Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Belinda Deane (1965-2001)

2011 marks the tenth anniversary of Belinda ‘Binni’ Deane’s passing – a local musician who took her own life following bouts of depression and a debilitating illness. A year after Binni’s death friends rallied and organised the first HOPE concert – a suicide prevention fundraiser and a celebration of Binni’s life. This tradition continues in 2011, but for the first time the event is being moved to The Patch following the closure of Binni's Oxford stomping ground in 2010.

In 2008 Binni’s sister Bronwyn completed a research paper on suicide and the creative arts, using her younger sisters’ story as the background. This paper provides a lot of insight not only into Binni’s life but also the scene she was involved in.

With Bronwyn’s kind permission below is an adapted and updated version of that paper. A link to the original version in pdf format is posted at the end of this article.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
TEN YEARS OF HOPE: A suicide prevention fundraiser
Image courtesy of Tom Dion
“On occasions like this, it’s normal to observe a minute’s silence,” said The Unheard front man, Pat Brownlee. “But we don’t think Belinda would enjoy that.” He threw back his head and yelled into his microphone, “So we’re gonna make a minute’s noise!”

Band members struck their instruments with all the violence they could muster. The audience joined in the cacophony. The place raged for a full minute. Belinda would have approved.

It was July 2002, the first anniversary of Belinda Deane’s suicide, and the first HOPE Concert held at Wollongong’s Oxford Tavern. The concert became an annual event at the pub, however with it’s closure in late 2010 the event has now been moved to Oxford crowd’s surrogate home, The Patch. Belinda’s former band members and loved ones use it to promote suicide prevention.

“At the first concert, we lined up bands that she had been a member of, or liked to dance to,” said Pete Conran (FUgG, The Surprise Arm, Radio Shack 5), Belinda’s partner and one of the organisers of the event. The other organisers are members of Babymachine, Rebecca Mayhew and Jacqui Besgrove. Rebecca played in all‐girl punk bands with Belinda in the 1980s. Most years the concert involved four bands, however that has grown over the years with the 2011 line-up boasting fifteen acts, including a reformed FUgG.

The Unheard
Musical style ranges across psychedelic sixties thrash to feminist punk to folk rock. But there is one mandatory criterion: high-energy output. It’s not the sort of place one might expect to go for consciousness raising about suicide prevention and community support programs. In 2008 Rebecca Mayhew explained what motivates the musicians who organise and participate in the concert. “It’s about a community of musicians marking a passing,” she said. “It’s a reunion of old friends.”

A mere three years later and Pete Conran sees it as something more than that. “More and more people are using it as a memorial to friends or co-workers they've known who have committed suicide over the years. What started as a memorial to one person has slowly grown to address a real problem in today’s society.”

On a personal level Pete Conran sees the concert as an attempt at atonement and a way to raise people’s awareness about the way they treat each other. “I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through, and I'm still going through,” he said.

Image courtesy of Tom Dion
In his promotional mail‐out for the 2005 HOPE Concert, Pete Conran described the pain of loss through suicide. “It still feels like it's a dream,” he wrote. “I opened the garage door to find that Belinda had hanged herself. I reached up, gently stroked her on the cheek and said ‘Oh Binni, what have you done?’ Four years on and there's still a weird dream‐like state over everything. I look around and notice things that I don’t really want to. I see a lot of people who treat others as if there are no consequences to their actions at all. All they're after is what's good for them, regardless of the damage it causes.”

Since it began, the HOPE Concert has raised almost over $15,000 for Centacare, Lifeline and The West Street Centre in Wollongong, to support the work they do in preventing suicide and helping those left behind. Funds raised include the band members’ donated fees and takings from memorabilia sold on the night.

Traditionally the audience includes a mixture of Belinda’s friends, others who have experienced loss through suicide and people who just come along for a dance. At the first concert in 2002, 72 year old Elizabeth Flanagan got up for a dance. She was there with her sons Chris and Colin who had played in the band Man Bites Dog with Belinda in the 80s.

Belinda’s sister Jen Gambrill said, “The people involved in the HOPE Concert all help in their own way to do something to prevent suicide, because they know the pain of losing someone. They truly are inspirational and are all heroes to me.”

At an Unheard rehearsal

Belinda left school in 1980 when she was 16. Wollongong’s economy was in recession. Global restructuring of heavy industry was having an impact on a region that for more than a century had been defined by mining and steel. Young people faced very high rates of unemployment, estimated to be around 40 per cent. There were few opportunities for the young. For those that rode the red rattler up the escarpment to Sydney each day, it was an act of desperation not a lifestyle choice.

In 1980, Wollongong was a masculine society, still steeped in traditionalist blue collar values. Career options for girls who left school early were clear cut: they could be shop assistants, nurses or mothers. In an interview with social researcher Emma Mayhew in 1994, Belinda said that when she left school she was advised to stay out of male‐dominated fields because she would be put down for being the only woman.

