Riley Street, Surry Hills, a long uphill one-way road. Our house was in a small group of recently renovated semi's about half way to the top, roughly where the many trucks using the road would loudly double de-clutch up a gear; right outside my window. Being the last to join the household and the junior member, I got the least attractive room, right on the road. But that also meant I had to make way for others in the kitchen, a handy feature since one of the lads was European and his cooking flair added the use of spices to my still foetal culinary skills. Both boys were a bit older than me and worldlier by far. They'd play the bar scene with a dexterity my innocence envied and they sometimes brought home the calibre of women I could only dream about. One night I was in bed when they came home from the bar with some girls and started a party in the lounge room. The place was jumping and sleep had become impossible. From the sounds invading my room I was getting some pretty vivid images of fun and quite possibly, debauchery. That had me wide awake, so I dragged on some pants and wandered out to flesh out the sounds enticing my imagination. There were three girls with my housemates all in varying stages of undress romping around the couches, all manner of cooperative friendliness on show. I was invited to join in. The rhythm of play hardly blinked as I got up to speed with the business of undressing, touching, kissing, joking, stroking, and licking with the animated little party. Before long there was some completely unserious group copulation going on in the scrubbed-brick lounge room of this rented house in Riley Street, Surry Hills. It was 1968. I remember the scene pretty well, but quite recently, after more than thirty years, I recognised, in spite of some middle age spread, the European housemate on television. He had a show of his own, and he no longer used the nickname I knew him by, but when I mailed him he confirmed he was the same person but said he couldn't remember the event. Funny how some fairly extraordinary happenings can be forgettable. It was certainly the only time I'd ever indulged in what could genuinely be described as an orgy - without the grapes. The abundance of spare day time hours combined with a subsistence income from the bar intensified my search for work as an actor/ model. Initially it seemed more likely I'd get work doing photographic work for ads, maybe some television commercials if I was lucky. I wasn't. I approached the agent my housemate was using and he sent me off to get the usual set of shots for the portfolio. Then followed the business of peddling them around to all the advertising agencies where they'd take a picture and put you on their file waiting until some client liked the look of you for their product. Very few, it seemed, liked the look of me. Back in the sixties it was all blond, blue eyed surfer guys they were after, and the dark skinned dark haired contenders were yet to have their day. The agent decided I'd be better off going for some acting jobs. After a few misses I got a call back for a six month tour of Queensland with the Australian Theatre for Young People. The theatre group was putting two touring troupes together, the other for New South Wales, to tour schools with two plays; one a mix of nursery rhymes and the other a Comedia del Arte piece by Goldoni, The Servant of Two Masters.  Both casts congregated in an old church hall in Darlinghurst for rehearsal where I met the other members for the first time. It was a dusty old place, empty except for a couple of stacks of plastic chairs; it seemed as though nothing had happened there for years. The excitement the successful cast members carried in the front door soon lifted the atmosphere and before long the place was shining with possibilities. There were three men and two women in the caste. I got to play the Pied Piper in the nursery rhyme piece and the romantic dill, one of the eponymous masters, in the Goldoni play. As the company was scheduled to tour all over Queensland for six months, from the start there was a sense that we should all get on well otherwise it could all sour badly. There was to be an Arts Council tour manager who would drive the van and negotiate the accommodations in hotels, motels, and sometimes overnight billeting in towns where the local people were starved of cultural activities and welcomed into their houses the occasional Arts Council actors, musicians and creative types. 'Culture Vultures' was the term I heard used to describe these mostly lovely people whose lives were seriously limited by the vast distances between towns and their often tiny populations. Our troupe seemed to get on pretty well from the start, fired along with the enthusiasm of the new; a happy dynamic grew as the rehearsal period came to an end and we flew to Brisbane to rendezvous with the tour manager and his Commer van. The van had just enough room for the six people, our costumes and stage sets all packed in a tight arrangement which would be our traveling office for the next six months. Some had previous acting experience, but there were no big egos or neurotic characters in the mix. Not that I noticed anyway. Bruce Gibson was an earthy sort of fellow who liked to make things