Excerpt from “beatnik casbah” by CASS CUMERFORD CHP-11 “salvation”
1964? Rain poured down for three days and my cheap crepe soled desert boots were soaked. As a result the soles of my feet had withered from being perpetually damp. It was like walking on rotting sponge. They were pasty white and a little sore to walk on. I stuffed them with paper towels but that just made the dampness linger longer.
The day before I had found an old battered guitar case and began carrying it so cops would think I was a folk singer instead of a vagrant. That same night, while taking shelter from the storm, I stumbled upon a great new sleeping place. It was in the front seat of a van parked in the backyard of a TV repair joint. I was careful to get out as soon as I awoke because the TV man might open the shop early.
Eating breakfast at the 7-30 Kent Street soup kitchen, I planned to hurry and catch the 8 am at St Vincent de Paul as well, but changed my mind as I didn’t want to waste time sitting with old bums for a second meal I didn't really need .. the night before had been cold but the day warmed up and I felt great. After bumming second hand shoes and socks from the Salvation Army office near Chinatown I had enough coin to score a coffee at a Circular Quay greasy spoon. Sitting in one of the romantic old style booths that cafes still had in ‘64, I sipped coffee and studied a Lobsang Rampa paperback 'The Third Eye'. He was considered a bit of a con artist and a pseudo-holy man by the critics but he sure taught me a good way to levitate.
Every few months I'd been having a nightmare in which the devil had me in a neck lock and was trying to fuck me. He wanted to take my soul. In last night's dream, I'd almost delivered an elbow smash to his face and that had woke me up.. That nightmare was (to me) a symbol of my quest for enlightenment. I thought I must be evolving spiritually because every time I dreamed it, I fought better than the time before. Another recurring dream was one in which I'd be trying to find a certain flat in Paddington. Whenever I'd get near to where I remembered it, I'd find myself back in King's Cross thinking I should go back to Adelaide. Sometimes I'd dream I was in Adelaide where I'd dream of finding my way to a Melbourne flat where I'd be welcomed by two beatnik girls. After waking up, I'd wonder if I should head back to Melbourne. This dream came every month, but I felt Sydney was the place I’d find happiness.
In Lobsang’s book I’d just read the words “to receive you must first give” when I noticed the café owner looked worried I’d be there all day so I gathered my things and got ready to pay. A cowboy looking guy (aged about 25, carrying a guitar case) strode in to the café, looked around the empty room then sat right opposite me.
Ch. 11-2 “the beat goes on”
“Can you spare a cigarette man?” he asked, and called to the waiter. “Large pot of tea please with 2 cups.” He called me 'man'! This guy knew the secret language of hip so I handed him a Viscount from my packet of 10. We lit up. "Thanks man. I'm John Foggerty - you can share my pot of tea if you want. I've seen you around. What guitar you got?" After having searched the Universe for so long it was great to have (by appearances) a real (potential) beatnik to talk to. I machine-gunned him with all the verbal jazz I'd been keeping inside. "It's not got a guitar in it. It's got couple of shirts and some cold pies from the soup kitchen. I carry it so the fuzz don’t think I'm a vagrant and bust me like they usually do. I've done two laggings for vagrancy in two years and I'm bugged about it." How dare they arrest a cat just for having no bread!" Like Perry Mason I sat back and rested my case.
“You got anywhere to stay?” asked Foggerty. I told him about my TV repair van. “Trouble is they are full of television gear and I gotta climb a big fence to get in so if I get caught in there the cops will sure as hell think I’m stealing TV parts. It‘s a bloody dangerous place for a cat to sleep but it's so warm and comfortable." We laughed. He picked up my copy of Lobsang Rampa’s “The Third Eye” and made a joke about him being Lobsang Rampage. We discussed Eastern religion. I was excited at meeting (for the first time) someone familiar with the subject.
An hour later, as we left the café, Foggerty said, "I'll take you to Old Mick's place.” Two cool cats with guitar cases walked through Woolloomooloo to Brougham Street where John knocked at the door of a terrace house. The front door and window was covered in garish art. Later I learned it was by Martin Sharpe. The door opened an inch. An eye peered out. Someone yelled, “It's Foggerty and some cat I dunno.” The door slammed shut, John smiled at me and said, “It's cool." The door opened and Old Mick beckoned us in. He was about 70, thin and small, long lank grey hair, olive corduroy pants and a grey cardigan. He led us through a dark cluttered passageway into a room that held second-hand lounge chairs and 4 teenage boys, 2 dressed like beatniks and 2 like rockers. The 4 kids knew John and signaled me to relax and sit down.
