December 2013 - January 2014

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Gary Foley & Joe Strummer

By 1982, ten years since his leading role in pitching the Tent Embassy, Gary Foley had flung himself into the fight for Aboriginal self-determination everywhere from the National Black Theatre in Sydney’s Redfern to the Aboriginal Health Service in Melbourne. He’d played opposite Bill Hunter in the film Backroads, established the first Aboriginal information centre in London and kept a team of ASIO snoops busy protecting the country from a Black Power takeover.

One afternoon in February, he was sitting at home in Redfern when “some Pommie bloke rings up and says he’s Joe Strummer from The Clash”. The band were on a ten-date national tour. London Calling, their 1979 distress call from Thatcher’s Britain, had raised them above the post-punk fray, and 1980’s Sandinista! had nailed Strummer’s politicised lyrics to their mast. They weren’t just a kick-arse band: they were a statement.

Strummer invited Foley to the band’s suitably unflash hotel to get the lowdown on Australian politics. The pair hit it off immediately, and Strummer ended up asking Foley to share his thoughts on stage during that night’s gig at the Capitol Theatre. Although dubious that Clash fans were his natural audience, Foley agreed. The Commonwealth Games were coming up in Brisbane, land rights protests were planned, and he thought he might “incite some of these young punks” to join in.

Foley had learnt the arts of the firebrand from John Webster. The charismatic soap-box orator’s weekly expositions were drawing large crowds to the Domain when the young Gumbaynggirr apprentice draftsman with a developing political consciousness arrived in Sydney from Nambucca Heads in 1967. Know what you’re talking about, Webster instructed Foley, use humour, get angry but not with your audience. It was a lesson Foley practised for a decade, “from little old ladies in Brisbane to stadiums in Germany”.

That night, with the band laying the pulse from ‘Armagideon Time’ behind him, Foley gave the punters some extra value for their dollar. His message to the crowd was simple: join us.

The activist joined the band for the next six shows, two weeks of rock’n’roll mayhem, spreading the word across the country.

That September, there were so many demonstrators against the Commonwealth Games that Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen declared a state of emergency. The Clash, meanwhile, were starting to fall apart just as ‘Rock the Casbah’ broke open the door to the United States.

Joe Strummer is now in secular heaven with Woody Guthrie. Dr Gary Foley, PhD, remains a tireless educator and a legend of the underground. Just don’t call him uncle, you young punk.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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