I recently had the good fortune of travelling to Australia to perform at the Woodford Folk Festival, near Brisbane. My flight left Vancouver on December 22, 2013 and arrived in Australia December 24, the day before Christmas.
It was quite an opportunity to be a fly on the wall, stuck in transit with strangers, for the holidays. I got to be in airports and hotels for those Christmas days, which was to my liking. I find conventional, calendar-specific holidays bring out the tension in my family and friends, and each year, Christmas signals depression and sadness. Tears, arguments, drama, pressure. Fights, overextended budgets, 'proper conduct' rules guiding events and bringing unnecessary strife. These things bring out the worst in us, causing exhaustion and illness. So it was a luxury that work bound me to travel during the otherwise debilitating holiday season. It was refreshing to witness families in transition during the holidays. I was uplifted to be with, and yet separate from, all these international Xmas strangers and their families.
My first down under observations came from the concentrated epicentre of airplanes and airports: the amount of dads dealing with diaper changes, baby wake ups, bottles, holding their kids, walking them in strollers, up and down the airplane isles and up and down the airport hallways was staggering. In Canada, It's just not like that. All these activities are ones we see dads do in Canada, but most often it's still women tending to kids. Dads are definitely active in child care here in Canada, but it's rarer to see a man walk his baby than a woman. Or change the diaper. I'm not passing judgement negatively against dads here. Most of the dads I know buck stereotypes in many ways and are hands on dads with their babies and kids. I'm also in no position to judge because I'm not a parent, but as far as I can tell, parents do their damn best, and are exhausted to the bone.
But rather, I'm observing how refreshing it was to see about 90 per cent of airplane and airport kid care was done by the men while the moms read, slept, chatted and just generally did the things people do in airports; wait around.
And the kids themselves were different than Canadian kids. One set of kids who discovered my tucked away reading spot in the Sidney airport came right up to me and said, "Good afternoon, miss. Where are YOU flying to?" ... It would not be an exaggeration to say that at no time in my LIFE in airports has a child approached me with such genuine, self assured curiosity and confidence. What a warm moment that was.
My flight transferred through Sydney, and on to Brisbane where I had booked a spot for two days in advance of WFF crowds and performances. The hotel lay right beside a large botanical park. The park was tremendous, a great way to get my legs back after twenty hours of mostly seated travel. There were winding walkways full of loud bird songs and waxy leaves, bright flowers, and people on benches, reading. I thought it was cool to see how many books were out vs. tablets and cells. Of course there were still people on cell phones like most countries these days, but it struck me to see many people reading actual books. I travel a lot so books are a luxury, a simple pleasure that reminds me of slower days.
My bandmates arrived separately over the next few days, and we made our way to Caboolture, the nearest town to the festival. I travel solo mostly, performing with my laptop. I make my own beats and run them by laptop, something few rappers aspire to, especially female rappers. I also play guitar on stage, and sometimes drum. I have two sponsored Paul Reid Smith guitars that are a dream to play, and more recently, Yamaha has sponsored me with an acoustic guitar. Doing a solo show is simple because you don't have to wrangle teammates. Solo shows are also a prerequisite for maintaining a flexible career path.
But shows with a crew are especially fun, and given that I had seven shows in one week down under, I brought along two pieces of my crew; MC/life long friend, Ron Harris, and cellist/life long friend, Cris Derksen. Ron is a powerful organizer and roots activist from Vancouver, a pivotal piece of Vancouver's hip hop and indigenous art culture, as well as a talented rapper and songwriter. He started DJ'ing recently out of his role as an organizer in the city where his events have grown and solid MC presence has not. When I reference MC here, I'm talking master of ceremony type showmanship, and Ron harris, a.k.a. Ostwelve, is one of the best in Vancouver.
Also along for the shows was Cris Derksen, a cellist with a strong background in both classical and hip hop forms. She uses loops and a love for new wave and rap music as well as some pow wow influence and a whole lot of style and skill. Both Cris and Ron are original and successful artists outside of my project, so working with them is seamless; their artistic egos are satisfied both inside and outside the Kinnie Starr stage.
We played well at Woodford, and I'm glad we went across the world to check it out. We braved the 41 degree heat, food line-ups and van rides with professionalism and wayyyyy too many bad jokes. I enjoy travelling with friends. We had a little outdoor pool at our hotel in Caboolture, the nearby town. We walked around and found a mall with groceries and a breakfast place, and some open stores. People there walked bare foot even in the mall. i saw it a half dozen times.
We were there during Xmas and right up until January 2. We celebrated in our own way a million miles from home. We got to see the closing ceremony at the Woodford Festival, a long theatrical show involving several staged song and dance pieces, huge puppets, a kids choir, excellent choreography and a big burning heart that signifies letting old grievances go, and 'chasing the monsters away' -- new age speak for dealing with negativity. We got to meet some amazing organizers from other festivals down under, and I got to see the Shelley Morris singers; indigenous vocalists from the Jinibara region. They were my favourites. We got to collaborate with CR Avery, one of Canada's premier beat boxers who mixes storytelling, beat poetry, old school showmanship and harmonica.
I also learned first hand that many Australians feel the same way we Canadians feel about decisions our governments are making around the extraction and misuse of natural resources. In Australia, around the subject of the Great Barrier Reef, most Ozzies I spoke with don't want the land and ocean ruined any more than we want our country ruined by the Tar Sands and the petrochemical industry. And like us, Australians don't know how to stimulate their government to make better, more environmentally conscious decisions. We got to witness huge fruits and disgustingly scary spiders, and I personally was humbled by the force of the sun.
The sourest note of my trip came from inside my own own body. Apparently the travel and carrying things and heat and sleeplessness and jet lag were more than my nerves could handle, and pulses of very sharp pain slowly took over my days until my right arm became useless and sleep was not possible. Numbness spread through my hand and arm, and started to affect my vision. So rather than taking the extra two weeks off that I had set aside to discover Australia and its beaches, I was instructed -- and obliged the doctor -- to return home immediately. After our last Kinnie Starr performance on New Years eve, I flew back to Canada to seek treatment for acute neuropathic pain.
Sometimes bodies cannot take the combination of travel, heat, shows, emotion, strangers, performance, lack of sleep and constant motion. I'm grateful for this injury though, and I'm grateful to have seen Australia. We made some excellent inroads and will be returning to the country in the fall if time permits. And now, after two months of laying very low and tending only to family, body rehab, and essential work details, I am back in action, with have first hand experience in neuropathic pain and a greater interest than ever before in studying the nervous system. Thank you Australia. See you soon!