the end

He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”

You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”

“I’ll move.”

He meets your eyes, exposed conviction in his gaze, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?


Surely he knew this was the end.

You hear the others through the open door, laughing over their share-house dinner. They know you’re both out here, they know why. Your time is up and you have to decide.

The door is open but this grip of his feels like the most intimate you’ve ever been. The weight of the simple gesture makes it real, terrifying. He waits and you can’t speak.

What did you think would happen? Maybe you hoped that when the moment finally came you’d both laugh and agree it could never work.

Or maybe you wished through the descending seasons that your heart would shed a layer and this would suddenly be right.

The question was there from the moment you met, knowing you were his type and he was yours. He took you to the old hall on campus and you stared up at the tiny stained glass windows, portraits of legendary writers. You were breathless, in awe, like he knew you would be.

His careful approach to life was a relic from his childhood, from his infamous neighbourhood and absent father perhaps. A determination to make the right decisions, avoid hurting others. This was the first commandment of his life, despite the subtle, contained wildness in him: an irresistible conflict of impulse and hesitation.

Were you completely honest with each other? Not really, not with the deeper stuff, the hidden places. You showed him most of who you were: not everything, but more than usual. The rest you dropped in hints, hoping he would catch them, hoping he would show some sign of awareness, acceptance.

But if you lost your security or your strength or your resolve or your temper it would surprise him. He would try to re-strategise, to deal with this new antagonist in you, full of tense dissatisfaction.

You didn’t want to be dealt with (even thought he didn’t mean it that way). You needed someone who would push back, who would put you in your place or be moved by your conviction or slam the door in your face or thrust you against a wall. He would be slow and considerate and that would make you push further, irrationally scratching for that true impulse, the indication that you were both alive to the same humanity.

Perhaps you’ve known all along that he couldn’t be that person. But still you wanted to be with him, to see what would emerge, hoping he would prove you wrong. All the passing seasons have faded into this inevitable parting and all you’ve thought about is this moment, forming your heart around the possibility of a future.

Perhaps it’s your fault for letting your heart go because now the memories are too real and they won’t go away, wedged in your mind, forever shadowing the years of your life.

Time is up and you have to decide, and here he is on the step with his earnest eyes telling you he’ll move, he’ll follow you, he’ll make it work, and you know he believes it.

So, you see? No one wins. Both of you cautiously following the path of possibility, neither willing to make the first mistake, and this where it ends. Surely he knew that?

But no, he never did, and for that you blame him. Now you have to be the one to admit reality, to open his eyes to the truth. You must be the one who does this awful thing and it’s not fair. You gave him your heart, you tried, and yet he still doesn’t know you, not really.

The laughter grows louder in your ears and your hand trembles in his grip, under his waiting gaze. He has broken your heart, and now you must break his.

Elise Janes

Facing Rejection Head On

Rejection silhouetteI’ve been thinking about rejection a lot lately for two reasons. First is that it was a pre-determined topic for discussion amongst us Cringers, each knowing a potential place in the Hardcopy Professional Development Program ‘Round 2 – Going Public’ was on the cards. Thirty writers. Ten places up for grabs. Second, if rejection came my way, how would I cope with, process and survive the experience?

Yes, survive.

For a long time, as I mulled on this topic (see – even now I’m distancing myself from the word, the concept, the reality)…

< Stop >

< Start again >

For a long time as I dwelled on what rejection is and what it is to be rejected, I attempted to hide my true feelings in metaphors, anecdotes, analogies.

Each resulted in a watered-down effort, underpinned by an unconscious aim to deflect shame from myself and from my work.

And after all this time, one truth remains: I cannot run from this. I cannot hide from it.

So, nervously, I stand here before you, a man rejected and owning it.

And here’s where I’m at right now, because I am by no means through the end of this experience yet and still need space and time to work it all out.

Can I start by asking, what’s your position on rejection?

Mine is clear – in a perfect world, I’m always looking back at it. That’s the best place to see rejection – in the past, as something that’s happened, an experience had and now, thankfully, left behind.