Mick asked John, “How you been man? You still at Paddo?" Foggerty answered, "No. I'm living with English Paul, Ula and Jesus Adam. We just got back from Darwin. There's a cool scene developing up there. It’s like the new frontier with a saloon on every corner and no pigs. We found a dog on the road. It's costing us a fortune to feed. It’s a dingo and the neighbors don’t like it.” They discussed the merits of dingoes. “If they complain to the council and send an inspector you can leave it with us for the day.” said Mick. John smiled, “Thanks man, I am greatly relieved.”
I listened enthralled to be among free thinking bohemians like I'd read about in Kerouac. In the untidy kitchen an easel was set up and a kid dabbed at it. He had a goatee and a polo necked jumper just like a real artist but I acted nonchalant as if I'd been among such anarchy all my life. I needed this mob to think me cool. I wanted so damn much to belong to their sub-culture and I could tell from their small talk there were many pads like this one in this existential society. I used the word 'existential' but I didn't really know what it meant. It just described my vision of the willingness to live a wild life. Mick was a joyous man. He glowed with laid back humour, a self-depreciating smile never far from his face.
Peering over the top of his reading glasses he asked. "Do you take drugs, Casper?” No. I didn't think drugs are good for the body or the soul. I'll never take any." The rocker kids smirked knowingly but Mick was pleased by my answer. He went to the kitchen and bought cake to the table. "Have some Casper. Would you like to crash here until you get on the dole? You can use this as a postal address so they can send your cheques."
Overjoyed yet outwardly showing no emotion (as usual) I accepted. Mick gestured to a tiny alcove under the stairs. "You can sleep here. It's clean and warm and there are no rats. There's a mattress and a light to read by and if you pull this curtain across you'll have your own little cubby house. When your cheque comes you can pay a few quid toward rent and tucker. Do you play your guitar a lot? Ali plays guitar. He's at work now. He used to live in there. He's a good fella.” I clued Mick in, "My name ain't Casper." Using “ain't" was an affectation I'd picked up from American western movies. I hated Australia's ''square'' method of speech and did everything I could to sound like that new singer, the very individual Bob Dylan. These days I've learnt my lesson and treasure the Aussie laconic laid-back lingo.
"My name is Casbah. Back in high school I said to girls 'come wiz me to zee Kasbah'. I thought they'd dig a Hollywood quote.” Mick introduced me to everyone and I moved in. The next two weeks I met exciting people and got the dole money I'd not been able to receive without a permanent address. I'd finally connected with “the scene”, the Holy Grail my heart had been seeking for 4 years. It was a memorable day. Mick loved the “zen” way I washed dishes and helped around the house. I was still shy but hid it by pretending I was a monk in a Zen monastery and everyone was my equal. Inquisitive neighbors may have thought Mick a serial pedophile with a house full of kids but nothing was farther from the truth. As far as I could tell he was not interested in sex or romance but enjoyed being with the unconventional young who gravitated to the freedom of the 'Cross. He helped them in whatever way he could.
Mick and I would sit on the bench outside the (only) Kings Cross TAB in a group of shops called ''The Village", and study the racing form. We’d invest the minimum amount,( two shillings and six pence) on every race. People would stop to talk and the Village became a meeting place for the new (but growing) hippie culture. I think the squares thought we were selling pot but we had no connection to anything like that.
A few members of rock groups (Purple Hearts, Missing Links and the Aztecs) would drop by and rave about records, music and 'what was happening'. Years later, I realized I should have learned to play guitar. I was a very good singer but was too busy making sure I looked 'hip' to learn music or try and get into the business. Trying too hard to accomplish anything seemed uncool around Mick’s place. I found where the hip coffee shops and the folk and jazz joints were but I was still reticent to enter them without money. One day I gathered my courage and sought out the place I’d heard was the centre of bohemian culture, the Royal George Hotel.
