I’m not sure Robyn Archer, the centenary committee or the Canberra Museum and Gallery would know living culture if it bit them on the face – which it nearly did on Friday night. Archer’s speech at CMAG’s Head Full of Flames opening (in short, “I know nothing about punk – I’m here for Splinters – wasn’t Paul Kelly a punk? [WTF?]”) was unequal to the task of acknowledging a Canberra cultural phenomena clearly still kicking. She and the local minister for the arts were rightly heckled then ignored by the 300 strong crowd – a record for CMAG events. Apparently both muscled in on the launch at a late stage, despite their behind-the-scenes lack of support for the Head Full of Flames project.
Luckily culture has a way of asserting itself and blooming like an exotic flower or a poisonous algae. The tribe of people who affiliate with Canberra punk understand that, and have kept their musical, visual and social creativity burning. Several have rekindled the energy that was Canberra punk in the form of a stunning book, gigs, and growing archives. Chris Shakallis, Robina Gugler, Cody Anderson, Dave Nebauer, and everyone else involved – Thank you – you are true cultural leaders.
It’s rare that a cultural phenomenon with any sort of depth charge gets a foothold in this strange city of symbols and nature and transience. People just don’t figure strongly in the bureaucratised version of the Griffin’s vision. Cultural afficionados in this town should be gagging for a scene with anything like the richness and fecundity of the early 80s Canberra punk scene. But while the era is vividly evoked by the Head Full of Flames book (amazingly produced with nil funding), it is tokenistically dealt with in CMAG’s tiny exhibition, which preferences international references over local content.
All that can be said is, may Canberra punk with its no bullshit imagination live on. May it relentlessly corrode bureaucracy and the manicured arts scene here. May it be a harbinger of the kind of tribalism and creativity that might actually save the planet – because the government and the cultural elites certainly wont.