To embark on an endeavour and know that rejection may be one of the obstacles in your way is all well and good. But if I truly believed that rejection was going to come my way as I set out on any creative journey or passionate undertaking, I’d never have taken that first step.

So I ignore it, knowing that what I’m doing will surely resonate and find an audience. The quality and depth of my work will be evident to all who come across it. I pay lip service to rejection. ‘Yes I know this journey is long and hard and unforgiving at times,’ is what I say, but my inner voice speaks differently. And right at this moment alignment between the expectation of my outer and inner narratives diverge. I say reasonable things, talk about humility and modesty. It’s all for show.

That’s why the worst place to be is facing front onto to rejection right before it hits you.

Blinkered peripheral vision and rose-tinted glasses on, I never see it coming. I believe I’m immune, that there’s something about me, about my work, that separates me from everyone else.

You already know what comes next, right?

Rejection. Full-on and in my face.

Something that means the world to me wasn’t recognised as a project worthy to progress further along the development program I’ve been on. And now that path ends and I’m left to find new avenues for exploration and advancement.

As modest and humble as I’d like to be, I didn’t see it coming. I knew it was a possibility, well, no, really, I didn’t. It was a word, a connotation, something reflecting a deficiency present in others but not me.

And then it careened at breakneck speed into the middle of my life.

So, yes, looking back on rejection is always the preferable place to be. But I’m not there yet. It’s still close. It still stings and I still struggle between acceptance and bitterness.

I’m okay though. I’m still writing. I feel truckloads of passion for my novel and this setback hasn’t set me back too much at all.

Ken Ward


She balances on a knife-edge. Between tragedy and cliché.

He accuses her of vandalism as he picks chocolate from the fabric of his chair. They were the chocolates he’d given her on Valentine’s Day, the day before he confessed that his Valentine is elsewhere. She couldn’t stomach the thought of eating them and they looked close enough to dog turds when smeared into his chair.

He does not leave the house. It is Dante’s definition of hell. Proximity without intimacy.

The dog can smell her distress and cowers.

He has stopped talking to her. But the rest of the world is.
ABBA: Breaking up is hard to do.
Elton John: Turn on those sad songs, those sad songs, they say so much.
The calendar: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
She wishes it was tomorrow not today. She wants to believe in time travel so herself-in-three-years can come back and tell her-today: it’s all okay. If it is.

The Real Estate Agent’s eyes light up the moment he’s through the door. They are the fat parasites of marriage failure. They feast on the corpse. It’s the only way they get hold of such gems: the beautiful family home.

Sympathy is a killer.

She wonders about forgiveness. Forgiving him. Forgiving herself.
Maybe there is no such thing as forgiveness. Mark Twain said it was the scent the violet gives off as it is crushed beneath the boot.

Advice comes unsolicited: Let go. Move on. Make decisions. Get on with it. What is past is gone. What is past is prologue.

She reads Chekhov: it is sometimes the most insignificant people who realize happiness is found in ordinary things. She looks on her desk at ordinary things. The paper. The pen.
The prelude to her life is over. If only she could turn the page, and under the heading, Chapter One, begin to write.
About anything but him. So why does it keep coming back to him?

Jane Downing

The Rejectee’s Guide to Recovery

Despite the tact with which a rejecter will attempt to frame their delicate response, we all know it comes down to one simple fact: they don’t like your work. Maybe you’re not what they’re looking for right now, or the timing is wrong, or you’re simply not up to scratch, but the underlying point is that if they loved it, they’d take it, and they haven’t, so they don’t.

Rejection sucks because no matter what anyone says, it is personal.

So why not accept it? Take a moment for some well-deserved self-pity and emotional wallowing with the aid of a few practical tools. I give you the best five things to read, watch and listen to in the post-rejection wasteland:


  1. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The thinly veiled autobiography of writerly disillusionment offers a number of good tips for the emotionally wasted: drink absinthe in Paris, fish in the Pyrenees, drink wine in Pamplona, argue with friends, watch a bloody spectacle, run with the bulls. It’s also a nice melancholy reflection on desiring something eternally out of reach.

