Beyond David Pocock: Why The Leard State Forest Deserves Saving

David Pocock locking himself to a bulldozer is great for all sorts of reasons, but a very minor one is that it's finally given me the push I needed to get my arse into gear and write something on the Leard Blockade. I went up there in June with plans to knock up a full-blown longform piece -- interviews with farmers and protesters, schmick footage of people getting arrested, occasional interjections of Feelings, the works -- and flog it off to any takers.

On the drive up I found out I'd gotten a job with Junkee, and I only managed to write an intro before I started steady work and it fell by the wayside. I tried to get back to it once or twice, but procrastination took over and now it's out of date. It'd be a shame to let what I managed to put together go to waste, so I figured I'd stick it here. Skip to the end if it's too long; I've added some stuff that's a lot more relevant to the here and now. Enjoy.

***

A Weekend In The Country

“Cold tonight, eh?”

The officer asking to see my licence seems nice enough; cops aren’t usually ones for smalltalk. Most likely he’s bored - stamping his feet by the road for hours in the dark, waiting for someone to come along and give him something to do. The car’s owner, James, is dog-tired, so when we reach the police roadblock where the cop’s waiting I’m the one driving. We’ve been on the road for ten hours, come from Sydney to camp at the foothills of the Nandewar Ranges north of Gunnedah. To go easy on James’ battler of a Mitsubishi, we opted to drive through the Hunter Valley instead of the harder route over the Blue Mountains.

Along the way we passed immense towers of dug-up waste, stacked piles of black dirt wedged rudely between acres of rain-brightened farmland, and for a while an immense coal train kept pace with us alongside, coming back from another delivery to the coast. When we pulled up in Kurri Kurri for a bite to eat freshly-printed issues of Coalface, the local miners-sponsored rag, sat in little bundles on street corners, carrying messages from luminaries like state Energy Minister Anthony Roberts and Joel Fitzgibbon that sang the praises of the Hunter’s immense coal industry.

We’re far west of the Hunter now, but Big Coal’s reach doesn’t seem to have diminished with the distance. For four years, Whitehaven Coal has been pushing to develop an immense coalmine near Maules Creek, a tiny village about forty minutes from Narrabri. The proposed area of the mine includes around 2000 square kilometres of the Leard State Forest, a protected area containing the last known stands of White Box gum, along with 31 endangered species.

In 2012, three locals decided they weren’t keen on the prospect of a coalmine for a neighbour, and set up camp in the forest where clearing was due to start. They stayed there for nine months by themselves, blocking the bulldozers and playing host to like-minded souls who would drift in and out, before the camp slowly started growing. In February the state government ordered the protesters to clear out, and banned all but employees of Whitehaven Coal from venturing into the proposed clearing area.

Since then, the protesters have been camped in a paddock belonging to one of the original three locals, a farmer named Cliff. They divide their time between maintaining the camp - sourcing and cooking food, digging toilet pits, helping Cliff out with odd jobs - and venturing illegally into the clearing site to lock themselves to machinery, block roads and generally make Whitehaven’s task a lot harder than it otherwise would be.

For years it’s been a long-running, slow-burning battle, but in recent weeks the stakes have gotten much higher. In May the state government waived the long-standing requirement for logging to cease during winter months, when many animals hibernate and are unable to escape disruption, and the bulldozers finally moved in. In the frantic days and weeks since, the miners have gone hell for leather cutting down as much forest as possible while the going’s good, the camp’s numbers have swelled with out-of-town supporters and locals intent on stopping them, and a growing contingent of police and private security officers have moved in to stand in the middle.

Things have come to a head on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Urged on by environmentalist organisations like 350 and GetUp!, a loose assortment of people styling themselves the Convoy Against Coalruption are heading up from Sydney and Canberra to lend their strength to the camp. Together the die-hards and the blow-ins will do their utmost to halt logging until a local group of farmers can file a class action suit against Whitehaven to cease activities at the local magistrate’s office on Tuesday. Dozens will be arrested, but that is kind of the point. The main body of the convoy will arrive on the Saturday afternoon, but some keen beans are making their way up the day before.

