Sydney, Los Angeles, Sydney
When we returned to Australia in late 1972, Kell and I continued to stay together for the sake of our sons, who we settled into school in Sydney . On his second day of school, Michael found a friend in Andrew Farriss, who came to his aid in the school yard. This friendship would last twenty-five years.
For a large, young, country with a comparatively small population, made up of many immigrants, many Australians in the 1980's could be intolerant of accents and teenagers can be brutal. We all came away from our stay in Hong Kong with a slight accent. It remains a city composed of the relocated -relocated from every city in the world. You live there constantly hearing foreign brogues and it becomes impossible to escape the temptation to imitate. Michael became a master mimic, and by the time he returned to Sydney he had been going to a predominantly British school. Now, Australians like to make fun of the upper crust British accent more than any other because to them it tends to sound snobbish and stuck up while Australians traditionally pride themselves on being unpretentious.
So here was twelve year old Australian Michael, second day at an Australian school where he may not have been throwing out friendly vibes. Even before the kids attempted to get to know him they had a routine with all new students.
Partly based on a new student's appearance and accent, they would tease and harass them, throwing tennis balls and heckling the unfortunate newcomer. If you stood up to them, you could win their respect but that was easier said than done, especially for the kids with an accent to mock. The culture shock was almost unbearable, especially for a shy boy who had just left his childhood friends in another country, and who was on the verge of becoming a teenager. In an interview with Spin magazine many years later, Michael said "I'm Australian for sure, but I lived in Hong Kong until I was about twelve or thirteen. I had a problem with Australia . In the first place, I hated it. I had all the same prejudices in my head that the English have about it, hats with corks dangling to keep the flies away, and kangaroos. Once I got there I realized it was different, but I couldn't believe the people where I went to school. I just hated the place."
Fortunately for Michael, Andrew Farriss had also been a new student not long before and he had made friends with another student who intimidated the others with his height. Paul was already close to six foot, and when he and Andrew saw a group of boys hassling, newcomer Michael, they stepped in. Andrew and Michael did not become instant friends, but gradually developed a respect for one another that grew into their lifelong friendship.
Kell had decided to open a factory in Maitland, a small town outside Sydney , which is where he would stay Monday through Friday, returning on weekends. Rhett was still behaving in a disruptive and destructive manner, and may have been having trouble dealing with the fragile state of our marriage He had been caught taking shots at cars with a B.B. gun, he was also found drinking alcohol, and there seemed no limit to what he would try. We decided to buy him a motor cross bike and encouraged him to take up the sport with Michael. He loved this and they would be out all day coming home exhausted covered in mud from head to toe. If Kell could not get home on a weekend, I would have Michael and Rhett hitch the trailer to the back of my car, load the dirt bikes, and drive to a country town for the weekend. I loathed the drive but I was determined to try and keep some semblance of family life. Besides, they loved those bikes and the trails, which were few and far between in Sydney.
One Sunday Kell hitched the trailer to the car and apparently did not push the bolts down hard enough. We were descending a hill on the way to the mini-bike trail and I overheard Rhett jokingly saying to Michael: "I say Mike, that looks like our trailer". Michael yelled out, "It is our trailer". Just then I could see the small vehicle, containing the boy's bikes, pass us by and careen across the road into the corner wall of a chemist shop, smashing the corner bricks. It narrowly missed the front window, and it was a good thing that it was only 7am in a sleepy little country town, it could have been disastrous with pedestrians present. As it was the bikes were safe and it only cost us repairs to some brickwork.
I had gone back to my career as a makeup artist. We had mortgaged our house to start up Kell's factory. It was at this stage that I decided that I did not want to keep up this façade any longer, I wanted a divorce. Each time I tried to discuss a divorce or separation, Kell would object vehemently and tell me I could leave but the boys would not be going with me. He threatened he would come and take them back. I decided I had to take them away as far as possible, as I did not want my children involved in a tug of war. Kell had been all but invisible throughout this marriage. It was hard being both mother and father, more difficult I believe when the parents are still living together - yet apart. Kell spent so much time overseas that he was never in tune with our day to day lives. We had been on the move constantly, with his ever-changing career. I just felt that there was nothing left in the relationship, least of all trust.
