Almost 50 years ago Paul O’Brien was a Telecom worker by day who exercised his passion for photography by night.

In 2013 the State Library of Queensland came into possession of 880 of O’Brien’s negatives. The
collection captured Brisbane’s “punk” scene from 1978 to 1982.

When the negatives were eventually formatted for digital, John Willsteed and Robert Forster set about curating the collection down to the 90 photographs that comprise this new book.

Also, both Forster and Willsteed contribute fine essays to contextualise the times and O’Brien’s work.

Beautifully formatted, Nowhere Fast – Punk and Pop-Punk Brisbane 1978-1982 features one black-and-white image per page, with the opposite page devoted to the names (if available) of those now frozen in youth.

O’Brien’s gift, apart from shooting the bands, was that he had the foresight to capture the people that went to see the gigs too. The audience were, in a fashion, the lifeblood of the scene then and they are the lifeblood of the book now.

Seeing the back of Tim Finn’s head while he fronts Split Enz is kind of interesting but the minutia, captured either at the front of the stage or after the band have packed up their gear and left, is fascinating.

The people, the faces, the outfits, the gent leaning against the Ford police car, the XXXX signs, the punk badges, the notice boards and the cafe where hot chocolate was still 60 cents a mug – is all compelling.

Nowhere Fast reveals the temper of the times. This is the period when Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran Queensland. Forster writes about “the town’s open secret; the cosy coexistence of Christianity and corruption”. Police and punks. It was a powder keg.

Willsteed’s devout interest in social history elevates the book further. In his writing he recounts what life was like in Brisbane for a punk back-in-the-day and he later, quite movingly, talks about what became of some of his friends and peers.

“These images do their own storytelling,” writes Willsteed. “They crack open that special time in Brisbane when, even though the enemy was at the door, the days and nights were filled with raucous play. A handful of sultry years at best, when friends got together in bedrooms, sunrooms, halls and
warehouses and sometimes the streets, and made posters, marches, bands, little mags, movies, clothes and art.”

With prior images either lost or destroyed, the book just misses the beginning of the punk movement.

For a music fan, particularly a fan of music dreamt up in Brisbane, Nowhere Fast is a must-have. The Apartments, The Riptides, Xero, The Survivors, The Go-Betweens and more are all here.

It’s nice to see a picture of drummer Bruce Anthon without a ride cymbal totally obscuring him. There’s Lindy Morrison chatting to future Hoodoo Guru Brad Shepherd. We see a pre-fame Grant McLennan looking completely free and dancing. We can wonder how Robert Forster could access both a Fender Telecaster and a Rickenbacker?

It’s all there. It’s a scene building before dissipating. It’s youth, music and life in full flight. And it’s all captured by O’Brien’s superb eye.

Nowhere Fast – Punk and Pop-Punk Brisbane 1978-1982 – Photography by Paul O’Brien and Essays by Robert Forster and John Willsteed (Andalsobooks, $45), Available online and at good book stores.
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