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Marysville Jazz & Blues Weekend

It’s the Victorian town home to 200, where the local waitress trades in her apron from summer for selling ski gear next door in winter. Pedestrians walk slower, and their speech isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. But something has decided to wake sleepy Marysville up and get out their fedoras – and no, not just in the name of being sun smart.

On the beautiful Saturday afternoon of October 17, this country town is in the middle of hosting their first Marysville Jazz and Blues Weekend. For two-and-a-half blissful days kicking off on the Friday night, locals unite to witness performances from more than thirty artists decked out on their streets.

The concept began with Susan Alty, backed by the Marysville Cultural Community Inc. She approached a local broadcaster, Peter Guest, who presents a weekly program on Upper Goulburn Community Radio called ‘All That Jazz’. She had an idea to put together a small concert for school groups. Peter saw opportunity for more, and along with wife Merran, expanded on that vision to launch a full-blown festival.

The couple gave up hours of their time to form a committee, source grants and plan a schedule for the weekend.

“Once bands started to know there was a festival happening we had more applications than we knew what to do with,” Merran said.

“The town has been uplifted and we are enormously gratified by its success.”

Marysville has been well schooled in jazz classics, celebrating their own Murrindindi talent as well as other jazz and blues artists across Victoria. The passion is infectious, evidenced by rounds of applause filling up each performance space.

At 12.30pm on the Saturday, all the artists featured in the weekend’s program joined together for a street parade to the cheers of onlookers. Many dropped by to chat to Peter on local radio about their upcoming performances. They then dispersed, some to settle back into spots at their regular cafés, others to rehearse for slightly more formal venues, including the major ticketed concert event that evening.

One outstanding group, hailing from neighbouring Alexandra, was The Redgaters. The 18-piece swing band entertained the masses in the park at Marysville Heart while wine tastings and artisan goodies were on full display for the peckish on the sidelines. Big band regulars were quite at ease as they switched between sets, rotating soloists from vocals, keyboard and brass sections, while audiences tapped along. They were sure to keep everyone on their toes, particularly with their unique twist on a Glenn Miller classic, ‘In The Mood’.

2009 saw Marysville and its surrounding regions struck by the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. For Peter and Merran, music is such a healing and connecting force. “We both wanted to help Marysville recover from the bushfires in a community capacity,” says Merran.

“There is evidence that music and other cultural events have a significant positive impact on local communities and economies,” she said.

And that impact rang loud and clear. Wandering along Murchison Street, café fronts, pubs and op shops were proudly showing off their local talent. Business was peaking and accommodation sales rocketed as visitors infiltrated the otherwise quiet weekend. City goers gratefully swapped their typical weekend crammed with coffee queues and traffic jams for one with calmer scenes and tunes that matched the vibe.

One particular artist was a standout in the program, embodying the enduring spirit of the town.

“Marysville is a phoenix arisen from the ashes,” says Benny Dimas, who is better known by the stage name Mama Alto.

Besides Mama and her musical director Miss Chief’s family ties to the town, Marysville is the perfect place to toast iconic jazz and blues singer, Billie Holiday. To celebrate 100 years since her birth, Mama Alto is performing a selection of Holiday’s work entitled ‘Lady Sings the Blues’.

Mama Alto idolises Holiday. She was not only a figure whose technical prowess and musicianship transformed the world of jazz we now know today, but an artist whose difficult life experiences documented through her music were both admirable for those also suffering, and educational for those that weren’t.

And Mama Alto couldn’t identify with her more. Throughout his school years, Benny was ridiculed for being different, and in particular for having such a high voice. Labels defined Holiday’s life, but she chose opportunity over tragedy, and Benny likes to think he follows suit.

“As an artist, a singer, a songwriter, an activist, a queer person, a woman, a person of colour, an icon, a legend and so many more things to so many people, Billie Holiday is a great figure of the 20th century,”

“Embracing that difference, empowering your identity, reaches out to others and says: ‘You are not alone’,” Mama says.

Mama walks into the refurbished gallery, smiles and greets her audience. Stilettos in hand, she begins an hour and fifteen minutes of honouring the icon and legends from the American Songbook. There are all the Holiday trademarks – the gardenia in the hair, the head tilted to the side as fingers snap to keep time.

Billie is celebrated, relived melody-by-melody. Mama sure does sing the blues, with a powerful rendition of the infamous ‘Strange Fruit’ reminding us to count our blessings. ‘I Love You Porgy’ from George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ is an eerie tribute to Billie’s final moments and how she came to be arrested at her death bed for drug possession: “Don’t let him take me” she weeps, to a mesmerised audience. The show ends triumphantly with the anthem ‘God Bless The Child’ while Mama recounts her exhibition to New York to pay homage to the late great’s grave.

