S Sorrensen (yes, everyone calls him S – it’s a long story) is a comedian, poet and writer. He lives in a shack under the cliffs in the hills near Nimbin, a pleasant village in northern New South Wales, Australia.
Over the decades (oh dear, that long?), S has entertained audiences all over this wide brown continent performing at festivals, clubs, pubs, house concerts – everywhere really. His permanent all-life crisis and sharp wit unpacks gladbags of insight and humour.
His shows may include his poetry and – warning here – ukulele.
CONTACT ME at email@example.com
Check out gigs and stuff at Ess Sorrensen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stephen.sorrensen
Check out his published writings at S Sorrensen on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100027313462218
S Sorrensen does a rave about old people (oh dear – he is one!) at Woodford Folk Festival 2020.
A Moment S Sorrensen (Nimbin GoodTimes, November)
‘Wow, look at that,’ she says stopping in front of a huge brick and wood house with a large deck and swimming pool extending towards her. 'It's beautiful.'
She rocks on her Crocs, pacifying a child strapped to her chest.
The man, whom I assume is her partner (just an assumption, I know), nods as he also stops to look into the property where a large statue of Ganesha squats on the perfectly trimmed lawn surrounding the pool. The statue squirts a stream of water from its trunk into a garden pond where bright-green plastic lilies float.
‘Wow, yeah. Wow,’ he says, knocking a shell from his Crocs. (Yep, he is her partner.)
A gust of sea breeze pushes the plastic lilies to one side of the garden pond. I smell salt and a whiff of rainforest.
The thing is, the house is awful. Ugly. An on-trend early-century architectural style lifted straight from some magazine. And it’s enormous.
The child is not looking at the house. She is trying to fit her fist into her mouth, which necessitates her closing her eyes, apparently.
Looking at the house, the trio has their backs to something that is truly beautiful: Mission Beach. Crystal-clear water blueing as it stretches from coastal rainforest to Dunk Island and into a hazy horizon.
The huge ugly house is separated from the beach by only a few-metre remnant of the original rainforest.
This house is one of many in a line of houses set close to the water, with a sandy walking track for the public running through that thin strip of remaining forest between houses and beach.
All the houses are new, awful and gigantic, each with its own style showing no harmony with the houses around it. That’s not surprising, because these houses also have no rapport with the environment they’re in. They could have been lifted from inner Sydney or Melbourne or Las Vegas. These are the houses of the newly-arrived rich.
The child squirms and cries out. (I think she may have cried out ‘wow’, but that could just be me trying to make a good story.)
Years ago, when I was at Mission Beach, I thought it was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. The lush rainforest grew right down to the beach. Set among the forest were some small wooden houses where families lived. They fished, had fires on the beach. They didn’t have statues from Bali or a swimming pool or a lawn. They had a sandy track from their home through the forest to the beach.
Those locals have long gone. The small, low-impact houses with their rusty water tanks are gone, replaced with an ugliness that is infecting every beautiful coastal area in the tropical north with a noisy, look-at-me insensitivity, whole mini ecosystems buried under the third toilet.
These beautiful environments have become an acquisition, not a shared existence; an investment and a pretty view to fill the windows. The windows stay shut, of course – air-conditioning. The new settlers know this place is beautiful (they’re people), so they want a part of it (they’re rich), but they don’t know how to be a part of it.
I’m going for a swim. From the water, the beach still looks beautiful, the thin veneer of rainforest mostly hiding the disfigurement of wealthy disconnect.
I walk past the trio. The woman turns to me.
The child has just fitted her fist into her mouth. She looks at me, her eyes bulging wide in triumph (just an assumption, I know; could be panic).
‘Wow!’ I say.
A Moment S Sorrensen (Nimbin GoodTimes, October 2023)
The world is mad. I’m looking at him as he talks to a woman, who nods as he speaks. I don’t know if she agrees with him. I hope not. I hope she is just being polite. He is enthused, talking loudly and excitedly. I hear phrases like ‘government trick’ and ‘an Aboriginal fella who is totally against it, so…’
It’s a party in the hills. I live in my shack under the cliffs not too far from here, but I do have to drive, so I won’t drink too much. I feel like drinking wine, though. The world is mad. Just one more glass…
I’ve known him for decades. I’ve always appreciated his intelligence and his empathy. But now, he is championing the ‘no’ vote in the Voice to Parliament referendum.
I take a sip. Hmmm. Lively, without much substance.
