Jason Roweth

WRITER

Finding your roots while looking for elsewhere.

A musician's journey home.

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stories

His Father's Fiddle

Joe Marshall warms slippered feet by morning fire, nursing pannikin tea. “Hot as hell, black as sin, sweet as a woman.” A dawn mantra. Old, alone, in a one-room Turon River hut, life hangs on bones of routine and ritual. The previous night’s call was not routine. Joe grunts, “A visitor…”, unfolds from the chair, cracks cup on laminex, and pulls his cot from the wall, “…man’s got things to do.” He pulls rolled hessian from behind the bed, and tips a wooden case out on the table. Dust mites dance in window sun. What does he want with the old tunes? He snaps the catches, watching old hands - Too old for this nonsense - and lifts the lid. In the rush of deep woody smell, Joe sheds fifty years. O

In the Deep End

David Broughton stares through sheeting rain, across Sydney city traffic, at the adversarial pub door. He has walked the block twice, in winter sun sinking; downtown is warning edged, dark. He pulls the last of the hash joint, tucks guitar case under arm, and bolts across George Street, generating kinetic courage. He shoulders the heavy wooden door - it barely shifts. What an entrance. He squares himself, and pushes into the beer-fume gloom, eyes down, straight to the bar. Why this place, Sal? Sally Carberry is David’s best mate, but they haven’t spoken since the school break-up party. It’s hazy, but David knows he played arse of the Class of ’86. He was not expecting the call, and was too s

Flying Jim

Shivery shadow walls stretch forever above. I’m off with Jim on another grand bush adventure. We’re holding fast to Li-los, shooting on a silver stream, inches over smooth grey-green stones; a Blue Mountains river, with a serrated crack of blue sky far away at the top of the gorge. David Broughton, James Warburton, big goofy grins, wet rubber Li-lo smells through eucalyptus clear sinuses. We’re off! As usual, he has left me behind, bringing up a more cautious rear. I watch him now, off the air bed, bouncing over fallen boulders, shaking up out of the creek at a deep pool ahead. By the time I catch him, he’s hanging from a low-set branch, scaling a big gum I wouldn’t tackle. I hear his asthma

Breathe

Just a breather. Charlie Johnson is half-way down, resting on the landing to quiet his temple roar, now louder than the trains below. He pulls for oxygen, falls short, pulls again, holding hand rail, looking back at nineteen blurry steps from the ticket office; nineteen grimy stripes of garish advertising. He breathes again, feels the air catch, and the roar ease. These old lungs. Seven doctors can’t be wrong, can they? ‘Course they can. He looks at nineteen more steps down to the city-bound platform. His heart sings… His grandson David Broughton, sitting, nose in a magazine. ‘Guitar Player’? What happened to the Superman comics? Charlie calculates - David is fifteen. He has caught the train

Forever, and No Time at All

Night falls, a piece-perfect puzzle. David Broughton wipes Napoli pizza grease on blue jeans, and holds cool pinball glass. Achingly familiar, impossibly distant... He has John Maloney, best mate gone thirty years, now on his left shoulder again, ever riding shotgun, holding schooners of Brown. When they’d last haunted this Newton backstreets pub, it was a working-man’s joint. The off-farm teenagers in wool greased flannos, smelling of sheep shit, fit in fine. David smiles at Johnno, thirty years... Forever. The workingmen are gone. But it seems no time at all, in his easy mate’s nostalgic rave. Davo and Johnno, ‘The Storm Riders’, had hit Sydney three decades before… Psychedelic rock and ro

Kiss Goodbye

Space Ace Frehley is pacing, raving, furious. He’s only halfway through applying his make-up… So more accurately, it’s half Ace from The Australian KISS Experience, half Frank from Fairfield. But he’s fully furious. “You little shits.” David Broughton slumps sunken, sweaty, Telecaster slung, leaning against the greenroom wall - watching KISS and make-up, in the golden globe framed mirrors. His own band - ‘Warrego’ - have just torn the roof off the cavernous western Sydney beer barn, leaving a heaving, screaming, sweating human sea, and are reshaping themselves for their second set. Davo is on a mission. Follow this if you can. Space Ace is in a raving orbit, firing in at Davo, “Brett told me

Music Room

Not scared, no. Not David Broughton. He dodges alarms, and shimmies down three floors from the top dorm window, wedged shoulder to heel ‘tween the brick columns - risking dorm-master’s wrath, and more. Three months at Catholic boarding school, and David has already worn a pre-dawn pilgrim’s path to the music room. No key… Crack the fly-screen, jemmy the window, pull it all in behind - and play guitar. After two years of make-do on the farm, this critical instrument mass generates gravitational waves, dragging him in - from two hundred miles away… No fear. He had enrolled in HSC music, but then ran to chemistry in fear of weekly performance. Now, his driven delusions - “I must be mad” - have

