Monday, March 30, 2015

Making a difference

Zoë flew into Canberra today. At the moment it's just not viable for her to stay in Vanuatu. She hopes to be back there in a month one way or another to teach or help in some other way. It's wonderful to see her, hug her and hear of her amazing experiences. My heart aches for her local family left behind and for the people of Vanuatu struggling just to survive.

After a few delays and hitches (that's putting it lightly), Zoë flew into deliver aid to the people she cares about so much. It was 3.5hrs of flying and she was on the ground for 10 minutes. That was long enough to unload the aid, hug just about everyone and then fly back to Port Vila. To the generous people who donated the money for the helicopter I can assure you that these supplies have made a real difference. The balance of the money will go to a charity working actively to get aid and support into Pentecost.

Here's a few photos for you all. Zoë has a lot more to say but I'm going to leave that to her.

Photo 1 - Zoë in the helicopter at Port Vila.

Photo 2 - leaving Level School. Check out those smiles! That's Zoë's Dad in the yellow shirt. The woman with the baby and the orange cloth is her Mum.

Photo 3 - goodbye for now...hope to see you all soon.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Song of the Week #342

Last time I wrote this blog I thought that normal programming would resume. Boy, was I so, so wrong.

Most of you would by now realise that the cyclone hit Zoë's village so hard that basically nothing was left standing. She's not able to go back as a result of the food and water crisis.

As a result we decided to see if we could help the village out by flying some water and rice to them, via helicopter, with Zoë doing the delivery. The situation there is pretty dire. This has turned out to be the most stressful thing we've ever attempted. We got help from an Australian company on the ground in Vanuatu. They could supply the aid if we got the helicopter. So we did. And then the aid couldn't be released back to them. So we went to plan b. Today was the day. But the helicopters were being repaired, on a medivac or commandeered by some very senior people. What followed was a day of extreme stress, phone calls, emails, begging and pleading. For a few hours it looked like all hope was lost. But...the outcome is that the helicopter is ready for tomorrow afternoon, the aid is ready and Zoë is probably camped at the heliport waiting to go.

The thing that I want to tell you about is generosity though. The helicopter isn't cheap. Alison and I certainly couldn't afford to pay for it. So we put the call out through social media, radio and newspaper. We thought that if we could get about half the amount needed that we could cover the rest somehow. What happened next was nothing short of astounding. In two days we had collected more than enough to pay for the helicopter. The rest of the money will go to a charity on the ground in Vanuatu. They should be well pleased. The amount of the donation doesn't matter. Some are huge and blew us away. Some came from people we know are struggling and we were humbled to receive those.

Huge thanks to the ABC, 2CC, and the Canberra Times for their ongoing support. Emma Grey has been awesome at galvanising support via a number of avenues as well as talking on the radio about the project.

Today, at the lowest point I looked into a very, very dark space. It was tempting for the briefest of moments to curl up in a corner and give up but that would just be soft. My daughter is alive and well, my house is standing, I have food and water, friends and a family to love. Even the cat acknowledged my existence for the briefest of moments.

When I'm down this song always gives me strength. Always. The lyrics are included.

Rollins Band - Shine -

Please come back next week. I'll have a review of an amazing album from the band Empires of Eden as well as a whole swag of musical mayhem.



"And I think to myself...what a wonderful word" - Louis Armstrong, 1967

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Help the people of Pentecost, Vanuatu

Hi everyone,

UPDATE: we have a helicopter, we have supplies to send, we just need some more money to make this happen. Please see details below on how to help.

Here's the latest on what we're trying to do to help in Pentecost. Details about how you can help are at the end. Please share this around. The power of social media has been amazing so far.

Zoë Marshall, 18, who made headlines as one of the Australian volunteers who was unaccounted for after the cyclone, spoke out about wanting to go back and help the school where she was working as a teacher.

"They need new water tanks. They are so focused on survival right now," she said. "At the moment, their immediate needs are water and food. Their power can wait, their school books can wait, they just need food."

Sadly, due to the food crisis, Zoë can't go back to her village.

But she still wants to help.

We're partnering with a charity already on the ground in Vanuatu to charter a helicopter full of aid and send it, with Zoë back to Pentecost.

If you can help with the cost of the helicopter charter please get in touch via Donations can also be sent via PayPal via

Any money left over will be donated to the Tanbok Project. They are a charity who have been working in Pentecost. They are well placed to use the money well.

Rob, Alison and Zoë

Friday, March 20, 2015

Song of the Week #341 - that girl Zoë is safe!

Where do I start? Wow. What a week.

