Saturday, July 27, 2013

41) Flirting With Jail-birds.

Robin Hood, Billy the Kid, Ned Kelly, Jean Genet, names that resonated in Arthur’s insubordinate soul, he was a sucker for the outlaw as romantic anti-hero. He fought resolutely for ‘Prisoners Rights’ along with his fellow artists from the Tin Sheds’ support network, printing and pasting up posters for sit-ins, blockades, marches and vigils, outside jails, state bureaucracies and union offices. They carried out campaigns to expose brutal jail practices, improve conditions or free certain inmates who were innocent or hard done by, such as Violet Roberts, incarcerated twenty years for killing a husband who’d bashed her senseless for much of her marriage.

One of their most effective accomplishments was the crusade to demolish “Katingal”, a notorious ‘isolation unit’ being constructed for troublesome inmates at Longbay Penitentiary. A band of determined activists, mainly ex-prisoners with their girlfriends, with alarmed artists in tow, actually broke into the prison, cutting through cyclone fencing to invade the half-constructed site and protest the continuation of the torture-house. They all got convictions for trespass added to their growing list of crimes, yet their notorious stunt got “Katingal” stopped in its tracks.

Arthur had hated the prison system since his first childhood sighting of Pentridge Jail in Melbourne, that monolithic, blue-stone monstrosity held as a threat over his head for any and all misdemeanors, including his very existence as a homosexual. In his mind prisons were like concentration camps built in suburbia’s midst, in a society where money was valued way above humanity and countless lives were destroyed as sacrifice to its luster. They were citadels of Hell created in the name of conformity and dedicated to the sanctity of property where a few owned everything worth possessing. Australia had a penal colony under-structure that it couldn’t outgrow: a fear of incarceration and punishment provided a constant undertow of hysteria in his society’s herd mentality, and Arthur hugely resented that life of continuous fear. He had a foolish fancy to knock down all jails. Thus he fell into the clutches of the Prisoners’ Action Group where he met several willful women who were to influence his malleable soul and even steal his heart for awhile.

Perhaps he was looking for his lost mother when he attached himself to warrior women throughout his adventures, there was always some Boadicea type urging him forward, inflaming his zealotry, whatever the issue. Arthur couldn’t avoid bumping into them, strong women stood out, especially in Auz, they had greater cause to rebel and were brave and smart in the way they went about it, not being afraid of men, leading them by the rings in their noses. Loud women had certain sensibilities that Arthur shared, a kind of rebellious fatigue against the penis. That’s how he came under the sway of a gang of gutsy feminists, rabidly anti-authoritarian and willing to tear down another Bastille at the head of a bread-riot. An anarcho-feminist named Wanda Bacon was the group’s guiding light and Arthur fell in love with her mesmerizing, spaced-out, blue eyes and would’ve walked through a gauntlet of baton-wielding pigs for her.

She was notorious for printing salacious material in a student newspaper ,when arrested for obscenity, she showed up at her court-case dressed as a pregnant nun. To test the waters of their situationist compact, the first stunt that Arthur joined her in also involved a religious costume drama. The anti-abortion “Right to Lifers” were having a rally in Hyde Park, lots of nice Christian families out for a church picnic with priests and nuns as chaperones, all shouting slogans vilifying abortion clinics and waving placards depicting bloody fetuses. Wanda and girlfriends pushed through the crowd dressed as pregnant nuns, huge bellies clearing a path, the Christians aghast. 

Arthur traipsed in their wake, looking saintly in a long black robe with white collar, for all the world a Catholic priest, only this one clutched a huge jar labelled “The Pill”. It was full of chocolate Smarties which he generously handed out to all the Christian kiddies who mobbed him with glee, squealing for the lollies, oblivious to their parents' dismay. The crowd of “turn the other cheekers” went wild, slavering and cursing, gnashing teeth, waving fists, tearing at the mock religious costumes, trying to shred the irreverent interlopers, screaming, “Kill, kill, kill the scum!” The Police then rushed in to rescue the frenzied Christian pack from the torments of the pranksters, punching and kicking the snot out of Wanda and her coven of witches with the occasional Christian mitt flying in and having a good claw.

