Sunday, July 14, 2013

39) Fighting Off the Phantoms of Pyrmont.

It was tough enough wrestling with his own demons, fighting off the phantoms of Pyrmont as well was just too horrible. Arthur had faced many hydra-headed monsters in his life to get through the Door of Knowledge, and Skinhead Steve, for example, was one of the nastiest, as vicious as Jabba the Hut’s lapdog. His skinhead gang was certainly memorable for the destruction they left in their wake, almost knocking Pyrmont Squats to its knees.

They had come to crash for the night in the lounge room of a pot-addled hippie three houses in back of Arthur and in the morning they beat the ineffectual fellow up and threw him out, claiming the squat as their own. They were firmly ensconced before anyone quite realized it, hatching their intoxicated Nazi campaigns of hate from the middle of a trashed-up disaster area once known as a kitchen. Poly-drug abusers of the walking-dead kind, they were perpetually drunk and brawling or smacked out and crawling in their vomit, thieving whatever they could lay their hands on. As the squats had worn many another junkie scourge it was business as usual, except the skinheads’ outrages escalated till they took on holocaust proportions. Women were molested on the streets of the neighborhood and raped in their squatted bedrooms, and every house got broken into and anything of value stolen. Fights were picked daily with cowardly beatings of the smallest of the hippie communards, the ‘skins’ not brave enough to pick on big guys.

Everyone felt harassed, especially Arthur, being an infamous poof he had to run the gauntlet of their insults and raised fists whenever he left his house for they loved to hang around on the nature-strip out front of his place on Scott Street. He’d even flirted with the prettiest and biggest moron in the bunch who squealed about his lascivious attentions to the rest of the rat-pack. Steve was a scrawny brain-damaged bastard who got his kicks from intense sado-masochism. He stood with his pretty boy side-kick in Arthur’s back doorway, making him squeeze between the two of them when trying to get into his squat, causing him to brush right up against their crotches as they pretended to breathe sex upon him. He didn’t fall for the ruse and ignored the weirdness of their body contact for he felt them waiting to bash him if he made an intimate grab. He barricaded himself in his anchorite’s cell and held out for months while they tried to find his weak spot and bring him down.

What finally made Arthur see red was the evening Jack, his best friend, came running into his living room with a scarlet stream of blood flowing down his beautiful, alabaster-white face. The skinheads had ambushed him in the backyard for no other reason than misanthropic cruelty and hit him on the forehead with the blunt edge of an axe. Arthur could be as chicken and hopeless in a fight as the next wimp, yet when enraged he went blind with madness and could rip brains from skulls. Sadly it was the blindness that often did him in, only this time the thought of his treasured friend being massacred made him focus in a tight beam of vengeful fury which he directed toward the assailants, striding with determination through the back yard and into the skinheads’ lair.

He surprised them in their squalor, the dopey whole gang lounging upon the floor  re-arranging the trash. Irregardless of their numbers, Arthur stomped into their center and grabbed the chief moron, Steve, by the scruff of his neck and screamed, “You’re coming outside with me, cunt!” He dragged him into the backyard and yelled “I’ll show you, you little chicken-shit arsehole, how to bash up someone you can’t stand the sight of!” Being the same size and weight as Steve, he then proceeded to punch and kick the scumbag all around the yard, though the little fuck enjoyed every eye-blackening blow, being the quintessential sado-masochist. His brainless cronies had stumbled out to watch but were too mortified by Arthur’s rage to commit other than the occasional half-hearted lunge. Jack mostly kept them at bey, fighting off one punk girl who dared to take jabs at him with a bread-knife.

For every nasty whack he landed upon Steve the little prick gave a grimace of pleasure, even if he was pounded to a pulp he’d probably blow in his pants. Bored with the repetition of the punishment, Arthur threw him to the ground, stood on his chest, took his wiry arm and placed it across his thigh, looked deep into Steve’s lunatic eyes and said, “Will I snap it like a twig, or won’t I? Then maybe you’ll chill? You tell me.” Steve gazed in panic back at Arthur and knew that he meant it and he pleaded, “Don’t do it Artie, I give up, I’m sorry, let me go, I’m begging you.”

Arthur, being a good guy, believed him and let him get up without the coup de grace, but maybe nice guys do finish last because Steve just needed a breather. He staggered up and again relentlessly threw himself on Arthur’s fists till Arthur tired of the effort, his knuckles ached and bled and still Steve came at him, he soaked up pain and could wear down his opponents by sheer tenacity and drunken oblivion.

As they slogged on, Arthur’s new next door neighbor rushed out to see what all the racket was about. June was this awful, ginger-headed junkie harridan who would euthanaise her grandmother for a hit of heroin and who sold lousy deals of scag to desperate depressives to make sure she herself stayed afloat. She’d recently sold a bad deal to two mugs who’d returned the next night and forcefully hacked her red hair to shreds giving her the appearance of a hollow-eyed scarecrow. She came up behind Arthur squawking like a cockatoo about the disturbance of the peace just as Steve was taking his last-ditch swipe at Arthur’s head. Arthur saw the punch coming and ducked and poor June, standing at his shoulder, copped a horrific, heavy slam in the eye.

