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.