Eureka Hotel, Geelong, late 1981
Well out here, nothin’ changes
Not in a hurry anyway
You can feel the endlessness
With the comin’ of the light of day
Talk ‘bout a chosen place
You wanna sell it in the marketplace – well
Just a minute now
You’re standing on solid rock
You’re standing in sacred ground
And the winds of change
Are blowin’ down the line
‘Eureka Hotel, Geelong, late 1981’ is a guess – a well educated guess – as to where and when I first heard the passionate anthem that is Solid Rock. I heard Goanna a lot of times in a lot of places in the early 1980s – the Grand Pacific in Lorne, the Collendina in Ocean Grove, the Station Hotel in Prahran, Macy’s in Toorak, Chasers in St Kilda Rd, the Prospect Hill in Kew, Festival Hall when James Taylor toured, the Myer Music Bowl, to remember just a few – but it’s most likely I first heard Goanna and Solid Rock at the Eureka Hotel, tucked away in Little Malop St, Geelong.
I was studying literature and writing in Melbourne but came home most weekends to work at my parents’ TAB and to catch up with high school friends.
The Eureka was pretty much my introduction to 1980s Australian pub rock. Ariel, Australian Crawl, Chain, Richard Clapton, Dragon, Mondo Rock and Weddings, Parties Anything played there regularly.
For Goanna, a Geelong band, the Eureka Hotel was their home ground, their stomping ground, their stamping ground. From the Eureka, Goanna took on the world. Or parts thereof.
Solid Rock took on the cause of Indigenous Australia. There had, and have, been other songs about the plight of Australia’s aborigines (Living In The Land Of Oz by Ross Wilson, Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil, Treaty by Yothu Yindi, to name just three) but Solid Rock has stayed with me much more than the others.
That’s partly because it’s such a compelling, surging song and partly because – in my naivety – I tried to get too close to the band. As an aspiring journalist I thought I could chronicle the band’s rise and rise. But can a fan be a journalist? Can a journalist be a fan? I found out I was just a groupie, with Goanna posters on my walls and, at most gigs, a notepad and a pen in my hand.
I had a filing cabinet bulging with notes for Goanna stories. Some got published, some didn’t. None hit the mark the way I’d hoped. Still, it was an exciting ride for a while, especially when Solid Rock was released in October 1982 and spread way beyond the Eureka Hotel, going to number 2 on the charts.
But within a few years – 1985 – the band had fallen apart and I had learnt the hard way that it’s better to write short articles about lots of bands than sticking to one band in particular. And that it’s better to write about the wider world too – family, home, work, grief, love, parenting, sport. Life.
Goanna only released two albums, 1982’s Spirit of Place and 1985’s Oceania. But songwriter Shane Howard has kept writing songs and has released a dozen solo albums. You won’t find another song like Solid Rock amongst them but you’ll find a fine body of sensitive work, a life’s work. (Check out, for instance, Rather Be Here from the 2006 album Songs of Love and Resistance and Don’t Give Up On Us from the 2010 album Goanna Dreaming.)
For many years I didn’t have a copy of the Solid Rock single or the Spirit of Place album in my Melbourne home. I heard the song often enough – in my head, at Shane Howard gigs, on the telly sometimes. I still loved the song but I felt a bit of an impostor – living my comfortable suburban life I would wonder, What have I ever done to help Indigenous people? There’s a poster saying ‘You are on Aboriginal land’ in my study. There’s a wall map of Aboriginal nations in the family room. There’s a small print called Rainbow Serpent on the wall of the lounge-room. There’s a dictionary of Aboriginal words on a bookshelf. But are these objects statements or ornaments? They are, at the very least, attempts to make a connection, a connection I might never have tried to make if not for Solid Rock.
For many years I deliberately left Solid Rock and the Spirit of Place album in my parents’ beach home, 120 kilometres away – not far from the Eureka Hotel in Geelong and the Grand Pacific in Lorne. I needed to hear other songs songs. I needed to see lots of other bands and singers.
But this year I brought the album home.
On the 30th anniversary of Solid Rock, in October this year, The Age’s Warwick McFadyen wrote a very fine article, an article that really hit the mark, an article by a journalist who is, I’m pretty sure, a keen fan too.
The article travelled far and wide, describing Howard’s return to Uluru for a 30th anniversary concert, and new recordings of Solid Rock.
The article began: ‘For some musicians, one song can make a career. For Shane Howard, one song made a life.’