Yours & Owls

The three Leisure Coast born-and-bred men who make up Yours & Owls, Balunn Jones, Adam Smith and Ben Tillman, don’t see themselves as anything special, just long-time friends forging unique work for themselves to avoid the 9-5 monotony. What they have done to the landscape of Wollongong however is something special. While they’re the first to admit they haven’t done it perfectly, where others have seen brick walls and stopped dead, they’ve scrounged for a bulldozer and blazed the entire fortress down, virtually transforming a cultural wasteland into an exciting wonderland that continues to unfurl before our eyes. They haven’t done it single-handedly, but they have been an integral part of the shift. With Shining Bird frontman Dane Taylor in tow, we took the three of them to the site of many a creative spark, Thirroul’s eternal Beanstalk, to delve into their history, dynamics and questionable vegetable analogies.

Black Gold: It seems like you guys have reached a new level at present for Yours & Owls with this epic festival and its amazing lineup. How have things changed since the early days?

Balunn: Ever since you started with the parties in the early days of the barn you’ve been pushing us forward Tillman.

Tillman: Yeah things haven’t specifically changed, more things have happened, just kind of collecting new things to do really.

Adam: You just can’t help yourself, you have to go for that carrot.

Balunn: Yeah you love to push it eh! You just keep dangling the carrot, it’s like, “How about we do this?” and we’re like, “Oh…kay…”

Adam: We’re suckers for punishment.

Tillman: I’m dangling the carrot, or I’m getting the carrot dangled in front of me? I swear it’s both!

Balunn: I don’t know, but you like to dangle it as much as you like to chase it.

Adam: There’s a lot of imagery here…

Tillman: It’s like there’s a carrot dangling in front of me, but there’s one attached to my back as well.

Adam: That sounds really…interesting. (much laughter)

Balunn: You’re like a pacific dancer with those straw skirts, but it’s just made of carrots. (even more laughter)

Let’s go back to the start again. Talk us through the evolution of Yours and Owls and where you each came in…

Adam: It goes back a long way. We’ve known each other since we were kids you know. We used to play in a band together! With Jeff (Bell) as well.

No way! I did not know that! What were you called?

Adam: I don’t know, we had a name right?!?

Balunn: I don’t remember, but yeah, I think I met you in year 8? Because your house was on the way from my house to the beach, so we’d go from my house to Ben’s house and then to the beach. 

Tillman: Yeah, so we used to surf together.

Balunn: We’d have bacon sandwiches at Ben’s house and then go surfing. Tillman always had his drums set up at his mum’s house so then we started playing as a band at Ben’s place.

Tillman: Jeff used to surf a little bit as well - that’s a story in itself!

Balunn: He did hey! Because his house was the next stop. It was like Adam and I and then Ben’s house and then Jeff’s house and then the beach.

Tillman: That was like a whole day.

Balunn: It was, it was crazy how quickly the days went when you were kids.

Tillman: We’d go for a surf, eat some food, hang at Jeff’s and then go back for another surf in the afternoon.

Adam: We started jamming. Bal lived in this place that had a crazy garage. It had this crazy…like a pit under the house. We used to jam down there.

Balunn: It was full of junk.

Tillman: I swear your parents were loving it. We cleaned it up and your parents were like, “Ah, good one kids!”

Balunn: And then my dad, he’s super-schitzy to noise. After the drums were going for a while he’d get pretty riled up!

Adam: But yeah, we used to just jam there and that’s kind of how we started hanging out. And then we all went through teen-hood I guess and then you moved out Tillman, to The Barn, and that was the first share-house.

Tillman: I think we started uni the year I moved into the barn.

Adam: Somewhere around then, maybe the year after.

Balunn: You guys got fined right? That’s why you threw the first party.

Tillman: We used to do these parties, that was Dav, Koots made himself a part of the house but he didn’t live there, me, Rory, Monz, Lofty for a little bit… On Sandon Point beach, right opposite Sandon Point, we paid $150 a week between four people!

Adam: So they used to throw these parties - one of them I swear there was 500 people at - and then did you have bands, or like a DJ?

Tillman: We didn’t have bands, or a DJ, we just had CD’s. Rory used to have a portable DVD player, which he’d put in a cup-holder in his car and then watch movies when he drove up to Sydney every day for work. So we used that DVD player as a CD player and we’d just make mix CD’s and put it on our shitty sound system. Then as soon as the music would end, some dero would run inside, steal the thing and there’d be no music.

Adam: You had some smashed windows and the cops would come - the last one the cops were really onto it. They were checking your MySpace. Remember that? They knew about it and then they shut it down straight away.

Tillman: That’s when we got all the fines. So we had all these fines for having too many people. It was pretty hectic. I had to go to court for some of them actually. Do you know Tom Fetterplace? He got arrested for not moving along and the cops fully roughed him up and got him on the ground. He hired this full sleazy gun lawyer and took him to court. We had this system of wrist-bands for the party and he had one, but the cops were still like, “Nah, get out of here!” He was being a bit of a smart-ass so he got arrested and then we copped all these fines for public disturbance or something. So we were like, “How are we going to pay for these fines? We can’t pay for it ourself!” Big Dav was in there at that point and he was a bit older so he was like, (goes into deep-voice Dav mode) “Oh, oh we’ll just throw another party and make some money.” He was an adult so he actually knew how to do stuff. So we learned how to talk to people and actually make things happen. Castro’s agreed to let us do it and that’s when Liberteen Ranch started.

Adam: You had like Miami Horror, The Jezabels…

Tillman: It was just a club party really, trying to make money to pay for the fines and then it worked and it was heaps of fun, we got heaps of free drinks and it kind of all started from there I guess.

When did Night Eats Day come along, was that later on?

Tillman: So we did the Ranch and then I got offered Ratatat out of the blue.

Balunn: That was a huge show because Tame Impala supported them.

Adam: Cloud Control as well?

Balunn: No it was Young & Restless and Tame Impala.

Adam: They all looked so young then (Tame Impala). The bass player was tiny! They were like 16 or 17.

Tillman: We did that and that was cool and then after that The Grand Hotel people asked us to do regular stuff. So we did Night Eats Day. That went for about a year maybe and then those dudes were just heaps dodgy and didn’t pay their bills pretty much. Around that time the boys (Balunn, Jeff and Adam) got back from South America.

Balunn: Yeah it was around that time that we all got home.

Adam: And me and Bal wanted to start a cafe after that trip. You know you come back from overseas and you feel like you can do anything. You just feel like dreams could true.

