By Brian Wise

A Goodbye To The Caravan Club , Archie’s Creek Hotel, Sunday March 31, 2024

‘The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on,’ Paul Keating once famously remarked and, after five years in the Archie’s Creek Hotel in East Gippsland, with another 15 years at several previous locations, the much-loved Caravan Music Club has also moved on. Or gone into recess. Or is in hiatus. Its future is yet to be clarified.

There will be gigs at other venues presented by the Caravan, such as the traditional celebration of Bob Dylan’s birthday which this year is at The Palais on May 23. While the latest location might be in abeyance one suspects that, while there will not be such a heavy schedule of shows, we will still see the Caravan Music moniker for some time to come.

One thing seemed for certain at this farewell when the Caravan Music and hotel owner Peter Foley took the stage, along with his partner Sue Howlett and sister Mary who have also been vital to the club’s success: a break was needed.

“We just can’t do it anymore,” said Foley to an admiring audience that had become almost a family over the years. The circuitous route from house concerts to Bowls Club, to RSL and social club and finally a pub appears to have come to an end. Anyone who has observed the progress of the Caravan over the last few decades will have noticed Foley’s over-riding presence, along with Mary and Sue, hovering over everything, lurking in the background taking care of all the small details.

On this farewell occasion, musicians spoke about how good Foley was to them over the years. Not only looking after them personally but also making sure the sound was always excellent. This is why you might have noticed the same names popping up all the time to appear at the club.

Comparisons have been made to the legendary Continental Café in Greville St, Prahran, which was as pristine on its closing as at its start only eight years earlier. That too was steered by partners, the two Marios, who were also obsessed with attention to detail. Let’s face it, the Caravan Music Club was Peter Foley (along with Mary and Sue) just as the Conti was the two Marios. Similarly, Peter Foley was not only good to musicians but also to me and Rhythms Magazine. Not only did he advertise in this small, niche magazine but he also took care of the entire crew for the radio show, Off The Record, to enable us to see and talk to an array of great local and international musicians over the years.

Of course, it is a quid pro quo but dealing with Peter Foley over the years you could tell that he was doing this for exactly the same reasons we are doing the magazine and the radio show and the musicians have kept coming back; because he loves music. Otherwise, we’d all do something much more sensible and possibly less risky. While I deal with music largely from the periphery, watching it and writing and talking about it about it, Foley is in the trenches dealing with the music industry and all its rich array of characters and their demands.

So, the Field of Dreams that Foley set up, and to which an audience flocked, is set to be put to fallow, unless someone steps in at the last moment. There were probably a lot of doubters when the Caravan moved down the coast five years ago. Yet over the years the club has hosted a Who’s Who of local and international musicians.

How could a venue that was over 90 minutes out of Melbourne possibly work holding regular gigs? (Meeniyan Town Hall had already brilliantly proved that irregular ones could work in the right environment). What the doubters didn’t figure on was the fact that Foley and his crew had created an extended family prepared to travel to support him because they knew they would get great music in excellent surrounds.

When I think about it, almost all of my friends and acquaintances were Caravan devotees. This is where we caught up with each other regularly throughout each year, swapped stories and shared opinions. And this has been happening in various locations for over 15 years!

When this sort of thing happens it is not always an occasion for rejoicing. We need as many venues as possible. But in this case, when everyone realised that the three key players needed a rest, the sense of appreciation was overwhelming. And the Caravan was like having an extended family.

The cast of musicians assembled for the two ‘farewell’ shows was testament enough to the respect in which the Caravan is held. In most cases, the musicians had a long association with the Caravan. The fact, that more than 400 people attended each show was evidence of the punters’ love.

Consider the house band led by guitarist/producer Shane O’Mara, with Shane Reilly on pedal steel, Adrian Whitehead on keyboards, Ben Weisner on drums and newcomer Mick Meagher on bass. We’ve seen most of them many times before in the tribute shows that have taken place at the venue. They can play Bob Dylan songs as good as Bob’s band and maybe better than Bob himself. The task of providing the backing for another dozen performers across a range of material might have been a challenge to any other group. Not here.

Ian Bland

Poet Ian Bland introduced the show in his own inimitable fashion with one of his poems that captured the unique Australian sense of humour in tale about country football.

Jonny Goes To Church






Bland then handed over to Jon Von Goes, on whose Triple R FM program he appears each week.  Von Goes, who lives just a few houses up the road in what has become a musician’s community, has just released an album with Celia Church (Johnny Goes To Church) and they performed one song from it, ‘Beatle Boy’ and one inspired by the Caravan’s lights (‘Festoon Lights’).

Brooke Taylor, Mick Thomas,, Jen Anderson and band.
Suzannah Espie, Kutcha Edwards and Rebecca Barnard.

Mick Thomas was joined on stage by Brooke Taylor on guitar and vocals and Jen Anderson on violin and then the stage band for a rousing and apt version of ‘Away Away’, the Weddings Parties Anything classic. Kutcha Edwards arrived to perform ‘Friends’ and ‘Yill Lull’.

Suzannah Espie performed her own song ‘Bluebird Boots’ and then broke into a marvellous version of Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’(from ‘Slow Train Coming’). Espie has perfected this over the years and turns the song into a from resignation to a challenge.

Inspired by seeing Rickie Lee Jones a few nights earlier at the Thornbury Theatre, Rebecca Barnard performed ‘Last Chance Texaco’ before introducing a fabulous version of the Rebecca’s Empire ‘hit’ ‘Way Of All Things’, which ended the first set on a high.

The first part of the second set was Miller time. Billy Miller opened with Norman Greenbaum’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’ and got everyone singing along on the old Ferrets’ hit ‘Don’t Fall In Love’.

Suzannah Espie and Tracey Miller.
Lisa Miller and Shane O’Mara.

Tracey Miller performed ‘Leave It All’ and ‘Behind Dreamer’ and was joined by Lisa Miller for a wonderful reading of John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery’. Lisa then offered the Charlie Rich hit ‘We Love Each Other’ which appeared on her Car Tape album that recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary and, in retrospect, was probably 20 years ahead of its time. Shane Reilly, using an E-Bow on the pedal steel, added the eerie sound of the saw. Lisa closed her portion with ‘Love Will Carry You’ from her 2003 album Morning In the Bowl Of Night. Adalita’s strident version of Dylan’s ‘I Want You’ was followed by her ‘Savage Heart’ from 2022’s Inland.

Vika and Linda Bull, Mark Seymour and band.
Mark Seymour performs ‘Say Goodbye’.

Things then took a decided turn towards the reflective when Vika & Linda Bull came on stage and introduced Chris Wilson’s classic songs ‘You Will Surely Love Again’. It was a timely reminder of how closely associated Wilson had been with the venue and of his great songwriting talents. Upping the tempo, they continued with ‘When Will You Fall For Me’, their first single written for them by Mark Seymour who then appeared on stage to sing with them on ‘Waiting For The Kid’ from his new album The Boxer.  They then closed with a superb version of the old Hunters & Collectors’ song ‘Say Goodbye’ with the band kicking into high gear and really rocking out. The entire cast then returned to the stage for an encore of Spectrum’s ‘I’ll Be Gone’ led by Billy Miller. Then they were gone. (Until the evening’s show). Apparently, later that evening Peter Foley was coaxed back on stage and was seen to shed a tear or two.

The encore, ‘I’ll Be Gone.’

It was difficult to believe that what had become such an important part of your life was over. In fact, most of the attendees are probably still in denial. If it is over then the legacy will be the fact that people will be talking in hushed tones about the venue for decades to come.