If you are interested I wrote a gig review for our band earlier in the week; it's here.

And then there was Zoë. Here's what I wrote before she was heard from.

It seems hollow to me to cheer too much about Zoë while so many others remain in crisis. She's already let us know that she wants to return to her village and local family as soon as she can. This is exactly what we thought she'd do.

Now that we know Zoë is safe and well I urge you to consider the country and people of Vanuatu. This was no regular cyclone; it's the biggest one ever. Look at some pictures of Port Vila or of the island of Tanna. In many areas there is total devastation. Tanna has 20,000 people without fresh water. If you're in a position to support any of the aid agencies or charities who are working there then please do.

Can I just say thank you to everyone who has shown support and solidarity? That's family, friends, acquaintances and complete strangers. I know we've flooded your Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as being on the radio, TV and in the newspapers. I think that it is worth it to keep people thinking about Vanuatu and other countries badly impacted such as Tuvalu. We'll talk to anyone who wants to listen. I didn't realise that Zoë's gap placement was going to be quite so life changing for us as well as for her!

In terms of media, a huge shout out to Liz Burke from who read my anguished Tweet and responded. The media coverage just flowed as a result of her work. Plenty of others have since helped and we're very particularly thankful to The Project, ABC TV and Radio, Canberra Times, 2CC, WIN News, Bethany Keats, BBC World Service and The Daily Mail. Apologies if I've missed anyone, it's been a very long week.

At the moment we don't know the details about the organisation and logistics of getting Zoë picked up. Thanks go to DFAT, the Australian Defence Force, Lattitude and all others involved. If I could hug you I would.

My colleagues too, they've been saints.

And now, it's time to close my email, every tab on my browser and get some rest. At least for a few hours.

As I rode my bike to work this morning (the short way after talking to ABC Radio and 2CC) I had a few very emotional minutes. I guess if you're going to cry then on a bike, behind dark glasses, on a bike path on a beautiful Canberra morning isn't a bad time. 

Hunters & Collectors - True Tears of Joy -

Normal programming, if there is such a thing, will resume next week. On the way home I'll be thinking about Zoë's Vanuatu family. I hope they have food, water and shelter tonight.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Where's my girl?

The fact is that we know where Zoë is. She's no doubt where she was before Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu. She's with her host family and volunteer buddy Courtney, at Level School near Namaram on the island of Pentecost. Zoë isn't missing; she's unaccounted for and there's a big difference.

We heard from her last on Thursday 12th March. The cyclone hit on Friday. Zoë's messages told us that there was no point in being scared, that they were ready for the weather and that a rat had chewed her sandals. 

Unless you've been living a hermit lifestyle you'll know that the cyclone was a lot worse that expected. In fact apparently it was the worst ever. Vanuatu's capital and southern areas seem to have been hit the hardest.

And now we wait. Communications are down and no-one has been to Pentecost yet to have a look. We are aware of some flyovers and perhaps one group on the way but there's nothing to report yet.

Sadly, our experience with DFAT hasn't been what we expected. We've had to hassle them to see if there is any information. I know that they're busy and they have a lot to do but this is kind of their bread and butter you'd think. Having them tell Alison that even if they located Zoë that they wouldn't tell us was shattering. The next person she spoke to at DFAT told her the opposite. Whatever, if you find her just hand her a SatPhone or take a photo so that we know she's alive. UPDATE: we now have a case worker, regular updates and an apology about how it's been handled.

I can't imagine Zoë wanting to come home any time soon. She's the kind of young woman who will want to help her host village and family. Hopefully it is safe and practical for her to do so.

To answer a few people, no, we're not heading straight to Vanuatu. Alison had a knee replacement a week or so ago and she can't even walk up the driveway. And what would I do when I got there? Get in the way and be another mouth to feed. We'll let the aid agencies and government do their work; they are the experts and we are eternally thankful for anything that they can do. I should point out that the Lattitude organisation that Zoë is there with have been great. Yes, it's their job too but I can't imagine something like this happens to them every day. Their in-country guy has lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who has liked Facebook posts, commented, retweeted stuff, sent emails and also texts. We appreciate it more than you can imagine.

Liz Burke at - thank you for your work and for taking the positive slant on the whole situation that we wanted. There are 19 young people out there as well as the whole population of Vanuatu who need our support.

Keep channeling those good vibes towards Vanuatu and if you can spare a few dollars for one of the charities working there please do so.

Thanks everyone,
Rob (a Dad so proud of his kids that he could almost burst).

Monday, March 16, 2015

Gig report: 15 March 2015 Welcome to the Church of Rock and Roll!

