after I release my upcoming album. Yet on the other hand it’s also highly challenging and disconcerting, especially considering I used to play music professionally, where for much less effort, I earned about a hundred times more than what I’ve banked out on the streets!
So here, I have decided to notate my experiences as I foray into the world of amateur, cover-and-original-singing, acoustic-guitar-playing street performance. Come with me and find out about the songs I sing, the people I meet, the enjoyment, the disappointment, and the coinage – or should I say, the lack thereof!
Busking Take 1 – 16th May 2010
LOCATION 1: corner of George St & Bathurst St in the CBD
Hooray, my first attempt at busking in Sydney! I got off the train at Town Hall and walked around for ages trying to find a suitable location. I was pretty nervous but eventually I settled and opened up with a killer rendition of October Grey by the Screaming Jets.
It took about 15 minutes for the first person to dig into their pockets. She was a professional in her early 30’s and she gave me a very generous 5 cents. And a half-hearted smile.
The next offer was from a middle-aged guy who was in a rush, but kind enough to forage through his backpack and give me a single Vicks VapoDrop.
Not long after that, a Latino-looking bloke came up to me with half a cup of mixed nuts and offered them to me by putting them right up to my face as I was singing October Grey (again). He must have thought I was homeless and hungry! I stopped my song and thanked him, but told him not to worry. He left them in my guitar case anyway.
After 45 minutes of playing to a tough crowd, I left with $2.45.
LOCATION 2: corner of George St & Goulburn St, by the rear entrance of World Square
I initially walked down to Central Station with hopes to play in the underground tunnel, but there were already 4 buskers there so I left them to it and walked back up towards World Square.
There was a general positive atmosphere here, many more people turned to watch me compared to last time.
An Asian guy asked me for directions to World Square, to which I happily obliged. No coinage was offered.
I was grateful for the generosity of an old man with a long grey beard, wearing ragged clothes, and generally looking as though he was homeless, who reached into his pockets and gave me a few silver coins as he walked on by.
A cute Asian couple stood and watched me sing October Grey (yes, again!) – the girl gave $1 once I’d finished.
I played for about 45 minutes and left with an extra $4.15 in the kitty.
LOCATION 3: corner of George St & Druitt St, by the statue outside the entrance to the Queen Victoria building
I thought this would be an ace location because large crowds of 40-50 people were gathering at a time, waiting to cross the road. But hardly anybody cared to notice I was there!
I seemed to be an annoyance to the 15 or so people who were gathered around the statue. Within a minute of me being there, my statue-loitering friends moved on and I became a singing loner beside a stone resemblance of Queen Vic.
It was starting to get dark.
I played three songs, nobody even offered me a glimpse let alone any money, so I packed up & left for the day.
GRAND TOTAL: $6.60, one Vicks VapoDrop, one cup of mixed nuts (which I left on the ground), plus a newfound desire to never busk again.
Busking Take 2 – 1st August, 2010
LOCATION: Central Station tunnel (Chalmers St side)
I got over the disappointment of my first attempt and decided to try busking the streets of Sydney for a second time. I figured that if anything, I really do need the practice!
I added a few extra songs to the repertoire this time, and there were some good reactions to Tip Of My Tongue by Diesel (a young guy singing along as he walked past), The Nips Are Getting Bigger by Mental As Anything (a round of applause from an old couple), and surprisingly, one of my own songs, Misty Water (a smile from a whole family!)
Scar by Missy Higgins didn’t go down too well. A girl laughed and some guys gave me funny looks when they realised I was singing a chick song.
There was one other busker in the tunnel, about 40 metres up from me. He had an amplified electric guitar & played an instrumental version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps over and over and over and over and over and over again. And then he played it again. But I must admit he was really good at it.
I got a visit from my lovely housemate Laura! She plays violin, and we’ve been jamming recently so we’re gonna go busking together one day soon.
