Kurilpa Derby – the songs, the squid, the stairs to nowhere

Two years ago, I wrote this review of a Mouldy Lovers gig in West End. Factual and objective as always, I talked mostly about the bands relationship to the suburb:

A highlight for me though was just looking around and seeing so many familiar faces around me. Some were good friends, some just faces that I have come to know from 3 years living and hanging out in this peninsula. I’ve lived in a number of places and can confidently say that none of them are quite like West End.

Mouldy Lovers are quintessentially a West End band – like the suburb they are daggy but friendly, enthusiastic, enticing you to let go of your inhibitions, an indistinct mix of different styles. And present tonight are so many of the elements that make West End the place it is – musicians, hippies, punks, students, activists, hipsters, and yes, the yuppies who shop at the Boundary St markets. I didn’t see any Greek yia-yias out working in their gardens, but maybe they were there somewhere near the back.

Mouldy Lovers in this situation are more than just a band and those songs more than just rhythms and melodies – they are the encapsulation of what so many love about this suburb. Even if you didn’t like the music (though I doubt many people could hate something so fun and danceable), you could still dance, moving to the beat of this suburb and the idea of belonging to a place and a group of people. In a world where it’s so easy to live completely self-contained lives and to consume your music in a personalised niche, dancing to Mouldy Lovers with a few hundred others is a celebration of community and the Mouldies are the ligaments that hold together all these disparate parts.

I hadn’t thought about that review in a long time, until Sunday night when I was again watching the Mouldy Lovers in West End, this time on a stage in the middle of Boundary St for the Kurilpa Derby.

A lot can change in two years – the Motor Room and night markets where I saw that original show are gone, set to be developed into seven high rise towers of retail and apartments. My own feelings towards West End have changed in that time too – the sense of belonging those streets once gave me has mostly given way to a kind of sadness – sad that I no longer live in the neighbourhood, sad that the place is changing and the people who put so much work into making the suburb what it is don’t seem to have much control over it.

The Mouldy Lovers’ music has changed too – still tied to the suburb they call home, these days half the songs are about gentrification:

There’s an army approaching
The yuppies are encroaching
Armed with noise complaints, graffiti proof paints
Six foot fences and a sleeping potion

The Kurilpa Derby as always was wonderful, but this year (actually the first I’ve made it to in a couple of years) it also seemed to carry some sadness – and not just because Auntie Mulinjarlie Dillon, the wheelchair-driving aboriginal elder who apparently came up with the idea of a wheeled parade, has recently passed away.

The annual squid relay (carry a squid in your mouth down the street and pass it on to the next person) seemed like a cruel joke given George’s Seafood (the immensely popular local business which would always have the molluscs displayed in the shop window) is gone and replaced with yet another hipster bar.

The idea that a street can be a home and not just a thoroughfare was (as mentioned in a speech by Mouldy Lover and local councillor Jonathan Sri) this week thrown in the trash by the Brisbane City Council along with most of the possessions of the little shanty town under the Go-Between Bridge. As more and more apartment blocks go up on that side of the peninsula; there is no room for the homeless who have been a presence in that spot since before the bridge was there. The council gave as a reason complaints of anti-social behaviour towards joggers and cyclists using the nearby riverside path.

As I ran into people at the Derby, frequently the topic of changes in West End came up – one person said it was like a celebration of what West End used to be, another said there were more ex-residents than current residents present – it was like a homecoming for the West End diaspora.

I can count myself among that number. My time actually living in the suburb was never that long, but I recalled last night that I was one of those people forced out of West End by real estate agents. We were the kind of house that hung political banners from the front verandah, at times crammed a dozen people into the house and invited homeless people to come and stay. Not the dream tenants for any landlord, but we paid the rent on time every week and kept the house in good condition. We were kicked out at the end of our lease despite pleading to let us stay. Didn’t it mean anything that Catholic Worker hospitality houses like ours had for decades been a vital part of creating this suburb? The rent they could charge was partly inflated by the cultural capital we brought to the area!

It didn’t mean anything, and now that house is just another spot I look at sadly as I ride around West End. Yesterday I told a friend from overseas about the “stairs to nowhere”; a local hangout with views of the city where I spent many a night with friends (and actually named my old reviews blog after).

The stairs (they were literally a set of concrete steps that led to a vacant block) are gone now, a new house built on the site. I acknowledged to my friend that of course a house is of more use to society than a vacant block, but I just wished they’d left the stairs. Even just as a  monument if they weren’t up for punks drinking outside their front door.

This is a challenge we face. People who are for the economic and high rise development of West End can talk in numbers and statistics – this many extra homes, that much extra money. Those of us trying to defend the culture of West End have only vague feelings to describe its worth – how do you explain the squid, the stairs to nowhere, the sense of belonging? The fact that we like having obnoxious homeless people around?

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without just sounding like a NIMBY who doesn’t want tall buildings or outsiders in your neighbourhood. But among other people who value West End for the same things, we can let out the pent up feelings. So on days like the Kurilpa Derby we ride wheeled contraptions down the street and we talk to reassure one another we’re not alone in feeling like this, to remind ourselves of the things we value in a community, and to keep alive the inspiration that actually it is possible to build spaces that embody this.


1 Comment

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One response to “Kurilpa Derby – the songs, the squid, the stairs to nowhere

  1. kristywalters

    great post Andy, captures a lot of common feelings about West End. I was very sad to see George’s is gone. And also wandering up boundary st to have a sit and think at the stair to nowhere, so devastated to find they’ve been torn down.
    Seems every quirky thing about West End that doesn’t make money is destined to disappear :(

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