I was spending occasional weekends at Era Beach in a surf shack with Chris Jones. Era is an isolated bit of oceanside paradise in the Royal National Park south of Sydney. It's remote and hard to get to. There is no road. There is no electricity, no running water and no phone. The only way to get there is an arduous hour long hike from the road, along a rough forest track followed by a steep descent down a cliff face, where the trail is always wet and muddy and treacherous. The 6 foot long goannas are well camouflaged, blending in with tree trunks. Goannas will climb a tree if disturbed ... the main thing is to keep moving so they don’t mistake you for a tree, which can happen if you stiffen up and stand perfectly still. People have been run to and climbed on under those circumstances. They are not aggressive animals but their claws are sharp and they can bite if they feel threatened. I imagined it every time I caught one of those prehistoric things staring at me from a tree trunk by the trail. I was wary of National Park fauna in those days. When I first arrived in country the previous year I had gone camping at the next beach south, Burning Palms. No tent or equipment. I was sleeping under the stars, feeling very close to nature, almost spiritual, but having really no idea where I was or what I was doing. I woke up one morning in clear sunshine feeling something strange on my face ... something wetly heavy, as I gradually woke from a beautiful dream. I put my hand up to find a couple of 4 inch fluorescent leeches swollen fat as sausages attached to my forehead. Leeches inject an anticoagulant to keep blood from clotting. So, instinctively ripping the hideous things off, blood streaming, I went running into the ocean to clean off, possibly attracting the attention of other predators... I was told later that Burning Palms is a well known breeding site for sharks, who habitually liked to hang out in an underwater canyon just offshore of that particular beach. Of course there was no warning sign about this. In northern Wyoming they have signs: "Caution, You Are In Grizzly Country". Not here. The lack of cautionary signage about underwater predators is understandable. Since very few tourists are actually eaten, why cause unnecessary anxiety? Of course, they have no problem with having a profusion of placards everywhere advising of all sorts of rules regarding safely regulated train travel on suburban lines, etc. etc.
Chris' family had a 99 year Commonwealth lease on a beach shack, so he had unlimited access and we stayed there often, surfing all day and hanging out at night pondering the mystery of how the fridge worked. It never ceased to be a source of wonder to us, why lighting a gas fire in something could make it get cold inside. That was where we kept our chops and sausages and beer, and it did work. We turned on the propane bottle valve and lit it up, and it got cold inside. This seemed to constitute a violation of the second law of thermodynamics, but I guess that law's been broken before (vis. evolution, and other forms of spontaneous organization) so I guess now thinking back it was really not that big of a deal. There were a couple of old cots, dusty blankets, a tea pot, old silverware. Lots of spiders and sometimes snakes would get in there. One time a big kangaroo came in. I was sleeping and the big grey started snuffling and pawing roughly at my chest which almost gave me a stroke. Anyway, the little shack was cosy and nice after a day of surfing in cold water, and was wonderful to be in when it was raining. It had a really nice smell of old wood to it. And whatever the merits or disadvantages of that shack, there was no way I was going to go back to sleeping on the ground after the leech incident.
One sunny clear saturday afternoon, I was sitting out the front of the shack while Chris packed up to go. I was watching a kookaburra with a snake. He would fly up fifty or a hundred meters in slow, even spirals, the snake, black hard against the light, dangling and twisting in his beak. Kookaburra would then drop the snake on the ground, hitting the rocks, and not yet dead would try to get away. The kookaburra would fly down, get the snake, and do the airdrop maneuver again and again. I found this scenario fascinating, and the more I watch birds, to this day, the more interesting they are. Finally Chris and I began trudging up the mountain. We'd had a nice but exhausting couple of days in the surf at Era Beach, but I had an exam on monday and I had to get back to study. It was hot, we were tired, had run out of water, and we were stopping every couple of hundred meters on the steep uphill trail to rest. I had my eye out for goannas, but saw none that day.
I was bone tired, hungry, sweated out, just wanting a beer and a shower. We walked from the trailhead and sat down on our packs at the side of the road. With about 20 km to go on the secondary park road before you get to the Princes Highway, we decided to rest a little while then get up and hitchhike. There was hardly any traffic anyway, so if a car or truck came we'd have time to get up off the ground and get our thumbs out. I was almost asleep when I heard the car horn blaring. From the opposite direction than the way we wanted to go, came a big blue '65 Holden station wagon flashing its high beams. Confusion gave way to bemused wonderment when we saw it was Giles, our bass player, with Gerry Jones in the front passengers seat.
