Why we chose the counter-culture
I want to talk about the children of the counter-culture. The counter-culture as I knew it – in Sydney during the late 1980s through the 1990s. Because I don’t think people outside this community understand the decisions we made. From the perspective of the main-stream we were the ‘lost’ youth. We dropped out. We took drugs. We were the ‘bad’ children. But this is so far from the truth. I was there – I knew those children, I was one of them. And I need to paint a picture of who we were and why we rejected society. We were gifted children who wanted a better world. We were bright, creative – and above all we were ethical. And this sounds strange to those who weren’t there. It’s difficult to understand that the choices we made were driven by our idealism and our morality. So, this is what I hope to explain.
But first, I’ll briefly describe where I came from and what I was running away from. I went to a private school on the North Shore, but I didn’t live on the North Shore. There were only a couple of us that lived so far from school. It was a long commute each day. In the latter years of school, I drifted away from my school friends. They were turning into the young women that they were supposed to be. But I couldn’t go down that path. I was androgynous and began to hang out with a group of boys who lived near me. Half of them were gay. We hung out on weekends and smoked pot. This had a devastating effect on me. Most of the time I was paranoid. But I kept wiping myself out. My home life was unbearable.
I don’t want to discuss my family. But what I felt, when I was young, was that I did not want what my parents had. I did not want to be like them. I rejected their values. I did not believe what they believed. I had different ideas about what a ‘good’ life meant and what it meant to be a ‘good’ person. How I should spend my time and what was worth pursuing in life. I did not value money. And I did not value status – I was totally unaware of it. I didn’t want any of the things my parents wanted for me. I wanted so much more.
That sounds hubristic now. Now that I’m older I know what is valuable in life. A loving companion. A warm home. A simple life. Friendships with like-minded people. Goals to work towards – challenges we set ourselves. Continuing to grow and to learn. These things are important. But when I was young I wanted a different world. And I thought I could change the world so that it would be a better place. I didn’t recognize that the pain and suffering I saw in the world around me was my own pain and suffering. But I took that pain and suffering, and my desire for a better world, with me when I ran away to the inner-city. And I ran there because it was the only place that would accept a person like me.
And now, to those wild children. All those children wanted a better world. And they had all felt themselves ‘different’ in the homes they ran away from. It was the queer community and the art community. These children were bright and creative. They saw through the hypocrisy of their upbringings and believed that society was corrupt. They did not value money – had no desire to sell their time to slave for some corporation that was destroying the earth. That was how we saw things. Humans were greedy, and the earth was dying. Capitalism was corroding the planet. We wanted no part of it. What did we want? We wanted the world to change. But there is something else we wanted. We wanted to play.
We wanted to remain children. To express the joy that children have. We weren’t ready to ‘grow up’ and become adults because we hadn’t formed ideas about the sort of adults we could become. Our role models were few, if not non-existent. If we had role models they were artists and musicians who were subversive and sought to buck the system. Artists who had used drugs and expressed themselves in a way that resonated with us.
Perhaps the main reason we seemed so ‘lost’ was the drugs. But how can I tell you what those drugs did to us? How they made us see the world? The experiences we had? We were so very young, but our minds were blown open and we glimpsed things that were far too big for us. Too profound. And we were touched by these things and they made us believe that we were right. And it’s not possible to go back to an ‘ordinary life’ after these experiences. The drugs caused us to see the world differently and they made it impossible for us to fit into society. They gave us more reasons for not wanting to fit in.
But I need to stress our idealism. We wanted a perfect world. The thing we sadly lacked was leaders. Wise souls who could have shown us the way and taught us how to make a difference. Because along with our idealism, we were the spiritual children of our generation. We rejected religion because of our ethics – because of the pain it had caused so many. But we found a home for our spirituality in the communities we formed. The families we created – where our own had let us down so badly.
These days I go to university – and it is a good university. And I meet young people who are ‘good’ young people. They are privileged, but they work hard. They are bright and mature, and they are going to be our leaders one day. Sometimes, when I talk to these kids, I’m so in awe of them. It gives me joy to know them. And I’m reminded of the children of the counter-culture because I know – without a doubt – that we were also the ‘good’ kids. Perhaps we were misguided – believing we could achieve more than we did. And perhaps my words aren’t forceful enough to let you know how delightful we were. We had pure souls – souls full of joy and love. We had tasted pain and we wanted a world where that pain was eliminated. We wanted a world where people did not strive for material wealth. We wanted a world where creativity and play were valued as they should be. And we wanted a world in which we belonged.