Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Fool's Journey Thru Sydney in 7 Pictures.

French's Tavern - The Night Ray the Bouncer Got Stabbed - Toby Zoates 2015.

Fresh from my 5 years of adventures in India, I was on my way thru Sydney in 1977, hoping to go on to London, but first I attended a free rock concert on New Years Eve with a young AC/DC. And it was the thrill of electric rock music that was the hook to get me caught up in Sydney life, for the city was pumping with grungy rock joints and hot, mind-blowing music, a kind of renaissance after the exciting 'Sixties explosion. Of all the clubs, French's Tavern was the BADDEST and seediest, open till the wee hours, every Aussie band that needed to cut its teeth played there. (I was there the night "Cold Chisel" played their first Sydney gig, fresh from Adelaide, Jimmie Barnes screeching like a cat thrown on the barbie.)

I hung out in its black dungeon untold times, made friends and got my nerve-endings frazzled by the electric guitar riots, rock music one of my enduring addictions. It was a tough dive, the big fat bouncer Ray had his hands full dealing with the raucous drunken misfits that stumbled in and out. I always wondered how he managed, being fat and all, I guess his strength of character was imposing. Sure enough, there came the night he got stabbed, I arrived not long after, was all agog, and relieved he survived. What a life! Bouncing at a rock'n'roll gladiator pit!

I was 27, naive, bold and adventurous, up for anything, hoping to make something of myself in the new brash city of Sydney. Thinking it was egalitarian, a level playing field, I was a fool, I didn't understand about old boy networks, private school backgrounds, class prejudice, conservative politics, I thought talent, intelligence and guts could achieve success: what a dope!

My Mural on Pyrmont Squats - Toby Zoates 2015.
The second thing that got me caught up with Sydney was the squatting movement. After the AC/DC concert I crashed at the Darlinghurst Squats for a year, then found a haven in the Pyrmont Squats for the next 13 years. Free rent allowed me to spend my money on art materials and make all the mess I wanted painting my spirit psychedelic. It was communal living with a like-minded gang of civil-libertarians, we had constant fun with barbies, parties, rock bands and Situationist stunts, I was never lonely and always living on the edge, where I like it.

We were under repetitive attack, from gangs of local rednecks, skinheads, junkies, motor-bikers, the City Council, bulldozers, Television News camera-men, Feature Film crews, fire brigades, and cops, cops, cops. Battling them all off and yet keeping our cool made us strong, smart, cohesive, we called ourselves The Pyrmont Self-help Housing Co-operative and we ran an anarchist media-response called "Panic Merchants." For the last 7 years of the squats the Council promised to renovate the 150 year-old workers cottages and give them to us as an Artists' Co-operative, and we met with the bureaucrats a hundred times, with architects' drawings, lawyers' proposals and much hope.

But yet again I was shown to be a naive fool, civil-ibertarian activists are not top of the popularity charts with govt. pollies. They reneged at the last moment, we took them to the Supreme Court and lost, THEY gave us Public Housing instead, which many years later I am still thankful for, tho sad I now live alone without co-operative renegades to warm the cockles of my heart. The cottages were indeed renovated but handed over to respectable restaurants, art galleries and art-colleges, and Scott St. is now a tourist attraction, thanks to us fighting off those who would destroy them.

The White Bay Anti-Uranium Riots of 1977 - Toby Zoates 2015
While in the squats I met a lot of political anarcho-types, ever marching off to support, protest or riot against some ghastly imposition the Corporate State was engendering upon us the people. These events well and truly ensconced me into the fabric of Sydney life, like a fly stuck on sweet, icky paper. I got my political brain inflamed by a guy I was infatuated with, he soon left me high and dry and with a lot of protest-arrest fines to pay but I thank him for the education. The first imbroglio was an anti-uranium riot at the White Bay docks where THEY were hoping to ship the noxious stuff out to the world. After a week of camping at the front gates, on a stormy night, the trucks came roaring in.

Some fellow rebels and I trespassed onto the ship to obstruct the loading, the rest of the mob fought the cops and threw Molotov cocktails at the behemoth trucks, or so my fantasy wishfully remembers. (We demonstrated against the possibilities that a traffic accident involving the trucks traversing the inner-city would spread radio-active material upon a great swathe of urban population, and that the yellow-cake potentially fueled nuclear-reactor accidents and bombs.)

