Tuesday, September 6, 2016


IT TOOK a lot of guts –albeit some of it self destructive - for an attractive young girl to be a punk rocker in the North Queensland city of  Townsville in the early 1980s . Her Mohawk haircut, tattered clothes , a splash of tartan , and safety pin accessories caused many eyebrows to be raised , as did her pet rat , Woof, which she carried about with her . Known as Ruth Rebel , she drank heavily , lived rough and became the Queen of Punk in the north. She wrote poetry , strutted her stuff on stage, singing in a wild band , Noise. Other members of the group were Ned Kelly, Stew Spew, Dennis T. Menace and Andy Anarchy . The band put out a cassette - Like A Stain On Your Toilet. Ned Kelly hanged himself , police blamed Ruth for his death and she went through an emotional, despairing time.
There was a dramatic change in her chaotic life when she became involved with Townsville’s new community radio station , 4TTT-FM . Prior to that radio connection she had been a loner , lacked confidence and knew little because she had been “ naughty ” at school . The first time she took part in a radio show she froze and became speechless. 
From time to time she helped present the late night rock show at the radio station . With the passage of time she became a regular presenter. To some, Ruth Rebel, also known as Rebel Ruth, was the punk scene in Townsville. She presented a Saturday night show called Slash Slamming and Safety Pins , a name she disliked, so renamed it Punk and Disorderly . On air comments and swearing sparked complaints to the Australian Broadcasting Authority .  

 She freely admitted having been anti-war , anti religion and anti - cops and ran shows on these themes , slipping in some of her poetry on those topics. A zealous man connected with a religious program , Freedom Zone , refused to play rock , saying it was the music of the devil . He frequently complained about and clashed with Ruth . She responded by imitating his voice on air and called his segment the Bondage Zone . In turn, he declared her the devil. Ruth also mimicked and mocked sponsors and  the Queen .

Her on air antics inflamed many , one listener phoning in to say he had recently been released from jail and was going to rush in and bash her. Conversely , many people were protective towards Ruth and said she was a beautiful teenager with a troubled background.

Some of Ruth’s poems appeared in newspapers and magazines . She regularly contributed poems to an American punk magazine and became known in international punk circles. Photocopies of her poems, stapled at the corner, were put on sale for a $1.50 in a Townsville music shop and whenever there was a sale she was elated to think somebody wanted to read her work. The poems , with associated text , gave an insight into Ruth’s past , her lifestyle and her attitude to modern society .

Her first collections of poems bore the title As Seen Through the Eyes of a Rebel;her second, Oi!the Cause is Lost !,dedicated to people  who show their tits , have fun and are a general nuisance , carried the message not to give in ,be yourself and watch out for McDonalds, even if their chips and burgers are nice

In an explanatory note she said most of the poems were an outlet for “ my frustrations on wot I see goin on around me ”. She hoped the poems would broaden peoples’ minds- “not as in preaching and shit ” -but to learn about the other side of the coin . Giving brief and bizarre biographical details, she said she had been born in Brisbane in l968 where she had lived in “ a biscuit tin ” until 12. Now she was in Townsville, which she called Clownsville, a “ vast black hole ”, but better than Mareeba . In addition, she wrote that she been unemployed for about six years because her only experience had been with biscuit tins . The unusual biography continued : Ruth hopes to be a novelist and a beauty consultant one day . I also like crocheting ...
The poems dealt with the Clone Employment Service ( Commonwealth Employment Service ), divisions caused by religion, the isolation of the individual, trying to survive on the dole, greedy big business and inner thoughts of despondency in a flea- infested, rented house with a leaky roof.

 In the cover poem, Oi! The Cause Is Lost!, Ruth took skinheads to task for bashing people, saying they were neo- Nazis , cowards without balls , who went about in gangs . She wrote that the skinheads would probably “kick me to my knees ” for speaking out against them . There was no copyright claim on her poetry, just a request to acknowledge that she was the author and not to just rip her off .

When Ruth left Townsville for “ the south ”, she surmised that some of the “old crones” at the radio station , who strongly objected to her , threw wild parties to celebrate her departure. After two years in Sydney she returned to Townsville . When she went along to 4TTT , under new management , hoping to once more contribute to the air waves , she found the welcome mat had been well and truly withdrawn as far as she was concerned . Furthermore , she was shocked to learn the station broadcasted greyhound racing .

Once more , she departed the Townsville scene , and nothing more was heard of her ; people speculated she had come to a tragic end . However, her name appeared from time to time in contributions to several punk “ zines ” , this being the name for cheap cut and paste magazines . The October 1993 issue of the punk zine APITO , produced in Rockhampton, Queensland listed a Ruth Rebel poem dealing with sexism on the cover. That issue also covered the plight of East Timor , whaling and called for independence for Tibet

I became interested in Ruth Rebel about ten years ago when researching the history of 4TTT-FM, an extraordinary community radio station which would make a great TV series or a film . Through its portals passed individuals who became influential in law , politics, music , broadcasting , Aboriginal and Islander advancement , environmental protection , nuclear protests , union activities and other fields of endeavour.

A woman doctor connected with the radio station was even blamed by some northern religious fanatics for Darwin’s Cyclone Tracy because she had promoted birth control and abortion and God had punished the nation as a result . 4TTT-FM , operating with limited funds, knocked the socks off many radio stations , parts of  networks owned by conglomerates whose content is compiled  and  dictated  from  afar.
Extensive inquiries eventually led me to Ruth , with two sons, struggling along in Queensland , still writing poetry and full of fond and unusual memories of her time at the radio station. When I recounted some of the colourful anecdotes I had gathered about her and her rodent at the radio station she branded me Big Ears , addressing me as such in emails. Did I know , she asked , that a manager at the radio station had a coffin and slept in it . My large ears had picked up that titbit. Ruth told me that during her travels she had teamed up with her birth mother , but this reunion had not worked out . Her adoptive mother , a Christian , had died in her sleep before Ruth had a chance to thank her for having persevered with her .

A person from the University of Central Queensland, hearing I had been researching Ruth, contacted me and asked if I knew where she was as somebody was interested in doing a documentary about the punk rock scene and dearly wanted to speak to her. That film , called A Piss In the Ocean , included a male punk rocker,Bollocks, Ruth Rebel  listed in the credits.

Darwin activist  Stuart  Highway  admired  Ruth  Rebel.  

An email Ruth sent me dealt with the plight of women in Papua New Guinea where sexual assault and the spread of aids is rampant . Much to my surprise, Darwin activist , Stuart Highway , who had a stall at the Nightcliff Sunday market , had been in contact with Ruth Rebel in connection with several campaigns over the years. He first became aware of her in punk magazines in the 1980s and said  her poems help her cope with the boredom and stresses in her life. More than that, she was able to draw attention to injustices in the world.-(By Peter Simon ).