It was a strange twist of fate that two months before (after those Kirribilli blokes raped me) one had said, "You should try the Royal George Hotel. You’ll find plenty beatniks there.”' I'd been too angry to listen but it's ironic that although the trauma of that night faded, "The George' now became my operating base. Now I could hear discussions of important issues with people I respected. The ‘George' was the drinking spot of the 'Sydney Push' and, looking wise and saying little, I drank in the conversations about life, art, politics and heard who was sleeping with whom and who had gone mad recently.
There were famous literary and artistic people among the Push but I was a newcomer and had no idea who they were. Everyone seemed wild and enjoyable and I felt I had to earn their respect. It was 1964 and the “new push” was evolving. Some 'old' members were worried we new hippie types would bring too much attention and taint the intellectual flavour of the group. They were right. Months later, when
I’d become a well loved part of the ‘George, I still only knew people by their first (or nick) names. The parties we created would develop into orgies of sexuality or laid-back beatific "be-ins"--sometimes both at once. At the orgies you needed to have your own chick or at least be able to attract one on the spot. I didn’t yet and still felt like a novice monk who must prove worthy. To feel more confident I used my 'magic invention'. (I’d draw a straight line on any footpath. With mind as blank as possible I'd step across that line. The instant I passed over I became a revered beat Zen hobo person. Any past fear or inhibition was left behind.)
The Cross and The George Push were like the American Wild West. Fights would break out instigated by jealous squares losing girlfriends to 'faggot hippies'. The Push had its own values and unwritten laws. We rejected the materialism of the fifties, but at the same time enjoyed material things, especially if they belonged to others. Freedoms society now takes for granted were worked for and developed by these bohemians. Self indulgent willful eccentricity blossomed in fertile hothouse pads. As long as people were entertaining or quirky, leaned to the left politically and had individuality we accepted them, no matter their faults and past life.
This was now my home. Dylan's song "When the Ship Comes In" became our anthem. It summed up the exciting expectancy of how our values would soon blossom and spread. Every few months when a land agent heard reports of orgies and parties from our neighbours we’d pack up like gypsies, dress real square, collect money and attempt to rent a new house. It was hard work to convince land agents we were normal. Koori-aboriginals had the same hassle except with worse prejudice. "The squares have been short changed by fear and inhibition.“ said English Paul.
(NOTE-_for Push history (on the web) search for “Sydney Libertarianism and The Push” by A.J.Baker----and other articles (by Ear-ring Paul) at http://theroyalgeorge.blogspot.com/)
CH.11-3 “Marcia an’ the Sky (with bread roll)” Before I get into the guts of my beatnik days I’d better show of my mind-set (or lack of one) back then. I'd often sneak into Cheverells to have a hot shower. You could sneak into most hotels in the Cross; they had no Security like now, only a desk clerk. Cheverells didn't even have a desk. It was a huge rambling old mansion converted into small and large rooms rented by hookers, artists, writers and hippies with money. The rooms were cheap but elegant and everyone looked far out.
I came out of a bathroom combing my wet hair using my fingers. My one and only shirt was damp. A young girl walked by. “Why is your shirt so wet, honey?" she asked. "I just had a shower and I had no towel so I used my shirt." She smiled and was beautiful. "Would you like a coffee? Do you need a comb?" "Yes please, a coffee and a comb ". She sashayed down the corridor to Room 16 and knocked a be-bop rhythm. "That's so my girlfriend knows it's me and not a copper." "Cool" said I. The door was carefully opened by a pretty girl with long dark curls down her back who mumbled she was going back to sleep and didn't want to be woken until 11 pm. She was dressed in a colourful silk dressing gown. The room smelt of perfumed talc. The girl I'd met in the hallway introduced herself as Sky and I told her my name was Casbah.
From the next room came a yell. “Yeah and I'm Marcia! Now shut up. I've got to sleep." I sat on a chair hoping Sky wouldn't speak and make Marcia come out and yell for me to leave this feminine place. Sky whispered. "Are you Casper the friendly ghost?" I also whispered, "No. When I was in high school in Adelaide I used to say to girls, 'come viz me to zee Kasbah'. So my buddy started calling me Casbah. I like it better than my real name - Peter.”