  • ALSO: Anything by Hemingway or Fitzgerald will have a close effect.
  1. The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto “Che” Guevara

A startlingly beautiful memoir of the fateful nine months a 23-year-old Guevara spent travelling South America. Between the gorgeous landscape and fascinating anecdotes, get worked up about social injustice and indigenous poverty. Let loose your vicarious desire to join a revolution and make this damn unfair world a better place.

  • ALSO: On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Less Than Zero and other romans à clef will serve a similar purpose.
  1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Not only is Heathcliff the best literary creation ever, you can also shelve your murderous impulses and let him take your vengeful fantasies to the extreme. Themes of obsession, possession, revenge and passionate, destructive love will make you feel righteously justified, and the gothic atmosphere will add depth to your moodiness.

  • ALSO: Jane Eyre and Rebecca for hauntings of the past; The Count of Monte Cristo for elaborately plotted revenge.
  1. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Read, with growing unease, the story of Balram Halwai’s gradual corruption as he sheds his family background to transcend poverty in a heavily caste-riven society. The message is clear and discomforting, confirming your suspicions that the only way to get ahead is to cut a few corners/throats.

  • ALSO: For atmosphere: English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. For classic rags-to-riches: Vanity Fair and Great Expectations.
  1. Carrie – Stephen King

Whether or not you’re a fan of the King, sometimes a good horror story is just necessary. He can also weave a damn good yarn and surprisingly three-dimensional characters into the gore and strangeness. A bullied adolescent girl getting hers back is satisfying on so many levels, no matter who you are.

  • ALSO: Other violent revenge tales such as True Grit, Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and of course Hamlet.


  1. Empire Records (1995)

Many 90s movies showcased the quirkiness of youth and the value (or futility) of standing up to The Man. None with such colourful aplomb as Empire Records. The characters are zany, the music fantastic, the dialogue hilarious, and the embrace-your-inner-crazy-and-refuse-to-sell-out message is charmingly encouraging. It gets better with each watch.

  1. The Big Sleep (1946)

Raymond Chandler wrote crime novels that didn’t always make sense but we forgave him because he created Philip Marlowe and invented noir. Read the book as well but the 1946 movie, with Humphrey Bogart, is a standalone classic. Be encouraged by frequent double-crossings, the latent atmosphere of disillusionment and the general shittiness of people.

  1. Django Unchained (2012)

Eccentric characters, tangled plot, memorable dialogue, and unnecessary amounts of blood. Must be Tarantino. His deft mood-changes from slapstick comedy to nail-biting rage somehow pinpoint both the endearing and horrific qualities of human nature with great authenticity. No one does revenge quite like him.

  1. On the Waterfront (1954)

Corruption narratives are so cathartic when you’ve been screwed over. Nominated for 12 Oscars, the cast and crew read like a who’s who of golden-era greats. Your fists will clench at the fate of Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy, particularly the moment he delivers that line: I coulda been a contender! And you will think: me too, buddy. Me too.

  1. Magnolia (1999) & Crash (2004)

Both movies feature brilliantly interwoven storylines with star-spangled ensemble casts delivering pivotal performances. Dark themes abound but situations manage to resolve with surprising optimism, and without too much Hollywood contrivance. Magnolia is the less crowd-pleasing of the two, and it also has Philip Seymour Hoffman.


  1. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

In this seminal album the band manage to sum up all the melancholic love, confusion and frustrated desire of every generation alive. It goes without saying that “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall” should be the first on your playlist.

  1. The Darkness – Permission to Land

The best album for air-guitaring and hair-swinging to come out of the noughties. Catchy falsetto lyrics give everyone permission to sing out of tune at the top of their lungs. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” is one of the most satisfying experiences in the universe.

  1. Ben Folds – Whatever and Ever Amen

The epitome of Ben Fold’s early work: revel in his angsty, anti-adolescent rage and insecurity with “One Angry Dwarf”, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” and the superbly appropriate “Song for the Dumped”.

  1. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

Leaving Men at Work far behind, his solo acoustic stuff is where Hay’s talent really shines. We have Zach Braff to thank for bringing him back into the light on Scrubs. Do not miss “Beautiful World”, an acoustic cover of “Overkill”, or “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin”.

