Yesterday I attended another Design Futures Masterclass with Tony Fry (and I will write up my notes from this soon). It continues today, with a design challenge in the lead up to a public event, but unfortunately I am not able to attend. So I am taking some time to reflect on yesterday’s conversation – to be aware of my thinking. One of the small activities undertaken was to reflect on ‘the past’ in terms of (a) the experience of the past and (b) how the past is presented in mediated forms. Unable to grasp ‘the past’, I recounted a small moment or fragment of my past being the brief time I worked at 4ZZZ.
For a range of reasons this is looming large in my memory – I am surrounded by this experience in ways that I find somewhat disconcerting. For me, it simply belongs in the past but it continues to seep into my present. I worked at 4ZZZ for just over two years in the mid 80s and just after I finished my undergraduate. For me, like my other engagements with independent media, it was a genuine experience of cultural and media activism, an attempt to change the power dynamics of communication and rhetoric. It was a purposeful and meaningful experiment about and engagement with the work of change, not just on air but in urban spaces (often disused or forgotten spaces appropriated for all kinds of expression). I had written about the relationship between the virtual and physical dimensions of the station in one of the anniversary magazines. At times, given the particularly repressive political environment of the time, the station and its community were represented as ‘slackers’ and ‘ratbags’ in the media of the day.
As the station enters its 35th year, there’s been some interest in revisiting Zed on facebook with many people posting old photographs and other media from the archives. There’s always a selectivity and subjectivity in how these stories are recounted and I am learning more about the people with whom I worked. Even as the Station Coordinator for those years, I was not a central character by any means – I don’t claim this history as my own. Yet others seem to want to and that carries hints of Meaghan Morris’ work on ‘wanting history’. The events leading up to the station’s eviction from the University of Queensland campus were even written into the script of a mediocre Australian drama series about tumultuous young lives. The history of alternative music in Brisbane has been written with 4ZZZ’s role as a broadcaster and promoter duly acknowledged. This seemed to spark a major music event which saw the reformation of some of those old bands, reliving and reviling those times. And at a local museum, an exhibition about Brisbane’s radical history was presented.
So as various journalists, writers and historians sift through this past, I am interested in how the stories unfurl. Having flirted with and studied history, I find this constant revisiting and appropriation of certain aspects of 4ZZZ’s past somewhat difficult to apprehend. This past is represented in a way that belies my experience, coming across as utopian, idealistic and seamless, perhaps even superficial. It culminated for me when I visited the Museum of Australian Democracy recently. In one of the galleries featuring displays about protest and people’s movements, a listening post provides a selection of songs including The Saints’ I’m Stranded, a moment in Brisbane’s history that preceded my involvement in political culture. While appreciating the acknowledgement of alternative and political culture in this context, it was nevertheless jarring.
So this mediation of history has a normative quality about it, filtered and deflected. Hearing The Saints at a listening post in Old Parliament House tells me nothing about the way the police raided gigs or activist households, harassed protesters and young people. Protests aren’t screams against daddy in the laneways, they arise from hard and crushing conflict. I find myself dislocated and placeless – this isn’t the history I thought I knew.