Wednesday, July 24, 2013

40) Stunts of the Sydney Situationists.

So what was Arthur’s problem, why was he such a rabble-rousing, punch-drunk renegade? Being beaten from infancy on by his father had him eternally railing against patriarchal authority, giving him “oppositional defiance disorder”, yes. Growing up an aberrant homosexual made him a freak in the milk-toast normality of heterosexual society, of course. But he’d like to add that, for all his contemplative peaceful soul-seeking, he was an acolyte of Carlos Castenada and attempted to walk “the way of the warrior”. While he was possibly just trying to bolster a masculine front to hide his sissy gay nature, he felt in his heart that wimps bit the dust, got trampled in the rush, and he’d have to fight bravely for what he believed in, for what he wanted from life.

And what did he have to fight for? Being a working class homosexual he wanted to no longer be considered either criminal or mentally ill. If he did go to prison because of his deviancy then he wanted the system reformed so that he wasn’t brutalized nor hardened while incarcerated. On being emancipated he demanded meaningful employment, a roof over his head and medical succor if needed, such as a truly caring society would provide. Oh, and a healthy, natural environment would be marvelous; yet while respect for people of his ilk might come eventually, a loving committed relationship could only be dreamed of. Anyway, he hated the way the world was organized, money as god and greed as the keenest of religions, with celebrity and the accumulation of possessions admired while millions starved and died because of arms industries, war and exploitation, all disgusting in his eyes and worthy of revolting against.

He was definitely determined to get to the end of his life, look back and be thrilled that he had lived a wild, reckless youth, engorged with the excitement of the moment. He had squeezed himself dry, of inspiration and aspiration, and was unabashed that he had been a ‘real fucking idiot’; he didn’t mind admitting to weakness as well as strength, for being a “freak” meant most of his actions were warped, he couldn’t help himself, the flaws were what made him “freaky”.

Though many experiences fade with memory and a golden festive youth wouldn’t get him far in an impoverished old age, yet he was satisfied and sated, for he’d had ultimate fun and life wasn’t meant to be dreary. When, in the full flight of his political rage, he had been labeled an adventurist by some party-pooping Stalinists, he’d readily acquiesced; adventure was what he was born for. Throughout all the subversive stunts he participated in with his fellow radicals, he laughed like a child at a cream pie fight. All those marvelous attempts at poking his finger in the eye of the Establishment, though they fucked him over in the end, he regretted nothing, he was only a bit embarrassed for making such an arse of himself. It was his destiny to freak-out and fuck-up, as if he had an inbuilt defect, the evolutionary process having created him: the more alienated he became the more contrast he provided for conventional society to measure themselves up against; his excuse for living, “They” created him.

Rebounding off an imperfect world, in manic flight, Arthur couldn’t help but be attracted to the angry agendas of the various seditious groups that roamed the concrete canyons of Sydney during the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties. Disaffected, spoiled-brat punks and subversive, anarchic situationists ruled the style he operated in for that period of his creative life. From ’76 to ’83 a conservative Liberal Government ruled, with industrial magnates and greedy businessmen favored over the needs of the workers and underclasses, and the socialist agenda of the previous Labour government curtailed. Mal Grazier, the usurping Prime Minister, was demonized by the Left as a tyrant and Australia was imagined as a slave colony. Influenced by the prevailing mass-hysteria, Arthur got all lathered up over the injustice of everything and was ready to knock down towers with a beam from his third eye.

As a wannabe artist and wastrel Arthur had the time to join any and every protest march or melee, loitering at many a favorite site where the passing parade provided an opportunity to heckle, posture, harangue and act up. He teamed up with artists, musicians, squatters, civil libertarians and malcontents to demonstrate, graffiti, sing, blockade, perform street theater, pull off wild stunts, or create situations that countered the mind-numbing spectacle pushed upon society by the State, the Church, the Arts and the Mass Media.

In his rounds of the city, spontaneous response was often called for, such as the day he was lolling upon the benches between Sydney Town Hall and St.Andrews Cathedral. The Anglican priest came out of his dungeon to disturb Arthur’s reverie by standing at a lectern and delivering a sermon to the lunchtime crowd. After an hour of tedious religious nonsense he called for a question and answer period and passed around pencils and paper. Arthur couldn’t resist a bit of mischief, asking the priest if he believed in Satan. On unfolding Artie’s bit of paper and spinning his eyeballs, the priest thundered sonorously on and on, “Yes, I believe in Satan, He is alive and working His will in the world today. He is everywhere, lurking to trip up every good Christian, always looking over one’s left shoulder, He is real and manifest!” As the old fool paused to take a breath Arthur yelled out, “If you believe in Satan you must be a Satanist!” The diatribe “Satanist” echoed and bounced repeatedly between the Town Hall and the Cathedral, and while the priest spluttered and the crowd gasped, Artie sauntered off nonchalantly like the quintessential Aussie larrikin.

