Days of beer and weed
Growing up in the 70s … The following are a series of vignettes and cameos of where and with whom I grew up with in the 1970’s as a young man … some of them you may see as pure delinquency, others as that clumsy, clunky half-innocence of the fumbling youth trying to get a grip on the disorder of those times … Times that were revolutionary in both freedom of movement from state to state and job to job. Gone were the ties that bound one socially and economically to home and hearth … there was adventure “out there” and being young and free with more than a hint of delinquency about us, by Christ, we were going to taste a bit of it before we all grew too old to remember what the thrill of life was about … Perhaps some of us never really grew old, but rather stayed in a state of suspended youth … a type of “forever young” … but then there are those I meet in these older times who seem to have been old from their earliest childhood!
I shared a flat with Potts and a piss-wreck named “Hopkirk” in Darwin back in the seventies.
Pott’s girfriend; “Chic”, had a horse aggisted out at East Arm, Darwin which, as one has to do with horses, she attended and groomed and rode in competitions, much to the chagrin of Potter, who demanded a lot of attention … ”High-maintenance” I believe they called it.
As I said, I shared that flat with Potter and Hopkirk. Hopkirk was a squirrellish little bloke who could and did drink extraordinary amounts of beer and never put on weight … indeed, in the months preceding the 1975 cyclone, “Tracey”, that wiped out most of Darwin, Hopkirk had accumulated a remarkable supply of slabs of beer in anticipation of the Christmas season celebrations … and did indeed live up to his promise of getting blotto on Christmas eve … so much so that he slept through the worst moments of the cyclone and only became aware of some special event had happened that night when he went out the back door to relieve himself in the back yard the following morning … He shrugged and then went back to his drinking.
I would spend my weekends playing baseball or relaxing on the bed with a good book and mostly enjoying the peace and quiet when Hopkirk was down the “Koala Hotel” getting pissed and Potter was out marauding about somewhere … I must comment here that my incessant reading of books infuriated Potter, whose only perusal of literature was to read, for his own reassurance, the alcohol content listing on the label of a Vic-bitter can … Though one day in a moment of weakness, he did purchase from a persistent door-to-door salesman a whole set of Encyclopedia Britannica … for the sole purpose of it being just the right height when stacked one on top of the other to set near the 8-ball table so he could put his beloved “green-cans” (Vic-bitter’) on them … sometimes he’d stop at my room door and shout in frustration:
“People die in bed, you know!”
I confess that I used to order my books through an Adelaide bookshop to ship to Darwin … Those days, Darwin was not known as a capital of education and the perusal of anything in literature was seen as suspect and perhaps even worthy of reporting to ASIO for possible communist activity! … Potter caught me one day reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Ecce Homo” (trans; “Here is the man”), his autobiography … He went into a sullen sulk toward me for about a week until at last at the 8-ball table I demanded to know what was his gripe. He paused, stood loose limbed clutching his cue and with the most downcast look quietly asked of me:
“That book you are reading … something Homo … is that about homosexuals and are you a homosexual?”
I rest my case just there about Potter’s political and literature depth of knowledge.
Anyway, this one day I was at the flat by myself peacefully reading, when the door burst open and in came Potter and Chic accompanied by a cacophony of mutual accusation and abuse …
“You and that bloody horse!” Potter was shouting … to which Chic put up a courageous and equally solid defence about Potter and his car … and they stood there just outside but on opposite sides of the door-way to my room, arguing back and forth … I put my book on my chest and watched as first one head protruded into the door frame space, shouted their point and then withdrew and the other would immediately intrude … back and forth, like some bizarre Punch and Judy show until … with a lengthy tirade from Potter on his demands from Chic for a successful relationship, his chiseled jaw jutting out and that Dennis Lillie moustache bristling aggressively … time froze that “frame” in that doorway for me forever … because just as Potter had reached the zenith of his vocal eloquence, I saw Chic’s big brown leather (hand made w/embossing and brass clasp) handbag, containing a multitude of heavy, wooden horse-brushes, perform a perfect parabolic curve to connect with the crown of Potter’s head in an act of physical and physic intensity (There must be an mathematical equation for this connection of ; a) Descending Force meets; b) Immovable Force … a sort of; DF–IF = X ) equal to a king-hit from Muhammad Ali at his peak.