The gang of sacrilegious deadbeats were all arrested for obscene behavior and creating a public nuisance, dragged into Paddy wagons, then dumped in a ragged heap at Central Police cells. Directly in front of the desk sergeant, who was slobbering like Jabba the Hutt, a square-headed Pig grabbed a blonde beauty called Pam, who stood out in her gutsy brazenness, and he walloped her a hard one across the face, snarling, “Let’s see you give lip now, you stupid fucking slut!” She mouthed filth as the Pig turned to Arthur, the only male in a gaggle of beat-up, stupefied women, and glared, “Well big man, what are you going to do about it?” A posse of overweight Pigs stood behind him, itching to jump the little fag and mince his Smartie smart-arse into flesh and blood. 

Arthur dithered and stared like a mesmerized chicken at the floor; he really wanted to commit a kamikaze and smash in a few noses before he went down but he wasn’t gonna get his guts caved in over one measly bitch-slap. Arthur knew what a real beating was and he wasn’t up for it again, for all the ideals in the world. He stood silent while Pam’s face turned red as she snarled in fury. Smirking in malevolent satisfaction the Pigs continued the humiliation by ordering Arthur to stand in front of Sergeant Jabba and drop his pants, for the redneck trolls to snigger over his shriveled genitalia and the crestfallen women to stare up his hairy arse. Arthur shouldered the shame and turned into the incredible shrinking man, reduced to nothing in everybody’s eyes. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the dirt.

This left Arthur, as ever, trying to prove his worth, as a man and as a committed anarchist, and being enamored of Wanda and the Prisoners' Action Group, he’d do anything to impress them. On one of their many exploits they’d encircled Morriset Jail in speeding jalopies, shouting anti-prison diatribes through megaphones, incendiary invective drifting over the sandstone walls for all the inmates to hear and get riled up over. They were chased round and round the jail by siren-blaring screws in rickety jeeps like something out of the Keystone Cops and, when finally caught, it was Arthur who was the cheekiest wag in reply to their outraged interrogations, escaping from under their noses with dumbfounding bullshit.

And when Wanda decided they should barricade themselves into the Prison Officers’ Union building in the heart of the city in protest over prisoners being bashed by the screws, Arthur followed blindly. He marched in ahead of the gang and cleared-out the office-workers by breathlessly declaring there was a man bleeding to death outside on the stairway. When they scurried out to have a look, Wanda slammed the door and Arthur and co piled office furniture in front of it. The Cops axed their way in, as they loved to do, and Arthur made sure he stood between them and Wanda as they were escorted out the broken doors, for he didn’t want his suffragette idol to get the regulatory punch in the eye. When they were all dragged into court to defend their extreme actions, Wanda gave rousing speeches to protest the cruel punishment meted out to jail inmates and her side-kick, Judy Croissant, declared her contempt by walking up to the magistrate’s bench, snatching up his glass of water and throwing it in his face. 

This astounded Arthur, the enormous nerve they had, and he tried to emulate their courage, whining on about justice and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, to which the magistrate could only grunt in peeved bemusement and issue Arthur with the heftiest of fines. Good-looking, middle-class girls were rather thrilling and could get away with bad behavior that gutter fags like Arthur would be crucified for. He tried to keep this in mind as he got further mired in the Action Group’s prison-razing crusade.

Jail conditions in Auz harkened back to convict days, rotten food, no amenities, constant rapes, they truly were institutions for hardening criminals, like universities of crime. And ever gnawing away at the prison reformers’ sensitivities was the thrashing of the inmates by the screws as the traditional way of controlling them. Wanda and gang had zeroed in on one sorry convict who had written distressing letters to all and sundry testifying to his brutal treatment at the hands of the screws. The Group decided to champion this particular victim’s case as he had a harrowing story to recount, which demanded a compassionate hearing. 

