This time last year I was about to experience my first Austrian new years where hefty fireworks would be launched from apartment windows, backyards and rooftops, brilliantly lighting the snow drenched city of Graz. It would be a year of wonders and contemplation amidst calamity in the Australian bush and grim discoveries in the remote forests of Sarawak.
I would play an Ondes Martenot in Heinburg (Austria) and perform with the inspired Benguela in Cape Town. I would collaborate with the legendary Seppo Grundler and Tone Master in making, the young Peter Venus in Graz, on one of the finest Terminal Quartet performances and re-invigorate a music writing partnership with my EPC buddy, Ludwig Zeininger.
I would be humbled and enchanted in a Viennese cafe by stories from the origins of radio and electronic arts told with great clarity and humour by Robert Adrian X and Heidi Grundmann (they are national treasures to be sure), and relish an evening with the finest instrument makers in Europe, to be invigorated by the Southwell A Series concert guitar hand crafted by British luthier, Gary Southwell.
The Penan of Long Kerong would share with me their homes, their food and their struggles, from the disappearing herds of rhinoceros to the soap vines that they would once cleanse themselves by. I would trek into virgin, un-cut rainforest and hear sounds that defy explanation and piece together the last few moments of their former headman, the much loved and respected Kelesau Naan, before he was murdered at a remote river bed in the Ulu Baram.
For a couple of months I house-sat Steve Law and Bunny’s North Melbourne apartment where I re-connected much deeper with my musicianship, writing pieces that would be played in Cape Town, that would be further explored in Dunmoochin, where I now reside, and I would counsel my journal into the night at The Drunken Poet, discovering parts of Melbourne that had appeared since I had left.
In Argentina my prized camera would be stolen, but I would leave with a vital fusion of tango and folk guitar performances that resonate with me still. By the time I got to Cape Town it seemed near impossible to imagine the life I had in Austria, German lessons with the ever-curios Mrs Riga and the tireless and enthusiastic conversations with Reni and Jogi, Elizabeth and Roland, the deliriously delicious banter over food and wine with Doris, whose apartment I had stayed in, and the touching, poetry enthused dinners on a balcony in Kalk Bay with Ruben and his daughter, Sahara, with whom I stayed a month.
My Austrian family would leave me with hope, inspiration and the treasures one finds in an old, refined and eccentric extended family and my daughter would leave her Sydney home for an uncertain, but wilful future in Bali. My mother turned 80 and my brother Roderick and I once more discovered synchronicities in our lives through the Tartar singer Zulya and her version of Dark Eyes, a song our father and his mother had once sung.
I can barely begin to imagine all the people with whom I had shared stories with, those who had listened to my agonising songs and read my scant emails… it would be a year I would spend less and less time online, even removing stores of material from social networking sites and seek to repair a body that had spent far too much time at a keyboard and laboured under injuries sustained on the road that had barely been cared for.
One year on and I’m sat in a mud-brick shack, far from the gas heated and tastefully furnished apartment I was to share in Graz. With views out across parts of the Yarra Valley, temperatures to soar into their mid-30s, a fire evacuation plan sketched out, guitars to my right and Kookaburras to my left, I reflect on the past 12 months and all the beautiful people who had welcomed me into their lives, whom I had to farewell. Too many goodbyes.
So, my humble apologies if I have been tardy in my correspondence with you, but you have been in my thoughts, all of you… May we continue to find strength in our friendships and families, our creative and professional pursuits… the years ahead may be challenging, but full of hope too.
Where you can, build a garden, plant a seed, compost your left-overs and be magnificent…