by Lorne Johnson
An out of work tenor and an out of work baritone appear on their Waterloo apartment balcony, just after sunset, under a starless firmament, wave, smile, then begin belting out I Still Call Australia Home to the stacked, identical white boxes surrounding them. Slowly, distant neighbours, just shadows, emerge. Some carry iPhones, others, glasses of red, all of them this new hollowness. They stand and face the singers expectantly, who, across the divide, encourage them to join in. The moment becomes swirling projected lights, swaying couples, total suspension, utter release, just voices and voices booming and rising from the void. At the end of the fleeting performance, people whoop, weep, clap, thank them, and the baritone calls out, We’ll see you next week!, then everyone shuffles back into their tiny cells, inhales deeply, and for a few moments, resists downloading yet another update on just how much time we all have left.
‘Lockdown’ was inspired by an old friend of mine, Tom Hamilton. He and his flatmate, Tomas Dalton, both stood down opera singers, sang I Still Call Australia Home from their apartment balcony in Waterloo, Sydney, back in March. This led to more performances with various musicians, over several months. All of their concerts were much-loved by Waterloo residents and opera enthusiasts alike. The initial I Still Call Australia Home performance was filmed by another Waterloo resident. It has been downloaded over 30,000 times.
Obviously, Covid-19 is having an enormous impact on all those in the arts sector. So many in that industry have been deeply affected by widespread closures to venues – they do not know what the future looks like for live performances in this country. They also struggle to maintain a particular identity and a sense of hope when so many shows have been cancelled or postponed. Added to this, the Morrison government is not prioritising the arts sector. Surreal, bleak and challenging times. Let’s hope those ghost lights in the Sydney Opera House can soon be removed.
Lorne Johnson lives in Newtown, Sydney, and teaches at Ascham School. He’s a big fan of punk rock, Jim Jarmusch, classic American cars, birding, bushwalking and running. His poetry has been published widely. PSP released Morton in 2016. In 2019, he edited Of Human Experience, a book of essays on the work of Peter Skrzynecki.