At thirteen years of age Ray Penning had watched his mother burn herself alive from a pauper’s desperation and this drove him haywire. He got in incessant trouble with the authorities and spent most of his teens and early manhood in reformatories and jails. On reaching adulthood he’d become like a caged animal, one that thinks, and he wanted a real life, badly, so bad he’d do anything to escape. It was alleged that in an escape bid he murdered a screw by planting a screwdriver in his head, though Penning vociferously denied this, implicating his accomplice in the breakout as the true culprit. Convicted of the murder he got life imprisonment and eternal bastardization from every screw he came across, yet throughout all the torture he was able to articulate his objections and ruffle the feathers of all those concerned. His state of pain grew so noisome, his complaints so convincing, sympathetic reformers felt his story had to be investigated.

To lend succor to Penning’s charge of assault against the screws, Wanda piled a gang of her boldest cronies into a bombed-out car and hurtled them into the somnolent prison town of Grafton to attend the court hearing. Since he had accused her of elitism outside Sydney Central Courthouse for not intimating to him her ongoing plans for dismantling the Bastille, Wanda Bacon had decided to inculcate Arthur into the inner core of her radical coterie, bringing him to good old Grafton Town where he could only gush, giggle or gurgle, tongue-tied, overawed by the illustrious anarchists whose company he found himself in. Seated outside a Grafton pub in that hick, redneck jail-town, the cabal of urbane mutineers uttered witticisms and concise social critique that flew over Arthur’s head like ping-pong balls.

Ringleader and centerpiece was Wanda herself, expanded blue-eyes, cryptic smile, huge curves like some Celtic hearth mother, she had the charismatic brains to urge them all on. She studied Law and, because of her lawbreaking, libertarian pranks, was refused entry to the Bar, and Australia, on purpose, lost a great Criminal Lawyer who would’ve shaken up the cruel status-quo of the Justice system. She ended up devoting her hothead talents to journalism instead of Law and eventually found satisfaction through multi-media critique of an unjust society. Arthur really liked her, was in awe of her and hankered after her company, but he wasn’t radical enough for any of her coterie. Nor was he in the know about ‘Law’ and the esoteric gossip of the crime scene, and he didn't want to belong to any one gang anyway, thus he found himself in Wanda’s outer circle of groupies, the observant loner, the eternal drifter.

Most memorable of this gay gang was the ebullient, jocular Judy Croissant, always to be counted on for a wise-crack in any fracas with the Law, who later gained widespread fame as an ABC radio commentator and then a comedienne on ABC television. She was a real firebrand, afraid of nothing and no one, up for any act of civil disobedience and crazy situationist stunt to further the prison reform cause,  and Arthur admired her panache unreservedly. She had such a glib tongue with a microphone and television camera she even wooed News Ltd and got a job on commercial television with her anarchic humor, and every time her face appeared on the brain-wash box, acting the inane clown, Artie cringed. Fame is a drug, but still he loved her, she’d once led him on breathtaking escapades to undermine the Establishment, which he could never forget, and she got to lead the  Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from a limousine in the far-flung future of 2013, that’s what Arthur called true stardom.

Next to her sat the leftist lawyer who was prosecuting the case for Penning, Virginia Gumball, who kicked on to become a respected judge later in her career, the diametric opposite of where Arthur ended up. He was in awe of her confident intelligence and legal expertise, she was sweet as candy, as heady as vodka, as smooth as ice. But not as cold, for there came a day when Artie himself would need her to rescue him from being crushed under the wheels of an inhuman Legal System and she made all the right connections for him. Slouching over her like a real bloke was her girlfriend, Ginny Hencoop, a hack cartoonist for the S & M Press, a big lug of a woman,  often looking upon Artie with an ogre’s face, possibly uptight because there was another punchy cartoonist in the gang, she made him feel like a third leg. She cracked endless gruff jokes that had Arthur pissing in his pants, she also terrified him, as if she’d beat him up with a lashing of her muscular tongue.

