Under The Milky Way by The Church

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Under The Milky Way by The Church

Darren ‘Smokie’ Dawson
Newport, Melbourne 1992

My father had suggested on numerous ocassions that it might be time for me to enter the property market. Being extremely naive in all matters real estate, I showed no interest in heeding his advice. But my hand was forced when my parents decided to forsake the hustle and bustle of city life for a more peaceful lifestyle on a half-acre block an hour’s drive from Melbourne. I may not have been keen to buy a house, but was even more reluctant to move to the country.

The property I eventually settled on really did not have a lot going for it: a non-descript, architecturally insignificant two-bedroom weatherboard, built in the post-war boom on a long narrow block. The petrol storage facility just behind the back fence was a minor inconvenience, as was the fact that the house stood on a major arterial road. But this house was now mine. And the bank’s too.

My dad’s gift for cold pragmatism was again evident when he counselled me that one should never get attached to bricks and mortar. “You will always have the memories,” he said. My mother was silent at the prospect of “losing” her only son, and I later learnt she had shed a tear or two on that first night I spent away from the family nest. Would she have shed more tears had she known that nor were my eyes completely dry?

As I was the only one among my circle of friends who had taken this large fiscal plunge, the house soon became something of a social club, so much so that the term ‘open-house’ could well have been invented to describe my humble home. When the pub closed, the night carried on at my place. Whether it was parties, last-minute get-togethers, sporting events on television, casual beers, dinners (more often then not of the take-away variety), my place was many things to many people. I was attempting to repay the bank mortgage on what was my own personal share-house. Over time, the tiny second bedroom was inhabited variously by mates, foreign backpackers and even my sister and her husband.

No matter the mood or the situation the one constant was music, courtesy of my battered Technics CD player. It was the golden age of the compact disc – when those shiny silver discs of music were still something of a novelty. I collected them voraciously. Sometimes the music was quietly humming away in the background, but more often than not it was dialled up to “11”. Silence was a foreign concept to that lounge room. Was it any surprise that the neighbours – merely a couple of feet away – never once returned a football errantly kicked over the fence?

Into these scenes of domestic dishevelment walked the woman who would become my wife. Within a whirlwind two years of meeting we were engaged, married, and had started a family. Rapid giant leaps, but now I had someone with whom to share the journey. During that time, we also purchased a house together. For, without us ever openly broaching the subject, it was tacit and clear in our minds that my first house would not be part of our future together.

When my house finally sold, I prepared for a short period of living itinerantly until after our wedding day. But I had decided, prior to vacating my dwelling, that the final hours in the now skeletal-looking abode should be spent listening to two of my favourite albums of the time: REM’s Automatic For The People and The Church’s Starfish. All of my possessions, apart from the old CD player and these two precious discs – had been packed away into storage. I put on The Church, and as the opening chords of Under the Milky Way softly made their way through the speakers, I asked the woman with whom I was planning to spend the rest of my life to dance with me. “I like this,” she whispered. I was unsure whether she meant the music, the slow dancing, or my holding her close. But I did not ask and I did not care either way.

I looked about the denuded living room, and was struck by the realisation that – despite the petrol tankers rumbling by and shaking the foundations, the stained carpet worn down to the underlay, and the sash windows which never did open fully – I had formed an attachment to my little house, against my father’s advice. As the song played on, I recalled an interview with The Church’s  frontman Steve Kilbey, in which he had said that the themes of the album Starfish were built around distance, journeying, travel, and destination. It was somehow fitting that at that moment, dancing with my wife-to-be in that near-empty house, with the “Sold” sticker on the board out the front and the overgrown yard where I once kicked a footy with mates, that we were contemplating our next steps – both of us nervous, excited, yet unsure of where we were headed. But I had discovered it was much more enjoyable and satisfying to not be taking these steps alone.

Recently, the house was demolished. A property developer took advantage of the long narrow block and built a pair of non-descript, architecturally insignificant townhouses. Thankfully, my father was so sagely prescient when he suggested that I would retain the memories.

 

My parents were children of the Beatles generation. I had little choice but to love music. Regular contributor to partner site The Footy Almanac. My Stereo Stories debut was Before Too Long by Paul Kelly.

By | 2017-01-11T10:27:30+00:00 July 26th, 2016|Pop, Rock|12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Swish July 26, 2016 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Wish I knew what I was looking for Smokie

  2. Vicki P July 26, 2016 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    A great story for a great song – thanks!

  3. JD July 26, 2016 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    One of the great Australian songs by a hugely underrated band. An aptly whimsical yet heartfelt story to match Smokie.

  4. Jules July 27, 2016 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    Brilliantly written yet again.
    I loved that house! Many cabs dropped me there after a night out clubbing in the big smoke, while you were away overseas.

  5. Phillip July 27, 2016 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Wonderful stuff Smokie. Probably my fave Church song. It lead you there, despite your destination…

  6. Lucia July 27, 2016 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Loved this, Smokie. Thanks for sharing the memory.

  7. MC July 27, 2016 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Nice work. Now that the house has been demolished, I no longer need to feel guilty about the hole that got punched in the wall minutes after Hawthorn beat Geelong by 6 points in the 89 grand final?

  8. Smokie July 28, 2016 at 11:16 am - Reply

    Thank you all for your positive comments and support.
    In some ways, it is an unusual song, but most certainly it is a classic.

  9. Megan July 29, 2016 at 5:01 am - Reply

    Made me smile – hope all is well with you guys xx

  10. Bea Jones July 29, 2016 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Thanks Smokie – it brings it all up in my imagination. Good memories are precious!!

  11. Maria Majsa August 18, 2016 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    What a beautiful, evocative piece. I too remember those last moments before leaving a house you’ve occupied for a while. Rooms full of every living memory, even as they are stripped bare.
    Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty …

    Thank you.

  12. msdebbie January 2, 2018 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Great story Smokie. I read Something Quite Peculiar by Mr Kilbey to see out the end of 2017. The song has so many personal associations, but an empty house is one of the strongest ways to evoke those late 1980s notes for me :)

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