A friendly Maori guy walked past with his girlfriend. He said quite loudly, so I could hear, that he wanted to stop and listen to some music, but the girlfriend didn’t seem interested and wanted to keep walking. He gave me a generous $2 anyway 🙂
A young couple were walking towards me at the end of my session, and the guy was holding his girlfriend’s shiny silver handbag. As they passed me, he threw the handbag back at her, but she wasn’t looking and it hit her on the head. It was hilarious and totally made my afternoon worthwhile.
I played for an hour and 40 minutes all up, before darkness fell and I decided to go home.
Although I didn’t make much money, there were a number of times where I actually enjoyed myself.
I’m starting to like busking now. I might even come back tomorrow.
GRAND TOTAL: $10.65
Busking Take 3 – 2nd August, 2010
LOCATION: Central Station tunnel (Chalmers St side)
What a mob of tight arses.
Let me put it this way. I was in the Central Station tunnel for the Monday evening rush hour, and there was about twenty times the traffic walking through the tunnel tonight as there was this time yesterday. Let’s assume that on average, one person walked past me per second. I was there for just over an hour, so of course, 3,600 seconds in an hour = 3,600 people. According to the World Wealth Report, there are around 173,600 millionaires in the country, meaning that out of a population of 22,000,000, one person out of every 127 is a millionaire. If 3,600 people walked past me then I make that out to be 28 millionares who were within my presence during that hour – more if you take in the fact that this is Sydney and there is likely to be a higher percentage of rich folk here then anywhere else in the country. Yet all I managed to make was a feeble $4.65!
I guess people are just immune to the repetitious drone that is the Sydney busker?
Either that or I’m not singing enough Lady Gaga…
Ok so I’ve come to the conclusion that busking definitely isn’t going to be a moneymaking venture any time soon – but I must say that I did thoroughly enjoy myself.
A woman walked past me while she was searching through her bag and pulled out what looked like a stick of deodorant. But she dropped it, and as if possessed by some kind of evil magnetic force, it somehow managed to slide its way into a drainhole, disappearing right before her eyes. Oh my god that was so random and funny to watch!
Once again, Tip Of My Tongue got the best reaction of the evening; a guy walking on the opposite side of me braved the opposing traffic to chuck some coinage into my guitar case and offer some kind words of encouragement for singing a Diesel song.
Follow You Down by the Gin Blossoms is quickly turning out to be my favourite busking song to sing. I don’t think anybody has given me any money for it yet, but I feel relaxed and happy whenever I throw it in the set.
I forgot the words to one of my own songs and gave up on it half way through. Because I could!
All up, I feel my performance skills are on the increase again, my vocals in particular. You really have to project it to be heard.
I took a quick snap of the coinage before I left:
GRAND TOTAL: $4.65 (not including the $2.10 of my own money!)
Busking Take 4 – 5th August, 2010
LOCATION: Central Station tunnel (Broadway side)
Today I realised that despite what I said in my previous entry, it IS possible to make a bit of money from busking – and have a bloody good time doing it as well 😀
It was a really good session.
I went with my housemate Laura.
She plays violin, and she’s great at it.
We’d only rehearsed our set once, for about 20 minutes a couple of days beforehand.
We met up after work, and we travelled into Central Station together before settling on a location in the tunnel, near Basement Books.
By the end of the second song we had an offer from a guy asking if we wanted to play an acoustic gig one night at a venue with his band. I took his number & will give him a call next week 🙂
A few minutes later a group of about 15 Indonesian school students appeared out of nowhere and started taking photos and videos of us. Then they all came in around us and their teacher took a photo of them while we were playing. I asked one of the boys “apa kabar?” and he smiled & actually knew what I meant. And that made me happy, because it meant that three years of Indonesian lessons throughout primary & high school finally paid off, 15 years later.
Not too long after that an Asian father interrupted us mid-song asking if he could get a photo of us with his daughters. They were very cute and we happily obliged.
An old guy stopped and watched us intently for a few minutes, so in between songs I thought I’d say hi and asked if he had any requests. After five minutes of him gibbering on about Peter Frampton, the Godfather movie, an old TV series from the 70’s called F-Troop, something about a tribe called the “Fugawi” – and that’s not to mention groping Laura’s hands in the middle of all that – he finally said goodbye and went on his merry way without even requesting a song.
