My Photo
Location: New South Wales, Australia

Born in Yorkshire, raised in Australia. I love Poetry, Guitar (especially Spanish classical & Delta Blues), Tudor, Jacobean and Stuart England, Archaeology & good Ale. I edit The Flea & The Chimaera (with Peter Bloxsom), and Shit Creek Review

Friday, October 06, 2006

English Paul and Elvis Gorilla

Cass over at Beatnik Casbah has been reminiscing about some of the great brawls at The Royal George; and truly, there were some spectacular ones. I described one such involving Brian Raven in a previous post. The one I want to talk about now might have become a brawl, but turned out to be a remarkable incident with an unexpected result.

It involved someone called English Paul, of whom I shall have much more to write in later tales. Paul said his name was Paul Adams, though it turned out his real name was William Paul Clarke. He was an extraordinary person. At the time I'm talking of now, 1964, I pretty much hero-worshipped English Paul. Among the Young Push at that time he was regarded more or less as being the "King" of The Royal George - for all sorts of reasons. Even after we stopped going down to The George, he continued as a leader, creating by his energy the entity known as "Frank's Cafe", a leather-working co-operative that ended up with a number of shops and stalls selling sandals, bags and hippy paraphernalia, and providing a living for many who would never have held down "normal" jobs. Frank's Cafe included a good number of Royal George refugees, including myself: I will tell its story later, but English Paul's part in it ended when he and others bought an old government double-decker bus, refitted it at Dural, and in 1971 drove it to Kuranda in North Queensland to form various settlements there. Ten years later Paul was dead, along with his lady Vyda. But that's for another story.

Back to a busy Saturday night at The George in 1964. The pub was packed and the beer was flowing; flushed patrons happily shouted bizarre conversations at each other. I was standing with Paul and a few others in the large passageway or vestibule which led from the Public bar through to the back room and further on to the Saloon bar. We were drinking away and chatting about something or other, enjoying, no doubt, being eyed-off by the incredulous passing parade of Alfs (or "straights" - ie non-long-haired bohemian types) who regularly trolled through the pub looking for weirdos to gape at and loose girls to try their luck on. The more docile of these Alfs were a reliable source of revenue - "bread" - or free drinks, or car rides to parties and so forth. But a goodly percentage of them came in with more aggressive activities in mind, and so it was with one group this night.

They were "Rockers" - Elvis hair styles, shirtsleeves rolled up way over their bulging biceps practically to their shoulders, cigarettes dangling from the corners of mouths. The apparent leader, who looked like a farm boy or a Westie, was huge, and particularly muscly. He tried out the old favourite insult of Alfs in such situations, directed this time at English Paul with his shock of long, frizzy, sandy-coloured hair: "What are ya? A boy or a girl?"

Normally the witty composers of this type of insult would scuttle off, well pleased with themselves at having impressed their gawking pals by such a talented display of dashing sarcasm. But not this one. He was cocky, and tough, and wanted blood, and an easy victory. His huge paw pushed Paul roughly against the shoulder, and he stood there smirking, waiting for Paul to burst into tears or flee or whatever it was that he expected.

Paul sighed. He handed me his schooner of beer. He dropped his half-smoked hand-rolled cigarette onto the floor and crushed it under his boot, then turned towards Elvis, who had stepped back a little and bunched his fist, ready to deliver a smashing blow. Paul looked pale, and very, very serious.

Look at the picture of English Paul, up top. He was tall enough - about 6 foot one, I guess; but very thin and slight-looking. He had a sort of ethereal quality that at that time reminded me of the poet Shelley. He certainly seemed no match for Elvis Gorilla in the muscle department. I thought, like most there, "Uh-oh! Paul's going to cop a hiding now. Looks like a general brawl's about to happen."

As I thought that, Paul sprang with amazing speed and accuracy straight at Gorilla-boy and instantly threw an arm around his neck, then twisted him, in one quick move, into a headlock. Elvis Gorilla struggled, gasped, turned red, turned purple, pushed with his legs this way, that way - but it was no use. Paul just kept on holding the bloke's head across his hip in an unbreakable headlock. Every so often Paul would give the bulging head a little wrench, to increase its discomfort.

