Topic: Bill Dwyer by Michael Morrissey

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In 1966, Bill Dwyer, who later became an internationally known anarchist known as Ubi, reprised the tradition of free speech in Myers Park, Auckland.  On the baptismal occasion, his audience was Bruce Babington and myself.

Bill had a rich Irish-accented baritone voice and was a fluent and entertaining speaker. His targets were much the same every week: government, censorship, sexual liberation, freedom to take drugs. He got plenty of hecklers and seemed to enjoy the challenge of interruption.

Soon he had a regular captive audience which included vocal members of left and right wing persuasion. The authorities tolerated Bill for good few months then decided to act. He was accused (accurately) of calling the Queen a bludger and calling the YWCA a brothel. I considered this was just part of Bill's rhetorical style of political denunciation. In court, some rather bewildered looking teenagers confirmed Bill's political crimes. He handed the magistrate a short statement of his political credo which the ‘beak’ disdainfully referred to as propaganda, the term given to political opinions that differed from the status quo.

So Bill was off to jail for a month.

Zorba the Greek, a favourite film of our group, often played at the Lido on Sunday nights. Afterwards out on the pavement, Bill would lead us in a display of Zorbatics – dancing like Zorba with arms linked shoulder to shoulder. On emerging from his penal sojourn, he resumed his speechifying.

Bill was (paradoxically) the leader or central figure of an anarchist group that met every Wednesday night in the Clarendon Hotel diagonally opposite the Town Hall. These were the days of the six o'clock closing so we would meet at five, like any other group of men, and slug down a number of Rheineck beers, which had a more powerful alcoholic clout than other beers, before emerging in jovial mood.

We would retire to a near by coffee bar and wolf down toasted sandwiches, while the proprietor would make amiable cracks about our impending anarchist revolution. One evening two of our number did not have any coffee or sandwiches and the proprietor took exception. He informed us that his coffee bar was not a shelter shed and the two gentlemen would have to buy something or leave. When they refused, he said he would fetch a policeman.

John Markham - who had gained notoriety for violating a visiting American general's not with excrement as subsequent legend would have it but rice, cornflower, tomato sauce and kitchen cleaners - said that if he did we would all swear that he had exposed himself to us. I was alarmed at the acceleration of threats, but would have been obliged to follow the path of my fellow anarchists. Luckily, both were (probably) bluffing. The proprietor returned sans policeman and we left, never to return.

The word anarchist has had different meanings or ambience. From Conrad and Dostoyevsky’s The Devils it came to mean bombs, murder and destruction, a dark ideology that spilled over into nihilism. We, however, were a more intellectual group who opposed government tyranny and control. Any suggestion that we were communists would have been greeted with hoots of derision and cries of dissent .Whatever its theoretical beginnings, communism was about tyrannical controls stricter than any western government.

Besides Bill, my fellow anarchists besides included John Sanders, who wasn't really an anarchist and became editor of the student newspaper Craccum; Kenneth Maddock, a lecturer and later professor of anthropology; Terry Keenan, David Trower, David Miller, John Wolfe, John Markham, John Murphy, Neil MacDougall Jim Hawkins, and occasionally Bruce Babington, later a professor of  film studies; John Horrocks, later a lecturer in psychology and English Literature; Bruce Thorpe, David Tossman; Owen Gager, a Trotskyist then, later an anarchist who put Lenin on trial in a 2001 conference held in Melbourne for being ‘a tyrant who enslaved the people under state capitalism, deceitfully proclaiming it to be the dawn of Marx's utopia.’) Also Ray Watchman, Paul Wotherspoon, Irv Hart, and  Peter Shanely.

(There were no female anarchists in our group.)

Until I met John, a fiery Jewish intellectual, I hadn't really experienced the sensation of a powerful well-informed mind at full associative throttle. As our mutual friend Bruce Babington put it, John seemed to get erotic energy from the expression of his ideas. John's given field was social anthropology but he seemed to have a wide ranging knowledge of politics, literature and history. He turned Craccum from being a scrappy student rag into the equivalent of the New Statesman.

He liked acerbic writing and particularly liked the sardonic tongue in cheek piece I wrote about the university student congress we both attended in the summer of 1964. I wrote on everything. I became a drama criticism film critic, a feature writer and satirist.  John encouraged the satiric schoolboy within to come of age – a Malcolm Muggeridge in corduroys.

Most of our Clarendon Hotel group, myself included, weren't actually anarchists, though I enjoyed the company and the heated discussions. Sanders and Maddock tended to take a sardonic view of Dwyer's naïve theatrical style - “If a man says to me I'm an anarchist I will gladly shake his hand!”

