Australian Indie Bands and Labels – an ANZAC Day Special

Today is ANZAC Day, while we remember those Australian and New Zealanders who’ve had the unfortunate experience of living through or fighting wars, those who have served to protect our and others independence, it’s worth taking time to appreciate our freedom of expression; so hats off to our neighbours – we might give each other a ‘bit of stick’ every now and then – but we can only do this ’cause we’re such good mates. Here are a few small Oz record labels and artists that are full of enterprise, talent and independence.

Milk-RecordsMilk Records

Milk Records is a Melbourne label, home to half-a-dozen artists, including the prolific Kingdoms and the talented Jen Cloher. Cloher has recorded solo and with a band – her 2013 In Blood Memory included Milk Records rising star Courtney Barnett. If you haven’t heard the laconic Barnett yet, you soon shall – or should. Really. With press hotter than a mid-summer arvo at St Kilda – from Pitchfork to the Guardian – and recent international deals in the US and England, you best come out from that shady rock.

Courtney Barnett

Jen Cloher

Bedroom-Suck-RecordsBedroom Suck Records

Bedroom Suck Records are based in Brisbane and have a small but impressive roster, including Brisbane’s Per Purpose and Melbourne’s Full Ugly, they are also the original home to Melbourne’s Scott & Charlene’s Wedding – now New York based and gathering fans by the ute-load – and this lot:

Blank Realm

Blank Realm are a Brisbane family affair; siblings Daniel (drums & vocals), Sarah (synths & vocals) and Luke Spencer (bass), plus Luke Walsh (guitar). They have a number of releases, but this year’s Grassed Inn will find its way into many ‘best off 2014’ lists. Mark my words. Blank Realm are on my ‘must see’ list, they are monstrously good live by all accounts and I have every reason to believe that.


Boomgates are somewhat of a Oz super-group: Dick Diver’s Steph Hughes; Eddy Current Suppression Ring vocalist Brendan Suppression; Twerps bassist Rick Milovanovic; Deep Heat’s guitarist Gus (Angus) Lord; and Shaun Genius (Gionis), Trial Kennedy drummer. They have released a number of singles, including a split 7″ with The Bats (December Ice/Widow Maker), and the album Double Natural. I’m really stoked Boomgates are as good as I wanted them to be, since gathering up all of Eddy Current Suppression Rings albums, the thought of a silent Brendan was too much. It’s sweet to hear him ‘singing’ – and Steph Hughes is his perfect foil.

Bon-Voage-RecordsBon Voyage Records

Also from Brisbane are Bon Voyage Records, a small, young label, who appear to understand that despite the ability to communicate and sell digital media internationally online, emerging labels like this survive by selling to local fans, making a fist of gig merchandise, specialising in short-run and limited editions, and taking advantage of resurgent interests in vinyl and cassettes.

Martyr Privates

With bands like Martyr Privates on the books, it’s hard to imagine the good-word not spreading far and wide. Martyr Privates are Brisbane locals, this self-titled song is from their debut 7″ single.

Ela-Siles-Bedroom-Suck-RecordsLets talk about Ela

Ela Stiles is a name that we will hear much more of in the future too – still a young-thing, Ela has a formidable catalogue, and appears to be finding her own voice with confidence.

The first track is from her long-time Sydney band Songs, centred around the core duo of Ela (Bass, Vocals) and Max Doyle (Guitar, vocals), the first Songs band included  Jeff Burch and Steve Uren of Kiwi band This Night Creeps. Retreat, is from their 2009 self-titled debut – back when they exuberantly credited the influence of John Cale, The Velvet Underground, Television, and Galaxie 500 – although “no influence is as strong as The Clean, New Zealand’s greatest exponents of the Dunedin sound.” Their debut 2008 EP even had a song called Keeping it Clean. Good start then.


