“Wow. Elton John is playing in New South Wales! Fancy going?”
Looking up from his laptop, a silent acceptance formed on John’s face before he could utter the affirmative response.
“Aye. Whereabouts is he playing?”
82 Kilometres south of Sydney and sandwiched between the Illawarra Escarpment and the Pacific Ocean is the settlement of Wollongong. A city really, the tenth largest in Australia. Historically it’s a coal-mining and heavy industry (some of which dots the outskirts) but these days it has grown into the triple threat of Tourist Destination, Commuter Town and University City.
Our gig, held at the WIN Stadium, was on a Sunday night. That left us no choice but to plan a weekend around it. Heading down on the Saturday morning we found our AirBnB in the hills before heading to the beach.
North Beach runs down from Fairy Creek to the north all the way down to the harbour and Wollongong Head and lies between the sea-wall walk and the Para Reef. It’s one of those standard Aussie beaches, all white sand, waves and the sun beating down on you.
We spent a few hours relaxing and exploring the nearby park before heading into the city via that coastal walk stopping by Beach Cove and the Breakwater Lighthouse.
Outdoor Canvas Indoor Palette
Since arriving in Australia we have become astounded by the amount, variety and quality of Street Art. There really is a scene here and this has not escaped Woolongong.
If we were illuminated by this daytime art it was the night time scene that really lit us up. Really cool cocktail bars and some fancy restaurants including where we dined that night…. It reminded us of Braddon in Canberra – the fusion of it all. We started the night at His Boy Elroy before enjoying an amazing tasting menu at Rookie Eatery – run out a heritage house on Keira Street.
Well Woolongong really does have it all. The Taiwanese Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order (founded in 1967) had a branch temple nearby.
It had been quite a while since we visited a temple. Even though we visited hundreds of them as we gallivanted across South East Asia. Whether it was the traditional type such as in Luang Prabang or modern takes such as the Black House in Chiang Rai, it never got old.
Nan Tien Temple was also pretty impressive and lays claim to be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The temple was completed in 1995 on a site donated by the Australian Government and in close proximity to Mount Kembla. Auspiscious as the Mountain itself looks like a recumbent lion.
Built in the Chinese Style, the temple is surrounded by landscaped gardens, rural hillsides.
We spent a few hours exploring both prayer halls (Great Mercy Shrine, and the Great Hero Hall) and the 8-level pagoda before walking the grounds including the large lotus pond.
A good day out. The calm before the musical storm that night.
“Good Evening Woolongong”
Woolongong has had a rugby league team at the highest level of competition since 1982 – The Illawara Steelers (named for the local industry). In 1998 they merged with another franchise, the St George Dragons and split their home games between south Sydney and Woolongong. They play these matches in the Woolongong Showground or as it’s known these days, WIN Stadium.
Located right on the beach, the stadium encompasses a three sided stand and then a big grassy knoll that keeps the players and the waves apart. We would be sitting on the grass for our concert that night but really close to the action.
The opening act was Busby Marou – a folk /roots duo from Rockhampton,Queensland. They were very good, great guitar rifts mixing with lyrical waxing and you could tell that these boys had been jamming together for a while. The atmosphere was really relaxed like we were at some sort of regional music festival – everybody just enjoying the afternoon. The only hint that there would be more to this was the glimpse we got of the private helicopter through the perimeter fence.
As the applause died down on the final notes of the dynamic duo and the roadies pounced in to change drum kits, guitars and mic stands Karen and I looked at one another, our mutual fear and excitement visible in our gaze…. ‘Elton better be good!’
‘As the Sun Went Down on Us’ that Sunday night in Woolongong we were treated to 2 and a half magical hours of entertainment. Not only was Elton John good. He was awesome. He came out on stage wearing a shiny jacket with the word ‘Fantastic’ on the back, a nod to Captain Fantastic, he sat down at the piano and proclaimed ‘The Bitch is Back’ to open the show before rolling into Benny and the Jets and all the rest of the hits. Eventually he took a breather to say..
Good Evening Woolongong. I never thought I would say that!
Philadelphia Freedom, I’m Still Standing, Rocket Man were the highlights for us. He didn’t speak much, the piano keys and singing took care of that, but when he did it was all love. He even took time signing a ‘Vote Yes’ sign handed to him at the end.
Twenty, Seventy, age is nothing to Elton John.
Having the concert on the Sunday night meant the red-eye train back to Sydney and work on the Monday morning. We made the 6am train with coffee in hand yet we were not the only diners in our car. From the bowls of muesli in actual ceramic bowls to the take-away muffins everyone in the carriage was going through their early morning routines.As our commuter train snaked it’s way around the national park the soundtrack of our journey was the occasional flurry of keystrokes on a work laptop combined with the rustle of newspaper to the buzz of an electrical razor. (Yep someone was shaving on the train).