Atomic Bomb: Week 201

Atomic Bomb

William Onyeabor is a Nigerian synth pioneer that was, “responsible for some of the most searing Afro-funk and space-age jams you’re ever likely to hear.” The majority of his music was released in the early eighties and shortly thereafter he turned born-again Christian and refused to speak about himself or his music.

Almost thirty years later, a group of musicians from the US are keeping the groove alive with a Sydney showing of Atomic Bomb at the Enmore Theatre. The core group is composed of Sinkane, Money Mark, Luke Jenner, Pat Mahoney, and Pharoah Sanders whose shirt glowed under the stage lights like a purple velvet oil slick. Sanders, a Grammy winning jazz saxophonist, is pushing seventy-five but not afraid to drop low when caught in the grips of a good beat.


Then there were the special guests, the Mahotella Queens. The South African vocal group entered the stage wearing bright red shirts, white skirts and a large red hat with their country’s flag. Two of the singers were members of the original lineup from the 1960s while Amanda Nkosi was the newest member. She was the only one young enough to do a high kick, but that just meant she’s spent less time on this planet perfecting her swagger- and the Mahotella Queens had some serious swagger and some serious voices.

As this was an Australian show, Gotye was on board as a guest singer and he killed it! His vocals were rich and there was something about his lanky, mellow demeanor that just fit the vibe of the music.


Since I came to know you baybyyyyyy,

I’ve been telling you how sweet you are.

I’ve been telling you how good you are.

Now I want you try to tell me how I look.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me. 

Please tell me how I look.

<Mahotella Queens>

You loooooooooook so good.

Fantastic man!

Towards the end of the show Sinkane, wearing a slim-cut two piece suit and wide brim hat, came out from behind his keyboards and got the entire audience to get low. It was not an easy position to maintain and just before my thighs burst, we all rose back up together and jumped up and down to the music and to relief. Hanging above the stage was a projection screen with a recording of a woman dancing on roller skates.

William Onyeabor might not appreciate his music anymore, but it was pretty obvious to the crowd that the only downside to Atomic Bomb was the length of the show. We wanted a million more encores.

About: William Onyeabor

About: Atomic Bomb

How to get to the Enmore Theatre: 130 Enmore Road, Enmore

Darling Quarter Night Owls: Week 200

Film still from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Darling Quarter Night Owls, Sydney

There are no shortages of outdoor film screenings in Sydney during the summer. They run the gamut from contemporary blockbusters to classics and you probably couldn’t throw a stone without hitting someone stuffing their mouth with popcorn. (Actually, make that ice cream- Aussies love to eat ice cream at the cinema.)

Most screenings are ticketed, but I found one called the Darling Quarter Night Owls that is completely free. Each late afternoon showing begins with a short film and is then followed by a children’s movie. Around 8pm, when the sun has set ans the kids turned in, there is a classic film. The one I was most interested in was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

While I enjoy a free film as much as the next person, the location next to a busy sidewalk meant it was hard to hear the audio. Also, since the movie wasn’t being projected, the blindingly bright LED screen that worked well during the late afternoon was a bit much in the evening. I could have comfortably worn a pair of sunglasses. My friend Jess must have felt the same way because she closed her eyes and fell asleep halfway through.

The movie variety for the entire program was good, but I think this is one film festival that’s best left to the kids.

About: The Darling Quarter Night Owls

Australian National Maritime Museum: Week 199

Stern of the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I have been working on a graphic novel together and when I decided a few chapters would take place on a ship, I realized that I don’t know very much at all about life at sea. It also didn’t help that the kind of visual information I needed was very specific and very elusive.

At Barret’s suggestion I made a research appointment at the library of the Australian National Maritime Museum and mentioned to the librarian in advance that I was researching diagrams for a 300-tonne merchant ship from the 1820s. While she did not find info on that specific kind of ship, she had pulled a lot of great material for me. I was very happy with the information, but I was still having a hard time visualizing what that kind of ship looked like.

How did people move through it? How was it set up? What was the scale of the interior? If I wasn’t sure about these answers, how could I write the storyline and how would Barret be able to illustrate it?