“Peter's a lovely name. Marcia comes from Adelaide. She's got to work at the strip joint at 12. We've been speeding. This morning she freaked out and thought everyone in the club was a copper. I went to the chemist and got some Chloral Hydrate to bring her down. She'll be cool when she's had a nap. Do you use?” I shook my head. Back in Adelaide I'd not been aware people took drugs for pleasure. At the Royal George I'd seen pot and Methedrine being shared but I was ignorant of the scene that was grabbing a toe-hold on the Push. I thought drugs (any sort) made you addicted as soon as you took your first. I’d read books on Hatha yoga and the importance of staying 'pure'. The path I was following would lead, I was sure, to the Buddha's experience of Enlightenment. I explained to Sky how Zen was my 'groove' - "But Buddhism doesn't preach to anyone unless they ask” My naivety kept me away from the emerging dope scene. Experiments were being run (under the counter) at Sydney University to manufacture pure liquid LSD, but I was unaware.
Sky asked, "Do me a favour and go get me a packet of Meds. Here's the money-- it should be enough. Hurry love, I’ll need them soon." "OK,"I said. As I dashed out the door I sang, "Have a smoke of hash- give yourself a pash- I'll be back in a flash- trust me with y' cash - I'll do a quick dash - and get a stash for your gash." Sky looked stunned by my poem but I saw her smiling as I left. Out in the street, not realizing I'd invented Rap. I ran full speed to the nearest chemist but (as usual on Sunday) shops were closed. I raced to two more.. Even pubs shut on the Sabbath in ’64.
Stopping to get my breath I was aware of hunger and checked the money. Enough to buy two bread rolls and still have enough for tampons. I nibbled slow to make them last then ran back to Cheverells and gave the secret knock. Sky was cool, “Oh I forgot it was Sunday. Go to Sharpe's at Taylor Square. He's a hungry bugger. Try the Great Wall. They’ll be open.” She noticed my bread roll on the table. "Oh man. You’re insane! You couldn't get tampons so you got me a bread roll!" She dissolved into laughter so contagious I joined in. ''You're priceless Cass!"
Later we watched TV. It was a luxury to sit in a hotel room drinking coffee with a gorgeous honey. If I could get these girls to like me I'd gain a nice place to sleep and, with luck, some romance. The chance of getting a girlfriend was most important. We sat smoking tailor made cigarettes and watching 'Hancock's Half Hour'. I was in heaven. The traditional Sunday Night Movies were about to start so we looked in her TV Times magazine and both chose 'The Day the Earth Caught Fire'. This was a sign we were compatible and destined to become lovers. I got into a position where I’d be able to slip my arm around her shoulders when a toilet flushed and Marcia staggered out from the bedroom. Her hair cascaded down her back and her dressing gown hung open. She was naked under it but I considered myself too hip to ogle a woman's body like a square.
She sat down, sipped Sky's coffee and began, ''I dreamed I was on the toilet at the Beatles' house. A Rolling Stone was knocking on the door and I tried to hurry up 'cause I didn't want him to be angry. Next thing I knew I turned into my own turd and was flushed through sewer pipes that turned into long twisted slippery dip fun-fair ride. Brian Jones' bum came through a hole in the roof but I hadn't come out of his bum. I knew I had come out of my own and no-one else’s. I floated through the pipes trying not to get lost. Other turds were being swept along and yelling they were lost. l looked for a roll of string to leave a trail back to the Beatles house but couldn’t see any. Then I woke up busting for a pee."
“Wow: far out dream.” I said, and wanted to explain the symbolism but Sky cut in. "Those pipes were the psychic tunnel between this life and your future. You weren't drowned so that means you're healthy and confident. You were brave enough to enjoy it but not secure enough to create your own system of pipes. You had to travel through The Beatles' pipes. They represent God in your mind." "Groovy god,” said Marcia jumping up and muttering "I must get ready for work."
She put on makeup and brushed her long lustrous hair. Sky told her about me getting bread roll tampons and Marcia joked., “Casper, you silly duffer, you can't stick rolls up yourself. They dissolve too fast. You’ve got to toast them first then wrap them in a tea towel. It’s real hard to get them in position." She mimed the act of positioning and we laughed until Sky's turn to create. "You cover it with dear old granny’s cooking fat that she saved up and collected in a bucket to send to the poor pommies during the war.”