As she screamed blue murder and reeled about clutching at her face, Arthur gave one last almighty punch, socking Steve so hard on the jaw he flew backwards in an arc and landed in a heap like a broken puppet, not too eager to rise again. In answer to June’s shrill caterwauling other squatters ran out to mollify her and their annoyed presence put a dampener on the skinheads’ vacant excitement at having a festive bash-up. They dragged a dazed Steve with them as they scurried off to their various holes to lay low for a few days, brooding upon the temerity of a poofter daring to punch out their charismatic leader.

Like pit-bulls bred for dogfights, looting, bashing and raping are part of a Skinhead’s nature, with their atrophied pea-brains they can’t help themselves. Their trouble-making rumbled on, lurking as a background menace to all the activities of daily life the squatters optimistically carried on with. Steve had attracted quite a coterie of monstrous suburban rejects, and wherever there are males the female version can be found, scraggy girls with shaved heads and bother-boots looking like they had bigger balls than the blokes. There was one skinny, little fifteen-year old boy named Tom who ran after Steve adoringly, the weasel was his hero, and he would do any dirty job for him, scampering at his heels like a mangy puppy with his master. This little twirp fell in love with Steve’s main bother-girl, Nancy, a tough tart with a face like a Staffordshire Terrier.  He harangued her with his obsessive love but she wouldn’t have a bar of him, Steve was the alpha male and Tom the twirp was in the Z list of manliness as he only came up to her crotch in height.

They were stalking across the railway-bridge in front of the Pyrmont Squats when she gave him her final, withering rejection and he leaped up onto the low wall protecting pedestrians from the two hundred foot drop to the railway tracks below and gave her one last ultimatum. “Will you be my main mole or what? If I can’t have you I don’t want to keep living!”

She gaped at him flabbergasted and taking this as a negative reply he jumped before anyone could even squeak. He went splat like a bug on the hard tracks far below, gone before their slow brains could register the vanishing act, real death staring these death-heads in the teeth, the whole gang blown away by its bloody reality. They howled for days in remorse as if it confirmed all their dearly held pessimism, they loved nothing better than to sink into melancholia over a bloodied hunk of mortal flesh to get their nihilistic juices flowing.

The anarcho-squatters at rest.
They chose to sit on the street outside Arthur’s cottage-squat holding their week-long wake, a ghetto blaster banging out doleful, screechy death-metal music while they eyed Arthur’s coming and goings malevolently. They graffittied upon the road out front, “Tom Twirp R.I.P. 7-11-87” in huge black painted letters. The kid had instantly become a skinhead legend, a guy with the balls to face death for the love of a bother-girl; to them he was now an angel who didn’t deserve to die young. In the booze and drug fog of what passed for their minds they figured someone was to blame and someone had to pay. Their disconnected eyeballs couldn’t help but land on Arthur, squatting on the front-line, walking proud, an alien smart-arse fag; he’d somehow used his telekinesis to push the kid off the bridge. For weeks they harassed him as he went in and out his door, trying to trip him up, cursing his existence, stealing all the valuables he worked very hard to collect, challenging him to take them all on, brave lads that they were.

Few of the other squatters cared about what the Skinheads were up to, as long as the rambunctious boys didn’t come near them, it was live and let die. Half the squats were now owned by good, middle class citizens trying to work their way up the shit-heap and confrontation with a Skinhead gang not only ruffled their feathers, it was totally out of their ken. The squats were a nice, settled housing estate not a battleground in no-man’s land, thank you very much.

A Few of us anarcho-socialist pagan hippie deadbeats.
It had to take a poof like Arthur to do something about these murderous marauders; like the nice guy in the movies who gets pushed to the wall he flipped and lashed out with an extra heavy hand. He went to every gutsy guy he knew in the area and demanded they come and help him throw the ruffians out of the squats, it was do or die time. Putting on motorbike helmets and carrying baseball bats he led his gang of vegetarian vigilantes into the scungy nest of Skinhead rats and confronted the cadaverous Steve and his sniveling cronies. Arthur bashed his bat around and screamed for them to pack their bags on the instant. “We’re sick of you cunts threatening us and stealing everything. Fuck off, now! Or we’ll bash your fucking brains in!”

Smash went the bat against the wall inches from Steve’s head. He sullenly, slowly gathered up a few pieces of his belongings, muttering imprecations, half-heartedly mimicked by his cowering groupies. A single light bulb hung low, swinging, throwing cooked shadows in which the monsters lurked. With ghoulish visage, Steve looked grimly about him, sneering contempt at Arthur and his mates, then he suddenly reached up, took a hold of the light bulb that shed thin illumination upon the grungy scene and crushed it in his bare hand. Blackness engulfed them all, Arthur fell backwards, blind and terrified, with lots of shouting and crashing about amid the trashy furniture adding to the confusion. 

Steve held up a razor that flashed in the twilight leaking into the hovel from the open window and everyone panicked, scrambling about, smashing anything that moved, the furniture disintegrated and people fell through the window. They all tumbled pell-mell into the backyard and Steve tried to slash his way out, his crew picking up any weapon they could find and bludgeoning anyone they considered an enemy.