This second track from Songs, Boy/Girl is taken from 2013’s Malabar album. By now the Kiwi connection has been lost, replaced with a couple of fair-dinkum Aussies: Cameron Emerson-Elliot (Youth Group) on guitar and on drums Ben James (Talons).


Apparently as far back as 2001 Ela was considering a solo recording – enlisting Melbourne musicians, Nisa Venerosa (Fabulous Diamonds) and Karl Scullin (Kes Band) – but the trio clicked and Bushwalking was formed. This first track is from their 2012 debut First Time.


This next track is from 2013’s No Enter.


Due for release in May 2014 is Ela’s debut solo, to be released by Bedroom Suck Records it is entirely her voice; listen, you will hear what I mean about her finding confidence. BSR says side one will will be the likes of Kumbh Mela, side two being drone versions – no effects, but layered versions of the vocal – the second track is a single edit version; Drone Transitions.

Goons of Doom

I’m going to leave you with a bunch of loveable, irreverent larrikins. These Goons are bleached, forever 18, and are turning out songs any-time they are not surfing – as easily as they open a stubbie. The Goons have an enormous catalogue spanning many years, some brilliant, some daft, some hilarious – have a listen to Clean for Jesus:  “…I think I’m passin’ out, I think I’m passin’ out, I just saw Jesus sweeping up the floor. I think that he should know, it’s garbage night tonight, can you get him to take the bins out, when he goes…”

Goons of Doom



Submarine Chasers that became Auckland Ferries

Christmas Card MY Ngaroma c1954 Pic: InkEatsMan

Christmas Card MY Ngaroma c1954
Photo: InkEatsMan

Sometime in the late 1990s a friend living in Pt Chevalier helped an elderly neighbour clear her house as she prepared it for sale. A box of old magazines found their way to my doorstep. Placed between the pages of a 1954 New Zealand Women’s Weekly was a Christmas Card from the ‘Skipper and Crew of the Motor Yacht Ngaroma’. Tied to the wharf in Northland’s Whangaroa Harbour, Ngaroma is enveloped by a picturesque and peaceful New Zealand scene. I cannot tell you how many times the Ngaroma visited Whangaroa Harbour in the 1950s, but I can tell you that in entirely different circumstances during World War Two, on the night of February 7 1944, the same vessel – then ‘ML 402’ of the Royal New Zealand Navy – anchored at Whangaroa with four companion Fairmile submarine chasers (MLs 401, 403, 404, and 406). This was the last New Zealand anchorage the vanguard of a 12 strong Fairmile fleet would see for the next 18 months; their destination, the Russell Islands – via Norfolk Island, Nouméa and Tulagi – their allotted task; anti-submarine patrol off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.

Christmas Card MY Ngaroma c1954 Pic: InkEatsMan

Christmas Card MY Ngaroma c1954
Photo: InkEatsMan

In his book Fairmile Flotillas of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Ken Cassells – then a 19-year-old able seaman serving on ‘ML 401’ – recounts from his diary: “The boom gate (an opening in the anti-submarine defences) was passed at 1525 and speed increased. An hour later the guardian of Auckland Harbour, Tiri Tiri Matangi, was fast slipping astern. Our course lay coastwise all night until off Whangaroa. It was a lovely night, full moon and a following wind. Progress was good and dawn saw us entering Whangaroa Harbour. By breakfast time all five boats were alongside the small wharf where waiting were several RNZAF petrol tankers. The morning was spent topping up our fuel tanks. Crews were allowed an hour ashore and some had a farewell drink in the nearby pub. It was a real treat to wander around the many beautiful coves and look over the glass-like water. A more pleasant last impression of New Zealand would be hard to find.”

With major seaborne threats to New Zealand merchant shipping and harbour security from German armed merchant ships and Japanese submarines, the Fairmiles were built to patrol New Zealand waters. Both raiders and submarines operated in the South Pacific, both with the ability to lay mines and attack allied and local vessels on the surface.

