PUNCH DRUNK (TOUGH) LOVE

by Ross Sharp

When I first heard of the death of 18 year old Thomas Kelly from an unprovoked king-hit in Kings Cross last year, I was immediately reminded of my own one encounter with a random act of senseless violence at a very similar age and time in life to his many, many years ago …

December, 1976, and in a couple days, I’m due to start work at my first job since leaving high school. It’s a Friday or a Saturday night, I’m with a mate and we’re at Chequers nightclub in Goulburn Street, Sydney, out to see a band, most probably Rose Tattoo – back when they were credible – and we haven’t been there long, maybe one or two drinks in, and we weave our way through clumps of people, from one side of the room to the other, when I feel a hand on my shoulder and then I’m spun ‘round and a fist is flying toward my face and I’m flying over a small balustrade landing back first onto a table and then tumbling to the floor, just like a barroom brawl in an old western movie.

Two bouncers are there almost immediately, looking concerned, asking if I’m alright, and that they have the guy who hit me and do I want to press charges, to which I say “no”, still a little dazed and confused, my head full of “What the Fuckness?”, but mostly I’m just very, very surprised and would like to leave now, thank you.

The punch could have a landed just a little wrong, or maybe just right; I could’ve landed an inch one way or the other, just a little wrong, or maybe just right, and at 17 years of age, one month short of my 18th birthday, my life and times ahead of me and longing to live them, leaving childhood behind forevermore, earning money, going out, just being in the world, it could’ve been all over in one drastic moment, one punch, one life, over.

Just like Thomas Kelly, whose death in an area increasingly known for alcohol-fuelled violence provoked an outcry from the public at the time, a forum was held, people spoke wisely and compassionately and with common sense, proffering solutions and ideas, and, as a result of all this, absolutely fuck-all happened, his death a blip of collateral damage in the pursuit of profit …

Well it’s a society problem, it’s not the AHA‘s (Australian Hotels Association) problem. The AHA work closely with the community, work closely with government, works closely with police to ensure they provide safe venues.”

Like saying, “Listen, we’ll think about slapping a sticker on a thing, but beyond that, get the fuck out of our hair.”

And quietly, so quietly, and softly, so softly, do the good burghers of our states and cities and towns back away in servile obeisance to their Princes , a bow here, a scrape there, a wink and a nod, and a campaign donation in hand, and a promise or three for future times and the continued prosperity of their business.

My one and only encounter with violence that night in 1976 did not discourage me from going to clubs and pubs again – which I did for quite a number of years after, most every night – to drink, see bands, generally enjoy and indulge my youth, which had yet to become misspent – that’s a whole other story – and I do not recall violence being a staple feature or factor of a night out on the town back then.

The culture was different. That age, you went to a pub to drink, see a band, you went home.

‘Round the corner from where I live, there’s a liquor store which, a couple years ago, was selling bottles of cleanskin red or white wine for $1.99 a bottle. You can buy a 5 litre cask of Golden Oak Fruity Lexia for 10 bucks a pop, a drop I have never seen fit to partake of myself, but which appears to be the alcoholic beverage of choice for many a cash-strapped student in share houses ‘round these parts, and probably a lot of other parts too, like public parks or doorways and gutters. A schooner of basic beer from the pub costs five or six bucks, so this gaping disparity between takeaway and drink-in prices might have a little something to do with the phenomenon known as “pre-loading”, that is, getting smashed off your tits before wobbling into the night to fuck someone over because they looked at a girl you fancied that you’re too blind drunk to see yourself …

“What are you getting at, Sharp? Are you suggesting the price of take-out alcohol should be increased? By how much?”

“Double. Maybe three times, depending.”

“!?!!!”

“You could also restrict trading hours. Say 3 a.m. closing for live music venues, midnight or 1 a.m. for everything else. You need a beer at 5 a.m. in the morning, you should either talk to someone about that, or keep an emergency stash at home to indulge your Days of Wine & Roses life-stylings …”

“!!!!1!?!2!”

“… and straight mixers only, no energy drinks, they make people whacky.”

“!!!#!1???!!!!!!1!”

… These three thoughts popped into my head this morning when ABC News Breakfast ran a report on the cost of alcohol-fuelled violence and abuse to the community in general, roughly $1,500 per household, $3.87 billion a year, and that’s just in one state alone, New South Wales. As the report ran on, and Dr Tony Sara from the Last Drinks Campaign spoke of measures that could be taken, or should be taken, I thought to myself, “I’ve heard all this before.”

I heard it last year, when Thomas Kelly was killed. I hear it every time some poor bastard gets slugged for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And every time too, I hear the good burghers of our states and our cities and towns talk of measures they will possibly consider – usually when an election beckons – and I hear them mutter their deep concerns and commiserations to the victims of such violence and to their families, and every time too, I then hear some spokesperson or persons from the liquor or hotel industries talk of how they will work closer with the community, with government, with law enforcement to bring about change, and every time I hear this I think to myself …

“What that basically means is we’ll think about slapping a sticker on a thing, but beyond that, get the fuck out of our hair and leave us be, or no donations for you.”

Forums will continue to be held; reports will continue to be produced, and inquiries conducted, and good people will continue to speak wisely and compassionately and with good common sense, proffering all manner of workable solutions and rational ideas, and, as a result of all this, absolutely fuck-all will continue to happen.

You can drink to that.

Salud.

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