Someone ran to the electricity box and pulled the main fuse and the whole block of squats was plunged into a total black void with only the sound of screams and thumped flesh to guide one through the murk. The squatters had to be blood-chillingly ruthless to match the murderous assault and as the Skinheads cowardly rushed them from behind, swinging axes at the squatters’ heads, Arthur and friends, each in their own battlefield, were sober enough to duck and hit back with swift, hard body whacks using lead pipes and cricket-bats that laid the shaven skull-heads down and out. When the Pigs and ambulances turned up half an hour later, after searching grumpily through the darkness and debris, they found one bone-head in a broken heap. Dragging him over to an ambulance, they interrogated him ruthlessly and, though beaten severely enough to be hospitalized, he refused to answer any questions, such is the honor among thieves and lumpen proletariat. Sadly, after an operation, he lost his spleen. Steve got whacked smartly over the head with a club a few times and he fled in a whirl of dust, his wounded rat-pack trailing after him. The squatters responded to the police inquiries with bemusement, “Those Skinheads are so stupid, they beat each other up.”

The squatters’ collective imagined that this would be the end of the matter but no, within a few weeks the ‘skins’ sneaked back in again, one by two, taking over the Hungarians’ ruined house on Harris Street, everybody too pooped to tackle them again. Except for Arthur who was ropable with rage, all his pains had come to nothing. He decided geurilla warfare was the only way to go and he waited for the night they all went out to one of their atrocious Death Metal gigs, leaving their squat unguarded. He and his warrior mate Jack broke into their ruinous lair, poured petrol over all their rotten belongings, leather jackets, TV, ghetto-blaster, the lot, and then put a match to it. They ran and quickly called the fire brigade but by the time the trucks arrived the fire had flared a thousand feet into the air and blanketed the whole of Pyrmont with a dense pall of black smoke. The Fire Department fought the blaze for a few hours, it threatened to spread and take all the squats down with it and it took a small army of firemen waving giant hoses to reduce it to a smouldering, spectral ruin by dawn.

It devastated Arthur to realize that one funky, old-style house had to be sacrificed, in his hot temper, to save the others, leaving a painful wound, akin to burning off a contagious wart. The Skinheads arrived home to find a heap of smouldering ashes where their moldy beds should’ve been and they actually attempted to live in the blackened ruins for a few more days, the rain beating down upon their heads.

Arthur snuck over and peeped at them shooting up heroin as they lounged on a blackened, smoking couch and he laughed to himself in a sort of sad, horrified way about the pathetic lives of such fools. A few weeks of this and they eventually drifted off, like spores after a bush-fire, to spread their mayhem elsewhere. Steve carried on as the berserk idiot and spent his illustrious career in and out of prison for various assaults and robberies, his brains jellied from all the sado-masochistic beatings and he possibly learned the full meaning of what it meant to be a punk, that is, everybody’s bum-boy in the jail-house.

A Distant Shot of Pyrmont/
  There were many such fights at the squats, Arthur wasn’t particularly proud of them, yet how else was he to carry on? Wimps lick boots, achieve nothing and crawl away to die in dark holes. He cringed to recollect Terence, a Queensland exile and master drunk who had a fight to the death with him over an inebriated rave gone wrong. As Artie threatened to break a guitar over him, they fell to the floor, Terence got on top of him and tried to bite him with huge, horse-like chompers, closer and closer came those teeth till Arthur managed to reach out, grab up a heavy metal teapot and bang him on the head with it which bowled him over, allowing Arthur to spring up and escape.

But nothing could knock the drunk out and he chased a weary Arthur around and around the squats twenty-one times and as the lug paused, fatigued, bent over to catch his breath, Arthur whacked him hard across the torso with a huge lump of wood, breaking it and a few of Terence’s ribs. Still the mug could not be stopped in his rampage; in retaliation, Terence hobbled about like a demented gnome and broke every glass window of Arthur’s humble cottage that he had labored long to put in place, boards then replacing the glass for the duration of his twelve-year long tenure. The next day they forgave each other and remained friends for the rest of their sorry lives.

A cool French woman named Marie came to stay, a typical Parisian, chic and street-smart, Terence fell insanely in love with her and she had his nuts around her little finger. When she finally grew tired of his drunken, smacked-out hysterics and dropped him, he cut off the top joint of his little finger and left it in her bed as a farewell gift, such was his over the top response to relationships.

More insidious than Terence were the local rednecks from Wayside Terrace and the slums down Harris Street. They were ignorant louts whose families had spent generations in the cottages in their heyday, workers from the wharves, and thus resented the incursion of unwashed, drug-fucked hippies into their hallowed, ancestral grounds, falling to ruin though they were. They would sortie down from the hideous khaki Council flats on the hill and throw eggs through Arthur’s windows those few times he left them open in an attempt to let fresh air and sunshine in. They would always shout sick insults in passing and smash the headlights of any squatter’s car parked out front if they could.

Worst of all, sometimes their crapulous fathers would show up early in the morning and, having jobs with the Council, they would tear the peace apart with clattering lawn-mowers and whining edge-trimmers, as if the tiny nature strip outside Arthur’s window demanded a monthly manicure, deadly important for the city’s beautification. The repetitive shrieks of the machines would drive Arthur into a somnambulist rage and he would stagger out to blast the old farts with curses, only to be met by the whirring blade of an edge-trimmer held to his face by a puffed up, purple-faced ogre, snarling, “You dirty drug addict, fucking rotten poofter, communist cunt! Why don’t you fuck off out of our old houses?”