We didn't even slow the trucks down but the riot got the city-burghers' nuts in a twist and THEY moved the operation up to Darwin instead, and uranium mining has continued ever since, the sixth mine opened by our then Environmental activist rock-star psuedo leftie Minister, Peter Carrot and the Pink Bats. The Aborigines on the land where they mine uranium see it as a dangerous serpent sleeping underground and not to be awakened by twisting its tail when digging it up.) I organized a benefit rock gig to pay our trespass/rioting fines, with the cops eyeballing me nastily from the front of Balmain Town Hall, They'd marked me down as the ringleader of a freaks' circus and worthy of suspicion.

I got involved with many other civil-libertarian issues, all of them threats to my safety and liberty. The Prisoners' Action Group and Women Behind Bars, Gay Lib, Housing/Squatting for the poor, Indigenous Australian Rights, Environmental Protection, on and on, not "rent a crowd" protest, more like "stand up to Big Brother" idealism. I was a naive fool, thinking I was in a democracy of free speech and allowable civil disobedience. THEY marked me as a serial pest, put a govt. spy next to me as my best friend and waited for me to trip up, in some back alley, where nobody would notice or care.

The Present Day Sydney Gay Mardi Gras - Toby Zoates 2015.
The biggest issue for me to get all worked-up over, of course, was being homosexual and growing up with the fear of incarceration, either in jail or a mental institution. I'd been led to believe I was a demonic monster, crawling forth in the night to foul the body politic, fit only to be bashed, abused, marginalized and killed off by suicide. It was a terrible fate to grow into, one I had to break free from, like a butterfly bursting forth from a grub. I marched with 300 of my fellows up Oxford St.twice in 1978 to demand human recognition and decency, the second time to be met with a flying wedge of murderous pigs at Taylor Square who bashed the shit out of us for our temerity, arresting about 30. Now the Police march in the parade, our best friends.

And we finally got decriminalized in 1983, ten years behind the rest of the world as always. Nowadays the Gay Mardi Gras is full of fun and color, the people, especially the young, liberated from sexual repression and uptight medieval mores, everyone dancing, laughing, free. There is still much on the political agenda for us gays, the big one being Equality of Marriage. For all that it might be an outmoded institution, let those who want marriage have it, Equality in everything I say. What do the right-wing fascists want, us to return to, toilets, dark parks, one night stands and pathetic loneliness? I will one day paint the '78 riot and bash-up but for now I felt like having as much fun painting as the parade itself encourages.

A Sweet Kiss for Rev. Bile - Toby Zoates 2015.
Ever the fool, I can't help shit-stirring. In the early '90s a bigoted Christian pastor with a State parliament seat decided to hold an exorcism of the devil from the Gay precinct of Oxford St. He had a big mob of nuns and brain-dead worshipers holding candles and prayers following behind him. They marched like holy martyrs, their eyes turned to heaven, while a crowd of homos, lesbians and their friends crowded on either side of the road screaming "Bring on the lions!" and "Fuck off Satanists!" As Rev. Bile approached I said to a young man standing next to me, "Let's do a wild kiss-in for the mug." I was only half-joking, to my surprise he said, "Yes, let's do it!" Before I could chicken out he pushed me onto the road and got in a passionate lip-lock with me, wrestling me onto the bonnet of a cop car while police horses reared up beside us. I glanced back at the cursed Rev. Bile whose square jaw dropped  and eye-balls popped.

TV cameras zeroed in on us, the crowd screamed hysterically, the roar made my ear-drums thrum, on and on we kissed with the cops just roiling about, seemingly stymied at to what to do about it. Later on a Daily Terror reporter asked me, "What was that all about? You looked like an idiot!" I could only reply, "You just don't have anything to fight for!" To my horror it got on the TV news that night, and for years, on the ABC channel, every time a gay issue came up on the agenda, they showed this mad clip of my "protest kiss", and I cringed every time. We had the AIDs crisis at the time which needed Public sympathy and funding, plus I've always demanded acceptance of committed relationships among gays. Not that this wild "kiss-in" would achieve such, it was more like a Situationist stunt, to match the spectacle of Het normalcy the System is forever foisting upon us all.

