Revelling in the art of rebellion
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
From the cover of
a memoir by independent filmmaker Albie Thoms