  1. Rock of Ages Soundtrack – Various

Yeah it’s a compilation but there’s something about cheesy 80s rock that just feels so good when you’re pissed off. This collection features the full range from “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.

So after enjoying the vicarious fulfillment of your emotional frustrations, take a moment to reflect. All of this incredible art came from people who felt just as shitty as you at some point in their lives. And if they can make the proverbial lemonade out of rejection’s lemons, then why can’t you?

Elise Janes

Share with us! Suggest your own artistic rejection-remedy in the comments below.

‘An Untamed State’ by Roxane Gay – Review

cover_untamed_stateAt first, I didn’t want to review An Untamed State, the debut novel by Roxane Gay, because I found it highly disturbing. And yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The novel begins when Mireille, a Haitian-American woman from a privileged family, travels to Haiti and is kidnapped. Her father refuses to pay her ransom, knowing that this could herald the destruction of the fortune he’s taken a lifetime to accumulate. In retaliation, her captors — men from poorer backgrounds — lock her in a small room, torment her and repeatedly rape her. Mireille forces herself to remain strong until she is finally released. She then faces the challenge of re-learning to live her old life and coming to terms with her experience.

One of the most distressing aspects of this novel is reading the details of the violence perpetrated against Mireille. This is in contrast to an essay Gay wrote about her own experience being gang-raped, in which she simply states: ‘They kept me there for hours. It was as bad as you might expect. The repercussions linger.’ In An Untamed State, Gay doesn’t spare the reader the horrific details of Mireille’s experience in captivity — the knives, the gang-rape, the cruel manipulation of her hope. Reviewers have questioned whether this detailed depiction of violence is necessary, with some suggesting it forces readers to become complicit in the brutality. Yet in my opinion readers need to understand what Mireille has gone through if they are to comprehend the strength it takes to rebuild her life. This is the focus of the second half of the novel, told largely through Mireille’s perspective as she begins the gradual journey from a ‘no one’ who is ‘already dead’, back to a mother and a wife and a daughter who can find ways of living with her past.

The novel also pushes readers to consider the extreme inequalities between rich and poor, both in Haiti and in the world as a whole. Mireille’s family live in a mansion, separated from the Haitian poor by thick walls. Her kidnappers, by contrast, live in slums where garbage covers the streets and it’s unsafe for women to walk alone. The book does not allow the kidnappers’ poverty to excuse their sadistic behaviour, yet the conversations between Mireille and her kidnappers do highlight the vastly different opportunities available to them. One of them ‘buys’ her from the other kidnappers so they will leave her for him. He tells her he watches rich women from a distance, with their elegant clothes and perfumes. ‘It’s like the shit of this place doesn’t touch you.’

For me, this book was confronting in part because I’ve been one of those ‘rich women’, working in highly disadvantaged countries including Haiti, living behind big walls and paying other people to cook my meals. I’ve read a lot of books about countries beset by extreme inequality, and few have marked me quite as much as this one. The gripping narrative, believable characters and unflinching depiction of difficult issues make this an unsettling novel, but also one that is insightful, powerful and highly relevant to the world today.

Four stars   

An Untamed State is published by Grove Atlantic.

Penny Jones

Reject-Me-Nots for Writers: How to Get and Give Rejection Letters

bath time

We all deal with rejection in our own way — take a bath or have a good cry. Source: National Library of Australia (

Like most writers, I’ve had my fair share of “de-successings”, “thanks but no thanks” and “if you continue to send your work to us we will release the hounds” letters. Part of ‘getting your work out there’ is that often it gets bounced back to you, but it makes it all the more satisfying when a reader/editor/intern actually ‘gets’ your work.

To paraphrase one of my favourite rejection letters – their opinions are learned but also subjective. Your work can fall on their desk at exactly the wrong time, be in the middle of a lump of stories on the exact same subject or just be the piece that’s read before an editor has a cup of coffee. Don’t take it personally because there are a thousand decisions between your submission and publication. Some writers develop such strong relationships with their work that a rejection letter hurts like getting dumped.