Balunn: Just before that I’d gone from South America, where you could do whatever you want because there was no laws, to London and didn’t have any money, so I was just like “Oh I’ll just start a sushi business,” and I was in the ritziest part of London because I was staying at my grandma’s house. So I had free accomodation but I had no money. It was in South Kensington and I was like, “I’ll just sell sushi to the local shops!” So I just bought all this stuff and made these shitty sushi rolls and took them around to all these fancy fish shops in the posh part of London. “Ah, I’ve got these fancy sushi rolls. Do you think you can sell them?” I made up all these stories about training in Japan with sushi chefs and all that and I gave out all of these samples. They were heaps nice, they were like, (puts on posh British accent) “Is that the branding they’re going to come in? Do you have a brochure or something?” I was like, “Nuh! That’s it.” I did one walk around all the shops and realised it wasn’t going to work, no one’s going to buy it. Up that point I’d spent like 18 pounds buying all the stuff. I had a big jar of sushi vinegar and all the stuff for sushi rolls and I was like “Ah, I’ve wasted all of my last bit of money on this stupid plan and it’s never going to work!” I came home very shortly after that and I was like, “Let’s just start a cafe here!”

Adam: And we’ve pretty much worked off that same ethic. So Bal and I were keen to open a cafe. We were never going to have music or anything, potentially it was going to be a bar.

Tillman: We didn’t plan for it at all did we?

Balunn: Nah, but once the cafe opened you’d already been doing the music and then…

Tillman: I think I was bit bummed out because of the Grand dudes…it was just a real negative environment.

Adam: So you didn’t want to do shows.

Tillman: I was just burnt out from that whole thing, didn’t care about it.

Adam: It was like 6 months in maybe…

Yeah because you had started off with the gallery and everything…

Adam: Yeah we had the gallery and then Kirin (Kirin J Callinan) played at our first exhibition opening but it wasn’t like a show. It wasn’t going to be a venue, but that was amazing.

Balunn: That was probably the best art show we did, that first one, Barry Langcaster.

Tillman: Andrew Bass’s was pretty cool…

Adam: Yeah the start was really good.

Balunn: It started off with a bit of a bang.

Adam: That rolled along. It was very much a food thing, we were doing the cafe. Then we got a liquor license and we started…

Tillman: We started doing dinners and they got progressively boozier. We were young and we had the shortest attention spans. We went through so many menus.

Adam: We changed like every day!

Balunn: The kitchen was pretty small hey. We had the toastie press and then the oven and that was it. And we designed like a 15-course tapas menu with seafood and three or four different types of meat. We started to get bookings, like it kind of got a bit of traction. We’d get 20 or so people come in and that was the place packed. We did garlic prawns and we’d cook them on the plate with the chilli on there and everyone in the whole place would start sneezing because of the chilli on there.

Adam: I remember just coughing and crying from the chilli! It was creating a very unpleasant atmosphere.

Tillman: It was getting so hard. We had to prep so much stuff. Things just got less and less common to be on the menu. You know and we’d run out of things, “Can I get some quinoa sushi please?” “Oh sorry we’ve already sold out of that,” and it’d be like 6pm.

Adam: We were 21 when we started and we were really ambitious and had ideas but didn’t follow it all the way through.

Tillman: It was a learning process for us really.

Balunn: It was like a uni degree. There was the weirdest people who liked to come in. The outcasts of society who didn’t fit in anywhere else. So there was always these crazy people coming in.

Dane: Like the people that worked there! (collective ooooh’s)

Balunn: I think we were accepting though. They felt comfortable enough to come in there.

Tillman: They would have tried with all the shops. I remember seeing some of our regulars going past other shops and some of the shop owners would get out the front with a broom and start going, “Piss off! Git! Git!”

Adam: We got some gems out of it.

Dane: Big Red.

Adam: Yep, Big Red. Marie was our favourite.

Tillman: She did an art exhibition, that was a good one.

Adam: She was a bit of a wise woman - like a sage.

Balunn: I remember her talking about walking down, like because she’d lived her whole life in Keiraville, and she used to walk into town and said it was just all horses and paddocks until you got down to the intersection and she’d been doing that walk for 40 years and seeing it change the whole time. So she was really interesting. She’d come in and have this really critical eye on everything. And she was a recovering addict, she’d been through some rough traps and looked at the city with a real interesting point of view.

Tillman: She was always so supportive of us. We obviously never made any money out of that shop and she’d always come in and if we were looking a bit down and defeated by the whole thing she’d just whisper these cryptic sort of messages you couldn’t understand but you knew she was saying that what was going on was a really good, really positive thing. She could see that it was going to turn into something. It was this weird thing that made us feel like we were actually doing something.

You guys did open the door for a lot of things to come. By the time you opened the Oxford had closed, there was nothing really going on…

Tillman: The Little Price / Otis Bar had just started. She’s like our fairy godmother.

Adam: Most of our influences have been women to be honest. She really pushed us, just had some good advice.

Tillman: There was no competition, she nurtured us through it. Told us how to get stuff happening, but I think we have abrasive personalities maybe. Like we didn’t know the rules to start off with, so we just broke them all. I think that’s what opened the doors. Because we just brought all this attention while others were just quietly going about their business trying to get through, and we were just like, “What’s going on? This is fucked! Why can’t you do this? This is rubbish!”

Balunn: But then it got real expensive real quick. Like we racked up $14,000 worth of fines in two months. We got slammed by the council for not doing the fit-out properly, so we had the health inspectors come in and we had two $1,500 fines. Then we had that Bungalows show and we had undercover cops in. There was 120 people in there and the counted everyone and slapped a $3,000 one there and then we got liquor ones for selling alcohol out front. So then all of a sudden it was like $14,000 worth of fines! Then there was the spray-painting thing…

Adam: It’s been 5 years now since that happened and now we’re finally allowed to paint over it with approval because the new owner of Rad wants us to do a mural. So that’s a nice bit of closure for us 5 years later. But yeah at that time there was just the Otis (The Little Prince) that was the only small bar, we started our thing, the Oxy had shut down, so we were kind of like, “Let’s just do some shows…”

Dane: Who was the first band?

Adam: Well Kirin, but that was an art thing.

Tillman: When was Shining Bird?

Adam: That was a Christmas show, $5 on the door and it was packed. Was that your first gig?

Dane: Second, first was the Stoke Factory.

Adam: It was really special because remember you made those Christmas treats as well? And everyone got those rum balls.

Dane: Oh yeah, I forgot about that!

Tillman: What was our actual first show? Was it Holden and Henny?

Adam: Yeah it was that Mexican night. It was just our mates dressed up as mariachis and they played this ridiculous…

Tillman: That was the point for me, we had the Andrew Bass exhibition and we had this big space table and it was really low. That was the moment because Adam had been banging on about it, “C’mon let’s do bands, let’s do bands!” and then I just remember, because we had our liquor license and everyone had a few drinks. I just remember looking up into the room and it was really dark and there was all these guys sitting around the table and Henny just had his knee up on the table and was just shredding on this acoustic guitar. It was actually incredible. The vibe was so good. I think from then on it was just a done deal. It was all downhill from there…

Dane: I bought one of Bass’s prints that night.

