Andrea Gillum
Melbourne Cricket Ground, Saturday, March 14, 2009  

The power and the passion

It was getting dark, my black pants were stuck to my legs with sweat and my shins were stiff from standing on concrete for so many hours.

‘Hey, maybe you wanna head for the loos soon.’ That was my bladder whispering to me. I ignored it as best I could. Beside me my friend, Geraldine, was gently swaying. We looked at each other for a moment and smiled.

A whine of electric guitar started up, a harmonica moaned in time to the drum beat. It was loud, incessant. My legs bounced to the rhythm, my body rocked. I raised my hands and shouted out the words to Blue Sky Mine, while around me 80,000 people all did the same.

A tall skinny man was leaping about on stage. I was so far back on the second level of the MCG that he was only a speck to me, but the big screens illuminated his movements. Bald head shining, limbs all angular contractions, it was crazy dancing, infectious, as was the rhythm. There was no way not to move to it.

The power and the passion

At the time, Peter Garrett was a controversial figure as a minister in the Labor Government. But that night, as his unmistakable nasally voice pelted out those lyrics we all knew so well, it felt like he was back in his natural habitat. He was letting no one down.

“They won’t do Beds are Burning,” people said, “too political, and too soon after the fires.” But they played it all the same. I danced, the crowd danced, and we yelled out a song written for the dispossessed. Perhaps it was appropriate that night after all.

We were at Sound Relief, a benefit concert organised after the Black Saturday bushfires in February 2009. It was dark and cool that night at the MCG, rain was in the air, finally. The smell of smoke and the haze over the city had drifted away a few weeks before. But as a city, as a state, we were all still in shock. This was not a disaster on the television, or in the papers, it was right here and very real. Towns had been razed, homes and livelihoods lost and worse – 174 people killed.

Image sourced from abc.net.au

Image sourced from abc.net.au

I work in sports broadcasting and have spent a lot of time at the MCG. I had seen it at capacity of 100,000 but I had never seen it like this. It had never felt like this to me. So full of human energy. People had bussed in from regional areas, they’d come from down the road, they’d come from interstate. The band line-up was hefty; Melbourne legends from across the ages had amassed, interspersed with a few bands from overseas and, like the Oils, from around the country.

I’d never seen Midnight Oil before. They’d never toured to my hometown of Christchurch, (hardly anyone did), and I arrived in Australia too late. They were what I can only describe as a powerhouse.

The power and the passion

The finals chords of Dead Heart came to a crashing end and I leaned against the wall. My body ached all over, a long slow thread of exhaustion was winding its way around me. My bladder whispered to me again, more urgently. I nudged my mate Geraldine, gestured in the direction of the loos and staggered towards them.

I’d only gone a few steps when the drums and guitar cranked up again. Their entwined beat reverberated inside my chest and down through my whole body. It was fast. It was hard. It was the unmistakable opening bars to The Power And The Passion.

I ran back to Geraldine, shrugged my shoulders and danced my body back to a state of euphoric exhaustion.

“This is our Sydney song,” Peter Garrett announced.  It might have been, but that night we made it ours.

I doubt anything will surpass that concert for me. It was like all the bands of my youth had come together to play all my favourite songs. And it was that, but it was something else too. For most of us that weren’t directly affected by the fires it felt as if there was little we could do to help. But here was a chance to express something other than shock — to shout and yell and dance, to forget, to remember and above all to actually do something. And we were able to do it together. As much as misery and catastrophe bonds, so does music. It tramples down borders of race and sex and class. We streamed into the MCG that day as strangers from our own streets and towns. We left there, sodden and knackered, but together.

The power and the passion 

©Andrea Gillum.

Andrea is a Melbourne-based writer and sound technician. She writes on the themes of identity and belonging and lately has been trying to get her head around classical music.