Nodding like a puppet on the fringe of the conversation was Denise Hairlip, a frumpish hanger-on, keen to be with the hot crowd, soon to claw her way up the arts bureaucracies. She forever had it in for Arthur over an old contretemps when she had ripped off the prisoners' fund-raising benefit money to spend on her own selfish blob of a body, after he and others had slaved their guts out to get it, him calling her a greedy fat dog. In return she probably spread nasty rumors about him being a drug addict to fuck his non-career as an artist; maybe it was just his paranoia but Sydney was a small town and could be cruel that way. There were other lesbians in the gang, like old red-haired Leslie, a mother of three, who’d left a brutal husband for another woman late in her life and was adamant in fighting for other abused women, especially those in prison like Violet Roberts. And blond Pam, a real Amazon, also resolute, the one who got her face slapped by a pig, she just snarled into his ugly mug, it didn't bring her down at all.

And shining like a zircon in their midst was a skinny little rake with bleached-blonde hair named Sascha Solitaire, the crazed Russian poofter poet. He was the dykes' darling, dripping sarcasm and droll invective, infamous for reading homo love verse to shocked families at an arts festival in Hyde Park. He was the only other gay male Arthur met on the prison reform front-line and there seemed to be some competition between them as to who was the most cutting-edge fag, as they never quite clicked as friends. Down the rutted track, when Arthur was framed for an armed robbery and in need of succor, all misunderstandings were forgotten and Sascha showed his hidden worth by being one of his few acquaintances who showed true empathy and attempted a rescue. Sadly he died in the ‘90s from AIDS, just before AZT therapy was discovered, and he’s been sorely missed ever since.

The Bacon gang patronized Arthur as some kind of new-age imbecile, giggles and gibberish being all that he could come up with in response to their ongoing intellectual satire. While Virginia went off to have her pre-trial interview with Penning at the jail, the rest of them went for a drive in the countryside, stopping off to frolic carefree at a waterfall. Judy bravely leaped naked into the water and gave Arthur a look that dared him to join her. Always the pagan nature worshiper, Arthur stripped and stood under the gushing cascade, luxuriating in the frothy water sliding down his muscular frame and pouring off his big cock, turning his body this way and that as if he were David modelling for Michelangelo. He suddenly stopped, looked up and took in the glaring eyes of the rest of the gang, all of them confirmed lesbians and all agitated by the very concept of dick; he got paranoid and wondered if he wasn’t some kind of worm in their apple.

Back at the Grafton Pub, just when they were enjoying a beer and looking forward to the trouncing of the screws in vindication of a just cause, busting them for assaulting Penning, Virginia, the ever-zealous lawyer, showed up in a kerfluffle, whispering earnest news into the big ears of Wanda and party. Gradually it got echoed back to Arthur, Penning had confessed to Virginia that he had lied about the specific bashing in his ‘Assault Charge’, he had set up the screws out of sheer hatred for them from a long life of abuse. They all yammered on about the “right approach in the light of recent disclosures”, but Arthur felt the cold wind of his ideals being blown away down the colonial-style Grafton street. He’d go through fire to heal the wounds of injustice but he wouldn’t support untruths, frame-ups or eye for an eye savagery.

That night they all checked into a Motel, anxiously awaiting procedures the next day, Arthur no longer keen and looking for a way out. He discovered he was to occupy an upstairs boudoir with hot lesbian Ms. Judy Croissant while the rest of them all bunked in one room directly below. As Judy pranced about on the double-bed wearing a sexy baby-doll night gown, Arthur wondered what on earth was expected of him, left alone in the room with her. What did she want? He suffered his usual fever of paranoid fantasies, most of them involving his fear of the hungry, emasculating vagina.

Had the sight of his lithe, yogi’s body driven her to some delusion that he might be the one male to please her? Or did she want secretly to be impregnated by a healthy male specimen and be a single mum like many of her best girlfriends? He imagined he could hear the sarcastic jokesters downstairs giggling and guffawing in derision as the pseudo-poof Arthur penetrated the virgin-dyke Judy, like it was some test to figure out who this dilletante fool was, maybe just a heterosexual oaf who secretly hoped to fuck hot, Amazonian lesbians.