Hence why James, his friends Eliza and Ben, and myself, are being stopped at a police roadblock about three kilometres from the campsite, and are politely but firmly being asked to step out of the car.

After conferring with his chattier subordinate, the officer in charge takes over the running of things. He brusquely informs us that we will be subject to a search, car and bodies both, and sticks strictly to the script, answering our questions in legalese in a tone that very much suggests he’d rather not. James is patted down, and Eliza rolls up her baggy fisherman’s trousers at a female officer’s request as three more police go steadily through the car and everything in it, front to back. We watch as they shine torches into empty paper bags, poke around under the seats, go through our clothes and underwear with black-gloved hands.

As we wait by the side of the road we trade smalltalk with one of the more approachable cops, a friendly middle-aged bloke with a beer gut. He’s not local police; he’s been sent here from Wagga Wagga, around 700 kilometres away. He seems blissfully ignorant as to why any of us are here. “No idea mate, I’m just some gumby. They say ‘go here, do this,’ I go.” He shrugs cheerfully. Another cruiser comes down the road, and by the time it reaches us a carload of weary officers from the roadblock is tearing past us on the way back into town. The newcomers switch the cabin light on and sit, less than eager to begin the night shift.

As we stand shivering by the side of the road Eliza films the police on her phone, occasionally dropping narky comments. “Bit cold to be out on a night like this with no reason, hey?” She’s met with a wall of stolid silence from the cops, although.

Eventually there’s nothing left to search, and we pile back into the car. As we inch our way past the police one of the newcomers gives us a half-hearted wave. He’ll be spending a lot of nights like this.

***

That's all I had time to write. Very soon after we left the roadblock we reached the campsite, and I discovered that I'd only packed half a tent. In between crashing in the tent -- complete with tent poles -- that my new best m8 James had brought and stretching his charity well past acceptable levels for someone I'd met that weekend in various ways, it became apparent that I hadn't really prepared for this exercise enough.

That lesson was reinforced on the Sunday, when a call from my sister reminded me that I was supposed to be flying from Sydney to Alice Springs the next morning and James had to lend me his car so I could catch the last flight out of Tamworth. Sometimes I am very clever, but this was not one of those times.

Poor bloody James. He slept the whole two-hour drive to Tamworth, having been up since 4am to block off a mining road. In retrospect it's probably a good thing I slept through the 2am wake-up call for anyone willing to hike ten kilometres through the bush in the middle of the night to sneak into the logging site. If I'd woken up on time I would've been arrested the next morning, like the few dozen people who did manage it, and I would've spent the afternoon in the Boggabri police station instead of hooning through central NSW in someone's borrowed car.

As we neared the turnoff to the airport I was tempted to take a left into the cemetery that sits on the outskirts of town, but we didn't have time -- my flight was almost leaving the tarmac. If we'd had the chance, though, I would've liked to visit my grandmother. She died a long time before I was born, but I think she would've liked my being out at the Leard.

Not many people from the city make it out to that part of the world, but I spent a lot of time there growing up. It's where my mother and father come from; my mum's parents still have a house outside Coonabarabran, and when I was a teenager my dad would take me out camping around Mount Kaputar, or in the Warrumbungles. Sometimes on the return leg of some huge driving trip we would stop in Tamworth cemetery, and say hi to his mum.

I didn't go out to the Leard because I believe in the rightness of what those protesters are doing from a political standpoint, although I do. I went out there because I am a part of that country, and it's a part of me. It shaped my parents, the people to whom I owe everything. My Nana and Pa made their lives on it. My grandmother is buried in it. To see it desecrated, to see its beauty and strangeness blasted and ruined to make money for people who will never understand what they're destroying, is not something I can easily accept.

