The Happening

The Happening

A story about when I lived in an artists' hippie commune.

I stare at my boyfriend, Ian, in a stoned haze across the small table in our Kings Cross flat. Wow, that pot we just smoked is some powerful shit! I vaguely remember it being mentioned that it had been soaked in DMT, a very toxic and dangerous chemical. The room faded in and out and I felt very strongly disembodied. The only thing to do would be to lie down and pray that it too shall pass eventually.

I don’t remember much more about that night in our small Victoria Street flat in 1971, except that Ian (a cartoonist and artist), had met some local artists and hippies down in Macleay St, Potts Point, and they invited us to move into their artists commune, The Yellow House, as they had spare rooms. Ian was an aspiring artist and my first live-in lover - and second serious boyfriend. I was 18 and my experience was in acting and office work.

In the next couple of days, we moved into this amazing hippie commune. We didn’t own much. Just our clothes and a few odds and ends, maybe some books and records. I wasn’t doing much with myself, I wasn’t studying or doing any creative things or courses, or even writing anymore. I just hung out with Ian as the attractive young thing on his arm. I wasn’t working at this time, though I had worked in offices as a typist and as a waitress at Georges in the city for some time. I had wanted to apply to Uni to do either an arts or performing arts degree but I let Ian talk me out of it. “Just read a lot of good books,” he said. So I read Sartre, Colette, Herman Hesse, George Orwell, Germaine Greer, Oz magazines (a counter culture underground/radical magazine) my uncle had sent from London to keep my finger on the counter culture pulse, etc. Oh! how I wish I had ignored him and gone to uni anyway. But we are always wise looking back at our mistakes.

The Yellow House was a blast. Two huge triple-storey old terrace houses with the walls knocked out and so they became one. There were about 15 rooms, each with a different arty theme or installation. There was the Jigsaw Puzzle Room, the White Room where everything was white, the furniture the walls and doors and windows, shelves bookcase etc. Then there was the enormous paper mache legs and vagina you crawled through into a dark womb like room decked out with stars in the night sky and a blue light. We had a live theatre space and a movie theatre space (it was my job to show the movies and run the projector) where we hired movies from Home Talkies and showed them on a 16ml projector. We also showed films by budding Australian film makers like Phil Noyce et al. The theatre space was used for improvised spontaneous theatrical performances. The canvas was the house itself and almost every wall, floor and ceiling became part of the gallery. The rooms of the house were inspired by Pop Art, Surrealism, Dada and Conceptualism.

One of my jobs was to run the Arthouse and Classic movies. I also took money at the door and did the bulk of the housework, which was huge. We probably should have hired a cleaner but I don’t think we made enough money. We were open to the public every night and for a nominal fee of $2 they could look through the gallery art spaces. We didn’t provide any refreshments, and it was alcohol;(as far as we knew, although people would arrive drunk quite often) though not drug, free. It's amazing that we never got hassled or threatened, not even once. I remember smoking a lot of pot and hash, and taking a fair bit of LSD at that time. Probably once a week at least. It was the good gear in those days too. Pure. Not that I would recommend anyone take drugs now. Those days are over and I am one of the very lucky survivors. But in my day everyone experimented with just about everything going, and needless to say, this got me into a lot of deep water down the track with addictions and mental illness, which eventually led to therapy and healing. But back in the early 70s life was exciting and it was party time nearly all the time. I was 17 going on 18.

One night the son of the famous Clive Evatt QC (Clive Evatt junior) turned up at the door, very drunk and with a huge roll of money. He couldn’t believe it was only $2 to get in. He was lucky he didn’t get rolled. I remember a young woman called Cherie who used to come down to the Yellow House on her roller skates and then change into her tap shoes and tutu and glittery make up. She would tap-dance out the front, dressed in a colourful outfit and passers by would often stop to watch.

I can’t remember us ever advertising, we just attracted the passers-by. Perhaps the couple who managed the takings (Ellis D.Fogg aka Roger Foley and his partner Beverley) advertised. I don’t remember. They lived elsewhere.

When we closed the doors at around midnight or 1am we’d let a few of the chosen few stay and smoke pot with us and often we’d be tripping on LSD, playing music, hallucinating our heads off, feeling the love, grooving and dancing until the next day.

