The town of Coober Pedy, Australia has been the opal capital of the world since 1915—that’s 100 years of one little town producing most of the gem-quality opals for the entire planet. You’d think by now they’d have turned the place into some kind of reasonably bustling little hamlet—maybe with a Starbucks franchise and a strip club at least? But Coober Pedy is unbearably hot and dry, with dust storms and 110 degree temperatures on the regular. So what’s a poor opal-miner to do? Go underground, of course!
Yes, the roughly 1,700 inhabitants of Coober Pedy live in the beautiful caverns left over from opal mining—there are nearly 1,500 houses connected by tunnels, with all the modern amenities and a glossy coating sealing the exposed rock walls to prevent constant dust accumulation. Not only that, the town has stores, a bar, a church, a museum, an art gallery and a hotel—it’s a legitimate town, not just a tourist attraction. The Coober Pedy name comes from a less-than-flattering aboriginal word meaning “white man’s hole,” but not only do the caverns provide safe, clean shelter and keep a comfortable temperature in blistering heat, there are actual bits of opal in the wall. It’s really quite a striking interior.
So when climate change bakes the surface of the earth, we’re all down to become modern mole-people, right?
In Coober Pedy, the dead are closer to the surface than the living.
Entryway to tunnels.
Coober Pedy home.
The town has an underground museum and art gallery.
You’re good. No one can tell. You’re a social drinker. Sophisticated. Adult.
These hilarious photographs, dated between 1863 and 1868, are believed to be propaganda from a New South Wales temperance group. While some might argue they’re a bit sensational, I’d say that for a certain type of drunk, they’re deadly accurate (Have drunks changed much since the mid 19th century? No, they just have Twitter now). They coincide with the 1866 “Drunkard’s Punishment Bill” of New South Wales, suggesting there was a bit of a local alcoholism problem. The photographer, Charles Percy Pickering, was commissioned by the NSW government. Though he produced a bevy of historic photographs, he went bankrupt multiple times—perhaps it was the drink?!?
This is it—the sweet spot. You’re a little sloppy, but charmingly so. You’re funny, cute and less inhibited, but you still have your wits about you.
Now we’re approaching the point of diminishing returns. You have begun to voice controversial opinions to a disinterested audience. You’re slightly angry at someone for reasons you will later fail to recall. You feel the need for brutal honesty.
“You guys! I find this amaaaaaaaazing wheelbarrow! Let’s take it home! Some one help me take this wheelbarrow home! I neeeeeed it! For… reasons.”
You don’t remember this part at all, but you were mumbling at your girlfriend to “just let me sleep here.” Your friends will later tell you they had to beg a cop not to throw you in the drunk tank, assuring him that they’d see you home safely. They even managed to fit your wheelbarrow in the cab. In the cold light of day you no longer want it, but they went to so much trouble you can’t throw it away. You owe everyone an apology.
Just when I think I’ve carefully cataloged all the rock ‘n’ roll subcultures in my nerdy little brain, I hear about a group of kids that did something totally recognizable, yet completely regional, and realize I’m just a provincial American. The “sharpies” of Australia (not to be confused with anti-racist skinheads called “sharps”) were a bit like English skinheads. They were regional groups of generally working class kids, dressing up to signify their solidarity with the movement or even membership in a specific sharpie gang. The similarities mostly stop right there.
First of all, the fashion, while reminiscent of traditional skins, has a few notes out of left field. For one, they usually had mullets. (As some one who comes from a mulleted people, you cannot imagine my delight when the hairstyle is embraced abroad.) It was sort of skinhead in the front, glam rocker in the back, often with big, traditional-style tattoos as accent. The girls (called “brush”) favored the sorts of pleated skirts or mini-skirts associated with skinhead girls, sometimes with cartoonishly high wedged heels, but the boys didn’t always go for tight jeans, often choosing to combine their bright cardigans with sailor pants and Cuban heels.
I actually stumbled on sharpies by way of the band, Coloured Balls, and their awesome album, Ball Power, (reissued on Sing Sing Records). Considered the ultimate sharpie band, at first glance I thought they were skins, and one or two tracks actually sound very Oi! Fascinatingly, they formed in 1972, before Cock Sparrer, Sham 69 or The Business were known entities. Although sharpies often co-existed with skinheads (and probably shared barbers), musically, they were further apart.