I don't even live there -- I can't imagine how farmers like Rick Laird and Cliff Wallace, who've worked the land their whole lives, or the Gamilaroi people, who have called it home for millennia, must be coping with the impending loss of their country. That kind of pain explains how a farmer could willingly host a semi-permanent campsite of up to a hundred hippies on his property free of charge, or how a couple of people could live out in the bush for years on end with nothing but possums and court orders for company to stop bulldozers clearing the forest.

It explains why people would lock themselves to mining equipment for hours on end, willingly subjecting themselves to arrest and the death-by-bureaucracy of the courts that eats away at a person's motivation and finances. It explains how people can lie down in front of bulldozers, face off against balaclava'd thugs imported as private security and get up on freezing winter's mornings to cook breakfast for a group of strangers. It's because no matter what indignities and setbacks they're subjected to, the alternative -- the loss of the land that raised them -- is so bad it demands great sacrifices to avoid it.

People are capable of great things when the cause is good enough, and in this case it is. That land -- forest, farmland, wildlife, water table -- is worth fighting for. With a lot of work and support and luck, we just might be able save it.

-

Find out more about the Leard Blockade here.

Don't Let The Gronks Get You Down, or: How I Learned To Stop Moping And Do Stuff

Yesterday Barack Obama gave one of his trademark Inspirational Speeches to a packed auditorium at the University of Queensland. As you might expect, it was heavy on big-picture stuff: climate change, the spread of democracy, LGBT rights and gender equality all got a run.

One of the speech's biggest themes, though, was what really snagged in my head. This comes from about half an hour in:

"Let me say to the young people here, combating climate change cannot be the work of governments alone. Citizens, especially the next generation: you have to keep raising your voices, because you deserve to live your lives in a world that is cleaner and that is healthier and that is sustainable, but that is not going to happen unless you are heard.

"It is in the nature of things, it is in the nature of the world that those of us who start getting grey hair are a little set in our ways; that interests are entrenched. Not because people are bad people, just that's how we've been doing things, and we make investments, and companies start depending on certain energy sources, and change is uncomfortable and difficult. And that's why it's so important for the next generation to be able to step in and say 'it doesn't have to be this way'. We have the power to imagine a new future in a way that some of the older folks don't always have."

Every now and then we get a reminder of the power of a good speech; Julia Gillard's misogyny effort last year, Scott Ludlam's welcome to WA in March, and Cate Blanchett and Noel Pearson's golden orations at Gough Whitlam's memorial a couple of weeks ago. The best speeches aren't the ones that say a lot of things you agree with already, so that you can share them on Facebook with the insightful caption "this". They're the ones that make you think, and help crystallise thoughts and sentiments you weren't sure how to express, while at the same time giving an outlet to powerful, visceral emotions that might otherwise stay bottled up. They simultaneously make your heart and your head expand.

Obama is by no means perfect, but something about this speech puts it in that category, at least for me. Not because it's extremely refreshing to hear a politician of his stature sing from my political songbook (although it is), but because it's so rare now to hear someone talk about the future -- and the people who'll live in it -- with optimism. 

I doubt I'm the only one who has to resist the urge to throw up my hands and say "fuck it" when confronted by the unrelenting tsunami of bullshit that Australian public life seems to embody. To recap all the multitudinous examples of Australian governments, media outlets, corporations and various iterations of authority going about their business with a special mixture of viciousness and mediocrity would take up more space than I'm inclined to fill, and you're probably familiar with most of them already.

What I've been thinking about since that speech isn't those regular acts of incompetent bastardry, but how we react to them. Whenever I find out about the latest ministerial fuckup or racist headline, my first instinct is to write up a Hot Take that pulls apart exactly why it's terrible, using my never-been-done-before blend of snarky wit and blind rage. Most people don't have jobs like mine, but plenty of people react to that kind of news in the same way; Facebook lets you do that because #socialmedia is the #future.