Framed by the Kings Cross Filth in 1993 - Toby Zoates 2015.
What a dummy I was/am, as if THEY weren't watching and waiting to get me. I'd insulted a pillar of the Straight Community, as well as heckling many another outstanding citizen over the years. Believe me, I was a nutcase from the Lunatic Fringe; from the sidelines I heckled  Malcolm Fraser, (our Prime Minister in the early '80s), the Queen on a Royal tour, Edward Teller, (the nuclear physicist responsible for the H-bomb - I called him a "mass-murderer" much to his curmudgeon's fury), the Hollywood legend Jimmie Stewart who was touting for Ronnie Reagan's re-election, Mary Whitehouse, (the British anti-gay campaigner), and Tony Abbot, (our present Prime Minister but then just a student leader at Sydney Uni.) I possibly suffered from a kind of anarchic Tourette's Syndrome, my compulsive actions uncontrollable, I was so pissed off with the "straight world".

Whatever, THEY didn't like it and in 1993 found THEIR chance to fuck me. I got framed for an armed hold-up of a cake-shop in a case of mistaken identity. At a time when big crims were selling drugs, guns, bank-robbing, pimping, murdering and extorting, innocent little me got picked on, as any bust looks good on their books, they were too chicken to take on the really BAD guys. Two corrupt cops from Kings Cross got a hold of me, looked up my record of civil disobedience, it maybe had a red-flag attached to it, they then psycho-tortured me in Surry Hills Police Center, put me under house arrest for three years and pushed me to the edge, reporting twice a week to the police station and countless preliminary court appearances, till I needed psychiatric intervention.

They changed my life path from "cult film-maker" to a bum wandering the world's highways and occasional performance-artist, and lifelong anti-authoritarian. I eventually got acquitted, in a courtroom next to that where Ivan Millat, the "Backpacker serial killer", was being tried. It was as if the State was saying to me, "You better watch it and shut that smart mouth of yours or we'll come and really fuck with you!" My case was an obvious frame-up, it stopped my ciil-libertarian media-virus output in its tracks, "Virgin Beasts" was my last film, I shat my pants and just couldn't give a shit anymore.

The Man Who got Trumped, Happy Campers in Belmore Park - Toby Zoates 2015.
The 7th artwork depicts the Man Who Got Trumped, who gambled and lost, the dice loaded, the cards stacked against him, and ended up a bum living on a park bench. Like a naive fool I thought the world was my oyster, my talent and intelligence would get me through. I followed my heart, chased my dreams, with my head in the clouds, I stepped off a cliff and soared into the Void. I remained vehemently anti-establishment, ART to me is not something Phd. doctors can judge, prize, declare as valid and worthy of elitist evaluation; it shouldn't be corralled, caged, confined, delineated or trumpeted from the Halls of Expertise, and it especially shouldn't be State sanctioned. In Auz all the Arts are State funded, exhibited, taught, praised or condemned, so I feel someone has to provide counterpoint, from the street, at gutter level.

I see the artist as outlaw, outsider, outrider. I only ever paint what I want to, I don't cater to, or get dictated by, ANYONE. I'm from the Underground, off the grid, under the radar, over the top, edgy, ahead of the curve. I'm a fringe-dweller, like my Koori brothers and sisters, an alien in my own country, dispossessed, disowned, dismayed. No matter the torture and poverty, I hope I'll always be creative, even from a park bench, it makes me ecstatic, and flies me higher into the Void.

These pictures and this rave are the basis of a show I'm performing on Sunday August 23rd at 583 Elizabeth St. Projects, Redfern, with my good buddy Paul Vassallo on electric guitar : "The Fool's Journey Thru Sydney in 7 Pictures." Below is my poster from 1985, "The Thief of Sydney", depicting the "Twisting of the Uranium Dragon's Tail" around Sydney's Centrepoint Tower, the dragon being a Koori myth I didn't know about till August 2015 while watching a TV documentary series called "The Story of Uranium", proving I was ahead of the curve from way back.

Naturally the National Gallery in Canberra didn't put it in the catalog of a famous poster exhibition it had hung in, "The Walls Also Speak", as it was too cutting. Instead They put in a trendier Jap DJ's poster, who told me he had copied its design from mine, with Godzilla attacking the same Centrepoint Tower, but no mention of Uranium. The  mining companies, the nuclear power industry and the State want their filthy lucre so bad They don't want any nay saying so all I got was a kick in the arse for my endeavors. Such is life... on the wrong side of the tracks. Yet I'm so happy I did it all.

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.