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| 4 May 2017 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Legendary punk power pop protest pub rockers Painters & Dockers return to Western Australia for the first time in twenty years this week, playing at Gate One at Claremont Showgrounds on Friday, 5th May, The Dunsborough Tavern on Saturday the 6th and The Indi Bar on Sunday, 7th May. Singer and mainstay of the band for some thirty-five years, Paulie Stewart, has plenty of stories to tell.

Just a few years ago, though, Stewart was on his deathbed, having all but given up hope of finding a replacement liver to replace his Hepatitis C-addled one. A priest actually came and read his last rites, before a Timorese nurse recognised him from his tireless charity work (Stewart’s older brother Tony was one of the Balibo Five journalists murdered by government forces in East Timor in 1975), and promptly made good on a promise to find him a suitable organ for transplant.
Read the story at AROUND THE SOUND

Here’s some bonus extras from my conversation with Paulie Stewart:
When in hospital, waiting on a liver transplant that he thought would never come, Stewart never stopped pining for The Painters & Dockers.

“I was honestly in that hospital going, ‘fuck, I just want to go to Perth one more time, to do one more of those shows,’” he swears. “If you were at one of those shows in the early ‘90s you know exactly what I mean.”

To say those shows were crazy would be an understatement – but how on earth could the band have made any money? There were so many people in the band, not to mention all these crazy stunts going on and extra people on stage – it must have cost a fortune.

“Well, we’ve never made much money as the Dockers,” Stewart laughs, “it’s always been about the entertainment. There was a cast of thousands in Perth. Kym The Krazy Klown would be there, he was a regular… we also had a girl who loved to jump up and take her clothes off with us. She looked like Elle Macpherson, seriously, I’m not joking – so we encouraged that. Hell, yeah!

“One of our classic stories was when we did Bindoon with this girl – she won Miss Bindoon twice. We’d played Bindoon and we’re driving back to Perth and we’re in the van and we’ve got a full esky of beer. It was about 45 degrees, so fucking hot, ya know? We’re driving along, we see this guy on a tractor and the girl goes, ‘oh, stop the van, stop the van.’ So we pull up the van and she takes her top off so she’s just in her knickers, and she grabs this cold beer, jumps this wire fence and runs to the middle of this field. The farmer just slams on his brakes, takes the beer off her, stands on his tractor seat, and just flings his hat in the air. We just laughed – that guy’s story that night at the pub, ‘you’ll never guess what happened to me today…’ ‘Mate, the heat fucking got to you, baby,’ his mates would be saying!”

Stewart worked for a Melbourne newspaper, and insists the journalists are far worse drinkers than his musical colleagues.

“It’s funny, I worked at one of the newspapers for a long time, and people say to me, ‘you got bad liver problems because you were in a punk rock band.’ I said, ‘no, no, it’s the journos – they’re the fucking worst, mate. Characters like you, and the photographers, they’re hardcore crew, you know?’ People in bands are still trying to maintain their looks. Journos are like, ‘oh, fuck it, give us another one!’”

Post-liver transplant, he’s still allowed to have a drink or two, if the mood arises.

“Yeah, I have a couple of beers, but nothing like I used to,” he admits. “If I got on it, then I’d be on it, back then. I’d start on the Friday night and finish up on the Sunday night, if you know what I mean. But look, the fact of the matter is, no-one I know my age drinks like that any more. You can’t. You can’t seem to handle it that much. Not doing it as much as you used to, anyway.”

We’ve all got more responsibilities now. There’s family and there’s jobs…

“Mate, I’ve got three daughters which, I was actually thinking last night, was a great thing that happened to me, because they’ve [given me] a reason to get up in the morning, and you’ve got to bring in the bacon and look after them. If I didn’t have them I probably would have gone a lot wilder and looser, and who knows what would have happened. I’m just so absolutely bloody rapt, because I can remember lying in the hospital going, ‘please, if there’s an almighty power, let me go back to Perth one more time with the Dockers. Please, I’ll renounce everything, I’ll fucking do anything that you require, but just let us go back to Perth.’ So I’m fucking rapt. We’re coming back – look out!”