He was already uptight over Penning’s nasty cat and mouse game played out in the nearby prison; he wanted to flee, as the last thing he needed was to tangle with an untamed pussy in a cat-house full of sniggering dykes. While Judy primped her nightie and bounced about on the bed cracking jokes, Arthur hurriedly packed his bags, then bid his fond farewells to her stunned gape and ran out the door to make the last train back to Sydney. Aroused from their crowded room, listening to Judy crack jokes about the chicken-shits of the world, the libertarian lezzos concluded Arthur was indeed a poofter, with a weak stomach and airy-fairy principles. He didn’t give a fleeting fuck what they thought, he was so relieved and happy to have escaped their anarchic rule and get back to the wilds of Sydney, to forget about gloomy Grafton and its monstrous prison-industry denizens.

His escape from the pussy riot didn’t fully eventuate as another warrior-woman stepped forward out of the mists to capture his fascinated gaze: a new, zealous member of the Prisoners' Action Group who would brook no compromise. Her name was Debbie Hamburger, she was from a wealthy Melbourne family, had gone to the best schools and was expected to do well as one of the cleverest of society ladies. On imbibing feminism, she turned into a ball-busting firebrand, red hair and self-defense muscles included. She was six foot tall with the face of a cute bull-terrier, kind of ugly yet compelling and weirdly attractive. Her brazen front and adamant views sent Arthur into a tizzy, he found himself doing silly stunts to impress her such as spray-painting  “Pigs” across a Police van while the Cops lounged on the other side of it. This so impressed Debbie that she set to hatching various daring and nefarious schemes to tear down the world of men, thinking Arthur some beleaguered poof on the rampage whose fury she could harness.

First up, to capitalize on his writing talents, she incited him to graffiti slanderous diatribes, “dickheads” being the main theme, across major public spaces throughout the city. He spray-painted her antagonistic cliches with such panache, under the very noses of security guards, she upgraded his commitment status to that of playing Baader to her Meinhoff in some wildly excessive plan to destroy the macho capitalist system. As she was born and bred into privilege, Arthur could only surmise she was perversely attracted to her opposite in class, slumming it like a princess in the underbelly of society. She was relentless in her vexatious desire to undermine Authority, any male authority, as if she were on a secret quest of revenge to fuck her rich father over as he apparently did her, dictating her life’s path with his money-power. Arthur accompanied her in several protest stunts for the Prisoners' Action Group that involved benign civil disobedience acts like blocking traffic and offensive behavior to Police, confirming he had a valorous heart, gutsy like a Weatherman. A street-smart wise-guy, he knew to keep a wary distance from thinking about acts of any real social damage; letting Debbie wank on about creating systemic havoc with orgasmic joy, he avoided agreeing to anything dangerously stupid.

To her chagrin he wimped out when it came to more violent action, she had the wrong guy, he was not her action man. He intuited that if they did emulate the Red Brigade, when eventually caught on their anarchic spree, she could buy her way out with daddy’s money while he would receive a pauper’s grave. She hung about his door for months, cajoling, arguing, inspiring, and got it into her head if she could fuck him she could turn him. Some nights she crawled into his bed, snuggled close and attempted caresses; his homosexuality a big challenge to her feminism, she crankily demanded to be told why he felt antipathy towards her genitalia. He spluttered nonsense about his love of cocks, to which she snapped, “You got brainwashed into being Gay! ‘They’ made you into a fairy, it makes you safe!” It all came to a head one stormy night when she insisted yet again that he fuck her in his seedy single bed; in a temper tantrum he threw her out into the rain declaring he needed a break from her impetuosity. She never forgave him and warned a few of her women friends who she saw getting close to him, “Watch him, he turns!”