The band that I'm in, that toured and then played New Year's Eve last year is called "George Huitker & Junk Sculpture". We have a side project, the core of which is George, Chris and I. Sometime in the past we named it, "The Unified Theory of Everything".

Yesterday, we travelled about 75 minutes from Canberra, past Braidwood, to an old church at Reidsdale. St Bernard's now belongs to Canberra educator and poet John Foulcher and his wife Jane. The church was built in the 1860s and the Foulchers are converting it to live in as well as to host music, poetry, retreats and lots of other things.

George decided that it would be a great venue for us to perform a tribute to one of our favourite records. Jason Isbell's "Southeastern" might just be one of those once in a lifetime classic albums.

The church was a fantastic venue and a good sized crowd came from near and very far to see us.

With the addition of Hayden on drums (and bass and guitar at times) the band sounded pretty good I thought. Tim, our sound engineer, made the most of the natural acoustics of the room as well as recording the entire show. We were also very fortunate to have Scot from Digital-Hed Media come along to film the show. Scot has a long connection with the band having recruited Rob from a bandless state in the late 90s to play with Canberra Gothabilly legends, The Dark Violence of Beauty. Brownie also played a few shows with Rob and Scot.

"Southeastern" is an album of deeply personal songs and to do them justice we not only rehearsed a lot but really let the tunes get under our skin. The result was that our renditions were fairly faithful to the originals but with enough us inside them to make them even more special.

On a very personal note this was a challenging show. My wife has just got home from hospital after knee replacement surgery; young people aren't meant to need this. Add to this that our 18 year old daughter is currently in a remote area on Vanuatu and we haven't had any contact with her since the cyclone hit there last week. In one way it was great to play the songs and think about something else but on the other hand every lyric reminded me of my family.

Personally I would love to do this show again. It's such a wonderful collection of songs and the band gels so well as a unit to play them. I have penned a note to Jason Isbell to thank him and to let him know what we did. I hope he sees it and it gives him a smile.

Rock on,

PS: For the gear nerds out there, and I'm unashamedly one of them, here's my rig rundown for the show:

Guitar: Burns Steer reissue
Amplifier: Jet City JCA20HV into a Jet City 2x12 speaker box
Pedals (in order): Boss TU-3 tuner, JK Pedals Luxe Lady Fuzz, CryBaby Wah, Boss OD-3, Boss OD-2 (JK Pedals modded), MXR Black Label Chorus, RedWitch Eve Tremolo.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Song of the Week #340

Earlier in the week I wrote a thing about "First World Problems". It's here if you're interested (note that there is no music content).

I'm pretty distracted at the moment. With Zoe and all of Vanuatu being hammered by Cyclone Pam it's hard to consider much else. We have no news as communications are not working. We do know that all the volunteers' names and details have been passed to the Australian Government Crisis Centre. It's pretty real folks, apparently Vanuatu hasn't been hit by a cyclone this strong ever. Years and years ago I did some Geography and Oceanography as part of my degree. Suddenly I know a lot more about it than I ever did. All we can do from this end is wait and hope.

Zeparella - When The Levee Breaks -

Now, let me know what you think of that cover version. I'm not the hugest Led Zep fan out there but I think they did a very good job.

My favourite band have released another single from their latest album. It's nothing earth shattering but it has a good melody and beat. What I do like is the video clip though. Good to see Chris Slade rocking out on drums while the rest of the band seem to be having a damned good time. Music doesn't always have to be introspective or with some kind of message that only the nerdy fans will get. Rocking out and having fun is OK!

AC/DC - Rock The Blues Away -

Gig time for me (and the rest of the band too) is tomorrow. I guess if you're coming we'll see you there. It was neat to find out recently that Jason Isbell is back in the studio recording another album. If it's even half as good as "Southeastern" it'll be fantastic. I spent some time this week listening to his earlier work and that was time well spent.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit -

My number 1 pop-punk band are on tour across the USA shortly supporting Bowling for Soup. Personally I think that all of my American listeners should get out to one of these shows if they can. The Dollyrots are a great band...they love dogs.

The Dollyrots - Puppy Dog Eyes -

Bowling for Soup - Punk Rock 101 -

DJ Al-ee-sun and her new knee are home. I think she did rather well to escape the hospital a week early. The cat seems pretty happy about the arrangement as well. She still falls asleep at a moments notice and that's definitely funny.

Divinyls - Sleeping Beauty -

Here's this week's instrumental track. Check out the king of surf guitar, Dick Dale. Note that he plays a left handed Strat strung upside down!

