This Is My City!

The Women’s Theatre Group was my first direct involvement with the Pram Factory. I think my feminism was heavily influenced by anarchism, Emma Goldman, Alexandra Koll[o]ntai, the 1871 Paris Commune and by Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks — about the internalisation of oppression. I like the group creative process; I love nutting things out, listening and talking and moving and I believe really strongly that the group is more than the sum of its parts but I also believe the stronger the people in it, the stronger the group. There was a big anarchist household at 999 Drummond St.; Paul Dixon and Ann, they were the king and queen of the anarchists, if that’s a contradiction in terms, and they moved to the UK, to Brixton. We had the Free Store in Smith St. Collingwood for a while. There was a gang of anarchists and crims who lived there… ~ Robin Laurie, ‘Some recollections of Life in the Australian Performing Group’

GREG MACAINSH, Skyhooks – ‘The songs had to be authentic, they had to be about places I’d actually been to’

“When the sun sets over Carlton
And you’re out to make a deal
Check out who you’re talkin’ to
And make sure they are real”

— Carlton (Lygon Street Limbo)

When the sun sets over Elwood, the man who put Melbourne on the songwriting map is at home, studying. Thirty years after the landmark Living In The 70s album, Skyhooks songwriter and bass player Greg Macainsh is doing a law degree.

“Really, the Trade Practices Act is just a different form of poetry,” he laughs.

Billy Pinnell, who has worked in Melbourne radio for 45 years, says Macainsh’s songs exploded the cultural cringe, opening ears to truly Australian songs.

“He broke down all the barriers,” Pinnell says, “opening the door for Australian rock ‘n’ roll songwriters to write about local places and events. He legitimised Australian songwriting and it meant that Australians became themselves.”

Macainsh wrote about his native land — the suburbs. His songs described the contemporary Australian experience without the obligatory kangaroo or wattle tree. These were songs about Carlton, not Oodnadatta. And they reflected that most of us were riding around in Valiants, not on brumbies.

Macainsh, now 54, says he didn’t really know what he was doing. “It just made sense for me to write about the things I knew.”

Greg Macainsh grew up in Warrandyte. His father had poems published in The Bulletin. His mother was a librarian. Macainsh was camping at a boy scouts’ jamboree in Dandenong when he heard The Beatles’ I Saw Her Standing There on the radio. “It was wild stuff, amazing,” he says. “I lost interest in the scouts and concentrated on music. The little tranny had just hit. I listened to a valve radio at home and then to a crystal radio set I made for my bedroom. 3UZ was the station and Stan Rofe was the man.”

At Norwood High School in Ringwood, Macainsh was captain of the softball team, “the team for wusses and misfits”. He was almost expelled because of his long hair, but he refused to cut it. He bonded with a fellow student, Freddy Strauks, who became the singer in his first band, Spare Parts, and then the drummer in Skyhooks.

Macainsh’s first “local” song documented him joining Eltham’s version of the Grateful Dead, Reuben Tice. The song was I Went Down To Eltham To Get Me A Job In A Band.

His songwriting heroes were Chuck Berry, The Kinks’ Ray Davies, and Bob Dylan. “They could all rattle off a place name, like Memphis or Waterloo Sunset or Muswell Hill. It gave their songs great mystique and the listener a sense of place. Later on, I thought I could do it in the Skyhooks, but it had to be real, it couldn’t be twee or folky.

“The only other ‘Australian’ song I knew at the time was I’ve Been Everywhere, which had every Oodnadatta/Coolangatta/Wangaratta rhyme. It was a novelty song and I definitely didn’t want to go in that direction.”

Macainsh wanted to write about places that had “ethos and an atmosphere”.

“And the songs had to be authentic, they had to be about places I’d actually been to. I was a bit sceptical about Arkansas Grass by Axiom because I’m not sure any of the guys had been to Arkansas. And the song’s about the American Civil War and I was sure they hadn’t been to the war.”

Carlton, Balwyn and Toorak were the suburbs Macainsh wrote about on Living In The 70s. “They were the places I knew something about,” he recalls. “With St Kilda, I hadn’t spent a lot of time there by 1973 and 1974, so I couldn’t really write about that.”

Skyhooks’ first gig was in Carlton, at St Jude’s Church Hall in 1973. And Macainsh remembers many early-morning trips from Eltham to Johnny’s Green Room in Faraday Street — the only place in Melbourne selling cigarettes at 2am.

Many people mistakenly thought that Balwyn Calling was about Macainsh’s girlfriend, writer Jenny Brown, who grew up in Balwyn.

“I had another girlfriend from Balwyn, for a brief moment,” Macainsh reveals. “I think the song speaks for itself. One thing you have to remember is that phone calls back then were far more significant than they are now. And not everyone had a phone. You’d ask people, ‘Have you got the phone on?’ So a phone call from someone in Balwyn was significant communication.”

“Well, she mighta looked like a princess
Why’d you have to give her your address?
‘Cause you ain’t safe when you get home
She’s gonna call you on the telephone”

Toorak Cowboy, meanwhile, which became one of six Living in the 70s tracks banned from radio, was written after one of Macainsh’s girlfriends ran off with a guy from Toorak. The song refers to the Trak Cinema’s supper show. “You could see a movie at 10 o’clock on a Friday night; it was a very groovy thing to do,” Macainsh recalls. “And get your hair cut at Marini’s.” — Jeff Jenkins is the author of the Skyhooks’ book Ego Is Not A Dirty Word ~ Shaun Carney, ‘Songs of Melbourne’, The Age, August 28, 2004.

This is my city
This is your city
This is our city now

Well I’m back in the land of second chances
And rock ‘n’ roll shows where nobody dances
Back in the land of chicken and chips
Mars Bars and roadside tips

And if you don’t like it
Then that’s too bad
Cos it’s the only city that we’ve ever had
So when the man says
That you gotta pay
You gotta cancel the cheque and you gotta say…

Well I’m back in the land of cheap incense
Where the favourite sport is sittin’ on the fence
Back in the land of pie and sauce
Drinkin’ flat beer with no third course

And if you don’t like it
Then you gotta fight it
And you gotta fight it now
Ain’t no time
For walkin’ the line
Somehow the cream’s gone sour…

Back in the land of subtle hints
Where the artists are busy painting Picasso prints
Here in the land of all time lows
You can make it big and get your own quiz show
And if you just hate it
Then that’s too bad
Cos it’s the only city that you’ve ever had
So when the cop says
Get outta town
You gotta get it together gotta stick around

This is my city
This is your city
This is our city now

I got it
You got it
We got it now

This is my city
This is your city
This is our city now

~ From the album Straight in a Gay Gay World (Mushroom, 1976)

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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