Impressed by the uninhibited female humour and wanting to show my own quick wit, I added (with a straight face). “That’s why The Imperials recorded “I Ran All The Way Home.” They thought about it for a while and got the image. Man these girls were sharp! Being with two super human female entities was something I wanted to last forever. When Marcia was ready to leave for her go-go dancing job she looked divine. In her fashionable tight mini skirt and bolero top she could've been any age from 13 to 25.
Sky took my hand and, in a motherly way, said, "Cass, it's a gas to meet you but my boyfriend is coming and we're going to The Whiskey-au-go-go so I must ask you to split sweetie. We’ve got to lock up." My heart sank into disappointment creek. The vision of staying in this Sugar Shack vanished. Pretending I was not disappointed I said farewell and casually walked out into the street.
These days (2008) I still see Sky every 10 years when she visits Sydney..her youthful head-shot photo is still on the Piccolo Bar wall. Marcia was a beloved member of the New Push and I saw her later in Melbourne Push hangouts (the Continental in the city and Her Majesty's at South Yarra.). We lost touch in the 70s.
In 1966, I went back to Cheverells hotel twice with a cute dark haired Jewish girl called Michelle Mainline. Lenny Carroll and his chick Carol lived there and Michelle had dropped in to see if there was any speed about. I was a little paranoid about getting a drug habit and when we went there, by coincidence, it was always at 6-30 pm. And Lenny would be watching the TV comedy 'Mr. Ed' and sing the theme song. It went. "A horse is a horse of course of course and no one can talk to a horse of course unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.' I felt this was a secret message that Lenny wanted to give me some 'horse' (nickname for heroin). I often got paranoid when people discussed subjects I knew little about.
Across from Cheverells (next to the old King Cross Rex Hotel) was a park covered in lawn instead of the cement that the council later 'improved' it with. Three hippies lounged around a timber bandstand in the middle. Declan Affley and Don Henderson, became well known folk singers. The third guy was a guitar player from Melbourne. The only song he ever played was “It's A Bourgeois Town". His short hair and permanently pressed trousers caused the ‘George folk' to name him Bourgeois.
For once he looked happy and said, “Did you hear about Dave Robinson getting busted?" Dave was an overweight guy who wasn’t accepted by most Push. “He robbed a bank and never had a gun! Just a note that said 'put the money in this bag or I will shoot. I do not care if I die. "Far out, huh!" My respect for Dave enlarged. He'd robbed the bank a week ago. Wow, he’d seemed so square. I'd noticed him buying drinks at the George. Now it made sense and I wished I'd been nicer to him so he’d spread some loot my way.
Bourgeois, Declan and I walked into the Wayside Chapel. It was run by a Protestant church and hippies and other nice folk had worked voluntarily to build it. It's still running as a charity today (2008). In '64, the coffee shop was upstairs and any soul could find empathy but no alcohol or drugs. To me it was a place to meet friends, groove and bludge food. You were welcome even if you never spent. Downstairs was a theatre where I took an occasional acting lesson. At the front was a legit chapel where the lovely Rev. Ted Noffs conducted inter-denominational church services, weddings and funerals. Many nights I spent in that coffee shop high on nothing but my companions. After all the wandering and searching I was now part of something.
Looking back I realize how much pride I took in being 'cool'. That meant:- 1) Never letting any situation take me by surprise and to appear unaffected by my surroundings. 2) Never allow any unpleasant occurrence to traumatize me. 3) Never become 'mind blown' by the weirdness of others. 4) Never be predictable. 5) Try to avoid 'normal 9 to 5' work. 6) Sleep a lot to store up energy, in case one day I needed a huge amount. 7) talk the way Bob Dylan sang 8) Allow Buddhism to soak into every thought. 9) Treat wherever I happened to be as home
In 1964, if you wanted the dole, you had to dress properly and take any job they got you. You couldn’t leave that job without giving advance notice, If you did piss off (from a job) then it was quite hard to get back on it. After a month at Old Mick’s I must have worked at something then quit without notice because I was not on the dole. Old Mick and our gang were evicted from Brougham Street when the land agent found too many people occupying the premises. We held out for a few weeks but eviction day rolled around and, on a spring morning in ’64, the move began.