Mama is a natural storyteller. She’s performed this same show previously at the Melbourne Recital Centre to sold-out theatres, but here in broad daylight, the gospel of Lady Day is more grounded.

Marrying the two passions for jazz and performance, Mama Alto is certainly making her mark in the performance arts scene by celebrating difference.

“Marginalised identities become the centre within cabaret discourse,” she says. “There is beauty within embracing our complete identities beyond the socially constructed normative.”


Mama Alto is a cabaret artiste who belongs on stage, and while she may be more privy to moodier lighting and flashier details, she revels in the intimate setting, sharing stories among friends. She tells of Louis Armstrong’s father figure role in Holiday’s life, of Bessie Smith her inspiration. She glides seamlessly between commentary, comedy and song as she steers the audience through tales, one musical chapter at a time.

Her execution is pristine and her diction spears the lyric right into your heart: “I can’t realize you ever cared/You’re not the angel I once knew,” she sings. Mama’s performance transcends age, gender, or single message. Each person resurfaces saddened by the singer’s passing yet humbled by the artistry.

Despite Marysville’s small speck on the grand scale, the message of an iconic jazz figure has not fallen on deaf ears. ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ is not a biopic, Mama says, but a toast to a life taken too soon. And if she touched just one heart in the room that day, then may Billie’s legacy live on.


1-3: Julia Greenhalf

4: Courtesy of Marysville Jazz & Blues Weekend Facebook Page

Claire Varley: The Bit In Between

It starts the way it ends: two strangers, one airport. But the bit in between?
That’s what counts.

Claire Varley

Victorian Claire Varley is the author of The Bit In Between, probably aimed at ‘wanderlust’ advocates, but suitable for anyone who enjoys a take on modern romance fiction. Her debut novel, released this August, follows the lives of Oliver and Alison: two 20-somethings who, despite an unfortunate vomiting during their first encounter, quickly become infatuated with one another.

Varley’s first pages reel you in. Alison and Oliver’s meeting is recounted from both points of view, giving a hilarious contrast to the same event.

Alison has returned from China. She followed around her talentless, Adonis-like boyfriend, Ed, like an obedient Labrador. That is, until realising she was nothing more than his dispensable accessory, coining him the “handsome, sexy mistake”.

And when Oliver meets Alison, he, too, is nothing short of complex. Returning from a failed soul-searching trip, writhing in shame from alterations to his first published novel, Oliver is lost.

Varley captures perfectly the anticipation of new love, two lives combining, giddy over the possibilities lying ahead. She writes: “[t]hey slept in each other’s arms with the exhausted familiarity that comes once in every relationship after that first intimate moment.”

The pair flee to the Solomon Islands – Oliver, in search of inspiration for his second book, and Alison, because nothing is binding her to Australia, so why not? Varley’s writing is skilfully monotonous, agonising. We experience the duo’s daily grind. Oliver stares at a blank screen for hours on end and Alison wanders the streets of Honiara, filling her days with menial activities.

Gradually finding purpose in her new home, helping the locals shape up their resumes and skills, Alison is inspired. Oliver? Not so much.

Varley nails the excruciation of writer’s block, bringing out Oliver’s insecurities often concealed behind the title of ‘published author’. He is terrified that he is a failure as a writer, that Alison will soon come to this realisation and walk out on him forever.

But instead of making a change, Oliver infuriates, wallowing in self-pity, only leaving the house to get drunk with Rick, a stereotypical yet likeable expat. Oliver steals stories from Alison’s real world conversations, fleshing out characters that mirror real life, which lead to the story’s – and his – unexpected end.

As we meet other characters, however fleetingly, Varley shifts the spotlight on them. These ‘vignettes’ do something magical – they remind us this is not just a love story. With Oliver as mouthpiece, Varley writes, “the world was just a complex web created by the backstories of several billion intersecting lives.” With multiple paths destined to interconnect – those of the maid, the shopkeeper, the pilot – she asks us, ‘What has drawn us to this very moment in time?’

The Bit In Between is not just a tale filling in the gaps of a love story. It’s a refreshing, worthwhile read into how we choose to fill our days, and what those choices make of us.

****The Bit in Between

Book cover, Pan Macmillan Australia

Author photograph, Renee Tsatsis, via Pan Macmillan Australia


Dear iPhone, I miss you

I know we parted our separate ways, but I can’t keep lying to myself anymore.

I’m lost without you.

And frankly, I don’t recognise myself without you anymore.

I’ve replaced you with someone else. Someone bigger, bulkier and not someone I’d usually go for.

But it’s what the cool kids were doing, so I jumped on the bandwagon and found myself a new boy toy. Samuel Galaxy was his name.


