h

2014 Reclink Community Cup

The last time Painters and Dockers singer Paul Stewart pulled on a pair on footy boots for a game, it all came to an ignominious end. “It was one of the first Community Cups – it was Rock Dogs versus Bouncers,” Stewart recalls. “I think it was Fred Negro who rang me. He said, ‘We’re having a kick across the road’, so I got out of bed about 12, pulled on some old clothes and wandered over, not realising it was a full-on game.”

The fact that Stewart played the match without his glasses meant that he was already vulnerable; that Stewart had a reputation for taunting his opponents in their professional capacity rendered him the ideal candidate for rough on-field treatment.
 
“I got the award for the most knocked out player. All these bouncers saw me and thought, ‘There’s that prick who’s been causing mayhem’, so about eight guys ran through me. And I haven’t pulled on the boots since,” Stewart laughs.
 
Like many Melburnians, Stewart’s interest in footy goes back a long way. His father was the vice-president of the St Kilda Football Club in the ‘30s; he thinks the first game he saw was probably a St Kilda game at that club’s Moorabbin home ground. Stewart eventually broke with family tradition and switched his allegiances to Footscray.
 
His interest in the game has long transcended the local tribe mentality of Victorian footy. While travelling in the Middle East around the time of the first Gulf War, Stewart returned from a nightclub in Jordan to the hostel where he was staying.
 
“We were watching Jordanian television. Late at night they had the ten greatest moments in sport. The first was Michael Schumacher, the second was Bjorn Borg, and the third was Gary Ablett taking a mark at the MCG. And I thought, ‘Fuck, if the average Australian knew that your average Jordanian appreciated Aussie Rules, there’d be no war!’”
 
Stewart recalls another time on Bathurst Island and being shown around looking respectfully at the local natural and cultural sites. Coming across a large billabong, Stewart was informed by his local guides “that this is one of our really big sacred sites.” Observing a plaque on a rock next to the billabong, Stewart expected to see some profound “dreamtime wisdom” heralding the site. “But it read ‘good old Collingwood forever!” Stewart laughs. “So I love the footy!”
 
But it’s for his role as lead singer in the Painters and Dockers that Stewart first came to prominence. Formed in the early ‘80s – and named after the infamous waterside union subject of the Costigan Royal Commission – the Painters and Dockers were an unholy blend of punk rock attitude, irreverent humour and biting social satire. Along the way the Painters and Dockers paid tribute to ‘60s sitcoms (the cover of the Sacred Cows’ Kill, Kill, Kill from Get Smart), local television personalities (Basia, in honour of Basia Bonkowski) and broad-minded educational institutions (Nude School).
 
But just beneath the Dockers’ juvenile humour (perhaps typified by Pull Me Off) could be seen the band’s social conscience. If He Beats You, Leave took aim at domestic violence, Safe Sex promoted the cause of responsible sex (this was the era of AIDS and the Grim Reaper, after all) and even You’re Going Home in the Back of a Divi Van offered a thinly-veiled swipe at police brutality.
 
Some years ago Stewart’s football and music worlds collided briefly when he was approached by the Fremantle Dockers football club to provide some Docker-led entertainment for the fledgling West Australian club.
 
“We rocked up to this gig in Perth, and they gave us all the new jumpers to wear, said we could play at functions, said if they made the finals we could maybe play at the MCG,” Stewart recalls.
 
The reaction of the Fremantle Dockers, sadly, didn’t match its initial enthusiasm for the hastily conceived cross-cultural marriage. “And after the gig the officials came into the room and said, ‘Give us the jumpers back, don’t ring the club, don’t even acknowledge you came here – we don’t want anything to do with you guys’.” As the band sought an explanation, the club was forthcoming. “Mate, the songs are like Kill, Kill, Kill, Die Yuppie Die, Pull Me Off, You’re Going Home in the Back of a Divi Van. And we thought ‘Oh!’” Stewart laughs.
 
After splitting up in the mid-‘90s, sightings of the Painters and Dockers are a rare occurrence. The band reformed for a one-off show at The Age EG Awards, while Stewart has played the occasional ‘Painters and Dockers trio’ show at Tago Mago in Thornbury. This Sunday, the Painters and Dockers reform to play the after-match set at the Reclink Community Cup at Elsternwick Park in Elsternwick, alongside Fraser A. Gorman, Smith Street Bond and Saskwatch.
 
Stewart hopes that soon he can bring together his interest in East Timorese independence and his love of footy. Stewart, whose interest in East Timor can be traced back to the death of his journalist brother Tony at the hands of the Indonesian military in 1975 – is upbeat and philosophical about East Timor’s current political and economic situation.
 
“I’d walk anywhere in East Timor on a Saturday night, but I wouldn’t walk outside the Crown Casino,” Stewart says. “There’s still economic problems, but I reckon it’s on a good track. We’ve got a footy team up there, the Dili Crocodiles, and I’d like to bring them down here to play the Rock Dogs.”
 
BY PATRICK EMERY

The RECLINK COMMUNITY CUP will be held at Elsternwick Park on Sunday June 22. The action kicks off at 12pm, bounce at 2.30pm.