From early 1940 New Zealand’s Chief of Naval Staff, Commodore E. Parry, began lobbying for a fast fleet of compact vessels capable of operating anti-submarine radar, to carry depth charges and be armed for surface engagement. Despite  extensive research,  meetings and consultation, it wasn’t until he visited Singapore later that year and saw a Fairmile under construction  that a definitive vessel appeared to have been found. The Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates, New Zealand’s Minister of Armed Forces and War Co-ordination was visiting America at the time, he took the opportunity to visit Canadian boat builders who also had Fairmiles under construction. Consequently on January 1941 a brief notice appeared in Wellington’s Evening Post, “Contracts have been let for the construction of 20 anti-submarine vessels of a new type. Known as Fairmile patrol boats, they have a double mahogany hull 112 feet long and travel at a high speed.”

Fairmile Submarine Hunter ML 404 Pic: NZETC

Fairmile Submarine Hunter ML 404
Photo: NZETC

A design of Britain’s Fairmile Works – established by Noel Macklin in the 1920s to build sports cars – it was developed before WWII (Macklin believed war with Germany was inevitable) specifically as a fast coastal defender against submarines. When a proposal made to the British Admiralty was met with disinterest, Macklin funded design and prototype construction of the Fairmile ‘A’ and its follow-up, the refined ‘B’. Ultimately designed as a kitset to be shipped to boat builders for completion, the Admiralty soon saw its potential, particularly in delivering to allied countries.

Fairmile plans were acquired from the British Admiralty and prefabricated hulls of plywood keel framing and stringers were arranged to be shipped to New Zealand. All timber for hull planking and decking was to be sourced in New Zealand – including a myriad of necessities – known to boat builders as ‘hogs’, ‘aprons’, deadwood stems’, and ‘knees’. Pohutukawa was used for the boat’s stem and sternposts, Kauri for the keel. An extensive list of major fittings – from the anti-submarine detection equipment, the non-magnetic steel plating for wheel houses and bridges, copper fastenings and steering gear, to the American 600 HP engines and Rolls Royce Mark XIV quick-firing 2 pounder guns (interestingly derived from the anti-tank gun mounted in Hurricane fighter planes) – were also sourced and shipped to New Zealand through the British Admiralty.

The Auckland Star reported on the 29th September 1942 that our first Fairmile was launched in Auckland from the boatyard of Roy Lidgard, “Her job will be to sort out and destroy underwater vessels,” said Mr Coates, the paper also reported the Minister placed emphasise on the need for such vessels, in consideration of the “peril that threatened our shores” and of the “tremendous forces that were ranged against us”. The last and twelfth Fairmile, built by P. Vos Limited, was launched on the 2nd September 1943.

On completion of their Solomon Islands duty the 12 Fairmiles returned to New Zealand, in the Evening Post (29 July 1945), Lieutenant Commander H. E. Cave, the officer in charge of the flotilla, praised the sea-worthy abilities of the vessels, “The Fairmiles stood up to the work very well, and I must congratulate the New Zealand builders of these little ships on their excellent workmanship“. Particularly he noted, when considering “that this was not at all the work for which the ships had been designed, they had been intended for short coastal patrols, but during the Pacific tour had taken part in convoys over hundreds of miles”.

ML 402 made 32,115 miles in her first year on Pacific duty; she undertook her 2000-mile journey home on the 26 June 1945 in flotilla with MLs 411, 409, 408, 404 and 400. Immediately on arrival, and no longer required by the Navy, the Fairmiles were mothballed in Auckland’s upper Waitemata Harbour at Greenhithe. By September the crews began their own demobilisation, on the 3rd of September the Auckland Star carried notice from the War Assets Realisation Board that nine of the Fairmiles were being readied for sale to the public. Many began new lives as passenger ferries, including ML 403 as the Tiare in Tauranga (until 1952), ML 406 which in 1950 as the Motunui served the next 32 years in Auckland (initially with Waiheke Passage Service Ltd), ML 409 was initially sold then repurchased by the Navy (for harbour transport), around 1963 she was purchased by another Auckland company, North Shore Ferries as the Iris Moana (New Zealand Marine News 1967 Vol. 18 No. 4).