Two bare foot scruffy longhairs, two mods in Beatle jackets, a pair of pretty gamin waifs and Lyn Best (a fair haired folk singer everyone thought a real honey) carried house hold items along the street. Lyn lived with her parents in Brougham St but we imagined she lived with some pop singer because she dressed groovy. Lyn was helping us move. Ten yards behind marched two leather jacketed reform school kids, Old Mick and me. We carried mattresses and chairs and walked in a straggling procession across busy William Street. Lugging clothes and records in cardboard boxes we cut through Rosebank Lane turned into (Bumper) Farrell St. and through (Eric) Clapton Place.
Finally, sighing with relief, we dumped our burden outside an old terrace house.. Neighbours peeked out windows at the horde. Some shuddered at the sight but a few, remembering their own youthful excesses; smiled benevolently 253 Forbes Street became one cool pad. On the street level lived the old European landlord with a Jewish accent. He collected the rents and never stuck his nose into anyone's business: unless you were a woman.
Other rooms were rented to Old Mick, 3-fingered Rick and Eric Nolan, who'd gained immortality on a TV talent show 'Stairway to the Stars'. Billed as 'the Spanish Beatle' - he'd sung a Beatle song in Spanish. Eric was very good looking and had a lot of chicks visit his room. I auditioned also but never got on. I tried to sing “Lonely Blue Boy” the way Conway Twitty did but (attempting to look like Elvis) I sneered too much and the producers thought me a nut case.
My room was on the ground floor at the rear and cost 10 quid a week. Every few nights one or two old push would crash on my floor. It was nice to repay cats who'd let me sleep on their floors. Anyone with a disability had it made into an adjective whether they liked it or not. Three-Fingered Rick looked like a bearded gnome and played bongos with a power no one could match. Later he and One-arm Hayden were the first people (that I knew) to discover the secrets of morphine. Another room was shared by Twitch and Spasm. One twitched a lot and the other had facial spasms. They did not go out much. Back in Melbourne they had saved a girl from overdosing on chemist shop robbery cocaine and? taken her to hospital. They returned to her pad and got stuck into her supply. Two days later the girl and her gangster friend came home to find their stash gone. Fearing retribution Twitch and Spasm ran to Spencer St. Station and jumped the first train going anywhere. If anyone mentioned the words 'Melbourne' or 'coke' in their presence they’d twitch and spasm.
On the top floor lived Andrew van Gunnup (AKA “Dutch Andy” ). Dutch looked like the bearded Jesus is painted by the old masters and was sent thirty quid a month from his family in Holland on the condition he never returns. He drank a bit. When in his cups he'd give an excellent imitation of Adolph Hitler. This did not endear him to the politically sensitive, but once they got to know he was not a fair dinkum Fascist, his Hitler act became an expected party piece. He had a nasty habit of pissing out his attic window at night onto the street below. He thought it a great joke and he'd reply to people that reprimanded him. 'The yiddish landlord should install a washbasin for me to use. Did not our Lord Jesus say unto the Hippies, 'I was bursting and thou verily gave unto me an open window for mine usage.' Dutch was an excellent painter in oils but never had money to buy paint..
His realistic 'three (3) flies on a dead fish' live in my memory. He sold it one dry day for the price of a few beers and it was hung on the wall of the (Push) Newcastle Hotel in George St. where only the best art hung. Dutch was considered 'uncool' by most hippies and old Push.. The more uncool you became the less pads would let you in. We often tried to out-do each other playing 'shock the squares'. Dutch won the contest by being the first butch looking bloke to wear a house frock around the Cross in the daytime. He didn’t try to look feminine - in fact (with beard, hob nail boots and hairy legs) he looked insane. He’d stride around marching like a soldier. .That 'dress' attracted too much attention and provoked violence so I stayed away from him until he gave it up.
Inspired by the three artists in our house I created sculpture out of street junk. My first piece was made with an empty milk carton, wire and potatoes that tendrils kept growing out from. I gave it the title 'Living Still Life', and went to show it off at the Piccolo Bar. Long haired Billy came out of Wallis House (another rundown private hotel frequented by hippies and loners) so we walked together.