The ardor of their turbulent relationship wore off, Clyde not so hot for Bonnie, deserting her for the boys in the back alleys who provided the more lascivious of illicit thrills. She foraged further afield for her ultimate gutter warrior and, when rallying to his cause, focused upon Ray Penning rotting in Grafton Jail. She visited him regularly, falling under his furious spell, the social debutante redeemed in the fire of his abject criminality. Across the gulf of the wire-meshed window in the visitors’ room they somehow contrived to have a love affair and Debbie was all starry-eyed and gung-ho over her convicted bank-robber and murderer beau, romanticizing him as a new-age Ned Kelly, much wronged by. She took Arthur with her on many jail visits and he also befriended the guy, so sad in his cage, so believable in his cry for mercy.

Penning was infamous as a brilliant escape artist as well as a screw-killer, and soon came the day he yet again managed to break-out, the first crim ever to make it from Grafton Maximum Security. He was on the run for months and for awhile was Australia’s number one public enemy and most wanted criminal. Arthur was poking about the backyard of his squat in Pyrmont one Sunday morning when up fronted Debbie with a big surprise, Ray Penning had come to call on a social visit. Arthur, still in the throes of imagining himself as a true-blue rebel, was thrilled and honored by the attention, and naively did not consider the implications.

They piled into Debbie’s crumpled Holden and careered off up the road on what Arthur saw as an exciting Sunday jaunt, lounging in the back, eating up every word that emanated from the diehards in the front. Debbie drove like a maniac while hardly taking her eyes off Ray, who forever scanned the highway back and front, a gun tucked into the back of his pants, ready to use it if confronted. They shot down to Wollongong to visit Ray’s sister and amidst a lot of conspiratorial whispering and tense eyeballing of the street through venetian blinds, Arthur blithely lived out his movie fantasy role of the bandit gang on the run, the cruel penal system confounded. He just didn’t think about the danger it put him in, it added frisson to the trip but didn’t seem real, serious dealings with the Law being outside Arthur’s ken.

Debbie alternated between goo-goo, lovie-dovie fondling and stern-faced, revolutionary gun-moll poses and was up for any act of bravado needed. They sojourned at an idyllic beach and talked about philosophy, life and hope, and Arthur saw Ray for the flawed, lost human he was. He tried to inspire the felon to give-up the life of smash and grab, hit and run, to use the money he had accumulated to truly escape, leave the penal island of Australia and see the world. Then he would have the chance to find who he really was, travel giving the questioning soul a great education. Ray listened sympathetically and seemed to make a resolve to change his fate, dreamy eyed in the face of a wide-open road. At the end of a glorious sunny day, without any deadly shootouts or megaphone sieges, they delivered Arthur back to the relative safety of his little squat. Glad to be a more simple soul, he breathed a sigh of relief as he watched them tear off into the distance to devour the few, short moments of pleasure freedom could give them.

Within weeks Debbie’s enthusiasm waned, a desperate criminal’s life was not her style; it was dis-empowering, especially with Ray’s uneducated, masculinist tendencies. She left him to his runaway-locomotive destiny and returned to her social agitations in Glebe where she found a quieter love with a more malleable ex-con, one with a heroin habit. This arrangement blew up in her face with crims busting down her doors and holding knives at her throat, encouraging her to flee back to Melbourne and the last Arthur heard of her, she was zealously overhauling the Social Welfare system, inexorably moving up the echelons of State bureaucratic power. She wasn’t a bad or mad person, she really cared, and she was fun on a challenging jaunt. He had fallen in “puppy love” with her, she was so smart, gutsy and principled, one of the great characters of his youth, she was more of a guru than a girlfriend. Arthur flashed that Debbie and her ilk represented the ‘female race’ to him and through them he tried to get to know what he could about women’s existential state. Women, and their sexuality, were territory he felt he could never explore, and thus he could never really ‘know’ them. Yet they were half the planet, and he desperately wanted the female touch in his life. Firebrand Debbie was just a bit too headstrong and emphatic for Arthur’s sense of independence and self-preservation, and he never did see her again.

