The Ord River Muster is on, and the big event was the Kimberley Moon Experience last Saturday night. At dusk Brian and I wandered down the sweet molasses track, past so many white 4WDs we knew we’d have trouble finding ours again, through the hessian walkway and onto a huge grassy patch on the side of the Ord. There was a big crowd there already well sparked, and we spread our blanket on a piece of grass at the right hand side of the stage, near the front.
Beside us, on the other side of a white metal picket fence, 30 tables perched unevenly on the grass, set with white tablecloths, flowers, candles and many polished wine glasses. Eight people sat at each table, sweaty and out of place in black ties and suits or shiny formal dresses and high heels, while the rest of us, most of us, lolled on the grass in shorts, T-shirts and bare feet. Security men patrolled the fence in green fluoro jackets, but that would be more to keep the guests in, I thought, rather than us out.
These chosen, at $250 a head, didn’t have as good a view as we did in front of the stage, but they had their own fountain with jets that sprayed blue and pink, and their own Kimberley moons, three huge white balloons lit against the dark sky. The first one I saw fooled me until I found the real moon, much smaller and less white, rising in the centre of a tree that had blue lights flickering over its leaves. I didn’t know what kind of tree it was, which threw me even though it happens all the time up here. This is a foreign landscape, ostensibly my own country.
We’d got there just in time for the speeches, then a young woman twirled fire and swung on a trapeze. I ate a hamburger without a thought – the first time in many years. It wasn’t bad – a rissole like in the good old days in Bardia St – but bigger, and not cooked for quite so long.
At this party there were white and black residents, backpackers and grey nomads. The black families were over on the other side of the stage where I couldn’t see them. The whites around us seemed to demonstrate the live-for-the-moment, we-won’t be-here-long sentiment I’ve heard a bit since we got here. There were backpackers and grey nomads with no family, friends or neighbours for thousands of kilometres. They could be whoever they wanted to be because they knew no-one and no-one knew them.
All this meant that as soon as the Army Band from Darwin struck a note, a big surge of people of various ages ran up to the front of the stage and started dancing – there was no hanging back. The band did a good set, Blues Brother and Andrew Sisters – what most military bands do at this kind of event.
‘R-E-C-E-I-P-T’, I heard them sing, and I had to concentrate to remember the real Aretha Franklin letters. That was my Red Cross Op-shop training kicking in.
They sang ‘It’s raining men’ and the smell of strong fish wafted over the crowd – barra being served in the Puddin’ Paddock. It lasted until ‘I Shook Hands with a Digger’, which got big cheers, and then everyone sang along to ‘I am Australian’.
Australian at the Kimberley Moon meant the right for some of us to have a hamburger in paper and for others to eat barra in a bowtie and for all to be satisfied with their choice. It meant the right to have a big event peacefully, even though the land it was held on had been taken from one section of the audience by the other.
Think of all the good music that’s come out of WA and the NT – Gurrumul, John Butler, JW Stoneking. The next band made wonderful music – ‘Blue Shaddy’, from the wheat belt of WA, wherever that is. They were announced as ‘blues/roots/surf and funk’. I’m not sure where the surf came in – the only lyrics I heard were about willy wagtails, but we had to dance. They were the best dance band since ‘Les Hurlements de Leo’, which was a while ago now.
I was having a good time crushed in the moshpit (cool talk) when a young woman stopped in front of me, looked carefully at my new sparkly Kimberley shirt (with Glostick attached) and said ‘You’re a lovely little toilet fairy, aren’t you?’
I had no answer to that.
Back on the grass, sweaty and getting chilled for the first time in many weeks, I thought I’d put on my hoodie. Its fluffiness and smell going over my head was odd, almost unpleasant. How could I get so used to sleeveless tops and shorts in such short time? I could only stand it for a few minutes before I had to take it off.
Because I was having a dementia-preventing alcohol-free day, I could judgmentally watch the lots and lots of women my age who were very drunk around me. They were not quite staggering, but they popped corks, propositioned wandering young men and screamed loudly.
‘Sit down, Mum. SIT DOWN!’, one girl said, but her mother was calling after a toyboy and would not be shut up.
A young woman dressed in a silver evening gown (with shoulder tatt) laughed over the white picket fence with her friends. On this side the young men clutched three bottles of beer each, while she held a half-filled champagne glass by the stem. She leaned over the fence, touching the men and almost ripping her fancy dress until they wandered off into the ground and she turned back to the tables. It reminded me of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, where the privileged yearned to join the oppressed.
More and more conversations over the fence, drinks being passed over, cigarettes being lit. When the ‘Hoodoo Gurus’ started about twenty of the $250s crowded against the little white fence like a bunch of triffids, trying to get in on the action. They had their own wooden dance floor, full of large men, coatless, tie-less, white shirts crisp in the gloom, and admirable women who had still not taken off their heels. But some seemed to yearn for the grass on the other side.
The ‘Hoodoo Gurus’ sounded like a standard pub band to us, so we headed off. I stopped at the Portaloos on the way out, and there was my lovely sparkly new Kimberley shirt on at least three women. They were the toilet fairies, volunteers keeping the Portaloos clean, and my shirt was part of their uniform. The men fairies had their own uniform, the orange boab-printed shirt Brian bought to wear to the wedding last week.
I would’ve put my hoodie back on if it hadn’t needed to go over my head.