The Cross was crowded even at 1 am on a Sunday. I never knew what the next hour would bring. Pretty green-eyed Lynne Best came out the jazz cellar and spied some pals outside Surf City. Long Haired Billy said. “Man that chick flips my wig but she only digs muso’s. I’m gonna learn guitar to get a chance with her. Do you reckon she’s mod or hippie?”
I checked inside the Aristocrat. Nobody I knew with bread except for Allan Spencer, the sharpest dressed hippie in Sydney. We nodded to him but he was paying attention to no-one except the chick he was after that night. I answered. “I think she’s both. I’m a rocker and beatnik mixed up. Some people swing all sorts of ways.”
Near Les Girls cabaret was the Studio 5. It was full of hippies, sharpies and drag queens but at different tables. The sharpies looked mean so we trucked on to the Piccolo. Billy said. “Gee those drag queens have guts man. To dress like a girl takes great balls.” I agreed. In ‘64 they could get arrested for wearing drag in public. Arriving in Long Bay gaol with a tight satin mini and panties was the most horrifying occurrence I could imagine. They would be raped and beaten and teased and most guards would think it funny. I said. “Yeah Billy, fags and drag queens are the real rebels. Compared to them we are square as hell.”
CH 11 part 4 “Les Robinson” Walking into the Piccolo was like rolling dice. You had 6 tables and it was pot luck who’d be there. I saw Les Robinson, an Aussie middle aged alcoholic hip cat. We’d shared many a pad floor but for the last 5 days he'd had a lovely teenage girl on his arm and, instead of carpet camping, he’d rented a flat in Woomera Avenue. He jumped to his feet accidentally knocking over someone's coffee, threw coins on the table to placate them and greeted me, "Cass man you gotta come see my new pad. There's always floor space for you baby. Get y'self a coffee!" Les knew “push” in every city. Later he’d guide me through a maze of Fitzroy and Carlton back alleys to visit Melbourne Push identity Cliff Richards (not the pop singer). Our Cliff was really old (about 55) and an encyclopedia of bohemia. 3 months later I saw Les again in an Adelaide Jazz Cellar. He introduced me to (my first) Adelaide dive (a pub in North Adelaide) where he bragged so much about the Sydney Push that some Adelaide folk drove us to Sydney so we could prove it.
Perpetually in corduroy trousers and roll necked pullover, Les sported a well-groomed goatee and a Parisian style black beret. Black Allan Mullawarra was singing ''House of the Rising Sun" on his acoustic guitar made like Hendrix' and his eyes caressed Les’ girl. Les was sure his chick would be faithful: at least for tonight. Jealousy was not hip. Trying to steal your pal's girl was a Push tradition (we men said) gave women freedom of choice.
Allan Mullawarra, called 'Black Allan' to differentiate from our scene’s 3 white Allans, was brash and confident. He’d come from the West Australian desert to “flirt with little white lubras.” He was the first aboriginal who didn’t look as if he’d like to punch me. Perpetually nervous Little Africa came in with a guitar and joined in a Dylan song. They hoped to get a band started but were too busy jamming to ever organize. They just kept lookin' out for head musicians. A 'head' described anyone with an unconventional outlook but by 1966 it evolved into meaning 'anyone who loved pot'.
Little Africa lived with his mum in the suburbs but wasn’t home much. She was the only person who called him Russell. He resembled a bird that’d seen too many cats. Small and thin, he loved Methedrine, the white stimulant tablets that gave more mystical energy and elation than anyone who'd never experienced central nervous system stimulation could imagine. Africa and Allen allowed me to jump in with a dozen notes from ''Maria' the only thing I could play) on my $2 plastic flute. They flipped with delight at the Dada insanity of “Maria" hopping into the arrangement.
Little Dick at table 3 was called 'little' because he was. He spoke in the softest voice and you had to listen intently. Like me, he read Buddhism and his mutters were rare. He had a reputation of a wise holy man and word went out, "Lil Dick's about to speak!” People leaned close to hear enlightenment but all I caught was, "American’s rave on about Boston beans. Why do they not dig San Francisco beans?” He would soon be the first of our mob to leave the Cross and create communal settlements around Nimbin.
It was not easy for a male newcomer to get floor space in a push-hippie house. One had to be seen as 'cool' and be 'around' for about 4 months. We had to trust you before we let you touch our record player but if you were a girl you need only hang around for 2 weeks and be pretty or 'strange'. There were 3 males to every female so a guy had to work hard to get paired up. Hippies could unload freight at the railway yard if we needed money.
