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First published in 2019

Text © Mike Chunn, 2019

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted


in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
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system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
To Brigid
Cover photograph: Murray Cammick
Endpaper photograph (front left): Bruce Jarvis and
Endpaper photograph (front right): Gijsbert Hanekroot via Getty Images to the memory of Von and Jerry
Photographs in the picture sections are from Mike Chunn’s personal collection
unless otherwise credited. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders
and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher
apologises for any errors or omissions and would be grateful to be notified of any
corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.

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looked at Juddsy and Juddsy looked at me and I looked at
Chapter Eleven Dave. On our return to the Squire Inn, Dave went mad trying

Across the Ditch


to find a sound system.
While he was distracted, we took in Sydney and found it
to be loose, fast, bent and full of semi-derelict and submerged
life-forms; an extraordinary contrast to the staid, plain and
protected social structure back in Auckland. Pornography
had flooded in, and newspapers bulging with hard-core sex

T
he plane carrying our line-up of eager, twitty New were lined up at corner shops beside the Sydney Morning Herald
Zealanders landed and got processed, and we and the Women’s Weekly.
checked into two rooms at the Squire Inn, Bondi Prostitutes lined Kings Cross; it was at its sleazy height.
Junction, which was over the road from the Bondi Lifesaver Teenagers in hot-pants and fishnets lolled around, their eyelids
nightclub; a convenient position because this was to be the filled with lead; a few metres away, the squinting eyes of a pimp
venue we would be playing at that night. Tim, Crombie, with slicked-back hair and a wide collar. Light brown loafers
Eddie, Croth and I all crammed into Room 416. Two beds, shining out from under his shimmering turquoise flared slacks.
three stretchers. Salubrious rock’n’roll accommodation. The You didn’t want to catch his eye. There was a song on all the
others—Dave Russell (our tour manager), Murray Ward radios called ‘Girls on the Avenue’ about these pathetic lasses.
(soundman), Wally and Juddsy—were a floor above. I  can’t To this day, and on to tomorrow, I’m sure, if I hear it I am back
recall ever going to their room. Why didn’t I ever catch the at the Cross aged 22. What an age to be filled with wonder.
lift up and drop in on them? I don’t know the answer. Maybe None of us seemed to talk about our female partners left
they all slept in a double bed and we just weren’t prepared for on the rocks of New Zealand. Maybe the whole social strata
that confrontation. of pop music bandhood and partners was too much to be real.
When we went to the suburbs to pick up the Hush sound To be manageable. It was easy for Tim. He didn’t leave anyone
system for our debut gig, it wasn’t there. The Hush dudes behind. Juddsy had left a wife and child. For me there was
knew nothing about our using it. They’d never heard of us. Paula, and there were other names for other band members.
I looked at Tim, who looked at Juddsy, who looked at Dave. They were out there somewhere, on the other side of the ditch.
We had to flag the Lifesaver show. On the way back to the Right here on the wide perimeters of interstate highways
hotel, weaving through the miles and miles of Sydney streets, and hippy footpaths with meandering groups eking out a
we read a small press mention in a music rag. It heralded our living, well . . . there was a neat, balanced contrast. Metal-
arrival as ‘New Zealand’s raunchiest rock’n’roll band’. Tim flake, V8, pot-bellied bizzaro clowns and gangsters scoured

