REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS SHARP BY DARREN TOFTS
“It’s about time someone documented the early days” - Chris O’Halloran
So here’s the thing about memories. You think they are unique, special. Like the Acropolis shoes in an old box under your bed or the Contes you’ve kept in street-ready condition in the deep recesses of a wardrobe. They’re yours, and no one else even knows they even exist. No one is even thinking of them when you do, or considering breaking them out again one day just to see what happens. So I vividly remember the surprise and pleasure I felt when I chanced upon Tadhg Taylor’s book Top Fellas (2004) in Polyester bookstore in Fitzroy years ago. I had been writing about the sharpie days on and off for many years and was gobsmacked, so to speak, to see that someone else was also remembering, recording stories, dusting off old photos, sporting blokes wearing that gear. And not just any blokes, names like Bowie that were etched into memory, who roamed the same streets you did. And just up the road in Thomastown. But people were not only looking back in the other books that have crept out of the shadows and alley ways of the last few years, but talking, sharing memories and showing off photographs and ephemera in gallery exhibitions, selling Blacky South t-shirts in pop culture shops and sharpie revival bands playing tough rock on Channel 31. Not to mention the Facebook pages and other interactions about living in the suburbs years ago. Sharpies grew up listening to the radio. Now wireless they have gone online. Times have changed.
Very local memories are starting to gang together and make themselves heard as a national memory of the grit of belonging and standing up for your mates, living for something bigger than yourself, having a good time in fine knits and Greek made shoes designed to your specs. Peter Brookes puts that stylish chisel toe of accuracy into the groin of selective memory in Snap when he talks about the differences of where and when you were sharp, Frankston or Reservoir, Jordanville or Thomastown: “What I am learning from this is that the experiences differ from where and when you had your times as a Sharpie”. Where and when you were, and are now, he astutely recalls, “makes a difference”.
A lot of remembering has been going on, percolating in the vivid minds of 60 something bodies, and also 70 or 50 somethings recalling the same things, different things, particular suburbs, specific streets, unforgiven grievances. Not simply celebrating glory days, or dreaming of settling old scores, like who were the most feared crews, or being thumped at the Melbourne Show one too many times. But elbowing a bit of reality into the sanitized accounts of living in the suburbs that mainstream Australian history ignores.
Snap is an imaginary discussion between a shit-load of people from all over the place, a gathering of voices and personalities in different stages of middle age brought together to create a social history that no single memory can hold, or remember. Snap is also the most comprehensive account of the original sharpies of the mid to late sixties, a scene that is only touched on briefly by James Cockington in his history of Australian rock music Long Way to the Top (2001). Arrogantly I thought that sharpies were a distinctly Melbourne thing, till friends like Sam Biondo, Rebecca Maclean, Nazz Oldham and Tait Brady put me straight. The Crevelli boys and West Heidelberg sharps have a lot to answer for in the body-beating of my street psyche. Eastland? Never even knew where it was at the time. All the mean streets in East Preston led to one place, and that was Northland. We are collectively recovering, then, more varied and detailed memories of what Sam Biondo has called a “forgotten” era on his “Skins ‘n Sharps” web site.
Julie’s pugnacious, no holes barred selection of personal stories from various social media discussion groups is organised with the polite enthusiasm and inclusive enthusiasm of Mr Frank Conte, obligingly making cardies in his Thornbury Continental knitwear shop for whoever came from wherever around town. She is not taking sides, not being divisive, just telling it like it is and letting different voices speak for themselves. She avoids rubbernecking over old turf or footwear wars that frequently strut into the recollections. She fills important gaps in the largely neglected memories of sharp in Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane. And if that’s not enough she recovers the history of the word sharp itself, dating it to the 1950s and the beginning of a uniquely Australian attitude to style as a marker of suburban identity. Julie’s “pedigree of the Australian” sharpie is the most accurate we have yet, a family tree forged out of the stoushes, bickering, jealousies, style, ethnicity, sound, moves and one-up-man ship of which suburb, even which city, was the real deal, the authentic home of sharp. Reading Snap is like eavesdropping on a reunion, maybe even an impossible one, a meeting of the clans happy to forget being jumped at Flinders Street Station or a nasty touch up at an AC/DC concert. Well, for a time anyway. While largely about the fun and rascality in Melbourne in the 60s and 70s, it riffs a vernacular style of designer violence, rhythm and blues that was quintessentially Australian.
Julie Mac is the vernacular storyteller of sharp, listening to what everyone has to say and knitting a crazy striped quilt of raffish bits and pieces that anyone can relate to, remember and hear a bit of themselves in. She doesn’t take sides and vividly recalls the grunge, boredom, nastiness and good times of living in Australian suburbia years ago. Well Jules, as “Noel” says in the discussion group Slackbastard, “such fond memories you have brought back”. Rock on.
In memory of Chris O, top fella and gent.