Another sacred site for layabouts was the cinema, particularly the State Theater, in all its rococo glory, on opening night of the Sydney Film Festival. Artie’s film, “The Thief of Sydney”, had been knocked back for a screening by the conservative elitists who ran the show like a Stalinist boot camp and Arthur was furious, handing out flyers promoting his anti-uranium cartoon to the crowd going in the golden doors. Suddenly a limousine pulled up and out jumped Phillip Badams, Australia’s proudest anarcho-capitalist of the time. He then helped old Jimmy Stewart onto the pavement, Hollywood movie legend and hero to the ordinary man on the street. Arthur knew the old geezer was touring the world promoting his best friend Ronnie Reagan’s chance at a second term as president in 1984 and he couldn’t resist heckling the star as he toddled into the theater.

“Hey Jimmy!” Hitchcock’s favorite leading man looked up. “Ronnie’s gonna lose you know. History will tell! In the end, Ronnie will lose!” Phillip Badams smiled in embarrassment and hurried the old fellow quickly into the cinematic citadel. As Arthur stood laughing with his friends a big, bald, burly bouncer-type in a Tuxedo came out of the theater and approached Artie and his gang. “Here we go,” thought Arthur, “now I’m going to be punched out for being irreverent to a silver-screen demigod." Looking pointedly at Arthur, with a smiling voice, the bouncer asked, “Anyone want a ticket to the  movie tonight?” Arthur jumped him and snatched the ticket from mid-air; it was to see a brand new print of the Hitchcock classic, “Rear Window” and Arthur was nothing if not a total movie tragic.

He was waiting in the foyer for the grand movie to begin when Phillip Badams again led old Jimmy out a side-door straight into Arthur’s face and the little shit couldn’t resist heckling the legend again with the same catcall, “Ronnie’s gonna lose Jimmy! Ronnie's gonna lose!” The crowd grimaced in horror, Arthur’s movie career was finished before it had even begun. What did they expect, he was from the gutter and he couldn’t help but be a guttersnipe? As the curtains went up and old Jimmy creaked out onto the stage Arthur wondered if he was in trepidation of more heckling but in that inner sanctum of silver screen effulgence Artie was reduced to silent awe, the Hollywood hero gave his presentation undisturbed and Arthur enjoyed the movie immensely. And ever since he has wanked himself that an amazing artist such as Jimmy Stewart was amused by this Aussie impiety, when everyone is usually arse-licking subservient, and had specifically rewarded the culprit with a ticket.

The night a bomb went off in a rubbish bin at the back of the Hilton Hotel killing a garbo and a cop, Arthur was out front with a crowd of agitated protesters awaiting the arrival of Big Mal, the wicked grand vizier, coming to attend a Commonwealth Heads of State meeting. As the much hated dictator strode valiantly from his limousine, the crowd rioted and in the hysteria of the moment Arthur threw the styro-foam cup he’d just emptied of its soup kitchen contents. He was amazed to watch the missile sail blithely over the screaming mass of heads in a perfect, slow-motion trajectory, to bounce off Mal’s forehead and cause his eyeballs to pop. Arthur fantasized it as one great blow for democracy, and he a ruthless anarchist assassin. A burly old cop must have thought so too, rushing up to Arthur in the melee and punching him resoundingly in the ear, knocking him over, but not before he snatched the glasses off the fat ogre’s cauliflower nose and dragged them to the ground with him. His burning ear rang and he was trampled by the mob, yet he giggled in glee at his audaciousness in challenging a tyranny.

Actually, Mal Grazier was quite a softie, he simply acted on the orders of a greed-driven oligarchy, supported by a security-conscious middle class. While Labor’s excessive gravy train was gradually attenuated, the Welfare State carried on, no one went without and few felt particularly hassled. Australia was still the lucky country and there shouldn’t have been much for white middle-class brats to complain about, but discontent was in the air and rebellion was fashionable, the ‘Punk’ sub-cult had hit town and everybody wanted to be an anarchist.