124 Across the Ditch 125


the inner-city borders with mile after mile of flag-waving it staring at the ceiling. The invisible spiders moved across the
second-hand car yards and that wasn’t all. The cars were floor, pouring over my body. I screamed. There was no one
advertised on television as well, phones were push-button there to query it. The fear and terror did their usual sadistic
and the hi-fi shops stocked exotic, slick machinery. Music bitch. Heart racing, racing, racing. How many bpm? Maybe
instrument stores displayed the world’s best guitars, amps, 160? The fastest yet? Thoughts in my head speeding round
drums, et cetera. It would be some years before New Zealand and round. Could I hold one for an infinitely short duration?
joined the party. Back at the Squire Inn, we lived on cereal I couldn’t. I had to get back to the show. What will I say? How
and Vegemite sandwiches washed down with continuous can I not go back to the show? I had to get back to the show.
cups of instant coffee and non-dairy whitener stolen from the My heart was screaming. Get back to the show!
maids’ trolleys. I ran back out the door, down the stairs and out into the
I had some decisions to make. Each time I had fallen into street, my yellow zoot suit shuffling in the Sydney breeze.
the mode of fear and terror, the panic attack, I vomited. Surely I went into the changing room just as they were all walking
there was a reason. Did I have a physiological dysfunction? I onto the stage. As I joined them and walked between them,
must have. Let’s start somewhere. So I stopped eating when over to pick up my bass (flatwound strings), I was suddenly
day turned to night. No dinners. None. ‘That may well ward free. Whoosh! I felt perfectly normal. It was as if nothing
off this horrendous illness of the head,’ I thought. I’m a untoward had happened. There was nothing the guys could
scientist. I’m an Engineering Science graduate. I must know see in me that told them what I’d just been through. To repeat
something! I decided to try it. I started losing weight (well, of myself—I was free. And we started the show and we were
course). I also stopped drinking alcohol, in case that set off the very, very good. We had arrived.
terror. I mustn’t be triggered. The crowd got off on it. On us. Split Enz over from New
After about two weeks we got our shit together and had Zealand. I looked at the others in the band, those beautiful
a gig booked at the Bondi Lifesaver. We planned to wear the boys from across the sea. The intense, circling lead singer
zoot suits. Cool. My special yellow suit. And after the wait we Tim, the slow-swaying master Juddsy, the Eddie man with
would be ready. his lightning fingers, the Crombie flaying the crowd with
As the Squire Inn was so close to the venue, we changed tricks and mysteries, Croth flying across the drum kit, his
into our costumes in the hotel rooms and ran across the road hands electric, and me. My Gibson Les Paul bass, my saviour.
looking like madcap freak children, smiling, whooping and I wasn’t holding it; it was holding me. Embracing me. Keeping
hooping, through the door of the Lifesaver to wait that short me from harm. Here on this Sydney stage. All of us: from a
time for show time. Well, I didn’t. I hurried back to the hotel world that was not the place to be. New Zealand. I thought,
room, turned the key and ran to my camp stretcher. I lay on ‘I just need to stay onstage and I will survive.’

126 A Sharp Left Turn Across the Ditch 127


O ne thing quickly became clear to us. We had to stay in
Australia by whatever means possible and just go for it.
We had to relocate to this Australian environment. Hence a
English pop band who has had a global hit and is killing
time in the sun. We did find the Sydney climate to be very
appealing. And Tim came up with the title for our hopefully-
number were sent back to New Zealand to sell cars, gather one-day-to-be-recorded album: Mental Notes. I thought that
or not gather female partners, close rent on flats, et cetera. was very cool.
I became more and more screwed into whether or not I And then, lo and behold—one day they all returned. Dave,
would actually live long enough to be the bass player this our guy on the spot, had a date booked, so we clambered into
band needed when the big time hit. The niggling fear seemed this vehicle or that vehicle and the next thing you know we’re
to be ever-present except onstage. Not eating at night seemed onstage at the Coogee Bay Hotel and Michael Gudinski, the
to confirm my self-diagnosis and most nights I could relax, main man of Mushroom Records (the main man of the whole
despite being in the hunger zone. But I just couldn’t deal Australian industry), is in the audience. This was outta sight.
with matters of real life like girlfriends and cars, so I left it all And how did we play? It may best be summed up with
hanging and refused to let it toy with my head. this loving little tale. After we had finished, a lad by the name
Crombie, Tim and I wallowed in the Squire Hotel waiting of Ted Mulry came backstage. He had had a few Aussie
for the rest of the band to return so we could start doing more hits. He’s worth googling. He looked at us all, sweating and
shows. We sat up in the restaurant when it was closed, as breathless, and said, ‘Holy shit. There are only two bands
they had a piano there. It was up there that Tim took an old I’ve ever seen where I couldn’t take my eyes off them. One
piece he’d written from 1972 and stretched it out. It ended was The Beatles. You’re the other one.’ Aha! We all talked in
up becoming ‘Maybe’ once Juddsy returned. We also dealt silence (our speciality) about how this might be the moment
with boredom in a cool, productive fashion by deciding that when Gudinski walks in the door. And he did.
everyone should use their middle names. (I’ve been using their Well, it wasn’t actually that night. It was a few days later.
middle names already in this book, so you’ll just have to go But he offered us a recording contract and we took it. We
with me on this.) As a means to grapple with the dull throb of didn’t think about it. I don’t recall having a lawyer advise us.
another day and a seamless garment of tawdry nothingness, We just said, ‘Yes!’
changing to our middle names seemed—well—OK. And it The month of May was set aside to record this album that
happened. When he returned Juddsy didn’t change his from we had been dreaming of recording for what seemed like an
Philip to Raymond, though, and I don’t blame him. I took on eternity. We had barely been in Australia for 30 days.
Jonathan but wasn’t enamoured of it. It went back to Mike in And then Gudinski rang again. Roxy Music were flying in
due course! from the UK and doing a show at the 5500-seater Hordern
Otherwise we swam in the Squire Inn pool like some Pavilion in Sydney and we were booked to open the show.

