SUNBURY RISES

It was late in 1979, and the shop was closing.

Naturally, there was a closing down sale. While un-tempted by appliances or transistor radios, I remember having my eye on one of the albums reclining in the slowly thinning racks of records. Over the course of a few weeks I’d um-ed and ah-ed. Not weeks of seven days of eight working hours each —my job at Bentleigh Electrics was Friday nights and Saturday mornings only— but a couple of my weeks. All right, I’ll be honest. I saw the triple LP album of Sunbury 1973, Australia’s biggest rock festival, wondered during the ensuing week whether I should grab it, and fronted up to work the following Friday toying with the idea of returning half my weekly earnings to the boss in exchange for the record. Let the tension over this momentous decision simmer quietly while I sketch out some context.

Sunbury 1973

If you are a regular at Vinyl Connection, you may be wondering whether Bentleigh Electrics is the same shop as Max Rose Electronics, the emporium featured in several ‘Memoir with Music’ posts (including this one I’m quite fond of). It is indeed. Max sold the business that had provided him with a modest income for well over twenty years and moved into semi-retirement. I was included as part of the deal, my catalogue description boasting I knew most of the workings of the front-of-house and was good with customers, especially music buyers and those in search of a new steam iron. The continuation of my casual employment under the new management was thus assured. For the time being, at least.

The new management was, in this case, the feckless younger son of a wealthy industrialist who wanted to encourage his mid-twenties scion to man-up to the real world and learn about life… via a small retail Record and Electrical Goods shop in suburban Melbourne.

Young Timothy leapt into the role with all the energy of a middle-aged Persian cat and all the innovative verve of a friendly but rather dim labrador. I do not intend to be cruel —Tim was a nice enough chap and there was never significant friction between us— but his attitude to the shop reminded me of a bored kid in a playground, wandering over for a bit of a swing, perhaps a slide or two, then sitting on top of the monkey bars, swinging his legs and gazing into the sky. In a remarkably short time his skills had managed the business to a stand-still. In my imagination I see Father sighing with a combination of exasperation and resignation. ‘The shop must close, Timothy. It is no longer viable. I’m placing you in the office of the plastic extrusion factory where you will file paperwork. Under supervision.’

I still feel a little sad when I drive down Centre Road and see a shoe shop where Max Rose Electronics used to be.

Centre Road Bentleigh

Yes, this is Centre Road, Bentleigh. Exciting, isn’t it?

Back to the Friday evening in question. I think my uncertainty about purchasing this sprawling triple-album was three-fold. Firstly, it’s price —even discounted for the sale— was a substantial part of my measly income. I was back to being a student again and indisputably penniless. Remember those times when it was a major decision about whether you could afford a second coffee on a particular day? Thanks heavens I was living at home and Mum still made me a sandwich.

The second restraint was that I’d listened to some of the album and although the recording was fine for a live gig, much  of the music had that shambolic you-had-to-be-there vibe of many a three-day drug-fuelled summer festival. Or so I am reliably informed. Which leads to the third hesitation: I had not been at Sunbury in 1973 or in any other year, so it felt like a cheat to own the audio record. A bit false, like putting safety pins through an artfully torn t-shirt in 1984.

Sunbury inner gatefold

On that Friday night a long-haired fellow ambled into the shop and browsed. Holding The Great Australian Rock festival Sunbury 1973, he approached the counter and plonked it down. ‘I’ll grab this one,’ he said.

Now here is where it gets a bit interesting. During the ensuing conversation —he was a friendly bloke and up for a chat— it emerged that Steven (for such was his name) heard about the Closing Down Sale from my sister.

Pardon?

My younger sibling, deciding that finishing her interrupted high school education might be a helpful investment in the future, enrolled in an adult version of Year 12 at the TAFE college where Steven taught. Indeed, during conversations that I imagine were part of the more relaxed grown-up learning environment, Steven discovered that his student’s brother worked at Bentleigh Electrics. And that there was a sale on. Late night shopping brought him to Centre Road on that fateful evening.

I sighed inwardly and put his purchase in a bag.