I reckon the tunes that got the best reactions were Laura’s awesome violin version of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, and out cover of the 90’s classic, Breakfast At Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something.
Actually, the majority of the songs had good reactions, and people were only too happy to spare some change and stop to listen. It honestly wasn’t like any busking experience I’d had before – it was enjoyable, rewarding and so much more fun to be interacting with another musician, rather than merely strumming & singing by myself.
We played for maybe an hour & a half before it started getting cold. The cool evening breeze is a bastard down in that tunnel!
Just as we were packing up we got a visit from our housemate Suze, so we un-packed-up and played one more rendition of Breakfast At Tiffany’s for her! Suze also took this snap of Laura and I in action:
GRAND TOTAL: $65.30 (so that’s $32.65 each) – plus one US cent!
So I guess busking isn’t that bad after all?
Busking Take 5 – 19th August 2010
LOCATION: Central Station tunnel (Broadway side)
Well this turned out to be another profitable and highly interesting session!
As with last time, I met with Laura after work and we returned to the same spot where we had so much success with our previous attempt.
My mate Sam bought me a Rabbitohs shirt for my birthday a few days ago and suggested I wear it while busking to see what kind of reactions I get from the people who walk past. So I wore it.
(I don’t follow rugby league, let alone the Rabbitohs, by the way!)
A woman gave us a few dollars as we were tuning up, before we even started playing.
All was going well until our second song, Eleanor Rigby, where we were lucky enough to gain the company of an absolute lunatic of a woman.
She was completely insane.
She hated us.
Laura in particular.
She appeared out of the blue the moment the first chord of Eleanor Rigby was strummed, and began yelling, screaming, abusing us and carrying on as if we had just committed blue murder.
I’m going to attempt to repeat here the general gist of what she was saying. Kids, block your ears because the language ain’t too pretty:
“YOKO ONO? I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE YOU’RE PLAYING THE FUCKING BEATLES, FOR FUCKS SAKE, YOKO ONO, YOU BANKERS ALL SCREW IT UP FOR EVERYONE, I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS, YOKO FUCKING ONO, YOU’RE JUST FUCKING JEALOUS BECAUSE I GREW TITS WHEN I WAS 13, YOU SHOULD WORK IN THE SEX TRADE AND SELL YOURSELF ON THE FUCKING STREET, OH THAT’S RIGHT, KEEP PLAYING YOUR FUCKING YOKO ONO BEATLES SHIT YOU FUCKING BANKERS, FUCK YOU, YOU’RE SCREWING IT UP FOR EVERYONE, IT’S PEOPLE LIKE YOU WHO ARE FUCKING IT UP FOR MY DAUGHTER, FUCKING YOKO ONO” and she went on and on and on.
We tried to ignore her to begin with, but she came right up to Laura and started yelling in her face, so we stopped playing and waited for her to finish. She didn’t leave when we told her to move on, and when I made a “go away” gesture with my hands she accused me of giving her a Nazi salute. Eventually she walked away yelling more obscenities to anyone and everyone who got in her way and we resumed where we left off once she was gone.
She heard us and kept yelling from around the corner, but didn’t come back, thank heavens.
Although it was pretty unnerving, the whole episode was incredibly fascinating and eye-opening to watch unfold. It’s experiences like this that make up the joys of busking!
A young guy who was overlooking all the action was kind enough to leave us $10. He must have felt sorry for us.
We were visited by some of Laura’s friends shortly afterwards which was really nice 🙂
A couple of young Irish lads stopped by to watch us play a few tunes and ended up hanging around for 15 minutes. They were really cool guys, they offered applause to U2, sang along with some Oasis, and even left a decent amount of coin despite the fact that we didn’t know any Bob Dylan (their one and only request).
Laura pointed out during one of our songs that we’d somehow amassed a $20 note. I didn’t see who put it in there but apparently it was a young female student. We were blown away by her generosity.