Globally, the situation is dire: the climate is changing, population exploding, extinctions increasing, pollution… And I feel the planet’s pain. Why wouldn’t I? Homo sapiens had been intimately connected to the planet for more than 200,000 years. Though mostly wrenched from that intimate connection in our modern life, we still feel the planet’s pain. It unsettles us, makes us sad, frustrated and even angry, whether we recognise the cause or we push the cause onto other targets – like governments or black people or the guy next door with the barking dog.
In the Northern Rivers, I have always found refuge from the melancholy that the planetary situation creates. It has always been a community sharing a respect for human and environmental rights. Tonight though, I’m witnessing another light of reason dimmed by insidious forces that algorithmically infiltrate a person’s rationality and poison their empathy.
He takes a break from speaking and wanders over to me, smiling, holding up a bottle of whiskey in offering. I make myself smile back and shake my head no, pointing to my bottle of shiraz. He shrugs and moves away.
I don’t know how to counter the madness. The world is both crazy mad and angry mad. There’s no going back once you’ve dropped down that cyber rabbit hole of conspiracy.
There are those who don’t want Aboriginal people advising the government on matters that concern Aboriginal people. For a start, it may highlight issues for Australia’s next mining boom, which will be in critical and rare-earth minerals, essential for modern living – and modern war. The USA is detaching itself from China’s huge worldwide control of these minerals. Again, Australia will be the quarry. But that quarry is the land of the Indigenous peoples. Always was. Always will be.
Mabo vs Queensland in 1992, brought out the fear-based arguments we’re hearing now in the ‘no’ movement. The same arguments were trotted out for the Native Title Act of 1993, and again for the Wik Decision in 1996. ‘They’ll take our land’ etc…But the echo chambers of social media conspiracy didn’t exist then. The people in my community were united in their approval of these acts of Indigenous recognition.
Now this smallest of goodwill gestures – recognising the importance of listening to Aboriginal people on matters that concern them – has seen the same old arguments dragged out again. This time, however, they’re enhanced by social-media algorithms, making them much more powerful in their ability to turn the frustrations and fears that come from living on a critically ill planet into a negative force that will continue that destruction and serve only the interests of the corporate few.
I drain the last of the wine from my glass and pick up the bottle. The nodding woman comes over to me.
‘Leaving?’ she says.
‘Yes,’ I say.
She hugs me and says quietly, ‘Thank God there was no Facebook in ’67.’
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘The world is mad.’
‘It’s the chemtrails, you know,’ she says with a serious expression.
Then we both laugh.
A Reminisce S Sorrensen
Her eyes shone, reflecting firelight. The group sat around the fire, talking about the communal vegie garden – Centre Garden they called it – and the planting they would do tomorrow.
A joint glided around the circle, flaring and dipping, flaring and dipping. The woman with the shinning eyes smiled at me. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head, secured by a stick. Or maybe it was a bone; hard to tell in the flickering light. She sat comfortably on her heels, swaying gently.
Even though we were in the rainforest, I could hear the the sea hissing. I could hear my heart beating. Life was full of promise.
It was 1976 and I was in Cedar Bay, North Queensland.
I’d been at Cooktown and had hitched a ride south on a clunky trimaran bound for Cairns. From Cairns, I would hitch up to the Atherton Tablelands where I was living with a tribe of other young refugees fleeing the suffocating culture of mainstream Australia. Things were changing, we felt. The old ways were dehumanising and planet-wrecking. We were pioneers of a new age, we thought. A kinder future. Maybe we were naïve, but naivete can take you places that you would never normally go. Naivete is hope in action.
After some days pushing into the prevailing southerlies, we reached Cedar Bay. A pod of dolphins escorted the boat into a shimmering world of blue water and green rainforest that stopped abruptly at the white sand. I stood on the bow, my hair and sarong flapping in the wind. I was 21.
Even before the anchor was set, I dived into the water and swam to the beach. Two men approached me as I lay, exhausted, on the sand. One was naked, the other wore khaki shorts. They both had long hair and thick beards. The man with shorts had a rack of three knives sheathed in a belt.
G’day. You alright? he said.
I was. I pointed to the boat. I asked him about the three knives he carried.
I’m a a pig hunter, he said. They damage the forest, so we hunt them and eat them.
Well, you might, laughed the naked bloke. Not me, I’m vegetarian.
Where do you live? I asked.
Come with us, the pig hunter said.
We walked towards the wall of rainforest, following a stream that flowed from the forest across the sand and into the ocean. We plunged from glare into darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I saw elegant open homes set among the trees, the dappled sunlight fingering their roofs. A noisy and naked bunch of young children splashed in the stream. Two women squatted near them, talking. They waved.