The environment was turning into a desert all around them and for the ex-hippies and proto yuppies future preservation of the planet became the big issue of concern. Still recovering from his own wishy washy hippie years, the first ‘rebel club’ Arthur joined was “Friends of the Earth” where, amidst the committee-mad careerists, he met a few disgruntled Greenies who were in terror of nuclear proliferation and scathingly critical of the nuclear industry and its uranium mining. This gutsy bunch of ferals helped incite the White Bay Riots and thus stopped uranium from being shipped out of Sydney. They then went on to camp outside of Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, living in leaky tents around a dilapidated dome used as anti-establishment exhibition space. 

They handed out pamphlets to all the workers coming and going, and to any of the locals who bothered to stop and visit. Arthur and company talked, cajoled and wheedled till their bums turned blue, about the dangers of an accident, the radioactive waste leaking into the environment, nuclear war and mutated babies, but nobody paid any heed. The workers grew more pissed off by the day as the alien campers clung to their front gates or climbed the cyclone fence and wandered the grounds. The atomic-furnace stokers and their security thugs took to charging through the camp late at night in jeeps, trampling the tents and demolishing the dome, trashing all the efforts at making the place barely comfortable.

After seven months of being abused, bullied, ignored and rained upon, the gang gave up and disappeared back into the city’s nether regions, to shit-stir from their ineffectual isolation. They left the fight for the future, when the locals finally woke up to the danger in their back-yard, as a newer and bigger reactor was built right on a tectonic fault-line, and there were several radioactive leaks into their environment. (In 2005 a jihadi was convicted of plotting to blow up the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.)

To Arthur’s radical, jaundiced mind, “Friends of the Earth” had become big environmental business, attracting officious, cautious bureaucrats and eager, hungry salesmen to run it; they took over and directed affairs, maneuvering the radical activists out into the cold. Arthur even suspected the core organizing committee to be infiltrated by ASIO, the police or a nuclear industry spy, as the original troublemakers had touched a nerve, and it didn’t take long for all direct action to be frowned upon and discouraged by the ‘committee’. The billion-dollar nuclear industry would be dumb if it didn’t bother to find out what the enemy was up to and Arthur’s group of grunge-bunnies couldn’t beat such resources, they got scattered like bugs from a bulldozer.

Hanging around the Lead Sheds poster workshop at Sydney University Arthur got to meet all the fringe-groups crowding in to get their propaganda given the high-art treatment, encouraging him to be a rebel with too many causes, thus his loyalties got dissipated by the multitude of agitations. He helped slave away on graphic messages of grief for single mums, student unions, green-bans and Trotskyist fronts, eventually gravitating towards the truly hard-done by, dispossessed aboriginals and tortured prisoners, as those in most need.

Aboriginal landrights and recovery of their culture was the Holy Grail of causes to champion for any artist with a sensitive mind and guilty conscious, for the black irate survivors of white colonization were seething all around them in Redfern. Colorful posters were printed, giant wall murals were painted, benefit music gigs were organized in the black ghetto, petitions were signed, films were made and government offices were besieged. Over the years Aboriginal tent embassies were erected in front of Parliament, in parks and on nature strips outside skyscrapers, the Kooris attempting heartfelt communication of their hopes and needs, and some reconciliation. Arthur and friends lent assistance to their endeavors whenever they could, donating food, sleeping out, squabbling around the campfire.

Yet indigenous Australians ever remained aliens in their own land, patronized, looked down upon, rarely to be included or met with on the social scene. For all the stirring marches and demonstrations of mass sympathy, most Australians still felt dread whenever an Aboriginal approached them on the street. This was not the case for a few of the Lead Sheds artists who were forever throwing benefits at the Settlement, a community center for Aboriginals in Redfern. Chips and Marie and Ray ultimately followed their hearts and dedicated their lives to helping black artists from the desert interior find markets for their bark paintings and dream-time designs, marrying into the tribe and living amongst them.

Having always been a second-class citizen himself, Arthur cared but could not follow the quest of Aboriginal uplift; being homosexual, he was the alien of aliens, too exotic and disturbing of tradition, with too much sex on the brain and no political charisma. Self-conscious of his freakiness, he could never fit in anywhere, and especially not in the redneck backwoods of the deserts, he was doomed to wander ‘other’ outer limits, the wastelands of the city, yet he dreamed he could at least be some kind of new-age clever man, a variation on his neo-shamanism kick.