There are a few reasons why we react to industrial-scale fuckery like this. Most obviously it's easy, and it's fun. Pointing out that George Brandis looks like a boiled egg while outlining why his metadata legislation is hideous is one of the great joys of my life, and I don't intend to stop doing it any time soon.

More importantly, though, it's my way of feeling like I'm doing something. Unable to actually stop Boiled Egg and his ilk from passing dreadful laws, or being able to jettison them from the immensely powerful positions they occupy, I content myself with calling them names like Boiled Egg. That's fine; nasty people who do nasty things need to be called out, and the more people who do that the better.

But it's not enough to conscientiously point out all the ways in which we're getting fucked; at some point your anger has to catalyse into action. If the people in charge are rotten at their jobs, and it makes you mad, then you have to start thinking seriously about replacing them with people who'd be better. If there are systems in place which deliver such people into power on a regular basis, you have to start thinking about how those systems might best be dismantled, and what might replace them.

Anger can be extremely useful. Anger gets me out of bed in the morning, some days. Laughing at Tony Abbott running away from a press conference, or Greg Hunt using Wikipedia, or Joe Hockey saying that poor people don't drive cars - it feels good, and by gosh is it easy (seriously, those guys are practically paying my rent).

But if anger doesn't spark off a corresponding resolve to change something -- not just resist or oppose destructive forces and habits, but to create positive ones -- it just sits there. Eventually it calcifies into apathy and cynicism, and then you're stuffed, because apathy and cynicism don't build anything. They don't put probes on comets or cure diseases or get girls in rural Pakistan to school. Cynicism and apathy are admissions of defeat; giving in to them is a cue for shonks and pretenders to run wild, and they know it.

For the Tony Abbotts and Rupert Murdochs of this world, nothing is as useful as someone saying "fuck it, I'm done". That mindset eventually gets you quietly accepting that powerful people can act despicably and get away with it, and all you can do is carp from the sidelines. Power belongs to people like them, and impotent moral superiority belongs to people like you.

Nuts to that. I'm tired of being tired, of dreading the next few years and what might come after them. I'm tired of the closest thing to hope being the small sense of victory that comes when something dreadful gets derailed or postponed, or schaudenfreude when someone terrible screws up. I'm tired of defining my values in opposition to some smug prick's agenda, as though that's all they're good for.

It's extremely easy to forget, especially in times like these, that people of great intelligence and vision can -- and sometimes do -- occupy positions of immense power and influence, and use them to do a great deal of good. We forget that there are better ways of doing things than how we operate now, and that we have the abilities and resources to figure out what they might be. We forget that we have good ideas of our own, and that given the right opportunity those ideas can go very far.

That's why that speech by Obama yesterday will stick with me, I think. We should be aiming higher than trying to bloody Tony Abbott's nose, because we're capable of much more than that. We need that reminder, from time to time; that being political isn't just about giving the bastards a poke in the eye. It's about getting rid of them, and building something better in their place.

Read These Things: The Week's Best Articles and Other Stuff That is Good

Lately every second post I do on the Social Medias has been a link to some article I find interesting, along with some deeply insightful commentary like "YES" or "This". I'm gonna keep doing that because I'm a beautiful flower and you're not my Dad, but I'm also going to start doing weekly round-ups of fantastic pieces of writing I've found, partly so I have a place to go back to them easily and partly because they're awesome and everyone should read them. Each recommendation will include links to the writer's Twitter handle or blog and the primary social media account of the website that published it, because publishing good writing is a Good Thing and you should reward people who do it by giving them your Likes and whatnot.

Cool! That was easy to explain. Here's the first week's worth:
 

1. Why do we hate the poor?
by Amy Gray, for The King's Tribune

"Just get a job, any job. Problem solved. Here’s a job ad I found without knowing anything about your experience or abilities - go for it! If you are offered work where the pay is terrible, barely more than you have now after you take out the cost of working, you must stick with the job, even if it’s awful. Because having money is worth the cost of workplace harassment.

