Kangaroo Valley, Saturday, 6.15pm
Mick Daley is on a makeshift stage in the smoking area of the Friendly Inn.
This old sandstone pub dominates the village of Kangaroo Valley. Around it, an antique shop, a lolly shop, a secondhand bookshop, and a cafe with fair-trade latte are merely foothills to the pub’s Everest.
Armed with beer, cowboy shirt and guitar, Mick sings about Australia.
A few blokes and a woman are seated at a wooden table in front of him. The table is loaded with beers and ashtrays. Most people are yelling to each other across the table, across the room, across Mick’s words.
Despite the noise, Mick sings on.
Me, I’m seated next to a naked woman.
There are many cowboy hats here, shaped into a variety of styles. There’s the brim-pulled-low-over-the-eyes style, the sides-tied-up-with-leather style, and the ever popular I-ran-over-this-hat-with-my-slasher style.
Since the Europeans arrived in this valley 200 years ago, tough men and women in hats, bringing axes and cattle, have run roughshod over the land and culture of the Wodi-Wodi people.
Though I’m sure there are some real cowboys here, I have a suspicion that some of these hats are more display than function. The myth of the great Aussie bushman, inspired by American movies, nurtured by insincere politicians, lives on in air-conditioned dreams and stupid songs about floods, dogs and smart women who left.
The Kangaroo Valley Folk Festival is happening in the village this weekend, and folk from all over are dressing up.
I mean, is the bloke with the huge wide-brimmed hat, the massive bucking-bronco belt buckle and – wait for it – spurs, really a brumby-breaking cowboy down from the escarpment, or an accountant from Sydney (just two hours north) being a rugged range rider for the weekend?
My festival companion returns from the bar, bringing me a schooner of Fat Yak. (He brings nothing for the naked woman.) I don’t like Fat Yak. It’s an American style of pale ale, brewed in Melbourne, but, to me, its famous rich hop aromas are a cheap perfume unworthy of the statuesque woman beside me.
Still, I’m not going to waste it.
Mick’s words are starting to smash like bullets through the pissy chatter and clatter. His music is cracking the wall of noise. He expresses a reality that is greater than any fabricated national narrative. Hats turn towards him and nod to the strummed rhythm.
Like Ned Kelly, Mick’s armour is thick, and his guns are loaded. The stories are of a real Australia, of long drives, of long working hours, of love of land, of mining company ripoffs, of government betrayal, of women won and lost.
I put my arm around the naked woman, but she gives me the cold shoulder.
A man walks in from the bar, the music calling him. He hasn’t a hat on his head, spurs on his boots or a beer in his hand. In cargo shorts and sandals, carrying a glass of red wine, he walks to a table where a bearded bloke with a stomach that puts his beer at arm’s length is sitting. The wine bloke’s eyebrow asks the question, the big bloke nods, and the wine bloke sits.
In a world where compliance and consumption is the goal, where myth and jingoism is the language, Mick’s words sparkle with clarity, bounce with melody. Blundstones are tapping.
Honesty rocks, if you’re brave enough.
Good on you, mate.
I turn to my festival companion to share my insight, but knock my head on a stone breast, spilling Fat Yak over the naked woman.
She doesn’t leave. Tough girl.