                                  Wayside Terrace Council Flats.

The last straw was when the horrid Council progeny attacked a squatter’s friend in the local pub. He was an old derelict of about sixty-five years and they blackened his eyes and broke his collar-bone, whipping him with chains till he fell into the Pyrmont gutters. They then drove down to the squats in the family car and broke yet another set of headlights, only this time some of the squatters chased them up to the Council flats and cornered their tacky new Japanese car in a cul de sac. The rednecks whined for forgiveness and release, “Please don’t touch dad’s car, it’s nearly new, he doesn’t know we’ve taken it out!” With glee the furious squatters smashed the headlights and cracked the windscreen while the gronks wailed, locked in their tin carapace. Thus relations between the two camps soured further, the original white trash settlers never coming to terms with the presence of transgressing, scruffy anarchists. They harassed, slandered and spat in the face of any squatter they caught alone on the streets.

But Arthur wasn’t cowed, for all the pushing and shoving they gave him whenever they met. One night when the gronks were having a barbecue up on the hill beside their Kafkaesque Council castle, he marched into their midst with a mate and re-enacted a scene from a contemporary cult movie called “The Warriors”. He gave the chicken call, flapped his wings, scratched the dust with his feet and crowed loudly into the faces of the dumbfounded rednecks, “Powk, powk, powk, powk!!!!” The mob went berserk and threw whatever came to hand and it was somewhat orgasmic the way bottles rained down around Arthur and cohort as they retreated down the hill, the shattering glass and Arthur’s laughter a symphony of madness, like singing in a rain of shards, not a missile found its mark, it made him high to dance through the glass deluge.

As a result of the intensifying animosity superating from the neighborhood Arthur had one of his rare, scary glimpses into the eyes of Death. On a pleasant, sunny afternoon a mob of the local hooligans stormed into the communal backyard to avenge some unbearable insult brave-heart fellow squatter Kerry had brazenly perpetrated upon them. They all waved improvised clubs and snarled curses, hell-bent on gang-bashing the dickhead with the hole-in-the-heart to true zombie status. The boys of the squats couldn’t let this iniquity go down, solidarity was one of their golden ideals and they gathered in force to face the rednecks, letting them know Kerry was not alone. With brainless bravado the yobs attacked, swiping with their weapons at the nearest head, the squatters ducking and punching, weaving and putting the boot in. Each squatter took on a particular thug making it a one on one fight and not a confused, mixed up melee.

Arthur stepped in to stop the swing of an iron bar, grabbing the dork’s arm in mid-air with one hand and punching him in the face with the other. They wrestled back and forth then tumbled to the ground, Arthur still gripping the guy’s weapon arm. After much rolling and struggling, the much bigger redneck got on top of Arthur and straddled him, and wrenching his arm free he heaved his weapon back, about to bring the iron bar smashing down upon Arthur’s head. For a split second all was frozen, Arthur seeing the other fighters brawling in slow motion from the corner of his eye, and in an instant feeling his skull cave in, his brains crush, his juices squirt, his consciousness dim. He looked up into the eyes of his would be destroyer and in a clear, calm voice said, “Do you want to go to jail for the rest of your life for killing me? Think about it!”

The iron bar was descending ruthlessly, but at Artie’s words the yob hesitated, then he relaxed and dropped his weapon, reason had lit a tiny bulb in his murky mind and Arthur was able to shrug him off and stumble to his feet, amazed he’d escaped with his life, yet again. Poor Kerry was getting a biffing but the rest of the squatters were giving better than they got, the hoons soon ran out of aggression and backed off, stumbling away, somewhat shocked by the hippies’ collective defense. Arthur thanked no god it was his fate to live long with his brains sharp, not to be a dent-headed numbskull, he was just too quit witted for that.

Not that he survived every melee unscathed, the squats were truly a lawless land and his smart mouth had to overshadow his lucky star some time. One day he noticed a scowling hulk hanging about outside his cottage for hours on end, pacing up and down restlessly, acting suspiciously. Arthur stupidly asked him his business and, on receiving annoyed growls in response, told the fellow to, “Please fuck off, you’re getting on my nerves, all day at my front door.” The brute was an over-muscled wharfie, he’d been waiting to score heroin from some villain in the squats and with frustrated fury he jumped upon skinny Arthur and bashed the shit out of him, breaking his right arm and leaving the claw marks of a were-wolf across his face.

An ambulance and the cops were called, Arthur saw the beast run up to the Wayside Terrace Flats, even which window the fool peeped from, but he didn’t squeal on him as he was true to his Aussie working class upbringing, never to be a dobber. Weeks later, arm in a sling, while waiting for a bus near Pyrmont Bridge, a big guy lumbered up to him and apologized for hurting him, also thanking him for not dobbing him into the cops. Artie looked at the guy mystified, he didn’t recognize his attacker at all, a lot of good he’d have been at a line-up if it had come to that.

