Adam Gibson is a Sydney writer, performer, lyricist, musician, journalist and artist whose work covers music, songs, spoken word storytelling, installation art, performance works, sculpting, video work, painting and photography… It is fundamentally “Australian landscape-based”, being influenced by the land and travel and the sense of being “in” and/or part of different environments, and the stories of the people who inhabit such land, with Australian stories and language and vernacular turn of phrase being very important.
He performs regularly with his band The Ark-Ark Birds, having released their second album, ‘Cities of Spinifex’ in 2017. This followed on from the 2015 album ‘Australia Restless’ and two albums with former band The Aerial Maps, plus earlier releases with Modern Giant. He has performed and/or exhibited in many venues, galleries and spaces around Australia, China and Finland, was an artist in residence at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland and is actively involved in a wide range of artistic endeavours. His first novel manuscript was shortlisted for the Australian-Vogel Award, he has published three books of poetry, and the Aerial Maps’ first album won the 2010 Overland Poetry Festival Best Spoken Word Release, 2005-2010. He likes raging and long walks on moonlit beaches. And surfing.
We had a superb weekend and super-fun gig at the Fairgrounds Festival over the weekend just passed, December 8, 9 and 10. A truly great event and we loved doing our thing on the Windmill Stage. That wraps up an eventful year, one full of a few ups and some serious downs. But as we cast our eyes towards next year, we are planning a lot of good things, with some exciting developments on the Ark-Ark horizon. Until then, see ya.
By Adam Gibson
Around seven Australian men commit suicide every day. Seven men. Per day. For god’s bloody sake, that’s ridiculous. Shocking. Donald Horne was being ironic when he said Australia was the “Lucky Country”, but that phrase has become common vernacular usage for what people do feel about the place. It’s a badge of honour, to be worn to express “How good have we got it?!” But seven men pulling the plug per day!? That’s nothing to spruik about. Someone ain’t sharing the luck. That’s shit.
And bloody hell, it’s not a contest and it isn’t anything to be proud of, but that’s more than three times the figure for women. What a disaster. What is going on? Every suicide is a tragedy, be it a man or a woman, but that disparity is just so vast and so heavy. Why isn’t this known more widely? Perhaps it is. I hadn’t been made well aware of it. All I know is that on this warm Monday afternoon in Spring in Sydney, it suddenly occurred to me that I personally know at least 10 to 20 men – friends or acquaintances – who have committed suicide. Extrapolate that out to all the people I know … and jeeezussss.
I have been through depression; I’ve given anxiety a solid nudge. I’ve seen the dark of the night and I have been on first name terms with the otherwise nameless shadow figures of 3am, those spirit souls wandering the night, throwing doubt and hopelessness around like flowers at a 70s hippie party in Nimbin, granting black blood blessings to your horrible individual self, a self that would give anything for sleep. Been there, got the damn prescription. But I have found ways to get through, put my head down and carry on.
So forgive me if I sound glib about this, but something needs to shift in Australia, something needs to be arked up and sparked up and revved up and any-other-verbs-you-can-think-of upped up… Jesus Christ. Seven men per day. Seven men who maybe followed footy teams, seven blokes who maybe had kids, wives, mums/dads, Labradors named Billy or Alsatians named Sasha, who played in bands, who owned Toyota Hiluxes with mag wheels and ARB canopies; fellas who were happy the North Queensland Cowboys made the NRL Grand Final (and pissed off Melbourne won) or that Richmond finally won the AFL; men who were stoked in the last Gang of Youths album, who loved Suzanne Vega or the new Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile record; guys who ran triathalons, who loved Game of Thrones and Q&A, who caught the bus to work playing Megadeth on their headphones so loud even the bus driver could hear … basically guys who were just like you, or not far off, or someone you know, or maybe who you used to know, back in the day.
I’m baffled, I’m struggling to get my head around this. But I do believe that I come from a position that I have seen the dark side and have worked things out which, to a degree, can make a difference. I also come from a solid family, live in a good area, have had a decent education (arguably) and am reasonably fit. “All good”, you might say. But such things don’t in themselves negate the blackness.
So yes, the first and basic idea is that, I believe, no matter how bad things are, they will always eventually pass or get better. And if they get bad again, they will again pass too. I don’t know. Try to damn well stick with it… I am no psychologist and I am no doctor. This is perhaps akin to the sort of homespun homily you find everywhere these days, shallow “inspirational” quotes attributed to people whom you don’t even know and who probably didn’t even say them in the first place.