We played for just over an hour and called it a night before heading to the pub with Laura’s friends for a few drinks.
Nobody said a thing about my Rabbitohs shirt…
…until a guy at the pub asked if I’d shot any!
GRAND TOTAL: $81.10 ($40.55 each – I make that out to be double what I earn at work!)
Busking Take 6 – 26th August 2010
LOCATION: The open area just past the Central Station tunnel
I ventured out busking again today after work.
I was playing solo this time.
The Central Station tunnel was full as always – there were already four musicians, two people handing out flyers, an artist and a beggar.
The spot in the second tunnel where Laura & I play was taken by a guy selling Big Issues, and there was yet another guitarist further up the tunnel.
So I set up in the open area between the two tunnels.
I’d played four tunes to an abundance of completely disinterested passers-by, before a security guard stopped me mid-song and asked me to leave, as I was on private property.
He was cool about it, mind you, and I could tell he didn’t like having to ask buskers to move on.
So I went home.
I don’t think I’ll bother going busking by myself again. I might as well just practice in my room and save the cost of the train ticket.
On a lighter note though, Laura texted me and said I should check out page 27 of MX magazine. Now, I wasn’t at North Sydney station, but I did walk past it, and I was carrying a guitar!
GRAND TOTAL: $1
Busking Take 7 – 19th September 2010
LOCATION: Central Station tunnel (Broadway side)
Despite my earning of one measly dollar and a “get out of here” for my last session, I bit the bullet and decided to busk solo once again.
After warming up with Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I went on to play an hour and ten minutes of entirely original songs.
Previously I’ve only ever thrown one or two in with the set, but I’ll be doing some open mic nights and looking for gigs soon so I figured I need all the practice I can get.
It turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable! I went through all the tunes I plan on recording next month for the album. With exception of the poem and the one that’s in the crazy open tuning.
Some of them hadn’t even been heard outside the walls of my bedroom before.
Although I was cringing to begin with, by the end I was really getting into it.
About 10 minutes in, a group of young hooligans, all around 15 years old, loudly made an entrance and proceeded to kick/throw/roll/bounce footballs up & down the escalators, causing havoc amid the people passing by. It looked pretty fun actually. After they finished they walked past me and started singing the “sha la la la” bit from Brown Eyed Girl, continuing until well after they’d exited the tunnel.
A guy stood and watched as I played an improvised instrumental introduction to one of the songs, then gave me a few bucks and said it sounded great. I’ll definitely be playing that intro again.
In my vague peripheral vision I saw a strange, middle-aged man in the corner of the bookshop holding a camera, aimed at me. I heard the click of the shutter three times, then he disappeared as quickly as he arrived. He clearly didn’t wish for me to notice he was there. Weird…
I was getting to a line in one of the songs where I say Fuck (:-o naughty!) but some young girls were walking past with their parents, so instead of the really passionate delivery that I intend when I sing that line, it turned out to be more of a fizzling incomprehensible murmur.
In the end I still barely accumulated any coinage, but it felt good to run through the originals, and I had a constant audience of people waiting at the hairdressers who’d moved their chairs outside to watch.
So I can’t have sounded too bad after all!
GRAND TOTAL: $7.40
Busking Take 8 – 25th September 2010
LOCATION: Kirribilli, near the Harbour Bridge steps
Well today proved to be one of the more interesting busking sessions I’ve had so far!
It began with a visit from Pristine, Emilie, Keyu, Katie and Rebecca, who were all media students at uni. They were in the process of creating a documentary about busking, and had gotten in touch with me after finding this blog, asking if they could interview me and film me perform a few songs out on the streets.
The interview was quite thought-provoking and very professionally carried out, after which we all walked to the nearby Kirribilli Markets and I set up close to the steps of the Harbour Bridge.
My mate Jarred who was staying with me at the time took on the role of the official photographer:
An interesting observation we made was that the public was much too scared to give money for fear of getting into the camera shot – well, either that or my performing was really bad!
However I did receive donations from two polar opposites: a 7 month old baby, and a 70 year old lady.
