There’s a moment, at the end of every cover band set at the local pub, when the energy seems to change.
A chord is played that seeps through the beer and banter and strikes something soul-deep. Bodies swivel. Glasses are raised high; mouths open in a chorus of shared exclamation. Groups become a crowd. Strangers are made suddenly familiar. We’re not going to sit in silence. We’re not going to live in fear. And we all know it.
When we saw our prime minister swaying awkwardly this week, seemingly unable to recall the words to You’re the Voice, it set off a bemused national vibration, and not just for the easy political hit. When he then flubbed the lines on radio, it became a moment – because these songs seemingly eclipse those things that separate us.
How could our leaders have missed that moment, when the world came in to build a wall between us, and we knew they wouldn’t win?
That moment when an anonymous group of people, united by nothing more than shared knowledge of a string of words, surge together to sing a lyric as loud as they can, transcends differences. Where you grew up and how. Who you vote for. What you support and why. How you plan on moving forward.
When that piano starts, we all know we left our heart with the sappers round Khe Sanh. We know, just by the strum of a guitar, if you’ll throw your arms around me or if we have to run to paradise.
Minds slip back to car trips, the sound of muffled hooks snaking from under older siblings’ doors, to first-drink experiences, bonfires, salty summers, or school pick-ups where the radio dial seemed cemented to the golden oldies.
Did we ever really learn the words? Or did we open our mouths one day and they appeared, part of the indelible experience of sharing Australia?
Will we ever see these faces again? For that moment – wedged between sweaty armpits, jostled and jerked, the crowd moving without any semblance of rhythm, instead shaken by a careless joy – none of it matters.
It’s a long way to the top and it’s harder than it looks, but for that moment, it doesn’t matter. Not politics, heartache, yesterdays or tomorrows. Not the spilt beer on your new clothes, the squashed toe, the rent, the missed assignment or job hunt.
In those moments, short and sparse as they are, we are glorious.
The pub anthem, that elusive Aussie rock song that transcends generations and socioeconomic divides, geographical distances and ideologies, can’t be forced.
That’s just the way it’s going to be, little darling. Why a dozen or so songs, released over the past four or so decades, managed to seep into the national consciousness is a conversation in itself.
How do we sleep while our beds are burning? What’s your scene? When we’re overseas, it’s a flute melody, telling us about a land down under. But when we’re at home, when the boys are in town, you can walk to her door, and she might tell you that you don’t make her feel like she’s a woman anymore.
And you’ll know exactly what it means.
Why these songs crossed boundaries has never mattered. They did. They unite us in strained vocal cords and missed lyrics and knowing smiles when the last plane out of Sydney line gets there.
They’ve become part of the patchwork of the national experience, the familiar in the unknown, something to unify the usually divided. It’s why seeing a leader flub something that seems so intrinsically obvious to so many can seem so jarring.
These songs aren’t universal. They’re just ours. We don’t know every line, but the ones we do take us places.
We’ll never agree on a perfect top 10, but we’ll share a smile over at least the same six. In those moments, sharing sweat and song with strangers, there’s no change, there’s no pace. Everything is in its place.
And it’s with all of us.