The divorce laws in Australia at the time were such that there were only two legitimate grounds, adultery, or a two-year separation. Kell has a lot of pride, and he could never believe that failure in our marriage would be due to anything on his part. After all, he was never there! I felt totally trapped as we had worked all of those years, but our house was mortgaged to capacity and there was nothing to divide anyway. At this stage Rhett was thirteen years old and Michael fifteen. I knew I couldn't leave them both behind and could not afford to take care of both. Rhett was impossible for me to control, Michael had even come down on him for his behaviour toward me. I talked to Michael, told him of my dream, my plan, my secret –and this became our secret.
One day I just snapped. I had been offered work in Los Angeles , with Marvin and Michael Westmore. They had asked me to study corrective makeup with them, which would lead to working with cosmetic surgeons to help their patients camouflage facial disfigurements. This was a new area and the more I thought about it the more I wanted to have the opportunity to practice this form of makeup. I longed to do this. And I would be nearer to Tina as well, of course. My plan was to stay away for two years of separation, then return to Australia and divorce Kell. If it all went well and I could afford it, I could have Rhett join us, although I had no illusions that Kell would help us out. For the next three months I saved so as to have as much cash as I could. Michael kept asking; “When are we going Mum?”
As our departure day approached worry was making me fear for my sanity. The practical chore of packing –often a nightmare aspect of moving –was light relief. I was dreading saying goodbye to Rhett, and trying to explain. I still remember the day I told him as one of the worst of my life. I was torn up about being parted from him and driven with guilt about my decision. There was so much uncertainty ahead for Michael and me in California and I truly believed that for the time being Rhett would have a better life, secure with his father. I felt inadequate to deal with his smoking and drinking, his bullying of other boys at school and his general aggressiveness. I was convinced that he needed the influence of a strong man in his life and although I hated separating the boys, I believed that Rhett was the lucky one. I write this with deep pain, even today.
The day finally arrived and when Rhett came home from school I sat him down and told him that Michael and I were leaving for America . He wanted to go with us and I told him that it may be another three months before I could do that as I would first have to find somewhere to live, settle Michael into school and settle down to work. I promised I would send for him as soon as I could. He wanted to come to the airport with us. Friends arrived to drive us and it was a sombre ride. Naturally Rhett was upset and he started to cry and said, “I promise I will be good if you take me.” I told him to be good for his Dad and hopefully it would only be a couple of months before I could send for him. As we stood at the gate, the last passengers to board, I looked at Rhett's face and wanted to turn back. But it was too late. My heart was breaking, realizing what I had done. Michael was so quiet and so was I. But Michael was the only one not crying. I gave Rhett one last hug, Michael said his goodbyes and walking to the gateway, said, “Come on Mum, if we're going, let's go.” There was no turning back now. I said goodbye to my friends who took Rhett back home to Kell who would be back at the house by now as it was a Friday evening and he would be home that weekend.
The trip to Los Angeles was painful, neither one of us saying too much, except for me trying to reassure Michael that things would work out as planned. It must have been painful for Michael also, although, he didn't show it much, probably because of his love for me and possibly as he was curious as to what lay ahead for him in America.
In 1975, while living in San Jose , I awoke to an emotional call from a sobbing Kell. “She's left me and taken my Michael. Is he there?” Why would Mother and Michael be with me? Mother had spared me details of her plans. This could not have come at a worse time, as my own marriage was falling apart. I tried to calm Kell down so he could explain what had happened but he was incoherent through most of the conversation. I reminded him that he had another son and asked if Rhett was all right. He explained that while he was in Maitland, Mother and Michael had packed up and left. I told him if I heard anything, I would get back to him, and asked him to do the same. I never forgot his words, not just 'Michael', but, 'my Michael' .
It had been twelve months since I last saw my family, in August 1974. I had taken my son Brent to stay at the family home in Belrose , New South Wales , to introduce him to his Australian family. Brent was so fascinated with Rhett, whose twelfth birthday we celebrated and Michael who was fourteen at the time. He followed them around the house each afternoon as they came home from school. The boys found that it was a full- time job keeping an enthusiastic two-year-old out of their 'stuff'. Michael spent ages in the garage, absorbed in his dirt bike. Photographs from that visit show a mesmerized toddler covered in grease sitting next to the young mechanic, Michael. The age difference between Brent and Michael was twelve years, the same as between Michael and myself. It was reassuring and rather touching to watch him care for Brent with patience and enthusiasm as I had done with him.