The baby’s mother had faced the pram towards me so she could see me play, and after the song ended she put a dollar coin into her hand and wheeled the pram towards my open guitar case. It took two goes for the baby to drop the coin into the case. So cute! And she even waved me goodbye, despite her profound look of confusion.
The 70 year old lady stood by watching for a few minutes with a huge grin on her face, and kindly offered me 20 cents. Later on, while walking home, we noticed that same old lady had made her way to the wedding celebrations outside the church across the road, again happily grinning and soaking in the atmosphere along with the bride, groom and wedding guests who clearly had no idea who she was.
We packed up after the tape ran out, by which time the market was reaching its conclusion as well.
All up, it proved to be a unique and enlightening afternoon, and I wish the best of luck to the girls for their documentary!
GRAND TOTAL: $2.85
Stay tuned for more busking adventures coming soon to a location near you.
I find that every twelve to eighteen months, a song is released which overwhelms me with inspiration the moment its soundwaves first brush against my eardrums.
This happened around eighteen months ago while I was in England, when I was lucky enough to hear Brakes by Royworld for the first time (but that’s another story). It didn’t happen again until October of this year, during my second week living in Sydney. I’d just moved into my new apartment the day before and I was on my way back home from my second day at my new job, my earphones loudly blasting my favourite radio station, Triple J, as I walked toward the train station. A distinctly Australian hip-hop song was playing, I can’t remember which band it was, but I was paying more attention to the people, buildings and cars that were around me than I was paying to the music.
The hip-hop song faded away, and all of a sudden, I was graced with an almost hesitant-sounding open acoustic D minor chord, resolving up to the F and followed shortly by drums, bass and a few banjo strums. I was instantly hooked by the natural, folksy tonality, before even a word had been sung. I listened intently, my awareness of the outside world shrinking as my earphones delivered a melody which made my hair stand on end. By the time the harmonic chorus kicked in, I’d stopped in the middle of the path, unable to continue on until this song had come to an end, and I’d discovered who on earth were playing this incredible piece of music. I was soon to learn that the song was Little Lion Man, by London folk/rock band, Mumford & Sons:
The words of the refrain rang in my ears as if they were words from the heavens above:
But it was not your fault but mine
And it was your heart on the line
I really fucked it up this time
Didn’t I my dear?
I couldn’t believe it – these were the exact words that I had been trying so hard to utter for the past year, only to have them fall on deaf ears every time I attempted. Marcus Mumford had not only succeeded in vocalising – but beautifying – the predicament that is a lost and damaged love; a love that may not have ended anywhere nearly as horribly had I only shown some consideration for her feelings, and not been so fucking selfish with regard to my own. I felt instantly connected with this music, so I made a stop at the record store on the way home to buy the album, and Mumford & Sons became my new favourite band.
I should have bought tickets then and there to St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival to see them perform, but I put it off because I didn’t have the disposable income to spend, and before too long of course the tickets all sold out. I’d been eyeing them on eBay, but as soon as Mumford gloriously took out the top prize in Triple J’s Hottest 100 of 2009, the prices just about tripled. I knew I’d forever regret it if I didn’t see them live while they were the hottest band in the country, so I bit the bullet and spent $250 on a ticket the day before the event. And it was by far the best $250 I’ve ever spent!
I headed on down to the Sydney College of the Arts this afternoon and was straight away impressed with the choice of venue. There were three stages set amongst the gorgeous old sandstone buildings with a fantastic assortment of local and international bands playing on each, and after a quick browse through the markets I made my way to the front of the crowd at the main stage.
I was lucky enough to catch a set from The Middle East, who hail from my home town of Townsville and made me proud to say so; their musicianship, storytelling and live performance all second-to-none. Following them were Bridezilla, a five-piece experimental band from Sydney, featuring four amazingly talented and easy-to-look-at ladies who knew exactly how to play their instruments (plus one very lucky guy on the drums!)
