Byron Bay. Sunday, 11.23am:
Singing a canon is difficult. Especially when you're five.
The two girls are concentrating as their grandmother directs them. The three are sitting on stone steps in the garden of the beach house where the extended family is holidaying.
On the verandah, fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, cousins, friends and a grandfather are chatting around a large table strewn with dirty plates, coffee mugs, mobile phones and percussion instruments. A ukelele is being strummed, beers drunk. The barbecue is smoking after a late breakfast. Two boys throw a diablo into the air and it crashes against the verandah ceiling. "Outside!" two adults shout in unison. The boys bolt dragging the diablo after them.
Kilometres to the south, at Glenugie, other people are battling government-sponsored invaders. These protestors are defending a moral code that used to be obvious to all but has become lost in the new corporate morality; a code every grandmother knows: you don't put children at risk.
Grandma points her imaginary baton at the fairer of the two girls who starts the canon: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream..."
At that point, grandma points to the other girl who flicks her hair like a pop star and sings: "Row, row, row..."
Canons are funny. The fairer girl laughs at the weird sound of two voices singing different parts of the song at the same time. (That's what a canon is, the girls have learned from their grandmother.) She almost mucks up her part with an attack of the giggles but just manages to keep it together, her voice sweet and melodic, her face pink with joy (and sun), her future bright with hope.
But there's a battle raging all around her. A battle being fought for her future.
The other girl, her dark hair a mess of curls salted and permed by her morning swim in the ocean and tea tree creek, turns to her tittering cousin and sternly frowns at her - while continuing to sing her part, of course. This is serious business. Canons are difficult and are not to be laughed at. If you take performance seriously - and she does - you can't be laughing and mucking about. Taylor Swift would never giggle during a song. The fairer girl merely smiles back at her grave cousin, somehow managing that cheeky smile as well as the singing.
The protestors at Glenugie are heroes. They are ordinary people who have cut through the gobbledygook and ridiculous spin that their government provides on behalf of these corporate home invaders. They see the ugly reality. They're fighting a way of thinking that has brought the world to the brink of environmental collapse. They are a diverse lot, like ordinary people are, and they're fighting a grey, toxic uniformity that kills diversity in people and considers the land in which the grandchildren will live as a quarry to be mined for the limp satisfaction of the shareholder. They're fighting a culture that places profit above children; that puts children at risk. They're fighting corporations that would sell their grandmother to the Chinese.
Grandma joins in: "Row, row, row..."
Now that's too much. Three voices all singing different parts. It's too funny.
The fairer girl rolls back onto a carpet of leaves and gives in to her mirth, peals of laughter racking her small body. The serious girl tries to admonish her unprofessional behaviour with an even more furrowed frown but she also breaks into laughter, falling onto the fairer girl, their combined merriment becoming an ear-splitting, high-pitched shriek that only five-year-old girls can create.
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