Not my funeral (The things I do)

Have you ever been to a funeral and realised that you actually that you only knew one facet of the person’s rich life?

We all have so many parts that make up who we are, but many of our friends, colleagues, even relatives, don’t know the whole story. So I thought I’d do a blog surveying some of the different aspects of my life. So when you do go to my funeral (many many years hence), you won’t be too surprised!

Of course a short blog won’t capture the lot, but it’s a start. I may follow up some bits in more detail in later blogs.

Let’s start with my family. Jill and I have been together most of our lives. Our first date was around Anzac Day 1976, that’s exactly 36 years ago as I write. We celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary next month. We have four sons (‘just the four boys,’ as our friend Jasmine instructed us to say!) and they are grown up – or pretty close to it. Andrew is doing first year Arts at La Trobe, after a two year film and television course and a year overseas. He works part-time at Luna Park. Geoffrey graduated from the Australian Ballet School in 2010 and flits between various productions, auditions and ‘secondments’ at dance companies across Australia. Last year he auditioned for several companies in Europe, but hit the depths of GFC arts funding cuts. Rowan finished school last year and is also doing first year Arts at La Trobe, with a focus on Chinese. He is into K-pop. Alistair is still at school, and he’s getting pretty good on the saxophone (check out the video). I have been an orphan since my Mum died last July. It’s something I’m not used to yet – and maybe never will be.

Work takes up the next biggest slice of my time. I have done various jobs in the Victorian public service for just over 20 years. It has mostly been policy formulation or program management. Currently I work in Aboriginal health, and for the past year or so have been authoring a major 10-year strategic directions document called Koolin balit (‘Healthy people’ in Boonwurrong) which is set to be launched in late May. In my previous job I managed Victoria’s $100m community health program, and oversaw some major legislative changes. I love my work and I think it’s important, but I am looking forward to when it takes a smaller slice of my time. I currently work a 9-day fortnight and have a few extra weeks of unpaid leave each year to ensure I have enough time other stuff. I ride a bike to work.

Music is a huge part of my life, and probably what most people reading this blog will know about. I didn’t grow up in a musical family, but loved pop and rock music from a very early age. In early primary school I learnt the drum and played as the students marched from assembly. I had a year of piano lessons in my teens. But I really got started when a friend and I taught ourselves the guitar as a way of getting through year 12. In the following years I picked up lots of songs from Cohen, Dylan, Young, the Beatles and that crowd, then gradually drifted into folk. Jill and I and two friends started a bush band in 1982, and out of that I started songwriting. The songwriting really picked up when the band broke up around 1986, and within two or three years I was playing in coffee lounges, folk clubs and my first folk festivals. The rest, as they say is history, and if you don’t know about it there’s more detail on my website (

As well as my singer-songwriter stuff there’s a few other musical things I am involved with. There is the Unsung Heroes of Australian History project ( This is a theme concert with a slideshow, scripted narrative and a set of songs about a bunch of people who have done amazing things but are generally unknown or little known. We’ve toured the show, played festivals, etc, and are currently developing educational resources for schools around the songs.

Then there’s the Zampoñistas! Yes, I am a member of Australia’s premier alti-plano Bolivian marching band. We are a bunch of around 20 great friends who get together fortnightly to eat chocolate, drink weird teas and blow on the panpipes. We do it in the traditional style where the musical scale is divided between two sets of pipes so each person only plays half the notes in the scale. It messes with your head. But we make great music, and have developed the genre of ‘guerilla panpiping’ in our street performances at festivals, where we raid stalls, concert venues, eating areas and various unsuspecting punters and surround them as we play. It’s not all traditional music; check out our extraordinary performance of Dance Me to the End of Love. I am about to oversee the development of the Zamps’ own website (

Zampoñistas – Dance Me to the End of Love

For the last couple of years I’ve run a ukulele group at work. This is so much fun. What’s really satisfying is how most of the people have come along never having played any musical instrument in their life, and without fail they’re playing along within minutes. Over the two years some have really improved. We play and sing one lunchtime each fortnight. Gradually some of the others are picking songs for us to do and leading the group through them. I help out when a bit of musical education is necessary. We’re not about performing, but we have done it, and acquitted ourselves really well. It does wonders having a bit of music in your day at the office.

Wicalele – Singing in the Rain

But there’s more! I’ve been doing quite a bit of work recently on music and Antarctica. My Big Plan is to get an Antarctic Arts Fellowship some day and get a trip down there to write songs about the place. As part of my background work I’ve been doing interviews for the National Library’s Oral History and Folklore Unit and researching songs and music written and played by Australians in the Antarctic. I have delivered a couple of conference papers on the topic and some publications are to follow. The dream I have is that one day you will see an Antarctic theme concert, album and possibly DVD coming out of the project.

And on the edges of my music activities are all sorts of other things, such as children’s shows (it’s a whole different repertoire and skill set), video editing – you can check out what I’ve done at my YouTube channel (, and conducting workshops on songwriting and performance skills (anything from one hour to 3 days). A conference presentation and my first peer-reviewed article since I stopped being an academic in the 1980s came out of the story of Horace Watson and Fanny Cochrane Smith ( and now I seem to be writing articles all over the place. Last year I joined the board of a wonderful organization called Community Music Victoria, dedicated to spreading people-made music everywhere!

So what do I do in my spare time?

What spare time?

Really, all the things I’ve mentioned so far except my paid employment are the things I do for love and for fun, so I suppose that’s what I do in my spare time.

I do love reading, but I don’t get enough time for that. Mostly there’s those 10 minutes struggling to stay awake in bed as the eyelids droop. I tend to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, and am particularly fond of fine contemporary Australian fiction. I love movies, and we used to go to heaps, but got out of the habit when we were raising those four boys. I’m not so good on housework and handyman stuff, but I do get around to it every now and again. I enjoy good food but can’t say I love cooking, and I’m totally perplexed by the current fad for food shows on TV.

I recently did my first mosaic – it was a bit silly, but turned out cute and I really like it. That’s it up the top.

I bungy jumped once.

Travel and bushwalking have been a very big part of my life, but have also taken a back seat while we have been raising children. After I left school I hitch-hiked around Australia, and Jill and I spent a year backpacking around Europe in the 1970s. We also traveled to New Zealand and Indonesia, then spent two years living in the United States when I was studying at Princeton University. We did road trips throughout the eastern US and Canada, and across to the west coast. We were very keen dancers in those days, and happened to be at a dance weekend at Ashokan (NY) when Jay Unger wrote that beautiful tune Ashokan Farewell. We’ve done lots of camping trips with the kids (the only holiday we could afford – but fortunately something we love), including a six-month lap of Australia in 2002. In June, Jill and I plan to take a cruise up the Mekong for our 30th anniversary. Our first real trip alone for 24 years!

Well, that’s about as long as a blog should be – maybe too long, but, you know, there’s a lot to say.

Hopefully it will all be very old news by the time my funeral comes around!


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