Rememory of the endless summer underground…
By Rob Munday
Cairns in the eighties boasted a population of some 40,000. It was warm, sticky, friendly, buzzing with life and the tropics wrapped you in a thick blanket of fruity smells, cicadas, mangoes and crystal clear mountain streams.
I was an ex art student, a globe-trekking refugee from Thatcher’s Britain; I hated England, I hated the IRA and I hated being straight-jacketed into some insane society where all you did was work, eat, shit, struggle and die…I hated being a Pom, but I spoke German, French and Italian well enough to avoid the English abroad.
Cairns felt like paradise. You could drive up for beer, phone for a pizza, live the life of Riley and everyone spoke English. Nobody punched you in the face because of the way you looked and the headache for the day was losing your earring in the pool.
It fascinated me that here was a young society which seemed to have very little to bitch about, almost nothing to worry them and there was an anticipatory mood of optimism and freedom.
It didn’t take me long to realise that I was wrong.
This was Joh’s State and this was Joh’s backyard. If you stuck your head out….it would be kicked. If you didn’t wear long socks, walk shorts and toe the line, then you would be singled-out. Everything seemed to be controlled by ‘the powers that be’ and there was almost no acknowledgment of the very real, incredibly diverse, community sub-culture.
This was my socio-political background to the formation of the Tropical Artists Guild (TAG).
As creative like-minds, we were fortunate enough to rent a sprawling house, with a pool, in the leafy suburb of Edgehill. One of the inhabitants was the coordinator for IYY (International Youth Year). Apparently IYY was ‘…nearly over with very little to show…’ so we were encouraged to form a group and apply for community youth funding to hold a community mural workshop, which would be led by a professional arts worker – Garry Andrews; and implemented by ‘the youth of Cairns’.
The funding arrived and it was pivotal.
TAG was suddenly real and we could show ourselves in the community and make a big, colourful statement to prove that we were here. It was cool to be making a credible, highly visible ‘youth’ statement right in the heart of Cairns. And it had our contact numbers on – just incase you liked it or wanted to get involved.
And people did get involved.
FNQ was teeming with Artists, creatives, sympathetic professionals and many independent socio-political, cultural, creative groups and a lot of like-minded individuals already doing their own thing in the region.
The notion that you could get ‘funding’ for community / youth projects and perhaps even realise your social or creative dreams was a major catalyst for the evolution of TAG, the creative community and a credit to IYY, The Australia Council etc.
As more people became involved, TAG evolved from a dedicated youth group to a grass roots community arts association. It wasn’t really planned, that was how it happened. TAG galvanised many local creatives, artists, sympathetic professionals, and other community groups, where it became a real focal point for the community counter culture. As the group grew, it was obvious that there had to be a commercial reality check. Project funding was not going to sustain this movement and the local council certainly wasn’t going to acknowledge or help – so we charged for membership, drew up a manifesto and tried to find a home for this pulsating, creative roller coaster. TAG became an incorporated association to reduce liability for our first commercial lease and even raised enough money via membership and individual studio rental to keep it afloat for quite a while.
The TAG arts centre was not the first ‘art centre’ in Cairns, but I believe it was truly the first home of community arts in the region. TAG was a happy place and it was a beast. It housed a diverse range of artists, individual creative studios, community workshops, theatre, dance, screen-printing, kids projects, music, TAFE classes, film club, gallery, restaurant etc.…
But more importantly, TAG brought the community counter culture together, in safety and in sympathy.
Eventually, self-funding a project of this scale was just too difficult. We were in a private lease, so local and state funding was not available to us, because we would have to allocate some of it for ‘rent’.
So, after a long, beautiful journey and in my opinion, TAG kind of imploded in a flurry of egos and financial pressure.
I’d like to thank every last one of you who played your part as well as the political big boys-John Gayler and Keith De Lacey. But my big thumbs up goes to our long-suffering landlord- Michael Chan and to ex mayor Keith Goodwin; who saw the potential and began the arduous process of facilitating community arts support for the future.
Viva el TAG