WHILE I was on the Sunshine Coast, I attended a bamboo-building workshop. Actually, it was more of a tea-drinking workshop, with occasional breaks in which we dabbled with bamboo.
The workshop was hosted by Tim and Kate, who run a café called Chocolate Jungle at the Woodford Folk Festival. There, from within a huge structure concocted of bamboo and tarps, they serve chocolaty organic treats to all comers at all hours.
This year, they wanted a trial run, in the hope that construction would go more smoothly at the festival. I’d arranged to meet Kate in Nambour. As we drove to the workshop, she laughed often and told many tales – ukulele-playing, festival-going, caravan-living tales.
We arrived at a bamboo grove in Cooran, where there were about 60 kinds of bamboo, some growing as tall as 30 metres; others short and fine, with gently spreading leaves like fairy’s wings. When the wind blew, the clumps clicked and clacked as though they could collapse at any moment.
But bamboo is strong and flexible: a few years ago, when I visited Hong Kong, I was astonished to see modern skyscrapers enveloped in bamboo scaffolding. Another reason it’s a good building material is that it grows quickly, some varieties 60 centimetres a day, under the right conditions. In two years, a pole can be strong enough to use in a temporary structure.
Our building, however, grew slowly. Tim is a dreamer, tall, tanned and lean: with a faraway look in his eye he’ll conjure a glorious second storey, not noticing the first is lacking its corner posts. After four days, although the structure was far from complete, it had taken shape in Tim’s mind; and in any case, we’d all enjoyed ourselves tremendously.
After the workshop, I set a southerly course and happened to hitch through Woodford. I got a lift from two women, Danielle and Kassandra, who were volunteers with the folk festival’s art department. They took me to their shed, where they were assembling giant decorative flowers. They’ve been volunteering once a week all year, and will shortly begin a six week full-time stint. They assured me that Woodford is less a festival and more a way of life.
Later that day, a funeral director called James drove me from Toowoomba to Warwick. He dropped me at O’Mahoney’s Hotel, next to the railway station, for a cheap room.
One of my resolutions on this trip was to stay in old country pubs. At O’Mahoney’s I found just what I was looking for: high ceilings, rambling hallways and a broad verandah. The hotel was built in 1887; now, trains rarely stop and the main street has long since migrated east. On the first night, the owners, Joan and Glen, invited me to eat with them. I stayed a second day.
Every Wednesday evening, the Warwick folk circle meets in the Ladies Room of the hotel. In turn, the members play a song or recite a poem, both originals and covers. It was the day before Remembrance Day, and one man sung Eric Bogle’s anti-war ballad No Man’s Land. I remember my dad listening to that song when I was a kid.
In many ways, it was an unremarkable scene. They seemed like ordinary townsfolk – tradies and salespeople; café owners and teachers; parents and children – yet, here they were, exercising the greatest gift. I found their songs deeply moving, the more so for the fact they were playing together.
When I hear simple singing like that I seem to lose track of everything I think I know; or, at least, it disappears for a while, and comes back gleaming, like a vintage car that’s had a cut and polish. I think I’ll take up the ukulele – one way or another, it’ll make people cry.