“At the time I wasn’t really thinking about it. It was a really exciting musical time, and I haven’t seen anything like it since.” Dolores San Miguel
The punk scene in Australia seems to have been very self-contained. Inspired by US and UK punk bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, a number of bands formed and the Aussie punk scene was able to flourish, partly for political reasons, but also thanks to a female venue promoter from Melbourne.
For 23 years, there had been a coalition government, but with the election of the Labor politicians that formed the Whitlam government in the early 1970s, things changed dramatically. Reading the historical reviews, you could almost say that Australia had a punk rock government. New Prime Minister Gough Whitlam rapidly introduced a range of liberalising reforms: conscription was abolished, equal pay was introduced, with a woman heading the Commission. Grants were awarded for arts projects and university fees were abolished. Huge amounts of money were borrowed from the US and two million US dollars were spent on buying the Jackson Pollok painting ‘Blue Poles’ for the Australian National Gallery.
When records from the US and UK started to be posted to Australia, youngsters loved them and there were still grants available for those wanting to do arts and music projects.
“Everyone used to save up to buy imported records and magazines from overseas. We’d be getting them six months later, but there was still influence…..It was a unique little scene down here – [the bands] were uniquely Australian.” Dolores San Miguel
Dolores San Miguel says that she became a concert promoter by accident, when, in 1978, her husband’s band ‘Secret Police’ was double booked. When they were unable to play at the regular venue in St Kilda, Melbourne, Dolores approached another hotelier Graeme Richards at the Seaview Hotel and the first punk gig in the Ballroom took place.
From that day, Dolores went on to promote many more punk gigs, including overseas acts like PiL and The Cure as well as emerging Australian acts including The Birthday Party, INXS and Hunters and Collectors.
“The live scene back then, it was electric, it was new – it was the beginning of the punk thing… No one was a pop star back then, everyone knew everyone else, and everyone was sleeping with everyone else.”
“I think the saddest thing about the whole era was the amount of kids who got into heroin and speed addiction… It’s kind of made that whole generation die a lot younger than they should have.” Dolores San Miguel
With renewed interest in that era, there are books, films and exhibitions that investigate the excitement and musical creativityfrom 1977 in Melbourne. The punk-rock Whitlam government didn’t last; it’s the only Australian regime to have been dismissed by the Governor-General. Dolores played a big part in developing punk bands and is now active in piecing together the small amounts of photographs and memories that exist.
Trailer for “We’re Livin’ on Dog Food” – a documentary about the Melbourne punk scene