On our first day at the Sydney home, Michael made quite an entrance, as he crashed through the front door with tremendous force, scattering school books everywhere. He had sprouted upwards since I last saw him. Skinny, with hair almost to his shoulders, he was at the age where his voice was breaking, and as he talked animatedly, I could detect that a soft lisp was still there. He had arrived with his 'best mate', Andrew Farriss. Andrew was shy, serious, and quietly spoken. His family was from Perth and he was the middle-born of three brothers and also had a sister. He and Michael talked about poetry and music but Andrew seemed to clam up whenever I jumped into the conversation.
The boys were wearing their Davidson High school uniforms. I still have Michael's hard cover Concise Oxford Dictionary, which he used during those years at school. He has scrawled his name and classes on the inside of the cover. I forget how it came to me but it remains my favourite dictionary. One time when I offered it back, he told me to keep it for Erin and Brent, which I did, and I now safeguard it as a keepsake for Tiger Lily.
Now, within a few hours of Kell's call I heard from Mother, who had landed in Los Angeles . She and Michael were on their way to San Jose and they flew to San Francisco about two hours later. Michael was now fifteen. He had not changed very much in one year, although his teenage skin was bothering him. I don't think Mother really thought about the logistics of her plan, she just knew she had to get out of the marriage. I guess she wanted to keep things ‘clean' by not involving me.
The first thing we did was to get Mother and Michael an apartment nearby, and enroll Michael into high school. Almost immediately after they arrived, Mother bought Michael a yellow dirt bike. He spent many hours maintaining it and eventually entered into a competition where he came second. He was pretty happy. But just as things were settling down, I had a frantic call from Michael in the middle of the night. Mother was having what we would now recognize as a panic attack, brought on by all the complexities and stresses of her flight. I drove over right away and by the time I arrived she had calmed a little. Michael was pale and was relieved to see me. Mother was breathing into a paper bag to prevent hyperventilation, as my doctor had advised. It was really only then that I began to learn what had been going on for the past three months, all the planning and pain. I was relieved that Mother had a job lined up to take her mind off things. Mother, Michael, Brent and I soon came to share a house in Studio City , in Southern California . My three-year-old Brent was sent to nursery school and Michael enrolled at North Hollywood High, so Mother and I could both work.
Kell's business ventures weren't going very well in Sydney , and he moved to Manila to pursue new prospects. And Rhett went with him. During this period in Rhett's life his relationship with Kell understandably improved. The economy in the Philippines enabled them have people to cook and clean and keep house for them, and the departure from subversive peer influence in Sydney and Kell's strong discipline combined to give Rhett a good life and calm his aggressive tendencies. Also, he would have had all his father's attention to himself. I reminded myself that I could not expect the same quality of life for two growing sons and myself in California if I took them both.
The legal implications of my move had not even crossed my mind. It was actually against the law to take the fifteen-year-old Michael away from his father without consent and I had also underestimated Kell's capacity for revenge. I had expected him to be hurt and angry but I had hoped that, despite his wounded pride he would not use the situation to tell Rhett that I loved Michael more and turn my younger son against me in any way he could. Whatever the case, Rhett's hurt was profound and left deep wounds. No one can be surprised about that. Kell would not allow Rhett to join us, even for a holiday.
In a different world – today's – I might have handled things in another way. Back then I felt that I had such limited choices and all of them terrible. Thank God the law is kinder and more just towards women in my situation now. As you might imagine, I have given a great deal of thought to this over the years. I know that I would not have done what I did if I hadn't felt myself approach the verge of breakdown, feeling under such pressure.
Working as a corrective makeup artist was very rewarding and sometimes very stressful. It can be very draining emotionally to continually work with the medically referred client. The work involves helping people who have some form of congenital disfigurement or problem caused by illness or an accident, through the use of makeup techniques. It was difficult for me to settle though it helped when Tina arrived with Brent. Michael and Rhett wrote to each other during their first year apart and Kell wrote to Michael too. I was more than happy about that. When within weeks of my move, I had word that Rhett and Kell had moved to the Philippines and Rhett had settled into the International School in Manila , Rhett and I started corresponding too. I still have many of those letters and from my reading of them now it is evident that he was being well cared for, and that his relationship with Kell had improved enormously. His first letter to me started off by saying, ‘It's so hot here the wax in my ears is melting.' He told me about a German teenager who had stayed the night and left with Kell's briefcase containing a few thousand dollars in cash. He went to the boys home the following morning and recovered the case with most of the money intact. Kell gave him a reward. He said he liked it over there and wished we were there with him or better still, wished he were in America with us. He did not sound at all angry or upset, he said to give his love to Michael and everyone and he loved me very much. I still have that letter and showed it to Rhett recently. He read it and said, “And I still do love you Mum” .
