Looking for the Alternative Heart of
Songs not Bombs
on a Friday Night
As Related by Reverend Hellfire
And so our Expedition set off for the bright lights and overwhelming aroma of Souvlaki that is West End’s Boundary Street on a Friday night.
Our Mission; to celebrate Kurilpa Poets’ Secretary John Treason’s advancing years and, on a professional level, find the legendary, Alternative Heart of West End on a Friday Night.
“It’s there out somewhere”, the Editor of the Kurilpa Citizen assured me, “possibly lying broken in a gutter, but it’s still there! I know it!!” and he wiped away a tear as he turned back to his 1978 Whole Earth Catalogue (1968: Ed.).
Now my Editor may be a sentimental old hippie, but he had a point. I mean, West End/Kurilpa has a Reputation doesn’t it?
Only the other week the Courier Mail’s right-wing crank-in-residence, Des Hougton, was calling us Kurilpa residents a bunch of progress-hating, sandal-wearing, carrot-chewing, bicycle-riding vegan anarcho-lesbians, and he made it sound like a bad thing.
But it’s a Reputation, ironically, that those most inimical to it’s interests often like to trade off. You’ve seen the glossy ads spruiking Real Estate to yuppie property investors; “Come live in vibrant, cosmopolitan West End and help drive out those who made it colourful and vibrant in the first place”.
And indeed, how much of that Reputation is still deserved these days, with the concrete towers rising up around us and the remaining pockets of tin and timber becoming the preserve of the Gentry who bought property here to fall within the State High Catchment Area. Does West End/ Kurilpa still have a Rebel’s Heart? Does it tuck that Heart into its sleeve like a pack of cigarettes and go strolling down Boundary Street on a Friday night? Does Rock n Roll George‘s phantom FJ Holden still come rolling down from the hills like fog? It was my job to find out.
I assembled a lively crew of ratbags, and as we rolled down first Sussex Street and then Boundary Street, our Mass attracted smaller bodies who became trapped in our Gravitational field and joined our group. Singer/waitress, Jem Sparkles, aka, the Queen of Sussex Street, was a valuable addition to our quest at this stage and later we enlisted the talents of local Poet & “Life model”, Fiona Privitera in our search for West End’s Revolutionary Soul.
It was good to see that St Andrews Church on the corner of Sussex and Vulture is still contributing to the area’s Alternative Vibe. With a large billboard out the front boldly proclaiming support for the Rights of Refugees, in the hall out the back you’ll find the Ecstatic Dance mob whirling and twirling every Friday night between 7-9 pm. There’s a kind of sufi/hippie vibe happening here, a little bit of bush-doof culture sprouting in a suburban church hall. It’s always looked like enormous fun when I’ve peered through the windows, and one Friday night when I have itchy feet and $15 in my pocket (apparently the door charge) I shall go in and join them.
But dancing was scheduled for later in the evening so we proceeded on down towards the Big Lizard, where we were rendezvousing at the Rumpus Room. As always Buskers were strategically placed along Boundary street’s length providing a smorgasbord of sound, honing their craft, paying their dues and hopefully making a few dollars in the process. (I never made any money busking; decent folk would cross the street to avoid me while the street lunatics would cluster round, taking me for one of their own.)
The Boundary Street Buskers help stoke the pulse and beat of the Street scene on a Friday night. Make sure you have some change in your pocket and lets hope some Bureaucratic Bastard doesn’t get the bright idea of making them get a permit.
I must admit a growing fondness for the Rumpus Room (though I do think they should change the name to “The Big Lizard”).
The relaxed vibe, the friendly, casual staff, the regular “happy hours” and the usually excellent music grooving away inside, (not too loudly for conversation) all contribute to a suitable setting for sociability.
It also possesses what may be Brisbane’s best DOSA (Designated Outdoor Smoking Area) where you can smoke in the company of civilised, consenting adults. Yes, when it’s not raining, the smoking section of the Rumpus Room is the place to be, right at the tip of the little spearhead of land where Russell Street meets Boundary and the Big Lizard looms large and lordly on his throne. The mixed crowd has a kind of “Ric’s Place” ambience (Casablanca reference here) and you never know who’ll happen by and join you. This is the perfect place to sit and watch the Heart of West End pulse and throb on a Friday night. Or if you don’t want to spend money, sit on the other side of the railings with the street people hanging around the Big Lizard, who it must be said, makes a very comfortable backrest.
Anyways, it was here we made our Base of Operations.
At intervals people went off to forage for a cheap meal. The Night Markets are now located in the warren of former alleyways and car parks behind the shops lining Boundary Street and were doing a roaring trade that night.
Several of our crew went grazing there and their reports indicated the food was generally satisfactory if a bit on the pricey side. My Personal Assistant sniffed something about “Botulism Alley” and opted for a huge hamburger from GRILLD down the road, which she promptly gorged and pronounced, “Better than McDonald’s”.
The Night Market’s food-stalls looked a bit touristy to me, and besides, I was looking for West End’s Alternative Heart.
Something old school was called for.
So I went back up the street and around the corner to KING AHIRAMS on Vulture Street, a genuine West End Institution and still home to the best (and cheapest) Falafel Roll in Brisbane. Ahirams has been there as long as I can remember (circa 82) and while I think it may have had the odd name change along the way, it’s generally always been known as “the Falafel Shop” by its many patrons.
