Helen, an international journalist, writes:
Dave Oakes is a national treasure, or at least he should be. But he’s far too modest to say so himself and would laugh off that description with some self-deprecating joke, typical of the humour of his native Liverpool.
Believe me, Oakes is a laugh a minute. But that’s not the point. Oakes has depth and soul; a strong sense of the power of nature and the passage of time. His songs haunt me.
I vaguely knew his biography – that he was born on Merseyside and arrived in Oz in 1974; that his early influences were English, Irish and Celtic folk music. He’d toured pubs and clubs in Europe before settling in Alice Springs, where he became a founding member of the Aspro Theatre. His first CD, “made in alice springs”, was released in November 2014. His new one is out now, with mostly original material, while other artists have also recorded his songs.
But it was on a trip to the Aboriginal community of Docker River that I really got to know Oakes. It promised to be another hot desert day. At mid-morning, we stopped for a break in what looked to me like the middle of nowhere. “I always stop right here and eat a banana,” said Oakes matter-of-factly. “I call this place Bananarama”.
After that, the sky ahead of us darkened and three ducks flew towards us, like the ducks-in-flight you see above mantelpieces.
“Mmm, I wonder what that means?” I said.
“No worries,” said Oakes.
To cut a long story short, we got caught in a flash flood at Docker River; it looked as if we might be stuck there for days. We’d eaten all our hard-boiled eggs and apples but still had a stock of anecdotes. A marathon joke-telling session ensued. I was crying with laughter.
In the end, the water subsided as quickly as it had risen and we were able to head home. When we got back to base at Yulara, Oakes sang me his evocative and nostalgic song, “Beneath Uluru”:
“Time has no time, time’s passing through
No-one can hold it, it’s always anew,
That was a time, my memory of you
Under the starlight beneath Uluru.”
I was in tears for real, then. I have not seen Oakes for years but that memory stays with me. As I say, Oakes touches a chord and his songs have a quality that will haunt you.