Elsewhere

The stained brown, yellow vinyl lounge is folding me in… Stone paralysis. Four left standing, four rum tumblers, four am - ‘Elsewhere’ via fuck knows where, via Kandos. The wood-fire is lit - aromatic, but not pushing far into the frosty farm-house lounge room. The coke-bottle-bong is going round the clock, a tick-tock second hand… I look across at Will, sitting at three o’clock to my six. Will Maloney and David Broughton - years playing psychedelic guitars entwined, telepathic - a resonant look is all we ever need… “We’re inside-out again, man.” Will - explicit wild wide-eyes, tucked heavy lids. I pull big, sweet smoke - hold a cough - silent, “Tonight’s the night.” “Well, you lads certainl

The Bridge

I can’t believe it. Where’s me sleep-in? First day of the hols tomorrow, and I’ve set an alarm… Me new alarm clock - the one that Nanny gave me. It’s a great clock, with numbers clicking over one by one. But when I can’t sleep, it clicks too loud. I’ve packed cheese sangas in me bag, I’m hiding under the blankets in me clothes - CLICK - I know it’s getting late. Mum’s just gone to bed, and Dad’s crashed out watching ‘Prisoner’ on the idiot box. He’ll be snoring before Mum… It’s shearing time, and he’s knackered. He’s built the fire up big - I can hear it crackle. But it’s the end of first term - CLICK - and I’m glad I have the extra blanket. Here’s the train. I could set the new clock by the

A Dog's Life

“To the lions…” Sally pushed him back stage, both laughing loons. “Sit there, shut up, be ready”, fold-back sound-guy grace. Now David Broughton breathed beer-fumes in pitch-black wings, gulping his hip-flask rum - hoping it will temper nerves, and tame the hash joint he’d shared with best mate Sally Carberry… it had seemed like such a rock’n’roll idea. “Only Sal…” He had accepted the gig with a breezy… “Next Tuesday, Manning Bar? Fill spot between the bands? Fifteen bucks? No worries.” He cooly managed to avoid, “Me? First solo gig? Are you mad?” He was now questioning his own sanity. “Well - it’s one for the money…” In the loaded pre-gig eternity, he nervously - unwisely - reflected… Six m

Song

David’s earliest memory… Christmas, and clinging koala-like to his dear Nan’s hip, and waltzing giddy “You are my sunshine, my only…” How old? He’s tiny… He must’ve been two, three tops. The recollection is golden joyous. Now it’s Christmas, David is fifty-one, and Nan is dying. He gathers his own family, smallest child on hip, and sings into the microphone “I dreamt I held you in my arms.” He drops the recording onto CD, piles kids in car, and drives the six hours to his Nan in less than five. Nan is holding on at home - David’s first home - for her beloved Christmas. They help Nan to her chair, and put up decorations - willing her over the line to Christmas time. No one is confident, but D

Welcome To My Nightmare

A rich smear of first light autumn sun pushed past the big gum on the eastern ridge, poured across the lambing paddock, swept aside the half-closed curtains, and rudely made itself known through Natalie Giancoli’s defiant, drawn eyelids. Too early. The gig wasn’t for hours. Six o’clock, Main Concert Stage, Port Fairy Folk Festival. Six o’clock, Main Stage! She turns away from the window, “Get back to sleep, you goose…”, But the air is loaded, silent. She can’t sleep. Something is - missing. Eyes still closed, she realises, “Where’s the morning magpie chorus? My alarm never fails…” Uneasy, she opens one eye, two… John is sleeping sweetly, soundly - and… Silently? He doesn’t have his chainsaw

Life Sucks

The new little Mazda slid into the corner too fast, and Wayne Rogan braced. He knew he was in trouble, and cursed the damned lamb-marking - making him late for footy. When the car hit the table drain, he cracked his head hard on the driver’s side window. Wayne never imagined a car would roll so slowly… He counted each gravel-kicking spin, until he lost consciousness on the third turn. He didn’t see how neatly the sideways Mazda picked the gap between the big strainer-post, and the even bigger road-side gum - Billy Slater screaming through the middle of the ruck… A life-saver. The ripping spinning car tore the fence away, and flew a decent torpedo punt into the farm’s front paddock, where it

