Photos by Sheldon Ang, Sheldon Ang Photography
I see an ocean of people. Waves of revellers floating on the undulating highway, looking like a tsunami with it’s wavelength stretching from one horizon to the other, splitting in the middle like an epic scene of a biblical chapter told thousands of years ago.
I see gleaming faces with cheerful smiles and laughter, perhaps reminiscing over the sanctimonious pilgrimage to the Perth Entertainment Centre in 1977, or to the divine birthplace at Beethovens Disco before some of us were around.
Hugging and handshakes are the order of the day; strangers bonding, falling into mateship deep into nightfall, while sharing the tight squeeze that no one seems to mind.
There’s a party of five on a balcony, occupied by a lady in elegant white and another in black, sipping sparklings with the gents in flannelette looking congruous in mullets, fuelling the harmless larrikinism that sparks the rowdy cheers below. A VB or two may have supercharged the mood.
Over on the main stage I see a boy who can’t be older than a pre-schooler commanding the attention of over a thousand adult revellers as they exchange rock salutes.
He takes to the stage with an invisible guitar, stroking the air to the rhythm of the pre-recorded music like a young Angus would, manifesting his five minutes of fame to his audience.
I take position at the shoulder of the road, in front of the barrier separating me from the crowd. As I photographed a family, heads flex to my left, and everyone follows suit like laughing clowns in a showground; a 15-tonner rolls down the hill at walking pace, carrying her precious cargo. The music starts evolving as the seconds tick…the thuds of the bass matching the roars, while yesterday’s breed of fans are passing the baton to new generations as mothers and fathers lift the young Bon’s on their shoulders.
They may not be the loudest band on the planet, but no one seems to mind of their obscurity as alluded by the crowd’s embrace, as if the rock gods had just landed for a once in a lifetime concert. The truck makes a pit stop in front of us for a song, and continues up the hill towards the coastal horizon, into the sunset like the ending scene of a 80’s cheesy flick. Credits may be required.
Earlier that evening, the biggest air guitar congregation in the history of our planet was enacted several kilometres up the road as 3722 revellers from all backgrounds sought a place in history, strutting their rock fantasies by mimicking the movements of a Warwick Capper lookalike, who, like the pantomime master, are controlling the crowd with military-like precision as they tickle the air, rivalling Merv Hughes’s command over the Adelaide Oval crowd.
Perth has not witnessed anything like this before, and perhaps us Perthlings will never again in our lifetime; it is incomprehensible that a first world city would shut the entire 10km stretch of a major highway for a tribute to a lead singer who had passed on 40 years earlier.
But the symbolic platform of the world’s biggest stage goes beyond the celebration of a dead legend; it is also about celebrating a multi-dimensional community, embracing mateship, enshrining equality and solidifying the solidarity. And for that, it will be remembered as the greatest party of 2020…
The evening of March 1 felt like a lifetime ago. Periodically, only a few weeks had passed.
The Highway to Hell party, a tribute to Bon Scott and AC/DC seemed like a dreamy cognition fused into a musical fantasy of unrealistic boundaries (I mean, who shuts the entire stretch of Canning Highway from Canning Bridge to Fremantle).
Covid19 was at its infancy in Australia, not many would have prophesised that the gathering of more than 10 mourners attending a funeral would be barred. No one would have imagined a marriage celebrant would represent 20% of the attendees in a wedding. As I write this, over four thousand Australians have been infected by the epidemic, with the number expected to rise exponentially in the coming days.
Indeed, it has become a “Highway to Hell”; not the kind of hell that breathes fiery excitement and skewed romanticism. Instead, the kind of hell described with ritualistic endings.
I saw a sign with the tag “Temporarily Closed” at the Raffles. A similar sign is posted at the Leopold – an iconic pub that threw the afterparty with bands like Japan’s JP/DC and Perth’s own Hells Bells, and previously hosting some of Australia’s best musicians. Every venue along the highway, where only a couple of weeks ago were the hangouts of the bold and the beautiful, the penny wise, and the strangers who you’d refer to as “mate”, are forced into solitude. The scene is repeated across Perth, the state and the entire country.
Every musician, promoter, event coordinator, stagehand, roadie, usher, photographer, music journalist and so forth are languishing the same fate.
Local, national and international acts have been postponed, or cancelled. While the international acts may be taking a break from making a good living, most of the outcomes are not so lucky. Tens of thousands of the industry workers are affected in Australia, many of whom were relying on gigs and side-hustle jobs as their sole income, and now, as the gigs are cancelled and their side-hustle jobs too; they face months without the possibility of not being able to earn a wage.
The reality is, when Australia burnt, drowned or was in drought, the music industry has been the first runner in every relay on those disastrous tracks, providing leverage to fundraising committees by sparking awareness through their performances, and subsequently raising tens of millions. The creative industry workers are known for their altruism, as alluded by their generosity for others in times of need.
So what can we do in return, when the industry has been pulled into a financial blackhole?
Consider streaming their music and purchasing their merchandise (usually the cost of a meal); maybe donating your refunds from a gig to the artist; hanging onto your tickets for a rescheduled gig; visiting Bandcamp or to your local store to ensure better royalties for the musicians; donating to charities for musicians and support staff. And if you’re a representative of a media outlet, consider supporting local artists by creating a fundraiser, and keeping their music alive by reviewing their singles, albums, and interviewing them.
Given the past and present governments have bailed out major industries and corporations on several occasions, it’d only be fitting for a similar act of gesture to be afforded to an industry that has given so much to communities in times of need.