The crowd had really started to build by now, and you could feel the excitement in the air around the band we’d all been waiting for. Mumford & Sons had the audience in the palms of their hands from the moment they stepped onto the stage. They could do no wrong.
Now I’ve seen some pretty incredible live bands throughout my time so far, but nothingcompares to what I saw and felt during the 55 minutes that Marcus, Winston, Ben and Ted stood in front of us Sydney festivalgoers and played their hearts out. The opening chords of Sigh No More softly emanated from the PA, and for the first time, I experienced what it was like for music to move you so much that it brings not only an almighty sense of peace and wellbeing, but goosebumps and tears as well. An enchanted round of applause and squeals of delight came from the crowd as a bewildered Marcus and the boys tried to work out how on earth they’d managed to achieve such a devoted and, I quote, “overexcited” fan base in a country so far away from their own. As the song picked up, so did the already-hungry crowd, singing in unison with the truest of words: love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free, be more like the man you were made to be.
Mumford & Sons had awakened my soul, and I was dancing and singing along with hundreds of others who had also risen from their slumber:
Timshel (Live at Sydney Laneway Festival, 31st January 2010)
I really should have kept recording after Timshel finished, because Ben announced that it was Marcus’s birthday, which brought on an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday” from the crowd! We were then rewarded with Little Lion Man, which went off like nothing else and left us all on an absolute high. Other highlights included Roll Away Your Stone which Winston announced as being the “Laneway Hoedown,” a very impassioned performance of The Cave, plus an incredible new song to round up the set.
Sarah Blasko performed next, pulling a killer set despite a cold and being on Nurofen, then Echo & The Bunnymen reminded us of some eighties classics. Ending the night was the delightfully chirpy Florence & The Machine who sang her lungs out and managed to get the many-thousand-strong crowd jumping up and down to her hits. It was the happiest mosh pit I’ve ever have the privilege of being in.
On my return home, before starting this blog, I checked the ARIA charts to see if Mumford’s single and album had progressed any further up the ladder, given that they had won the Hottest 100 the week before. I’m glad to report that at the time of writing, Little Lion Man is sitting at #5 on the Australian singles chart, and on the albums charts, Sigh No More is at #2, held back from the top spot by none other than Susan Boyle.
I’m proud that us Aussies have embraced this incredible British band like no other nation has, and I can only hope that this means the beginning of a longlasting relationship. Any time you wish to return to our shores to awaken more of our souls, Mumford & Sons, you are more than welcome 😀
If you’re Australian, chances are you’ve heard the song Breakfast At Sweethearts by legendary Aussie band, Cold Chisel. Written by Don Walker, sung by Jimmy Barnes, and backed by the rest of his Cold Chisel bandmates, Breakfast At Sweethearts was the title track of their 1979 album that epitomized life at the time in the inner Sydney suburb of Kings Cross. Infamous for being Sydney’s red light district, a walk down the main street of Kings Cross today still takes you past countless adult shops, strip clubs, bars and nightclubs, albeit a much more tourist-influenced scene today that what it would have been back in its heyday.
I have always been fascinated by Kings Cross. As a matter of fact, my all time favourite book, Sex ‘n’ Thugs ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll by musician Billy Thorpe, was set in the Cross, which details a year of his life living in the area from 1963-64. I felt so captured by the vibe of Billy’s and Don Walker’s narratives, that for one of my English assignments in year 12, I wrote a spin-off story called “Escape from Sweethearts,” where I tried to put myself in the shoes of Anne-Maria, the Sweethearts waitress mentioned in the song. I would like to share this story with you, but before I do that I must go on a pilgrimage.
Incidentally, I am writing this from a hostel in Orwell Street, just a couple of blocks away from the main drag of Kings Cross. I’ve been based here for the past ten days since my return from the UK, and I’ve often wondered to myself whilst meandering through the streets, where did Billy Thorpe live? Where did Don Walker live? Where was Surf City, the venue where Billy played his legendary first gigs with his band the Aztecs? What kind of antics did the Cold Chisel boys get up to in the early hours of their Saturday nights, “walking into Sunday?” What was Kings Cross really like back in those days? Where exactly was the Sweethearts Cafe?!?
