Rule 1 of doing anything: Under promise and over deliver. Well I fucked that one up, but here it is anyway, a day later than anticipated: Weekend at Bernie’s- Part 2!
As I’m not AMC or HBO and do not have the luxury of a “Previously on…” recall, you’ll just have to go back to the last paragraph on Part 1 or rely on your alcohol-beaten memories to fill in the gaps.
We left off in Bangalow, and from there we drove to Eltham- a tiny village between Lismore and Byron Bay. The village is known for the Eltham Hotel and the abandoned railway line and cottage- which the local community are to this day trying to save and keep as part of the historic streetscape.
Concerns for the area by Lismore Council are due to an elevated level of toxic substances such as lead and arsenic, but the community are hoping that they can come to a conclusion that suits both the environmental and historical arguments for keeping the cottage.
It’s no surprise either that they want to keep it. It really is a beautiful throwback to a time over one-hundred years ago where Eltham would have been a bustling railway village with the hotel (est 1902) being the perfect spot for weary train workers to rest and wet one’s whistle.
The architecture and general scene is fascinating to me. The buildings are reminiscent of 19th century ‘Wild West’ with a saloon style that wouldn’t be out of place in 1850s Texas, but instead of cacti it’s surrounded by palm trees! The railway however, sends me straight back to the UK. Huge iron and wood beams with heavy bolts still look as solid as they would have been a century prior, and you can imagine the workers hauling these massive pieces of metal with equipment much, much inferior to what we have now. The work would have been long, tiresome and all of that in the blistering Australian heat.
Bernard was again, very knowledgeable about the construction and the history behind it. He showed me small parts of history I would have missed without him, like the old trollies that people would have used to shift their heavy luggage that sat outside the local gallery as decoration. He was even brave enough to venture into the middle of the bridge, which had foot-width gaps between each beam that stood a good height above the river below- I passed on his invitation to join him on that occasion.
With a sense of self-depreciating irony, Bernard scoffs and spits at eccentricity when the word is mentioned. His feigned distaste for the bohemians and self-proclaimed hippies in his musical social circle are all part of his charm and likeability.
Whilst it’s true, Bernard’s interest in the unconventional surpasses that of most
normal boring folk, it’s also this varied and open approach to life that helps to fuel his creativity. As well as being a talented writer (my Dad once told me that a black comedy Bernard wrote was to this day the funniest thing he has ever read), he is also an incredible musician.
We started the evening at his friend Merella’s, who lives in an enchanting, almost mystical home decorated with an array of head-turning ornaments and off-centre crafts. I was lucky enough to stay here and I can tell you the creativity is swimming in the air from the surrounding nature to the tiniest details of the decor. At times I felt like I was in a different time period, this was compounded when I woke up to a jazz track that sounded like it belonged to a time 70 years earlier, but soon learned that it was in fact recorded in 2016 and written by none other than Merella herself!
It was my time with the musicians that reinforced to me what travelling is all about. It’s not all about sights and cities and trying to hop on 100 busses to take a few pictures and go back to a hotel, it’s about meeting the people, understanding and experiencing the local culture. I was sitting in someone’s home with Bernard for a few hours while they jammed in a garage that had been converted into a home recording studio- fully decked out with sound proofing and more guitars than I could count and I felt very lucky to have been allowed to view this world.
The creativity in the group was vast and varied from guitarists, writers, singers, drummers, bass-players, trombonists and many more, but there is no pretentiousness, no superiority or any judgement. Everybody can contribute as much or as little as they like, but everything sounds fantastic.
I ended the night looking up at the stars, as there are more here without any light pollution than I have ever seen in my life. The moon was huge, poking its way through the clouds and it gives you a sense of how simple and easy life can be when the music is flowing in full force, but you can step outside and be surrounded by complete silence.
After the attack on the senses that was Eltham, Lismore is much more of a reality check on the surface, but if you know where to look (and Bernard certainly does), then there is a lot more than meets the eye.
Taking the detour through the town, he showed me the back alleys that are filled with stunning pieces of street art and graffiti, ranging from the extraordinarily detailed (left) to crude imitations of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.
Then on the outskirts of town, he drives me down a long county road, slowing down as we approach eucalyptus trees to see if we could spot a koala in the wild- which we did…twice! As cute as they are, koalas are a lot like teenagers- they only really sleep and tend to wake up to eat and get high. I initially wondered whether koalas were related to sloths because of how slow-moving and casual they are, but it turns out they’re not even close. That got me thinking about pandas and again…nope, absolutely no relation. Know what they are related to though? Kangaroos and wombats! Yup, as marsupials, koala bears are in no way related to bears or similar lazy tree-dwelling animals, but are closer to 6-foot kick-boxers with 24-pack abs- go figure!
It really was a fascinating couple of days. I learned so much, experienced some truly amazing people and had my world view broadened. I want to thank all of the people I met while I was travelling with Bernard for their hospitality, sharing their stories with me and teaching me new things. This is especially true for Bernard, who took the time to show me around and brought me into his close-knit circle.
As a last word, I wanted to sum-up the influence of Bernard in a final anecdote.
Bernard took me to one of his favourite haunts- the junkyard. As we are walking around this place where everything looks (to the untrained eye) like, well…unwanted shit and broken stuff. I see a few things that bring back nostalgia and have a rummage through the books for a gem, but I see nothing I feel like giving anybody any sort of money for.
Bernard on the other hand has a trolley full of crap that looks about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Then I rejoin him and he excitably proceeds to go through what he’s got in his trolley.
“See this?” He gestures to a bottle of brake fluid. “I need this- $40 this costs from a shop- almost full and someone has chucked it.”
He then shows me a several other items including a damaged whipper-snipper. “Perfect working order, good quality brand and the electrics are good. It just needs minor repair.”
“How much could you sell it for?”
“At least $50.”
He walks out with a whipper-snipper, a cast-iron pot, tins of grease, brake fluid and various other items piled up in this trolley. Everything either saving him or making him money.
“How much do you think for this lot?” He asks the guy at the counter.
“I don’t know, Bernard. What do you reckon?”
“What about $15?”
Bernard walks out of the junkyard with a boot full of shit that anybody else would consider trash, but for Bernard they range from useful to valuable because of his knowledge and ability to fix almost anything. He’s practically robbed them, because of his understanding of how things work, what good quality and true value is. I feel like we have lost this as a generation, but it made me realise just how wasteful we are and how the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” holds true.
The best part? When he showed me an invoice from an auction worth $190.00 for a lawnmower he fixed and someone bid on and won.
“How much did you pay for it?” I asked.
“$5.00” He smirked.
That’s a 3700% profit.
Thank you for reading.
Goodbye my lovers, goodbye my friends.