Tillman: Which one?

Dane: That one that looks like a spaceship landing on the beach.

Balunn: They were cool, it was heaps interesting stuff.

Adam: The shop was looking good back then too. So clean, the white walls. Polished floorboards…

Tillman: We kind of realised we’re not good at early mornings, we’re not very good at doing all these different things, so let’s just not do them. We realised the music thing had a bit of traction so we got out of the bar. And now Dan is going through the exact same thing that we went through. It’s pretty cool.

Dane: It seems like you guys are really good at seeing where the holes in the market are, what needs to be filled…

Tillman: It’s not even like we’ve looked at any sort of landscape and gone, “Oh, that needs filling, let’s just do it.”

Adam: It’s all just been stuff we want to do and I think we’re lucky in that we hang out with a lot of people who are similar-minded and don’t really say, “That’s a stupid idea.” They’re just like, “Oh yeah, that’ll be cool.”

Balunn: Yeah and I think we’ve always tried heaps of different things as well. Always trying heaps of different stuff and sometimes it doesn’t work and the things that do work we keep doing them.

Adam: We’ve definitely had a few that have been trial and error.

Tillman: I swear Big Dav’s been real good for that. He’s been the older sort of dude who always just…I don’t think he’s ever had a normal job either and he taught me that. I remember that point where Dav’s just like you can pretty much do what you want if you just try to do it. There was just this moment where I was like you can choose to do whatever you want, you don’t have to go get a normal job.

Adam: All of our mates, all of us used to just do this, go to the Beanstalk when we were like 18 or 19 and Martin would be like, “Do you guys work? Get a job you bums!” Now we’re still doing it and we actually are managing to work while doing the things we want to do, which is cool.

Tillman: It’s just nice, because we’ve been banging the drum for 6 years or whatever and it’s nice that it feels like we’ve managed to trick everyone into doing what we want to do. That’s the best thing. Because it means that it is a thing that you can do for a job or as a lifestyle.

Adam: I mean it is a pretty easy cause to champion. “Let’s bring arts and music to Wollongong. Let’s party!” That’s the thing, we’ve never really tried to be too highbrow, we’ve just been ourselves in saying “Let’s have a party in Wollongong,” and they’ve allowed us to do that.

Everything you guys have done from the cafe to the bar to now Rad Bar and through to the festival has such a laid-back feel. Like the festival has to be the most chill festival in music. Which is true to Wollongong. It’s also a serious festival, but it’s a completely different feel to the standard ones.

Tillman: I guess we’re not corporate-minded, which some festivals are. I think a lot of them, like Splendour, have come from good places, like those people who have organic growth where they’re not doing anything with money as the driving force behind it. I think that’s always going to be where something feels good and you can tell it’s…

Adam: I mean people can smell a rat. If they feel like it’s got this hectic corporate backing or like a council-run festival or something, people just don’t dig it, people don’t go.

Tillman: I’d like to thank our sponsors, uh… Wollongong City Council (much laughter)

Adam: You know what I mean…

How did things unfold after you sold the cafe to Dan?

Balunn: (to Tillman) You had your accident.

Tillman: Yeah, it was in October.

Adam: Pretty much a year to the day before we were actually out of that place.

Balunn: We were out in September. We were already doing shows at the Town Hall before that. So we were already starting to do bigger shows. We had Tumbleweed, I think there was a Sticky Fingers one. But yeah, after you had your accident we just started hating the shop even more.

Tillman: It was a weird time.

Balunn: It was a weird time.

Adam: It sort of galvanised us as well.

Tillman: I guess everyone sort of got a break as well, because that shop would have been heaps stressful for you guys. It was bad enough with three of us, but with just two people running it, making no money…

Adam: We were just like, “Why are we doing this?”

Balunn: It went a bit sour for a little while. Then I broke my arm, so I was out as well and I was heaps stoked when I broke my arm, I was like, “Yes! I don’t have to go in and do that shitty…” and it was just Adam. I was so excited.

Adam: That’s alright, I’m used to it.

Tillman: Yep, we stitched old Adam up a few times…

Adam: A couple times I’d get to the cafe and it was just destroyed and it was the partners that had done it. It wasn’t the staff who had left it in that state. The staff would leave it perfect.

Balunn: We always had paint cans lying around and we just threw paint around everywhere, we painted the front wall and I remember all the tables and chairs were turned upside down and we sat one of those old arm chairs up the front and we wrote on a big piece of cardboard a big finger and it just said “fuck you” so that was the first thing Adam saw when he walked into the door, just this big finger.

Adam: I gave them an earful the next day.

Balunn: You rocked up and the Mercury was at the front door because we’d painted the outside.

Adam: Allegedly. Allegedly you’d done all that.

Tillman: It was allegedly our footprints walking in and out the door covered in paint as well.

Balunn: It got pretty crazy there. Thank god we got out of that one.

Tillman: So we got out of it and I guess there was just a bit of downtime. Dan had asked me to keep doing shows for him, so I was still doing that but it wasn’t much.

Balunn: You started doing Farmer and the Owl as well with Jeb and you did the first Farmer and the Owl festival at the uni.

Tillman: It all started because there was that council thing, the Live Music Task Force, and Jeb and I started talking.

So there was that whole time, Tillman’s rehabilitating, what did the other two of you do?

Adam: When we sold the cafe Bal and I just got normal jobs.

Balunn: We didn’t know what would happen to Yours & Owls. It could’ve just finished.

I guess the cafe was kind of out of your hands at that point…

Adam: Yeah and Ben at that point hadn’t started booking other shows as Yours & Owls. He was doing Rad, but not really anything else.

Tillman: We kind of just went back to what we were doing before the cafe, so I started booking shows for other venues, Bal started doing his other job, Adam was doing his other job and then accidentally, I don’t remember how it happened, I started hanging out with Jeb. I was just heaps bored and wanted stuff to do. We did that King Gizzard show and that led to a bunch of other stuff. It was funny with Bal and Adam, because you knew you wanted a break from it, but it was heaps fun so it was hard to stay away.

Adam: We never really stopped helping either. Even with all those Farmer and the Owl shows we were always there.

Balunn: I fully cut myself off for those first few. I was like, “I hate this, I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Adam: I was always doing the logistics thing, just kind of helping out.

Tillman: At the start I was kind of like, “I’m doing this thing, do you want to be a part of it?” and the reaction was like, “I want a break from it.” but as soon as it started happening, it was like, “Oh, actually, it looks heaps fun, I do actually want to be a part of that.” I think that’s back to that whole carrot dangling thing. We’re just all in the fruit shop!

Adam: I think we always knew we were just on hiatus. We didn’t think it was fully over.

