The night they freed Nelson Mandela


The night they freed Nelson Mandela we threw a party. The strange thing about this party was that it didn’t take place at our house on Honour Avenue in Chelmer, because that was the house of impromptu parties. Living with someone in a band meant you ended up living with most of the band. Initially JC, Jacinta, and I moved into the Honour Ave house. Jamie moved in later, after a sojourn in Aspen. (He was preppy to our grunge.) Jacinta’s boyfriend Bish lived with us on weekends, when he was down from studying in Gatton. Ian may as well have lived there. Missy, too. It was awesome.

Most of us decamped to my friend Mez’s place the night they freed Nelson Mandela, because her parents were away, of course. We played drinking games and danced and skinnydipped. After all, we were 19. We woke in the morning to find JC asleep in a baby’s travel cot. Can’t remember who put him in there.

In Honour Ave, most parties began on a Thursday night after the RE shut. More precisely, after we’d raced to the Toowong train station to make the last train home. Other parties would end after a gig. The boys – they were a three-piece at first, JC and Ian and Bish – played sporadically around Brisbane. I’d get home from uni or work and be told “jump in the van, we’re off to soundcheck” and I’d sit in some deserted corner of a quiet bar listening to the “1,2” on my own or with one or two other diehards, like Macca or Missy or Garts or Sean or Jacinta. Later, the place would fill. Some gigs even had an audience of dozens. Most would come back with us to Chelmer.

Sometime during that time they collected a new singer, Bernie. One of the larger gigs they played back then was supporting some metal band at the local football club. The post-gig party that night was particularly large, as we were in walking distance of the venue. A sweet Dane called Lars followed me home. It was a crazy night; every room in our house was full. Our parties there were pretty innocent affairs: beers and rollies and the occasional joint.

After one post-RE party, JC was up later than the rest of us, “tuning” a girl who’d come home with him. Most of us had crashed, the lounge room a mélange of long hair and corduroy. I was woken around dawn by JC’s friend, Mary-Kate, who was a little agitated. She told me that she and JC had been talking when they’d heard screaming from Chelmer train station across the road from our house. JC headed straight out the door. He’d been gone about half and hour.

Mary-Kate and I started out the door to go find him, thought better of it, and went to wake the nearest bloke to come with us. I think it was Macca. As the three of us walked down our front stairs, JC appeared from across the road. The screams he’d heard were of the station master, a woman in her 50s, who’d been attacked as she arrived to work. Her attacker pushed her onto the tracks, and was assaulting her there when JC appeared on the station overpass.

JC told us he summoned a masterful “Hey you, stop!” which was ignored, so he ran down the stairs towards them. The attacker took off, and JC pursued him through the local football club, where he called out to some footballers who’d started early morning training to help in pursuit. But the guy got away. JC returned to the station to see if the woman was alright – she was, so he came home.

The police arrived a little later that morning to interview JC. We still had a few stragglers hanging around the loungeroom. The officer who took JC’s story down cast a malicious eye around our house and then asked “sure it wasn’t one of your mates?” to the bloke who probably just saved someone’s life. Arsehole.

The lady from the station came over with a cake the next day to say thanks. It was a great cake. A television current affairs show did a re-enactment of the scene, but they didn’t ask JC to play himself, to his great disappointment. My grandmother always insisted that JC deserved a medal, or some kind of acknowledgement, but he never got any. Later on, of course, he “played bass for Australia”, so I guess that’s something.