Busy little Arthur also put on a benefit for the Kooris at the Settlement but he spent the night of the gig in dread as the Aboriginal band he’d paid to play didn’t show up for their time slot. Arthur knew Dreamtime people had a different concept of Time and space so he trusted they would show up eventually. A crowd of marauding Aboriginal children ran riot through the hall and Arthur was sweating on all the electric music equipment lying in heaps getting kicked about. A white-hot Punkabilly band had been conned into supporting the gig so they played first to get the excitable crowd rollicking and distracted. At the very last moment the Black band strolled in, without any musical gear and the Punkabillies were cool enough to lend them their guitars; thankfully the mutinous Aboriginal mob was mollified by excellent rock’n’roll from their own kind. Arthur tried so hard to care and relate to Koori culture, since childhood he’d felt an empathy and curiosity towards them.

He might have imagined that he had thus made friends with the Blacks of Sydney’s inner-city if it wasn’t for the night he got a reality check on a visit to Redfern Railway Station. He’d gone to try and score some Marijuana from the Kooris hanging on the nearby corner who sold infamously good deals. He met a tough-faced gang who said they had some heavy shit, he only had to follow them into some derelict houses on Everleigh Street. The ruined buildings looked like the lair of a serial killer, lots of trash in gruesome arrangements, and the Blacks had nasty, frozen faces and violent mien as they beckoned him into the dark, grungy recesses. Arthur had been around long enough to have learned mental telepathy and he knew he was up for the thrashing of his life if he stupidly surrendered to their wiles.

He backed off with an ingratiating smile and they called him a racist pig for not trusting them, they made as if to bash him right there on the street, and he used his gift of the gab to sweet talk them while he walked backwards, away from them, slowly, as if from hungry tigers, escaping to the rush-hour safety of Redfern Railway Station. Arthur understood that as a spoiled white Gubba he was the enemy and in certain locales, like Redfern, he was prey, to be fleeced as the Blacks had been fleeced, all his good intentions warped by a cruel history.

He was sincere in his declaration of identifying with Kooris, not only because of the alienation he felt he had in common with them. He long fantasised that one of his great great grandmothers was a Koori, for as a child, in summer, his skin turned black and his hair bleached blond, and his drawings were reminiscent of Dreamtime imagery and when he danced in a trance he moved in slow motion with bended knee as if at a Corroboorri. With his bright blue-green eyes he’d admit to it all being fantastic nonsense if it wasn’t for that one occasion when he felt his true blood outed.

It was the night he had volunteered to DJ for Radio Skidrow, he’d finished his shift and the Kooris' Radio Redfern Show was up next. But in stormed the Prisoners' Action Group and they announced the next few hours on air was theirs and the Kooris could fuck off. A heated argument broke out between the two groups and Arthur tried to mediate. One hardened ex-con pulled a knife and lunged at Tiger, the leader of the Koori gang. The middle-class white leftie types who were always hanging about the station freaked and ran squealing from the building but Arthur, having come from the rough and tumble streets, didn’t even think about it, fearlessly jumping between the two men. Facing the crim, with the Koori protected behind him, he talked the furious knife-wielder down, risking the blade shoved in his guts himself. The ex-prisoners marched off in a huff, declaring Arthur a traitor to his race for not sticking with them; he was also stunned on siding with the blacks in knee-jerk response to their trouble, Tiger looking upon him from then on in brotherhood.

Constantly aware of the need for a roof over his head Arthur got involved in tenant’s issues and the preservation of old buildings. He participated in many sieges, once barricading a terrace house in Campbell Street, Surry Hills, with furniture and trash so that the whole lower floor was fillled solid and he spent weeks encamped up on the barb-wired balcony with weapons to hurl down upon any thugs who dared break in. Cops and security guards eventually smashed their way up into the fortress, Artie and friends making their escape out a back window.

A block of colonial houses at the Rocks in Circular Quay had been left to rot and, ready for demolition, they cried out for rescue. A collection of outraged activists and desperately homeless paupers decided to squat one of the buildings as a challenge to the City Council. Only a few of them had previous experience of cracking a squat but one nice, middle-class girl named Katie took over as activist leader, issuing orders and mumbling platitudes, showing herself to be a placid nincompoop with revolutionary pretensions. Arthur kept his mouth shut, doing as she suggested, going the way of least resistance, eschewing the role of leader, not wanting to be anybody’s hero. They broke through a cyclone fence guarding the premises, then crept through a back door and energetically set to barricading all entrances. The Security Company in charge of the property soon discovered their infiltration and brought the cops into play, accompanied by the fire brigade and a crowd of reporters, sightseers and well-wishers.