128 A Sharp Left Turn Across the Ditch 129


This got us thinking. Roxy were top-class. Big hits. High- spoons into a concert highlight. Tim was the Harlequin and
level stuff. Of course we wanted to support them. They might he sped from side to side. Juddsy was projecting his almost
stand side-stage and watch us. Which was exactly what they rigid stage persona and many eyes never stopped staring at
did. him. Wally and I in our matching costumes played our parts,
The more we felt their eyes on us, the better we played. side by side. We’d been together on stages for three years, from
We pulled out all the stops. Back in the dressing room, prior to an empty RSA hall in Pakuranga to the Hordern Pavilion
Roxy taking the stage, their manager and their guitar player in Sydney. We’d been on stages together for what seemed a
Phil Manzanera came in. This time we had voices, we had long time now. How long is three years? Croth tumbled and
language. And Gudinski was poised and hearing it all. flammed. Eddie shocked them with his gargantuan talent.
Manzanera expressed an interest in recording us, but after It was us. Split Enz performing at its height. To the right
details were put on the table it turned out he wouldn’t be able audience, down there in Melbourne town.
to be a part of the Mental Notes sessions. A scheduling issue. The press reviews spoke volumes. The following from Juke
This was a real pity. The recording of a debut album here in Magazine:
Australia with a Roxy Music man at the helm would have really
woken up the Australian industry and we would have had a Kerrist, they’re madder ’n us. Leaping about the stage,
head of steam when the album came out. But it wasn’t going pink suits, blue shirts, red suits, long legs, short legs. Doll
to happen. faces, human faces, new faces. Cackling, screaming,
The next best thing came to pass. Manzanera and his leering, bounding, jerking, lurking, always prepared to
manager set aside time in 1976 for Manzanera to produce our pounce on my poor nut. Pictures of the giggle palace
follow-up album to Mental Notes. That would be in London. thrashed through my scone.
We didn’t really analyse this suggestion. We put our faith In Split Enz you will find classical and neo-classical;
in fate that the commitment would, well, just work out. And it music hall honky tonk and sleazy vaudeville; acoustic and
was to be in London. The centre of the universe. We were in! electronic, good ole rock ’n roll, a piano full of cool jazz and
Everyone shook on it, and Roxy Music flew away. some Gregorian chants or Calypso shouts for good measure.
In a week we found ourselves down in Melbourne, where We had a resurrected James Dean, [Judd] white-faced
Gudinski had booked us into a concert called the Reefer and hollow eyed in a teddy boy suit of bright red . . . the
Cabaret. This was the left field. The avant-garde. The stoners. lead singer [Finn] moves like a sped-up movie of Charlie
We were ready for them. Chaplin doing an imitation of Harpo Marx—or is it vice
We felt at home, and were able to muster the old buck-a- versa? He comes on with a patter that sounds like Waiting
head sense of presentation. Crombie had turned playing the For Godot done by a music hall M.C.