with his hands, wore a leather hat and had a girlfriend in Sydney, a quiet and accommodating character, tall and bearded, he was probably the oldest member of the group. One of the women also had a relationship in Sydney. That left one woman, Vicki Raymond, simmering in the inevitable intimacy soup, with three men floating about, doing their jobs and probably watching the brew, I certainly was; there were vast tracts of travel time when any sort of distraction was welcome. One of the three remaining men was the tour manager. An unattractive character by virtually any estimation, he eventually created such a bad atmosphere in the company, even causing the phlegmatic Gibson to blow his top, that the Arts Council replaced him. The second fellow, who had the lead part in the Goldoni play, was an Englishman who'd had some experience as an actor and who later played his way into a musical career. Peter Carolan I believe his name was at the time, although he subsequently became Peter Thin. Dulcimer player. Wafer thin with bad teeth, in the seventies he could usually be found at markets from Paddington to Nimbin on his way to minor cult status as the keyboard player in Gondwanaland with Charlie Didj. I was the third free man in the Commer van. Ms Raymond was a lovely round-faced young woman, her beautiful breasts and fine waist almost outshining her intelligent and thoughtful blue eyes. Her blond hair was soft and light, her voice perhaps a little thin, but in her costume she cut a most enticing figure, projecting an irresistible vulnerability. A private school girl, Abbotsleigh I think she said, she came from St Ives on the North Shore, one of Sydney's more salubrious suburbs. We became friends spending many hours traveling in the van getting to know each other until eventually we began to share the same hotel room whenever possible. She was a marvelously comforting body and soul as we toured the vast and mostly empty state of Queensland. We entertained its schoolchildren in halls large and small with audiences to match. Sometimes we played Catholic schools where habited nuns would stand in the background overseeing the performance and not always approving. Their scowling features perhaps shocked by the décolletage of young Vicki's costume…There was no doubt at all about another of their objections, since it came in the form of a written complaint to the Arts Council. The focus of their disquiet was my costume. As the Pied Piper I would appear throughout the fairytale in red and yellow tights and fringed tunic. The pointed fringe reached my hips leaving the groin area exposed, much like a ballet dancer's, with its genital bulge. The offended nuns found the sight too much to bear, perhaps protesting on account of their young female charges sitting so close, usually on the ground, in the round, and looking up at the performers as we danced among them. Or perhaps their own repressed sexuality had unwelcomingly stirred. Whatever the cause of their complaint, I was delighted to have accidentally been an agent provocateur. To my great shame, during that tour, I lost my temper one day with one of the cast members, and punched him in the face. I can't even remember what it was about but it was an outrageous loss of face for me, he'd simply argued more effectively, more persistently. We were in some rented rooms standing by the kitchen sink and I swung at him smashing his face with a clenched fist. The only time in my life I've ever aggressively instigated an assault on another human being. For years after that I felt I was indebted to the fellow and as it turned out he gave me the opportunity to balance the debt. Peter Thin was trying to make his way as a musician with his dulcimer and keyboard, but had no recording facility. I had a reel to reel tape recorder which he asked to borrow. He had the thing for years before he finally returned it, but somehow the exchange seemed to recognise and compensate for the injustice of my violence towards him while we'd been on tour. As far as I was concerned after six months of doing the same two shows, sometimes twice a day, setting up the sets, packing them up again and traveling on to the next venue, the tour represented my apprenticeship as an actor. It was very much as I imagined actors in the Middle Ages would have learned their craft, living and performing on the road. When we eventually returned to Sydney, in my mind I had transformed into a fully fledged, paid up member of Actor's Equity and didn't have to do any more of those humiliating auditions (too many rejections) to flog this or that piece of consumer rubbish. No doubt that had I scored a few choice jobs, a couple of 100%'s (some lines to deliver), like the much fancied Coke commercial, it would have been more attractive path to tread. But cattle calls were still the order of the day for any legitimate acting job with dozens of hopefuls lining up for the slim pickings on offer. I gave up working in the bar since I was now a bona fide actor and took a job in the Theatre Royal, one of the grand old theatres of Sydney, as an usher. A Girl in my Soup with Stuart Wagstaff was in an extended run. They gave me a moth-eaten dinner jacket suit shiny with age and a size too big to wear as I escorted people to their