Painters & Dockers shows were always a party – a sweaty, beer-soaked, explosive dance punk party where no-one was ever certain whether the band or the audience was having more fun. With so many tales of debauchery and mayhem to tell, why haven’t we seen Stewart’s memoirs on the shelf yet?

“Well, it’s funny you should say that,” says Stewart thoughtfully, “because when I went in for my liver transplant I was sitting in the waiting room, and there was a woman sitting next to me called Inga Clendinnen. She was one of Australia’s most famous writers and historians. She was about 80, this woman, she sat down and said, ‘what do you do?’ I said, ‘well, I wrote a few songs, wrote a few stories.’ She said, ‘when you’re sick you should write all the time, because it’s the only thing you can do.’ Which it is – you can’t drink or take drugs or do anything else, so I did, I wrote down a lot of the stories. So it’s all just sitting there, so thanks for saying that – I’m feeling like I should fucking actually finish it off and put it out!

“Why not, mate? You read half the ones that come out and they’re sort of shit. I’d like to write, just as a piss-take, ‘How Not To Do It Is How We Did It!!!’ Some of the things we did in our career… like with Lobby [Lloyde – producer of early albums Bucket and Kiss My Art] – he wouldn’t sign the deal with Mushroom Records until they agreed that if there was life found on other planets, that those territories would be renegotiated with the band and Mushroom. I had a young daughter, I’m going, ‘Lobby, I need the money – I’ve got to buy milk and bread tonight!’ He’s going, ‘no, not till Gudinski agrees that if there’s life on Mars that he doesn’t have the rights to that planet.’ I’m going, ‘fuck!’ you know?”

Doing charitable work doesn’t always pay the bills, though, and sometimes leads to a juxtaposition from one work day to the next. Throughout it all, though, Stewart’s positivity shines through.

“It struck me about two years ago,” he reminisces, “when I spent one day in Canberra, I took these Sudanese refugees up there. We met Kevin Rudd, then the next day I was underneath a block of high-rise flats, literally shovelling shit into the back of a truck.

“Look, there is great comfort to take in the fact that, ‘hey, we’re Australians and we live in this fucking great place.’ An hour’s flight from Darwin there’s East Timor, and kids there eat tree-bark, they’re so hungry. So being Australian, where people aren’t throwing hand-grenades on buses full of schoolkids… it is a fucking amazing place. We are so blessed to be Australians. Someone donates their organs and you get a fucking second chance.

“The couple of African boys [that I work with here], we take them into schools – we do a lot of gigs in Perth at Aquinas College and so forth. These two boys, when they were nine a truck came to the school and said, ‘tall boys, come to the front of the line. Here’s your gun, here’s your little bag of rice, you’re in the army. Get in the back of the truck.’ You go, ‘wow, fuck, at nine I was fighting my sister over control of the TV to watch Countdown.’ That was my hardest hassle to bear.”

Granted, the singer has been through the wringer over the last few years, but listening to the harrowing tales of literally death and murder at nine, that must be pretty sobering.

“Absolutely. Both of his parents were killed,” Stewart says, astonished. “These two boys I work with, they get up in front of classrooms and they go, ‘listen, you guys complain about the brightness on your phones? We got meat on Christmas Day – that was the one day we ever got meat. So snap out of it, you’re not doing too badly.’ The kids, they go, ‘oh, righty-oh,’ you know? Then this one kids goes, ‘when Mum went to hospital and no one was looking after me, I lived off mud and rats.” Even the cheekiest kid in the class, which I was, there’s no smart-ass comment you can make about that.”

Read the story at AROUND THE SOUND

Friday, 5th May – Gate One at Claremont Showgrounds
Saturday, 6th May – The Dunsborough Tavern
Sunday, 7th May – The Indi Bar, Scarborough

Category: Interviews

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