Potter went down like a screaming bag of shit! … Chic immediately rushed to their bedroom, Potter rose with an unsteady poise and regaining his intellect, immediately gave chase … I lay abed in weary but curious observation … moments similar to this had happened before … I could make out the movements of the protagonists by the screaming of Chic: “He’s gonna kill me, he’s gonna kill me!” and the sound of mattress inner-spring as they leapt from one side of the room to the other … Chic got the better of the moment and fled through their door, right past mine with screaming fright and Potter not two steps behind … she lunged into the bathroom and just had time to slam the door on Potter’s face … literally … he became a tad more upset at this and proceeded to punch three holes through the bathroom door; ”wham, wham, wham!” ..
It was this activity which inspired me to take some action. I wearily arose from the bed, slipped on my thongs, excused myself past Potter still furiously “negotiating” through the door with his girlfriend to make my way, as I had so many times before, to the poster shop on Cavanaugh Street to purchase some more cute pictures of doggies or cats to place over yet more holes in doors or walls … I returned to the sound of the two lovers doing what they both did best after the release of these regular moments of “sexual tension” and vacated the flat for a few hours to seek the amusing company of this crazy public servant at a known pub near by who would insist he was either (depending on the day) a secret agent (he’d have a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist) or John Wayne in disguise (he was about five foot five in height).
But we were young and carefree then and life was one big long-weekend.
Tiger Brennan was the mayor of Darwin back in the seventies. He was a strange character who got around dressed in colonial “Pukka sahib” kahki shorts and shirt, replete with pith helmet and long socks and was always smoking a Winston Churchill style fat cigar … a punctilious buffoon and as bent as a drawer full of used Uri Geller spoons.
Tiger lived in a flat on the next floor above us … I don’t know when he was sober, because I can only recall him drunk … He drove this big Ford Fairlane in such a reckless fashion that he’d scatter the rubbish bins in wild collision every time he drove into the car-park of the flats, so he made a deal with Potter that he would leave the car out the front and potter would park it for him … this was a kind of trade-off for the noise of the raucous parties we held in our flat almost every opportunity … it was the seventies and this was Darwin!
I remember one night, another party … it was going great guns! … the walls were vibrating with Neil Diamond pouring out of the new quadraphonic system Potter had signed another rubber cheque for and the beer running freely … then there was this banging on the door … took a little while to hear it, but I threw the door open and there was Tiger with his pith helmet … wearing only a pair of boxer-short undies and a pair of slippers and smoking that fat cigar … He didn’t say a word, just took the cigar out of his mouth with his left hand and with index finger and thumb of his right made “turn-it-down” motions he then shoved the cigar back into his mouth, puffed smokily a couple of times to make the point, turned on his heels and trudged back up the stairs.
One night, around midnight Tiger Brennan came crashing into the carpark as usual sending bins and shit flying … he gets out staggering about as drunk as a skunk … someone in one of the flats called out:
“You drunken bastard … you couldn’t drive a greasy stick …” To which Tiger regains his unsteady balance takes his cigar from his lips and slurs out:
“You … watch your tongue or … or I’ll have the bloody coppers ‘round here … and book ev’ry last one of you … perverts … yeah … ” And he staggered off under the flats .
But he was never one to miss a political opportunity … was Tiger …
One balmy Darwin afternoon, just before the wet rains came in … I was sitting on the back balcony having a coupla quiet beers, watching the world slip by … I have to admit there is a lot to see from a balcony … Hal Porter was well paced on his cast-iron balcony.