So Adam and Bal, you’re both back full time now? You quit your jobs?

Adam: Yep.

Tillman: When did we fully come back together?

Balunn: We kind of all sat down and were like, “Ok, what are we doing with Yours & Owls? Is it going to be a thing any more? Are we going to quit it? What’s it going to be?” and that was when we decided to give the festival a go. So we did the first Yours & Owls festival and that went well, then the second Farmer and the Owl festival the year after that.

Tillman: So was the second Farmer and the Owl the first festival?

Balunn: The first Farmer and the Owl was The Drones one. You did that one, you, Jeb and Nick and then the second we were on. So the first ones we were working other jobs and doing the festivals, but this year we’re full time doing festival stuff.

Tillman: It’s pretty cool and it’s been such a difference. I feel like this year has just stepped up so much. It would have been crazy with you guys juggling another job to pay your way and still trying to get stuff done, like in the mornings before work and in the evenings. Now everyone’s fully focused on this one thing. Again, there’s heaps of crazy ideas and heaps of stuff that doesn’t happen, but at least we’ve all got time to talk it through and be thinking about it.

Balunn: It’s going to be a big festival this year, there’s heaps of cool stuff going on.

There’s obviously more international bands in the mix…

Tillman: Yeah, but it’s all the other stuff I reckon. There is bigger bands and more stages, but just all the other details stuff I think is what’s going to make it heaps more special. The cool different little projects, the art stuff getting involved.

I loved that aspect last year as well, even like having the whole Forever Projects thing. That was sick.

Adam: Yeah that was sweet.

Tillman: That was cool.

Adam: That’s the best part about it is just working with the local groups. It makes it pretty fun.

Balunn: I think that’s what makes it more authentic as a festival, especially compared to more commercial festivals that are popping up here and there and then disappearing. Even with the lineup, it’s such a diverse lineup, it crosses so many different genres. We’re doing that on purpose, we want as many people to come as possible. So the more community groups that get involved, the more different bands, the more you can have a celebration of the local community, which is what a festival is supposed to be, you know, like a cool one that’s celebrating art and culture.

Obviously within the lineup you have all the bigger Australian and international bands, but you also have all the local bands on equal footing - a solid amount of local bands for that big a festival. It’s so good. How do you split your time Tillman? Between Farmer and the Owl, Yours & Owls and the promoting, I feel like it must be pretty muddy across each of the different things. In your head is it all one thing?

Tillman: I’ve got phones in each hand. I don’t know, each individual task is its own thing. So, like there’s a video coming out for a band tomorrow and you have to do all these little jobs to get that thing happening. Each individual job is it’s own thing, but you know that it’s all related. So I can’t just go, “Ok, today I’m going to do label stuff, tomorrow I’m going to do festival.” You know emails will come in, you have meetings or whatever and sometimes you can knock off two or three of those jobs at once. You know, “Do you want to play the festival? Also, we need to get this thing for Bec or Hockey Dad sorted, can we get that rolling?” I think because it’s such a small world it’s not like the label is one job and the festival is another job, which equals two full time jobs. They’re both related so you can get two jobs done with one and a half times work or something. there’s heaps of conversations, like even with Adam, where most of your stuff is crossing over, it’s like, “Hey we need to talk about sponsorship for the festival. Oh yeah, we’ve got a Hockey Dad tour coming up.” It just all flows into one conversation.

Adam: Living up here is nice because you can just go down the road and everything’s right here.

Tillman: I’d say my entire life is consumed with this stuff but social and work lines are very blurred. So it’s not too much of an issue. Like I was hanging out with Jeb last night and that’s technically working I guess, because we put time aside for a label meeting but we just talk shit for the whole time.

Adam: On the other hand we went to that Shining Bird gig at the CWA Hall. I went there to watch my mates’ band, but I also knew there’d be heaps of people there and I ended up talking business with them anyway, but it doesn’t feel like that. It’s an opportunity to hang out with a lot of people that you want to hang out with. It’s a nice way of doing it.

Tillman: It’s just like we’re kids, because we’re not working proper jobs so we’re just playing kind of. So each project you’re just playing with your mates. Instead of, “Let’s go down to the sandpit,” or whatever, it’s saying, “Let’s build this crazy thing, it’s heaps fun,” and then everyone’s like, “Yeah, it heaps fun!” And now it’s at that point where we can afford to pay people to do things and pay ourselves not to have to do all that other shit.

Adam: Unlike back in the bar days where we were working for less than the dole…

Tillman: We had live live off $250 a week a one point.

Adam: …and we were working like 70 hours a week!

Do you feel like it’s been worth it, all these years of hard work? Would you do it all again?

Adam: Nah, I wouldn’t do it all again! I don’t regret it though.

Tillman: If you had all the knowledge going through and could just cut out all the bad shit. We’ve got a sweet life now.

Adam: Oh, I love what I do, it’s just the thought of doing it all again is exhausting! I wouldn’t go back in time and…

Tillman: “You are now sentenced to go back to working at Yours & Owls!”

Adam: Bal would just top himself! If we made him make one more quesadilla in his life he’d probably shoot someone.

Dane: I want to see the quesadillas back at the fest, and a real smoky little garlic prawn.

I guess another way of phrasing it is are you happy with what you’ve accomplished?

Adam: Oh yeah, for sure.

Balunn: For sure. Everyone always said it was going to take 5 years to build up a business and we had no concept of what business meant at all, we were just like, “Yeah, whatever, we’ll just make money straight away, we don’t need your advice,” but it was fully true. Now 5 years on we have an understanding of what business is, we’ve got to the point where we can do what we want to do and sustain our lives.

Adam: And also patience, 5 years when you’re 21!

Dane: Yeah, when you’re a kid you just want everything now. Like now one-year release plans come around so quick.

Adam: The look on The Pinheads’ faces the other night when we told them that something would be a year away was just like disbelief. And I know that feeling. Unfortunately that’s just how it works.

Tillman: Bal and I were saying this morning as well, we just came from WIN TV people, just sorting stuff out with them, you know all their stuff is changing, but it’s just funny now, 5 years ago we would have looked at WIN TV and all this stuff and just been like, “I don’t even want a part of it,” but now it’s at this point where they’re looking to us and realising this is becoming the new…not mainstream, but instead of just the general person being, “You watching the footy on Friday night mate?” it’s sort of changing to, “What show are you going to?” They’re starting to talk more about that sort of thing.

Balunn: The marketing dude at WIN was like, “I’m so happy to be doing something else! I’m over the footy eh!” and you never would have heard that in the past. So it’s cool.

Tillman: The same with council as well, they’ve backed us for this one. They’re like, “Ok, it’s a real thing.” We’ve been banging on the door for that long and now we’ve got heaps of other people banging on the door as well and now they’re realising it’s more effort to keep the door closed than to embrace it.