Much later, when Michael returned to Australia , Kell tried to convince him that he had been deprived by the move to California . But Michael's memories of life there, of North Hollywood High, of his drama classes, the freedom he enjoyed, the friends he made and the music scene were all happy ones – as he confirmed to me when we spoke of the whole wrenching episode. He felt his teenage years in California steered him towards work in the entertainment industry and the life he had loved so much. In later years his long time friend, director, Richard Lowenstein said Michael spoke of this period in his life as something special. He spoke fondly and proudly of times spent on film sets with me. It seemed to steer him toward the possibility of working in film. I will never know if my sons would have turned out differently if they hadn't been separated and maybe it's pointless to speculate as they already had such distinct and different personalities. In a different world –today's, I might have handled things in another way.
I was working as a receptionist at the Nieman Marcus beauty salon. I would run around the house in the morning desperately trying to get Michael and Brent ready for school. Michael seemed to like all the differences between North Hollywood High and Davidson High, from the basic curriculum to the atmosphere, which encouraged a free expression of ideas and originality of ambition. The dress code was so casual he could wear jeans. Every day upon arriving home, he had something to show us. He loved how the African American kids danced, and he practiced their moves, with Brent as his audience. He used a ten speed bike to get around, and sometimes, if I was going to be late from work, he would swing by and collect Brent from pre school. By now, Michael was spending most of his free time, listening to music, mostly Elton John, and writing poetry.
The only thing that seemed to bother him was his skin condition. Mother knew he was fretting over severe acne, so she took him in to see the best dermatologist she could find, always driving him over to Beverly Hills for his appointments. With time Michael gradually saw improvement but it was a slow process and well into adulthood Michael sought treatment, latterly to deal with the residual scarring. However, as a makeup artist who has worked with medically referred clients, I am aware that teenage acne can leave deep psychological scarring no matter how well the complexion clears. I once heard that later on when INXS was up for an award against another popular Australian band, some fans of their rivals held up a sign, which called Michael 'crater face'. INXS took home the award but this display of mean spirit surely must have cut deeply.
Most of the time Michael was very cheerful and occasionally mischievous. Once I left the keys in the car while I ran in to a shopping mall for a quick pick-up. When I came out to the parking lot, my car had vanished. I panicked. I had left Michael in the car with Brent in his car seat. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a police car and as I approached I noticed that the person they were detaining was Michael. He had driven my car into another parking space for a joke. The patrolmen had seen him and pulled him over to check his license, which did not exist. I had to do some fast talking and of course left myself open for a lecture about leaving minors alone in a vehicle with keys.
Mother loved being around film people. One young actor she met had several offers on a script he had written but refused to sell it unless he was cast as the lead. Eventually he raised the production money himself -and the Rocky phenomenon was born. It was Mother who suggested Michael Westmore for special makeup effects to Sylvester Stallone - he did some great work for those fight scenes. Mother's career was blooming. She went on location to Little Rock , Arkansas , on a Roger Corman production called Fighting Mad. The lead actor was Peter Fonda. Thirteen years later, Michael would also be working on a Corman movie, Frankenstein Unbound filmed at Lake Como , Italy . Along with Michael it starred John Hurt, Jason Patric and Peter Fonda's daughter Bridget.
I tried to find activities both boys would be interested in. Once, I planned a camping trip in the mountains without checking the weather report. Of course it snowed and we ended up sitting in a cabin for the whole weekend. I thought the trip was a let down, but to my surprise Michael and Brent thought this was cool, as if we were stranded or something, when in fact I had bought along enough food for about three weeks. At home mostly we went to movies or had friends over to swim in the pool. Michael's bedroom had French doors, which lead directly out to the pool, and he took every opportunity to enjoy it with his friends. He was always very patient with Brent and baby-sat him for me at times. Around this time, I also began to ease back into the film industry, taking over some of mother's work as she was still laid-up from a bad fall. Thus I met Erin 's father, Jeff, who was a film editor.
Once, when Mother was on location, we had a note from Michael's school, which said they wanted a parent/teacher conference. I went in my mother's place. His teachers were just concerned about Michael's grades. Nothing new about this – teachers were always worried about his grades, and he had not changed his study habits since his days in Hong Kong when his teaches called him a dreamer. He was not particularly interested in math, science, biology or chemistry. His tastes ran more along the lines of music, drama, art and English. The problem was he was required to get passing grades in the other classes in order to graduate high school. As it is with many young adults who tend not to be academically inclined, he would complain and argue that with his goals, math and science would be pointless. Having gone to many schools myself I sympathized with him in having to change over to a completely different curriculum. He did make some effort, but not enough to stop us fretting over his grades.