One Saturday (at the Royal George), a fella came asking if anyone wanted work. ‘You'll each get 25 quid (about $250 now) cash for a few hours work.' It was already 2 pm, so six of us hopped in a truck and were driven to Kurnell beach, given wire brushes and detergent and told to scrub the foreshore to get rid of oil tanker spillage. The driver left. There was no one in charge and we were the only ones on the beach. We scrubbed a few slightly oiled rocks for 20 minutes. 'This might be a practical joke. We scrub our arse off all and no one turns up to pay us and back at the George everyone is pissing themselves laughing.' Others had been thinking the same but a bloke reassured us.
'Oh ye of little faith, I’ve done this before. It’s fair dinkum so scrub your rocks and get rich.' At 7 pm the truck returned and we were paid our massive 25 quid. That was three weeks rent on a single room and we even got driven back to the George to party strong. Around the suburbs were hundreds of factories. There was unskilled work everywhere. I worked in about 20 factories. At Goldring Gramophones I packed record player needles and (being idealistic) only stole five.
In 1964, the first place hippie leather gear was made and sold was The Peg & Awl, on Oxford Street in the old Mandala theatre block. Later it was named Frank's Café and moved to Challis Avenue, Kings Cross. We called it the 'Sandal Shop' and it evolved into a part-time dwelling place where entrepreneurial hippies could create. Never having been there I can't describe it, although (in ’65) I was invited to join.
Graham Holt, Chris Heald, Mainline Michelle, John Sande, Grey-haired Jeff, Big Malto, American Jack and I were in the kitchen of 98 Hargreave Street, eager to be guinea pigs to test Lesley 'Mindless' newest discovery, Scopolamine. The mind-blowing stuff (one of the active ingredients was Datura, used by American Indians) had not yet taken effect when Graham told us. "How cool is this, man! We made 45 quid this week now I can make car tyre-sandals. Who'd have thought normal people would buy stuff from us weirdoes? What a cool scene.'
Scopolamine was like an x-ray of an LSD trip. Instead of psychedelics, everything was in shades of black, white and grey so it never became popular. Back then it was part of a cocktail with morphine given to women during childbirth to induce twilight sleep. Nowadays they’re expected to just be stoic.
The carpet changed from Turkish to grey but the walls took on a swirly pattern. I yelled out to Mindless in the next room, 'I think it's working.' She called back, 'OK, tell me if things start to disappear.' Sande lit a cigarette that seemed to melt, turn into a gas then re-arrange molecules back to its original shape. He said, 'Jeez man, she sure knows a lot about chemicals. Makes you feel like you're with Tim Leary in a proper laboratory.' We enthusiastically agreed and Sande went on. 'I’m going to make plenty bread soon thanks to my invention of putting psychedelic patterns on shirts. Don't shoot your mouth off about how it's done. All it costs is the dough to buy a dozen T-shirts from Chinatown plus three quids worth of dye and a two bob pack of rubber bands!" I smiled at Sande's dreamy vision. He actually thought people would purchase his creations for real money? What naivety.
I clued him in, "Look man, no one's gonna pay bread for weirdo shirts. The only people you’ll sell a couple to will be hippies and they never spend bread on clothes. Squares will not buy any." That was how I stayed poor and John Sande became the Tie Dyed shirt trade's first rich dude.
I wasn't on the dole. I was too busy to front up to the employment office. I got food from soup kitchens or the Royal George, and whenever I'd visit a 'push' pad it was considered OK to raid the 'fridge. Life became a round of 'dropping in' to visit people with pads. You never knew what was around the corner -- a three-day party, casual work at the railway depot, hitching to Melbourne with a well-healed pal or conning ten bucks out of some tourist. There were ways to get by. Dutch Andy stole milk from outside shops. Later when he found it too easy, he took only Buttermilk. We'd raid fridges in the kitchens of rooming houses, but I only did it once and hated the idea. If you were hungry, that's what soup kitchens were for. Many of my Love Generation pals acted like psychopaths at times, even me. We had an us -v- them mentality and justified behavior I now consider not cricket.