July 2012

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

JJ McRoach & Hunter S Thompson

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

They were somewhere above Batlow in New South Wales when the drugs began to take hold. Not for the first time since Hunter S Thompson’s arrival in Australia, JJ McRoach began to think he’d made a terrible mistake. He was strapped in a Piper Apache in the middle of an electrical storm with a coke-snorting maniac, ankle deep in tequila slops and melted ice, struggling to hold down a tab of Furry Freak Brothers acid and praying he’d survive to tell the tale. But when the going gets weird, he reminded himself, the weird get going.   

It was October 1976, ten days into Thompson’s whirlwind Australian speaking tour and, if not exactly a bad trip, it was certainly a bumpy ride.

Jay Jerilderie McRoach was the nom de fume and altered ego of a rapscallion journalist for the then-flourishing alternative press who’d agreed to act as the Godfather of Gonzo’s publicist and “cultural attaché”. He thought it would be “a proper lark”, but when a mean-looking Thompson stepped out of the customs hall on arrival and sternly eyeballed him from behind the smoked lenses of those aviator shades, he felt more like a “speed-stricken rat faced with a sleek, well-fed serpent”.

Cigarette-holder bobbling, an annoyed Thompson chewed out his hosts. Why hadn’t he been searched by customs? If he’d been informed they were so lax, he wouldn’t have ditched his mescaline onboard. Only when a fan arrived at the hotel with a welcome pack of grass, pills and powders was the Duke mollified.

It was five years since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had elevated Thompson to cult status, the stylist supreme of high-as-a-kite reportage, and now everybody wanted to get high with him. Anything that could be smoked, snorted or swallowed was thrust his way as McRoach steered him through geek-at-the-freak press conferences and shambolic public appearances dominated by incoherent raves from psychos and weirdos in the audience. In Melbourne, Hells Angels turned up and invited him to admire their guns. The mood turned ugly and a plane was chartered to get him to The Don Lane Show in Sydney where he said “fuck” on air. The tour was not a financial or critical success.  

Spurred by Thompson’s hometown example, JJ McRoach ran as the candidate for the Australian Marijuana Party at the 1977 federal election with the slogan ‘Plant a Dope in Canberra’. He got 14,383 votes. Back to his birth name, he is currently lifestyle editor of an important publication in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Thompson’s ashes are orbiting the earth, a shining star to Johnny Depp and adolescent shoplifters. There are still no dopes in Canberra, but plenty of fear and loathing.

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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