Psychogeography: River Yarra in Melbourne
Australian multi-instrumentalist, DJ and producer River Yarra AKA Raudie McLeod popped up on our radar in early 2018 with his contribution, alongside Tom Baker, to CC:DISCO’s Soothsayer compilation. We followed him closely as he took his percussive oddities to Zaltan’s Antinote Recordings with his Lucky Boy EP last summer, and now we’re happy to see him make a triumphant return to the Paris-based imprint with the aquatic trance-leaning sounds of ’FrogMania’.
Raudie takes his name from the Birrabung river in his base of Melbourne; the former home of the Kulin Nations. Here he reflects on the history of these native cultures before taking us round the spots that hold a special a place in his heart…
Eating, drinking, existing in the former most liveable city in the world with a brief introduction on pre-colonial Australia which they don’t teach anyone in schools.
Melbourne, before it was invaded around 200 years ago by British, Scottish and Irish settlers and convicts, was home to the Woiwurrung/Boonwurrung speakers of the Kulin Nations. More specifically the Wurundjeri people who lived along Birrarung (the Yarra River). The Kulin Nations themselves were made up of five distinct language groups which included sub-language groups and smaller clans thereon. Usually, anyone living in the Kulin nations spoke between 5-10 different languages which helped when communicating with neighbouring clans and nations. Having survived for at least 40,000 years throughout Australia, they’re the oldest living culture on earth. Sadly, in spite of this record shattering timeline, Australia’s First Nation people widely face racism and systematic oppression by our government and our citizens.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians make up 2% of our population but 28% of the adult prison population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are 15 times more likely to be in custody than non-Indigenous men. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 21 times more likely to be in custody than non-Indigenous women. The picture is particularly stark for Indigenous children. They make up 7% of the general youth population but 54% of those in youth detention across Australia. This ranges, on average, from 15% in Victoria to 97% in the Northern Territory."
This breaks my heart and I have no idea how to change direction toward closing the gap. All I can do is try to educate those around the world of the disproportionate welfare between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Thank you for reading this preface.
Melbourne, while distinctly cosmopolitan in its disposition, still has some infrastructural issues. For example: It’s big. The Central Business District doesn’t compete with other cities written on T-shirts but what is known as “Greater Melbourne” is home to some five million people and rapidly expanding. We’re an immigrant nation who’ve seen waves of people and cultures search for a better life and find it in Australia. Walking down Swanston Street you’d be hard pressed to pin yourself somewhere distinct on a world map due to our diversity of architecture and inhabitants. It’s not uncommon to hear unknown languages spoken as you walk past restaurants from the other side of the planet. I’m proud to come from a city that celebrates and elevates our differences. Here’s a list of usual jaunts.
The Yarra River
The physical location of my namesake. In my early 20s, during cold long winter nights, friends and I would head to where the Yarra River makes its way through Eltham, pick magic mushrooms and wander along the walking path from Sweeney’s Lane to Griffith’s Park. In fact I opened this gate (pictured below) and it make a melodious squeak. I recorded the sound and turned it into a song. It was where the River Yarra idea was conceived. I wish I still had that track. In 2014 I arrogantly purged all the music I’d written on my computer to start fresh and make sure I wouldn’t revisit old projects. A regret indeed.
This area is really nice for a sunlit or moonlit walk if you’re not afraid of the dark. You might spook some unsuspecting kids on mushrooms. Further up the river is Laughing Waters which was a great secret swimming location for the locals but an unnamed Melbourne Food & Culture blog decided to write about it one summer which caused an influx of hashtagging instagrammers to trod inconsiderately on the riverbeds and accelerate riverbank erosion. It’s still a nice swimming spot if you can find yourself there on a quiet afternoon. However these days that’s a rarity.