I jumped on the internet earlier this morning to see if I could find it. Firstly I searched for Campbell Lane, as mentioned in the song, where “through the window, curtain rain…” It seemed there was no Campbell Lane in Kings Cross, the nearest being in the inner western suburb of Glebe, about 5km away. Where to look next…? A quick internet search told me that there definitely weren’t any cafes in Sydney any more called Sweethearts, so that was no use to me. Searching for the name of the song didn’t bring up much except for the lyrics, however eventually after a bit more sleuthing I stumbled across an interview that the Sydney Morning Herald had with Don Walker:
“Khe Sanh was written on some scraps of paper at the old Sweethearts” he recalls.
Wow! The most renowned and celebrated of all Australian rock songs, Khe Sanh, was written within the walls of the Sweethearts cafe! I really needed to find this place, wherever it was, and whatever building it is today, just so I could sit there in the same spot and bask in this incredible piece of Australian music history. Then I read on:
“The original Sweethearts Cafe is where McDonald’s is now.”
You have got to be fucking kidding me.
I nearly cried.
I ordered a chocolate sundae just a few hours ago. It wasn’t the first time I’d eaten at this particular outlet either. I sat at a table, wondering how on earth such an historical cafe could have been allowed to turn into the walls of a junk-promoting, monopolising, profiteering, greedy multinational corporation such as McDonalds. Do the kids of today who sit at these tables, guzzling down their Big Macs and extra large Coke’s realise that some of Australia’s most prized lyrics and melodies stemmed from this exact spot?
I think not.
Here is my story – my year 12 English assignment written in 2001, as spun off from that famous song Breakfast At Sweethearts, and dedicated to all who knew the ups and downs of life in Kings Cross in the 70s:
Escape From Sweethearts
Hampton Court Hotel
Kings Cross, NSW 2011
Kings Cross, NSW 2011
I am writing you this letter to advise you of my resignation as waitress at Sweethearts Café. As of the 15th of August 1984, I will no longer be available for work as I am permanently moving away…
It was never supposed to be like this.
I first came to Sweethearts four years ago as a naïve, innocent and excited young girl that had just moved away from home. Working here as a waitress was to be the starting point to the fulfilment of my childhood dream: I wanted to be well known. I wanted to stand out and be recognised by the community. Unfortunately though, I was too inexperienced and ignorant of what I would be in for. Although I enjoyed it to start off with, waitressing did not turn out to be the opportunistic and prosperous career that I thought it was – and I never imagined I would ever have anything to do with a murder.
Sweethearts is a popular, yet notorious coffee shop situated in the heart of Kings Cross, a suburb of Sydney reputed for its often unpleasant street-lore. Set amidst brothels, strip clubs and sex shops, Sweethearts attracts the majority of its customers during the long, drunken hours of the late night and early morning. Many people come in purely for a coffee and a chat with friends. Others see Sweethearts as a refuge to the busy Kings Cross lifestyle – as if it were somewhere to sit, sober up and think about life for a while.
On the other hand, there are the various assortments of hookers, pimps and drug dealers that come either to sort out a ‘deal’ with a potential customer or for a quiet drink during their late-night break. Many of these customers are actually sincere, caring people who work simply because they need money and cannot manage to find a more conventional form of employment. However, others are criminal and immoral scumbags who profit from ruining the lives of the innocent and uneducated by means of drug dealing and body selling.
One particular customer who I regularly served and got to know quite well was called ‘Mugger.’ Despite the unnerving name, Mugger was actually an outgoing and friendly guy who always gave me a compliment and a large tip whenever I served him. He was considerably older than me, maybe in his mid to late forties, and always looked a little scruffy with his tattooed arms and unshaven face. To the unfamiliar eye, he would have easily been seen as someone who you wouldn’t want on your bad side, but to me he was a good friend.
“Gidday, Anne darling, how’s it going?” he’d ask in his profound Australian accent. “Can you get us the usual please, love?”
