Monday, June 12, 2017

Irradiated in "The Lead Sheds!"

The Punk Poofy Cat is well known for howling, hissing, spitting and sometimes purring from his dumpster in a back-alley of cyber-city but I’m actually writing it from my social housing slum dungeon at ICE Central where I have lived out a laid-back life for thirty years fulfilling my creative dreams as I deliquesce into squalor via my penury.

At least starvation and ignominy has kept me punchy, I’ve got nothing to lose by being gutter-level out-front in my existential commentary and memories. I can’t help but cast back to the old days, when Sydney was vibrant with explosive new music, funky old architecture, grungy pubs and cafes that welcomed group conversation as well as juke boxes and pot smoking.

And I remembered a gig I put on in 1986 just down the street from where I live, The Graphic Arts Club, refurbished now into The Gaelic Club, just across the road from Central Railway Station. I had finished my 9 year ordeal of filming and cutting together a final print of my Super 8 meta-realist epic “Darling It Hurtz!” (Seven years in the Life of a Suburb and a Singer) and I hoped to premier it at The Graphic Arts Club. I hired the band-room, got onside some deadbeat bands including Paul Kelly and Some Colored Girls, got a few mentions in the press and got stuck into hand-printing 400 copies of a super fluorescent Punk-drunk silk-screen poster that I planned to stick on all the walls of Sydney.

The Lead Sheds Poster Workshop at Sydney University had long suffered my independent label, Toby Zoates, as a fringe-dweller to their “Dirtworks Collective.” They had cooperatively shown me how to make perfect, beautiful hand-printed posters using photographic stencils on silk-screens, and they encouraged my individual, original designs and tolerated my passionate social critiques and political causes, much of which they too supported. I paid for all my materials, cleaned up after myself, and helped them when they needed labor to put their own posters up on the drying racks. I swear, I would always be heartfelt grateful for their assistance.

Long before my “Darling it Hurtz!” poster, in 1978 I’d noticed cans of fluoro paints sitting idle in a dusty corner and asked who were using them, and was told, “Nobody, they are a new wave techno paint, ‘60s style fluorescent glow paint. We're not interested!” I recalled the fluorescent murals I’d seen in a hippie cafe in Bangalore, India, in 1973, Alice in Wonderland in glowing colors against a black field, black-lights illuminating them into psychedelic mind-warps, and I’d been flabbergasted at how brilliantly the style could communicate visions.

I asked the workshop if I could use the unused cans of fluoros and, printing on waste computer print-out paper, I created my first fluoro poster, “The Anti-Authoritarian Dance” at Balmain Town Hall, with bands like White Trash and A.W.O.L. playing and I must say the night was a rocking, roaring success.

Then I dreamed up my 1979 “Garibaldi’s Benefit” gig to raise money for the old Italian who ran the club in Darlinghurst and was going broke. I enlisted the aid of the rock bands “Tactics” and “XL Capris” to do the Saturday night music gig. On the second night I got the support of Cabaret Conspiracy with the drag greats Doris Fisch and Jackie Hyde, plus Simon Reptile and Fifi Lamour all doing their “Cabaret Conspiracy” and it was a thumping, rocking weekend, and old Garibaldi really appreciated the assistance we gave him.

By 1981 I printed “No Future”, a giant fluoro triptych, supporting the release of my comic book “No Future”, a sci-fi tale about a mutant race using Ulurhu Rock as a storage facility for nuclear waste and worshiping the radioactive monolith as a colossal godhead warning the future as to its eternal poison. 

All the while I shot my Super 8 film around the inner-city, particularly in Darlinghurst, in and out of its architecture, following the life of a new-found friend, a working-class woman, a junkie prostitute schizophrenic but hopeful singing pop-star named Jenny Jinx who dreamed of making it in the music business. She sang a few of her songs for me while she wandered about the backstreets of Darlinghurst, bouncing around in back-lanes. I wove this in and out of shots of most of Sydney’s contemporaneous rock clubs, bands banging on within, the obvious subtext being “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.”

I went to the govt. arts body whose responsibility it was to make sure important artistic/cultural/historical works get made, The Creative Development Branch of the Australian Film Commission and I asked them for funds to do more filming of the current music scene and environs and complete the film. 

I got as my assessor an smart-arse trendoid who thought he was the final word in good-taste and hip, obscure Super 8 film, and who in reality had taken over the Sydney Super 8 Film Group and kicked me out as he couldn’t stand my style and the competition to his obtuse glory that I represented.

