Kuranda, North Queensland, 1988
I’d heard that he might be up this way. Somewhere. ‘Heard that after the band had fallen apart he had headed north. But how far north? Queensland is a big state, especially if – like me – you hail from way down south. Melbourne, Victoria.
Not that I was up here looking for him. Sure, I had a manual typewriter tucked away in the back of the Toyota Hi-Ace campervan. For poems and fiction and whatever may come to mind. Sure, I had a sense of failure of never nailing a story about the band when they hit it big in 1982. Sure, a chance meeting might be handy but Far North Queensland is a big, big country. All the way up past Cairns, past Port Douglas and Cooktown, all the way to Cape York. Crocodile country. Just a stone’s throw from Papua New Guinea.
Not that the campervan could cope with anything but sealed roads. Cairns was our limit.
Julie and I were on an extended honeymoon. Eight weeks away, after marrying earlier in the year. Eight weeks of maps and petrol stations and roadside stops. Eight weeks of highways and beaches and caravan parks. Music on the wonky Hi Ace cassette player. Eight weeks away from the Melbourne winter.
We settled in at secluded Mission Beach for a while, two hours south of Cairns. The beach was across the quiet road. Dunk Island across the water. The Great Barrier Reef not far away. The emus and cassowarries kept you company if you were foolish enough to leave food around.
Kuranda, about 40 minutes inland of Cairns, up the winding rainforest roads, was a hippy-tourist spot, even back then. We were walking through the crowded market when I thought I spotted him. My heart thumped, almost as nervously as on the day of my wedding. I turned back and he was gone, lost amongst the tourists and the locals and the buskers and the stalls.
But my mind was whirring. The Goanna days came surging back, not that they had ever been far away. Solid Rock. Spirit Of Place. Razor’s Edge. Then the second album Oceania, and then everything falling apart.
He had said to me sometime back then, before the fall, having read some of my published poems, “Why are you bothering writing about rock bands?”
In Kuranda, the market was packing up. Time to head back to Miussion Beach. Just as Julie slowly pulled away from the roadside, there he was, walking to his car. I wound down the passenger window.
“Tomorrow arvo, hey?” he says. “Be good to catch up. Come around before it’s dark so you can find the place. We’re about ten minutes from here. Out in the bush a bit. You take the gravel road past the servo. Look for the letter box with the painting of Uluru.”
He had just finished a new album. First solo record. Back To The Track. There were boxes of new cassettes on the kitchen table.
I had no tape recorder. I didn’t bring notepad and pen. I was here as a guest, not as a journalist. Would it be a betrayal to write a story? Where do you draw the line between conversation and interview? Where do you draw the line between some sort of kinship (even if it is the forever hopelessly unbalanced fan/idol relationship) and the desire to write – and publish – a story?
Stereo Story # 568
Postscript: In an interview in The Age on October 9 Shane Howard said: “The collapse of Goanna was accompanied by the collapse of my marriage and just about everything else. The world fell apart and I was left with a crippling debt and probably PTSD. Corporate shenanigans played a big part in Goanna’s demise…”