A Radical Life
Published by Garnet Press, 3 Sebastopol Street, Ballarat 3350
Brian Pola 2007
All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form
written permission of the publisher.
‘Those who withdraw to the heights to fast and pray in silence are
the pillars bearing the spiritual weight of what happens in history.
Theirs is a freedom and ability which cannot be caged. Theirs is the
first of all aristocracies, source and justification of all others
and the last yet remaining to us.’ (Hans Urs von Balthasar in A
Theology of History)
We spotted each other immediately at the Lounge. He stood thin and
lean in black leather pants and black t-shirt. We gazed at each
other through a haze of cigarette smoke and fog from the dry ice.
Silver studs glinted in his eyebrows and ears. He leant against the
bar. Classic. I edged over and waited for Immaculata to take a
break. Immaculata was Ballarat gothic.
‘Not bad are they?’ I said in the sudden silence.
‘Immaculata?’ he replied. A smile played his pink lips.
‘Yeah, great. I don’t get to the Lounge much but if Garth’s on I
come.’ Garth was the star of Immaculata.
‘Luke,’ he said, holding out his hand.
‘Whadaya drinkin’?’ I asked in ocker in case Luke was a homophobe.
You never knew what to expect in paranoid provincial Ballarat.
‘Jim Beam and Coke. Thanks.’
‘Are you a student?’ I asked him, trying to catch the barman’s eye.
I could’ve answered working my arse off as a labourer but told him
I lectured in history, close to true but I hadn’t lectured at
a university for years. I preferred a quiet life on the dole and
freedom at my secluded cottage by the Yarrowee Creek.
‘A lecturer? Where?’ he asked with a raised slash of black eyebrow.
‘Just casual,’ I replied elusively, ‘so where d’ya go to school?’
‘Saint Patrick’s College.’
It was my old school but didn’t say so. Too many ghosts.
‘Music, History and Latin.’
I thought. Mmmm. Obviously not a complete slouch. Garth wandered
through the crowd, smiled at Luke and came over. He was the full
goth in black vinyl coat, heavy white make-up, mascara, lilac lips,
dress rings and studs.
‘Enjoy the show?’ Garth asked Luke.
‘Great Garth.’ Luke blushed pink, shy before the popular Garth.
‘We’re off to Hot Gossip. Coming?’ Garth asked Luke. I wasn’t
Luke and I glanced in a way that suggested possibilities other than
the popular dance bar in a converted bluestone cathedral in Dana
Street. I allowed myself a glimmer of hope. Was Luke hedging his
‘How come you know Garth?’ I asked as a retinue of Goth fans
followed Garth out through the crowd.
‘Music. I play guitar. Goin’ to Hot Gossip?’
‘Dunno. Might kick back at my place. We could have a smoke there if
you like?’ I ventured.
‘Cool. Hot Gossip’s great but I’d like a smoke. Where d’ya live?’
‘Not far. Down by the Creek.’
Spidery mist clung to the streetlights as we made our way beside
the Yarrowee. Luke talked about his part-time job as a stacker at
Bi-Lo. He walked along the bluestone capping of the channel, arms
outstretched as he balanced.
‘Don’t fall in,’ I told him.
‘It must have been amazing here before the gold miners
came,’ I said.
said, surprising me. He jumped off the capping back to the track.
‘August. That’s when gold was discovered. Yeah, woulda bin great,
all ferns and trees.’
Once a pristine stream, the Wathaurung people had
gathered for corroborees along its banks for thousands of years. The
Yarrowee was now a wide bluestone channel, a work of art in civil
engineering but unappreciated, a dumping ground for supermarket
trolleys, plastic bags and the detritus of Ballarat. Yarrowee was
Wathaurung for everflowing water.
Moonlight guided our footsteps as we crunched the quartz gravel.
Breaths steamed in chill night air. I searched for the overgrown
track to my miner’s cottage.
‘Ya live alone?’ he asked nervously, suddenly anxious as I led the
way through the trees. Wary of a set-up I thought. Natural enough.
‘Yep. No one else.’ My heart beat faster as I opened the rusty gate.
We walked under the old walnut tree to the back door. My heart
started to pound.
‘This is it,’ I said. I pretended to be dismissive. I stoked up the
embers and got the fire going.
‘Wow! Where’d ya get the old altar?’ he exclaimed. Luke ran his
hands over the dark polished wood.
‘An old church near Nhill. It was going to the tip so I saved it.
Cedar and oak. Not much call for old altars these days. What can I
In between joints, Jim Beam, Bob Dylan, The Eurythmics, Freddy
Mercury and The Pet Shop Boys, Luke plied me with questions
about my student life in the sixties and the anti-Vietnam war
movement. I asked him about his family, school and music. Questions
about family elicited a blush. He changed the subject.
‘I just wanna finish school and get out of Ballarat. Ballarat’s a
We got onto politics.