I call him Warnerbros and he knocked me back cold, me and my film about the Sydney inner-city music scene could go drop dead, (all that wondrous footage of the bands and the venues lost to history because of one fuckwit's small-mindedness!) I was furious at this dead-head’s nerve, his bigoted stupidity and blatantly jealous scumbag-nature. Thus I wrote a poison-pen letter about him to the bureaucrats at the Film Commission, telling them Warnerbros was a twerp who didn’t have clue about cutting edge film. THEY asked me to come in and I was given a check under the table for $6000 to finish my film.

I cut it together with some wild animation and put three Darlo folkloric songs in as sound-track, “Living in Darlinghurst” by The The, “Darlinghurst” by The Celibate Rifles and “Darling it Hurts to See You Down in Darlinghurst Tonight” by Paul Kelly. Paul got this line for his famous song when he saw the graffiti and mural I did on the Darlo Squat wall in 1981 and he promised me that he would reciprocate the inspiration by letting me use his song and personally appearing for 7 seconds in the film.

So there I was in 1986, having miraculously finished my film “Darling It Hurtz!” over a few dead bodies, and I was midway through printing the silk-screen poster for the film’s premier gig at The Graphic Arts Club. Before I could get over to the Lead Sheds to keep going I noticed this huge lug of a man loitering outside my Pyrmont Squat cottage for hours, pacing back and forth and giving me the willies. I stupidly went out and said, “Hey mate, don’t hang around out here, there’s nothing for you here, the smack dealer’s gone out!”

Without much ado he yelled, “Shut your mouth cunt!” Then he leaped upon me, half my age, twice my weight, and beat the shit out of me, broke my right arm and clawed my face till it looked as if a were-wolf had got to me. I called the cops, and though I’d seen the brute run up the hill to Wayside Terrace Council Flats, I told the cops I didn’t see where he went. An ambulance was called and I was taken to Sydney Hospital where I was operated upon, a pin put in my arm and my face bandaged up. I was there for a few days and thus couldn’t finish my poster, the gig was only 10 days away, everything booked and ready to go, and no poster promotion was ready.

Therefore I asked a few of my daring mates to break into the Lead Sheds and finish the poster for me, it needed two more screens of color applied and after drying would be ready to go up on the walls of Sydney. They rushed off to follow my directions, got into the poster-workshop from an open back-window and were finishing the job in wonderful zealous fashion.

But then one of the Dirtworks Collective showed up and went into shock at the temerity of my gauche gutter mates breaking in to use their precious facilities and complete my work. She abused them roundly, "How dare you break in here and use the materials without our permission! This is not a free-for-all!" She harrumphed and grumbled and they couldn't get a word in until she took a breath. Finding a break in her tirade they tried to inform her of my terrible calamity and need for help. But she nagged on and on, "What guttersnipes are doing mischief here?" Finally they blurted out how I was in hospital undergoing surgery from an assault and had begged them to finish the poster in time for the film’s premier. They then pleaded with her to be allowed to finish the posters as the film premier gig was important to me. She begrudgingly acquiesced, otherwise she wouldn't want to incur "the Wrath of Toby Zoates!" She shut her gob and allowed them to continue and in later years declared herself to once have been a “Punk” but I’d like to argue the point.

The film premier went off like a joyful brain-burst, I did some stand-up comedy, with arm in sling and face claw-marked, about the crowd in the Club coming over to Pyrmont Squats with me and taking on the gang of wharfie rednecks who beat me up, but I got a glum response to that dark joke. I’m happy to say that over the years the film, “Darling It Hurtz!” has garnered quite a reputation and been viewed a lot on Youtube.

There was a time at The Lead Sheds, in 1988, when the Bi-centenary of the European Invasion of Australia was to be celebrated by the Powers-that-Be and the general gronk population. It was proposed by all the artists that we each do a poster critiquing those celebrations, as they are in fact a cover for the brutal colonization and murder of a whole Indigenous race and culture that had thrived in the land for 60,000 years. We decided it would be best if we each also found a Koori to work with us on the design and content of the poster as that would give the First Australians their rightful input as well.