(In later years, when he’d had a lot more time to contemplate and add up all the inconsistencies, he wondered if dear Debbie might not have been an ASIO plant, a spy. She had gone to an elite school and was thus the perfect conscript. She’d come to a city, Sydney, where no one really knew her and got quickly into the thick of things, always shit stirring as the most radical of rebels, ever ready to violate and implicate. Then she disappeared quickly and completely, back to Melbourne supposedly, maybe onto other postings. She certainly didn’t become the true friend that she promised to be. When she told Arthur she was dropping him, he actually cried, the dumb fairy; he didn’t want to fuck her but he did love her. He hoped he was just being his usual paranoid neurotic self, her sincerity was real, it seemed impossible to him that people could put on such a brave front, but cops are capable of any trick in their zealous need to bust punks.)

Ray Penning roamed at large, terrorizing the nation, for several more months, robbing banks at random and throwing the money around like confetti at his never to be wedding, for one of the shallow tarts he squandered his takings upon betrayed him to the police for the reward. Firmly enchained in the most draconian of prisons, he led a miserable existence of deadening, brutal routine and thwarted dreams. He had a few adoring female fans doting upon his needs but this seemed to have made the gulf between the imprisoned and the free yawn ever more fathomless, and he lost hope. In the cogs of the machine he was reduced to a numbered automaton with heroin as the only panacea that could assuage his horror. In the belly of the Beast, he was crushed and turned to jelly, ready to betray all his principles to stay on top, tranquilized and mollified. He ruthlessly distributed drugs and coldly maimed anyone who reneged on a deal, and to keep top dog status he evolved into an informer for the screws, much hated and alienated from his fellows.

After many years of agonizing incarceration he came to an invidious arrangement with the authorities whereby he got parole for the setting up and incrimination of a brother cellmate for some heinous crime that the Law had been busting its balls to get closure on. Obese and unsophisticated, he led his long dreamed of life of freedom in Sydney’s subterranean world of the criminal and the junkie. After only a few months of blissfully deranged liberation, he was found dead from a hotshot in a dilapidated terrace house in a back-lane of Paddington. Few mourned his passing, his front-page obituary in the yellow press labelled him an ‘animal’ and ‘a mad-dog’, and wished him sent straight to Hell. Arthur had met him before he’d transmogrified into a soul-less golem, before the Doctorate in Cruelty he’d got from the Prison Schools shook his humanity loose, and he seemed a genuine, sincerely hard-done by fellow.

He was always politely thankful for any attention and presented as a shy, gullible, contrite, eager and bright individual, optimistic that he would get a happy productive life if he could outmaneuver the system and win the sympathies of some movers and shakers. If he became a beast then he had some assistance in his formation, he was the handiwork of the prisons, shaped in a mold and broken on a hard surface. Arthur remembered him with sorrow for someone who got only bad luck, turned from a human to a devil, which only emphasized his frail humanity. He pictured Ray wandering lost as a pale, bloated ghost haunting the blue-stone fortress prisons of the Law, forever seeking redemption, making all who learn of his story cringe. It was life stories like this that caused Arthur to hate prisons to death.

His great denouement with the Prisoners’ Action Group occurred the night they held a fund-raiser at the Prisoners’ Halfway House in Glebe. Everyone was jolly and friendly, activists, ex-convicts and their families seated around mock-gambling tables, playing Poker for cheap stakes, all for a worthy cause. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the surly guy sitting next to Arthur snatched up a beer can and, shrieking a curse, slammed it hard as a hammer straight into his right eye. Arthur tumbled back in shock clutching at his face while the other crims dragged the psycho out into the backyard and gave him a severe thrashing.

As Arthur’s eye blackened and swelled shut, he received a lot of apologetic commiseration from the gathering, all tut-tutting and wondering what the attacker’s motive could possibly have been.  Artie surmised he was possibly being warned off any further involvement with the criminal world or getting payback for the night he’d stuck up for the Kooris at Radio Skidrow instead of the ex-cons. Whatever the reason, this event dampened his spirits, he lost his enthusiasm for prisoners’ rights, his efforts tailed off, he’d given of his best but someone didn’t like him and he didn’t need any more beatings in his punch-drunk career to convince him he was out of his depth. Other needy causes, less extreme, garnered his fond attentions.