The struggle went on for several minutes until at last Paul said, quite calmly, "You had enough?" Elvis gasped and nodded (as far as he could) to indicate that yes, he supposed he had indeed had enough. Paul released the headlock. Elvis had no fight left in him. He straightened up, staggered, then stumbled off looking as sheepish as you might imagine; his chums tripping along behind him with thoughtful looks on their faces.

Somewhere in the melee, I'd put Paul's drink down and it had spilled. I went to the bar, bought him and myself another schooner each, and we all carried on with Saturday night, chatting about where our next beer was coming from, which girls were particularly spunky, how New Zealand Chris or Newcastle John or Dmitri or The Ox had got himself into or out of some ridiculous situation, and what party we might go to later on - all as if nothing at all of any note had just happened.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The search for the perfect pub

L to R: Nigel Roberts, Pam Brown, Dipti Saravanamuttu, Courthouse Hotel beer garden, Newtown, Sydney

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...

Shelton Lea and Jack Dancer

There was a crash pad for Royal George Young Push in Crown Street, Darlinghurst, in 1964. I used to go there a bit as a seventeen year old aspiring beatnik; it was a convenient place to take girls to (suitable venues being hard to find).

Another place I stayed, just down the road, was rented by Anna, who was reputed to have entertained John Lennon and Bob Dylan in 1964: but I never saw them there. I saw a lot of Anna though - she handpicked me from the throng at The Royal George, grabbed me by my turtle-necked sweater and frogmarched me to her flat, where she gave me a close inspection lasting several months. She had long, straight dark hair and looked like Joan Baez. She was very strong, once challenging me to a wrestling match and beating me - though I was big and strong enough - without too much effort.

Anyway, Back to the Crown Street crash pad. Larry "Jesus" lived there, and English Paul, and Adelaide Jeff, and Shelton Lea, and many others. One of my defining memories of this period goes as follows: in the winter of '64, Crown Street (as the pad, a Victorian terrace house, is called) is full of long-hairs, bohemians, Push, artists, poets, beatniks and assorted entourage. It is bitterly cold, so the resourceful inhabitants are demolishing the wooden staircase, handrail and post, step by step, to feed into the fireplace. Eventually there is no staircase left, and the only way to go up or down is by gymnastic feat. The furniture, such as it is, is also disappearing into the fireplace to warm the shivering, ill-fed denizens, many of whom are in various stages of high or low pertaining to alcohol, yippee beans, bi-polar disorder and the rest of it. But one manic figure is unstoppably energetic: Shelton Lea, who leaps from one end of the dive to the other reciting his own poetry in a florid, rhetorical manner. Shelton is already a published poet - much to my envy - and will go on to build a considerable Underground Poetry Career in Sydney and especially Melbourne. At Crown Street and The George he is an italianate-looking curly-haired poetry machine, bright-eyed, unstoppably eloquent.

Now he is dead, as are many from the Days of The Royal George and after. English Paul, Vyda, Trevor, Warren, Jacques, Chuck Cookson, Marcia, Malto, Adrian Rawlins, Brian Raven, Vivienne.

I found this letter in a thread here. I have not yet verified the Ron Silliman allusion:
At 3:59 PM -0700 6/23/05, Ron Silliman wrote: Bard of the back streets Jen Jewel Brown 24jun05

Shelton Lea Poet, publisher and fine-book dealer. Born Melbourne, August 25, 1946. Died Melbourne, May 13, aged 58.

RAPSCALLION, big-hearted mentor and arguably Australia's finest romantic poet, Shelton Lea died peacefully at home in Clifton Hill, Melbourne, on Friday, May 13. He was renowned as the beautiful, charming, dope-smoking wag who was a close mate of Heide's Barrett Reid (poet and librarian) and Sweeney Reed (artist and gallery owner). He lived at Heide for years after John and Sunday Reed died, helping Reid put out Overland magazine.

Last year Lea spoke eloquently on ABC television's Stateline about his experiences as a 16-year-old in Pentridge, helping in the campaign to keep children out of adult jails. Later that year, the Victorian Children and Young Persons (Age Jurisdiction) Act 2004 was passed, effectively extending the definition of child from 17 to 18 in several areas of the law.