I just wanted someone who could do the job better. Someone new and improved. Someone with endless possibilities. And yeah, someone who could last longer, too.

I tried to readjust, but it just didn’t seem to work out.

Yep, iPhone, you left a great big hole unfilled in my heart. And I’m begging you to come back.

I miss the way you let me sleep in peace. The way we were so in sync. When it was time for me to shut out the world and get some serious zees in, you had my back. You were quiet, you kept your distance. You didn’t let anyone disturb that sacred shuteye for me. And I loved you for it.


I miss our texts. You were always keen for me to chat for hours and I would never get tired of it. There was no inaccuracy, no delay: we were always on-point. It was as though you could finish the end of my sentences. We were compatible. And, you’d never start talking to me in another language all of a sudden, leaving me dazed and confused, begging to start over.


I miss how you didn’t leave everything hanging out.

It’s getting embarrassing. Flaps out, don’t care. I’m not used to this level of public indecency, and I don’t think I should have to adjust either.

Is it even that sanitary? Surely not.

And when it’s not in properly, well the whole world has to be notified about it, don’t they?

It just seems like a lot of hard work.


But you, iPhone. You were cool, calm and collected. You knew the goods were hidden inside, you just didn’t have to fling it around for the world to see. And I respect that.

So please, dear iPhone, I know I had my doubts, but time has only made this heart grow fonder.

Come back to me with that simplicity and compatibility. We did good together.

5 Reasons Why You’re Not Achieving Your Goals

Ahh, goal setting. Whether it’s something we’ve been dreaming of accomplishing for years, a desire hidden in the deep realm of our mind, or just something you scribbled down in the bright and shining light that is a new year, we all set goals and sadly we often miss aim somewhere along the way.

So, I’ve taken the liberty of uncovering the cold hard truth behind why you’re failing, and here it is in a nutshell:


1) Your goal is too vague

Achieving your goals won’t magically happen overnight, but nothing is going to change unless you have a specific goal in mind. Want to get fit? Want to master a new language? Want to start saving more money? That’s great. That’s an idea in mind. But these ideas are still too vague to proceed.

So start by narrowing that goal into something more specific, i.e. I want to lose Xkg by DD/MM/YY or I want to have saved $$$ by DD/MM/YY.

If your goal is still too vague, get back to that drawing board and refocus.

2) You don’t have a plan

Once you have a specific goal in mind, the next step is crafting your action plan. If you haven’t thought out how you’re going to lose the weight, save the money or learn the language, then you aren’t yet 100% invested in achieving this goal.

Write a list. Create a calendarVerbally acknowledge your goal and how you’re going to attack it from day one.

This is the time to day-dream, the time to let your own insecurities and fears aside. If you want to converse with overseas locals in their language, then picture yourself doing just that. Hold that memory dear, and remind yourself regularly.


3) You aren’t being realistic

With that being said, you can’t succeed at achieving your goal unless it’s realistic.

Don’t say you’ll jump from beginners to near-native French in two months, don’t set impossibly high fitness targets, and don’t give up your entire social life to afford that new car/holiday/really expensive but totally necessary item of clothing.

Know your limits, be fair on yourself and acknowledge when it’s just not going to work. It doesn’t mean giving up, it means accepting that you’re human and there will be obstacles in your way to achieve your goal. Reason with yourself and readjust.

4) You’re not held accountable

Being held accountable is a great way to really see results and further your progress.

If you’re looking to get fit, then find a running partner. For language learners, hire a tutor. Looking to triple your savings? Grant a trusted friend or family member access to your accounts.

Plus, you will be less likely to sleep in or skip a training session if you’ve given your word to someone. If you’re letting down a friend, then you’re more likely to lose friendship points, not just a few sacred moments of shut-eye.

Involving somebody else in your goal is a great way to not only make you stick to your action plan, but also provide an extra level of support and encouragement.


5) You don’t review your progress

Measuring how far you’ve come is a crucial aspect to furthering your progress, particularly when you’ve found yourself in an uninspired rut.

You may be annoyed with yourself because you didn’t catch that last sentence in your non-native tongue, or because you still haven’t moved onto the next weight level at the gym.

I urge you to take a step back and review how far you’ve come: what couldn’t you do 3 months ago? What progress have you made? Remind yourself: why am I doing this?

We make progress day by day, and sometimes because these changes are so minute it’s difficult to retain focus, finding that extra push you truly need.

Progress photos, inspiration boards, past essays, stats and figures: use whatever works for you to remind you of your goal and to keep motivation close to home.

The final word

The best of goals aren’t going to happen overnight, and there will be disappointment, speed bumps and struggles along the way to break your resolve and leave you grasping at motivation. So reassess, remind yourself you are human, and remember: nothing good ever came easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day!