We tended to unite on issues like the war in Vietnam and censorship and not prosecuting users of marijuana or LSD. One evening Bill got into lively debate with Clark Titman who had a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln and took a favourable right wing view of the American presence in Vietnam. They had a terrifically animated debate outside the Methodist mission that lasted for hours, .a match that ended in a draw rather than debate victory for either protagonists.

Titman later proposed a revised version of the New Zealand flag that would offer the four red stars representing the Southern Cross but removed the Union Jack from the design.

Another night a group us went to see some topless African dancers. My exposure to the naked female form was minimal so this was an opportunity too good to miss. In colonial context, these brown breasts were deemed to be natural and ethnic, not titillating.

As usual Bill got into an altercation with someone – this time with a balding mild-looking gentleman sitting in front of us. Bill began arrowing insults in his loud resonant voice. Management was called and decided Bill was the troublemaker - true, alas! - because of his Irish habit of exacerbating rather than calming conflict, and asked him to leave.

“Put a hand on me and it's assault!” Bill declared in ringing tones.

Then, ”I will not stay in  this filthy brothel a minute longer!” and out he stormed.

I went out with Bill to try and make peace with the management, failed and returned to the bare-breasted dancers.

Other colourful Bill-made episodes included burning down his house for the insurance, crashing an American Ford Thunderbird spending and spending seventy £70 on booze to get to know rumbustious actor John Yelash, who wrote a sadly neglected book called Forty Thousand Beers Ago.

Bill's view of Prime Minister Holyoake - “He is so far up President Johnson's buttocks that he cannot breathe.”

God bless you, Bill.

We held an annual anarchist dinner at the La Boheme restaurant which was one of a handful of Auckland restaurants licensed during the sixties. Bill, always free with cash – he had two jobs – would sometimes order up some dry Monopol champagne. Our dinners came to an abrupt halt after a series of incidents one night - Owen Gager sang Rock Around William Blake,  Markham jumped up on the table and yelled “Pig food!”then Bill proposed we make a Russian toast.

We all stood up, swigged down our champagne and affected to throw our glasses at the wall, only Bill (naturally) actually did so. The crash brought the waiters scurrying. They took a dim view of Bill's action so we were asked to leave .It is doubtful if we paid.

That night Maddock went off with Bill's wife. As an advocate of free love - ‘a stiff prick knows no conscience!’ -  Bill couldn't object, but was obviously fighting with feelings of jealousy. Most of us felt that Bill had a raw deal but Maddock, who intoned  the ‘two consenting adults’ line, obviously wasn't bothered.

The affair quickly blew over. Bill organised an anarchist conference where I was due to deliver a paper on Jeddu Krishnamurti, an Indian thinker who eschewed all forms of authority, particularly religious authority, which technically made him an anarchist.. As was often the case, I didn't deliver and being ashamed of my failure did not attend the conference.

Bill said I had ‘boycotted’ the conference -  fair enough - but really it was shame.

Bill moved to Sydney and made a name for himself as a regular speaker at Hyde Park. According to reports, Bill had a large yellow watering can (Yellow Submarine tribute?) from which he would pour out cups of allegedly LSD-saturated water. Apparently, it was just water, but Bill (unsurprisingly) did sell LSD on the quiet – quiet for Bill was more than vocal by  most people's standards.

After Bill was convicted for selling drugs in 1968, he was deported back to Ireland. But you can't keep good anarchist down for long.  Bill founded a commune and liberated the Isle of Wight festival by ripping up the fence that separated the paid concert goers from the free.

In 1974, Bill became famous, if he wasn't already, for organising the Windsor Free Festival on  ground that had been allocated as hunting fields for the monarchy. He was imprisoned to prevent the organising of a 1975 festival and arrested again in 1978 for the same reason. Bill was a magnet for the law.

Back in Ireland, Bill had a terrible bicycle accident and some say never recovered. He returned to the Catholic faith and became a devotee of Our Lady. I am in no position to sneer as I have made the same journey myself - from faith to apostasy and back to the faith.

In retrospect, Bill embodies that rare generous thing, a true communist -  he always wanted to give back the profits to the people. In his ideal vision, all things were to be free and no one was to profit. Alas, this ideal works best on a small scale on communes or on larger large, at concerts.

Bill was never violent nor did he advocate violence. What he stood for was equality, self governance, freedom and and the sharing of excess money among those less fortunate. In a curiously secular way, Bill was a saint, a kind of hippie Christ with a loud voice.

Bob Dylan put out Blonde on Blonde. The lyric “I didn't mean to treat you so bad” was a kind of Catholic refrain that haunted my ears. The Beatles issued Revolver. It went off with a melodious bang.

 

 

About the writer: Michael Morrissey has published twenty books, his latest being Taming the Tiger, a memoir of manic depression. For full bibliography, view Michael J. T. Morrissey at Wikipedia.

‘Bill Dwyer’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/T66M-WYSF

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