So like a good break-up, a good rejection letter is clear and concise but respectful. The worst rejection letter I got back in the days of snail mail was a slip of paper that was one line — “Thanks, but we have no use for your work at this time”. It had been torn using a ruler. They’d been too cheap to blow a whole piece of A4 paper and had just torn off several strips — probably with the same handwritten line. It was as flattering as being dumped by SMS.

Conciseness is key. A friend of mine received a bulk email that apologised for the bulk email then rambled on about how incredibly busy the editors had been —before finally getting to the point. My friend summarised it as: “Well then, faceless hordes, you’re rejected!”

No-one’s expecting a personal reply. But personalising the process a little can help the egos of writers. At Cardigan Press when we sent out rejection letters we had a not-quite list to whom we gave some general feedback with a few common reasons why they hadn’t been selected. Telling people how many submissions you got can be a good way to put things in perspective. At Cardigan we once got an email back saying it was the nicest rejection letter someone had ever received.

For writers, any feedback should be good news. If an editor gives any feedback writers should gobble it up greedily and use it to improve the piece. Editors are busy folk with very little time so if they invest a second giving you feedback then it’s because they gave a good goddamn for your piece and want to develop you as a writer. Take any feedback as a compliment.

But if you’re still smarting from a rejection letter try the counter rejection. It’s a cathartic experience, and even if you never send it, writing a rejection letter to the publication that rejected you allows you both to move on. Here’s a template:

 Dear Sir/Madam (I’m far too busy and important to take in your name or gender)

 Thanks for your rejection letter. Unfortunately at this time I’m unable to accept your rejection letter.

I receive several rejection letters regularly and whilst your rejection letter was of a particularly high standard, I’m limited by the number of rejection letters I can receive. So while I encourage you to continue sending rejection letters, I won’t be able to accept yours at the present time.

Instead I’ll be going around inserting my piece into your publication at various retailers using specially purchased industrial glue. I’ll also be visiting the homes of leading reviewers to interrupt their reading of your title by megaphoning in their ears “We was robbed”.

 Please be assured that I won’t stop, short of legal action or violence against your pets as deemed appropriate by myself and the other judges of rejection letters (who are also sought by authorities in connection with several unresolved crime novels).

 Thanks for your time,


George Dunford   

Reject-me-nots was first published in March 2014 on George Dunford’s website.   

Unnatural Selection

Melbourne Cup‘ The race that stops a nation.’ It’s a big claim by Racing Victoria, but is it really true?

Since its inception, and not even halted by two World Wars, the Melbourne Cup has been embraced with increasing gusto by every generation of Australians. But at some point during the 70s and 80s — when work was just a place you visited five days a week to fill in time and lunches were spent downing beers at the local pub — our attitude to (and love of) the race began a slow transformation into something much uglier.

Those heady decades leading up to Black Monday were a time of enormous wealth generated largely by a booming resource industry; a time when entrepreneurs like Alan Bond were showing the rest of us how they lived large in the ‘wild West’. A precedent was set and celebrating the Melbourne Cup ever more excessively became the new Australian way, the thing to do, iconic and culturally fitting.

Then, on the first Tuesday of each November, offices around the country would close for business from mid-morning. Old box televisions were wheeled into board rooms, canapés and flutes of French champagne were passed around with largesse by ruddy-faced directors, and there were always at least five sweeps on the go in any one place, giving every tipsy worker a fair chance of scooping enough cash with which to celebrate later. For those few hours, corporate tiers were torn down, bosses mingling (usually in more ways than one) with employees, the reception desk abandoned and the switchboard turned off — all for the sake of a three-minute horse race. What other nation on earth would dare to slow its production wheels for such a silly thing?

But if the race managed to grind too-rich corporations to a halt, there were plenty of industries that didn’t — couldn’t — stop to partake: teachers, doctors and nurses, emergency services, transport workers and the like. The adage that the Melbourne Cup ‘stops a nation’ didn’t then — and doesn’t now — bear scrutiny. How could it? But it’s a great marketing gimmick, and one that Racing Victoria clings to.

