Combat Wombat. Courtesy of CW.
Featured track: Combat Wombat- Alternative Energy combatwombat.bandcamp.com
Narrator: You’ve arrived at 251 High Street Northcote, home of the Northcote Uniting Church-The Chalice. The church has always been a thriving meeting place in the village of Northcote. It wasn’t until 1977 that the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Union Churches came together as the Uniting Church of Australia. In the late ‘90s the Presbytery set out the High Street site as an autonomous mission project and the space has become the home and heart to its congregation, the arts, human rights campaigners and a place to come together and eat.
Izzy Brown is an MC in Melbourne based political hip hop/dub outfit Combat Wombat. The band have been raising awareness on social and environmental issues for over 20 years and she shares the stage with MC Elf Transporter and DJ’s Monkey Marc and Wasabi. In 2007 Combat Wombat played at the Northcote Uniting Church for the Uncle Kevin Buzzacott spectacular, raising funds for Arrabunna Elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott. Uncle Kevin has been instrumental in raising awareness on nuclear and water issues and protecting Lake Eyre. He’s organised thousands of people to meet at various actions across Australia. Uncle Kev’s Spectacular was a big night and a welcoming space for marginalised and alternative community members who were there to support Uncle Kevin and his family.
Izzy Brown: It’s always good to play in a space that’s not a pub or a bar because it means it’s a lot more accessible to a lot more people in the community. People can bring their kids, their families and it can be a massive event that’s also really inclusive. And that space is excellent for that. There are lots of spaces within it so you can have the bands out the back, we also utilised the front section for an art exhibition and we had a big art auction that raised heaps of money for Uncle Kev and anti-nuclear struggles. It also brought together a big cross section of the community with the art and music that happened that night. It’s good that places like that are available for the community and that we can set up and make money from food and we don’t have the overheads of a bar. And we get to have a space that anyone can come into from all ages. It was good to have kids at the gig as well as the Elders and people from all over the place. It really adds to the vibe. Not being a typical bar sort of space there was lots more room to dance. It’s kind of a weird thing to have in a church but then we were reinventing the space and for a good cause. So it was pretty cool.
Narrator: Until ten years ago there was a thriving underground community in Darebin with a few alternative and temporary autonomous zones to choose from for gigs and meeting spaces. It was the High Vibes festival that really put Northcote and Darebin on the map and the venues along High street were at their peak. The festival program had a variety of bands and arts spaces in venues and shopfronts that really showcased the diversity of the Darebin community. And it was places like the The Chalice at the Northcote Uniting Church that offered a sanctuary for people who needed a break from the crowds and a chance to connect with themselves and other people in a quieter space.
Sadly we saw the end of the High Vibes Festival in 2009. Izzy recalls the memories of gigs in alternative places Combat Wombat played and hosted, some in spaces off the beaten track.
Izzy Brown: Well we used to squat in Northcote, just off Westgarth Street. During that time we had some great an amazing squat parties. We squatted a big warehouse just by the creek there and had a huge party for the G20 protests with thousands of people. I think it got shut down by the police in the end but It was a real time of doing alternative venues and having gigs in squatted spaces.
We also played under the bridge. There were a lot of benefit gigs at Bar 303 as well. To raise money for the Freedom Flotilla to West Papua we did a series of gigs there running over a couple of weeks.
I also remember playing High Vibes in Northcote in the Northcote Social Club and the vibes was epic. We’d been in a massive street party all day and then everyone crammed into the Northcote Social Club and we had a fabulous gig and were joined by a group of East Timorese musicians and rappers. The jam just went ballistic. That’s a very fond memory of mine from Darebin, that time when there was a vibe in the street and in the venues and the potential to make squats and new spaces, Temporary Autonomous Zones for the night. Places like the Pink Palace that were historical alternative venues for punk gigs and I think we even played there a couple of times as well.
Those places don’t exist anymore and I really hope they go down in the history books because there certainly were some memorable gigs and really great underground music burst from those places. I’m in Yarra now so I don’t know so much what the vibe is in Darebin anymore, but I hope that it still breeds that kind of creativity. With the rents going up and the gentrification of the area we might not see so much coming out of it, but I hope under the surface there is something brewing.
Narrator: In the future we are looking at a new arts and cultural landscape to restore and ignite when the COVID-19 restrictions lift. Izzy shares what she is looking forward to.
Izzy Brown: Well I think it will be great for people to come together face to face and experience the joy of dancing together and enjoying music together as opposed to in our bedrooms (laughter) and our lounge rooms. When that day happens we will appreciate it more than we ever did. I think that’s one of the big things that people have really missed. Sometimes you don’t appreciate it as much until it’s gone. That’s been a good lesson for us to make sure that we find ways to keep music going, to keep that creativity happening despite the situation.
Narrator: The Chalice Uniting Church has opened it’s doors to people of all walks of life and beliefs. The spaces are run for choirs and ensembles, theatre and the arts. Campaigning for human and environmental rights is hard work and the community needs safe spaces to retreat and to organise and play together.
It’s spaces like the Chalice at the Northcote Uniting Church in Northcote and other alternative and community based centres that bring people together.
Izzy Brown: One of the biggest ways to reach people about an important campaign, certainly before there was internet, and even still now, to really touch someone’s heart about something that’s happening, is to come together, to party together, and actually speak to the people that have first-hand experience. So in the past we’ve been able to use venues in Darebin to bring Aboriginal Elders, refugees, different people with experience to meet people there in a social setting with music with food and really connect and become part of each other struggles and campaigns. And that’s been long-lasting. I think you can read about something but until you come together in a social setting and party together, that’s where the big bonds really happen. That’s what’s so special about being able to access venues and hold this kind of stuff.
06 – Chalice Northcote Uniting Church (251 High St. Northcote)