We walked to where a fire was being set. People were gathering. The sun would soon sink behind the range.
Around the fire, tomorrow’s gardening plans were finalised and food shared (with a pork option). A guitar and a dulcimer appeared. We sang Bob Dylan songs. The woman with the shining eyes danced, her arms curling like smoke. Music spilled through the trees as darkness inked between the houses where, soon, kerosene lamps and candles created pockets of warm light. Life as art, I thought.
I was in awe that people could live in such a beautiful way. This was simple, graceful, human. It was a masterpiece.
The woman with the shining eyes sat down next to me. She smelled like the sea. She was warm like fire. We sang Forever Young, and I discovered it was a bone that held her hair.
A few weeks later, the police and navy came to Cedar Bay, arrested these people and burnt their homes.
A Moment S Sorrensen
It’s hot. I need shade. Oh, there’s a place. A pastelaria, which is a sort of Portuguese cafe. Two older blokes are sitting under the pastelaria’s awning, which extends into a small courtyard. I suppose you get to an age when you can’t do much except hang about and wait for the end. Bit sad, really…
The two older men sit separately and each has a beer in front of him. It’s 11am. One inhales slowly on a cigarette, holds the smoke in his lungs for a long while, then exhales. The smoke drifts languidly into the sunlight, making a faint shadow on the split-stone pavers.
I was thinking I’d have a café com gelo. That’s an iced coffee. It comes in two cups: your normal café of choice in one and ice in another. You add your coffee to the ice as desired. DIY deliciousness.
The Portuguese love coffee. At the start of my walk, I wandered into a pastelaria. where two young workmen were drinking coffee and scrolling through their phones, legs jiggling, to start their working day. The coffee is super strong and comes in tiny cups that looked even tinier in their large hands. I ordered one as well – an early morning hit to give me energy to walk a long way so I can, um, walk a long way back. Yeah, it’s sort of pointless, but that’s life, right?
A woman emerges from the pastelaria and comes to my table.
‘Bom dia,’ she says, smiling.
‘Bom dia,’ I say, practising my new language skills. ‘Super Bock,’ I say, pointing to the beer the older blokes are drinking, ‘e uma pastel de Tentúgal, por favor.’
Bugger coffee, I’m having a beer. It’s 11am.
‘OK,’ she says, smiling (at my excellent Portuguese, I reckon).
On my pointless walk today I passed a lot of pastelarias, so named because as well as coffee and beer you can buy a delicious pastry (pastel). And at each pastelaria sat at least one older man, sipping coffee. These blokes don’t look down at a phone, scrolling for distractions, but rather just sit and gaze out into the street, into the heat, into the world. They don’t seem bored or frustrated, even though they obviously don’t have anything to do.
The woman brings my beer and pastry.
‘Obrigado,’ I say.
We three older blokes sit and look at another older block cooking at a fireplace in the courtyard. He sweats through his flannelette shirt. The man puts a large dried and salted cod in a wire grill and places it on the coals. This is Portugal’s national dish. Bacalhau. Occasionally, one of the older blokes says something and they all laugh.
The courtyard fills with the aroma of bacalhau cooking. Beyond the courtyard, Europe is cooking, but here in Southern Portugal the wind off the Atlantic Ocean offers some relief.
The pastel de Tentúgal is wonderful. I can’t help but moan and roll my eyes with delight as I taste it. The two older blokes look at me and smile. One raises his glass to me. The pastel has an egg-custard centre wrapped in layers of super-thin dough baked golden brown.
‘Isto é delicioso,’ I say.
The women cackles from inside the pastelaria.
One of the blokes says something – and we all laugh.
I should get going. I have a long walk back to my house among the olive and carob trees. I got stuff to do. But I like sitting here. With these older blokes. Just… sitting.
Then I realise: It’s not that these blokes are past it and can’t do anything; no, it’s that they’re wise and know there’s really nothing to do.
A Moment S Sorrensen
There is something uplifting about being in a church. The doorways and windows all point heavenward in that classic pointed church-window shape that brings to mind a bishop’s hat. Or a penis...
Oh, sorry about that. That’s just my Catholic mind. But this is a Uniting Church church, decommissioned now. I don’t know if there is a paedophilic history to the Uniting Church. I mean, the Uniting Church doesn’t even have much history, only being formed in 1977. And I don’t know if the Uniting Church has bishops with funny pointed hats that require specially shaped doors to accommodate their passage. But it seems to me that there’s a lot less pomp in the Uniting Church than in the Catholic. It’s more Parramatta Road than Oxford Street.
