MUSIC FARM STUDIOS : BYRON BAY

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In the environmental and cultural evolution of Byron, the Music Farm has special, symbolic and magical meaning.

The original clearing of centuries old teak and cedar rainforests in our coastal ridges was well completed by the 1880s. Most of this asset was shipped to England and used in ship and furniture construction. By 1900 there were far fewer trees upon the land than we see today, except for rugged pockets of terrain, which proved too difficult for the cutters to access. One of these rare riparian rainforest sections joins the Music Farm. Outside of towns, the regional land was divided into dairy farms in the workable range of one to two hundred acres.

Interestingly, this farm had the accommodating name of ?Fig Tree Inn.? Its paddocks were richly grassed in the thousand year old rainforest humus soils. Horses did not need to be ?hard fed? in those days. Locally grown feed like oats were given to grazing livestock as a special treat. Joe Scarrabolotti, whose dad milked on Fig Tree Inn, explained that these farms were producers of cream for Norco Co-Op. Many properties still have the cream cubbies at the beginning of their driveways where the milk/cream canisters were set out for collection. Excess skim milk and its roughage whey would be dealt to the pigs. The Byron region exported a sweet pork pattie which became an internationally sought after product between the Great Wars.

As our region?s economic focus on dairy and cattle waned in the late ?60s, many of the properties were taken over by what the locals laughingly referred to as ?hobby farmers.? This new wave of people moving into the area found that the farming lifestyle was a little more difficult than they had expected. All kinds of crops and land uses were begun which marked the end of the dairy farm era and the beginning of what some call the Aquarius Age.

Not all of the new endeavours turned into profitable businesses, but some of the successful directions pursued were in solar/passive and energy renewable systems. Also in farming, Tea tree, macadamia, organic herbs, vegetables and flowers increased. Other uses of the farms were more lifestyle oriented. Surfers shaped and glassed their boards in old bails. Hippies, and not so specifically grouped people, grew pot in the lantana, which had taken over the previously cattle-grazed paddocks. Writers created stories and musicians dreamed up songs in the powerful nature spirit bush atmosphere.

In the early seventies, the Music Farm property was purchased by Gary Deucher, a young Melbourne man who had received a significant inheritance from his family. Being a musician and music lover, he dreamt of building a place where city and local musicians could live and work in a creative and stimulating atmosphere. He installed ?state of the art? recording equipment, and adding John Sayers, a gifted sound engineer, into the equation, a unique recording studio came into its own. The first attempt had been a block building on the top of a hill looking over Wilson?s Creek. This was taken apart and re-constructed over two years into what basically exists today.

I was helping to refurbish the old bails into an accommodation facility when Gary and John asked me to help with the new construction. We built a floating slab in the musicians? room supported on hard rubber, physically separated from the recording room by a gap in the slab and double glazed windows. The roof and walls were filled with a series of sound absorbing systems constructed in what are now rare timbers, the type which covered the building two hundred years ago: Rosewood, teak and the denser eucalyptus species.

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The studio is like a carefully built guitar, and like a guitar, sound absorption, weathering and father time make its sound richly unique. Local carpenter extraordinaire, Chris Jackson headed the team of builders. One example of his joinery are the heavy insulated rosewood doors which open into the main studio.

When I was working as chippie/gofer on the old bails accommodation in 1973, Cold Chisel was staying in an adjacent caravan. We would start at 7:30am. The Chisel would wake about midday and begin working in the studio in the late afternoon. Just before they finished their session here they put on a free outdoor concert under the big fig tree at the full moon. Jimmy Barnes? belting voice had the smoothness of youth. Some other groups and individuals that have used the studio over the years include Radiators, Youthu Yindi, Olivia Newton John, Kylie Minogue, Richard Clapton and Tommy Emmanuel.

Gary sold the farm to Ian and Elizabeth Mason in the early eighties who, with their connections in the Australian music industry, focused on recording session work. The timber matured.

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Eric Roberts and Wayne and Diana Young took over the farm in the late eighties. It was at the Music Farm where Diana wrote a mythical trilogy about magic and fairies in the rainforest. The middle section of this story was made into a screenplay by Wayne and Diana that resulted in the successful animated film called ?Fern Gully, The Last Rainforest.? It won the United Nations? One Earth Award in 1991 and was presented to her at the UN in New York by our Cultural Ambassador at the time, Olivia Newton John.

This fantasy, in which the good spirits had won, became a real life challenge. The local water authority, Rous County Council, announced they were going to put a mega dam between Federal, Goonengerry and Coorabell on Wilson?s River. This would mean the inundation of the remaining fifth of the original riparian rainforest, flooding the valley to the level of 93 metres elevation. This encompassed the Music Farm?s entire easterly valley and view, its rainforest and the teeming forms of supported life, which would drown hundreds of feet of the proposed project.

For the next twelve years, the ?Fern Gully? fairytale became an actual battle. Often centred at the Music Farm we organized lobby groups, which included scientists, consultants, engineers, environmentalists, politicians of all parties, and film and music stars. This community forced Rous into ?Community Consultation?, and proactively turned the planning engineers toward the more progressive concept of ?demand management.? Over the years, with the help of many volunteers, workers, celebrities and a tenacious water engineer named Brian Milgate, we finally tipped the scales.

Aside from the salvation of the rainforest, the biggest victory was the community?s effect in changing a fundamental philosophy. These days it is considered more productive to respect the value of nature in our lives.

Now we have a place where your timber can mature peacefully??Serenity?

Rusty Miller
May 2002

“Funny Farms”: Ian Mason at Music Farm

This video was originally part of an hour long TV special called “Funny Farms” and was filmed in 1982. This aired on Channel 7 in Australia and shows John Sayers and I recording an album at the Music Farm on the Fairlight CMI. At the time we were embarking on a pioneering musical work and I have now decided (after much pressure from my friends) to release the Album from my archives after digitally re-mastering it. The Album Title is “Freddy Fairlight & The Fuse” by Ian Mason. It will be available on iTunes, CD Baby, Google Music and Amazon mp3 this month. A single “Fooled Ya” (Fairlight Version) is available now. Enjoy!

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