The evening included presentations, performances, and panel discussions from several artists and musicians who were directly involved in radical activities at the time. The overarching narrative of oppression under ‘Joh and the Boys’ was apparent throughout the discussions. Several of the speakers described the political climate of the times as a “siege”. The artistic response to this was one of negation and self-destruction, or simply survival. The scrappy music and grotesque visual art they produced very closely resemble the familiar aesthetic of Punk. The DIY media publications (zines, mail art, etc) and theatre productions are steeped in anti-authoritarian satire - described simply as a political strategy of “taking the piss”.
The Queenslander house was invoked as a facilitator of all this activity - cheap, inner-city, and spacious, the house became a test site for new ways of living and community-building, alongside artistic production, exhibition and performance. Against the backdrop of a suffocated civic realm, share-houses were a place to make new publics in the relative safety of the domestic realm.
Many of the panellists made this connection between the political environment and their lived artistic responses, positing that having something to fight against galvanised young people into action. However, only a few attempts were made at connecting this artistic activity back to specific political demands or progressive agendas. For many of those involved, the scope of ‘radical’ politics was simply the freedom simply to be oneself and to express one’s creative impulses. Similarly, no connection was made between the radical activity of the 1970s and 80s and the equivalent activity today. These pioneers of Brisbane’s radical housing culture laid the groundwork for a thriving underground from which important progressive art and politics continue to emerge, and yet they appear to be unaware of this legacy. By the same token, few of Brisbane’s artist-activists today make reference to their cultural inheritance or engage in direct dialogue with these radical predecessors.
The implication that young people had something to fight for ‘back then’ is that they don’t have something to fight for now. And yet, contemporary radical political and artistic movements continue to emerge from the underbellies of rented inner-city Queenslanders. People open their homes for gigs and exhibitions, everyone pitches in to build a veggie garden or cook a meal, people come and go by the open back door, the art and the music are scrappy and unfinished, the politics are personal. The parallels with the stories of the Radical Houses forum are uncanny, and yet there is an apparent failure to connect the past with the present (a recurring theme in Australian urbanism).
This disconnect raises an interesting prospect: If these ‘radical’ scenes have both effectively emerged in isolation, temporally separated but spatially overlaid, then perhaps the artistic response has less to do with the specific political context of the time and more to do with the particular qualities of the socio-spatial environment. Perhaps it is simply a case of young, well-educated people - many of whom have acquired musical or artistic training as part of their middle-class upbringing - taking advantage of the particularities of Brisbane’s built fabric and favourable property economics to do what young people do everywhere - rebel through revelry, and revel in rebellion.