Kaurna Country (Adelaide), November 14, 2019.

It was the last session on the dying day of the oncology conference. I sat down near the front of the crowded auditorium. Wiping the remnants of afternoon tea from my Movember mo, I tuned into the armchair convo between Adam Spencer and his interviewee: Kirk Pengilly. Clad in their smart casual clothes, the star pair proceeded to shift the proceedings from scientific studies to stories and songs. I listened as Kirk opened up about the lows and highs of his 40-odd years as a vocal and multi-instrumental member of influential Aussie rock band INXS. I listened as Kirk opened up about his former bandmate and my namesake, Michael: a man who, much like me, was a shy kid yet, much unlike me, became a global rock star. I listened as Kirk opened up about a part of himself: his diagnosis of life-threatening prostate cancer and the subsequent removal of his prostate via radical prostatectomy. I listened as Kirk shared further life stories, including anecdotes about his supportive wife, pro surfer Layne Beachley. I felt Kirk spoke as both a survivor of cancer and a supporter of men’s health across many domains, from physical to emotional. I felt that, if I’d looked around, I’d have seen a crowd of conference delegates fully attuned to the conversation. As I pondered Movember with ears wide open, Kirk Pengilly proceeded to close the proceedings with an acoustic set of INXS staples. He closed with the same song I recalled resounding through St Andrew’s Cathedral in late spring 1997, when Kirk and his bandmates helped a grieving brother carry Michael’s casket into dark daylight.

Stereo Story #652

Photo courtesy of Eric Algra, from his just-released book Rock’n’Roll City.


Michael Leach is an academic at Monash Rural Health, Bendigo. His poems reside in Rabbit, Cordite, Meniscus, Stereo Stories, the 2021 Hippocrates Prize Anthology, and elsewhere. Michael’s poetry collections include Chronicity (Melbourne Poets Union, 2020) and Natural Philosophies (Recent Work Press, forthcoming). He lives on unceded Dja Dja Wurrung Country.