Due to the hordes of poly-drug abusers passing through the squats and often dropping dead for awhile, ambulances and the fire brigade turned up at all hours, sirens wailing, to rescue the damned squatters, again and again. There were seven deaths-cum-suicides in the squats whilst Arthur lived there, a pathetic waste of lives that no one seemed to bat an eyelid over, it seemed par for the course of attending the “school of hard-knocks” that was Pyrmont Squats. Anne-Marie died in the bathtub, Chris Saunter on the kitchen floor, his brother Max dead not much later in the bedroom. James Loveless overdosed on pethodine while his mate sat stoned beside him, and Steve Tanner, the genius offset-printer, never realized his full potential because he overdosed on heroin in the comfort of his bed. And Kiwi Glen, who bragged of all the great art projects he would stun the world with, achieved nothing but an ignominious death with a needle in his arm in the toilet of a seedy pub.

One of the Hungarian refugees gave up the ghost under the pressure of thwarted love and failed capitalism, first he cut his wrists, then hung himself in the kitchen, leaving his seven year old niece to discover his body, drained of blood and swaying forlornly. Arthur often went to their house for a shower, it was out back of the kitchen and one dark night as he scrubbed himself down he saw Fischer standing in the doorway. He said “Hello” not thinking much of it till later when he was back in his own cottage and, thinking on the sad presence, recalled that the poor Hungarian refugee was dead, a suicide. Arthur’s excitable mind may have imagined the restless ghost hovering in the shadows, those squats were a ‘hotspot’ and it wasn’t the only phantom he had to banish from his mind’s eye.

By John Santry.
Many zany characters found themselves washed up in Pyrmont Squats over the years; they came, they saw, they disintegrated, as if they were human compost falling in a heap and fertilizing the city. There was Iris Haggish, always with the white cockatoo on her shoulder, vowing revenge on the bastard who’d knocked her teeth out; she caught the villain one day slinking about Darlinghurst squats and she got her mates to iron-bar him into imbecility. And Marzie, a bit slow mentally, who thought letting many of the desperate men screw her was the best way to be popular, eventually having a kid without knowing who the father was.

Then there was Ray, a homosexual aboriginal, outcast from all communities, black, white or gay, and only the squats would have him. Soft, gentle, rude, nasty, depending on the level of his intoxication, he’d steal your bag if you left it on the table, claiming everything was communal property. He went on to have a sex change, changing his name to Tammy, and be more confused and alienated than ever; eventually he died of heroin/alcohol poisoning. All of these tragic youths were good friends of Arthur and he thought of them often with regret.

Not all of the shades drifting through his hazy recall were bad-arsed junkies. There was sweet-natured Gary with the clubfoot who helped him build his model of the Centrepoint Tower, then film it standing on the hill above the squats in front of the real Tower before he burned and toppled it; Richard from Tasmania who was a mate of Jasmin’s and did the lighting for another of Arthur’s films; and Esther, a clean-living Hungarian refugee who managed to bring up a son amid the chaos, tall and pure like a flower growing from a refuse heap. 

Then there was the pair of ‘straight’ lesbians out back of Arthur, Glen and Glenda, who turned their derelict squat into a model fit for “Home Beautiful”; they had a pair of blue-heeler dogs as replacement kids and when the Skinheads kidnapped their precious pups, they went on an Amazonian campaign of retrieval that would’ve defeated Attila the Hun. They not only got their dogs back, for revenge they terrorized the Skinheads, who at that time sprawled in the house next door, with loud blasts of “Easy Listening” music from a radio placed in their back doorway. 

The horrific noise woke the terrible Arthur from his depressive’s slumber and he rushed over to their door in his usual mindless rage and threw a brick through the dykes’ window to get them to turn the radio off, the squats being the kind of place where one could badly overreact and get away with it. They had a huge fish-tank near the window-sill and the brick went straight through it, sending fish, water and glass crashing in a tidal wave over the perfect kitchen d├ęcor, the drenched dykes aghast. This was one of many silly incidents that Arthur regretted and got a wicked reputation for, how else to explain it except to say that he suffered from a kind of Bipolar Tourette’s Syndrome?

Yet Arthur was one of the few who used his squat as a resource to foster his productive output, not destroy his life. He created his posters, comics, murals and films from his rough and ready studio, using his dole to buy art materials and not drugs, for his addiction was a burning ambition to shock the world with his art. He used his dilapidated shack as a springboard to the city’s creative underground and he wouldn’t have done half the things he did if he hadn’t had a free-space and deviant support group to aid him. He made his animated film “The Thief of Sydney” entirely in the squats, it went on to win a Bronze dragon in Krakow, Poland and be shown continuously, worldwide, throughout the years but which he first premiered projected on a stained sheet at a party in Pyrmont  to show his appreciation for the squatters’ support.

Being in no-man’s land Arthur was able to enjoy the sexual outlaw’s life without a wowser landlord to censure him. Before the era of AIDS, men in general were more willing to experiment sexually, indeed they screwed anything that asked for it, and the squats’ free-for-all milieu was particularly forthcoming with lusty, willing guys. Their freewheeling anarchism, curiosity and inebriated natures loosened their sexual hang-ups and they were up for discovering themselves on the furthest reaches of ‘the turn-on’. Arthur’s brash character attracted the wildest of them, the rough trade of his delight, though mostly he chose the middle path bi-sexuals, guys who were neither butch-macho nor femme-queenie. This was how he himself presented, considering nothing wrong with the two extremes, just preferring the bi-sexuals with their quiet, cool, understated masculinity. It seemed impossible to find the love of his life as he was an incorrigible loner and, anyway, no one wanted a relationship with him of any permanence as he was too much of a nutter, but he did have an ongoing freaky parade of one-night partners desirous of some dolphin-play in the grotty seclusion of his lawless squat.

