When I was in my early twenties and at University in Canberra, I’d find myself with acres of empty hot summer and equally empty pockets.
I’d stay on campus, occasionally picking up some work at a local hotel, but my finances were threadbare and time would inflate and empty me of any sense of liberty. The space of it was dreadful. It was big and yet claustrophobic.
Money being tight, that year – 1982 I guess – I took up a friend’s offer to use his room while he was away, lugging everything down from my top floor room and piling it high, releasing myself of the burden of finding some extra dollars and making rent for the long-suffering and obliging Mrs Kelly. He’d cleared up as best he could, shoving everything into the small wardrobe behind the door. My girlfriend had left for Sydney and the summer melancholy had kicked in.
After a few days I noticed a building smell from the wardrobe and as the hot week went on I was forced to move my head close to the window at night in order to bear being in there (it turned out later that a food parcel from his mother, containing meat, had been scooped up in the rush and piled into the cupboard).
A hot summer in Canberra is as dry as a chip and I remember meeting up with my friend Tim, who owned a beaten up white Leyland Marina two-door, and deciding to head down to the coast for a few days, a threeish-hour ninety mile drive across the tablelands, through Braidwood, a farming town, then to the Great Dividing Range and down the Clyde Mountain, a snaking drop that takes you from the dry high air down to the humid coastal plain.
Clouds sometimes hug the mountains and as we drove down the mood wasn’t great. A couple of cars on the other side of the road, as was usually the case, were pulled over by the sheer edge and sizzling, their blown radiators contributing to the surrounding mist.
But down the bottom, where the road straightens, and you smell the salt air, the clouds start to break – and, windows open, I held my arm in the thick air, using my hand as a dolphin. Sun finally through and Tim’s stereo (he later sold the car as ‘FOR SALE: STEREO WITH CAR, $150 ONO) came to life, playing a new mix tape he’d lovingly crafted the day before.
It’s that exact moment that I associate indelibly with this song. “The sky above won’t fall down.” Persevere until you get to the chorus. It shook off my malaise.