In lieu of ska, rocksteady, reggae, or soul, these kids created an esoteric pastiche of rock ‘n’ roll. Coloured Balls, for example, is really hard to pin down. Sometimes it’s a bit acid rock, sometimes very white-boy blues, sometimes it almost feels like Oi!, or glam, or power pop. The band certainly didn’t feel constrained by genre, something I’m sure was a testament to diverse sharpie tastes. Singer Lobby Loyde remembers very vividly playing to sharpie kids well before Coloured Balls existed, and well before he had adopted a sharpie aesthetic.
“When the Purple Hearts first came down to Melbourne in 1967, we were a long-haired blues band. We started playing at the circle ballroom in Preston and I started noticing these strange people. I’d never seen anything like them and their distinct style! They had short hair and wore baggy trousers and cardigans; the girls wore knee-length pleated skirts, twin sets and pearls.”
And then there’s the distinctive dancing, which I have to admit, has an elegance that skanking doesn’t quite achieve.
Like skinheads, sharpies were largely disaffected youth, and gang violence was heavily associated with the lifestyle, much to the chagrin of Lobby Loyde, who said in retrospect.
“Coloured Balls were the greatest bunch of hippies that ever crawled. They were really gentle guys, but on stage we let it go and spat out all the venom we had… that was our release.”
While it’s unclear exactly how much fighting actually went on (as opposed to just plain moral panic), there was tension between sharpies and Australian mods (Since many early sharpies were actually British transplants, and former skinheads themselves, it makes sense that the beef would travel). The violence and the emergence of disco are largely credited with the fade of the sharpies, but they remain a fascinating moment of youth culture history. Below you can see an amalgam of sharpies at an outdoor music festival in 1974. Coloured Balls is playing one of their more acid rock numbers.
Noosha Fox is an Australian singer who, in the mid 1970s, fronted the British act Fox, who scored a handful of hits across Europe with their funk and reggae-influenced strain of glam-rock. After the band dissolved near the end of the decade, Noosha embarked on a moderately successful solo career; one of her tracks, “The Heat Is On”, ended up being covered by a solo Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA.
Fox’s tunes are great, and regularly entered high up on the British charts (as some of these clips will attest.) So how come I’d never heard of the fantastic Noosha until very recently?
Thanks to the website Lost Idols (and DM’s own Paul Gallagher,) here’s a bit more information on Noosha and the band:
The band was formed by Kenny Young (the man who got the credits for writing the song “Under the Boardwalk” for The Drifters in 1964). Lead singer of The Fox was Susan Traynor (from Australia) who earlier did backing vocals on Kenny Young’s solo album “Last Stage for Silverworld” in 1973 and also was in a band called “Wooden Horse”. The rest of the band included Herbie Armstrong (guitar and vocals), Pete Solley (keyboards), Jim Gannon (lead guitar), Gary Taylor (bass guitar) and Jim Frank (drums & percussion). Kenny Young played guitars, percussion and vocals. Susan became known as Noosha Fox and their first album “FOX” was a top ten hit in 1975.
It appears that Roger Taylor of ‘Queen’ added backing vocals to the track ‘Survival’ on Fox’s ‘Tails of Illusion’ album. Queen were in the same studio recording ‘A Night at the Opera’.
What happened then?
Noosha Fox (Susan Traynor), had a solo career when she left the band (1977) during the late 70s and early 80’s. She only had one minor hit with “Georgina Bailey”. Herbie Armstrong and Kenny Young moved on to a band called Yellow Dog and later Armstrong worked with Van Morrison in the late 70’s and early 80’s.Kenny Young has been working as a Record producer. Now Herbie is running a Restaurant together with his Swedish-born wife Elizabeth, in Hampshire called The Fountain Inn & Thai Restaurant. the rumour says they combine their talents in running one of the best eating places in the area.