I had already lined up my Koori mate and fellow artist, Malcolm Cole, famous for creating the first Gay Indigenous float for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, him dressed up as a black Captain Cook at the helm of a mocked-up ship on wheels. Just as we were all rubbing our hands in glee at the subversive thrill of sticking the finger to the Bi-Centenary Celebrations Board, via a flood of hot, maverick posters stuck on all the walls of Sydney, a damp blanket was thrown over affairs.

Chips MacSalty
Chips MacSalty, genius poster maker and unacknowledged Captain of the good ship Lead Sheds “Dirtworks” arrived to inform us that his mother had begged him not to go ahead and do the anti-celebrations, (Invasion Day) poster project as it would cast a dark cloud over events and go down in history as infamously bad taste and an insult to good manners, much better to go quietly, lift the wine glass and intone like robots, “Three cheers for the Queen.” His mother happened to be on the Celebrations Organizing Committee, and she also happened to be the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, and thus the existence of the Lead Sheds Poster Workshop was somewhat beholden to her kind patronage and discretion. I whined, “But it’s a great chance to show the reality of Invasion, to produce great art and get Kooris involved!?” 

“Oh no, too provocative, too inappropriate! Too much expensive hard work for something not so necessarily glorious.” I wept bitterly, and my Koori friend Malcolm was mightily disappointed.

Whatever, the anti-invasion poster project was abandoned, to my dismay, and we went on to cry crocodile tears for the downtrodden and polluted. Chips soon moved on to Darwin where he has run a marvelous design business supporting Koori causes for many years and is considered a hero of the leftist-design schools, and good luck to him. I thought he was a good mate, always praising his work, but I noticed over the last 35 years I have been excluded from any of The Lead Shed Shows, wiped from the records where possible, (I’m still in the collection in the National Gallery Canberra as thankfully I signed my named on all my works), and am never noted in Acknowledgements in whatever catalogs etc Dirtworks put themselves and their mates in, as if I was a plague case best forgotten.

I tried to be a caring, generous good guy, I helped him with his own work, cleaned up with them and even gave him my best toy, a “sputnik” style ‘60s TV set for him to watch his favorite shows while he labored over his masterpieces, a white plastic sphere with inbuilt television screen I very much cherished. I really thought we were friends! WTF!!! All along he was the straight son of the Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University and the Master Poster Maker and I was the queer upstart from a working class social housing ghetto in West Heidelberg, Melbourne. 

I sincerely thought the poster workshop was an open community facility where talent, especially from the dispossessed, was fostered. Perhaps they think I'm a self-promoting egotist who took advantage of their generosity and used them for my grand career. Guess what? I didn't get one. I've been penniless and art-workless since then, apart from what I've drummed up while on a pension or working with the dying in nursing homes. Never invited anywhere, rarely mentioned, and for all my squalling, I couldn't give a shit, because I still got myself a life, a wonderful life, of creativity and adventure, all that I've dreamed of since a child.

After seven years of toiling and creating brilliant posters in the Lead Sheds, even helping everyone else rack their hundreds of drying posters and helping them to clean up, I was never offered a paid job even once, chasing or dreaming up all my jobs myself. When finally a job came up "teaching silk-screen printing to Sydney University students" I applied for it, desperate for paid-work for I'd been unemployed for years, other than poster making in the sheds for 7 years. I got interviewed by "the cooperative", people I'd worked alongside of for several years, but they knocked me back cold, preferring instead a Greek macho prick who had walked in the door three weeks previously. Again, I was so pissed off with them, when one of them applied to be my Facebook friend after thirty years of my continued starvation, I firmly pressed the icon "IGNORE."

My bitching tales are my truths, this is how it went down, a bit of art history, honestly from my heart. I have just been reminiscing, about pseudo-fame, “collectives", the fun of abandoned dancing to real BAD-ARSE rock music, art gigs I put on, the race up the shit-heap of kudos in the “art-world”, the billionaire arms dealers investing in bullion art, and the artworks of mine that created waves I didn’t expect in the least. And I’m so fucking happy I did it “MY WAY!” Yet I got so irradiated at The Lead Sheds I passed into a shadow-world like The Invisible Man. 

Hmmmmm... life’s a blast, even in the middle of the gladiator battle, as the thumbs go in the eyes to gouge them out, it’s how quick you can weave and dance your way through the brutal attacks and thrusting knives that provides half the fun. Of course, I liked the helping hands better, they are the people that will shine in my memories.

If you liked, or were sympathetic to, my stories please go to the WEB address above and buy my book as you'll get the full tale of how I grew up and got driven into Freaksville.