Can’t get work? Travel for work, then. Don’t talk about childcare costs or travel costs or how you won’t be able to pick your daughter up from school on time. Don’t you want this to be over?

Worried about high rent? It’s a no-brainer! Move! Move away from the school that cares so well for your child and the infrastructure that makes your lives liveable when you don’t drive. Don’t talk about the upfront expense of the first month’s rent and bond and removalists costs when you can barely scrape together each month’s rent now. Why won’t you help yourself? And worse, why do you keep explaining how all my simple solutions won’t address the myriad complexities that brought you here and keep you here?"
 

2. The Right Kind of Blood
by Rosanna Stevens, for The Lifted Brow

"There’s a scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets where Harry, trapped in the watery basement of Hogwarts, grabs a diary cursed with the spirit of his nemesis Voldemort and, using the fang of a basilisk, stabs the pages of the book to exorcise the darkness trapped within. From the stab wound an inky blood bubbles, and as the spirit is destroyed, a thick stain trickles over the book like a fast-moving bruise. This is the best metaphor I have been able to conjure for my period. In this scenario, once every month-ish I am Voldemort, the diary is my uterus, and Harry Potter wielding a fang is my period."
 

3. Sinking like a stone: the new generationalism in Australia
by Jeff Sparrow, for Overland

"To put it another way, the assertion of rhetorical authority is necessary precisely because real authority has vanished. The more the Liberals declare themselves to be adults taking charge, the more they seem like student Tories dressed up in their parents’ clothes. If you’re truly confident that you’re dignified and mature, you do not insist that the national broadcaster issue a public statement assuring viewers that you’ve never had sex with a dog.

There’s a Yiddish proverb that goes something like: ‘Surrounding yourself with dwarfs does not make you a giant.’ Along the same lines, possessing a bully pulpit from which you can abuse your enemies as children doesn’t, in and of itself, make you seem adult."
 

4. A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture
by Zaro Burnett III, for Medium

"Now, I stand about a finger of tequila under six feet. I work out and would say I’m in decent shape, which means when I’m out alone at night, I rarely ever fear for my safety. Many men know exactly what I mean. Most women have no idea what that feels like — to go wherever you want in the world, at any time of day or night, and feel you won’t have a problem. In fact, many women have the exact opposite experience.

A woman must consider where she is going, what time of day it is, what time she will arrive at her destination and what time she will leave her destination, what day of the week is it, if she will be left alone at any point … the considerations go on and on because they are far more numerous than you or I can imagine. Honestly, I can’t conceive of having to think that much about what I need to do to protect myself at any given moment in my life. I relish the freedom of getting up and going, day or night, rain or shine, Westside or downtown. As men we can enjoy this particular extreme luxury of movement and freedom of choice. In order to understand rape culture, remember this is a freedom that at least half the population doesn’t enjoy."
 

5. That Girl
by Heidi Pett, Kate Montague, Jessica Bineth and Jess O'Callaghan, for All The Best on FBi

This is an episode of a radio show and not a piece of writing but calm down it's fine. Click the title link to hear the episode in full or go here for All The Best's blog, which features transcripts and recordings of extended interviews with the piece's subjects.

"In New South Wales, abortions are legal if they put the mother’s physical or psychological health at risk. Most people therefore have to see a counsellor and have theirs under the “psychological health” banner. It’s a bit of a joke, to be honest. We didn’t have time to go under the “physical health’ banner, get letters from my doctor etc. So I just saw the counsellor and she filled out the paperwork. She was just going through the motions.

I told her about my friend’s husband. I was so wounded by it, and so tearfully angry. She shook her head. “He should not have projected on you like that,” she said.

The doctor and anaesthetist and nurses were all incredibly kind. For some stupid reason, I asked the doctor for an ultrasound. He said he’d do it, but he didn’t. Thank god. He informed me that I was fifteen weeks pregnant, and would I sign something agreeing that I would never have children if I went ahead with this pregnancy. I signed it, feeling numb."