But Wollongong’s industrial identity also created a strong sense of community, and spawned an unusual level of social activism focused on the problems of the working poor and the unemployed. Nick Southall, a founding member of the Wollongong Out of Workers’ (WOW) Union, and now an historian documented WOW’s activities from 1983 to the early 90s.

In his report The WOW Factor, Nick wrote that the organisation drew its membership from “a wide variety of ‘outlaw’ cultures ‐ punks, petty criminals and drug addicts,” and that this may have contributed to its high public profile. With the help of trade unions, WOW set up office in an empty house opposite the dole office in Market Street, and ran a food co‐op and welfare rights centre, and produced a newspaper, posters and films. Redback Graphix had its genesis there.

For young people like Belinda, WOW and its social milieu offered a colourful, engaging refuge from the monotony of life on the dole. Nick recalls: “Those were the best of times and the worst. Belinda took part in many of the Wollongong Out of Workers' Union activities, including protest actions, campaigns, our soup kitchen, concerts, meetings and helping in our welfare rights office.”

Belinda’s boyfriend at the time was Chris Flanagan. He recalls the prevailing attitudes to the young punks and their music: “Most venues around town supported cover bands. They really showed no interest in the original alternative bands; bands that were heavily influenced by the new wave of alternative music coming out of England and America at the time. One local promoter called it circus music.”

Dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities for live performance, Trevor Barham set about disturbing the status quo. He was the lead singer for local band Visitor. He established a musicians’ and technicians’ co‐operative, called the Acme Co‐op. The Co‐op lined up regular gigs at the Ironworkers Club on Crown Street. Acme boasted 70 members at its height and during its short lifespan cultivated a large local following for bands like Visitor, Sunday Painters, Nik Nok Nar, Young Home Buyers and The Rezistors.

The Unheard live
The university was another locus of youthful rebellion, lead by entertainments officer, Frank Brunetti. Belinda’s brother‐in‐law, Bud Aitkin, remembers his student days: “Frank brought big names like XTC, Jimmy and the Boys and Flowers to Wollongong. Thursday nights at the Uni Bar were very heady. It was a popular haunt for Belinda and her friends.”

Local historian Erik Eklund recalls: “There was a 'Wollongong scene' in that period. It was very healthy through the efforts of many people. Talented and diverse people were able to come together because there was a culture of forming bands and venues in which to play and practice: the Oxford, the Ironworkers, the Uni, the Co‐op, and so on.”

Belinda was an enthusiastic member of the Acme Co‐op. She headed up an energetic group of fans that prepared promotional posters for gigs and pasted them around town. Bill posting was still considered seriously deviant. Like London’s Bromley Contingent, this colourful group of fans became as much a part of Co‐op gigs as the musicians themselves, and even produced a few musicians and artists from its own ranks. To these young fans, dress and hairstyle were the materials for magnificent statements of style and personality. They turned cheap into chic and made op shops fashionable.

Much of this frenetic activity happened at the Community Youth Support Scheme (CYSS) centre in Burelli Street. The CYSS provided a place for young unemployed people to socialise and learn new skills. There was an emphasis on inclusiveness and relevance to the interests of youth. Training was provided by professional furniture builders, jewellery makers, printmakers and musicians.

HOPE 2003
Wollongong community worker, Sharon Callaghan was working at the CYSS at the time. “CYSS started in the mid 70s I think. Part of the early agenda was to redefine what meaningful work was and give a voice to those who were marginalised,” she explained. “The recession of the early 80s boosted our role to give a voice to those who were unemployed. The CYSS and independent arts scenes merged at times and intersected in a variety of ways, as there were a lot of talented people looking for a way to express political and social issues. CYSS believed in non‐traditional ways of learning and sharing information that were supportive of creativity.”

Wollongong offered fertile ground for punk culture. Rebecca Mayhew, guitarist and vocalist with Babymachine, thinks it had a lot to do with the way people viewed themselves. “Wollongong doesn’t have self‐confidence, doesn’t take itself too seriously,” she explained.

The punk scene had a powerful magnetism for Belinda and her young friends. Punks wanted to be different, but also to belong. As Belinda told Emma Mayhew, “There weren’t that many people around that were into it. If I were the only punk in Wollongong, I wouldn’t have been a punk for very long.”

“Belinda’s friends were very different from what Wollongong people were used to,” explains her sister, Leone Deane. “They were ‘out there’. But they were also a close‐knit community.” Belinda said the alternative lifestyle appealed to her because it was different from the conventional approach of “go to college, get a job and have a family.”