Sunbury 73 inner sleeves

As well as being a teacher, Steven was an avid record collector and a presenter on public radio station 3PBS. I tuned in to Satan Sounds a few times and found that his playlist, far from being demonic, had enough overlap with my own tastes at the time to imagine a kindred spirit. And so it eventuated that the brother’s relationship with Steven lasted longer than that of the sister student. Steven and I became mates, bonding over music and ultimately presenting a radio show together on 3PBS called ‘Late Night Shopping’.

When I was round at his place last night, he handed me a square paper bag. ‘For your birthday,’ he said. ‘Given your strange affection for live albums, it probably should always have been yours. Think of it as the return of a thirty-five year loan.’

Inside, of course, was Sunbury 1973.

IMG_6087

 

25 comments

  1. hehe, lovely story. much of your life is like a record, mate. and sometimes event/songs sound like a reprise of the melodic earlier tracks of your youth, playing for you a “play it again sam” immersion into dense feelings (past, youth, friendships, desires, hardships, family). and you never draw back from listening and soaking in them songs to the last groove.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. to be sure. to look with benign fondness on your inadequacies and ignorance (both far and closer in the rear vision mirror) is one of the (few) gifts of ageing.

      thanks for visiting Paolo.

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      1. benign must be for sure, to be fair to age and broadness of view. and anyway, had you not been that young man, you would be quite a different man now. we owe to youth 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. this link appears at the end of your comment in my cloud above right:
        https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.js

        the list of a script appeared when i clicked. do you know what it is?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No idea. It appears in the comments hover list at right of screen for me too and likewise links to a screen full of code. I suspect (cynical bugger that I am) that WordPress is ‘encouraging’ us to buy Premium service by downgrading the free one. I hope I’m wrong, but…

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        2. eheh, funny – it appears again at the end of your message here again 😛

          Liked by 1 person

        3. we better stop, man. this could go on forever.

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  2. Awww! It’s a bit like O Henry’s ‘The gift of the magi’, with less hair involved!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You flatter me unreasonably Joe, but I love you for it. Sorry, that should read ‘hold you in high esteem’.
      And for those who do not know the story, read it. Soon, if you can. It’s topical and meaningful even for godless old blighters like your correspondent.

      http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/GifMag.shtml

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeez dude, less of the love, puhleeze!

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        1. Yeah, sorry about that. A little too much Christmas spirit last night.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Not to worry, no-one saw.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hooray Steven!
    A great story that rolls up forty odd years of history as tightly as a 70’s student’s reefer.
    Some great groups of the period on that LP and I would love to have heard my favourites (McKenzie Theory) but did not go to Sunbury until ’74 myself.
    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks DD. I love Mackenzie Theory too – I have the ultra rare live LP (though in far from pristine condition).
      The editor welcomes any submissions of the ‘I was at Sunbury ’74’ variety. I do not own the two LPs Mushroom released from (the last) fest but I have access to them from (no prizes here) Steven.

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  4. Lovely piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, hooray Steven! This could be the start of a beautiful cull! Most
    enjoyable read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Sue. (Not sure I’d get hopes for a culling frenzy up too high!)

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  6. A lovely, funny read. I’m so pleased that my instinct for the right present worked.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did indeed. Thank you for the album, and the story.

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  7. Great read, Bruce. A smashin’ story with a really perfect ending – nice one, Steven. I bet the album sounds even better now …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks James. To be honest, the gift of the story is almost better than the music. But I’m still very happy to have another triple live album in the collection!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great story, especially absorbing given the “last night” denouement.

    Sad to say none of the ‘Sunbury 1973’ bands are familiar to me, probably a result of my being Up Over in the 70s. For better or worse, I know myself well enough to predict that some months from now, if tested, I’ll likely offer up Sam’s Coloured Balls as my best guess at naming any band on the bill.

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    1. What’s rather neat about your future imagining it that Lobby Loyde and the Coloured Balls played a tearing guitar-based blues infused pub-rock that I think would (or at least would have been) right up your alley. Lobby was acknowledged as one of the finest in Oz.
      And thanks, btw. I really enjoyed writing this piece the morning after. A lot.

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  9. […] SUNBURY RISES […]

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