MV Ngaroma (foreground) & MV Motonui (left background), Auckland 1980's. Pic: Eric Young Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Record ID 1021-526

MV Ngaroma (foreground) & MV Motonui (left background), Auckland 1980’s.
Photo: Eric Young Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Record ID 1021-526

Cassells notes that ML 402 was initially sold to J. A. Lawler of Auckland who named her Ngaroma. To date I do not know her role during the next couple of decades, however the New Zealand Marine News (Vol. 19 No. 3) reported in 1968 that she underwent maintenance in Bluff while “undertaking an ocean floor mapping programme in search of minerals”. At some point Ngaroma become part of either the Waiheke Shipping Company or the North Shore Ferries fleet, as she was part of that acquisition when the Hudson family purchased both fleets in 1981. This purchase of the pioneer ferry fleets of Leo Dromgoole included the Motunui and the Iris Moana. In 1985 Fullers Captain Cook Cruises were added to the fleet, “The well known name of Fullers was retained to market the tourist and charter services while Gulf Ferries Limited and North Shore Ferries Limited continued to operate the ferry services… in 1994 the group of companies adopted the name Fullers Group Limited.”*

MV Ngaroma (forground) & MV Iris Moana (left background) c1982 Pic: Fullers Ferries Ltd

MV Ngaroma (forground) & MV Iris Moana (left background) c1982
Photo: Fullers Ferries Ltd

ML 402, the MV Ngaroma, was possibly the longest to stay in service as a ferry on the Waitemata Harbour, calling at Devonport and Waiheke Island into the 90s (I recall a number of day trips to Rangitoto Island between 1980 and 1990 on Ngaroma). In 1992 she left New Zealand waters to continue ferrying passengers in Sri Lanka. Here her story appears to end – unlike ML 409 the MV Iris Moana however – who earlier had also been let go for a similar role in Sri Lanka. Tamil Tiger guerrillas infamously hijacked her in late August 1995. The Associated Press reported on September the 1st “…rebels halted the ferry off the north-eastern coast on Tuesday. That action drew two navy gunboats to the scene, which the rebels sank, leaving 21 sailors missing and presumed dead.” It was reported later that the Iris Moana was anchored some 175 miles northeast of Colombo with around 140 passengers and crew held hostage on-board. Their Captain and at least one crew-member would not be released for another two years. ML 406, the MV Motunui was sold off ferry duties in 1984, in 2003 New Zealand Marine News (Vol. 50 No. 4) reported, “Former Fairmile No. 406 has been extensively refitted and on 31st July 2002 moved to her new mooring in Coromandel Harbour.”

Fairmile Statistics

Crew: Two officers, two petty officers, 12 ratings
Length: 112 ft
Speed: 18-20 knots
Petrol tank capacity: 2320 gallons
Endurance at 16 1/2 knots: 708 miles
Maximum endurance at 7.5 knots: 1,925 miles
Distance travelled on Solomon’s duty: 380,000 miles
Engine cost: £4,500
Armament cost: £2,200
Cost per boat: £35,000
Local timber used in each boat: 14,000 ft
Construction hours per boat: 35,000
Auckland Boat-builders involved: Lidgard (x4),Charles Bailey and Son (x2), Shipbuilder’s Limited (x3), P. Vos Limited (x2)


Fairmile Flotillas of the Royal New Zealand Navy by Ken Cassells. Wellington, New Zealand Ship & Marine Society 1993

The Royal New Zealand Navy by S. D. Waters. Wellington, Historical Publications Branch 1956

Noel Macklin

Fullers Ferries* (this source from redundant web page 2006)

The Auckland Star and Evening Post Papers Past

New Zealand Marine News New Zealand Maritime Index

Hijacking of Iris Moana Associated Press