The local record store run by Tom Moore (Otologic, Animals Dancing), Mike Wale (Orca DJ, Awesome Wales) and Mark Free (Daydreams, Everyday Coffee) who together account for a multitude of Melbourne businesses, parties, products &c. &c. It’s a great little shop on Johnston Street that sells records, tapes, t-shirts and small zines. They even have a record flattener. Quite an ingenious investment considering I’ve watched my records rotate on the turntable platter, softly buckling under the intense rays of a Melbourne summer’s sunlight. They also do many in-store events for the plethora of local labels. If you’re lucky you’ll see Bella, the store’s resident chihuahua, lazing in the sunny front window.
In summer the socialites of the inner-north descend on this quasi-European style garden for a dizzying array of activities from skateboarding, drinking, binge drinking, roller blading, dog spotting, dog walking, cricket, football, catch, frisbee, tightrope, pop-up UE boom parties, talking, shouting, passing out. You name it. It’s great fun to get amongst it and try at least some of the aforementioned activities. Two spots to buy your marination juice are Piedemonte’s for the non- discerning alcoholic. Blackhearts & Sparrows for those with acquired tastes i.e natural wines and craft beers. Don’t miss hitting up Super Tasty Rooster for some Super Tasty Chicken & Chips. There also used to be New Year’s Eve parties here until the 13/14 NYE crossover we (not I, about 10-15,000 Melbournians) took it too far by erecting close to 20 pop-up SoundSystems and partying throughout the night to say goodbye and to welcome in another revolution around the sun. It was a largely jovial affair but the cleanup costs amassed a pricey $30,000. My rebuttal: we pay our taxes. It’s illegal to have an open container of alcohol in public places in Victoria, the state which Melbourne is home. It’s now even more illegal to have an open container of Alcohol in Edinborough Gardens. Alas, not every eve is New Year’s Eve so the council still allow us to respectfully enjoy ourselves the other 364 days of the year.
Right near Edinburgh Gardens is Monty’s. Everybody’s favourite watering hole. Great beers, simple cocktails, food from next door(s), attractive bar stuff and always a great DJ to boot. The walls are adorned with Australian paraphernalia and memorabilia. Photos of Kangaroos, Koalas, Jesaulenko’s “You Beauty!” mark, Bob Hawke drinking a beer. Behind the bar watching over the patrons you’ll find my old taxidermied Magpie “Maggie” which was gifted to my by a best friend. I’ve had many great nights which I don’t remember at Monty’s. I scored my first bull’s eye in a game of darts at Monty’s. It’s a great place of drinking. 4-legged friends of the canine variety are most welcome and in the summer you’ll find the beer garden out back filled with them. In winter they load up the fireplace so you can keep it toasty warm while enjoying a drink outside. The drink to try is the Gary Ablett, named after the famous Geelong footballer (That’s AFL not Soccer). It’s an espresso dropped into a pot of beer. It’s surprisingly delicious.
The amphibious cousin of Monty’s becoming colloquially known as ‘The Frog’ and I’m more than chuffed about it. Similar vibe to Monty’s. Good booze, good company and good gnocchi served from the upstairs kitchen. My studio is also here which I share with friends Leo James (Body Language, Neubau, Berceuse Heroique) and DJ Chrysalis (Head Rush).
The Mercat (R.I.P)
This one might cause some eyeballs to roll but it must be included. The Mercat Cross Hotel was an upstairs bar/restaurant located next to the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne’s CBD’s northern end. In the early months of 2017 it was permanently closed to be demolished for the Melbourne City Council’s Queen Victoria Market major redevelopment project. The upstairs of the Mercat was fine. The basement however is where a generation of ravers, art kids, music nerds, cool kids, norm-core kids, fashion kids & always some unidentifiable randoms came to embrace the concept of the “underground” in altitude and approach. Open Friday and Saturday and the occasional public holiday eve, the diversity of music which emanated from that brick dungeon was immense and encompassing. From Trap to Dub Reggae, House and Techno naturally, UK garage, Bass, Italo and everything in between and to the left of. If you could dance to it and it was good, it was probably played in the Mercat Basement.
