Dungog. Friday, 9pm
The woman is in bliss. Smiling and with eyes closed, the spirit moves her across the dancefloor.
It’s Friday night, the band is pumping its way through Mustang Sally, and the young woman is dressed to the nines.
Well, her dangerously sharp stilettos are size nines on size seven feet.
The shoes’ heels extend past her own heels by a good couple of centimetres. The gap doesn’t seem to affect her; her dance style focuses more on arm choreography than on Miley Cyrus-type lower-lumbar gyrations which would require shoes skin-grafted to her feet and an attitude of desperate need rather than personal enjoyment.
The shoes are the highlight of her look. They also add height to the young woman’s short frame, though I wonder how such chopstick-slender heels can support a body more representative of the Australian reality than of the anorexic fantasy.
Those heels could puncture a drunk man’s skull and not draw blood. They certainly must have left imprints in the road outside where the hot breath of a changing climate has softened the bitumen.
The young woman dances with four other woman, but she stands out. She’s put a lot of effort into Friday night at the pub. Her black hair is piled high and stuck with a synthetic red rose. Each dance move is calculated to make her long pleated skirt flare and sway just so. Pale makeup accentuates dark eyes and ruby lips.
Her companions have carefully crafted a more casual appearance, but she is not like them. She’s rock formal. She honours the Friday night cover-band tradition that still survives in some country pubs. She is not a fan; she is a devotee. She is not a lay observer of the rockin’ ritual, but a nun praying at the altar.
Outside, a hot wind fans bushfires that race through the hills. Inside, the band fans bush culture. The band is older blokes with impressive paunches, straining black t-shirts and a 90s set list.
The guitarist sets himself for the solo. He stomps on a pedal, moves to the front of the tiny stage and stands with his legs apart. His Gibson hangs low over his crotch; his lips turn down in well-practised rebel defiance.
As his first riff rings out, the young woman raises her hand (bangles sliding from wrist to elbow) and punches the air, her head hanging down and rockin’ from side to side.
Inspired by the dancing woman, the band’s keytar player (yes, really – a keytar) also assumes the open-legged stance and punches the air before bringing his his left hand back to the keytar’s neck and adding his sustained chordings to the solo.
Normally, this would be enough to turn me off my food.
But tonight, the young woman’s untainted devotion to the rock god of Friday night has made me realise that, despite my pretensions to the contrary, this is my culture too. I’m just a country boy, the weight of a thousand Friday nights spilling over my belt buckle, the heat of a warming planet reddening my face.
And the pizza isn’t bad.
The guitarist throws back his head, his face grimacing with the pain of his own high note. All the women on the dancefloor (and there are only women) are now punching the air. A feedback hymn rises behind the three chords like a sound tsunami. The young woman surfs the wailing wall, raising both arms in ecstasy. Ride, Sally, ride.
I push the last of the pizza into my face, drain my schooner and boogie onto the dancefloor, my right arm punching the air.
Outside, Australia burns in hell. Inside, it’s Friday night heaven.