The ‘usual’ was a ham sandwich, a strong, black espresso with three sugars and a large chocolate bar. After tipping me the change, he would sit at the bar and swiftly devour his meal.
“You’re gonna go far, love,” he’d tell me when he finished. “Just look at you – young and beautiful. Somebody like you shouldn’t be workin’ in a stingy old coffee shop like this.”
I liked the attention from Mugger. He was definitely a regular at Sweethearts; he usually visited after midnight around three or four times per week. I did notice that Mugger was not one who liked to talk about his personal life. He seemed to ignore questions about what he does for a living, instead changing the subject of conversation to myself. That didn’t worry me, though; whenever Mugger talked about me I actually felt as if I was being noticed. His caring and friendly attitude outweighed any bad qualities he may have had.
How little I knew.
It’s been about five months now since I last saw Mugger. I never want to see him again. Ironically enough, I never will…
My favourite shift at Sweethearts has always been the breakfast shift. It is around breakfast time that the nighttime community go home to recuperate and the daytime community get ready to go to work. The freshness of the morning air puts an end to the stale smell of alcohol that seems to emerge just after sundown. Most morning customers are drunks who stagger in to order a head-clearing coffee, but the general atmosphere is a lot more calm and laid-back than what it is during the night shift.
It was on one particular breakfast shift not long ago that I was settling into a quiet morning of work. I noticed a number of familiar faces eating breakfast after a long night, as well as a few businessmen having a meal before heading off to work. I had not seen Mugger for about two weeks, which was strange, so I was expecting to see him within the next few days.
I had just finished pouring a coffee when I heard a voice behind me. Turning around, I found two high-ranking police officers walking towards the side of the bar.
“Anne-Maria Smith, we believe you have information about the murder of Hank Powers,” one of the officers said. “You are required to come down to the station for questioning.”
I had overheard quite a few people talking about Hank before; apparently he was a notorious pimp who managed the careers of many young prostitutes. I didn’t know anything about a murder! I had tried to stay as far away as possible from sick, depraved people like Hank. Nevertheless, I couldn’t argue with the police.
When I got to the station, I was in shock. One of the officers told me that Hank Powers’ street name was ‘Mugger.’ He had been killed by a hitman who had been hired by one of the women that he managed. The hairs on the back of my neck stood stiff as I was advised of Mugger’s plan to manage and sell myself. I could not believe how such a man could gain my trust and friendship, only to be told the truth about his real life.
On my return to work, I felt sick. I could see the people around me living in their monochrome, fantasy world of drugs and alcohol. I then realised that people saw me as the typical female waitress: young, good looking and ready to be taken advantage of. That was not the situation I wanted to be in.
From that moment on, I lost all trust in the customers I served. Until now, I’ve only been working for the money. Next week I’m moving away – far away – and I’ll be starting a new life. I count myself lucky that I’ve managed to get a second chance, and this time I’m not going to waste it.
When I first applied to work at Sweethearts, I thought I would be making the first move to becoming a well-known, respectable member of the community. Working here has not only ruined my reputation, it has also made me feel as if I was being used for sexual exploitation.
Whilst I was fortunate enough to actually obtain the position, I do not want to be working under these uncomfortable situations any longer.
Breakfast At Sweethearts
– Don Walker
Campbell Lane, and through the window curtain rain
Long night gone, yellow day, the speed shivers melt away
Six o’clock, I’m going down
The coffee’s hot and the toast is brown
Hey, Streetsweeper, clear my way
Sweethearts breakfast the best in town
Oh, o-o-oh, breakfast at Sweethearts
Oh, o-o-oh, breakfast at Sweethearts
Hey, Anne Maria – it’s always good to see her
She don’t smile or flirt, she just wears that mini skirt
Drunks come in. Paper bag, brandivino
Dreams fly away as she pours another cappucino
Here today stands McDonalds, where once there was Sweethearts…
* if you love Aussie music and the way we tell stories about our landmarks, then check out Australia By Song for a massive list of songs written about locations all around this great country of ours.