But anyway …
Just try try try … try to move onward … give someone a call or email, give ME a call or email, go for a surf or a run, sign up to a bloody yoga class, get on Tinder and swipe right a zillion times till you get a match, do a knitting workshop, go to a decent GP (eg. Dr Simon Gerber, Bondi Junction), don’t outright reject anti-depressants or similar, think that through, do a meditation class (talk to Lis Cancio, Bondi), learn to box and hit the heavy bag (talk to Maydad at the Bondi Boxing Gym), go live in the hills in a shed at the back of Bangalow (LJ Hooker Bangalow, I guess??)…
Essentially, do SOMETHING to shift things; try, have a go, go and see a band, start a band, explore the Clash’s back catalogue, get on YouTube and search for Husker Du, listen to every song, buy every PJ Harvey album and learn every word, listen the spoken poetry of Kate Tempest or Sean M Whelan, read the novels of Peter Carey and the non-fiction of Helen Garner, order the novel ‘The North Water’ online (it’s bloody great), read about when Leonard Cohen met Marianne on Hydra, listen to all of Leonard’s works, go to a Boon Companions event, buy a Patrick Lee Fermor book, listen to a Mick Thomas album, learn to surf (talk to Let’s Go Surfing in Bondi and elsewhere), learn to play the trumpet (let the neighbours know first), do an acting course at the Actor’s Centre, my god … find a GOD, almost any one will do!
Deep breath… more … Find a sport and a team to support, join the SES and get a nice orange uniform, join the RFS and fight fires (say hi to Tony Abbott), go for a beer with a mate at Bat Country at The Spot in Randwick, join a writing workshop to purge yourself of those awful rough angles in your mind (call me, we’ll start one), buy a surfboard; a shortboard, a longboard, a fucken ironing board, anything will do, hang it on your wall if that’s all you wanna do with it.
Basically, my point is … just do something, anything to turn the days onward, to shift the dark feelings, cos they always do eventually shift.
Many years ago, old-time Aussie movie buff Bill Collins (“What do you have to do to be a ‘buff’?,” – George Costanza) showed the classic surf film ‘Big Wednesday’ on his Saturday Night at the Movies show. In the customary intermission, I remember clearly, he came on and just said, “Wow, I have never been a surfer and never will be … but I can see that it is something … that makes the bad days good and makes the good days better.” Nailed it Bill. It’s what everyone needs.
That is an absolutely shithouse statistic of seven men per day … it is affecting every one of us in Australia. I don’t really have the answers but a collective effort aimed directly at men encouraging such things as I mention, is, perhaps, somehow required.
Ok, I’m going for a surf now…
- All those specific names I have mentioned have been people, or places, which have helped me. They are just reference points to indicate that these aren’t abstract ideas I am simply tossing around.
It’s on again … + WE’RE on again! That sweet lil’ big festival, that old-school-wander-around-and-discover-unreal-bands event, that classic friendly, cruisy shindig of sun, music, grass and bands – Fairgrounds – is back on. And we’ve been invited to play again. We are stoked beyond measure having just found out the news.
If you haven’t been in previous years, make your debut this year. If you’ve been before, we’ll see you there. The usual spot. In the shearing shed, near the windmill. The Shins are playing! Gang Of Youths are playing! You Am I are playing! Saturday, December 9.
Stay tuned for some good news, coming in the next week or so.
I was in an opera with Dame Joan Sutherland. It was Lakmé, performed at the Sydney Opera House in the late 1970s, just before she was actually made a Dame. I didn’t sing a note. I stood onstage dressed as “Chinese Boy” whilst the great coloratura soprano took the lead role. I remember her head being a massive edifice of fixed-tight hairsprayed hair, seemingly as solid as hardened fibreglass. Her costume was equally elaborate; a massive bust embroidered, in both reality and in my memory, with intricate scrolls and patterns. Her image is fixed in my head as this gigantic perfumed operatic monster, a ship that seemed to move with the steady assuredness of the Queen Mary, with an equal sense of the wisdom of getting the hell out of her way if she was approaching.
I was eight years old. The Sydney Opera House stood as the pinnacle of Australian culture. Only having been open for a handful of years at that point, it was (and still is) the only real place in Australia that seemed to hold the true devastating mystery of the entertainment world. In his position as one of Australia’s most well known big bandleaders, my father Bobby Gibson had spoken of the Opera House in such a fashion and the awe and wonder of the place was transmitted down to my brother Simon and I. Those strangely long but small steps; that grand sweeping jut out into the harbour, those magnificent “sails” and the cold off-white tiles that seemed to hold something grand and historic in their smooth-to-touch feel. This was a place where Things Happened, where the Great Magic of Entertainment lay.
