The beginning of the end began as it always does: with that first sip, while we sat on the veranda looking down the valley toward Lake Samsonvale. Red Deer was audibly already in action somewhere nearby. After a short walk down the road the four of us set foot through refreshingly lax security into the dual-stage festival while Bec Laughton was in the middle of shaking her little pink hotpants through a jazz and hip hoppy set. I’d decided to take the $400US Canon I’d bought last year in San Francisco. And it was the catalyst for my being accosted by a Hawaiian shirt wearing rugby union playing type. He insisted on taking my photo, citing the somewhat dubious observation that photographers rarely have their photos taken. At some point during his drunken rambling a young blonde woman poked her head past him to wish me a happy World Beard Day, and disappeared. Then my brother joined us after using the men’s and immediately clashed with the large loud shirted and overbearing photographic sympathiser. Understand, the only “music” festival my brother has ever been to is the pill-popping and flesh flashing Gold Coast Spit event: Summafieldayze. Moments later, I told him he needn’t bring the same levels of testosterone-fuelled defensiveness required at that aforementioned celebration of boganism to Red Deer. We sat down with our two friends as triple j’s Sarah Howells began a very blues and rootsy dj set, and were almost immediately confronted by a horrific sight.
Many people had returned to their BYO couches and beers from the stage-front after Bec Laughton. One young blonde woman, carrying at least 40 kilograms more than was healthy, had also returned to her group which happened to be sitting right in front of us. It was time for her to change out of her party dress into warmer clothes and, my God in Heaven, did we get a show. Details aside, let’s just say we by her getting changed in front of us had unwittingly and not pleasurably been ushered “backstage” to her performance. I tried harder than most around me to avoid looking at, while stifling laughter, the train wreck unfolding in front of us. Think of my reaction as being similar to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, repeating: “The horror. The horror.” Fortunately, a man wearing a bear onesie who had just won Howells’ costume dance competition walked past, and I put “the horror” behind me by congratulating him. One of our number headed off to get and then return with pizza, and we sat in the last of that day’s early spring sunshine washing them down with cold beer while Bobby Alu strummed his way through some folksy reggae grooves. All 1000-or-so of us were collectively aware that Tony Abbott’s iron-budgie-smuggler right-wing reign was about then being ushered in across the nation around our left-leaning, progressive bubble. Such anxiety could have contributed to the couple of scuffles that broke out nearby. Or it could have as usual been about women. Or perhaps some bogans might’ve gotten through hard to spot security. Impossible to be sure. As the sun set behind Mount Samson and the temperature dropped, I headed back to the homestead to collect my jacket – a trip for which I sacrificed listening to The Dashounds’ apparently bunny-suited drummer bash out some tunes.
Turned out the best way to get past the deer fence separating the festival’s VIP camping area and the property at which I was staying, was to simply fall almost spastically drunk over it. Then another couple of barbed wire cattle fences were surmounted, and I was away, my possibly emphysema-afflicted lungs struggling to power me up the hill. I was momentarily stopped by the fact the former serviceman head of the household had locked up the house tighter than a hillbilly fortress. Fortunately, some of the beers were stored outside. Plus his wife ended up responding to my text messages in query of a hidden key, and eventually appeared to unlock the place so I could get my leather. The return journey was vague. Memory had already become unreliable. The alcohol had reached my brain. Chance Waters’ future car commercial indie pop was lulling Red Deer’s crowd into a false sense of security upon our return. I remember by this point we’d lost the other two of our number, one of them being pregnant and all, and the other being her husband. I’d become engaged in a deep and meaningful bromance with the guy sitting next to me on the esky, who was literally my brother. We continued our D ‘n’ M as Kingswood took to the stage and shattered the peace for kilometres around. It was a lot like trying to carry a heartfelt conversation through the first sparks of a violent revolution, so great was the noise and so frenetic the mosh pit. And considering what was taking place in Canberra about then, I wouldn’t have objected to an actual uprising. It was about this time that things had started to become weird, in the form of the attractive lone young woman who had been loitering close to my brother’s left for several minutes. I leaned in front of him and said something like: “Hey, how are you?” And she vanished to our rear in a flurry of blonde hair. Then we had other problems. Kingswood had finished, as evidenced by rivers of blood from peoples’ ears beginning to dry on the grass and in a large pool in front of the stage. The Grates were yet to hit the stage. But alas, we were out of piss. And we both fully intended on returning at the time, but barbed wire wounds to my hands remain better evidence than actual memories that we even tried. And ultimately failed.