Yet out of the crowd of quick, masturbatory dalliances, it was always Arthur’s nature to fall for one bright soul more than any other and it was the tragic waif, Chris Freckles, whom Arthur chose as the fifth great phantom love of his life. Chris had been allowed to run wild as a child, with no one set of adults as his parents; he’d moved from Women’s Refuges to hippie communes to mates’ lounge rooms and no one had cared enough to give a secure, guiding hand to his existence. He never went to school, couldn’t read or write, was always getting into scrapes and misadventures, but was an ace mechanic and an innocent, spirited warrior, a kind of ‘idiot savage’ ranging the urban wastelands. He was built like an Adonis, big chest and high, round bubble-butt, with curly chestnut hair and clear blue eyes, and lots of freckles, all over.

He took one look at Arthur and was smitten, ever seeking his companionship regardless of what it meant to be seen with an infamous poof, he glowed in the reciprocated admiration, for someone finally loved him. They had many adventures together, barricading themselves into Chris’s squat at Glebe and fighting off the cops when they axed their way through the heaped up furniture, or roaring up the coast in fast cars to attend rock festivals and stay on hippie communes.

Arthur should have realized his mate was on a death cruise from the time they were speeding into Byron Bay in a souped-up, unregistered Holden utility van and Chris fell asleep at the wheel. They were rocketing up the hard, metallic arse of a truck that was parked in the middle of the road trying to do a right-hand turn and Arthur, always a nervous passenger, watched reality unfold with an eagle eye as the truck’s rear end loomed larger and larger. He felt his innards irretrievably entangled with shards of metal, terror roared upon him and he screamed a shrill warning. "Fukkkk!!!" 

Chris snapped awake, took in the view and swerved around the truck at the absolute last moment, brushing by with only a few molecules of steel to spare. They’d been one second from death and Arthur had to pinch himself for days after to make sure he was still alive. There also happened to be a cop-car parked on the right-side of the highway and Chris swerved back into the left lane again just missing it, and the cop gave immediate chase. He impounded the car and left them on the side of the road where they hitched to the hippie mecca of Nimbin thanking nogod to be alive.

The vicissitudes of street life provided a frisson to their male bonding, deepening the attachment. Chris was a troubled soul, his bi-sexuality unsettled him, his anarchism made him angry and his frustration with making something of himself in life depressed him. Chris claimed he was part Aboriginal, identifying with the indigenous Australians, saying it was the reason he was such a drop-out. He fell in love with a Koori girl who had an unruly family which monopolized her energies, she couldn’t give him the peace, goodwill and unconditional love he needed. She was a poly-drug abuser and she encouraged him to join her in her troubled binges, increasing the pace of his self-destruction. Arthur, as older male patron, wasn’t enough for him and after a couple of years their infatuation burnt out.

Chris led a tempestuous relationship with Katie for a few years, drinking and drugging themselves into a stupor, with much fighting and caterwauling at each other. Eventually he kept to himself in his Housing Commission flat and rarely went out. After not meeting for many years, he visited Arthur and confessed that he heard voices in his head, thought everyone was out to get him and the police were controlling him through the TV set. He told Arthur that he loved him very much and their friendship was extremely precious, and he was sad to be saying goodbye, Arthur not knowing what he meant by it.

Arthur tried to reason with him and lend him comfort, telling him everyone heard voices, they just took no notice of them. He cried about there being no easy panaceas, doctors had informed him he’d be on anti-psychotics for the rest of his life which he considered anathema. A few weeks later the boy decided his own fate, in a fit of horror that his mental torments would never end he hung himself with a towel from a door-knob in his lonely flat. Chris was one of the most beautiful of confused souls Arthur had ever met and never a day went by that he didn’t think of him and wish that things had been otherwise in this cruel, dehumanizing world. If Chris had of chosen him as long-term partner, in creative projects and in fulfilling love, maybe he’d have kept on going, for all the kicks in the guts. 

Or maybe Arthur’s turbulent nature would’ve confused him even more, he’d never know. A mutual friend of theirs suggested unfairly that Arthur had an input into the guy’s suicide, but they hadn’t hung out together for many years, Chris had another life and it hadn’t included him. Chris had come back to him too late in his devolution, Arthur wasn’t capable of helping him, being such a loser and a loner at heart he was hardly capable of helping himself.

Depressive thoughts of suicide were contagious in the Pyrmont Squats, the harsh exigencies of the lawless life difficult to stomach. On blue moons the relentless angst of living as a penniless, white trash poofter had Arthur also considering the Black Hole of Oblivion as a welcome reprieve. A few times he felt so traumatized he went through mock suicide attempts, standing on his kitchen table with a noose attached to the rafters around his neck, imagining himself jumping, swinging, hanging, well out of the dog eat dog world. He got a therapeutic kick from the fantasy: he had the power to solve his problems with finality, he just didn’t deign to use it, not yet, for him there were greater challenges to overcome and his riotous environment was the least of them.