Gerry was a teenager from a musical family in Wollongong. We would go by his house to pick him up for practice, and say hi to his little brother, Vince, a kid who spent many hours a day practicing the trumpet. All that practice paid off later, when Vince Jones became a famous jazz horn player. His older sister, Angela, was a former girlfriend of Giles, who had worked as a backup singer for Brian Cadd. Gerry was an enthusiastic guy, loved playing, and came up with some great beats. He had left school and was working as an apprentice train driver. He said he practiced his beats along with the rhythm of the freight trains that he drove through the night.
Giles pulled over by the road, and we walked up to the battered blue station wagon. Could it be an impossible coincidence, that at that very moment and place, was a friend who surely would give us a ride all the way home?
Giles smiled big, as he usually did, and reached out of the window. He offered me the clasped thumb handshake that he always used. It was considered hip in those days. Giles was a big man, with an open friendly smile, and was the sort of guy who could always make you feel great. I genuinely liked him and enjoyed his company greatly. He always had something going on, and he knew how to use his immense personal charm to get where he wanted to go. He had long wavy brown hair, a masculine square jawline, classic virile good looks, sort of like Kurt Russell. He wore a beaded necklace, and was more or less post-hippy in outward appearance. He had a share in rural property up in Mullumbimby, some sort of a commune. Like me, he was a student, but I don’t think he went to class very often. He had a part time job at the squash courts at UNSW, and always had a new pair of Dunlop Greenflash Volleys.
"Get in, boys, we got a gig!"
Chris and I : "What?"
Giles: "Get in, I'll tell you on the way."
We got in. Giles had booked the band for a small outdoor rock festival in Picton. Giles had gone around to our houses and picked up our guitars, some stage clothes and the Alice Cooperish face paint we were using in those days. I explained my commitments. Giles promised to drive me back to my student house in Kensington straight away after the gig. With some misgivings, I went along. I had this little blinking red warning light going off in the back of my head. What if I missed essential study time, maybe even could miss the exam itself? But I really couldn't say no to Giles when he was on a roll. No one could.
I didn't know or care where Picton was, but it ended up being somewhere pretty far away. I think it was generally a long way west and some way south from where we were. The route was arcane, winding through satellite towns, scary far outer southwest suburbs and bits of bushland that I hadn't known about. (Sydney is like that ... endless suburbs, no matter how long you live there you will never see all of them, some are so remote that they have yet to be discovered.)
Eventually we pulled up in front of the Picton Hotel. Chris and I hit the men's room to take birdbath sink showers as best we could, and then we downed a couple of schooners of Tooheys New. We climbed back in the car, and were soon driving out in the middle of nowhere bumping roughly along dirt tracks, up hills, down dales, through gorges, narrowly missing trees, over creek beds, more turns, finally shadows lengthened and the sun went down. Chris and I are looking at each other, rolling our eyes, thinking "Oh my God, what have we gotten ourselves into?" At last we emerged into a floodlit clearing. As dark as it was, we could have been in the Congo. But it was a tiny miniature Woodstock with a truck trailer bed for a stage, and a petrol generator for power, and hippies camped out everywhere, blankets and bodies and rubbish littering the clearing. No Porta-Johns that I could see. That was a worry.
The festival dude came up, looking like Sam Cutler at Altamont in Gimme Shelter. He had the fringed leather jacket, the long hair, the handlebar moustache like Yosemite Sam, love beads, cowboy hat etc. The conversation went like this:
Sam: "Wow, man, so groovy you could make it, like, that is so right on! Hey man, would you guys be into smoking some hash?"
Deniz: "No thank you, man, beer and cigarettes will be just fine. Oh, and hey man, a cup of coffee would be really far out too."
Sam: "Yeah man, no problem man, I can like really dig what you're sayin', but like we don’t have any like, COFFEE, happening, man, you dig? How bout gettin' down with some speed?"
Deniz: "No thanks, man." Everyone was called "man" in those days, even women.
