Rev­el­ling in the art of re­bel­lion

My Gen­er­a­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Toby Creswell

By Al­bie Thoms Me­dia 21 Pub­lish­ing, 400pp, $36.95

THE artis­tic com­mu­nity in Florence had the Medici. In Syd­ney, they made do with the Univer­sity of Syd­ney. But what a glit­ter­ing bunch they were there at the be­gin­ning of the 60s: Clive James, Ger­maine Greer, Richard Walsh, Bruce Beres­ford, Robert Hughes, Char­lie Perkins, Richard Wher­rett, John Bell, Bob El­lis, Frank Moor­house, all pound­ing out polemics for the univer­sity stage or press.

Across town, Jim Shar­man and Richard Neville were cre­at­ing drama at the Univer­sity of NSW and Martin Sharp was at the Na­tional Art School. Never be­fore or since has there been a group of Aus­tralians who have had such a pro­found im­pact on the world at large. This was the best and bright­est gen­er­a­tion Aus­tralia has pro­duced and they were all in one town. It’s sur­pris­ing it has taken un­til now to have this mov­able feast recorded. It’s been worth the wait: Al­bie Thoms’s My Gen­er­a­tion is one of the most in­ter­est­ing books yet on Aus­tralian cul­tural his­tory, de­light­fully spiced with gossip and wrapped with self-dep­re­cat­ing wit. It’s an es­sen­tial read for Thoms’s gen­er­a­tion and in­deed for the gen­er­a­tions that came af­ter.

A young Thoms wan­dered into this in­tox­i­cat­ing mi­lieu in March 1959. It’s fair to say his mind was blown. He was col­le­gial in spirit and moved eas­ily through a wide cir­cle of friends, es­sen­tially be­ing where the ac­tion was at any par­tic­u­lar time — de­vis­ing sub­ver­sive the­atri­cal shows, writ­ing for Univer­sity of Syd­ney stu­dent mag­a­zine Honi Soit, hang­ing with the painters.

The lo­cal in­tel­li­gentsia then was like a small tribe hud­dled at the back of a deep cave, wifeswap­ping and folk singing and try­ing to dis­cern through flashes of light and snatches of speech what was hap­pen­ing in the real world. The more am­bi­tious, such as Greer, James and Hughes, soon drifted away.

It fell to those who stayed be­hind to cre­ate their own ver­nac­u­lar on stage or in print. Oz mag­a­zine, launched in 1963, crys­tallised the spirit of the times. Rad­i­cal in form and con­tent, Oz was the first man­i­fes­ta­tion of the Aus­tralian cul­ture that took hold in the 70s. Its ar­rival was ac­com­pa­nied by the vice squad haul­ing the edi­tors off to jail. In­deed the vice squad took an ac­tive role in most cul­tural events of the time.

That same year Thoms staged the the­atre piece A Re­vue of the Ab­surd, which in­cluded a scat­o­log­i­cal short film, It Drop­peth as the Gen­tle Rain, he had made with Bruce Beres­ford. The film was quickly banned, although that didn’t stop Thoms from screen­ing it in coming years, and he had found his call­ing.

In 1963 there was no film cul­ture in Aus­tralia. A world away from ex­pe­ri­enced film­mak­ers, Aus­tralians made it up as they went along. Thoms was by no means alone; artists such as Bruce Petty, Garry Shead and Peter Kingston all had a go. As an ex­ten­sion of his the­atri­cal shows and film­mak­ing, Thoms formed a col­lec­tive with Aggy Read, David

My Gen­er­a­tion,

From the cover of

a mem­oir by in­de­pen­dent film­maker Al­bie Thoms

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