As already mentioned, the squats gave harbor to a long caravan of lost, crazed souls, relieved to find some respite in that ‘second-reality’ freak-zone and Arthur got himself a Masters Degree at handling a varied array of degenerate delinquents. Of all the freak-circuses that passed through, the most surreal gang to try to take-over Pyrmont Squats was Annie Crabtree and her family. Arthur had invited one of her burly sons to move in to give more strong-arm backup in the ongoing war with the Skinheads. He begged Jock not to bring his mother with him for she was an infamous old hag and brought trouble and angst with her wherever she went. The mother of all monsters, Annie was a crazed right-wing feminist, and a member of the Nazi Party, known to wave a swastika flag at the soap-box orator’s free-for-all in the Domain Park. She thought the Skull, Sydney’s most notorious fascist, was a great fellow and regularly had him over for tea and crumpets. She imagined herself head priestess in some weird Aryan Earth-Goddess cult of her own devising, declared pregnancy and motherhood a Holy duty for all women and agitated actively against abortion on demand. She’d been a prostitute on Kings Cross for twenty years and had twelve kids to seven different blokes, all temporarily obsessed customers and all except one refusing paternity.

Much to their pimps’ displeasure, she made a campaign of hassling and agitating the other sex-working girls about their destructive lifestyles and their tendency to use abortion as a means of contraception. She got her head kicked in by hired thugs for her interference, one of her eyeballs actually got popped out and her face badly ripped open. Though hitting sixty, she continued to work on the hookers’ strip wearing a wig that hung over her face and hid the Freddy Kreuger-like scarification distorting her left-eye. Any issue was a bone of contention with her, she never shut up whining and scalding and Arthur dreaded her appearance in his domain as if she were the Queen of Gorgons.

Within weeks Jock let a brother move in, then a sister, then more brothers, finally the whole horrid litter swarmed about. For the gut-wrenching climax, like in the movie “Aliens”, the grotesque mother turned up, spitting vitriol and brushing lesser mortals out of her way. Matriarch of a clan of berserker Vandals, she gradually took control of half the squats, most of the original settlers having escaped to better niches. Though on its last gasp as a haven for the disaffected and rebellious, with only a few committed anarchists persevering, at least a certain order and peace got restored at Pyrmont squats by the strength of evil Annie’s sons. She was originally a refugee from Transylvania, talked like Bella Lugosi and could’ve been his grandmother and as she hated gays, wanting them exterminated, Arthur fervently wished she’d go back to her crypt in the homeland. 

By the late Eighties the dream of renovating Darling Harbour was coming true, the weedy rail-yards were concreted over and a shopping mall cum exhibition-wonderland was erected and the pressure was on the nearby, dirty Pyrmont Squats to get cleaned up or shipped out. Because of their savvy publicity campaigns and media-virus stunts the squatters were a hot potato and they got passed on to the Department of Housing for them to deal with, masters at quashing unruly tenants. For the last seven years of the Pyrmont Squat’s existence the Squatters had been trying to con the Department into funding the renovation of the houses and letting the anarchists run the whole show as a working artists’ “Self-help co-operative”. Arthur and friends went to interminable conferences with bureaucratic fuddie-duddies and spent hundreds of hours going over legal documents, management proposals and architectural drawings. Over time they signed and signed and signed seven thousand supposedly empowering forms. There was much waffling and paper shuffling but little of substance eventuated from all the bureaucratic psycho-babble and Arthur knew all along that the squatters themselves were being conned.

They took the Housing Department all the way to the Supreme Court to try and force their hand into signing the Housing Co-operative deal but they got eviction notices instead. They dug in their heels and threatened a media frenzied siege. The core “self-helpers” were summoned to a climactic meeting on the top floor of the Town Hall building with a bigwig bureau-cat lounging behind his vast oak table munching jelly-beans like Ronald Reagan. The gang got a commitment that at the very least all the squatters would get housing somewhere in the city, for Pyrmont was slated for high-rent heaven and wouldn’t suit social scavengers such as them.

Pub Across the Road from the Squats by Jane Bennet.
Back in Derelictville certain peevish souls decried the agreement, declaring it a sell out to Big Brother and they refused to attend any further meetings or contribute in any way to the working-out of the fine print in the agreement. Everyone who’d lived in the Pyrmont slum-block since the Co-operative idea had first been committed to paper got a nice Housing Department flat, several single mothers getting first grab. As a justice obsessed Libran, Arthur made sure that all who had contributed to the squats in the last seven years got a berth and he was the last in the core organizing group to receive his own sanctuary in a flat in Surry Hills. Those who’d whinged and been most obstructive were the quickest to snap up the good sites offered, getting the most luxurious apartments, with washing machine, clothes-drier and garage. Arthur got a dungeon at Northcott Concentration Camp in Surry Hills with no amenities but plenty of further adventures. He resented the line coughed up by Department bureaucrats whenever he fell under their gaze that he and his friends had jumped the queue on the housing waiting list. No one else on the Housing Department list had ever had to run the obstacle course Arthur did for seven years to get his scungy, legitimate abode. And while he thought maybe it could be a step-up in the world, moving into Northcott from the squats was like going from the frying pan to the fire.

