Current Issue #488

Beer and Other Sins:
A soiree in Adelaide’s west

Beer and Other Sins by Royce Kurmelovs

Six relative strangers gathered in the house in Adelaide’s western suburbs in the dying weeks of 2019.

Six relative strangers gathered in the house in Adelaide’s western suburbs in the dying weeks of December 2019.

There was wine and beer, a bottle of very nice Adelaide Hills gin, some food and a little music. Each knew no more than two other people in the room, except the host who had brought them all together for what he dubbed a “soiree”.

All of those present were young. All were transient or new-ish arrivals to Adelaide in some way. Some had turned up a little while ago and had put down roots, while others were planning on moving on again soon. All were poets, writers and storytellers of some description.

The first among them was a poet from the US state of Kentucky. The second was a teacher and a mother who had penned her own children’s book featuring her son. The third was a poet and the fourth a journalist. The first two had moved over from Melbourne, though one more recently than the other.

The third hailed from a 25,000 person city in Belgium and was sleeping on couches as they backpacked their way across the continent. The last had moved to Adelaide from Dhaka, Bangladesh, a year or two earlier.

As much as they were different, they all called Adelaide home and it was their skills as storytellers that had brought them together. The host made plain the expectations when he sent the invites: the only condition of entry was that people share.

“Either a bottle of wine, or a plate of food and a story,” he said. “You can read a poem, or a book chapter – whatever you want, it doesn’t even have to be good. You just have to bring something,” he said. “And wear cocktail dress. Just because.”

And so they did.

The works they read were all about love and hope in one way or another. The poet from Dhaka read a love-letter from their lover, and the poet from Kentucky read poems he had written about his relationship. The teacher read the children’s book she had written about a boy and his capsicum, which served as a parable about greed and sharing. The journalist, meanwhile, read an article about Malaysian politics.

Between each reading, people sat around drinking wine or juice, talking and telling stories.

As the fan blew cool air and the music played, the poet from Dhaka explained how her parents had invented her name. That fact was both a point of pride and source of confusion. She might be the only one on the planet who wore it, but the significance of this was lost on the Australians she met.  When she asked what their names meant, they didn’t seem to know.

“I once asked a girl about what her name meant and she got offended, like I’d asked a really personal question,” she said. “She couldn’t understand what I meant. To her it was just a name with no meaning. That’s it.”

The poet from Kentucky, meanwhile, told a story about how he once had gone to work on a farm owned by a friend who claimed to be worth $62 million. Over the course of weeks, he watched as an unstable paranoia consumed his friend and employer. The man slowly convinced himself shadowy forces were working against him to take his money, to the point where he asked the poet to go out and stock up on ammunition.

“And that wasn’t even when things got weird,” he said.

Everything came to a head on his day off from work at the farm. A text message came telling him to turn on the television, and when he did he saw his friend and employer leading the police in a chase.

He had fired his gun at a helicopter flying low over the farm and panicked when armed police officers in plainclothes came to investigate. “He totally lost it,” the poet concluded, “But knowing his thought process, I can see how he ended up there.”

Later the teacher and the journalist spoke about their families who had both come from Ipoh, Malaysia. They talked about the latest scandals in Malaysian politics, the layers of corruption, colonisation and the silence their families – and Australia – have kept about the atrocities which took place during the Malayan Emergency.

“Today, when you go back to visit, everyone’s looking to get out,” the teacher said, “Even if everyone resents you for having left.”

The journalist agreed.

The only person who didn’t tell a story was the Belgian backpacker whose English was not sharp enough. Instead they had baked brownies, and sat quietly, listening to the chatter.

The end came around 11 o’clock, when people began to go their separate ways. Some of those present might not be around in a month or two to meet again, but the host insisted they would. There would be another party in a few months, he promised, where anyone was welcome, so long as they shared something.

Royce Kurmelovs

Royce Kurmelovs

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Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance journalist and author of The Death of Holden (2016), Rogue Nation (2017) and Boom and Bust (2018).

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