Al Grassby and the Rolling Stones

By Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz 

Enquiries had been made into the background of members of the “pop group” intending to arrive in Australia in February, Immigration Department officials advised the minister. As British subjects of European race, the visitors would not require visas, but two of them – Michael Jagger and Keith Richards – had black marks against their names. Jagger had a conviction for 11.3 grams of cannabis and Richards was a known heroin addict.

It was late 1972, an election was in the offing and the recent deportation of Joe Cocker for smoking pot had made the moral example set by visiting rockers a sensitive issue. Accordingly, the minister made it known that Mr Richards would not be welcome here. The tour, it seemed, was off.

In December, a new government was elected and a new minister appointed. Almost immediately, the tour promoters were knocking at his door.

Al Grassby’s musical tastes are obscure but his clothes were sensational. With his “patent-leather hair and head-waiter moustache”, his gold-threaded dinner jackets and lairy ties, he cut a swathe through the suited ranks of Canberra, raising the visibility of new-fangled multiculturalism. Presented with a French doctor’s report declaring Richards cured of his habit and assurances that Jagger had made Keith’s staying off the junk a condition of their continuing to tour together, Grassby lifted the ban on 9 January 1973.

The Stones arrived a month later and played eight shows. Apart from a series of washouts in Brisbane and a small riot in Adelaide, the tour went without a hitch. Somewhere along the line, the minister met the boys. They were, he declared, an excellent example to Australian youth. He had no regrets about going out on a limb to give them visas. To give a man a bad name and hang him was un-Australian. As a gesture of appreciation, they presented him with an autographed lips-and-tongue tour poster. “To Mr Grassby. Thanks for letting us in.”

Al soon faced drug-related problems of his own. His championing the cause of migrants was not unanimously applauded in his Griffith-based electorate of Riverina, where he was believed to be too friendly with certain of his Italian-born constituents, some of whom were erecting “grass castles” with money apparently made from growing marijuana. At the 1974 election, he lost his seat. And after his political opponent, anti-drugs campaigner Don Mackay, was killed in a mafia hit, he spent the next 15 years caught up in the repercussions.

The Rolling Stones remain an excellent example to Australian youth. Of what is not certain. 

About the author 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.