Love Hurts

The fly-screen hung from the window frame, and flies buzzed without favour - inside and out. Shaun didn’t notice. His aching shearer’s back dropped down, creak onto cot. He tore the end off the envelope, breathless. Wednesday was mail day - the Cocky had delivered the post before breakfast. But he’d stopped himself reading the letter from the missus in front of the other blokes. Something about his Annie’s careful, formal lettering had made him edgy… Since when did she call him Mr Shaun Fulton? He had tucked the letter under his mattress, but it didn’t leave him all day. He could feel the loaded anticipation behind every blow… He easily knocked over his best numbers of the shed. Now, he had

Coughing Fit

The fibro-shelled kitchen-dining leaves no room to swing a cat. The table runs near wall to wall, eroded smooth, and sat on weary lino - mopped thin. There is just enough room to perch the Johnson family for meals, to sit neighbours down for a cuppa and chat… Endless tea deliveries - full cup, empty cup, full cup, empty cup - just a two-step to the kitchen, maybe a song-line-like waltz swing over the screen door dance floor - if the smiles are shining… “You are my sunshine, my only… “. This tiny room holds this working family close… Against social atomisation odds and rising consumer gods - circle the wagons. The problems of the world are sorted in here… problems pointed at off-hand through

Standing in the Rain

That summer inched by, an unrelenting crawl of hot, dry, dusty days. Lindy’s last school holidays before high school - she had wanted them to stretch forever. But here she was… The big school - big change for a small-town kid. Lindy sat nervously through the hot first morning. She didn’t make friends easily… She was in a pressure cooker, boiling on the summer heat. One endless class after another, she aimed for invisible - and just about made it. When the lunch bell rang, she tucked herself under a tree with her cheese sangas, and squirrelled nose-down re-reading ‘Harry Potter’. “Hey - Lindy - come have a kick.” Clare was one of only three kids who had been at her Primary school. “Nah… I’m r

Fear

“Sleep light, wake early” - Lieutenant Liffey’s nightly advice, until the day he himself failed to heed it… And then… Now back with his folks, in his Grenfell farm bed, ‘Rabbit’ sweats in screwed sheets every horror nightmare night. At sixteen, Billy ‘Rabbit’ O’Reiley had bounced onto the peninsula, brim-filled with freckled grin courage. But it leeched slowly into Turkish blood mud tears, until Liffey closed his eyes… Then… The courage drained, a giant plug-hole whirlpool in his soul. His mother’s nightly kindness is a contrasting - hopeless - “sleep well”. He is broken. The folks down town don’t speak, but whisper “shell shock”. He smothers the gutless-given silent screaming white feathers

Mr Moran

Shrinking days, early frost… the late autumn chill didn’t help Mick’s icy mood. But it was the job that currently left him cold. His teaching work - ordinarily his great joy - was an impossibility, a fiction, a farce. Three weeks into term two, and his bright-eyed Year Five students were falling into darkness. “Aw - Mr Moran - what do we need to know this for?” “Yeah - When are we going to use this stuff?” Just into the third year of his career - his vocation - and Mick already had a thousand answers to these familiar drones. In fact, he had lately learned to let the kids answer for each other… using his finest resource, what he felt was his competitive advantage - the joyous diversity of hi

The Party

“Hello…?” “Out-back.” A western-suburbs-Sydney hundred-in-the-shade summer’s day, and the party had fallen under the backyard’s only tree - laughing on backs, on lawn. The esky emptying fast, grog runners sent. Ice-water fights left hair and shirts dripping - where shirts were still on. Matty was drenched… always first, best, biggest, loudest. Little sister Rachel’s twenty-first was cooking over a fast heat, and Matt was burning bright. Few of the gathered mates could have told you that the southerly had blown in an hour ago. It stirred great wheels of dust, whipping dripping cheeks with dried grass now sticking wet. Inversely entwined, the wild party heat rose as the temperature fell. “Just

I Don't Remember

“It must be here somewhere, man… “. Will scrambled under his unmade bed, behind the mouldy-backed cupboard, under the hippy rug that covered his tiny, dark, dank bedroom’s floor. But the hopes of Will finding his secret stash, like his hopes of making the great Spring come-back gig, are gone. They used to call out ‘Man Maloney’… Chant it over and over until he hit the first notes of the great guitar God solo, then the earthquake roar. You’d hear it over the band’s own self-styled thunder. It’s not that Will cared - in that moment - for the hero’s acclaim. There was plenty of time later for post-gig prizes. But the roar, the thunder, were Zen-like moments of sky-cracking unity… For the crowd,

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