While a library is a great place to start a project, sometimes the only way to nut things out is to get into the field. That’s why I went back a few days later to visit the tall ships at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Crew's hammocks aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

The one I was most interested in, the HMB Endeavour, is also one of the most historically accurate maritime vessels. It is set up as if the crew had just anchored and gone ashore. While the ship predates the period I was researching by about 50 years, there was still a lot to gain from walking the deck and through the confined quarters.

One of the things that struck me was just how much rope was needed to operate the ship. It draped around every protrusion on the deck and I imagine it presented quite a tricky work environment- especially in bad weather. Being from the digital age, it was quite easy to romanticize this kind of travel when viewing the ship in the calm waters of Darling Harbour.

Crew's toilet aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

However, once you look a little bit closer you notice things like the crew’s toilet. I’m not sure if there was another located within the ship, but the one at the bow of the deck was a wooden platform with a hole. Aside from absolutely no privacy, a shared tasseled rope served in place of toilet paper.

Then, with the help of the stationed tour guides, you come to realize the things that would be impossible to accurately recreate: the sweaty stench of a 56-strong crew, the rudimentary healthcare, and the disappointing taste of stale food and stale water.

The crew of the HMAS Vampire, an Australian destroyer ship commissioned in 1959, might not have contended with the same issues as the crew of the Endeavour, but it feels a bit different to romanticize about laminate tables and commissaries stocked with Crunchie Nuggets and Dunhill cigarettes.

Mural inside the dining room of the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

Officer's dining room aboard the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

The surfaced HMAS Onslow inside the Darling Harbour: Sydney, Australia

When it came to the HMAS Onslow, a submarine commissioned in 1969, the first thing a visitor noticed when stepping aboard was the lack of space. Bunk beds lined the hall and the lowest bed looked more suited to store shoes than a sleeping man.

Officer's quarters on the HMAS Onslow: Sydney, Australia

The quarters of the ranking officers were not much to get excited over, unless of course you were sleeping on one of the aforementioned bunk beds. The one thought that kept crossing my mind was how much work it would have taken to draft the construction plans- every square inch of space had to be accounted for.

The Captain's bathroom on the James Craig: Sydney, Australia

The other thought that crossed my mind was that I’d much rather deal with rats and damp bedding than with the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. Especially if I could have a bathroom like those of a Captain’s wife (circa 1874).

Operation room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

After viewing the utilitarian style of 1768 and the 1960s, it’s easy to see why the HMB Endeavour captures people’s hearts- the creaking floorboards, the skylights, the excitement of traveling by the whim of nature. Paying passengers today can even sail aboard it to places like Tasmania.

You just don’t feel the exhilaration of being out at sea inside the Bat Cave of the HMAS Vampire. Seeing the inside of the operation room also made me glad that I am not writing a military thriller- you really need to have a background in the Navy to even begin to understand the complex operations on board a ship like that. I’ll stick to describing poop platforms and toilet paper tassels.

Operation Room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

How to get to the Australian National Maritime Museum: Darling Harbour- 2 Murray Street, Sydney 2000

About: The HMB Endeavour

About: The HMAS Vampire

About: The HMAS Onslow

Sri Venkateswara Temple: Week 198

Detail from the main entrance of the Sri Venkateswara Temple: Helensburgh, Australia

The site in Helensburgh was declared divine because, “it is said the gods always play where groves are, near rivers, mountains, and springs and in towns with pleasure-gardens.” – Brihatsamhita

In the late morning light, the gleaming white surfaces of the Sri Venkateswara Temple glowed bright and stark against the surrounding forest. Barefoot worshipers and tourists scrambled across the hot marble terrace.  They posed for photos in front of the towering main entrance and retreated inside when their feet began to burn. Across the way, in the shade of eucalypts, visitors placed their shoes on tiered wooden racks. Sulphur-crested cockatoos shrieked in the highest branches overlooking the small northern gardens.

Courtyard of Sri Venkateswara Temple: Helensburgh, Australia

Barret, Shweta, Bryan and I followed the steady flow of people from the hot courtyard into the cool hallway where the dense aroma of incense hung in the air. Although Barret and I had never been in a Hindu temple before, there was something very familiar and comforting in that scent. It reminds me of cluttered Catholic churches in Dublin and the ash-covered shrines in Macau.