seats. The theatre was itself like a grand old dame; musty and past its prime, it still went about its business, imperiously ignoring its decline. The theatre-going citizens of Sydney came in full evening dress apparently ignoring the signs of decay all around them. The show went on and on, the same old sitcom fluff night after night. Eventually the show closed and was replaced with something perhaps more appropriate for the old girl. Franquin, the hypnotist. Playing usually to half houses, the tawdry and glib entertainment of the show hypnotist ringing laughs out of the idiotic behaviour of his audience focussed my thoughts on the need for a different kind of theatre entertainment. Exactly what I had no idea. One of the distractions from not getting any paid work was the ongoing need for training. Part of an actor's preparation which I realised would probably go on for a good long while, involved doing dance and singing lessons. The qualification description for an actor had always been actor/singer/dancer. You had to cover the field, the more skills you had the more likely you were to get a job. I'd do regular dance sessions at the Bodenweiser studio and train my poorly sited singing voice with a private teacher, Colleen Clifford. The woman was something of a musical theatre legend I believe; she lived in a tiny little bungalow in Paddington with her mother. Both women seemed ancient, living in a place where the air hung with the faint whisper of lavender and the light filtered in through her overgrown garden damp and mottled. Her mum was invalided and Miss Clifford's miniature body didn't seem all that far away from similar decline herself. But her spirit was big. She was from another era; grand and prepossessing, she would show me how to stand and deliver, a thin arm extended with its slightly arthritic hand twisting a final gesture to the song as her deep-set blue eyes lifted to the 'gods', projecting her performance right to the back of the imagined auditorium. Then she'd slip back to the piano to bang out some chords for my entry. Her diligence and enthusiasm gave me enough confidence to try for singing parts, no mean feat for someone who could certainly sing, but had no real sense that it sounded any good. Perhaps a good chorus singer, I'd done a lot of choir singing at school, including the obligatory annual Messiah, so I could hold a line, not get distracted by people around me singing different parts, but the voice was just in the wrong place for it to work all alone and the talented Miss Clifford hadn't been able to adjust that. When we'd arrived back in Sydney from the tour, Vicki and I had a good thing going as the song says, and I moved in with her to the family home. Not to share her bedroom, that wouldn't have been proper even in as liberal a household as the Raymond's, but her generous family were supportive of their daughter's choices and found somewhere for me to bunk down. The household was a chaotic kind of place with a couple of large hairy dogs mixing it with a mother, two daughters and a young son. Vicki's dad, Karl, an Austrian Jew - although I think he might have lapsed into a Rotarian, had a ski ware shop up on the Pacific highway. The densely congested shop was in a small A frame building backing on to the railway line and I used to love going in there to breath the close atmosphere and handle the fabulous equipment. The experience would flood me with memories of my own skiing days in Switzerland where for a time our family went for our annual holidays. The Raymond's were very kind to me and encouraged me to enjoy their daughter. The first winter I shared with them we all went down to Perisher for some skiing. It was a pretty ordinary ski world compared to Switzerland's mountains; there wasn't much snow and it was usually wet and the après ski in 1968 was underdone. But we had some fun; it was a bit like skiing at the frontier before the industry came of age. My desire to be a ski instructor which had flourished in Switzerland until my father had ruled it out as a possible career path, did not return on the slopes of the Kosciusko hills. Back in St Ives Vicki's mum, Enid, ran the household with a loosely honed multi tasking style which seemed to leave a good deal of the less attractive work to fairies who failed to turn up. The benign authority of the woman radiated throughout the house as domestic duties deferred to regular sessions of tea, biscuits and conversation. Enid's mother, Mrs Sinclair, was a sublime presence ambling about, most usually in the garden where the octogenarian would be bent over double pulling out weeds and generally fiddling around with the bushy unkempt flower beds. The old dear was a Mary Baker Eddy fan from an experience in her youth when she'd had, as she put it, a miraculous healing from a burn; this single experience had sustained her life of faith as a Christian Scientist for the rest of her life. We had many long and involving discussions about religion and the life of the spirit so that when she died a few years later I felt as though I knew her well enough to consult her post mortem, to see if I could locate her, if she had something to say to me…It was an appropriately sublime few moments as I closed my eyes and called her. The