Ironworkers poster
Belinda was determined to be a musician, despite the fact that she had no formal musical education. All of her friends were in bands. At the age of 17, in 1981, she started out playing keyboard in a grungy garage in Coniston with Paul Hausmeister (The Unheard, Tumbleweed, Monstrous Blues), Shaun Pyrah and Erik Eklund. They would come together a decade later with The Unheard. In 1982, she bought her first bass and started playing in Sus‐Spenders with Rebecca Mayhew and Chris Flanagan.

Rebecca Mayhew believes punk music had an appeal for the women of her generation, precisely because of its emphasis on creativity over virtuosity. Punk opened up a broader range of roles for women than the macho rock and roll that went before it. But belinda was inspired by women bass players like Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads, Suzie Quatro and Kerrie Erwin from Sunday Painters. In 1991 she joined The Unheard. Former partner and sound technician, Tim Van den Berg says that she matured as a musician and “was thrilled to be playing music with such high calibre musicians.”

Former Unheard member Erik Eklund remembers practising in Belinda’s garage in West Wollongong: “It often started or finished with a pot of herbal tea. It is not quite the rock ‘n’ roll image, but Belinda and Pat Brownlee were very earnest and focused on the music and listened to lots of 60s music to help create an original sound.” Pat Lyons remembers his audition for the band: “I first saw The Unheard in the early 90s and they were louder and more stylish than anything I'd seen or heard. Belinda was cool and funny and smart, and a great bass player. She knew a lot about music and Wollongong. Her flat smelt of bidis, herbal tea and dog.”

Binni with Pete Conran
Belinda, Tim Van den Berg and Pat Brownlee turned the derelict garage at Belinda’s place into a practice space, much to the disgust of neighbours. After losing two members the band experienced a lull, during which Belinda explored her music writing skills. It was also during that period that she suffered the sudden onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the joints of her hands, hips and feet. She was 28 years old.

The disease progressed rapidly, and by the time the band was again ready to perform, she had been forced to give up playing bass. Pat Brownlee remembers with sadness the crushing impact this had on her. “It was an awkward moment, like she was left out. But of course, Belinda couldn’t play because of the arthritis.”

It is perhaps ironic that the gig at the first HOPE Concert held in Belinda’s memory in 2002, gave the band an incentive to reform after a significant break. Belinda went back to education, and completed a science degree at the University of Wollongong in 2000. Throughout her studies, constant pain and the side‐effects of painkillers sapped her energy and love of life. Her mobility was increasingly impaired and she was beset by bouts of depression. Six months after finishing her degree, at the age of 36, she took her own life. Her degree was conferred posthumously.

The HOPE Concert has been running now for ten years. Pete Conran says he will continue to hold them as long as he is able. Rebecca Mayhew says it has become a Wollongong tradition and that is what will keep it going. Pete says the focus is on hope and celebration of life. His optimism is infectious.

The next concert will be held at the The Patch on 2July, 2011. The line up include: Swinging Beef & The Daptoids, Bulldoze All Bowlos, Money Killed Johnny, Smasheddybash, The Merchants, George Eliott, Mind at Large, The Nice Folk, Babymachine, Obscura Hail, Disco is Dead, Ye Luddites, Topnovil, Hy-test, FUgG.

Downloads:
Seven Years of Hope: A suicide prevention fundraiser by Bronwyn Deane (.pdf)

Thanks to Pete Conran, Bronwyn Deane, Tom Dion and Steve O'Brien for their help on this piece.

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide contact beyondblue 1300 22 46 36, Lifeline 131114 or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22.

6 comments:

  1. Fantastic article for a great cause. See you there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The tenth HOPE concert was a big success. Thanks for profiling my little sister on your site, Warren. As I dug into her musical career, talking to her friends and band mates, I came across some promising nuggets - stories about Wollongong's recent cultural history that would make great stories for your site. It'd be great to see them recorded by the folks involved...

    ReplyDelete
  3. It was a real blessing to have shared some great years with such a group of great friends, Binni is often in my thoughts and forever missed. Hope to get to one of the HOPE gigs when i'm back in the 'gong again.

    Many thanks Nathan for a great website, i'll be speaking with Peter MacKinnon soon and discussing how we can provide more content. In the meantime, please feel free to link to our page www.thesundaypainters.org sadly in need of an update =) But, all things being equal, we hope to have some great news in the coming year.

    Best wishes to all,
    Resident (Dennis) Kennedy & The Sunday Painters

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey Dennis. Please contact me (Warren) via email (steelcitysound@gmail.com). I've been talking to Michael Train so I think have a fair idea what your "news" is.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the wonderful story. Insightful, evocative and inspiring.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I remember the young Belinda. I met her when i first started playing with the Young Home buyers and then Sunday Painters. She was a lovely young girl that wanted to make a mark like the rest of us, as music was her passion and ticket to freedom....that's what it was like in those days, you just had to get out and rock...what great days they were xxx love to you in the spirit world darling xx kerrie

    ReplyDelete