It was after Cyclone Tracy and many of the flats were abandoned and ruined, but had been taken over by squatting hippies … who would congregate in a clearing, out in the back yards of the flats and would for want of a better description: Pow-wow around a camp-fire and pass the joints around … this infuriated Tiger because he had just that season driven the hippies out of their tree-houses on Darwin beach and they then retreated to squat right under his nose in these flats.
I was sitting there listening to the hippie conversation and then I could hear Potter talking to Tiger just under the balcony … I looked down and I could see Potter showing Tiger his newest acquisition, a short-barrel shotgun he had purchased to take with him every time he went further South down the Stuart Highway past Berri Springs … The movie Deliverence had just done the rounds of the Darwin Cinema and it put the wind up many of the alpha males in Darwin, who believed the worst thing could happen to a red-blooded Aussie male was to get rheemed up the arse no matter what the disadvantage or situation … hence the shotgun.
“How many shots can you get off in a minute?” Tiger asked as he held his cigar.
“I can empty the magazine,” Potter reassured him.
“Go on!” Tiger looked impressed.
“I’ll show you,” Potter replied.and in doing so quickly filled the magazine with solid slug 12-gauge shells … pumped the magazine once and fired off five shots in quick succession into an idle 44-gallon drum full of water nearby. “Boom, boom, boom … As the drum jumped and thumped and water sprayed everywhere, the hippies scattered like chaff in the wind in every direction, Tiger sprang to the offered opportunity and yelled after them.
“And there’s plenty more of that for you bastards if you come back too!”
I don’t know what happened to Tiger eventually … I do know he retired under some kind of cloud … but that’s all I remember … there are limits and it was the seventies!
I remember one balmy afternoon, sitting back in a recliner at the flat, sans Hopkirk, sans Potter, listening to my latest LP acquisition: “Santana; Caravanserai” … when suddenly there was a howl of spinning tyres and then a screeching of brakes in the car-park underneath the flats …. Potter was back from the “Adelaide River Show Society” (ARSS) horse event his fiance competed in.
He crashed through the door in a foul but kind of satisfied mood … went to the fridge, swished the door open, plucked out a “green-can” and threw himself on the other recliner (I had swapped Santana, which he did not like for Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night which he did like) … He took a long draught out of the can smacked his lips a couple of times then began:
“Bloody hippies! … You wouldn’t believe what just happened to me down by Adelaide River on the way back here … You know how windey and narrow that stretch of road is there, not many places to safely overtake and all … well I came flying around a bend in the road and there, right in front of me was this Kombi van … fuckin’ all painted over with peace symbols and rainbows and fuckin’ flowers and shit and chock-a-block full of pot-smoking hippies!”
He took another draught to lubricate and continued …
“Fuckin’ hippies … hate ’em! So the next straight stretch I planted the foot to overtake (Potter, it must be mentioned at this point, always drove these souped-up Ford V8s … these fuel-guzzling monsters had things he waxed lyrical about … like extra-lift cams, Edelbrock manifolds, four barrell-carbis and dizzys – that did something wonderful to the motor – and this one had a bull bar on front) … but the bastards swerved right out in front of me to block my way … like it was some sort of joke … and they’re leaning out of the Kombi waving their “peace, man” fingers and laughing and offering me a joint while they’re at it … fuckin’ hippies! And every time I tried to over-take … the same thing … Drrrrrrrrrrr … the Kombi would swerve over to block me … with them all laughing. I got jack of this so I waited until we straightened upon the road and then I crept up to the rear-end of that Kombi, nudged it on contact with the bull-bar and then planted my foot!”
“The fuckin’ 400 horses in that Ford howled and the wheels spun like fuck and I pushed that Kombi up till we were going over ninety miles per hour and they’re all screaming now!”
” … scream you fuckers, scream … it’s not funny now is it?” And I started singing that John Lennon song Give Peace a Chance out the window at them and they’re screaming and I waited until we got to a clear part of the road-side and I shoved them off into the paddock … you shoulda’ seen it … geez it was fuckin’ funny!”
… And he got up, went to the fridge and got himself another beer.
Ahh … Darwin in the seventies … just one long, endless party.
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