I would have liked some of the teachers who had complained about his performance to have, held a conversation with him by the time he was in his late twenties. By then he had proved himself to be a dynamo. His vocabulary was fantastic, he was very eloquent, and it seemed that he could hold his own on any subject – pretty much self-taught. I have read many erroneous stories about this period in Michael's life, giving the impression that Michael was depressed due to Mother bringing him to the United States for eighteen months. This is ridiculous, although perhaps I can't blame the writers, for even Michael had several versions of his life story, depending on who his audience was. All I can say is, I was there, and we had a lot of fun times, and many quiet, heart to hearts. He was interested in politics and had specific views on how a country should be run and what was right and what was wrong about anything you could bring up. He was too shy to show me his poetry. He spoke of the acting profession and lamented that Australia was not the place to launch an acting career. If he was missing Rhett, he never said so. Occasionally we would go somewhere and he would say, “Wow imagine what Rhett would say if he saw this!” But, I don't ever remember him actually complaining that he missed him. Of course he may have kept it to himself, but he never indicated that he was suffering in any way. He knew he was the favoured child and that Mother would have sent him back, with sorrow but without question, if that had been what he wanted.
After Michael's death, it didn't help things that Kell was reported as saying that Michael's age for his California period was twelve. If he did he must have had a lapse in memory. Saying he was only twelve makes a big difference. It would have meant that he was too young to say he had no desire to move to the United States . Michael came here of his own free will. He kept the pending move a secret even from his brother, and he was very excited about it. Kell was also reported as having stated that Michael returned to live with him in Sydney when he was given sole custody of the boys. More fantasy! Michael was actually nearly seventeen when he returned to Australia . Where he was concerned, there was no question of child custody in the divorce.
About six months before Michael and I were due to return to Australia I had a bad fall on a movie set and was unable to walk. I was confined to bed for approximately one month and afterward the doctors told me I was in need of at least six months physical therapy as I limped around on crutches. I had been receiving many letters and phone calls from Kell who was now back in Australia and, having accepted that we would divorce, asked me to sign some papers so he could sell our home. He argued that if we did this, we could each buy a small house or flat. I resisted, as I did not want to sell our home, however, I did not know what would happen in the future, as at that point it was impossible for me to stand, let alone work. I decided to send Michael back hoping to follow very soon, but it was at least six months before I could travel. Tina was a wonderful and constant nurse, cook and carer, totally dependable and never complaining. This is in her nature – I observed those characteristics in her dealings with Michael, Rhett, her own children and her friends. Nonetheless it was a worrying time for me with an impending divorce, separation from both my boys now and my inability to work.
eventually arrived back in Australia and went to Kell's rented house in Belrose. Kell had indeed sold our home. He had a live-in housekeeper for the boys and he was off back to Manila on business. According to Vince Lovegrove, I didn't want to keep the house, so he'd sold it and paid off his debts. So much for us each buying separate homes. When Kell left for Manila , Rhett, Michael and I stayed on in the rented house, and after almost nine months of constant physiotherapy, I was able to walk and think about working again. I resumed working for the Grundy organization a TV 'soapie', called ‘The Young Doctors'. This ran for eight years in Australia . This was perfect for me as it was steady, I knew my hours, I had a regular wage coming in, could plan my time and usually be home in the evenings to prepare dinner for Michael and Rhett, unlike with the location work and crazy hours I was more used to. By the time I arrived in Sydney , I could see that Rhett and Michael were happy to be with each other again, though as before, they had separate friends. Michael had renewed his friendship with Andrew Farriss, and became serious about his music.
By the time Michael returned from California Andrew had already pulled together a band which he called, Doctor Dolphin. The other three members were Davidson High classmates Kent Kerny and Neil Sanders and a bass player from Forest High, Gary Beers. Gary had been recruited mainly because he already had a car – a rarity among Australian teenagers back then. Andrew had been providing the vocals, but Michael eagerly joined Doctor Dolphin as lead singer as shaking a tambourine did not qualify as contributing instrumentally. His voice was tentative at first, but although Doctor Dolphin never did venture beyond the rehearsal stage it proved to be just what he needed to test his range.