After all these years of hanging out and working together, from year 8 on, do you still get along together ok?

Adam: We’ve all had some tantrums for sure.

Tillman: Not that bad though. We’ve always said that it would be way worse.

Adam: It’s good, I don’t see it as a bad thing. I’ve always said that any positive, creative process has to have conflict.

Tillman: We definitely butt heads but we work through it, rather than walking away and not solving anything.

Adam: We’ll get a better outcome.

Tillman: We’ll definitely say, “No, that’s a shit idea!”

Balunn: We’ve gotten to the point where you can throw ideas out there and they get criticised but you don’t take it personally at all.

Adam: It’s like you have to fight for your idea. You’ve gotta be able to back it up, so in a sense it’s very democratic. You can vote for it, but you’ve gotta know what you’re talking about or it’ll just get ditched. I think the three thing is pretty good. Two would be real intense. It depends on the personalities I guess.

Balunn: Two would be real intense. Three people is a real interesting dynamic, you’ve got three relationships, you’ve got the two individual ones, then you’ve got the collective relationship and they’re all entirely different, so there’ll be conflicts that come up between different people but then they get mediated in different ways, so it works pretty well.

Tillman: Yeah, each individual’s relationship counts as well as the relationship with the other person as well.

Adam: It’s funny because those two (Balunn and Tillman) studied psychology so they can play that hand and I’m just the rational, boring…You know but rationality sometimes prevails.

Balunn: We can get more carried away. I think we’ve all become more realistic as well, you know we’ve all realised there’s not too much point putting energy into an idea that’s not going to come to fruition. Unless there’s some way of actually doing it, we’ll just sideline it, or come up with a way of doing it.

Tillman: That’s the thing, when we were at the shop we’d all just say, “Oh man, we’ve got so many good ideas! I wish someone would pay us to come up with ideas for them!” but it’s not really about that. Ideas don’t mean anything unless you can actually do it. Everyone has good ideas.

Adam: They’re not actually great until you can do it, and until you’ve pulled it off for a while as well.

Tillman: That’s the hardest bit, carrying something through and seeing it through to happening.

That’s what you guys have done, is just stick at it and make it happen, whereas so many other people have had the ideas but not followed through. You just keep pushing forward. 

Tillman: We’re stubborn. I remember the first time I wanted to do a festival or whatever, I was heaps young, just like, “Yeah we’ll get Arcade Fire!” all this stuff.

Adam: That’ll happen one day.

Tillman: It was so funny because I knew of Aaron (Curnow, Spunk Records), but I didn’t know Aaron, but I knew he’d put the Arcade Fire record out, so I was just like, if I just talk to that, that’s all I’ve gotta do. I’ll just talk to that guy and I’ll get Arcade Fire, because he’ll be interested, he’ll be keen. Now we know Aaron and it’s just a normal thing…

Adam: It is a semi-naive approach, but it isn’t that far from how things works in the real world. It is as casual as that sometimes… Is that a wrap for one day?

Yours & Owls Festival is on October 1 & 2 at Stuart Park in Wollongong. You're crazy if you live in the area and don't already have tickets. Purchase them here.

Forever Projects

If you happened upon a section of last year's Your & Owls festival that alternately featured a massive banquet and an African food market you were likely wondering what on earth was going on - not standard fare for a music festival. As it turns out Forever Projects is what was going on and this year they're coming back! We caught up with Ben Hawkins, the former ninja-barista for Lee & Me and current genius of design, who's connecting our little community with a community in a country far, far away.

Black Gold: What exactly is Forever Projects and how did it start?

Ben Hawkins: It all began when friends of ours were living in Tanzania to adopt children. While they were there they saw this epic work that was being done by the orphanage in trying to reunite abandoned kids with their families. When they came back to Australia they knew they had to do something to help them out. Forever Projects came out of that desire to help out.

Where did the unique name come from? To be honest it took me a little while to wrap my head around it!

It actually cleared a lot up for us once we stumbled on that name. We felt our name needed to reflect the change in direction from being just an orphanage, which is called Forever Angels, to the empowerment work we are doing now for families in the community. We actually only work one on one with families for 12 months, not forever like you might assume! But the effect of that year will permanently change their lives.

Awesome, so is your work mainly involved with one particular orphanage there?

At this stage, yes. The orphanage began with a girl from UK who started it 10 years ago and has been exploring ways to permanently change the lives of the poor, not just give hand-outs or provide band-aid solutions but to treat people with dignity. So we designed a project that works closely with 50 families at once. We work with families who are struggling to prevent the situation becoming so dire that abandonment is the only option. This project can be rolled out all over Tanzania. We've just finished our trial project in Mwanza and we're about to roll it out to a town 100km away as well.

What does your work on the ground primarily consist of?

We work to empower families who have a newborn child who is malnourished. Most often they’re in this situation because they’ve lost their mother in childbirth. When the baby doesn’t have access to milk, there’s not an affordable alternative to keep the baby alive. So formula milk is the most immediate need that we provide. Once the kids are healthy, we want to empower the family so they can go on looking after their own children. So we give them training and help setup a business to give them a solid income stream. Lastly, we make sure they have a safe home so they can live independently long term, which might mean building them a house.

I think the tendency with aid organisations, especially historically, has been to blanket entire areas with money or band-aid solutions as you put it. The shift in working towards manageable, long-term change is appearing to be far more beneficial, but does require much more commitment. It's great that you guys are working in this arena. How do you see your engagement with the West, specifically in Wollongong, benefiting these communities in Tanzania?

We want to actually inspire people. And create a community who are also inspiring each other to use not just their money but the things they're good at. One of the things we've been stoked about is people coming to us, saying they've got this thing they want to use to do good. Like a street artist, barista, designer, builder or a kid with a trombone. They're using what's in their hands to engage in a cause outside themselves and inspiring other people to ask the same question about their own skills and work. Because of that, it's creating its own community here. And together we tell stories of real people whose lives have been changed in Tanzania because of them. I think we're only just scratching the surface of what's possible here. It's still developing.

That's great, I really love that it's more investment on this end than just, "Please give us your money..." though I'm sure money also helps! So I saw over the fence last year at the Yours & Owls festival that you had quite a set-up there for a banquet, and that market - such an epic set-up! What's happening this year?

We're bringing it back! Yeah it was an epic feat last year to recreate a Tanzanian market and drop it into a festival in Wollongong. We really had no idea how people would take to it but it was amazing. It was really the springboard to where our community is now.

This year we'll be joined by a whole group of street artists who are giving their time to create a massive mural. Sandygoodwich and Samara's will be pumping out delicious feeds and cocktails and it all goes to help empowering Tanzanian families. We love how people can do the thing they were going to be doing, like having a beer at a festival, and it can permanently change someone's life in another country.