Sometime late, around midnight, we finally hit the stage and played our set. We were tight, loud, and fast. Having done dozens of gigs at the Charles Hotel in the Gong over the previous couple of months, our chops were up. We were doing a mix of covers of J.Geils Band, Velvet Underground, Alice Cooper, Stones, Stooges, The Up, Captain Beefheart, Bonzo Dog, and a few old Elvis and Chuck Berry songs. We had a couple of originals too, "Eskimo Pies" and "Monday Morning Gunk" among them. The crowd got behind it. There was nothing else going on with any energy. The other bands were mostly laid back blues jam outfits, or some stonehenge celtic folk weirdness about druids, elves and trolls and moon dances. Druids would have been right at home. Maybe even Picts, since we were in Picton. We were the only real rock and roll band there. We felt out of place but totally superior, and we were happy that a lot of the people actually got up and danced and testified. One group of guys up at the front were completely hammered and were going right off, dancing wildly, tearing their clothes off and screaming. That’s the kind of reaction you want. We got called back for a couple of encores. Exhausted and soaked, we left the brightly floodlit trailer bed and stepped into the blackness of the "backstage" area which was actually a forest. It seemed like it had gotten really cold while we were playing, and our bodies were steaming. After toweling off and putting guitars in cases, we looked around for Giles, to tell him OK, we were ready for our ride home. Giles was nowhere to be seen.
After some searching around we found the old blue Holden station wagon. Giles was apparently already bedded down in the back. The temperature had dropped to near zero as we banged on the car, shivering. We were exhausted, cold, hungry, my throat is beyond raw from singing. I feel like I’m starting to catch a cold. We wanted to get out of there more than anything. I was coming down off my performance high, and was beginning to worry about the pharmacology exam again. Finally the back window of the blue station wagon came down. You could see our breath condensing into clouds in the damp freezing night air. Giles stuck his head out. Behind him we saw comfortable bedding, a cooler with drinks, a young blonde, and a cloud of smoke.
Chris and I cried: "Hey Giles, take us home."
Giles replied: "No way. They LOVED us! The festival dude is really stoked. He asked us to play here tomorrow as well! So we're staying here."
Us: "But you promised us a ride home tonight and we have to go home NOW!"
Giles says, putting on his warmest winningest smile: "Oh, boys, boys .... take it easy. Don’t get uptight, just relax and be cool! Enjoy!! This is a beautiful night, out here in nature! Wine, women, song, hash, what more do you want? You'll be fine. Just get some sleep, we'll rock out again tomorrow and then you can go home."
Us, desperately, pleadingly: "But where we gonna sleep? We don't have any sleeping bags. It's FREEZING out here!"
Giles: "You'll think of something."
And with that, he slammed the back of the station wagon shut.
I was furious. I said "C'mon Chris! This is totally unacceptable! Follow me." We went back to the stage area where the next band was still setting up. I walked onstage, took a vocal mike, and said: "Anyone going to Sydney, us two guys up here need a ride real bad!" Within a minute, the fellows that had been going off up the front during our performance came over to us. They said they had a car, and would drive us. No worries. We could leave right away. Chris and me are hand slapping and going "All Right!!!" I said, "OK, who's the driver?" They looked over at a guy who had obviously been partying very hard and could barely stand up. He had a short blond haircut, very unfashionable for the times, a stocky build, and glasses with large thick coke bottle lenses that amplified the apparent size of his eyes to the level of billiard balls. Indicating this guy, they said: "Beetle! He has a van! He can do it!" I was thinking "Oh, no .... God, no!" I looked over at Chris, and he sort of smiled and shrugged ... we had to get away somehow. We were desperate to get back to Sydney rather than freeze to death out here in the middle of nowhere, and we were willing to take heavy risks to do it. I asked the guy: "OK, so Beetle .... are you feeling up to it?" Beetle just grinned and said, in a very confident voice: "I'll drive. These blokes are drunk, stoned, and tripping. I'm really drunk and stoned, but at least I'm not tripping."
That was good enough for me.