‘Wars are still happenin’ aren’t they?’ he said, ‘hundreds of
thousands marched against the war in Iraq. I marched in Ballarat. So
last century isn’t it? War?’ He questioned me with large
‘War is very twenty-first century as well,’ I said sardonically,
‘nothing changes. I marched against the Vietnam War. In the sixties
there was a very strong secondary school students’ movement.’
‘Yeah? I wish there was one now. Ya should write a book about your
student days,’ he suggested, ‘students wanna know about the sixties.
It musta bin wild. We need to know about it. I study the
sixties in Australian History, ya know, Vietnam and the hippies.
Were ya a hippy?’
‘Yep. All those crazy days and nights. You’re right Luke, I’ll get
around to it. I’ve kept a lot of diaries from those days.’
‘Yeah? Can I read ‘em?’ he asked with youthful earnesty.
I was surprised. Not the sort of thing today’s sixteen year old
would’ve been into.
‘If ya like. I’m not into that part of my life anymore. Water under
the bridge. I’m more interested in reading other people’s stories.
I’ve just finished Holding The Man by Tim Conigrave, about a
gay man in Melbourne who went to Xavier College. A true story. He
died of AIDS.’
I took the plunge. I covered myself just in case.
‘What do you want to do when you when you leave school
Luke studied me for a few seconds deadpan. His thin pale face slowly
relaxed to a quiet grin.
‘I’m not gunna work in fuckin’ Bi-Lo all me life. Fuck
that! I’m gunna write. Have ya written anythin’?’ he asked, ‘ya
know, gay stuff?’
‘Some. Nothing published. About when I was a kid, student
politics, drugs, prison.’
Luke looked down, nodded slowly then suddenly pierced me with big
‘Prison huh? You’re not a fuckin’ weirdo are ya?
‘No. It was during the Vietnam War. Student demonstrations.’
I thought of the stack of diaries and unpublished manuscripts at the
bottom of a cupboard. Why not! Bi-Lo boy might be a good sounding
board. I might even get back into it again.
‘I like readin’ people’s diaries,’ Luke said quietly, ‘is there sex
‘Some. I’ll dig ‘em out. It’s getting late. D’ya wanna crash?’
Morning with coffee and a joint.
‘Still want to read my stuff?’
Luke’s thick black curls tangled over his forehead as he sipped his
‘Yep. My English teacher says I hafta read if I wanna improve my
During the week I delved into dusty diaries and stop/start
manuscripts. Where to start? Sex seemed banal after the clumsy sex
we’d had. Perhaps Luke’s other love, history. Better to start there.
The sixties stuff would come out. I searched for the right diary, a
beginning, a long forgotten manuscript. Sex, drugs, religion,
politics, history. It was all there. Random vignettes can be
deliciously poignant. Some diaries from University years were
missing. Stolen. ASIO visited me in 1985. I had the diaries but I’d
been unhelpful to the two young agents. Two days later the house in
Fitzroy was turned over. The diaries were gone.
I dug through the bits and pieces. He probably wouldn’t turn up I
tortured. Most didn’t. I gambled he would. He was rough but bright,
unusually so, loved reading and wanted to write. We might become
But Luke was true to his word. When he called around the following
Saturday I handed him a starter, just two pages, a tester. He wasn’t
in leather this time, just a long black overcoat, baggy denims,
silversteel lanyards and a bright yellow hooded top from which
curled those thick black locks.
‘For you,’ I said, feigning nonchalance.
‘Cool. I’ll read it now.’ He slouched over to the tattered
chesterfield and stretched out. I quietly rolled a joint, thought of
how I’d written him in during the week and waited.
You said you were interested in the sixties. Who isn’t? I was a
teenager during the sixties. My life was a real jumble I can tell
you! The sixties shaped my life. I started writing in 1965, the year
I started at Saint Patrick’s College as a boarder from Nhill. I was
sixteen, the same as you.
The sixties was The Beatles; Pope John XX111 and the Second Vatican
Council; Saint Patrick’s College in Ballarat; The Anarchists’
Cookbook; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Brother Kelty’s
lesson about Caesar crossing the Rubicon; my time in a Jesuit
seminary and life as a student revolutionary at University. The
sixties was Johnny’s Green Room in Carlton, the one place where you
could get stoned on the marijuana haze and play billiards at four
a.m. It was spaghetti Bolognese at Genevieve’s for a few bucks;
Kookaburra gas stoves in Carlton and the rambling terraces of the
radical Australian Union of Students in Drummond Street. The sixties
was La Mama and the Pram Factory; Melbourne University Union folk
nights with Glen Tomasetti and Margaret Roadknight; Che Guevara wall
posters; FC panel vans; acid trips; anti-Vietnam War demonstrations
and being bashed by the police. Best of all, it was a free
That was the sixties.