My brother and I hung around the Sydney eisteddfod scene in those days, venturing all over town as kids did their best performances in shopping centres and community halls from Bondi to Burwood and back again. As a talent agent, our mum was also involved in all sorts of television shows and TV commercials and stage shows and every year at the Sydney Easter Show at the Sydney Showground we based ourselves at Joy O’Neill’s Daffodil Theatre, just near the main arena, down a bit from the famous Tasmanian Hot Chip stand. Simon and I, and our friends, were often to be found on stage performing in some form, or else we were haunting the rest of the Showground with the Goodman girls, scamming free rides on the Cha-Cha or Wild Mouse or Ghost Train or Matterhorn by saying, “We’re Showies, can we have a ride?” So when it came to the casting of kids for Lakmé, we were at the front of queue. Not that there was really much of a queue. Things just happened then. Showbiz? Yeah, why not. A role in an opera with “La Stupenda“, aka the soon-to-be “Dame” Joan Sutherland? Yeah, why not?
And so I found myself being cast as “Chinese Boy” in Lakmé. This was the late 70s and whilst there were obviously real Chinese boys in Sydney at the time, it was absolutely not an issue for a completely Caucasian boy from Bondi to be cast in the role. No one seemed to think that there was any problem with that, not one iota. And thus so I further found myself, with my mum, dad and brother, deep in the bowels of the Opera House, sitting for an hour each time in the make-up chair pre-performance, the smell of the thick make-up and cold cream and cigarettes and heavy 1970s aromas emanating from devastatingly beautiful opera singers and other cast members. The women lithe in the flowing robes the “Oriental” theme of the opera demanded, with dark mascara and heavy eye-shadow across their faces; the men, huge handsome figures with booming voices and an air of ancient solemnity mixed with a pheromonic base note of all the sex I’m now sure they were all having.
Onstage, the lights shone brightly into my eyes, the huge audiences filling the Opera Theatre, the hustle-bustle backstage of the crew moving gigantic backdrop scene structures. And in the arc light of the drama, Joan stood like an immovable mountain; like dead-set Mount Everest, the sheer force of her voice eviscerating the dreams of any of the other singers who thought they may come close to her. I recall one of my tasks involved having to stand at the rear of the stage, near a pylon, stage left, and at a certain point having to move forward with some sort of item, which I cannot now specifically remember – perhaps a box with a trinket inside – and place the item on a table near Dame Joan. I did this on the instructed cue, and every night, the sheer terror of the moment nearly made me freeze but, every night, I managed to do it, walking forth into the direct, silent, gaze of La Stupenda, placing the item, then retreating slightly while she regarded me with a stare that contained all the great power of European operatic history and drama and death and struggle and the beauty of all humankind. And then she’d look away.
Backstage and down in and around the legendary performers’ “Green Room”, myself, Simon, and a bunch of other kids who were also in the cast ran absolutely amuck in the hushed and magnificent labyrinth of corridors and rooms and deep hidden places that lay beneath the bedrock of Bennelong Point. I recall the plush carpet, the low ceilings, the pale wooden doors with brushed metal handles, each with a code indicating some information about the room’s role, which we could never decode. We had complete free run of the place. During long afternoons between the matinee and the evening show, we would find our way into places that I am certain Jørn Utzon didn’t even know existed. We’d take that corridor this way, then this one that way, and find ourselves behind false backstage walls of the Concert Hall or the transport loading dock or the kitchen, ancient security men not bothering too much with security and cleaners finding a hidden room in which to have a ciggy and maybe a bit of a nap. Oh what a superb subterranean world, a great incredible mysterious place for a bunch of kids dressed in fancy dress and performing before or later onstage with one of the world’s greatest ever opera singers.
Life moves on, you travel overseas, you come home again, you fall in love with someone, then they fall in love with someone else. You get older and your memories bury themselves somewhere just below your breastbone or form as an ache in the hip that just won’t go away. You remember things just as quickly as you forget them before remembering them again, just in time before they’re gone forever …
And so, a little while ago my brother and I had the opportunity to go and see The Whitlams play a show in the Concert Hall in the Opera House, backed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I hadn’t been inside for years, even though I’d always looked at that superb building whenever remotely close to it. As my ferry rounded Bennelong Point from the east, I again looked up those truly magnificent sails and felt that same frisson of excitement I’d felt all those years ago when I gazed upon the building. I alighted my ferry and walked past the thronging crowds at the restaurants beneath the Toaster and made my way towards the venue. Every feeling again returned; I ascended those tricky low steps, felt my feet on the plush carpet and, as I approached the ticket counter to pick up my tickets, looked to my left and saw an unmarked door. It all came back to me. At eight years old, I knew that door well. It was one of the many that led into the mysteries within. I looked around and, despite the crowd, nobody noticed me as I walked towards it, just to see if it was unlocked. I placed my hand on that brushed metal handle, pushed down, and yes … the door creaked open. I could easily have slipped in, gone inside, gone underground. But I didn’t. I pulled it back closed again and continued upstairs to meet my brother, simply happy to realise that such doors to the past do sometimes remain open.