air filled with a kind of sweetness, gentle sounds and soft shapes preceded a sensation of calm joy, no words, no visual details, just an all-encompassing sense of love and well-being. Aside from my adventure with the ouija board and my mum's friends back in the Congo, this was the first time I'd made any attempt to contact the dead, and so far as the experience could be trusted, there was little doubt left in my mind that the good woman had found her heaven beyond earth. Her daughter Enid carried much the same spirit essence; although not a Christian in any nominal sense, she had an interest in spiritual matters eventually providing accommodation for a visiting Buddhist monk in a renovated garden shed. Although Karl is long gone and Enid no longer lives in St Ives, this same monk continues to enjoy the hospitality of the Raymond's whenever he travels to Sydney. Life continued with comfortable predictability in the leafy zone of St Ives with Vicki and I making our regular trips into the city in pursuit of work; with no rent to pay the pressure to get work was mild but I did score a small part in one episode of Homicide, a cop show shot in Melbourne where I'd had to play an army lad gone AWOL. My kiss and cuddle girlfriend in the episode was Wendy Hughes, later to become a minor star in the constellation of Australian television. I'd been absorbed into the Raymond household without any obvious undercurrents of disquiet from the family; survival techniques honed through years of living in boarding schools made my grafting onto another family a seamless affair. The affair with the elder Raymond sister though was straining at the edges as it began to grow into something which didn't quite fit in the house. In our innocence we decided marriage was the appropriate response and duly agreed to put the question to the matriarch. Enid was in the bath at the time as we crowded in with the news of our plan. She lay there smiling benevolently and wished us all the best. I don't know whether I expected her to leap out of the bath and nakedly rail against this proposal, but her gentle acquiescence quite took me by surprise. As we turned to leave her to her soaking pleasure the sensation of a pit opened up under me, dark, malformed; an almost sentient emptiness followed me out of the bathroom and continued to quietly trouble me until a few months later when its presence finally unsettled me so much I called the marriage off. The parting was amicable and to this day, every year on my birthday the lovely woman rings me up. I'd been chez Raymond for about six months when my agent told me about a new show casting in Sydney. It had been running for a while in the US and Australia was to be its second incarnation. There was a buzz about the show because it was apparently breaking new ground theatrically. It was a musical but instead of a conventional orchestral score, the music would be created by a rock band of some local repute, Tully. The show was HAIR and anybody who'd ever thought they were an actor or wanted to be on the stage was in the cattle call for the casting. In my short experience I'd never seen a casting quite like it. The usual po-faced, serious actors were there, but also a big crowd of colourful contenders, dressed up in what we wildly imagined would put us on call-back for this big event. After a couple of call-backs I figured I was in with a pretty good chance…my audition singing had been adequate if a little stylised thanks to Colleen Clifford's training, but the dance component had worked well. I realised pretty early on there'd be no chance for any of the lead parts, my voice simply didn't have the range or the character, so I hoped for a general chorus role where its strength could support and sustain a part. The director, Jim Sharman, eventually caste me as one of the 'tribe', the buzzword for the more traditional 'chorus', or backing caste. The use of the collective 'tribe' was part of the cultural indoctrination the original creators of the show had contrived for the caste to become a group bonded by more than performance in a show which ran eight times a week. They wanted to build an organic whole which would live the story for the audience as part of its bid to construct authenticity - not just a bunch of actors playing hippies, but genuine dissidents, activists prepared to take on the establishment. If the notion of constructing authenticity sounds just a little oxymoronic, in practice the artifice soon assumed a tone convincing enough within the mercantile environment of the theatre. To that end, for the first week or so of rehearsals, there was no attention to the show proper; instead we were subjected to a series of encounter sessions designed to break down the hard-wired sense of personal space urban westerners seem to have and accelerate a physical intimacy you'd expect to find in a tight knit group. Like most creations, at a certain point they can take on a life of their own and the producers probably never imagined their caste would turn around and bite the hand that fed them; although producer Harry M. Miller's hand didn't actually bleed from the bite, management of the minor monster was not unproblematic.
No Man’s Land
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