Rad! So what should festival attendees be on the lookout for there?

We'd love for people to come and hang out with us, grab a beer and a meal and see what our community is doing or be inspired by stories of families whose lives have been changed. We're hoping a whole new group of people join us so we can continue to share stories of hope.

Cool, and tell us about yourself. What do you do apart from Forever Projects, what drew you to being involved with them and what is your role with them?

I'm originally from Wollongong but I spent the last couple of years all over NSW so I was floating between freelance designer and having the freedom not to work at all. A friend took me to Tanzania last year and it was there that I saw for myself how good this work was and threw myself into Forever Projects. I'm the guy that makes everything look good and thinks about the story that we're telling.

You're a good man. What are the best ways for people to connect with Forever Projects going forward?

Facebook and Instagram for sure. @foreverprojects

Jake Morrissey

Interview by Chris Zanko

According to his website, Jake Morrissey is an artist born and raised in the southern suburbs of Sydney with a style that is a mash of youth culture, psychedelic themes and pop imagery. That may be the case, we'll let you decide for yourself when his latest show opens in our gallery. Meanwhile we had another artist of similar ilk, Chris Zanko, slide a few questions under Jake's mo'.

Your upcoming show is titled The Weird and Mundane. Can you break down the concept for us?

I tried to illustrate the everyday and how when the mundane is looked at from a different angle it can often have the complete opposite translation. I’ve tried to turn a mirror on certain aspects of my life that I think other people have experienced so they can see how strange or weird the everyday things actually are.

I can definitely relate to your work Race For The 12:54! This appears to be a backbone work that portrays ‘weekend hijinks’. For those that don’t know, run us through this dramatic situation a lot of us in the southern suburbs of Sydney have encountered.

For sure! A weekly occurrence for us southerners trekking into the city for gigs, shows, or a pub crawl session. The last train is around midnight depending on how south your voyage is but yeah, generally it’s always rushed and involves people being left behind or a boozed turnstile hurdle, ha! Forget lockout laws, just make trains run all night!

You were in America for a while this year, tell us a little bit about that. Are some of these works informed by anything on that trip?

Yeah it was sick, I was pretty stoked to have a mate who I went to NAS (National Art School) with who’s currently living over in New York so I crashed on his lounge for a couple weeks. One of my works is especially influenced by that trip being that its set in a New York subway train carriage, the subway set up there is crazy. So much diversity in the one confined, tight place. The average punter sits next to a Wall Street douche who’s sandwiched in between a couple boys from the Bronx rapping about shooting shit, all under the watchful eye of a Jewish grandmother who’s done some grocery shopping, who’s bags are on the lap of a sleeping Chinese man haha, it’s the best!

Some of your work for me resonates nostalgic advertising motifs, is this something you’re aware of or am I trying to read into your process too much?

Ha! Nah I can get that, I feel like the way my work is drawn with bold outlines and solid block tones of colour it definitely has that “designey” advert poster feel. The fact that they are static scenes from everyday life also adds to it I think, it wouldn’t be hard to stick a bottle of milk in the corner and flog it off as an ad but it wasn’t in the front of my mind when setting these out.   

What medium(s) are you working with for this show?

I’ve kept it pretty simple and dialled back, using and mixing between only Posca and micron pens of varying weights all onto a pretty heavy weight 300 GSM lightly grained archival stock.

Top 5 artists you’re into at the moment.

Marcus Dixon
Bill Connors
Sean Morris
Manjit Thapp

You're from Engadine but as long as I've known you, you've always spent a lot of time down Stanwell Park/Thirroul way, What were some of the experiences as an artist around this area?

Well unless you want a gym or some hot chips Engadine doesn’t have a whole lot going for it as far as leisure goes. Having a lot of my close mates and girlfriend down in Stanny also keeps me southside a lot of the time. As far as art goes though, the Coal Coast and lower suburbs have a good vibe that is pretty unique and hard to find elsewhere and it's starting to show with how many sick bands and artists are emerging from it. A lot of parties and hungover beach sessions can have an effect on what inspires you to draw or mentally take note of. Some weird stuff goes down haha! Keep it going, good times to roll on...

The Weird and the Mundane opens in our gallery Thursday, September 22, 6-8pm and runs through till October 12.

Chris Frape

Frape is a word that has become synonymous with live music photography throughout Sydney and the South Coast. "Frape coming?" --"Yep." --"Sweet." is the only dialogue needed to know that your event will be covered and covered well. Quite unfortunately our man behind the glass took one for the team last year when the full force of the ocean shattered his ankle into a million pieces. He's been down and out and then propped right back up on that horse (literally, with a cane in hand). One year to the day after his original accident he has to go under the knife again, so he's holding an exhibition in our gallery to inject some cash before he's on his back for another month...

Black Gold: Ok, so personally I'm really stoked you're exhibiting in our space, but I'm certainly not so excited about the reasons behind it. Give us a bit of background on what brought about the 'Fracture Zone'.

Chris Frape: Roughly three years ago my wife and I somehow purchased a house in my teenage dream area of Austinmer. We moved in and I got pretty active learning about the local music and art scene. I soon met the guys from Shining Bird, took a few portraits around my new local hood with the boys and I guess that's where my relationship with the local music scene began. Also, being a bodyboarder I had a few connections with some local riders and made a rather easy entry into the local lifestyle, which seemed to revolve around the ocean and music. 

A couple of months after moving to the area I was taking photos of American glam metal band Steel Panther in Sydney. I finished the shoot and walked out of the hotel and crossed the road and got it hit by a car, crushing my left foot - but thats a whole other chapter - I recovered from that injury in 3-4 months and began getting my documentation of the music the local music scene headed by legends like Aaron Curnow and Ben Tillman and the crew from Rad Bar, Music Farmers and many others who are so devoted to a thriving music scene in the area.

Fast forward a couple of years and I've got my photography business thriving, gaining work with Wollongong Uni Bar, Anita's Theatre and Yours and Owls. I finally moved into an office with local art legend Pat Grant at the local creative space Timber Mill Studios and everything was going great until I went for a surf down the coast with my now good mates Elliot Spencer and Zac Armytage. Let's just say the surf was absolutely firing that day. I spent the next couple of hours taking photos of the boys getting absolutely pitted!

Photo: Warren Keelan

I couldn't stand it anymore, so I packed up my camera gear, suited up and got amongst it. After about an hour in the surf I was feeling pretty good and taking off rather deep (for me at least!) and getting barrelled constantly - it was one of the best mornings of wave-riding I've ever had. Luckily, well kind of, I got pretty flogged and my leash got ripped off my arm, sending my board up the rocks where my leash got wrapped around a rock - right in an impact zone!

