Amanda Palmer does Australia Day in Sydney, 2011

Amanda Fucking Palmer just keeps getting better.

AFP, of Dresden Dolls fame and now carving out a solo career, held court at a packed Sydney Opera House on Wednesday night. It was a precursor to her Down Under tour. But this was special.

For starters, there was an Aussie touch on stage: a Hills hoist and a barbie and an Esky of VB: the booze was rightfully derided as being piss poor, but the cartons did make a fetching backdrop, used as they were to spell out a mighty AFP.

There was a striking voice and piano courtesy of the Melbourne duo The Jane Austen Argument (playing support on AFP’s tour), and rollicking Gypsy-ish fun with Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. The latter provided backing for AFP on a bunch of numbers during the night, showing a high degree of charm, humour and flexibility — one member played piano accordion, sax, organ and electric guitar. And there was a big-screen appearance from Meow Meow and, in the flesh, Kim Boekbinder (also touring with AFP, and author of the gorgeous New Orleans themed tune Big Easy).

And then there was Neil Gaiman, who read a yarn he penned to accompany Amanda’s Who Killed… book, the project that brought them together, and then a poem he’d penned in Hyde Park for Australia Day about our lost megafauna, and then a poem for Amanda.

And then of course there was AFP herself, cavorting with the crowd in her Union Jack corset like a charming and chaotic ringmaster, set list forsaken, band slightly shaken, snags cooked on a barbie, smoochings in the crowd and, in essence, damned good fun.

There were tunes from her new album and some crowd favourites, some silly fun ones and some that were somewhat more serious, and others simply beautiful: a ballad called The Drover’s Boy, just reminding us that the colonisation of this continent that was being celebrated that day had come at a cost to the indigenous inhabitants, and then the concert closer, Nick Cave’s The Ship Song, sung from the balcony.

A raucous encore featuring an all-in rendition of Map of Tasmania and Oasis, complete with glittering gogo dancers, sent the crowd buzzing out the doors after three hours of musical mayhem. The bridge arced over the harbour, mist hugged the skyscrapers, the black-clad tide disappeared into the Sydney streets.

And not an Oi Oi Oi to be heard.

so bloody Awstraylian, maate

It’s Australia Day here in the land of Oz, and, like any true patriot, I skived the day off. (tis a public holiday, but nobody told the mass media masters that. bugger that.)

To celebrate the auspicious landing of white fellahs Down Under — ones who weren’t intending to leave, at least — I ate a sausage roll for breakfast and a meat pie for lunch (with tomato sauce, true blue!) with Anzac bikkies in between. In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, someone kindly brought Arnotts bikkies to our little gathering but I didn’t have the heart to tell them Arnotts isn’t Aussie any more. It’s American-owned. Fortunately, our bikkies haven’t been rebranded cookies, just yet.

Now, a couple of hundred years ago, there was another takeover in Australia, and it’s one that’s causing a bit of dissension among the ranks. Well, some of the ranks. Those ones at the back, actually, largely outside the hall, standing on the steps, shouting to be let in. I’m referring to our indigenous people, the noisiest of whom brand Australian Day ‘invasion day’.

I wonder if we shouldn’t consider, between the beach cricket, the park barbecue and the social piss-up (or in our case, a photography outing to Brisbane State Forest), that maybe those invasion day claims have a bit of currency. Our PM took a big step forward with his apology to indigenous Australians for their mistreatment since white colonisation. Maybe a shift of our national day to something a little brighter and inclusive might also be in order.

The debate brings to mind a great cartoon I saw years ago, in which two Native Americans are watching a sailing ship arriving at a big rock, and one is saying to his mate, “I think it might have been better if Plymouth Rock had landed on the Pilgrims.”


ADDENDUM: I just caught the news, and PM Kevin Rudd has quashed the idea of changing Australia Day’s date. Let’s hope we can find a space outside the jingoism for making sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of yore, and make the national celebration something we can all share in.