Succeeding generations of back-packers, students, musicians, punks and drunks, hippies and vegetarians have all been nourished at its ancient, scratched counter, and pecked at by its feral pigeons.
Happily they haven’t felt the need to make any changes to fit in with West Ends’ new up-market image. No, they will never smile at their customers, but who cares? I get a damn fine Falafel with chilli, a couple of hot, crumbly cheese puffs, and a big hit of sugar in the form of one of Ahirams deadly Turkish Delights.
“Ah when Ahirams goes, that’s it for the Old West End!” I prophesized darkly to my Personal Assistant as I retook my place in the DOSA.
We fell prey to Nostalgia for a moment then for old Icons lost; Remember the Hellas Deli and the lovely ladies who worked there, we sighed? What about Georges, the best old-school fish and chip shop in Brisbane- now just another plastic eatery for the well-heeled and called the Catchment. Ah well, time for another Gin & Tonic.
Back in the Present across the road in the little People’s Park, the big-hearted “FOOD NOT BOMBS” crew have cooked up a great alternative-style feast for all, and are busily distributing to the Dispossessed, and those who choose to eat with them. The food is generally the traditional share-house rice and beans type vegetarian concoctions; hot, simple and satisfying on a cold Winter’s night.
Also in the park, providing a suitably alt-rock soundtrack is a kind of avant-garde girl punk band. (Though they have a boy drummer who appears to have mounted his drum-kit on a bicycle) I’ve been told they’re called “Songs Not Bombs“, though I can’t vouch for it. Their raucous sounds really seem to capture the mood of Boundary Street on a Friday night and I made a note to look out for future gigs.
Interesting noises had also been drifting down from the Boundary Hotel for some time, so eventually we decided to investigate. Alas we missed the band that had been playing upstairs, but we were in time for to see Spook Hill start their set in the Public bar. They immediately won our esteem by virtue of having a Theremin on stage. Always been a sucker for a good Theremin. It’s all those B grade 50’s science fiction/horror films I watched as a child. Anyways Spook Hill were smart enough to use it sparingly, and thus, rather than just a novelty noise, it provided another tasty texture to their overall Mix, a classic, gritty sound in the Brisbane Pub-rock tradition.
The Boundary Hotel was starting to get a bit of a “Meat Market” thing going last year (all air-head, bleach-blonde bimbos in embarressingly short dresses and an attendant swarm of predatory and aggressive males) but after local objections, the Boundary, to its credit, has listened to Community sentiment, reversed direction and now seems more inclined to continue the tradition of supporting local bands. A lesson learned; Boundary Street, West End is not the Brunswick Street sleaze-strip in the Valley.
Neither is it a yuppie eatery enclave like Oxford Street, Bulimba.
Boundary Street is untidy and alive and in a flux of social forces jostling for space. It is the last place in Brisbane where posters and flyers adorn every wall and telegraph pole. The Blacks and the Street People still maintain a presence despite continual police harassment (Hey Jonathon SRI! How about more benches for Boundary Street so you can sit down without having to buy something?), buskers still ply their trade, students can still afford to eat out cheaply here, young people still come here to live an “Alternative Lifestyle”. But the Forces of Greed are salivating over our little enclave, and it is rare that They don’t get Their own way.
Boundary Street is in the process of becoming something Unique. Or it’s being swallowed up by Faceless Gentrification.
Time will tell which.
Come the Chimes of Midnight we are dancing in the Public Bar of the Boundary Hotel to the sleazy rhythms of Stagger Lee as rendered by Spook Hill. Slippin’ and sliding over the tiled floor, it seemed an appropriate climax to the evening.
“Well” asked Secretary Treason, as the Bouncers later moved us inexorably towards the Exit,” Did you find it?
Did you find West End’s Alternative Heart?”
“Yes, actually, I did”, I replied, “It’s here”.
“The Public Bar of the Boundary Hotel?” he frowned,
“well, I guess..”
“No you Fool,” I cried, “Its Here!”
And I placed my hand on my Heart.
“For wherever I go, surely there is the Alternative Heart of West End!”, I said, smiling like a Saint, or possibly ET.
He looked at me with what I first surmised to be Wonder.
“Amazing,”he said at last, in a deadpan tone that turned out to be sarcasm, “it’s like you’ve got absolutely no Ego at all”.
“Mocker! Doubter!” I levelled an accusing, Old Testament finger, “For I tell you, where-ever two or three are gathered in my name and sitting on a bench waiting for cheque day or up a quiet back alley sharing a joint, there I am also! For I am the Spirit of West End! Seriously, I should get a grant from the West End Traders Association just for turning up in my traditional native costume and amusing the bus loads of Asian tourists that are always carefully shepherded to the Sushi Joint near Nandos“.
“Yes, and you could pose for pictures with Scandinavian backpackers at $5 a pop”, Mr Treason proposed, well, that or sell them drugs.”
“True”, I agreed, “we must be flexible and nimble in today’s shifting market conditions. Privileged First World Tourists cannot be overlooked as an income stream if the West End Counter Culture is to survive as a parasitic organism! There are Lifters and Leaners in Life, John, and I intend to do all the leaning I can!”
“By the Gods!”, he exclaimed”, “you really are the Alternative Heart of West End!”
“I always suspected I was”, I humbly confessed.