After barricading the doors and filling the stairwell with broken furniture the intrepid squatters adjourned to the upstairs rooms where they threw jibes at the ham-fisted authorities smashing their way through the windows below while the crowd cheered and laughed. Arthur operatically flung oranges at the intruder’s heads, each golden orb snatched out of the air by his excited audience, every throw an impossible catch till the crowd was roaring over the circus-clown antics. Arthur saw how easy it was to amuse and sway a mob, they hungered for subversive spectacle and he had the panache to deliver. Except that such attention irked him, he didn’t desire power, or control, he wanted freedom, irresponsibility and anonymity, he stopped his bravura performance in mid-joke and backed away from the window, letting Katie take his place to deliver a dreary, hysterical diatribe on democracy and housing to the stirred up throng below.

To save the day, the Tactical Response Team showed up in their black leather armor to spear-head the attack and, as the crashing of timber and splintered glass thundered up the stairwell, a trembling Katie proposed they give themselves up on the instant, without further struggle. Arthur declared they hadn’t resisted enough and encouraged the gang to climb up into the ceiling through a manhole. He was the last one up and, to cover their tracks, he kicked over the chair they’d used for the climb. They all huddled behind some piles of wood while they listened to the curses of the cops below who had axed their way upstairs in quick time and were now mystified as to the disappearance of the much loathed squatters.

Katie looked like she was going to shit her pants as she whispered urgent inquiries as to the likely outcome of their debacle to a crouching, wizened Arthur. He smirked and replied, “Don’t worry, the worst that could happen is the chief Pig will give you a good slap across the face, then a bust for trespass, nothing too serious”. At this news she shuddered, her face pale and drawn, and the next moment she called out in a quavering voice, “Hello, we’re up here, we’re up here! We give up, we give up, we are coming down. Please don’t hurt us!” Drivel, drivel, sob, sob, she carried on till it dawned in the Pig’s thick heads that the terrorists were hiding in the ceiling. They knocked through the manhole and reached up to grab Katie’s flailing legs, tugging at her lumpy frame, manhandling her down to the floor.

Arthur was resigned to follow her, they knew he was there somewhere as he’d shown his stupid face at the window earlier. The smartest of the gang hid under a pile of wood and was overlooked by the beady eyes of the law, later on climbing from the roof by a rope he’d prepared earlier and making his escape to fight another day. The bedraggled interlopers were rudely escorted to a police wagon, but not before the most resentful of them, a tall quiet hippie guy, punched a security guard who stood jeering by the cyclone-fence, breaking his nose with one mammoth king-hit from out of the blue.

While the crowd ballyhooed, the television cameras were thrust upon the dastardly miscreants and, as the reporters yammered accusatory pejoratives, the squatters cringed, hunched over and cowed. Not Arthur, he was proud of his actions, with nothing to be ashamed about, he walked tall, beamed a confident smile and flashed the victory sign at the wailing media mob before he was pushed into the back of the Black Maria police van. The houses at the Rocks elicited much interest and were eventually renovated and preserved for posterity, becoming part of the set for a convict-era theme park that millions of tourists could ogle at in wonder. One developer got the right to lease many of the houses, making a fortune for himself. All Arthur got was another blot on his criminal record that read “Trespass”, forever trotted out by disgruntled cops as evidence of his intractable, criminal nature, with no mitigating circumstances.

Overall, Arthur must have gotten arrested seven seperate times for his anti-authoritarian beliefs, willing to argue out his ideals in a court ruled by deaf ears and uncaring, rigid prohibitions. He didn’t regret any of his anarchic follies for he’d enjoyed the ultimate adventure. Though he did wish he’d thought up brilliant escapes, like the fellow with the rope from the rooftop, as the consequences of allowing oneself to be arrested proved tedious in the extreme. He’d rather have run away, like the Phantom or Zorro, instead of getting burnt out from all the court appearances.

The decade of ‘76 to ‘86 provided Arthur with many rambunctious escapades, he was in a constant delirium of fun and he laughed all the way to the poorhouse. He sacrificed the energies of his ebullient youth and the future of his good name to the rage against the Machine of an elitist status quo that he felt had crippled him and plundered the world. He gave everything he had to the various causes, often at the behest of others, as if only they had the right line and he was just cannon fodder for their careers of notoriety. He had leadership qualities as he proved later in his film-making and nursing jobs, he just wasn’t a sucker for the cult of the ‘Che Guevera rebel’.

He didn’t want to take over the State and he loathed being in the public eye. Secretly, he did want to be a movie star, didn’t know how he was going to get there and knew it would be a lot of trouble, especially as he was a punk outcast anarchist freak; thus he was a walking contradiction, maybe a bipolar schitzo, not a recipe for success. 

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.