The Most Hated Man In Melbourne

10 May

A couple of years ago, I was working as a bouncer when an enormous pile of shit fell on me. For a while, my friends looked at me differently and I became a bitter and chippy loner. Let me explain.

A series of nasty dust-ups in the lap-dance district led to the tabloids calling for tighter laws regarding security. For some reason, the focus fell on live music venues and became absurdly heavy-handed. Any licenced venue with music being performed live was obliged to have two security guards in attendance 30 minutes before and after the music’s maddening spell was released. A tiny 10-table tapas bar with an aged flamenco guitarist? Two beefy lads. A Brunswick St boite being serenaded by this week’s Missy Higgins soundalike? Mr Knuckles and his mate.

I’d been moonlighting in the ‘security industry’ for a few years as I liked bossing people around, smoking cigarettes and shooting the shit. Few positions offer all 3 perks. With few exceptions, my colleagues were stoic, funny, cool in a crisis and resigned to the gig. It’s a job you fall to, not aspire to and ‘bouncer’ is such a harsh term. I preferred the title ‘manners consultant’ or ‘courtesy coach’.
An old friend of mine ran a pub where live music had played 6 nights a week for the past 20 years. For the first time, due to the new laws, he was obliged to employ 2 guards. Knowing I had my licence and had a long association with Melbourne music, something he oddly felt ensured a sympathy for the fellow muso, he wanted me for the job. A nearby pub, also with decades of gigs behind it and a small but dedicated ‘scene’, had decided they were not prepared to go on, their reason being the prohibitive costs of the bouncers and surveillance cameras now required.

So for the first time, my mate’s pub, let’s call it the ‘Moloch’, had a monkey with a badge on the door and the monkey was me.

I’d heard the story of the shooting and the fringe dwellers of the underworld who drank there. I was quickly introduced to the retired bank robber whose slangy conversation I loved. There was a TAB in the back bar and between disappointments on the track and alcoholism, there were some desperate and moody types. As well as minding the door, I was processing bets, bussying and taking deliveries of pallet-loads of piss for the drive-through bottleshop.

As the Moloch was felt to be the type of place most threatened by the legislation, it became the conference room and meeting place for a grassroots political campaign to revoke the laws. Places like the Moloch, it was reckoned, that didn’t charge for gigs would be wiped out and live music itself was at risk of extinction. Well-minded folk were passing around petitions each night. I declined to sign anything aimed at getting me the sack and the line was drawn. I’d become a collaborator with the enemy, the dark forces who would snatch the flute from a wood-elf’s lips. What the fuck?? It was a crazy time for me and a trying time for friendships.

A great mate from the community radio station chose the word ‘thugs’ to describe my colleagues and I. A guy who I refused entry for being pissed shoved his way in, saying it was ‘his’ pub. In my attempts to, as we say, ‘escort him from the premises’, a ‘scuffle ensued’. He spent the rest of the night tossing empty beer kegs around the street until his mum drove in from the country to pick him up, admonishing me for tearing his ‘Christmas’ shirt. Attempts to enforce the new rules were met with disbelief and derision, the management offered scant support, the ‘locals’ ran the show and I was on my own. At a gig to promote the campaign, a version of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ was performed, the singer rising to a self-righteous fury as he screamed ‘ Hey! Dickhead! Leave our pubs alone! ‘. I skulked through the happy crowd, pissed off and wearing a security badge and an unconvincing smile.

Then, just to up the voltage, it was rumoured the Tote was being closed.

The Tote held the title of THE rock pub, in the legendary league of the Punters Club and Sydney’s Hopetoun and Sandringham Hotels. Through canny booking and well-archived and displayed artifacts, the Tote was untouchable in the cool stakes. Entering the front bar was a full-immersion experience, a multi-media museum to itself. I’d had my fun there over the years but when a place sells a range of merch, it’s Planet Hollywood. Now the Tote was involved, the most simplistic of choices was presented. It was Rock ‘n’ Roll VS The Man.

It was a weird and lonely time. What was touted as a focused attack on small venues and bands was, to my mind, just clumsy blanket legislation. The Government wanted to be seen to be addressing public safety issues although the aim was well wide of the mark. 20,000 people marched on State Parliament, photos suggest it was a great catch-up and a lark. People I love and admire like Paul Kelly, Jon Von Goes and Quincy McLean spoke and a great time was had. A celebration and timely reminder of Melbourne’s vibrant and well-supported live music culture. I wasn’t there. I was on the door of a gig where a bunch of superannuated boogie men played the Groundhog Day Blues to a familiarity-drugged front bar. This, I suppose, was the vibrant Melbourne music culture there’d been such a fuss about.

Finally, the Moloch was awarded a break from the two-bouncer rule and I got the arse. Facebook lit up with congratulations at my sacking and I, furious and feeling cheated, replied with a flurry of obscenities. I was 47 years old and unemployed.

So now what? Two years later?

The Tote re-opened within weeks. I haven’t been back in. The Moloch remains, like nothing happened. Despite my ill-feelings attached to the place, there are things about it that are precious and admirable. Friendships have mended. I’m not working as a bouncer at the moment, but am almost sure I will again someday.

My take on it is that live music is a weed. You kill it here, it pops up over there. The same Eeyores said it was all over when the Hoey closed..and the Punters..and, however briefly, The Tote.

Imagine, for a moment, you were taking over the lease of a much-loved but recently off-form rock pub. Mightn’t you call your break for a re-paint and clean-up something else? Might you not exploit the tribalism of Melbourne’s music fans by suggesting a now-or-never clash to the death with the suits? Could it revitalise the brand?

Standing around outside a pub all night in the cold, you wonder about stuff like that.

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2 Responses to “The Most Hated Man In Melbourne”

  1. soapboxrantings May 15, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    As always, Dr Pump, I love your work.

  2. Tim July 9, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    I was pushed into doing a security course by my Centrelink-appointed employment agency and even got the card. Never ended up doing one minute of security work as I never wanted to be there. I wouldn’t have been right for it as I have to get off the tram as soon as a slightly dodgy person gets on. The paperwork came to renew the licence early this year and I didn’t renew it.

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