130 A Sharp Left Turn Across the Ditch 131


In that show, we transcended the ‘curiosity’ status formerly It was all systems go. We were brimming with expectation
bestowed upon us. It was a turning point. We were still and a fair quotient of paranoia, which had leaked into the
adamant about holding an inimitable position in this very band’s psyche over that time. We had limited recording
active, commercially driven market, but we realised that experience but wanted to create a masterpiece. We were all
it would be impossible to spend weeks planning one-off worried about how it was going to turn out.
extravagant and theatrical concerts. We were going to have The rhythm tracks kicked off reasonably well. Within
to play hotels, cafés and clubs because we had to eat. So we three days, my Gibson Les Paul Recording bass, Croth’s
developed, very quickly, an extreme presentation in which drums and Eddie’s basic keyboards were down. Then started
each of us hid behind a fanciful disguise, cloaked in one of the overdubs. By now it was clear that the engineer was
Noel’s extraordinary costumes. uninterested in the whole exercise; it would not be unusual
In New Zealand we worked outside of any system if to find that he had literally gone fishing. Damn. Why didn’t
only because, when it came down to it, there wasn’t one. we insist on another one? No one knows the answer to that
But in Australia we were confronted by managers with quick question.
tongues, record company people (we had never met any in Juddsy, in a stroke of opportunism, rushed in after the
New Zealand), agents, flared jeans, roadies, Mandrax, coke, rhythm tracks, recorded his vocals and was done. He then
trucks, overnight drives, schedules, Polaroids, Mogadon, followed that with a colourful array of guitar parts that he
t-shirts, Quaaludes, blotting paper and abuse. The only had concocted, and was able to clock out of the studio and
aspect we rarely came up against was groupies. We were into the control room. Smart move.
plain and sexually impossible to categorise, so best left alone. The follow-up sessions were fraught with problems. The
So we rebounded into ourselves, seeking out a collective sense guitar overdubs found Wally sweating in a tiny room with a
of purpose to avoid being part of this menagerie. And New huge Marshall amp screaming out, while in the control room
Zealand slipped into the past. it sounded more like a twanging rubber band. Over and over
he would play, and a sense of jinx set in.
It got no better when Tim came to do his vocals. After one

T he Mental Notes recording sessions started not long after


the Reefer Cabaret show. It was 8 May 1975. We were
at Festival Recording Studios in Pyrmont. Richard Clapton
session he wrote home: ‘Well, it’s been a tortuous week. The
tension and nervous strain have been unbelievable. Because
we have waited so long for this album we’ve been striving
had recorded ‘Girls On The Avenue’ in that studio not long for perfection and any imperfections that have arisen due to
before. We all knew what a hit that had been. Maybe it was musical fumbles or emotional traumas have appeared worse
hit time for us. than they actually are . . . I feel very drained of energy.’

132 A Sharp Left Turn Across the Ditch 133


I watched all this evolve. Everything turning into slow back to Bondi Junction, where I lay on my camp stretcher
steps. Slow steps forward. I had finished my parts. I sat in the and wondered. That’s all I could do. I’d already done my
control room watching the repeating spools of tape recording wandering. Now I wondered. Why? What was driving me?
the same thing over and over again. The more someone How could I know?
recorded themselves, the more they seemed to get it wrong. I could go and see a psychiatrist. But I didn’t. I didn’t tell
And then—I knew it was going to happen. Maybe I anyone what was going on. I must have thought, ‘How can
made it happen somehow. One day, I had to get out. I was they understand?’ But really, I didn’t talk to anyone because
suddenly trapped in there. I avoided everyone and went and I was so embarrassed to have brought this deeply foolish life
sat in the reception area. For a while. Then I took off and upon myself. I  was a buffoon. A  wretched, slowly wasting,
started walking down the street; a street with no hedgerows. wasted bass player in a really good band. Let’s leave it at that.
It was under a motorway bridge and heading east. I walked The Mental Notes sessions reached their conclusion with
and walked and walked. I didn’t look at anybody. I sidled past a vague sense of security about what was ‘in the can’. They
department stores where you could buy one-kilo blocks of were our songs. We’d played them. From the songwriting
Rocky Road. I passed a shop selling Ferraris and Maseratis. flow of Juddsy and Tim and the moulding and orderly
They looked alive in there with their spotless paint. I sped business of our not-so-orderly imaginations, Mental Notes
up. I went through the Cross. More hookers. Pimps. Deep- existed. And then we all packed our wobbly suitcases for a
fried food that could kill you. Junkies lying on the grass in the flight back to New Zealand.
feeble, small parks dotted here and there. I went as far as I
could. Through the Eastern Suburbs. And I kept on walking
into the surf at Bondi Beach. I fell under the waves.
I had escaped . . . but from what? Was my subconscious
(my head) telling me to keep going? ‘Keep swimming,
Michael.’ Across the Tasman Sea. Back home. But my
heart kept me stationary. Still. Lifting me up on each wave
and falling down with it and driving me back to the beach.
Returning. Returning. The dim glaze of the sun filtering
through the surface. Like hundreds of small underwater
lamps cradling me.
I stayed in that surf for over an hour. Then I got out
and bought a towel, dried off in the sun and caught the bus

134 A Sharp Left Turn Across the Ditch 135