6. Your Princess Is In Another Castle
by Arthur Chu, for The Daily Beast

"I’ve heard and seen the stories that those of you who followed the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter have seen—women getting groped at cons, women getting vicious insults flung at them online, women getting stalked by creeps in college and told they should be “flattered.” I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.

I’ve heard it from acquaintances, I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve heard it come out of my own mouth, in moments of anger and weakness."
 

7. Rape Joke
by Patricia Lockwood, for The Awl

"The rape joke is that he was your father’s high-school student—your father taught World Religion. You helped him clean out his classroom at the end of the year, and he let you take home the most beat-up textbooks.

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.

The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself."

Annabel Crabb Tsks At Students For Protesting, Recommends They Use The Internets

UPDATE: While ranting sure is fun, I've written a more substantive follow-up piece in defence of student protest that's probably more worth your time. Find it here, for Junkee.com.

Good news, fellow members of The Youth! All those tantrums you’ve been throwing about the looming cuts to tertiary education have finally caught the attention of someone important! In her recent column for Fairfax, Annabel Crabb took student protesters to task for the recent protest actions you might have read about, and finally raised the question the nation was burning for someone to ask: “How can it be, as even our phones get smarter, that protestors are somehow getting dumber?

Oh, you silly kids! Trying to preserve the remnants of your future from being ripped away by rich old white men who got their education for free! Don’t worry, Aunty Annabel is here to hold your hand and tell you exactly where you’re going wrong. Since you’re too immature to unpick the finer nuances of Crabb’s argument, allow me to guide you through the special blend of loving condescension which we will for the moment call “Crabbsplaining”.

First, some background. Displaying a knowledge of the post-Cold War era that borders on the shamanistic, Crabb writes: “The advent of the internet has deluged us with a mighty, confusing, exhilarating torrent of information, bringing with it previously unimaginable ways for human beings to come together, to talk, argue, share knitting tips and to deliver to vast audiences a tiny but resonant truth about something happening in their own backyards”. This is a very important point to make, as it establishes for the reader that the internet is a thing that exists, that the internet has changed some aspects of society, and other insights originally made in a Powerpoint presentation to Fairfax executives in 1998.

"As we can see on these magic screen portals, the Internet is definitive proof that all science is the work of witches."

"As we can see on these magic screen portals, the Internet is definitive proof that all science is the work of witches."

She then rightly points out the methods used by student protesters in recent weeks, such as the National Day of Action and snap protests in response to the presence of government ministers on campus, are useless and positively counter-productive. That protest you had on Q&A? Boy, did you screw the pooch on that one. Crabb has some choice words for you about that:

“Are poster paint and your parents' third-best manchester really the best tools the modern environment offers? And has any strategic thought gone into this stuff?”

See how phrases like “poster paint” and references to your parents imply that you’re children who can’t be trusted to make your own decisions? That’s Crabb’s Big-Person Writing Skills at work, it’s alright if you don’t understand. The same way you’re too young to understand that when it comes to drawing attention to an issue, hijacking a live TV program with a huge social media footprint is a very un-strategic way to go about it. That’s why one of Australia’s most widely-read columnists went out of her way to tell you so, and why footage of the protest has a measly 190,000 views on YouTube.

Speaking of that Q&A protest, remember what host and Wise Old Man of Australian politics Tony Jones said at the time? “That is not what democracy is all about and those students should understand that,” Jones grumbled good-naturedly, ruffling your greasy mop of hair as you upset his Democracy Sanctum with your yelling. That’s absolutely right, kids; democracy isn’t about disrupting the status quo to bring about change! It’s about sitting quietly and waiting your turn while Christopher Pyne spins carefully-crafted lines of bullshit to distract from the fact he’s a clown in a suit cleverly disguised as an Education Minister.