Pete Solley joined Whitesnake on keyboards in 1977 for Snakebite. He’s also played with Procol Harum, Mickey Jupp and many more. He has also produced records for Oingo Boingo, Motorhead and Romantics. Jim Frank worked as an sound engineer for Alice Cooper (“Welcome to my nightmare”) and Peter Gabriel’s first solo album to mention a few. Jim Gannon played with the band “Black Widow” and also did some vocals on Alice Cooper “Goes To Hell”.
Not bad post-pop careers there, not bad at all.
Fox are one of those acts who have been unfairly booted into history’s dumpster, casualties of a cultural shift that saw extravagant glam rock relegated to just an embarrassing phase. Although undoubtedly an influence on a whole generation’s burgeoning sexuality (check out the YouTube comments on any of her/their clips,) ask anyone under the age of 40 who Noosha Fox is and you’ll get a blank stare and an itchy scalp.
That’s a real shame, because Noosha and her band were fantastic. With her very distinctive look and sound (silent-cinema star and pinched-nose temptress, respectively) Noosha Fox predated the far-out kookiness of Kate Bush by a good four years, and seems to have been a huge influence on the band Goldfrapp, who have basically re-interpreted her look and sound for the electronic age.
Of course, maybe Fox passed me by because I am not a child of the Seventies. If any of our readers have any memories of the great band/singer, do feel free to share them in the comments. In the meantime (while I try and track down a “best of” album,) here are a selection of Noosha and Fox clips:
Fox “S-S-S-Single Bed”
After the jump, more music by Noosha and Fox, including “Imagine You, Imagine Me”, “Electro People”, “The Heat Is On” and more…
On June 15, 1964 The Beatles flew into Melbourne, Australia to play a couple of shows at Festival Hall. A huge crowd of over 30,000 fans were there to greet them. At one point, the group sought shelter on the upper floors of Town Hall where they waved and goofed around from a balcony for the fans below. Spoofing their own fame, power and the hysteria of their fans, John gave the throng a Nazi salute while mimicking Hitler by placing his finger over his upper lip as though it were a mustache.
On the balcony with John are Paul, George, Ringo and Ringo’s substitute drummer Jimmy Nicol.
The caricature by French artist Xavier Ghazi portrays the WikiLeaks founder with his trousers around his ankles, urinating into a top hat with the US flag on it.
The Bald Archy - a parody of the Archibald Prize for portraiture - is a competition of humorous works of art, making fun of Australian celebrities and politicians.
The exhibition and prize is advertised as the only one in the world judged by a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Maude.
There were 46 finalists in this year’s competition, with “the two Jules”, Julia Gillard and Julian Assange dominating the competition, founder Peter Batey said at the announcement in Sydney on Tuesday.
Ghazi, 60, said he had first thought of calling his painting Pissing Off The Empire.
“Having a leak in Uncle Sam’s hat is pissing off the empire,” he told reporters.
“It’s not as much about the US as it is about global power and instruments of domination.”
It was Ghazi’s fourth time to win the $5000 prize, now in its 18th year.
He said the win was particularly meaningful to him as he has had “a horrible three or four past years”.
“Professionally I lost my teaching jobs, I lost my job for a newspaper I used to work with and I’m turning blind in my right eye,” he said.
Inspired by the book, Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Suelette Dreyfus, In the Realm of the Hackers focuses on two Melbourne teenage hackers known as Electron and Phoenix, who in 1989, hacked into some of the most secure computer networks in the world, including the US Naval Research Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (a government lab charged with the security of the US nuclear stockpile), and NASA.
In the late 1980s, Melbourne was the hub of the computer underground in Australia, if not the world. The hackers who formed the underground were not disgruntled computer professionals or gangs of organised criminals. They were disaffected teenagers who used their basic home computers to explore the embryonic Internet from inside their locked, suburban bedrooms. From this shadowy world emerged two elite hackers known as Electron and Phoenix, who formed part of an alliance called The Realm.
Together, Electron and Phoenix stole a restricted computer security list and used it to break into some of the world’s most classified and supposedly secure computer systems. So fast and widespread was the attack, people assumed it was an automated program, until Phoenix called The New York Times to brag. Soon the US Secret Service and the FBI were on their trail and, within months, the Australian Federal Police had raided their homes.
Using a combination of interviews and dramatic reconstructions, In the Realm of the Hackers charts Electron’s journey from his initial innocent explorations to his ultimate obsession. It vividly recreates the climate of the 1980s, before there was public access to the Internet.
