AUSTRALIAN DIARY
December 2003

Glorious early summer day! Driving along Victorian coast in South Gippsland, filling in the day before my gig tonight in Briagolong.

I arrived in Australia 17 days ago. I had to rent a car in Sydney, having 'rolled' my Landcruiser up in the Cape York peninsula about a year ago. It was going as well as ever when last seen but looked too beat up and rusted to justify it's continued existence. Sold it for scrap. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend!

Has anybody reading this ever attempted to cross Gunshot Creek?

I started my tour with a day off in the Blue Mountains. Staying, and next day, playing at The Clarendon in Katoomba. A gorgeous place to relax in and a lovely gig to start a tour with. The Clarendon is owned by Bob Charter, as nice a man as you could hope to meet. He started life in Canada and might have been an Ice Hockey star there but for a crude tackle that put an end to his career before it had started. Still Canada's loss was Australia's gain.

Next, continuing west to Bathurst, a town I have played many times and usually with some success, thanks to my good friends Roger & Bernie. Roger has played folk music for over 30 years and now plays with a band called 'Collector'. He is a seeker after knowledge and all things that satisfy the soul and lent me a book or two, burned me off a couple of CDs and told me a wide variety of things I did not know.

The gig was great.

'Collector' is hoping to come to Europe next August and I have undertaken to try and get them some gigs in Ireland.

I had picked up a new mandolin in Sydney, made by Davy Stuart in New Zealand. It is two frets longer than a regular mandolin and has a wide neck. More like a miniature bouzouki than a mandolin, says Davy. I am currently tuning it EBF#B or 3 semitones lower than a mandolin, with the top string dropped a further tone, of course.

It sounds really good in Bathurst and draws many compliments.

The Harp pub in Sydney is next, another well loved venue. John Gallagher books for this place and John and I go back a long way. Most of the gigs he has booked me into over the last 20 years no longer have music or even exist. Such happy memories are recalled by the names, 'The Three Weeds' - real name 'Shamrock, Rose & Thistle' or 'The Birkenhead Point Tavern'.

Down to Wollongong for an afternoon gig and then a few recovery days with my new agent, Jim MacQuarrie on the South Coast of NSW.

I play my new mandolin (or Andylin as Davy calls it) for 3 days, trying to remember the oft requested song 'Kellswater', last played over 20 years ago. With the help of the new instrument, I am quite successful and hope to get it into the set before too long.

Off down the south coast, Yetteyattah and on to Candelo where the irrepressible Mike Martin, late of Bathurst, had organised a gig in this seemingly art loving area! I played for nearly 2 hours, I think and the audience was a true great.

Definitely one for the memory bank! Mike is a member of 'Collector', so I hope to see him again in August.

We polished off the remains of a bottle of Glenfiddich at his place afterwards. I don't think Mike is much of a drinker and he certainly wasn't looking the best next morning. Wasn't feeling too great myself but I had to hit the early road for Canberra.

I was doing a concert with Kate Burke & Ruth Hazleton, two of the new breed of Australian musicians and two of the best. Earlier this year at the Chewton festival in Victoria, Kate had accompanied me on guitar -a hard task given the complications of my music. I had been amazed and thrilled at her ability. It was our intention for the three of us to do some songs together in Canberra.

We'd little enough time for rehearsal but these girls didn't need much! They went on first and were quite excellent.

I had a good one too and then we did 'Moreton Bay and Gladiators together'. Also, my new song, 'Empty handed' - written by George Papavgeris, whose son Martin, by strange coincidence, was in the audience.

Playing and singing with Kate & Ruth was a wonderful experience.

They are also coming to UK & Ireland in August and should not be missed. Great talent. I'll try and get a list of their dates and put it up on the website here.

Headed down to Victoria next day and arrived in Traralgon a bit weary. This is the audience to die for! It's quite a small club and acoustic but I don't remember getting a better reaction since - well, the last time I was here!

I was even constrained to sing some songs I hadn't done for a while, 'James Connolly', 'John Barlow' and 'Captain Colston'.

Back at Strat & Lyndal's house, their two twin daughters, Nicola and Corinn played and sang, with the third member of their band, Kat. These girls are definitely the business. They all seem to be able to play any instrument! Look out for 'The Beenies'.

Since then Ringwood was nice and now for Briagolong.

As usual my Australian muse has visited and I've been writing verses as I drive along.

'The wind blows over the Danube' and 'O'Donoghues' are two new songs nearing completion.....

Going to try to write a ballad based on Robert Browning's 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came' next! Any ideas out there?

Incidentally, I'm ploughed under with junk mail on my website email address. If you want to write me an email, put the word Planxty in the Subject box. That way I'll recognise it, instantly, as being a bona fide message.

DECEMBER 16th

Briagolong was lovely. I’m very partial to these Country gigs. The place was full of farmers. Now where else do you get a chance to play for farmers?

Spent the night on a farm owned by Gary and Maria Rose and had a healthy breakfast next day before departing. Nice part of Victoria, Briagolong, The dividing range mountains in the distance and quiet country roads. Made me realise, once again, why I love this country!

I hit Melbourne on Saturday. The best town on the planet. I was playing a gig in a yacht club run by Enda Kenny.

Enda is a Dubliner who has lived in Australia for a good few years – long enough to have been absorbed into Australian life. He writes great songs too. Check him out!

The gig was the first one in this new venue, run by him and was more like a party than a gig.

Kate Burke had texted me about whether I would like her to play guitar with me. I jumped at it!

We played most of the second half together.

Melbourne is also a very dangerous town and after the show, we motored into Brunswick, bound for The Lomond Hotel. Got there just too late to hear the band but in good time for the late night drinking!

My old mate, Tony Hargreaves was the main reason for going there and he was in prime form.

By the time I got away it was nearly 5am. Time don’t mean nothin’in that part of town!

Rose late on Sunday………..

Watched the cricket on TV with Hughie McEwan, with whom I was staying. He’s another interesting long time blow in. From Scotland. I had hoped to get back to Melbourne to spend a night with him but it looks a bit dubious now as Ballarat has been moved from 18th to 17th and I’m not sure I’ll get back.

I had to leave for a gig in Glen Harrow in the Dandenongs.

Glen Harrow is a part of an old estate, owned by Lou Hesterman and his wife Marg.

Marg is an Antique dealer from way back and they have built 7 or 8 old-fashioned cottages in the quiet 24 acre lot, beautifully decorated with an attention to detail that is marvellous.

They were putting on a gig for me in their barn.

I rested myself on the beautiful bed linen of my cottage and leafed through the guest book. There was mention of - ‘Thanks for the Port and Chocolates’.

I looked at the mantelpiece and there were two tiny glasses with a small decanter of port and a small saucer of chocolates.

They called to me as in Alice in Wonderland. “Eat me”, “Drink me”.

The concert was lovely, big hunks of lamb were on the BBQ, Maria Forde and Greg Hunt played a great first set and all was set fair.

I was okay in the first half but hit my straps in the second. The sound was good. It’s a funny thing how if you find you can trust the sound, you gain in confidence. I ended up playing and singing well.

Next day, Lou and a friend of his, Grant were talking to me about their experiences in Vietnam… I was moved.

Lou spoke in quiet tones and said how long it had taken him to be able to face up to the horrors

What a ghastly experience these vets must have had and to come home to find that they were not heroes.

They were despised.

Now I’m in my “second home”, Helen McGeachin’s house in Chewton, Victoria.