I’m standing on the raised floor where pastors have stood and addressed congregations of the faithful for years. I can hear the echoes of their many words that have embedded themselves in past congregations and in these wooden walls. Now, microphone in hand, I’m adding my own.
The congregation I’m addressing though is not Uniting Church faithful, but a bunch of North Coast people who have come to this funky new venue in Nimbin for a Sunday session of songs and jokes (not hymns and sermon). My job is to deliver the jokes. To spread the word, man. The good word.
And the faith here is not in a God made in man’s image (Xenophanes, 580BC) but in people. Yes, people. Full stop. We who are gathered here are celebrating our humanity. We do not celebrate God, fear, faith, scripture, commandments, heaven or reincarnation, no; here and now we celebrate each other’s life in holy communion on a perfect winter’s day in Nimbin.
‘G’day people. Settle down. Good to see you.’
I have suffered at the hands (literally) of religion. I have been confused by the institutionalised distortion of a beautiful story. A story that is so human, but so dangerous to the ruling institutions.
The beautiful story is of a man preaching love and peace; of a man who chucked bankers from the temple and who said, at his big gig on the mountain, that rich people would not get to heaven; of a man who helped the sick and homeless; of a man who embraced those outcast by society; of a man who pointed to his heart when asked where heaven was; of a man who died to show that accepting your mortality is the key to liberation. (And let’s not forget, got more wine when it was needed.)
Even though I’m saying ‘man’, these actions are more those of a woman, I reckon. The wisdom is feminine. I think he was a woman. That makes sense.
The distortion of this beautiful story reverses the feminine wisdom to create macho institutions promoting the opposite: wealth is virtue, peace needs war, death is not real, heaven is somewhere else. They’re using Her name in vain. Bastards.
I’m talking beautiful nonsense here on the stage, but it’s more honest than all the scriptures. And it brings more joy. There was more wisdom in the chit-chat by the chai tent before the show than in any proclamation from any religion. The truth is all around.
The jokes are going pretty well. We’re having a laugh. A baby cries. A phone causes a quick and embarrassed reaction from someone in the back row. The church itself, a beautiful building, seems to be enjoying itself. Soon the walls will resonate to live music. Then it’s wine and bread in the pub.
I give thanks to people in this loving church on this lovely Nimbin Sunday.
When the time comes
At the end of the day
When all is said and done
The bottom line is reached, waxed
And slips into the red
When the deal's done
The hands' shook
The fat lady's sung
Her final bow's took
And the curtain falls
When the death wind rattles my chest
And my future's shrunk so small
Even cheap drunk dreams have moved out
And panic, the last tenant
Runs the stairs down my spine
Sensing my last sense is a swan song
And my last gasp has one gag left in its gig
When even fear leaves the sinking ship
And calm, a pillow for the void, fluffs itself
When Memory Lane is walked, completely
To the dead end
And I'm flush with the full stop at the finish of my story
In the echo of the last heartbeat
On that final ripple before the stillness
Then shall I find my voice
And speak the truth
For the first time:
'I am you'
And when I hear your voice
Clearly, for the first time
Crying from the fading shore
Then shall I know love
For the first time
She took the car, man...
I couldn't believe it,
She took the car
She took it – I hard the car door slam,
She revved it like hell and yelled, "Bugger you, S!"
She shoved it into D, that's D for Die,
And spun the gravel right in my eye.
"Goodbye," I said to no-one there,
I was filled with anger, vodka and despair,
"Next time you split!" she made me shout,
"I'll buy you a ticket, or drive you myself!"
Sure, life's tricky, there's problems immense,
Relationships are heavy, hurtful and intense,
But really... to take the car, my car, without asking me
Is really serious. You don't get a HX Kingswood for free.
She took the car, man, not to mention my heart,
Took the car and split, and now it's dark,
I'm stuck here with a heart that's broke,
And she's probably in my car with some other bloke.
She won't wind up the windows if it looks like rain,
She'll probably screw him in the back seat, and make sure it stains,
She'll go for hours and hours without any oil,
Till the big donk's had it and she's started to boil.
She took the car, man...
She coulda took the kid,
She took the car...
Oh God, what a mess when love's like this,
When your mobility is threatened by one little kiss,
A kiss that meant nothing – well, nothing much anyway,
So I spent the night, I was drunk, I had to stay.
But she wouldn't come at my alibi,
She said the car stank of this other girl's vibe,
She has to decide between me and the truth,
But if she prangs the Holden, I'll hit the roof.
But if she comes back and she's all in one piece,
I'll re-register my love and cancel the police,
I'll clean it up and make sure I lock it
And always keep the keys in my pocket.
