FLAME TREES by COLD CHISEL Story by Jeff Dowsing

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FLAME TREES by COLD CHISEL Story by Jeff Dowsing

YouTube clip via official Cold Chisel channel

Jeff Dowsing
Mornington, Australia Day 2018

 

I’m just savouring familiar sights

It’s early morning and I’m shuffling along the steep, gravelly roads of Mount Martha with my old school iPod. Here’s that song, the one which never fails to produce a lump in my throat. My pace compulsively quickens with Jimmy Barnes soaring, soulful voice.

Australia Day listening to Flame Trees – well colour me bogan…

 

Who needs this sentimental bullshit anyway?

Shrouded in acrimony at the time of its composition (Cold Chisel in the throes of combusting), the song remains one of Jimmy’s absolute favourites. With his most recent bio fresh in my mind, back at base drenched in sweat, I feel the urge to Google Flame Trees.

I watch a video I can’t recall seeing before, superbly filmed in Oberon, News South Wales. Band members play cameos, except for the lead singer  via brief cutaways, stumbling drunk about the stage on the Last Stand tour. No one bothered contacting Barnes for the shoot. He was probably on a bender anyway.

No one was in a giving frame of mind by 1983. The late Steve Prestwich, credited as a co-writer, only begrudgingly handed Don Walker the music he composed on bass, and he didn’t think much of the resultant lyrics. Lyrics which still elicit a lump in Barnes’ throat whenever he sings them.

Who needs this sentimental bullshit, indeed.

 

Nothing stopped us on a field in our day

Like several songs harking back to Oz music’s golden ‘Eighties, Flame Trees is held up by many as a quasi-national anthem for the people (and I won’t mention the one about a certain four-legged beast). In truth, the core sentiments are universal. Small town, yearning, going back. Whilst Don Walker wrote of a fictional old flame and a specific country town, the lyrics align with umpteen tracks by the likes of Springsteen and Mellencamp. This isn’t a song for Grafton, or Australia, it’s a song for the human condition. The sublime execution merely sets it apart.

As an aside, a bone of contention is any sentence containing the words Cold Chisel and ‘Aussie pub rock band’.

 

Everything within its place

It’s evening now and I’m at the Australia Day festival at Mornington. I’m not here to wave a flag, just enjoying the rides and free entertainment with the family. Wendy Matthews for one, reminding everyone just what a criminally forgotten and underrated talent she is and was. A crew of Indigenous hip hop dancers are an outstanding, if not surprising inclusion given the mounting angst over the day itself. As rain belts down former Boom Crash Opera front man Dale Ryder has everyone dancing in the storm, until the pin is sadly pulled for safety reasons.

Soaked to the skin we happily trudge back to the car along The Esplanade, past one of two hotels. I hear Flame Trees again, after also hearing it on the radio and running rings round my brain all day. This time it’s a raucous group of fifty-something women I recognise from earlier, belting out the chorus on the deck.

Today at least, there’s no escaping this song, or one’s past.

Currently working in communications for a Not-For-Profit social welfare agency in Melbourne, for several years Jeff wrote freelance features articles for Inside Sport magazine and The Age newspaper. Besides storytelling, another of Jeff's passions is the Collingwood Football Club (Australian Rules), and his first book, Collingwood's 50 Most Sensational Games, was a labour of love 7 years - make that 120 years - in the making. He is a regular contributor to our partner site The Footy Almanac.

By |2018-01-30T17:15:00+00:00January 30th, 2018|Ozrock, Rock|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. DBalassone January 31, 2018 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    It really is a beautiful, evocative song Jeff, isn’t it? I was lucky enough to accidentally tune into the Aust Day eve concert on ABC on Thursday night, just as Barnsey was taking the stage to sing it. Never fails to give me goosebumps, particularly the part that goes:

    Do you remember, nothing stopped us on the field / In our day

    I’m not a musician, so I’m not sure how Walker/Prestwich did it, but what happens in that bit, is just so incredibly moving.

  2. JD January 31, 2018 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Agree 100% Damo – that’s why I had to quote part of that line. I reckon Jimmy’s vocal is also key to elevating what is the crux of the song to a whole other level. Cold Chisel 1.0 certainly went out on a high note.

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