We didn’t make much money. I don’t even remember if we got a wage. Ellis D Fogg was in charge of all the finances. I never even knew about the dole in those days and would always get a job if I needed one. But we must’ve kept some of the takings, or been paid a small wage, because we managed to eat . Though I do remember being so poor sometimes that I would steal food from the local deli or supermarket. At some point I got sick of having no money, so I got myself a day job for a couple of months at nearby Garden Island as a Typist for the Navy. I used to walk down the hill to work. I don't think I had any references or a resume, but you could talk your way into jobs in those days. There was plenty of work if you wanted it. The boss took me out the back one day and proudly showed me one of their bombs, or torpedoes or whatever it was.

I remember one night we all smoked opium.& I have no idea where it came from. All I remember is smoking it through a biro and then being bent over laughing hysterically, followed by a terrible stomach ache.

I don’t know where my brothers and sister were at this time, but we seem to have lost touch with each other and gone our separate ways. My much-loved younger brother Matt would have been only about 9 or 10 and living at home. He visited one night and I got him to go up on stage and sing Tiptoe Through The Tulips a la Tiny Tim. He was a born performer. I was so self-absorbed in those days and so happy to have finally left my dysfunctional family battleground that I didn’t even ring my parents or siblings. I think I rang home once or twice. Once I remember ringing to ask mum how to cook spaghetti Bolognese. This was before the days of instant sauces.

We hardly ever left The Yellow House - it was our own little Universe. Like living in Disneyland. Occasionally we’d go for a stroll to Kings Cross, just up the road, for a look see and a coffee. The Cross was always a colourful place and there was always something happening, and always groups of drunk young men or sailors who could sometime be aggressive. We felt safe in our own world and we dreamed of Revolution and changing the world for the better like most baby boomers and hippies of those times.

Not everyone got away unscathed. I bumped into a young woman I vaguely knew in town one day. She had been quite the bright spark. She’d taken LSD and had played Russian Roulette with her brain once too often. She’d literally “blown her mind”. She looked at me vaguely, blankly, totally spaced out. I doubt if she could remember her own name, let alone mine. Like I said, I was lucky. I must have had a guardian angel, because I was very stupid in those days as far as taking just about any drug that was offered to me.

One day a few of us decided to take an acid trip and go out to the gap for the day. It was one of the few outdoors trips I ever had and it was lovely to be out in nature, even though we were high as kites and hallucinating like crazy. I don’t know what happened, but I was standing on a cliff top looking down at the ocean far below. (People would go to the gap to commit suicide by hurling themselves off the cliff into the sea.) Suddenly I started twirling around in circles, like you do when you’re a kid, to make yourself dizzy. Somebody, I forget who, came over and stopped me and brought me away from the edge. It could have been only a matter of seconds before I was plunging to an early grave. Again – lucky! I don’t remember who my saviour was. Maybe it was my boyfriend Ian.

I have many gaps in my memory like this. I can barely remember the hippie artist mates that lived at the Yellow House with me. I remember Janey and Chester the sculptor, John, Steve….I’m sure there were others….I know John and Steve lived with their girlfriends and fellow artists....I put it down to all the drugs I took, and also pot, which I now consider to be a hard drug, just like all the rest. (Though it does have its uses medicinally) I haven’t touched anything for years now and I don’t smoke or drink. Better late than never they say. I wish I’d kept a detailed journal of those times. Oh well...

This wonderful Yellow House communal good-life lasted about a year and then the sad day came when we had to all move out. The Yellow House was being sold and being pulled down to make way for some apartments. The artist who had started the gallery (Martin Sharp) must have been overseas, back in London perhaps, as I don’t recall him being there or dropping in. The other artists who had been there at the beginning had moved on as well, so we kept it going for that last year. I’m guessing it had probably been losing money for awhile. Yet what fun we had! A never to be repeated experience and one of my most treasured memories.

One thing that happened there I still kick myself over. My beloved hippie uncle (Richard Neville, who notoriously started Oz Magazine in Australia and London) had sent me a personally autographed Beggars Banquet Rolling Stones album when I was about 17. What an amazing, generous gift! I foolishly loaned it to some rather shady characters who lived next door to us and they skipped town with it. I would be a rich woman today if I had kept that album. The idiotic things we do when we are young. C’est la vie.

It took me a long time to grow up. My childhood and adolescence went on into my late 40s. And I regret that we took hardly any photos of that time. We were too busy enjoying life, and this was well before the internet and smartphones.

On the up side, I have my memories of this time and I have had experiences that not many others have had. And I am proud of my hippie baby boomer heritage and values. The Yellow House remains one of my dearest memories and, as we used to say then, a real “Happening”.