Lillyfield. Saturday, 10.05pm
There are some really chunky poles holding up the hall roof. They’re huge, with every unmilled knurl and burl paying homage to the glorious irregularity of life.
Outside, lightning flashes over the range. A storm is brewing.
Inside, the hall is filled with people. And music.
Onstage, a pregnant woman sweetly sings despite her mouth being permanently stuck in a smile. How does she do that? A joy, created from love, shaped by her smile and carried by her voice, floods the room.
Above her hangs the roof. Above that hangs a fat moon. Above that, the hundred billion stars of the Milky Way wink like Christmas lights. Above them, the hundred billion other galaxies lurk in the dark like teenagers.
Around the singer, musicians are doing their musical thing. In front of her, people are dancing. Around the dancers, people chat and nod to the beat, drink in hand. Beyond the nodders, the northern hills flash their silhouette – a storm is brewing.
Country halls have been part of rural Australian life for generations. Since a British criminal first chopped down a bunch of trees and built a timber box with windows on Aboriginal soil, country halls have sprouted all over this wide, brown mining lease.
The rectangular box with windows, a tribute to church halls back in cold ol’ Britain, became the basic design for all Australian country halls. Every rural community from Bamaga to Recherche Bay has, or had, a hall where people met for births, deaths and marriages. Oh, and to party.
An old man with a cheeky grin dances in an mock-ballet way despite the stiffness of his joints. He executes a creaky plié followed by a rather good elevé. His wife, her long hair in braids, laughs at him and waves her arms in that Indian/hippie dance style.
At a certain age, when the reality of mortality liberates you from delusion, you appreciate the real values in life. For this wise couple, dancing is one of them; community is another. They know that outside a storm is brewing.
The rectangular box design was the standard for country halls around here… until the hippies arrived. That traditional design – born from an imperialism that saw Aboriginal people chucked from land that is theirs, foreign people bombed in their beds, an environment poisoned for personal gain, and democracy supplanted by oligarchy – was, understandably, unattractive to the new settlers.
With a creativity inspired by cultural liberation and by the dominace of bent over straight in the natural world, the new halls are out of the box, unfettered by the right angle, uncowered by restrictive convention.
This community hall is a work of art.
The younger children dance, jumping with uninhibited joy, screaming silently in the din. The older ones look at the adults and mimic them. A boy stands stock still in front of the stage, spellbound by the guitarist’s solo which dances across the rhythms like a dragonfly across a dam.
An older girl demonstrates some Irish dance moves she’s been learning, but finds it hard to keep her arms stiffly by her side while everyone else is waving their arms around like branches in a storm.
Lillyfield community, in the moonshadow of Blue Knob, has a beautiful hall.
Amidst the swirl and sway of the dancers, the reeling jig of the music, the flash and flutter of the laser lights, the waft of sweat and spinach pie, the surge and surrender of conversation, I find peace.
Under the handsome roof, under a pregnant moon, under a starry skidmark, I find refuge. For a moment, I relax. But just for a moment.
Outside, a storm is brewing.