While Doctor Dolphin experimented in the Farriss's garage, Andrew's almost twenty-year-old brother Tim was already booking his band, Guinness for local weddings and parties. Tim and his friend Kirk Pengilly had been playing together for about six years and were eager to progress. Tim and Kirk - who both played guitar - used various lineups throughout high school, even auditioning Tim's younger brother Jon on drums. As Jon was only nine-years-old it did not work out. Kirk had been the creative force in Guinness, writing the material and singing. But it was Tim who was to become the driving force that would bring the original line up of INXS together. He had observed Doctor Dolphin and was impressed with three elements: his brother's keyboard prowess, Gary 's talent on base guitar and some special qualities in Michael's voice. Michael was relaxed in rehearsals and showing signs of becoming an impressive frontman. Tim asked them to join him and Kirk, and they rounded it out by giving Jon another chance. At sixteen, Jon was finally old enough to join his brothers in the band.
After a short rehearsal period, the band debuted as the Farriss Brothers. Their first public appearance took place on Tim's twentieth birthday, August 16th, 1977 . After this, Tim and Kirk set about in earnest to make it a success.
The band practised all hours, sometimes in the Farriss's garage and sometimes in ours. They also used rehearsal halls in the beach suburbs of Mona Vale and Avalon. Michael was truly driven and focused and I was very happy for him. Kell was completely opposed, however, and said that I should not encourage it. He thought Michael should get a 'real' job, that it was unrealistic and that he would never make any money out of the music business. Kell thought he should be looking for a white-collar job and that I should not be encouraging him to get into 'my' business of performing and entertaining. I thought that he should follow his dream.
Michael was also getting involved in his first serious romance, with a very sweet girl called Michelle Nagy he'd met at the school bus stop. They would talk on the phone for hours, travel on the school bus together and see each other on Sunday afternoons at her house or ours. When he was practising with the band, she would go and watch.
Then Jill and Dennis Farriss decided to relocate their family back to Perth , about three thousand miles from Sydney . Jon Farriss was still in school so there was no question of him staying in Sydney for the sake of the band. Instead the others set about following the Farriss boys to the west coast. Michael took a job at the Wentworth Hotel as a waiter after school to save money for the trip. The job only lasted a short time, as it was tiring getting there after school and not arriving back home until after midnight.
Rhett became increasingly aggressive as Michael's departure loomed because he wanted to go with him. There was no possibility of this as he was barely fifteen and still at school. He objected to every argument I put up and would not see that, quite apart from his age, Michael had to find his own way and could not be responsible for him. One day he became so angry at the thought of Michael's departure that he lashed out and hit me as Michael walked into the kitchen. Michael was so outraged that he took hold of Rhett and held him down and gave him a lecture on how women were to be treated. He said, "If I ever hear of you treating a woman, especially our mother this way ever again, you will certainly know about it!" I understood Rhett's anger, as he felt that he was being abandoned once again, but there was no solution.
His aggressions simmered after Michael's departure. It took a long time for Rhett's temper to subside and I'm afraid I was never able to help him much, no matter how hard I tried. I loved Rhett and I know now that he loves me, but it has taken many, many long years and many buckets of tears to get where we are today.
The day finally arrived and Michael called Michelle to say goodbye. Though he missed her a lot, time and distance proved to be too much for such young ones to sustain their relationship. Kirk came to collect Michael and I handed him a food-care package for the long drive over. With mixed emotions we said our goodbyes; sadly, but with great hopes. When the car was out of sight, I walked back to the house and into the kitchen to find an envelope on which Michael had written "Dear Mum take care of yourself and get yourself something nice with this. Sorry it can't be more - Don't worry about me, Love Michael xxx". The envelope contained a $20 bill, and I have it to this day.
The drive across the Nullarbor Plain the longest, loneliest stretch of road between the coasts, took approximately three days. The distance approximates that between Los Angeles and Miami or from London to Marseilles and back. Michael used to tell the story of how they spent the trip smoking dope and stopping to cook out of Kirk's wok in the middle of nowhere. Later on he described the scene to me as if it were out of a Fellini movie. "We stopped late at night in the middle of the desert and Kirk pulled out his wok and Tupperware containing diced vegetables. Before we even had the chance to start a fire for the food, we looked up to see little eyes bouncing everywhere. It was the kangaroos leaping all around us. Kirk was completely unfazed and went about cooking up this Chinese meal. We found ourselves sitting there in the empty outback, sharing a Chinese meal, kangaroos staring at us." When Michael first recounted this story to us, he didn't mention the part about the grass. Later on when we heard him tell it in a television interview, adding the dope bit. It was ten years after the event.
