Thursday 13 May 2010

At night the wondrous glory...

I've just been persuaded to go to Australia again, next month. To the bit I think I really like best: the Red Centre, where the Outback truly is red, the sky is cobalt blue, and there's a shimmer along the edges where the two meet. It's harsh and dangerous and beautiful, and nothing like the wussy, grassy, soft post-rainfall Outback I saw in Queensland a couple of weeks ago.

There will be camping, as there was last time I was there, and hopefully in a proper swag again under the stars. Well, I say proper swag: it's a pretty cushy modern equivalent, with an actual mattress inside the canvas, and sheets, and a duvet and a pillow - so it's very comfortable, but I wouldn't like to have to carry it on my back as the old swaggies did.

We went to the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton while we were in Queensland: it's a simple song, just the eight little verses, with lots of repetition, yet the centre is really extensive, and you could easily spend a couple of hours there. First there's the ghostly swagman in the billabong, giving the background and telling the story, explaining - quite movingly - the song's place in popular culture; then there's a gallery of personal stories of hard Outback life and the origins of the song (there's a whiff of scandal about how Banjo Patterson came across the tune), a nifty hologram show, a theatre with video of academic interpretations, a gallery of original Outback art, an excellent museum, a shop and, of course, the Coolibah Cafe. And how many times did I hear the song as I wandered through? Goodness knows - but no-one could hear John Williamson's 1999 rendition at the Rugby World Cup in Stadium Australia with 107,000 backing vocalists and not feel a tingle.

I saw him last year, you know, at Wilpena Pound. He sang in the dining room at the resort, and forgot some of the words - but not to Waltzing Matilda.

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