Annie Crabtree, a wet blanket for all occasions, refused to budge and her family eked out a sorry existence clinging to the tumbledown squats for another two years, when all else had fled and the buildings had become an eerie ghost-town. She so loved free rent, being the world’s greatest cheapskate, when the power was cut they used candles and cooked over an open fire like cavemen. She’d received a fortune in Victim’s Compensation for her grievous bashing on Kings Cross but this she had stashed and only parceled out as miniscule bribes to control her wayward children for the next twenty years. Even though she had bitched scathingly against the Housing Department deal she eventually succumbed to the comforts Big Brother could provide and they all got themselves wedged in nice, little flats, allowing free reign for the area to be transmogrified into upmarket townhouses, the Scott Street squats renovated into nice art gallery and restaurant as a tourist attraction.

The irony of the future history of Pyrmont and the squats is that the Housing Department did indeed renovate the worker’s cottages in Scott Street, with private funding from big corporations, bringing back all their nineteenth century picturesque beauty. The quaint cottages gave the area the look of colonial tranquility much beloved of the tourists and provided a certain nostalgia for the Romanesque luxury townhouse denizens to relish, and monolithic developments crowded out Pyrmont Point like a futuristic Shanghai, with Star-city Casino and glittering theatre-wharves as added attractions. 

The scumbag bureaucrats congratulated themselves on their genius for progressive town-planning and, on the opening of the renovated estate, ballyhooed their social munificence to the lapdog media. The bullshit got legitimized via the hack writing of a no-talent cub reporter in the ‘S & M Herald’. He claimed in his shitty newspaper article that the houses had been uninhabited for the last thirty years and now they had been saved for posterity by forward thinking politicians and handed over to real live breathing artists. Arthur was so enraged at this blatant revisionism of local Sydney history that he wrote his one and only letter to the Press decrying the bad reportage and staking a claim in folk-history for the years of travail the squatters went through to hang onto the cottages. In the middle of a disaster, there’s always room for a miracle and Arthur’s letter got printed in that same snooty ‘S &M’ paper.

For near twenty-one years Arthur had refused to go down to the Point and look at what had been built there, but in celebration of finishing this story a friend took him for a drive and he was shocked at the Brave New World reconstituted there. Arthur’s cottage had indeed been preserved in its pristine, original state, hardly different from all those years he’d fought so savagely for it, just newer, as had the houses next door and behind. But Floral’s little two story terrace had been gutted and renovated into a restaurant called, “A Taste of Goa”, the synchronicity blowing Artie’s mind considering Goa was the place he’d escaped to for the last sixteen years to get a break from Northcott Concentration Camp. On the front of the cottage he himself had lived in for twelve years was a brass plaque commemorating its history and, after the names of politicians and corporate firms, the squatters got a mention; possibly that letter to the press he’d written had reverberated through the collective unconscious and forced their hand.

The squats had been given to some hoity-toity art-design school for students to study in, and Arthur felt his dreams hadn’t been prostituted too badly, he even felt quite chuffed that the struggles of an insignificant band of renegades and miscreants had influenced the design of a huge, unfeeling city like Sydney. The sad joke on Arthur though was that his “Sully Hermin” cottage had been turned into a quaint little art gallery, and he, the wannabe artist, had been thrown to the winds. This was possibly the revenge of Dug Botherland and his Laborites, Stalinist types who never forget or forgive a transgression, because of those situationist stunts pulled by Arthur and mates over the years.

Worst of all was what happened to the building that was the bulwark of the squats, fronting the world as it did on the corner of Harris and Scott Streets, where the Hungarians and Skinheads had lived and upon which Arthur had once painted his maddeningly popular mural of the dolphins. It got revamped, refurbished and turned into, horror of horrors, a Police Station. Where once anarchists roamed wild and fancy-free, for a few years the Water Pigs operated their tortuous activities and in general snuffled mindlessly about. It was all quite overwhelming to see the reclamation of his Utopia, now inhabited by pigs, ponces and phantoms.

There was a time, somewhere around 1985, when Arthur’s father Frank was visiting Sydney and Artie took him down to Pyrmont Point and proudly showed him his squat. Frank gazed around its derelict premises, stared up at the ceiling which was caving in, saw the cracked walls and boarded up windows, and then looked upon his son with a profound sense of sadness. In his eyes, Arthur, thirty-five years old, had made it to Nowheresville, a bum living in a ruin. He must’ve wondered if his drunken brutalization of his child had brought him to this. He didn’t quite get Arthur’s rave on communalism, squatting and preserving heritage houses, he just saw the degradation. And Arthur couldn’t communicate the long arduous travail he’d been on as a libertarian gay, and living rough like this was what it took to get established in a big, hard-hearted city like Sydney: one really had to pay one’s dues there.
Arthur had spent twelve action-filled years at those Pyrmont squats, from 1978 to 1990, they gave him shelter in this bad-arse South Seas pirate port, where he had found himself stuck, trapped like a castaway, a city which eventually turned into his permanent, comfortable home. He did roam the world again, only for short stints, as he was always inexorably drawn back to Sydney. Regardless of the pain, terror and travail he never regretted a single moment of living in the squats, he completed his warrior training there, grew into a strong adult and realized his dream of becoming a (bullshit) artist. It was an extremely exhilarating learning curve and playing field, no university or professional career could’ve given him a better go at living life fully in the moment. And as for the Phantoms of Pyrmont that he eternally wrestled with, Arthur would leave it to the reader to decide who or what they were.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.