I worried a lot about Michael while he was in Perth , even though he had 'family' there in Andrew's parents, Jill and Dennis Farriss. He would write telling me of how it was a learning experience for all of them. They did learn to look after each other. Early in 1978 I received a letter from Michael.
I've just found some time to write a letter to you and tell of what's been happening. As far as moneys concerned I'm doing quite well, averaging about $100. per week which is OK. I miss you very much, a lot more than you probably realise, since I have had time to think about so many things, you are a wonderful person and take care of yourself. I love you.
We have been playing about 3-4 times per week which is good except I've picked up some strange head thing, for the past four days I've had a headache and until this morning I've been nauceous as well, I went to the doctor and he said it should get better, which it has- but try to sing like that and you know about it.
I couldn't afford a present for Michelles birthday as I've just had a rent payment and a few other things, but I did send a card and letter anyway she's in Adelaide at the moment and enjoying herself. I miss Michelle very much, she is a sweet lady, I love her.
It would be great to get over there for a holiday, the problem with that though is time off from working, maybe I can afford to go in August, by the way how is Rhett going. I miss him and you know I love him very much is he still being aggressive? What are you doing about him etc. How's your work going? Whenever I get the chance I watch Young Doctors to see your name.
You know Tim's girlfriend Buffy, well she's over here at the moment on holiday, she likes it, but its boring compared to Sydney, I agree, in fact if it wasn't for the band doing so well, I'd be in Sydney right now. So many things have happened over here that have made us all miss Sydney very much, for instance Kirk's $500 cassette machine got stolen at a gig!!!, 4 pairs of good jeans were stolen off our washing line, we've all been roughed up a couple of times. I even got punched a few times by some guys -so hows that? Don't worry though we all know to keep our ground in WA ( Western Australia ) now, especially myself .(happy face)
Anyway while I've got time I better write to Mabs (Kells' mother) as she's been writing to me, please give my love to everyone and I hope you and Rhett are well. Lots of Love Michael XXXX
I also have a card from Michael, postmarked Perth , Australia , July 27th, 1978 . He details the band's exploits in mining towns and such in Western Australia . He writes that the band is attempting to write their own songs. Not understanding the inner workings of the music business at the time, I thought they were making it hard on themselves. Who would go to see an unknown band playing unfamiliar music, I wondered.
I was pregnant with Erin and she was two weeks past her due date. California is approximately sixteen hours behind Perth , and so it appears that by chance he mailed the card around the same time I was entering Cedars Sinai to give birth to Erin, who was born on the 26 th - which happens to be Mick Jagger's birthday. Interestingly, in the card, he wishes me a 'happy birthing day'. Even though it wouldn't take an Einstein to know that this card could well coincide with my daughter's birth, he always loved that story. It gave us a sort of spiritual connection.
As soon as the six band members reconvened in Perth , Tim and Kirk set about getting them work. Andrew, Tim, Gary Garry (as Gary was to start styling his name), Kirk and Michael were renting a house not far from the Farriss family home where Jon was still living while he completed his last year of high school. The house where the band lived was, just as you may imagine. The five eldest members were taking full advantage of the local female talent, free beer at the gigs, cheap marijuana, and plenty of spare time. Mother worried more than I did about this lifestyle but we both knew there was nothing we could do about it except hope he'd behave responsibly. Michael was especially taken with a girl called Ananda who he claimed had been presented to him on a leash at a party. I never really believed the story, but it got a lot of mileage and the girl was for real. She was a throwback to the sixties, poetry readings and such, and this appealed to the hippy dreamer in Michael. I'm sure neither my mother nor I were privy to all the fun goings on in that house, but they were five young men out on their own for the first time, they survived and came through it just a little more grown up. I don't think I would want to know all the details.
Tim Farriss was the undisputed leader. He was the eldest and at that time the most ambitious. At twenty, he had no doubts as to what he wanted and he wanted this band, the Farriss Brothers. He saw their stay in Perth as a rehearsal and prelude to serious success. He and Kirk took care of the business side of things as the other four concentrated on sharpening their musical talents. They took charge of collecting the money after the gigs, paying the bills and dividing what was left for each of the members to live on, which was little more than pocket money during that first year. Tim was always thinking up ways to promote the band, which was not easy in sleepy, remote Perth . It may be the capital city of Western Australia - which is Australia 's largest state -claiming approximately one third of the total land mass - yet it is the most sparsely populated one, with only 800,000 residents in 1978. On the south-western coast of Australia , Perth is a beautiful green city with great beaches on the Indian Ocean . But to its east and north there is desert.
