Fortitude Valley was not named
because it took guts to be there after dark.
It honored this ship which brought
Scottish immigrants to Brisbane in 1849
AN American friend was surprised at the profane language Brisbane police officers use in my novel Iraqi Icicle, set between 1986 and 1992.
I was working only after hours in journalism for much of the period as I toiled full-time as a partner in an instant-print business.
The lot which befell me in the business was sales. Armed with a business card which read “sales manager” – I had no staff under me – I ventured out to talk to strangers about printing.
My prospective clients fell into various categories but two I remember well. The first were people who embraced me as a new-found BFF. The second tried to haggle a price so low, our business could not eke enough profit from the deal to feed a bird.
I was not enamored with the work but our business location was excellent.
It was in inner-city Fortitude Valley, near the Brisbane River and a stone’s throw from Brisbane’s Chinatown. I quickly learned it could have been more reliably called Vietnamtown.
I always tried to be back at the print shop for lunch so I could duck down to my regular Vietnamese restaurant. Main meals were $3, my favorite being squid stuffed with pork mince, served in a clay pot. A huge pot of steamed rice was 50 cents; a glass of wine or a pot of jasmine tea was $1.
Some of my friends said you risked life and limb in Fortitude Valley. I loved the joint with its mix of seedy nightclubs, music venues, the wonderful cafes and restaurants with the company of young artists and performers living in disused warehouses and ancient brownstones.
Apart from the Chinese and Vietnamese enterprises, most of the legal, illegal and in-between night-life businesses were controlled by Italians. That’s not racial stereotyping; that’s a fact. I must add many law-abiding generous and affable Italians lived and worked in Fortitude Valley and its surrounding suburbs.
Next door to our print shop was a strip club. Beside that was a gay nightclub which stood near an alternative live music venue.
A few hundred metres away was the building of the sometimes feisty, often strident, Sun tabloid newspapers, the Daily and Sunday Sun. By 1992 both had closed and the building was turned into apartments.
On the edge of Fortitude Valley was the Waterside Workers’ (longshoremen’s) Club which was a hub of left-wing politics, but also a lunch time refuge of assorted workers, mostly men. Public servants, firefighters and a sprinkling of racehorse trainers and jockeys were among the regulars. They gathered to talk and drink beer but gambling was a habit of many, so the meat-tray raffles and poker (slot) machines were popular.
Prostitutes worked the streets at night.
Fortitude Valley was a rough and tumble place, though I never had violence inflicted on me. Still, the local police station was a busy place.
Journalism, politics and policing were industries all marked by their practitioners liberally using profanities. It may have been due to the relatively small number of women in those professions, which has changed in recent times.
One memory remains.
Behind our printing business was a toilet and shower block which we also used as a warehouse.
Our managing director decided to rent it out to the strip club to make a few extra pennies.
One day two detectives burst into our premises to ask what we knew about the theft of a stripper’s car.
‘The poor girl had her car stolen and it was used in an armed robbery,’ one detective told us.
After a few questions he asked if he could use the phone.
This was his part of the conversation to HQ.
‘Anything on the poor girl’s car…What, they’ve caught the two blokes already…And she knew one of them…the fucking slag, we’ll do her.’
Morality was black and white for some police officers in those days. So it is for my character Sergeant Frank Mooney.
Buy the ebook of Iraqi Icicle HERE
The print version will be released on January 26.
For our video, Tom Waits’ car broke down on the way to Fortitude Valley and he hooked up with two strange dudes someplace else.