Lea lived life on a grand scale. Mystery surrounds the identity of his father, thought to have suffered a breakdown after serving in World War II. His mother came to Melbourne from Perth in 1946 to give birth to Shelton at the Haven, a home for unmarried mothers. The lively boy spent the first 15 months of his life there. One carer remembered him decades later as a delightful child, if a head-banger.

He was adopted into the Lea family of Toorak, famous for its confectionery. At 12 he became "too close" to a chocolate factory worker, who was accordingly fired. Distraught, Shelton told his adoptive father "I fire you" and ran away from home, ending up in various homes for wayward youngsters. He met Aborigines for the first time and was made an honorary black. At 16, he ended up in Pentridge's notorious C Division, where he witnessed rape and murder.

Time in Long Bay, Goulburn and Grafton jails followed. Lea became a skilled pickpocket and cat burglar. He penned love poems and letters for grateful inmates. For a time in the early 1960s he lived with gypsies on the roads of rural Australia. After being thrown out of Kings Cross for manufacturing LSD, he moved back to Melbourne where he met the Heide set through sculptor Joel Elenberg.

In his 58 years Lea had children with three women. Nine books of his poetry have been published. He is known for his articulate, street-smart humour, his gentle love poetry and the mythic, visceral masculinity of his visions. In a country where artists are generally asked what their real job is, he took his poetic calling seriously. A popular reader, he approached performance with an almost Shakespearean bravura. He also published several other poets' books through his imprint Eaglemont Press and ran fine bookshops including, recently, De Havillands in Clifton Hill.

His February diagnosis of Jack Dancer (as he liked to call his lung cancer) left him three months to live. He made the most of it, pushing through the release of his ninth book Nebuchadnezzar (through Black Pepper), while poems from it were accepted by The Age and The Australian.

Nebuchadnezzar was launched by Dorothy Porter at the Rochester Castle Hotel in Fitzroy, eight days before the poet's death. The pub overflowed. Although he had thought he wouldn't have the breath, Lea decided on the night to make a final, moving reading of the title poem. In the voice (with permission) of Aboriginal identity Sonny Booth and dedicated to Booth and Lionel Rose, the work is inspired by the Arthur Boyd painting, Nebuchadnezzar Burning.

Shelton Lea is survived by his partner Leith Woodgate, his children Kaye, Destiny, Danay and Zero, godson Ben, half and adopted siblings, and grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Hippie Hippie Shake

Richard Neville frequented The George. He even had a brush with the same magistrate that I did - one G. Locke, S.M., of whom more later:

Paddy McGuiness, a bearded and mumbling Economics lecturer, slouched about the campus [of the University of New South Wales] in bare feet and black corduroys, promoting the creed of anarchy as the best solution to the world's ills... Paddy was a member of 'The Push', a renowned cell of free-thinkers who favoured promiscuity, jazz and getting pissed. Their philosophy was propounded in a roneoed 'zine, The Libertarian Broadsheet.

Their pub was the Royal George. It was exciting to think I could mingle with anarchist pamphleteers, all railing against religion, patriotism, censorship and moral conventions. One Friday night I ventured in. Smokey alcoves, the juke box blasting Roy Orbison's 'Working For The Man,' paperbacks of Kafka and Camus protruding from pockets, people in black sweaters espousing free love... Then suddenly sirens, Black Marias ... the pub was surrounded by police, supposedly checking for under-age drinkers, but probably goaded by the pervasive whiff of anti-authoritarianism. A big word, much in favour at the time, for being a rebel without a cause. Anyone who wasn't anti-authoritarian was an alf, a despicable conformist. 'The George' was one of the few pubs a long-hair could enter without inciting an ocker's thump, the fearsome king-hit. The fatherly sergeant spilled the contents of my frothing schooner, indifferent to pleas I was not under age. "It's a bit too much for a nipper like you." It wasn't. The Push stance of permanent protest had struck a chord.

- Richard Neville, The Hippie Hippie Shake