Between them, Crabb and Jones prove that a couple of wealthy middle-aged men mocking a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl on the front page of a major newspaper aren’t the only ones looking out for you and your tiny, tiny minds. It’s something all the serious professionals in the mainstream media, no matter what their political leaning, keep in mind as they sadly shake their heads at the uniformly terrible decisions you make when trying to shape your own future.

That’s why they’ve spent the last few years calling you “slacktivists” for signing online petitions and sharing articles on Facebook instead of getting off your lasy arses and going protesting. And that’s why, now that you’ve gotten off your lazy arses and gone protesting, they’re telling you that you’re doing it wrong. It seems very confusing, I know, but once you’re over 40 and earning a certain amount it’ll all make perfect sense.

Instead of marching, Crabb suggests that we use our mad internet skillz to “paint a picture of what universities would look like if these changes get by the Senate. To explain what goes on in a young person's mind when deciding whether to go to university, and illustrate how the prospect of a commercial-grade debt might have a different effect on a poor student than on a wealthy one”.

What a wonderful idea! How did we forget about that big friendly roundtable where government and policymakers are just waiting to sit down with students and listen to their concerns with the attention and respect they deserve? Like former Education Minister Amanda Vanstone calling students “bullies and thugs” in the Herald today? I’m sure journalists at the country’s biggest newspapers and television stations will report on the findings, the same way I’m sure they’re beavering away to present well-researched and balanced articles on the reasons students are acting to safeguard their futures.

Or maybe a flashmob? We love flashmobs, am I right fellow 18-to-29 year-olds? Eh? Eh?

Honestly, I’m glad a grown-up finally came along and put us in our place. For a moment I was worried we were going to take the fight for an affordable education into our own hands and assume responsibility for continuing the defence of Australia’s social democratic consensus, warts and all. Now we can go back to our snarky Facebook posts and Change.org petitions, safe in the knowledge that even if we’re bowed under by crippling debt in the name of a perverse and morally bankrupt free-market ideology, we won’t be annoying our betters. Thank goodness the adults are back in charge.

Dadrock is the future

I know bog-all about music. I had a few guitar lessons in Year Nine, but I also played cricket for three years and somehow Michael Clarke can get a sponsorship deal with Milo and I can't, so there you go. More importantly, I never learnt where to look for good music. I grew up in a town where nightlife is a choice between two shitty clubs around the corner from each other in an abandoned shopping plaza. (One's called Altitude; one's called Down Under. One's upstairs, one's downstairs. The reviews on TripAdvisor are pretty special if you've got the time.) The only source of anything resembling good music was Triple J, which I came to rely on like a saline drip and which explains my torrid late-teens infatuation with Karnivool. 

When I moved to Sydney, though, I found the live music scene disappointing for a long time. I ticked big overseas acts like the National and Frightened Rabbit off my bucket list, but there didn't seem to be any local bands to get excited about. Triple J led me to disappointingly vanilla servings like Cloud Control, Boy and Bear and the Jezabels, and the Living End was playing every festival fifteen years after they should've stopped. 

There was also an irritating sense of respectability that seemed to infect the punters at big gigs, like everyone was watching each other. I wanted to thrash around like a mad bastard, get sweaty and doused in beer and have fun, for Christ's sake, but there was some unwritten code of etiquette that said such behaviour was not the done thing. I got tired of going to gigs where people were paying north of sixty bucks to stand and nod with their arms folded. 

Worst of all, I couldn't find any music about Sydney. Bands from places like Glasgow and Brooklyn wear their hometowns on their sleeves. Whether they're proud or nostalgic or embittered with their city, they engage with it. They tell stories about the streets they grew up on, the rivers they got drunk beside, and those sounds filter back and become part of their city in turn. The Australian music on Triple J, though, sounded like was recorded in some no-place. I was living in Sydney and listening to music that told me more about the Bowery and the suburbs of Ohio than about Marrickville. The fabled Underground Music Scene I had assumed was bursting out of every pub didn't seem to exist.