Sometimes, you know they think you talk too much
Sometimes, you think, 'What do they know?'
But most times, you know you talk too much
but silence is the enemy
silence, like sin, is black – with a dirty white collar
Once, in God's church, you were silent
But the silence then was not black, but stained glass
And you knelt at the altar
robed like an angel
the stained glass haloing you
as quiet as incense
as clam as Latin
But later, in God's dark room
with holy wine on his breath
and a crucifix in his hand
your head lost in his black cloth
you were born again
in a puddle of words
an unholy communion pressed upon your lips
yea - an altered boy
In that panic of pornography came a word
and the word was 'help'
now all words mean help
help, help, help, help
that's a plea
that's a prayer
that's a joke
that's bar talk
that's love talk
that's all you say
that's your poem
that's what came from God's dark room
So now, you cloud the air around you
swinging words like incense
filling time with pointless rhyme
keeping at bay with all you say
But between each word and around each sentence
and silence is the enemy
and the enemy is the memory
and the memory is black – with a dirty white collar.
If the mountains should fall and the valleys rise
The cities go dark and the country dies
If the flooding rain drowns our town
And the four great oceans turn a chemical brown
I will always love you
If all our dreams should turn to dust
And love in the new age is nothing but lust
If civilisation teeters on the brink
And chaos rules the sinking ship
If midnight strikes the doomsday clock
And everyone feels the climate shock
If you and I with our backs to the wall
Ride the big wave and see it all
I will always love you
When the time comes, we'll be prepared
We won't walk away, we'll take the car instead
We'll travel to the desert out past Kyogle
And wave goodbye to what was normal
When all that was precious turns to litter
And the only noise is the noise of Twitter
You'll plant a seed in that ruined terrain
I'll be there with you and we'll start again
Because I will always love you
Everything is brown
Even the green is brown
The sky, though blue, is scratched brown by the dust
Brown cows eat the brown grass
And the river is... well, brown.
This is Australia.
There are black bits,
Burnt black bits
And some black cows.
The black people have all gone
Except for the burnt black bits
And the white people are... brown.
This is Australia.
Her brown fingers wipe the dust from her eyes
She's crying – but I don't want to know
Crying mud. "Keep driving," I say
But the further you go, the worse it gets.
Her eyes are brown
Except for the black bits
Burnt black bits filling with brown tears
Flooding the dry cheeks
She's weeping with neglect –
"Drive on," I cry,
Because this is Australia,
This is her sad brown heart
Dreaming and waiting for someone to notice,
To care, for someone to write a hopeful green poem...
But I don't want to know
It's too late.
We drive through a cloud of smoke.
No, a black shroud – no, a funeral veil
Dust to ash
Ash to dust
The car stops
Everything is brown
"Goodbye," I say.
You tricked me –
you called to me from the forest
called to me
me, inside the walls I'd made
against the forest
behind the doors I'd locked
to keep it out
safe in my house
You called to me –
and your words, fertile and dangerous
seeded my rooms
your sentences, hanging like vines,
tendrils poking into dark corners
I opened my window and saw you
a forest shadow
strange markings on your flanks
your eyes flashing like a tiger's
You enticed me –
curling your long finger at me
beckoning me to...
Well, you spoke of taking, you and I,
a great leap over the edge
"Our hearts have wings!" you said
Of taking, you and I,
a blind jump into the unknown
into the undergrowth
where creatures, wild and free, are
Shedding your outer skin
you invited me to snare passion in my arms
to feel it with my bare hands
to run with the dogs of desire
to hunt love
to bite its ankle
to bring it down with a roar
You would, you said, tear my fears apart with your teeth
and toss them to the winds
"Come to the forest," you sang, you whispered
your voice panicking lizards up my spine...
So, after a while, I did
I tore down my house and smashed the walls
the doors, unhinged, went crazy
thing and tenant I piled in the sun
and I burned the lot
And in the glow of that bonfire of a life
I, wild-eyed, breathing hard
scared shitless and laughing
plunged into the forest
like a wild and free creature
to be with wild and free creatures
to find you...
But you tricked me –
oh, I found you alright
but not howling and gut-smeared
disembowelling a deer to see our future together, no
tucked inside thick walls
sitting behind locked doors
knees together, safe
I called to you from the forest
I enticed, I invited
but you can't come to the forest
you're not wild anymore...
Sometimes, on days so still your house slumbers
you open the window
I creep from the forest
and we hold hands
quietly, for we must be careful, the walls have ears
we hold each other –
me, seeking refuge near your walls,
you, smelling the forest in my hair