Welcome to Notes From Pig City. This is my online archive for as much of my journalism as I can keep up with. Published pieces will be reposted here as soon as they can be. I also write exclusively on my Patreon page; those pieces are not republished here.

I’m the author of two books: Pig City (2004), a book about Brisbane, and Something To Believe In (2019), a music memoir. I work independently for many different publications and occasionally for others behind the scenes.

I have a wide variety of interests, and they’re reflected by the number of tabs in the main menu. You can click through those, or the archive list at the bottom to find what you might be interested in, whether you’re a casual visitor or looking for something specific.

This site used to be known as Friction. I changed it to something more clearly identified with my work and where I live. If you want to get in touch send me a message here, or via Twitter (@staffo_sez), though I don't hang out there much anymore, because you really should never tweet.

The pioneering legacy of No Fixed Address

Picture the scene. It’s 1982 and Australia’s future prime minister Bob Hawke – then the shadow minister for industrial relations – has accepted an invitation to launch a mini-album by an emerging Indigenous rock-reggae band called No Fixed Address. Hawke’s daughters are fans, and he recognises the importance of both the release and the symbolic gesture of a white politician endorsing it. There’s just one sticking point: the final song is called Pigs.

They’re always on the move

They call them the boys in blue

They’ll kick you in the head

Until they leave you dead

It is difficult to imagine even the current prime minister – a self-confessed music tragic – launching such a provocative release today. But Hawke goes ahead with it, saying the album is great – “but that’s not to say that every man and woman in blue is a thorough bastard”. The band’s drummer and leader, Bart Willoughby, turns around. “Yeah, there are good police out there – we just haven’t met any yet,” he shoots back.

The story of this radical group is told in a new book of the same name by Donald Robertson; on the back cover, Goanna’s Shane Howard describes No Fixed Address as “the tip of the spear” that plunged into the dead heart of middle Australia.… Read more..

Don Walker: a real cat

Every week, Don Walker buys a lottery ticket. It’s a matter of ritual. The piano-playing hurricane force behind one of the most successful Australian bands of all time, Cold Chisel – the man who gave us Khe Sanh and Flame Trees and too many more to mention – says he’s buying his continuing right to dream.

On his new solo album, Lightning In A Clear Blue Sky, there’s a song called When I Win The Lottery. What would he do? “Most of the song is about taking your winnings and running amok, basically coursing across the landscape with your hair on fire, fighting off supermodels,” he says drily, over Zoom, the familiar sweep of grey hair sitting high over his forehead.

“That’s not what I would do, because for a long time now I could probably do that anyway – the supermodels excepted. I live with a lot of freedom.”

Walker, 71, is well past retirement age. He has no need to work, and probably no need to be buying lottery tickets, either. He continues to do both out of habit. Lightning In A Clear Blue Sky is his fourth solo album, and first in a decade. Walker is also one-third of popular trio Tex, Don and Charlie (with singer Tex Perkins and guitarist Charlie Owen).… Read more..

Stephen Cummings’ post-stroke comeback

Stephen Cummings was disembarking from a flight into Brisbane when everything went sideways. He steadied himself against the wall of the aerobridge. An anxious flyer, he assumed it was the after-effects of a Valium he’d taken to calm his nerves, and that it would wear off ahead of that night’s performance.

The veteran Australian singer-songwriter – a fixture of Australian music since the late 70s with his band the Sports, then as a revered solo artist – had two sets booked at the Junk Bar, a tiny club in inner Brisbane. While playing, he realised he was having trouble forming chords on his guitar. Indeed, he was having trouble staying upright. He completed the gig, but felt disturbed, and had a sleepless night.

Even so, it wasn’t until he returned to Melbourne and staggered out of the terminal that the seriousness of his condition was immediately apparent to his wife, Kathleen O’Brien. Cummings’s mouth was crooked, and he was struggling to walk. “I’m taking you straight to the Alfred [hospital], you’ve had a stroke,” she told him.

This was in March 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was breaking out in Australia. Cummings had actually been intending to retire: he had turned 65 the previous September, and had just two more gigs booked in Melbourne.… Read more..

Tiny Ruins: Ceremony

Since 2010, New Zealand singer and songwriter Hollie Fullbrook has been creating immersive, introspective folk music under the name Tiny Ruins. The very name suggests something intimate and irretrievably broken, but it also invites you to take a closer look. This is music that prioritises atmosphere over hooks, but once you get inside Fullbrook’s songs, they are little private worlds of their own.

With Ceremony, her fourth album and first since 2019’s Olympic Girls, she’s created something more akin to a private universe. Since her 2011 long-form debut, Some Were Meant For Sea, Fullbrook has steadily layered subtle instrumentation over her dexterous guitar playing. This is her fullest and most colourful release to date, but it’s still a dense work that takes time to reveal itself. Casual listeners are unlikely to be rewarded by Tiny Ruins.

Fullbrook’s band (Cass Basil on bass, Alexander Freer on drums and percussion and producer/engineer Tom Healy on everything else) is kept busy, even on songs that hew closer to her austere original vision. On the opening track, Dogs Dreaming, Fullbrook sings: “I always did know what to paint in an empty room / Thinking, this is more than enough”. It’s a apt self-description of her music.… Read more..

Frente!’s accidental smash

You know you’ve made it in Australia when the most successful thing you’ve done becomes the butt of jokes. For Frente!, the indie-pop band formed in Melbourne by Simon Austin and Angie Hart, their moment came when Accidently Kelly Street – the accidentally misspelled song that became their best-known tune after its release in October 1992 – was the subject of a savage parody, Accidentally Was Released, by ABC’s The Late Show.

Initially hurt by the backlash, Hart struggled to reconcile with the song. Its author, bass player Tim O’Connor, left the band shortly afterwards, citing exhaustion. Jane Kennedy, who impersonated Hart in The Late Show (which included her fellow D-Generation and Working Dog alumni Tom Gleisner, Mick Molloy and Tony Martin) stresses to Guardian Australia via a spokesperson that she loved and still loves the band.

Thirty years later, Frente! are celebrating the anniversary of their full-length debut, Marvin The Album, with a national tour. The album’s winsome folk-pop, topped by Hart’s sweet, sincere vocals, was a breath of fresh air amid the prevailing grunge and hard-rock sounds dominating radio at the time – particularly Triple J, which broke the band via airplay of the band’s earlier hits, Labour Of Love and Ordinary Angels.… Read more..

Nicky Winmar: the game-changer

Nicky Winmar is exhausted. For months, he has been dreading this anniversary. He schemed about how he could avoid the fuss, dodge the media, or somehow wish the events of 30 years ago away.

But there’s no getting around it. Now he’s doing his best to embrace the moment. Tomorrow, April 17, marks the day in 1993 that the St Kilda legend turned and lifted his jumper to a feral Collingwood crowd who had been racially sledging him, and pointed to his skin.

“I’m proud to be black,” he fired back at the mob.

His team had prevailed. Winmar had kicked the sealer, storming through traffic at full tilt to intercept and slotting a goal from outside 50 metres. His Indigenous teammate Gilbert McAdam had kicked another five. And Sunday Age photographer Wayne Ludbey had captured the moment that froze Winmar in the public eye forever.

That public image has been a heavy burden to carry. A statue of Winmar, striking the pose that landed him on the front page of the paper the next morning, now stands outside Optus Stadium in Perth. But Neil Elvis “Nicky” Winmar the man is no statue.

“I did get tired after that game.… Read more..

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