Even the most extreme measure taken by Victoria — declaring Melbourne Cup day a public holiday — hasn’t proved the claim true. In a number of regional centres it’s business as usual; they celebrate their own spring racing carnivals (Kyneton Cup) and they’ll take their holiday when it suits, thank you very much. Most Melburnians decide, since Tuesday’s already a holiday, they might as well bunk off on the Monday off too, so it becomes the longest of long weekends. A chance to get away. Race? What race? And for those Victorians who do give a damn; who plan a modest get-together of their own — the men tapping in online bets and beering it up around the BBQ while, in the kitchen (yes, even in 2014), women peel cling film from bowls of salads and supervise hordes of children — it no longer holds the same appeal. Because, just as it’s been for the last 40 years, celebrating the Melbourne Cup isn’t about watching a race. It’s about over-indulging and skiving off work. And when you’re already off work, what’s left to celebrate?

Flemington_main_stand,_2013_Melbourne_Cup (1)

Flemington main stand, 2013 Melbourne Cup by Jupiter Firelyte via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, unless we ignore the race altogether, what else can Victorians do except attend the bloody thing?

So we do. In droves. Every year the numbers increase (over 104,000 in 2013) and one could be forgiven for thinking the enforced holiday nothing more than a clever money-spinning ploy. But there’s no denying that for many who frock up and flock to Flemington for the big day (or the whole week: 331,196 last year), the Melbourne Cup remains a high point on the social calendar. And it celebrates everything that’s wonderful, as well as all that is truly awful, about our society.

It’s about selection – the fastest horses, the best-dressed race-goers, the most expensive foods and wines, the most coveted of tents — the rich, the powerful, celebrities and dignitaries alike, all choppered and chauffeured to the track and separated by affordability and popularity from the untidy masses who collect on the concourse. It’s as much about selection as it is about rejection, and it isn’t hailed ‘the sport of kings’ for nothing. Charles Darwin, if he were alive today, might be more than a little bemused by the spectacle.

Because there’s nothing natural about the Melbourne Cup. It has become a day of wanton excess. A day where twenty-four of the world’s most thoroughly-bred and genetically engineered horses compete for brief accolade, and their owners and trainers compete for huge prize-money.


2013 Myer Fashions on the Field by Chris Phutully via Wikimedia Commons

It’s about breeding, and not just on the track. It’s about who’s-who and what’s-what and where to be as well as how best to be seen. It’s about gambling, about squandering that last fiver or throwing down another five hundred — because let’s face it, so many there can afford to — on a whispered tip. It’s a day that heralds every extravagance and every hope and every desperate dream. It’s a race that’s less about the majesty of the horse — its power, its grace, its extraordinary stamina — or the skill of the jockey, and more about a multi billion-dollar industry.

While it can be argued that the Melbourne Cup generates huge profits for all involved in organising and running the event (no, they don’t ‘stop’ either) and helps fill government coffers, it’s not all pretty.


2007 Melbourne Cup race day – English import Bay Story put down after crash with Bling Bling in Race 3. Via Brisbane Times

It’s been impossible (for me, at least) to find any records stating the exact number of horses that have had to be euthanased as a result of injuries sustained on Melbourne Cup race day. Racing Victoria guards such statistics zealously. And this year, much has been made of the legal wrangle between the racing industry and The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, when the latter erected a billboard depicting a dead racehorse over one of Melbourne’s busiest tollways. (It’s since been removed). Add to this any number of horror stories about what happens to these magnificent animals once their use — their money-raking days — are over.

melbourne-cup-2009 -3But there are other horror stories too, the derisive kind, those that mock ridiculous fashion and excessive drinking and spending, and next-day’s tabloids are filled with pictures of the plastered and the poorly attired and all the mess they’ve left behind. And for us Melburnians who have ignored it — who’ve escaped the city and are returning from our long long-weekend — there’s the after-race spectacle to endure as dishevelled, panda-eyed girls totter and weave their way home, while already drunk race-goers decide it’d be a ‘great idea, mate!’ to continue their carousing, crowding pubs and clubs before vomiting and defecating on street corners. Yep, it’s a glorious day for all.