Sometimes the recipient of Love/Hate relationships, the Mercat was inarguably the driving force of underground electronic dance music that Melbourne saw in the 10’s. Without the Mercat and parties like C Grade/Animals Dancing, Bamboo Musik and Pelvis, I, and many others, wouldn’t be the people we are today. The music played at the said parties were the foundation of my electronic music education. I would quite often ride my bike alone down Royal Parade to the Mercat Basement to spend hours in the dark, hazed out room, with my eyes closed, absorbing the sounds pulsating from the Funktion 1 sound system. You’d always run into someone you knew who was there for the same reasons. When I read articles online about club culture and communities like Paradise Garage, early Ministry of Sound, hell even Ibiza in the 90s, my mind immediately thinks of the Mercat. My fondest memories include Pelvis’s “Open House” party where they built the facade of a house in front of the DJ booth with white picket fence and letterbox included. The house’s front window was a view into the booth. C Grade also contend for some of the most obscure club themes which you can peruse here.
Everyone’s got a story of some absolutely unrecognisable random approaching them and exclaiming “Hey! Nice to see you! We met at the Mercat!” :/
Lygon Street in Carlton is known for its Italians. Brunetti’s, Pidapipo, Tiamo, DOC. The list goes on. Beyond the myriad hospitality venues are two distinctly north side establishments which provide great amounts of culture and education to the city of Melbourne. They are: Readings Bookstore and Cinema Nova. Readings is 50 years old this year. It’s always been on Lygon street but changed shopfront a few times over its life. The owner Mark Rubbo was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through fostering an awareness of Australian literature. I buy most of my books here and, if I’m lucky, run into Nico Niquo: a good friend whom I met in the Eltham High School Symphonic Band and Eltham High School Percussion Ensemble together.
Nova is the independent cinema inside the arcade, just across the road from Readings. Screening films since ’92 it’s the place to find high quality, independent, national and international arthouse films. The candy bar is exceptional, especially the choc tops, which the place has become known for. Without Nova I wouldn’t have a rich love for cinema and soundtrack so I owe it to this place. The seats are comfortable and the interior design is very ‘90s. The discount day is Monday where you can see a $7 film before 4pm or $10 after.
I can’t put into words what this radio station means to Melbourne so here is their about me ripped fresh from their website:
“For more than 40 years Triple R has shaped and inspired the culture of Melbourne. Since its inception as an educational broadcaster in 1976, Triple R has become Australia's most influential community radio station with over 14,000 subscribers and an estimated 440,000 weekly listeners. Broadcasting on 102.7FM and 3RRR Digital, the Triple R grid houses over 60 diverse programs. Music shows cover every genre imaginable from pop to punk rock, from R&B and electro to jazz, hip hop, country and metal. Specialist talks programs delve into topics as varied as the environment, human rights, politics, medical issues, gardening, cultural ventures and local interests.
With the exception of Breakfasters, all of Triple R’s programs are presented by volunteers. Broadcasters who are drawn to the station because of its unique, independent ethos and its commitment to quality public radio. All Triple R’s broadcasters have a passion for what they present and are genuine music fanatics or devoted experts in their fields.
The voices heard on Triple R are as varied as its listeners. And, it’s many of these listeners who keep the station on-air year in, year out. Triple R is a fully independent non-profit community radio station which relies on sponsorship and listener subscriptions to keep running – listener funded radio. We’re not beholden to shareholders or advertisers; we’re here to serve our community of listeners and offer them a genuine, intelligent and considered alternative.
This unique relationship with listeners also connects with people in more ways than just on-air. The Triple R Performance Space officially opened its doors in 2009 and has played host, so far, to gigs highlighting unsigned Australian acts, comedy shows, independent theatre and literary events. Our relationship with Avid, KV2 Audio and some of Australia's finest Front of House Engineers means we have one of the best sounding rooms in Melbourne.
Triple R plays a vital role as an independent community voice in Melbourne.”
For being so far away from the closest nation (excluding New Zealand) Melbourne has so much to offer. If you ever find yourself here for some reason or another, drop me a line and I’ll gladly write a list of things to see and do. Maybe I should quit music and become a tour guide… Probably not any time soon.