Lull City: The Wollongong Music Scene 1955-2020
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Last Day of School
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The Wollongong music scene is now well and truly on the map, thanks to Hockey Dad, the Yours and Owls Festival and the Farmer and the Owl label. They spearheaded a golden age for the local scene, where people outside Wollongong finally realised what was going on in the coastal town an hour south of Sydney. But this wasn’t the first high point for the local scene, which stretches back to the mid-1950s. While focusing on the path of the current golden age, Lull City goes back identifies three other high points for the city’s music scene. Along the way he uncovers stories like the riot outside the Oxford Tavern, the Rolling Stones playing Berkeley and how the Wollongong Council corruption scandal helped signal the end of Rad Bar.
An excerpt from Lull City
It doesn’t take long to drive through Windang, a suburb huddled on a peninsula jutting into Lake Illawarra. And that’s what most people do, drive past and onto the bridge that links Wollongong to the suburbs of Shellharbour. Following the six-lane road that cuts through the centre of the Windang, from its northern end to the bridge over the lake will take you less than two minutes. Maybe longer if you get held up at one of the two sets of traffic lights in the CBD.
That CBD includes a few takeaway food places and cafes, an “express” (ie small) supermarket, a bottle shop, tattoo parlour and the Computer Town store that locals of a certain vintage will always remember because of its jingle (a jingle that has been mentioned in a number of Hockey Dad stories even though it’s doubtful some of the authors have ever heard it). Behind the main drag there is a handful of streets full of houses.
The feel of the place is more like a sleepy coastal town where you went for summer holidays as a kid than a suburb of a major regional city. And that’s evidenced by the presence of a bait and tackle shop in the main street.
Like a number of suburbs in Wollongong, there’s an Indigenous influence in the name Windang. It comes from an Aboriginal word meaning “place of a fight”. Though, these days it’s hard to see just who would be doing the fighting, given the suburb’s population skews heavily towards the over-60s (thanks to the two retirement villages). Seniors make up 41 per cent of the suburb’s population of 2656, according to the 2016 Census, while those 19 and under account for just 17 per cent.
Which probably goes some way to explaining how the age gap between the two members of Hockey Dad, which put Stephenson two grades ahead of Fleming at school, was never an issue. With relatively few young people, kids couldn’t afford to be picky about hanging out with someone who wasn’t their own age.
“We had a bunch of mates who were older than us by far,” Fleming said. “So when I got into Year Seven, Zach was in Year Nine and we had mates who were in Year 12. The reason was we all surfed together, it broke down the barriers. It meant the whole age difference thing didn’t matter.”
One of the handful of streets that go to make up Windang is Boronia Avenue. It runs east-west, sliced in the middle by the main drag. At the western end is a footy oval, while the eastern side ends with a sandy pathway through some coastal bush leading to the beach.
The Hockey Dad story starts on the beach side of Boronia Ave, just over a block from that sandy path. When he was a kid, Stephenson and his dad Ross were playing footy in their front yard on Boronia Ave. “Billy walked past and joined in,” Stephenson said. “He lived down the road and after that he never left, he was there every day.” Incidentally, Fleming was quite a sportsman in his pre-band years – as a kid he was pretty good at cricket and admired some guy named Don Bradman.
“We were just little groms,” Fleming remembered, “playing heaps of sport, but then we started surfing heaps and everything else went out the window. From then it was just surfing and music.”
By the time Fleming entered high school, music had become the focus. “We first started getting into music in Year Nine and [Billy was] in Year Seven,” Stephenson said. “I’d been playing guitar for a little bit and it was me, Billy and another friend of ours had gotten together. We all played guitar and Billy jumped on drums because no-one else wanted to.”