So wherever you are tomorrow, if you’re watching, make sure you savour every second of those three minutes. After all, ‘the race that stops a nation’ is the real reason you’re there. Isn’t it?

Jane Abbott   

Music Festivals: Life After 22

Mark C Austin crowd surfing

Mark C Austin, shared under a Creative Commons license.

Some of my finest memories from my university days involve music festivals. I recall with great fondness queuing for hours to see Kraftwerk and Underworld at the Big Day Out in 2003. There is even a special place in my heart for the time I got dropped crowd surfing to Regurgitator, and ended up in the Emergency Ward with a suspected back injury.

Music festivals are one of the best ways to catch a wide range of musicians in a short timeframe, and discover artists you didn’t already know about. But by the time you’re in your late 20s, having beer spilled on you by girls in tiger onesies and dodging teenagers sucking each other’s faces next to the Portaloos can get a bit old. The Big Day Out’s owners have figured this out — their middle-aged fans are moving on, and younger audiences want something new, so they’ve cancelled the festival for 2015.

For those of you who still like the idea of music festivals, but don’t want to rub up against hundreds of sweaty, drunk teenagers crammed in front of a stage, the key to happiness is to choose your festivals wisely. Here are some tried and tested festivals that hold up when you’re over 22 and (more or less) sober.

  1. Folk, Rhythm & Life (5 to 7 December 2014, rural Victoria)

This is your hippie festival extraordinare, where you camp in the bush, wash in the creek and mingle with cheerful, dusty people from all over south-eastern Ausralia. The ethos is egalitarian and environmentally responsible — and the music is great. Folk, Rhythm & Life gets some moderately big names (we had Mia Dyson in 2012), but one of the best things about this festival is discovering local Australian musicians you never knew about before, and dancing barefoot until morning. A tip about this festival — it’s very popular with those who know it exists, and numbers are limited, so you need to book quickly to avoid missing out.

  1. WOMADelaide (6 to 9 March 2015, Adelaide)

A world music festival set in Adelaide’s Botanic Park, a short walk from the centre of town, WOMAD attracts a broad cross-section of music lovers. From the sweaty twenty-somethings dancing right in front of the stage to the stoned baby boomers relaxing under the trees, everyone is welcome, and everyone gets along. WOMAD also earns double points for disability accessibility, with viewing platforms for wheelchair users so they can see the stage over everyone else’s heads. And did I mention that the music is amazing? The 2015 lineup includes blues musician Bombino, hip-hop artist Neneh Cherry, Senegalese music legend Youssou N’Dour — and many others.

  1. National Folk Festival (2 to 6 April 2015, Canberra)

I go to this festival nearly every year, because I love the friendly atmosphere and the diversity of the music. You’ll find musicians from all over the world, from Sydney-based string quartets to banjo gurus from the USA. A crowd favourite at the 2014 Folk Festival was Indigenous singer-songwriter Archie Roach. At last year’s festival I also discovered one of my favourite musicians of 2014 — Candy Royalle, who commandeered the poetry slam, then packed out a full house to perform her spoken word poetry mixed with hip-hop inspired politics. Friends also rave about the Session Bar, where all the musicians gather after hours to jam until morning, but I have to confess I’m such a nana that I’ve never managed to stay up that late.

These three festivals are my favourites, but there are more. Elise Janes, my fellow Cringe blogger and former Big Day Out attendee, insisted that I must also include a mention of the Woodford Folk Festival. At Woodford, held on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, folk and roots musicians and other artists perform for highly diverse audiences, and Indigenous cultures are celebrated. This year’s festival will be held from 27 December to 1 January 2015. Elise also reminded me that Bluesfest is another favourite for grownups, causing an annual pilgrimage of national and international blues and roots musicians and their fans to Byron Bay. The next Bluesfest will be held from 2 to 6 April 2015.

So if your patience for wading through vomit has waned with age, don’t despair. This summer has plenty of music festivals for you.

Penny Jones