The search for the perfect pub
I met Nigel at Swiss Walter's place in Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo, in 1964. Swiss Walter's place was a room in a large, airy terrace house full of artists and other assorted weirdos. Swiss Walter (aka 'Mad Walter', for example, had concealed sticks of gelignite (which he'd nicked from the Water Board when he worked there as a labourer) in a hidey-hole under the floorboards beneath his bed. I don't know why he'd done this but I suspect there was a revolutionary agenda of some sort. I thought it terribly brave and non-conformist to sleep with gelignite under your bed. In the kitchen the fridge, the visible electricity cables, and an area of the walls had been painted over by John Olsen like a colour negative of some tropical scene, to startling effect.
Anyway, it was Nigel's first night in Australia—he'd just come over from New Zealand—and Nigel was one of the few poets that I'd met (others included Harri Jones, who had once tried to crack on to my girlfriend Michele Mainwaring at a poetry reading, and who drowned in Newcastle's Bogey Hole around this time, Tom Naseby, Julian Croft, and Shelton Lea). There were a few other people at Walter's place, and a big bowl of yipee beans, so the talk was animated enough and went on till daybreak. I remember talking to Nigel at length about Robert Graves, whose work I was getting interested in.
Later that year (or maybe the next) Nigel and Daphnette became an item. This was fairly stunning to me because a) Daphnette was a lesbian and b) I had admired her ardently but entertained no hopes for a relationship because of a). So Nigel's winning of Daphnette was indeed an amazing coup. Daphnette was magnificent. At The George she always wore a black beret, a scarf, some amazingly Bohemian top (such as leopard skin), and black tights, a cigarette (Gitane, probably) in one hand, long copper-red hair, and a languid, appraising, sensitive look about her that seemed to come straight from La Bohème. She would sit at The George (this was before Nigel met her) with her beautiful, vulnerable glance brushing like your proverbial shy doe lightly over the various beautiful girls and women who thronged the bar. God she was gorgeous!
But unattainable to Man. Until Nigel proved otherwise.
Nigel went on to publish several books and become one of the main movers of the Poets' Union. He's in Les Murray's New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, so he's done well.
From John Tranter's review of Nigel Roberts'In Casablanca for the Waters (more of Nigel later):
It is a journalistic cliche that literary and artistic movements have their birth in particular suburbs — the beatniks in Greenwich Village, the Paris intellectuals of the Left Bank, the San Francisco Renaissance. The real focus is usually not a group of suburban dwellings, but the meeting-places: the restaurants, clubs and especially the coffee houses.
But the story of the Sydney intelligentsia is writ in alcohol, and its odyssey was the search for the perfect pub. Most of the good songs, stories, novels, poems and little magazines in the 1960s and 70s were born in the haze, good cheer, raging arguments and cacophony of pubs — the legendary Royal George, the Newcastle, the United States, the Criterion, the Vanity Fair, and in Balmain the Forth & Clyde and the London. Out of that school of hard knocks and hangovers grew the Balmain Renaissance...