In the Realm of the Hackers takes us headlong into the clandestine, risky but intoxicating world of the computer underground to uncover not only how the hackers did it but why.
In an interview 2003, the film’s writer and director, Kevin Anderson explained the background to his film:
I initially became aware of the story of the Melbourne computer underground after reading Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Melbourne-based author and journalist Suelette Dreyfus.
During my three-year involvement with the project, I had to immerse myself in the computer underground and acquaint myself with terms and concepts I was completely unfamiliar with. Suelette was to become my main conduit to various members of the underground, both past and present.
The story represented a number of “firsts”- the new crime called computer hacking, the first computer crime case to be prosecuted in Australia, the introduction of federal computer crime laws, the establishment of a computer crime unit within the Australian Federal Police, and the first time computer data had been recorded and used as evidence in Australia.
Forming the spine of the story was also the development of the Internet in Australia. Here was an opportunity to show the role that computer hackers played in this and ironically how they were responsible for the creation of the computer security industry, something that wasn’t needed in the early open days of the Internet.
An interesting footnote, Julian Assange helped research Suelette Dreyfus’ book Underground.
John, Paul, George and…Jimmie? It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? But for ten days in 1964, Jimmie Nicol was one of The Fab Four, drafted in to replace Ringo Starr on The Beatles first world tour.
Starr had collapsed with tonsillitis, and rather than cancel the tour, producer George Martin decided to call in a temporary replacement - Jimmie Nicol, an experienced session musician, who had played with Georgie Fame and jazz musician, Johnny Dankworth, amongst others. Lennon and McCartney were fine with the idea, but Harrison was a bit shirty, and at one point threatened to walk off, telling Martin and Brian Epstein: “If Ringo’s not going, then neither am I - you can find two replacements.” It was soon resolved and within 24-hours of the initial ‘phonecall, Nicol was playing drums with the Fab Three in Copenhagen. He later recalled:
“That night I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was a fucking Beatle!”
The next leg of the tour was Australia and Hong Kong, and Nicol soon found himself at the heart of Beatlemania. Fans screamed his name, his photograph was sent around the globe, and he was interviewed as one of the band by the world’s press. Nicol later reflected:
“The day before I was a Beatle, girls weren’t interested in me at all. The day after, with the suit and the Beatle cut, riding in the back of the limo with John and Paul, they were dying to get a touch of me. It was very strange and quite scary.”
He also gave an inkling into The Beatles’ life on the road was like:
“I thought I could drink and lay women with the best of them until I caught up with these guys.”
Ten days into the tour, Ringo had recovered and quickly reclaimed his place. Nicol was paid off by Epstein at Melbourne airport, given a cheque for $1,000 and a gold Eterna-matic wrist watch inscribed: “From The Beatles and Brian Epstein to Jimmy - with appreciation and gratitude.” It was like a retirement present. Within a year Nicol was bankrupt, owing debts of over $70,000, and all but forgotten. So much for his 15 minutes of fame.
“Standing in for Ringo was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Until then I was quite happy earning thirty or forty pounds a week. After the headlines died, I began dying too.”
Nicol went on to play with Swedish guitar band, The Spotnicks, but by the late sixties he quit pop music and relocated to Mexico. It was later claimed he had died, but as the Daily Mail explained in 2005, this was false:
At 66, his square-jawed looks have given way to grey jowls, the smile oblieterated by missing teeth. Anything that might remain of his Beatle haircut is tied back in a scruffy ponytail. But he still has his principles. Despite the lucrative rewards of today’s Beatlemania industry, he staunchly refuses to cash in….
It has even been reported that he died in 1988. This week, however, after a difficult search, I confirmed reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. One morning he could be foind visiting a building society, eating breakfast in a modest cafe, then returning silently to his London home. At this flat you could see sheet music through one window but no sign of any drums. He didn’t answer the door when I rang. If he got my messages about the new book, he didn’t reply.
When I eventually made contact, the conversation was predictably brief: “I’m not interested in all that now,” he said. “I don’t want to know, man.”