Inside the Sri Venkateswara Temple were shirtless priests with gold necklaces and bright cloths wrapped around their waists. They assisted worshipers with certain poojas (prayer rituals) and, when not called upon, performed their own duties or relaxed on benches scattered throughout the building.

Postcard from the Sri Venkateswara Temple shop: Helensburgh, Australia

Outside the main hall was a chart that listed the various costs of priest-assisted poojas. Depending on who one prayed to, the benefits ranged from ‘considerate improvement in education’ to ‘eventuate auspiciousness and/or to accomplish righteous things.’ Every church has their way of collecting funds from their worshipers, but there was something about this chart that reminded me of a home-improvement project and the priests flitting about the temple were helpful associates at a hardware store.

My friend Shweta wanted to perform an Archana pooja for Lord Vishnu. Archana is a shorter pooja in which the names of one’s family are recited for blessings. The four of us went up together and Shweta gave a metal bowl filled with fruit, holy basil, flowers and incense to a priest who had been seated against the wall. He asked for our names and began to chant.

At the end we cupped our hands to waft the smoke of burning incense over our face and then the priest poured a small amount of sweet water into our hands for us to drink. He pointed out two pots of sandalwood paste for us to use for the tilaka. However when Barret and I hesitated, he stepped towards us to put a tan dot on our forehead and followed it with a scarlet one.View from Stanwell Tops: Australia

It’d been awhile since the last time Shweta visited the Sri Venkateswara Temple, but she fondly remembered one of the most beautiful places to visit afterwards- Stanwell Tops. We were sitting on the grassy bank that overlooked the beautiful coastline when I noticed a family that I’d seen at the temple.

Varahamihira, the author of the Brihatsamhita, was also an astronomer and mathematician who discovered some of the trigonometric formulas I studied in school. Given his talent and numerous contributions to the court of the legendary ruler Yashodharman Vikramaditya, I think it’s safe to say that Varahamihira knew what he was talking about when he described the kind of land that gods love to play in. The Sri Venkateswara Temple could not have been built in a more heavenly environment.

Barret outside the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Helensburgh: Australia

How to get to the Sri Venkateswara Temple: Take the train from Central Station to Wollongong and get off at Helensburgh Railway Station. From there it is about 2 km to the temple. Buses leave from Helensburgh Railway Station every hour from 9.00 am till 4.00 pm.

Callala & Kiama Beach: Week 197

Walkway to Callala Beach: Jervis Bay, Australia

One of the first things I notice as we walk down the beach is the hermit crabs. They pop up from the white sand and retreat with the tide, head over heels, back into the ocean. All down Callala Beach, hundreds of crabs somersault back into the ocean.Hermit crab on Callala Beach: Jervis Bay, Australia

Close to shore, in the waters of Jervis Bay, a chartered tourist boat motors around in circles. A young couple from the UK kayaks out in front of them to get a better view. The boat maneuvers around the kayak and the tourists on board continue photographing a pod of dancing dolphins.

The sun is high and my hair is a teased pouf of sea spray and sand. Barret suggests I wrap my towel around my waist to keep from getting sunburnt. It is a good idea, but perhaps too late already. Barret and I walk back to the small sandy parking lot where a mom is loading her kids in the car.

“Mom,” her son gleefully declares. “Remember that time you said the s-word?”

Mom looks exasperated. “Yes. And every time you remind me, you lose an ice cream.”Shore of Kiama Beach, NSW: Australia

Heading back to Sydney, the drive winds north through eucalpyt forests and small towns with busy cafes. Barret and I stop in Kiama for dinner. One of the only restaurants open on a late Sunday afternoon has large, open windows to catch the sea breeze and the sounds of two pink cockatoos. There is a guy upstairs playing an acoustic guitar.

Boy cliff jumping in Kiama, NSW: Australia

After dinner we walk along the coast to the lighthouse. There is a blowhole nearby, but the tide is out and there’s nothing to see but jagged lunar rocks. Before we continue driving Barret decides to jump into the ocean one last time. I sit in the shade of the surf club building; the sunburn on my legs is starting to show.

Fishing wharf in Kiama, NSW: Australia

About: Jervis Bay

About: Kiama

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