Dick Dale - Miserlou -

My other job at the moment is as Angus' driving instructor. I have to admit that he's pretty good and far more confident than I ever was. It's good as he'll be able to drive his Mum around as well since she's not allowed! Last time I had Zoe in the car she was singing this...seems appropriate! I don't know what the musical term is but I love the way that the keyboard in the chorus just holds back from the beat a little.

The Beatles - Drive My Car -

That'll do for this week. Channel all your positive vibes towards the people of Vanuatu. I think they need it.


"You're going home in the back of a Divvy Van!" - Painters and Dockers (1995)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


People are always saying, "first world problems", but guess what? They're still problems.

Last week my FWPs threatened to get the better of me.

Firstly, Alison was (and still is) in the hospital having had a full knee replacement. Totally not normal for someone in their 40s. It made me sad on many levels. Seeing someone you love in pain is hard work. Also, being alone is hard work if you're not used to it. Angus and I have a very different life at the moment with the population of the household suddenly cut by 50% (remember that Zoe is living overseas).

Just to make things even better Angus got a stinker of a cold and generously passed it on to me. I think I had about four days of feeling like death warmed up. It was a man flu that had bulked up before hitting us both. You know I was sick when I had a day off work and then the next day had to cancel some cycling because of the pressure in my head.

We won't even talk about the health insurance debacle.

Yesterday, the Monday of a long weekend, I started to feel better. I managed to get out on my bike with a good friend for a decent ride. That's always a good start. I'm much better in so many ways when I'm riding regularly. Then I managed two visits to see Alison in between all that boring stuff that needed doing at home. Not to mention shuttling Angus to and from work.

This morning I slept in. Until 6:06am. It might seem like nothing but I rarely sleep beyond 6am, especially when I've got a longer ride planned before work. This morning I just went with the flow. I still got 35km done. The best thing was that it was a perfect Canberra morning. No wind, not cold, bright sunshine, hot air balloons everywhere. It was a brilliant commute.

I really feel as if at every step recently life just punches me in the guts. I'm still punching back.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Song of the Week #339

Hi there everyone.

Life hit me squarely in the face this week and that's why this episode is about 12 hours late. My apologies to those of you jonesing for a fix.

Let's start in the same spot we did last week with a recommendation from DJ MellowBud. Here's Dr John playing a song produced by Dan from the Black Keys. Tons of good tones on this tremendous track to get your toes tapping.

Dr John - Locked Down -

A quick reminder that the band is playing on Sunday 15/3. We'll be out near Braidwood in a cool old church playing Jason Isbell's album "Southeastern" - but you already knew that. If you want to come along then shoot George an email for directions. All the details are here.

Jason Isbell - Super 8 -

DJ KarateKid asked for some love for instrumental tracks. That's not such a bad idea so I'll play a few over the coming weeks. The challenge for artists here I think is making sure that it stays interesting, plenty of tracks start off pretty well but then just go nowhere. Here's a cracker...

Dream Theater - Stream of Consciousness -

Or maybe you'll like this...

Tommy Emmanuel - Classical Gas -

More instrumentals next time.

Well, DJ Al-ee-sun has a brand new knee and before too long she'll be setting of metal detectors all over the place. For now she's being held hostage in the rehab ward. I for one will be glad when she's home. I know Angus will be too.

I did something yesterday evening that I haven't done for just over 12 months...I rode my mountain bike. I felt that I needed a break from the grind on the road and also it was very windy. There's no wind in the forest! Add to that the fact that my local trails have been re-opened after a couple of years of closure due to major earthworks around them and I was suddenly motivated. I must admit that my skill level was pretty much that of a newbie but I had a lot of fun. For fans of Majura Pines I can report that many of the old tracks are still there and as good as ever. The new tracks are well constructed and ride really well. I think I took a wrong turn and ended up on the tail end of the downhill racing track. Wow, that was heaps of fun!

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes - Ride The Night Away -

My good friend DJ SAB has been out and about making some films with Australian music legend John Schumann. A photo of the pair of them at a mine site this week reminded me of this song. It's not dissimilar to Cold Chisel's "Bow River" in sentiment but has a more urban focus. Great tune from a fantastic album that's never been released on CD sadly.

Redgum - Friday Night -

In pretty bloody fabulous news, DJ SAB will team up with DJ GUZ to record our gig next week. Obviously we can't release anything as the songs all belong to Jason Isbell but we'll see what we can do in terms of giving those of you living a long way away a sneak peak into the show.

And on that note I'm out of here. Things to do, hospitals to visit, bikes to ride.

DJ Rob

"it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?... Waylon Jennings, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" (1975).