Bivouacking at the Wheeler Centre – it feels like a school camp somehow. On the bus on the way in, I feel like a kid again. I carry a pillow and cupcakes, and a backpack full of laptop, pens and notebook. There’s a novel in there for the wee hours.
The night begins without any great fanfare. A small crowd gathers for Eric Yoshiyaki Dando’s performance at 8pm. Eric is a bit short, a bit hairy; he wears no shoes and rolled-up fisherman’s pants. He reads from his iPhone (“from the Sleepers’ app, which is very handy!”) about his time spent as a shopping centre Santa. I presume it is non-fiction, but on later reflection I will wonder. Either way, he’s utterly charming. The AUSLAN lady’s hands dance, and Eric makes her say “snail” again because he loves the sign for it.
After Eric’s performance people splinter. There’s an awful lot of talking. More than one person here seems to be participating in White Night in order to write about it – I’m not the only person whose impulse is to document. There are people with cameras, and a few people approach to ask what we’re working on, or why we’re here.
I leave for dinner. Sitting outside the State Library, I watch patterns drive themselves up the exterior walls. There are people with strollers. It’s as busy as New Years Eve, but people are happier and more friendly. This doesn’t last though – after dinner, at about 10.30, people seem a bit more volatile. There’s hostility in their demand for something to be happening always, everywhere. I walk more carefully back to the Wheeler Centre.
The Wheeler Centre packs out for later performances at midnight and 1am. The midnight performance has everyone laughing, Laura Jean McKay and Lawrence Leung lunging about the stage, jazz hands flying around one another in a battle to decide who reads first. The pieces they perform are similarly impressive.
Performances from 3am onwards start to calm down. Luke Ayres Ryan does the 3am reading, which is of a story he wrote when he was 14. He antagonises his young self as he reads, incredulous that he ever thought that this writing was something to be proud of. I hope that he sees the value in his current writing, and wonder if we all have this mode when we read over ancient pieces. True, the piece he reads is as dismal as anything a 14 year-old would write, but still.
The audience at this reading is mainly those of us who have been writing all night. We lounge in bean bags, lulling, and we begin to feel a bit heavy-lidded. Second winds will come later. For now, sedate is the way to be. Chad Parkhill plays a ridiculous DJ set (“full of funky beats with a fat bass line”) to perk us all up, and it works in a way. We dance like fools for a little bit, before a friend arrives and a few of us head to the Domed Reading Room at the State Library.
This is the only thing that I really want to catch at White Night; the only thing that I absolutely need to see. The Domed Reading Room is expansive and overwhelming at the best of times, but in this ethereal space where the city hums and everybody is dreaming, it’s almost too much. The Exaudi Youth choir send their voices up to the ceiling, where projected lights move like ripples in a slow stream. It feels like sleep. Every person is surrounded by calm. People scatter, sitting on desks and chairs. Many heads take the opportunity for a quick nap.
Returning to the Wheeler Centre feels strange, stepping back into the real world. People come and go, and while people still write, the hours between 5 and 7 feel more like a drop-in centre where people stick their heads in out of curiosity.
The tram ride home hits me in the face, and I struggle not to close my eyes as we trundle up a now-quiet, very rubbishy Collins Street.
The night was certainly white; brilliant with creative light and a generous crowd hungry for culture. Every piece of the city opened up and poured out all the secrets that are so often hidden.