Then I started living with a guy who is five parts indie music, four parts green politics, and three parts beard. About a month ago he got me onto a Melbourne band called Dick Diver, whose latest LP, Calendar Days, was named the Guardian's best Australian album of 2013. I'd never heard of them and, going on the fact they've only got about 4,600 Likes on Facebook, neither had almost anybody else. They had songs with names like "New Start Again," "Gap Year" and "Keno"; sad, funny little songs about being bored, being poor, fucking and fucking up. 

I was hooked, and after a bit of digging on the Interwebz I realised these kinds of bands are everywhere; tiny little ragamuffin outfits playing in dive bars, putting EPs and albums out on Soundcloud and Bandcamp and charging five or ten bucks for their work. They share drummers, bassists, singers; they form and dissipate and re-form as something else just as quickly. Twerps, Royal Headache, Full Ugly, Big Dingo, Total Control, Unity Floors, the School of Radiant Living, the UV Race, the Bed Wettin' Bad Boys, the Stevens - a whole school of them, practically invisible unless you know where to look. 

Putting a name on the kind of music they make is difficult; the term "dolewave" is sometimes used, but it doesn't ring true to me somehow. For want of anything better, and because I like how it sounds, I'm going to call it Dadrock.

Dadrock is an acquired taste. It's guitar-heavy, abrasive and usually sounds like it was recorded through an old sock. The singers are aggressively atonal, and often have strong Australian accents where most bands go to lengths to iron any 'Strayan out of their vocals. The bands who play it have a common fascination with the significance of mundane things; the songs are anecdotes about going to the shops and seeing an old girlfriend, staring at the TV and having nothing to do on a Saturday night, and standing on the edge of a circle of people by yourself at a house party.

In Adelaide, Bad//Dreems are making music that explores how dull and generally fucked-up Adelaide is, to the point of it being a kind of manifesto. "Scratch the surface here and you find another world, far removed from the leafy inner suburbs. The empty jail on the edge of the city. A decade long bikie war. The Family. This is the weird murder capital. The weed capital," is how they describe the mindset behind their debut EP, Badlands, and when they sing "I am bored, I am lonely, I am scared, I'm scared" on Tomorrow Mountain, it's Adelaide they're talking about.

Old Mate are another Adelaide band who just write about the boring, crappy things that happen to them. "I got fiiiiiiiiiiiiired! And I didn't know whyyyyyyyyyy!" they sing on one song, surprisingly called I Got Fired. On The Alma, they take about five seconds to capture how fucking dreadful work drinks are: "Dudes in t-shirts and it's ten degrees/I have to get out, I have to get out". I've never been to Adelaide, but after listening to Bad//Dreems and Old Mate I can picture what it must have been like to grow up there.

Same with the gloriously-named Scott and Charlene's Wedding. After writing songs about feeling sad on the Epping Line, the guy behind it moved to New York a couple of years ago and made a whole album about being a quietly bewildered expat where your accent makes people think you're English. Sydney outfit You Beauty have made a concept album about a washed-up footy player who falls in love with a breakfast show host, and is saved from alcohol-soaked oblivion by Ray Warren in a pub.

This kind of stuff isn't everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine, but I can't help but wonder if the reason these bands don't get much attention is how unapologetically Australian they are. Not Australian in a John-Howard's-Little-Battlers kind of way, but just being who they are; young kids from the suburbs making music about stuff that happens to young kids from the suburbs. We like to forget that we're this weird little accident of a country on the wrong side of the world, with our own stories of love and boredom and confusion. We don't have to be triumphalist about that, but we shouldn't ignore it altogether.

That's why I love this music. It says more about who we are - as young people living in crappy sharehouses in the city, scrambling to pay rent, trying to get paid for what we like doing instead of pushing spreadsheets around, staring into our phones - than anything I've heard before. It's honest. 

Or I'm full of shit. Either way.