So I spent the next 20 minutes or so running back and forth on the rocks between sets to try and "reef" my leash out of the rocks. I finally got my slightly beaten up board back and ran back out to get in the surf again. I jumped off one of the take off spots and duck-dived a couple of waves and then a rather large set wave came and surged back over the rocks, lodging my right ankle in a crevice or something - it's all a bit hazy from here on in.

Another wave came and I couldn't free my leg in time. It basically shattered my ankle to pieces and washed me back into the ocean. I had a quick glance at my ankle and realised shit was no good. Somehow I managed to crawl back out of the ocean and get myself up the rocks to safety and local legends Simon Farrer and Elliot Spencer were on hand to get me further up the rocks and get the ambulance on its way.

After a a quick injection of ketamine from the paramedics, I was on a very surreal and psychedelic journey to Wollongong Hospital, where I woke up with a metal frame drilled into my leg. I spent the next two weeks in hospital waiting for the swelling to go down so they could operate further. I then spent the next three months at home in bed, and four months in a metal frame, watching way too much Netflix, feeling hopeless - having to sit down in the shower and not being able to cook for myself, and many other struggles took hold. Too many pain killers and too many sleepless nights gave me the urge, or need rather, to get back out and start photographing again.

I've spent the last twelve months recovering from the accident and for almost six months of that time I was not able to work. Finances and a lack of independence got the better of me and I spent a week in the mental health ward at Wollongong hospital for spiralling depression and anxiety. This short stay got me on the right path mentally to get back out there and start working where I could.

Fast forward six months and I'm now waiting to go in for further surgery in early June, ironically and spookily on the same day twelve months after my accident. I will undergo surgery to try and give me some more movement in my ankle.

So in rather a sense of the celebration of life, rather than a reflection on the bad times, I've put together a collection of photographs that I've taken over the past twelve months to show you all what keeps me going and after surgery there is gonna be heaps of bill to pays and more time off work and plenty more bills to pay. So to try and fund my life I selected a pretty big selection of prints that will be available via purchase or donation at Black Gold.

Such a hectic story. I was talking to a friend this week and mentioning the fact that band photographers are generally the most over-worked and under-paid out of any creative people - which is saying a lot! Your main practice is working with bands. What are your thoughts on that scenario and how have you forged a career in it?

I first started taking photos of live music in the early nineties and predominantly shot local bands in small venues, which allowed me to meet the bands and show them my work. I also worked for Sydney street press magazine On The Street, which allowed me access to a few larger shows like the Sex Pistols - press passes were very hard to come by back in the day and bouncers were pretty fierce if you didn't have one - and by shooting my friends' bands who where on the rise at the time, like Midget and Regurgitator, and creating the fanzine Scrollburger with art lord Glenno Smith.

I became obsessed with shooting live music. I basically find it impossible to got to a live show and not take photos, paid or unpaid.

One of the things I've noticed is that when you do something you love for long enough people notice - if your work is any good that is - so that when you stop, which I've done many times, you get missed and suddenly you have phone calls and emails - and letters! Ha! Back in the 90's I got letters asking, "Where were you," and "What would it take to get you to the next show?" So I quoted stupidly low prices and started getting paid work.

I recently turned 40 and I know that I never, ever want to stop taking photos of live music, so paid or unpaid ill be doing it anyway. Photography is an obsession for me and I can't turn that off. You often hear people saying, "I love my job because i can switch off from work as soon as I leave." I've had jobs like that and I've enjoyed that factor, usually because it allows me to take more photos. I love capturing images and documenting places and time and I don't switch "off" from work that much because it's a part of me that is just there now and I love it like a dickhead mate (sometimes annoying but generally rewarding and puts a smile on your face).

I'm blessed in being able to take photos of music and get paid and I never forget that. I've gotten to know so many fantastic musicians and great friends throughout this industry. Being around music is just what i do.

Photography is much as a device to get me out experiencing so many live music performances as much as paying the mortgage and putting dinner on the table.

On the topic of being over-worked and under-paid I think it also reflects the perfectionist nature and a true obsession with what you do. That's what most good photographers have and that could be why great photographers over-deliver every time and push themselves so hard at what they do.

I wish I could get paid more to do what I do, but it for at least the moment it provides me with a lifestyle I can't afford, so I guess I have a different skew on the answer I would have given at other times in my career and the answer would be a damn long one! Haha!

You must have worked with hundreds of bands over the years. Any standouts? Favourite memories or shows?

Rage Against the Machine playing Killing In the Name Of while Tony Hawk busted many, many mctwists in the foreground at one of the first Big Day Outs, no camera though. Also Nirvana at the first Big Day Out - I was 17, slightly altered, and seeing Kurt Cobain almost getting blown off stage by a giant fan while they played School.

With a camera in hand, I think obsessively documenting the journeys of musicians like Midget, The Herd and other Elefant Traks artists, also the record label Big Village and now Shining Bird, The Pinheads and Hockey Dad...and of course Sampa the Great - she makes me smile so much every time I see her perform!

The biggest moment over the last twelve months was sharing the backstage room with Calexico at Wollongong Uni. I honestly felt like a trembling teenager meeting Joey Burns and John Convertino.

Wow this is hard! I think I'll end it with Charles Bradley two nights in a row at The Basement. That went very close to eclipsing all the shows I've ever seen - soooo much soul!

Wow, so much great history! Are you a musician at all yourself? I imagine it would be hard not to be after spending time around so many!

Yeah I play bass on and off. I played in a fairly noisey band in the mid nineties called Sneaker. We liked to think we sounded like a cross between Fugazi and Sonic Youth, but we probably didn't. I later did some DJing and Production with a few Sydney based hip hop acts The Outlanders and Papercut.

In hip-hop mode I made great connections and friendships with bands like the Herd, Hermitude and Thundamentals. Previous to this I co-hosted a hip-hop based radio show on 2SER FM for a year or so, which further enveloped me in the hip-hop world of Australia.

I've just bought heaps of new music, toys and pedals and a new bass and am going to be making some sort of noise in public in the next 12 months. Music has been a very central part of my life since I was around 15 - good music, good people, some great venues, all types of genres and so many good times!

You've only been around for three years, but it seems like you've really taken to this area. What was the draw for you to this place and what are some the highlights of living here?

My amazing partner in crime (wife) Mary grew up in the Blue Mountains and I grew up on a river and find it pretty hard to live without the "life in brine", aka the ocean, so we found the mountains by the sea.

Major highlights have been being welcomed into a thriving creative community with open arms. This stretch of coastline has a very unique and special energy and the flow of life down here is the pace I really like. Seeing Paul Kelly at Anitas Theatre twice and Stephen Malkmus from legendary band Pavement has also been epic, as well as a million amazing sunsets and simply sharing a beer by the beach after a surf with family and friends is all time.

Solid. So we have the exhibition to look forward to this week, quite unfortunately you have an operation to look forward to next month. What happens after that?