Here is footage of The Beatles’ tour of Australia and Jimmie Nicol’s time as the fifth Beatle - the Beatle who never was..
Rare clips of The Beatles on tour, plus Jimmie Nicol interview, after the jump…
This is amazing: home-movie footage of the Ballet Russes playfully dancing on a beach in Australia in 1938.
After Diaghilev’s death in 1929, a number of Ballet Russes companies formed out of the dissolution of the original Ballet Russe. Between 1936 and 1940, three of these companies visited Australia, in tours orchestrated by the entrepreneur Colonel Wassily de Basil. According to the website Australia Dancing:
The first, a company assembled in London by de Basil and billed as (Colonel W. de Basil’s) Monte Carlo Russian Ballet, toured for nine months between 1936 and 1937. Its sixty-two dancers were drawn largely from the Ballets de Leon Woizikowsky, augmented by artists from de Basil’s own company, and from Rene Blum’s Ballets de Monte Carlo.
The second tour, which took place over seven months between 1938 and 1939, was by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet, presented by Educational Ballets Ltd. In essence, this was the de Basil company of the time. The use of the title Educational Ballets Ltd. related to the need for de Basil to formally distance himself from company management during a legal dispute with the Ballets de Monte Carlo, the company that had been founded by Rene Blum following his split with de Basil in 1935.
By 1938, the Ballets de Monte Carlo was based in America under the direction of Sergei Denham with the financial backing of Universal Art. An attempted merger between this company and that of de Basil early in 1938 ended acrimoniously, with ensuing legal challenges by Universal Art over the copyright of particular works. Prior to this, legal challenges to de Basil over copyright had also been instigated by Leonide Massine during his 1937 move from the de Basil to the rival company as artistic director. Michel Fokine, originally ballet master and choreographer for Blum had, also in 1937, moved in the other direction, joining de Basil. A feature of this second Australian tour was the presence of Fokine, supervising the production of his own ballets.
For the third tour, Colonel de Basil assembled a company that, in addition to his English-based dancers, included a number who were stranded in America on the outbreak of war. These two groups were united in Australia, forming the company that was most commonly referred to as The Original Ballet Russe, although it was also billed as Colonel W. de Basil’s Covent Garden Ballet and Colonel W. de Basil’s Ballet Company. De Basil himself accompanied this tour, which began in December 1939 and, although originally planned to be of ten weeks duration, was, due to the complexities of the war, extended until September 1940.
The Ballets Russes companies brought with them a panorama of choreography, music and design of a kind not previously seen in Australia. Works such as Scheherazade and Le Spectre de la Rose linked directly back to the Diaghilev repertoire, with some, such as Aurora’s Wedding, extending that link back to the Tsarist Russian period. Ballets such as Les Presages and Cotillon introduced Australian audiences to works that post-dated the Diaghilev era. Five ballets, including David Lichine’s Graduation Ball, received world premieres in Australia. In all, a stunning range of forty-four works, most of them Australian premieres, was presented over the three tours.
Nothing like a good banning to warm an old gay punk’s heart—especially in the internet age. Looks like Australia’s classification of Toronto-based filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s latest bit of hardcore underground gay gore, L.A. Zombie as pornography has prevented it from being screened at the Melbourne Film Festival. According to Melbourne talk-radio station 3AW, LaBruce couldn’t be happier:
‘‘My first thought was ‘Eureka!’… I’ll never understand how censors don’t see that the more they try to suppress a film, the more people will want to see it. It gives me a profile I didn’t have yesterday.’’
Virtually all of LaBruce’s films—from the skinhead-fetishizing No Skin off My Ass from 1991 through to the political-porno-zombie flick Otto; or Up With Dead People—have managed to shock and scandalize straights and gays alike with their violence and satirical stereotyping. It’s good to know there are some areas in the Western world that aren’t immune.
Danie Mellor - From Rite to Ritual
Mixed media on paper
h 207 x w 154 cm
From Rite to Ritual explores the encounter between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, or settler cultures. In this case the meeting place is the interior of a continental Freemasonic lodge (a ‘blue’ lodge), and comments on the importance of secret and public ceremony and initiation in both cultures; it speaks of the challenges of settlement, and the differences in spiritual enactment and belief.