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South Coast Waif’s childhood: Bush, books and Johnny B Goode

A South Coast bush kid who grew up without a tellie credits both isolation–anda stolen video night at a mate’s place – with launching his musical career.
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The former gave Josh Cunningham plenty of time to play guitar and the latter gave him the inspiration to perfect it.The Waifs guitarist and songwriter grew up off the grid on 40 acres inTurlinjah and will never forget the night he watched Back to the Future.

“My family did not have a TV,” Cunningham, 42, said.

“I was at a friend’s 13th birthday party and a few movies gotrented out. One was Back to the Future.Isaw the scene with Michael J Fox playing Johnny B Goode at the prom anddecided, then and there, that is what I want to do –I want to be aguitar player.”

Back to the future: Waif Josh Cunningham at the home he is building in the bush in Turlinjah, next door to the mud-brick home he grew up in.

Teenage determination to be a guitar hero would morph into a soulful musical maturity. At18,Cunningham stumbled on sisters performing in Broome,Vikki Thorn and Donna Simpson.

The Waifs

“I was instantly taken with their music and their personalities,” Cunningham said.

“The style theyhad was similar to a style I was gravitating towards; it was much more acoustic. We had a jam andDonna popped the question and asked if I wanted to join up.It did not take too much armtwisting.”

That was 23 years ago and the rest is history. Cunningham will join the pair onstage when The Waifs play Granite Town on October 31.

Cunningham’s bush childhood also gave a bookish kid plenty of time to read –a foundation that has never yet hurt a song.

“I always loved reading, writing and language,” he said.He remembers a character, Arabelle, with a pet raven called Mortimer.

“I loved those books –ravens are my favorite birds to this day,” he said.

His love of words saw him flirt with being a journalist –based on another fictional character –then a nurse, then an economist –but music prevailed.He remains grateful to former Moruya High School maths teacherLouise Murkins who stepped in at a pivotal moment.

“She was an awesome teacher;she took an interest in the kids and inme and I really appreciated her,” he said.

“As a young guy, you are trying to navigate your wayand things are uncertain;you do silly things. Maybe I shouldn’t divulge this (but) …she knew of stuff I was doing foolishly and gaveme advice from the perspective of, ‘this will help you out in life’.It affected me a lot more than if I had just got punished.”

What was the young Josh up to?“I don’t think I’ll divulge that,” he said. Hecan divulge he is building a partly stone house – a stone’s throw from the mud-brick home he grew up in.

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