We threw the guitars and pedals and amp heads and wet clothes into the van and tore off into the blackest darkest night I can ever remember. Beetle pushed the old van to its absolute performance limit. We barreled down the narrow dirt road, got lost a couple of times, had to backtrack often. The van was on its last legs, muffler dragging, engine blowing blue smoke. One headlight was gone, the other kept going out and we had to stop and one of Beetle’s friends would jump out and kick it and it would come back on temporarily. The shocks were completely gone and we'd bottom out on every rut and pothole. We sideswiped and clipped a car coming the other way on a narrow stretch and Beetle floored it to get away without being caught. Finally, we were back on the highway, and after being in the van for two hours, we pulled up in front of our student house at 14 Abbotford Street, Kensington, as the sky was turning grey.
When we had unloaded our gear, being careful not to wake flatmates John Needham and Ron Keeley, we offered Beetle and his chums to sleep over. It was a long and terrifying night, and they had to be as tired as we were. It was a miracle that we had survived the ride, and there was no way anyone should be doing any more driving.Beetle’s response: “Hell, no! You kidding? You guys really rocked out, but we got to get back to the festival and party on!!! See ya!” And off they went, trailing muffler sparks and smoke in the pink dawn.
We never saw him again. Beetle will always live large in our memories, and if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was for real, guys like him would be in it. Someday maybe I'll go up to Gosford, pick Chris up from his real estate office, and we'll drive down to the Picton Hotel. Maybe we'll wash off in the mens room, down a couple of schooners, and raise a toast to Beetle, our brave warrior.
A couple of weeks later it was 2 am on a hot night in the summer of 1973. After playing a gig, me, Giles, Gerry and Chris are cruising in the beat up blue '65 Holden station wagon. We are exhausted and out of it but feeling triumphant, like a gang of barbarians from the steppes fresh from a successful raid, bloodied, happy, looking for meat and drink. We were gradually coming down off the performance endorphin high. Volumes of alcohol were consumed earlier but playing and sweating hard, we never felt it on stage. The physical and emotional energy is so intense, and the fuel is burned off at such a high rate, that the effect is completely overshadowed. A couple of hours later some residual effects were being uncovered. We’re winding down and we're hungry. Knowing that our only chance for food at that hour was the Colonial Diner, we pulled up at the Cleveland St. and Anzac Parade intersection lights, on Cleveland St, pointing east. The Colonial was lit up, its strange little octagonal structure beckoning from across Anzac Parade, diagonally opposite in front of the Sydney Showgrounds. A pool of pale white light spread out into the surrounding blackness of the parking area, the grass and the palms.
Another car, a '70 Monaro in metal flake purple, pulled up next to us on the right. Inside, four young bogan brutes stared at us first in astonishment, then derision. They couldn't get over our full face paint, streaked and dripping, our hair, our clothes...our emaciated bodies showing through the holes...more holes than fabric...ripped black leather and denim. They immediately smelled blood in the water. They figured us to be easy targets, typical of these types to only go after the weak. Their windows whipped down.
Giles is a big man. He smiled back into their sneers. He seemed to be mildly amused by the snarling attack-dog expressions, his costume leopardskin clad elbow hanging nonchalantly out of the car window. The smoke from the Marlboro drifted up between his fingers, the other hand resting lightly on the wheel. I was beginning to feel a bit concerned. It looked to me like the hoons were thinking about beating the crap out of us. It had happened so many times, and it always starts like this. But Giles was so cool. He was completely without fear. His confidence spread out across the car seat to me.
His command of the situation revived my spirits. At that moment I knew it was going to be OK and I began to enjoy the encounter.
The lead hoon spat on the pavement, looked up, said "Poofters!". Waited for effect. No effect. Then he said "Youse blokes fuck each other dontcha!". Giles smiled back at the guy, blew smoke in his face, and said "We do anything, man."
There was a two second pause while this sunk in.
Up went the window of the Monaro. Off they zoomed in a squeal of tires, the homophobic bogans shaken, having encountered a "poof" who was not only fearless but nonchalantly proud and mocking. We were laughing so hard we almost pissed ourselves. The mirth continued at the Colonial, as we wolfed down mystery burgers and soggy greasy chips, all soaked in some weird brown BBQ sauce that was unique to the Colonial. It was our celebration of a small tiny victory for liberty in the form of gay rights, won by a completely heterosexual man who just happened to be wearing black lipstick and makeup, out with TV Jones late one summer night in the year before Whitlam took office.