They will be taking out a few screws and nuts and bolts and further manipulating my ankle, hopefully to give me a lot more movement and mobility.

I've used my down time rather wisely and have participated in a mentorship program with photographer and educator and all-around legend Paul McDonald at Contact Sheet Photo Hub in North Sydney, which has been great and really inspiring.

I'll be a part of a group show at the end of June. There will be heaps more physio, visits to Cocoon Floatation centre, specialist visits and of course my favourite, Hydrotherapy.

Awesome, well looking forward to seeing further fruits or your labour down the line!

Fracture Zone opens Friday, May 13 from 6-9pm at Black Gold and runs through till May 19.

Full details on our Gallery page.

Geo Matts

Geo Matts is a frothing young photo-cine-illustrato-matographer from Woonona. Currently in the process of filming a surf movie on the quest of two female professional surfers chasing their dreams, an unfortunate New Year's Eve break-in has left Geo without her required tools of trade. As a result she's putting on a special one-night-only show to help reclaim some of the lost ground and gear.

Black Gold: Let’s start with the show. Why are you putting it on and what can people expect on the night?

Geo Matts: I'm putting it on to recover lost funds as a result of a combination of my youthful naivety and the exploration of my van and its contents by criminal youths. The show is called The Frivolous Exploration of Unadultered Youth.

I feel a bit older after having all my camera equipment stolen...I was half way through making a surf movie to raise money for my friends to travel the WQS. I had my van packed ready for an early departure to take some time off from work - assholes who I'm sure will not take advantage of the beautiful equipment they lifted, stole it that night. Along with my shoes and favourite pair of wolf socks.

On the night people can expect the best of my art works, photographs and new t-shirt designs. Harry Bolton will be gracing us with his presence by playing the guitar and singing, out of the goodness of his heart.

So hectic, but sounds like we're in for a good night as a result, so I guess that's one diamond in the rough. Tell us more about the surf movie you were working on...

The film is based on two female professional surfers, Skye Burgess from Wollongong and Sarah Baum From Durban, South Africa. The girls have previously competed in the Women's World Surfing Qualifying Series, and have returned to the tour this year.

Our film is based on women as athletes, portraying both sides of women's surfing, and how body image should not affect a person’s ability to express themselves in a sport that is so widely considered more than just a sport, but a lifestyle and an art form.

I chose Sarah and Skye for the film not only because they are my best friends, but because I know they can surf better than half the girls out there that have major sponsorship deals, sponsors that pay for them to surf the world, majorly because they show off their body and sex appeal.

I imagine you've formulated those opinions based on firsthand experience. Back in the 80's and 90's it seemed like girls had to be one of the boys to make it, now it seems to have swung too far back the other way to the sex appeal. Do you think it's possible that women's surfing will one day balance out and be more accepting of all shapes and sizes? And how hard do you think it is for those women that don't fit the mold to accomplish their dreams at present?

Firsthand experience and from conversations with the girls that have been on tour for a few years.

Female competitive surfing has definitely progressed, the girls are doing airs now. And there is 15-year-olds taking on the 20-year-olds. I think it is already shaping up to be equal, but it will take some time to run the full mile. Tyler Wright is a perfect example of that. I believe Tyler is the perfect example of a female surfer. She is strong and hearty and doesn't care about being the bikini model surfer. She is the athlete and that's what competitive surfing should be about!

It is very difficult to achieve your dream as a professional surfer if you don't have the funds to travel around the world and compete on those events, but the girls with the major sponsors have that upper hand and therefore stay in the top seed positions because of that advantage.

I'm curious on your thoughts about women's surfing in this area. Going back a few years it was far less common to see a girl in the lineup, but that has changed a lot recently. What has it been like growing up as a female surfer in the Illawarra and how do you feel about the surf scene for girls locally these days?

Yeah that’s exactly right! Female surfing has come a long way in the past few years, and especially now it isn't such an offbeat thing to see the chicks out in the line-up.

Personally I feel like as a female we have to prove ourselves out in the surf, and by 'prove' I mean catch a wave and show the men that we can actually stand up and do turns. Otherwise we just get snaked or dropped in on.

But if you grow up surfing in your local area and stick there you should be right. Which is what it’s like for everybody. I grew up surfing Port Kembla and still do. My entire family is there and I get called on to waves and everyone looks out for each other, so it’s not all grim.

Everyone knows that men are predominately better at surfing than the women, but that's the whole thing, surfing shouldn’t be about who is better. It’s about escaping from reality and having fun with your mates, which is what women bring to the sport best!

Absolutely! What first got you into surfing?

I am very close with my three cousins and my uncle, and they all surf. My Dad surfs and my brother surfs. So the froth was all there and I was always at the beach doing Surf Club. So I think when I was seven Dad got my on the surfboard, and then from there my cousins would lend me their old ones to try out different shapes. And now here we are...

That's awesome! Such a good heritage. Your art covers multiple disciplines - video, photography, drawing, digital art - did it start with one in particular and expand or have you always enjoyed mixing genres?

Yeah it's very chaotic...For as long as I can remember I loved drawing. I still have all my drawings from when I was 10, and they are pretty much the same standard as what I draw now... Not sure if that's good or bad, but I love drawing, my pictures make me laugh.

I was always the kid with the camera and it's only recently that I combined the two and started making digital drawings also.

So in short, I think drawing and photos were equal, but then in time I started to combine them. It's very unmethodical, but it works.

Nice. So has the stolen gear set you back much in the production of the film?

Yeah it has. The morning I realised that everything was gone was the day I was leaving to go away with the girls for the week to shoot the film.

It was supposed to be the last big shoot in/around our home state. In a few months we are going away to South Africa, which is where Sarah is from to finish it all off.

The 300mm lens I shoot with was taken, so I obviously can’t shoot surfing without it, and it makes it even harder to shoot surfing without a camera.

Oh man, that's horrible! So I take it that's where the exhibition comes in. How can those attending help you get back on your feet? Is there a way people who can't make it can contribute?

Yeah of course! So the people attending are helping as soon as they step foot in the door. There will be a gold coin donation which will make me that next step closer to getting a camera!

The best of the best will be hanging on the walls, which makes me so excited because I haven't even made some of these works public before. I'll be able to share my adventures in real life and not just over social media. And that is truthfully what i'm most excited about. And if people choose to spend their own hard earned money on my works that would mean the world to me! 

Some people have already messaged me through Facebook saying they can't make it but they want to contribute and buy ones of my t-shirts that I got made - which is actually beautiful that people care so much!

So anyone that can't come, and have seen my works they can message me and have a chat and see what work would best suit them!

The Frivolous Exploration of Unadultered Youth is a special one-night-only show that opens in our gallery space from 6pm Friday, January 29. BYO.

Find Geo on Instagram here.