Perth was out of touch with the music scene then, and there was very little live entertainment going on in the pubs. The band was forced to organize their tour to mining towns and fishing communities, where men are men at the very least. It was particularly hard on Michael because he was a sensitive, eccentric young performer and a nonconformist, and there was no room for that sort of thing on the pub circuit in Australia , let alone in tough mining towns. Many of these audiences assumed that Michael was homosexual and there was very little tolerance for that in Australia in the seventies. Michael used to tell us that all the escaped, convicts must have ended up in those towns! About Port Hedland he once said "They have this central area with six pods coming off and there's red dust everywhere. They have dust locks; it's like nowhere else. You have to walk into a room and whoosh! All the dust gets blown off you, and you go to a dust-free area. And they have wet canteens and dry ones. The first, to get pissed in, and the other to eat in. These last were seldom crowded. The people there are all desperadoes. We played there New Year's Eve one year. It was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life."
After ten months in Western Australia , Jon was old enough to leave home and the band made their way back to Sydney where they set up house at Newport Beach , a northern coastal suburb. Once there, Tim began his promotional assault in the parking lots of all the pubs on the north shore of the harbour. One day, while he was sticking Farriss Brothers flyers under windshield wipers he was approached by Gary Morris, the manager of the immensely popular band Midnight Oil. He asked Tim about his band and on the spot offered them a support gig. This lead to Gary Morris becoming their first manager. It was an incredible break for the Farriss Brothers, and they never forgot it. Morris was not happy with the name of the band and for a short time they became the Vegetables. Soon after this, at the suggestion of Midnight Oil roadie, Colin Lee Hong, the Farriss Brothers was changed to INXS. I later learned it was a name that definitely suited them at the time, as they had become known for their excessive behaviour both on and off stage. The parties at their house at Newport Beach were legendary, while Michael's antics on stage, flinging himself around and up and down, and dancing like nobody else gave the audience the impression that the band was still partying as they worked. What's more in order to get audience attention while they were on stage, they wore anything you would not find on anyone else. Sometimes their outfits were downright geeky, but at least no one else was wearing them.
They first appeared as INXS at a pub date, on September 1, 1979 . Two years after getting together as the Farriss Brothers, they had the same line up and one that would remain for another eighteen years. Experimenting with images and sounds, INXS continued to support Midnight Oil and other local bands, gathering an enthusiastic following.. They had begun to write their own material in Perth where nobody was interested in anything other than top forty hits. Now they were free to express themselves in their own powerful way.
The first time I saw Michael performing was soon after the band returned to Sydney, and played at the Dee Why Hotel, a very popular venue at the time, renowned for its' dedication to the Aussie bands. Playing pubs was a good starting point in more ways than one; character building to say the least.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and my sister Maureen and I decided to go along and support the boys. There must have been approximately thirty five people in the bar, about twelve of whom were bikers, including two 'biker chicks.' All the same we sat up front and were very impressed with Michael's singing. It reminded me of that of the young Frank Sinatra. There was a certain tone to his voice – at times tender, yet with a dangerous edge to it, which could develop unexpectedly into some great raw roar or slide into the moodiest of blues. He moved very sensually as well, lithe and graceful sometimes, unashamedly raunchy at others. I could see how he took on a different persona on stage and that one day the camera would love him. Of course all his brothers in the band were brilliant too, but at that gig, seeing Michael the musician for the first time, my eyes were drawn to him. Naturally I was the proud mum.
We applauded enthusiastically after each song. Meanwhile, the two 'biker chicks' were giving us strange glances and loudly criticizing us for even being there. They probably thought we should be taking high tea at a ladies club.
After the first set, Michael walked over towards us, the others following to thank us for being there. We both stood up to give him a hug, and almost fell flat on our faces. The floor, was so thick with spilled beer from the previous night, our heels had stuck! Meanwhile the girls were staring at us, as no doubt they couldn't believe that the band would even know the likes of us. From then on, the atmosphere was decidedly more friendly, and we stayed for the second set. The next time we went to see them perform at the Dee Why Hotel, they were in a larger room, and the queue to get in, was three blocks long.
END CHAPTER THREE