Painters and Dockers

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Painters and Dockers

“Being in the Painters and Dockers is not like being in an ordinary rock band – it’s like being part of a Viking raiding party! You sign on and you go into battle; you go to war. We’ve had members come and go, but it’s an ongoing battle and it’s a beautiful thing!” laughed Paulie Stewart, home-grown punk legend, trumpet player and lead singer of the Painters and Dockers.
With that, Paulie issues a call to arms: Geetroit! Are you ready to rock?! Well, you’re in luck, because the annual Motor City Music Festival kicks off at the Geelong Showgrounds this March long weekend. Event organisers Hugo T Armstrong and the team Blues Train Ltd promise this year will not disappoint. “I love Big Hugo. He’s the man of music in your neck of the woods and I’ve been on his Blues Train at Queenscliff – so if his name is attached, I’ll be involved. No worries.
“Geelong has always been a strong place for us to play. We recently came down and did a gig at the Barwon Club for Mental Health Week. It was packed out and the club went off its nana!” Paulie grinned. “We’ve also played with some great bands from Geelong,” he continued. “The community really supports local acts. Actually, these days we are locals – our drummer lives in Geelong now and our other trumpet player lives in Torquay!”
For more than 30 years Paulie and his rag-tag band of misfits have pushed the boundaries both musically and politically, earning them the respect and notoriety that comes along with making politically-minded punk music.
“Growing up I loved punk rock because it was revolutionary, it brought about a change of opinion and ideas. Listening to punk songs in the 1970s was where I first heard about Women’s Liberation and Gay Rights,” Paulie says.
“It really had a profound effect on me and I thought, ‘WOW! music is such a great vehicle to get a message across’ … Though you don’t want to get up there and preach to a crowd with loads of political slogans or social messages because people get bored shitless and we all just wanna have fun basically,” he smiled.
A good time comes as a guarantee at a Dockers’ gig – that is if it’s not shut down by the police, a usual occurrence back in the day, as Paulie recalls. Bedlam, bar fights, and the occasional spot of nudity were all part and parcel of the band’s early years. “I love the risqué nature of playing a punk gig. I like the guy who rocks up to the show in a wedding dress, not the one who shows up with a mohawk and leather jacket.”
Paulie has always loved the punk aesthetic, even going back to his days as the pink-haired rookie reporter at The Sun in the 1980s. Blessed with the gift of the gab and a desire to uncover the truth, he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Tony Stewart, one of the five journalists killed by Indonesian troops in Balibo, East Timor, in October 1975.
In light of this tragedy, Paulie went on to form the Dili Allstars with Dockers’ bandmate Colin Buckler. Soon he called on the help of East Timorese musician Gil Santos and together they recorded a song to protest the capture of the East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmão by Indonesian armed forces in the early nineties.
Two decades on the Dili Allstars are still going strong. “I still do gigs with the Allstars and I’d love to go back there to do some shows,” Paulie says. “We were Australia’s official ambassadors at Timor’s independence celebrations. In fact, next year is the 20th anniversary of the Allstars and I just got a call from the Timorese Embassy to say they’re considering giving us a medal for our work over there. They said, ‘What would you guys think about that?’ and I went, ‘Fuck!’ I wouldn’t accept a knighthood from the Queen, but I’d accept a medal from the President of East Timor!”
Undoubtedly irreverent, at times controversial, there’s no denying Paulie Stewart has lived a full life – and one day soon you may be able to read all about it. “After I had my liver transplant I was in Austin Hospital for 18 months. While I was there I met a woman who was also having a liver transplant, [Geelong-born] Inga Clendinnen. She’s one of Australia’s foremost historians and writers,” he explained. “She encouraged me to write down my thoughts and I ended up penning about 80,000 words.
“Yeah, I’d love to write a book if only I could find the time!” One thing’s for sure, it’d be a helluva read.
Paulie isn’t kidding about finding time – he’s one busy man. On top of everything else, he works with disadvantaged youth at the Artful Dodgers Studios in Collingwood and manages hip hop duo FlyBz, two former child soldiers from the African nations of Burundi and Tanzania who’ve made Melbourne their home. “We go into schools … and you see the kids literally change just listening to these guys talk. I just dig it, you know?”
When&Where: Motor City Music Festival, Geelong – March 6 to 8
By Natalie Rogers