At one of his benefit gigs for prison reform he had wine thrown in his face by some snooty middle-class bitch while Ginny Hencoop and her gang of girlfriends looked on and laughed. It stung his eyes painfully and broke his heart; they accused him of using important social issues to get some crappy artistic fame for himself. He stuck to his punk-attitude that fund-raising was part of his performance art; he knew befriending jailbirds was not going to make him famous, not in class-conscious convict heritage Australia. He definitely determined not to become a prisoner himself,  he had a working-class lad’s canny sense of caution and survival, he didn’t want to commit to anything too radical, like terrorism, for he knew he was up against a rigged race, it was the poor who always got it in the neck, and he was going nowhere except obscurity in the gutter.

He was resigned to ignominy, knowing he wasn’t infallible, painfully self-conscious of his sexual deviancy, full of his own freakiness, he left it to others to be upright, shining examples for society or revolutionary leaders, whatever their kick. He’d really put himself on the line for other people’s burning issues, like a tireless foot soldier, believing in their forthrightness. Most of his admired generals had been strident women, he was always trying to please them, as if he were trying to win back the mother he felt had abandoned him. He tried not to resent being sidelined by everyone else and their burgeoning careers, yet in spite of the faithful assistance he’d given these femme-fatales, ten years later, when he was in serious trouble with the Pigs, framed for an armed robbery and indicted as an incorrigible perp with a long history of criminal acts, very few would do anything for him.

There would come a day when he would wonder what on earth he thought he was doing, playing at revolution. Did he plan on building a barricade on George Street, outside the Entertainment Center, set up a guillotine for the rich and bring the city to a halt till his version of paradise was instituted? Maybe they were all looking for “the big cause” that would make them larger than life like their parents had with the Second World War, or the ‘Sixties had with Vietnam? The exploits of the European Situationists were legendary and the exhilaration of the ‘68 student riots of Paris hadn’t yet dissipated, French political activism was fashionably ‘IN’ with the Antipodean provincials. Like old beatniks they were overly impressed by the the avant-garde art-riots beloved of the Dadaists, the Surrealists and the Lettrists, the theories of Guy Debord filtering down to them as they sat watching TV, restless in their armchairs, sucked into the trend for new-wave revolution fueled by a seething, hip Europe.

Arthur himself was probably chasing his lost machismo, hoping to prove himself as a real man, a la Hemingway in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Street agitations, turning sacred cows arse-up via media viruses like video clips, pamphlets and posters, and roaming the city in intoxicated revelry, discovering architecture that comforted dissident layabouts, were Debordian ideas that Arthur found came naturally to him. The explosion of the Punk cult in the mid-seventies made anarchism fashionable, spitting in the face of the bovine System was all the rage and Arthur always aspired to be on the ‘hip’ front-line.

Though being young was all about fucking and rebelling, he could’ve done better by himself, become a doctor, made his fortune, instead he freaked out and dreamed of genius art and creating Utopia. No money, no fame, no power, only heart-racing experience and memories of what it was to have had an exhilarating life. And the Beast of the Modern Civilization rumbled on, growing larger and more untouchable with every year, and the activities of the few dissatisfied libertarians were like bedbug bites, at any time the Beast could roll on over and crush them.

They might as well have not existed, except their acts set precedents and became the common language of all later dissidence in Auz. They strengthened the equality of the sexes, saved heritage houses, reformed the prisons, stopped police verbals, banned uranium from Sydney, supported abortion clinics, warned of climate change and encouraged Aboriginal land-rights. They had voices and brains, and their youth insisted on exercising them by questioning all that seemed unjust. And as far as Arthur was concerned, every crazy stunt was juicy mince for the grinder of his non-career as a cutting artist.

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.