We got down in time to miss the opening concert, but I wandered up to a nearby art gallery to shoot the breeze with a guy there (coincidentally, they'd moved down from Katoomba in the last year or so), and briefly managed to mention free software, while someone else listened to a concert. Then we got set up in our caravan at the little-further-out-of-town Riverside Caravan Park, and went to the main 'welcome' dance at the RSL. I called the first dance, which turned out to be the Mazurka Set once I'd emptied my brain of heap sift operations and sorting efficiency and filled it with Grand Chains and Swings. The Canberra Ceilí Band pumped out some great tunes and kept us dancing until 11:30 or so.
We survived the night, glad of bringing our doona, my extra-warm sleeping bag, and our pillows; we then occupied the rest of our day with walking up and down the hills and going to concerts, dances and classes. One particularly brilliant one was Ben Stephenson and Adrian Barker from Trouble In The Kitchen, who talked of the research they'd been doing as Folk Fellowship Award winners, researching old Irish and Australian tunes in the National Library.. A cracking combination of great stories and inspiring and moving songs.
That day, being Software Freedom Day, I had been wearing my bright orange T-shirt and talking to anyone that I could buttonhole about software freedom and what it meant to our culture, as well as its more obvious benefits of cheapness, reliability, and so on. I managed to give out about six copies of The Open CD and four copies of various flavours of Ubuntu. Interestingly, the shirt fit right into the orange, white and green of Ireland, so I think I blended in a bit too well!
We hunted down dinner at a local cafe and I hung around for a bit, waiting for the session to start at 9PM. A session is where a whole bunch of musicians get together and some old guy, usually hunched over an accordion or concertina, closes his eyes and starts playing. Everyone picks up the tune and plays three or four repeats, then someone else plays a tune that they know that links with the first, and so it goes for up to half an hour. For a dancer, this means that you dance continuously - going straight from the end of one figure to the start of the next - knowing that at any moment (if you're unlucky) the band will get to the end of the tune and may peter out, waiting for someone to play something that everyone else knows. So you can get through an entire dance such as the Mazurka (all Reels) in ten minutes of solid dancing, if you know what you're doing (rather than the twenty or more minutes it can take with breaks). It was such a session, in The Quiet Man in Melbourne, that really inspired me to learn the sets off by heart, so that I could enjoy the music and the dancing all night rather than having to wait and ask someone else who remembered the set. In typical form, by the time someone else and I were too tired to dance (given our bad night of sleep) at 11PM, Ben and Ado were just arriving with a whole bunch of dancers fresh for the fray, and it was looking like they really would dance until the pub closed at 3AM. Just my luck.
That morning we had organised a typical full Irish breakfast with two friends of ours staying nearby. This consisted of a grand fry-up: bacon, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, tomatos, mushrooms, baked beans and scrambled eggs (the last two of which I did not partake), finished off by muffins with a non-traditional-Irish Rosella Jam and coffee. This kept us fuelled until dinner!
In catching up with my morning double-shot cappucino I spied the Gundagai Computer shop across the road. Inspiration struck! I rang the owner and they were quite interested to take the remaining copies of The Open CD and Ubuntu I had, so I dropped them off at the shop next door. So Gundagai too, hopefully, will benefit from Software Freedom!
(The other moment of the weekend that I thought really resonated with the whole spirit of Software Freedom Day was where Margaret Winnett, one of the best and most respected set dance teachers in Australia, was talking about some of the footwork she'd learnt in doing various sets. She said that the guy who had taught her these particular steps said that his only payment was that she teach them to other people, and keep the knowledge alive. "If you bottle these steps up," she said, "and don't teach them to other people, they only die." Now, one can argue that there indeed copyright that pertains to those steps - that the person who first danced them 'owns' them in some fashion. But not only is it as impossible to stop people copying the steps as it is to stop people copying CDs, but it's also impossible for that person to make any kind of money if they'd actually been able to stop people copying them for free but had instead demanded a payment for the copy. And, further to this, copying someone's steps, or their tunes, and teaching it to other people, is wholly within the spirit of Irish music and dance. It's spread across the world because of this. Truly an inspiration for free and open software.)
After that we caught up with a living legend, John Dengate, who grew up in the area and told many tales and sang the many songs you can probably remember that mention Gundagai somewhere. We finished up at the farewell ceilí in the afternoon, once again with the Canberra Ceilí Band playing but this time with Conor Keane and a couple of other Irish musicians that had come over to the festival. Then we only had the relatively short drive home.
Overall we both thought that there was slightly too much choice in the programme - they were being a bit ambitious on their first attempt. But I'd much rather that than have too little to go to, and they got a lot of things, like the programme (which was done in a manner similar to the National Folk Festival's, and hence showed a lot of polish), right in the best possible way. So I think we'll be winding our way back along the track to Gundagai next year!
All posts licensed under the CC-BY-NC license. Author Paul Wayper.