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Oh Brisbane, your Brisbane!

In its 20th year, and still relevant and readable, the definitive story of one city’s music, political and social life, Pig City, gets a new edition this year. Andrew Stafford is still around to flesh it out too if you’re wanting a chat (or wanting to commission something) and Brisbane is still a source of arts quality – and political thuggery.

So Wind Back Wednesday ignores the portents of another State Of Origin embarrassment – reminding us all that in 2004 it was a NSW series victory culminating in a Game 3 smashing so, yeah, anything can happen – and says give me some of that Queenslander spirit. But maybe a little less JBJP from the LNP, please.




By Andrew Stafford, UQP

ALTHOUGHT I WATCHED IT at the time, read about it soon after and finally, later, met people who actually lived it, there’s so much about the Bjelke Petersen years in Queensland which not only defy explanation but defy belief.

Those who are shocked at George W. Bush’s questionable intellect, his mangling of the language, his blind Christian certainty, the use of righteous force against opponents and the strong suggestion of business cronyism if not outright corruption of the body politic, need to get out more. Or read Evan Whitton and Phil Dickie on Queensland in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Johannes Bjelke Petersen’s reign – and it was a reign, for power rested in him in a manner more feudal than federal – offered all those horrors. And if it was on a modest scale by international standards, in a part of Australia which at the time was rivalled for ridicule only by Tasmania, and led to no invasions or wars, it was nonetheless an astonishing, giddy madness so close to home.

But what of the lives within that madness? What for example of the arts, the music and the young? Those who lived on the fringes of, metaphorically, mainstream culture and, literally in many cases, the city of Brisbane? Was the music they made a response to the stifling social atmosphere? Indeed, was it in any real way intrinsically Brisbane or Queensland? After all, the Thatcher years, which roughly paralleled, saw a marked surge in pop music political action – and a similar failure to change the offending system.

Andrew Stafford’s book of narrow-band social history uses the arts, in particular the music scene in Brisbane, to attempt an answer to those questions, though he warns us in his introduction that this is not an argument that oppression fuels great art or that prevailing inertia can act like some grit in the oyster shell.

(The Saints - leant left in a right wing state.)

As Stafford shows, the forces shaping the music of Brisbane bands from the savvy, snarky Saints in the mid’70s to the culturally smooth Savage Garden and the, at first glance, withdrawn Powderfinger in the late ‘90s, were more complex than that.

There was for example the growth, near death and then growth again of community radio station 4ZZZ (whose detailed story here is a mix of inspiration and pettifogging nonsense); the fluctuating nature of a live music scene at the mercy of a corrupt and brutal police force; a prevailing anti-intellectualism; the relative isolation. And beneath it all boredom, whether it was in the inner city squats or the outer suburbs where Savage Garden’s Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones dreamed of being pop stars.

Although I’m not convinced that there was or is a peculiar Brisbane essence to the acts covered here, what marks Stafford’s book is its earthiness.

(Savage Garden - the suburbs rebelled too.)

In part by research but also with a vivid eye for the smaller elements of simply living, Stafford recreates the sweaty, urgent nature of the underground and alternative scenes.

If he’s less sure when the canvas expands nationally and then internationally, with Powderfinger and Savage Garden in particular, it’s understandable. Like any Brisbane story it’s best told close to home.


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