Published in the Weekend Australian Magazine, October 2015

Photo credit: Cameron Greyson


It’s difficult to work out from the photo exactly what Courtney Barnett is thinking.

It’s February 19, 2011. She’s lying on the grass in a backyard in the Melbourne suburb of Thornbury, head propped on a backpack. She stares past the band playing on the outdoor stage in front of her, and up towards the wide open sky. From her posture she looks comfortable, but her face says otherwise. She’s just finished her set at a small festival called Applecore. Later in the day 400 people will cram into the backyard, but only a dozen or so early arrivals are there to see Barnett’s band, The Olivettes, open the show.

They play seven songs. Barnett introduces a song called Crates by asking, “Do you know it?” But she’s not talking to the audience, she’s talking to her band. After playing solo for six years it’s her first attempt at putting together a band to play her songs. Songs she’s been crafting since her father taught her to play Smoke on the Water at age 10, songs that fell flat at Sydney open-mike nights when she was 18, songs her friends have heard a million times, songs that will go on to form one of the most remarkable and unlikely rises to international success in Australian music history.

She could be thinking about how she’s going to pay her rent (the booker was late paying her $40 fee last time she played, and she sent a polite reminder: “I’m skint-as this week”). She could be wondering how long she would go on doing part-time jobs she hated, waiting for something to happen. This gig isn’t going to be life-changing, though. That gig has already happened, five months earlier. She just doesn’t know it yet…

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