Party Fears #19, 1994

Interviewed by Number Six at a safe cyber-location north of Northbridge a certain length of time ago.

2: (looking at tape recorder and microphone) “Looks like a special effect from Blake’s 7, doesn’t it?”

At least that’s better than a special effect from Doctor Who.

R: “‘Look! It’s the concrete wall!’ Yes. The subject being ...”

Interesting things. Pranks! Fun things to do ...

2: “Civil disobedience. And not so civil.”

R: “Uncivil disobedience.”

Obnoxious disobedience. Why do you do it?

2: “Speaking of cops ... whatever happened to the statue of Justice?”

R: “They’ve moved it!” (laughs)

2: “Why?”

R: “Well, I don’t know ... someone apparently tried to turn it into an object of ridicule.”

2: “Ridicule justice? Tch tch.”

R: “It just seemed an obvious target; it was accessible and in a position to be made ridicule of. It was outside the East Perth lockup.”

The home of the Close-Mouthed Seventeen — sounds an excellent place for a statue of Justice. (The seventeen officers who refused to give evidence on the death of a youth in custody on the grounds that they might incriminate themselves, poor dears.)

R: “It was basically a very large statue that, one night, got turned into a pseudo-image of Adolf Hitler — stick-on moustache and armbands. The statue is now at the front entrance to the place. It used to be right around the side, where people could see it. And climb up onto the pedestal and ... admire the imagery of Justice.

“The same evening, a large number of police vehicles had swastikas stuck on the back of them. What is peculiar is that they didn’t remove them for a long time! I secretly think they preferred them there ... they may have felt more comfortable.”

2: “It would have been interesting ... I wonder how many people actually noticed them? Like, pulled up at traffic lights, seen the cop car in front of them and then noticed the discreet little swastika on the bumper? How long did it take them to find out that their squad cars were going around with swastikas on the back?”

R: “It took a good couple of weeks before I actually started to see them being peeled off. They were made from guttering tape. You put the swastikas on using a stencil and either a spirit pen or spray paint. Most Bunnings stores have the guttering tape. It’s aluminium backed with adhesive tar. You can’t really get it off unless you take a lot of the paint off as well. So large rusty patches on police vehicles also appeared after several months.

“You have to pick a nice big car park full of police cars, such as the central police station. They park out the front ... Used to park out the front.”

2: “I’ve got something interesting here. It’s made by Mitsubishi Pencil Company of Japan. It’s a Uni-Prockey Pen. And Uni-Prockey Pens are really good. It says here that they write on paper, metal, glass, plastic, stone, styrene, etcetera. In fact, you can write on any surface whatsoever — glass, the tiles in toilets that no-one can write graffiti on — and they cost a few dollars. When they first came out, the Victorian government actually tried to make it illegal for them to be sold to anyone under the age of eighteen. It’s water-based, non-toxic and quite hard to get off surfaces, so in the wrong hands it could be very annoying. But there are all sorts of law-abiding uses for it.”

R: “You could re-colour the bloodstains in the police cells. What you can do is get hold of a surveyor’s laser. It isn’t very powerful, but, at about half a kilometre, the beam is about the width of a tennis ball. What’s interesting is that if you play it onto the front of a car, it looks almost three-dimensional; so you can really confuse people by having red, glowing tennis balls bouncing on the fronts of their cars when they’re driving.”

2: “If you did it to a police car, they’d probably think it was a laser designator on a sniper’s rifle. Definitely make their day interesting.

Do you know any good tricks with superglue?

R: “Ye-e-ss ... a bit passé. Just the usual boring ones. I prefer dogshit. Dogshit’s much better. Dogshit underneath the handles of a car, that’s a favourite of mine. Mercedes drivers. I went through a stage of not liking Mercedes.

“I did a trick to a woman at work whose husband’s an executive for Bunnings — put a ‘Preserve Native Forests’ sticker on his car. It was a company car, which hopefully improved their public relations a touch. He was apparently told to remove it. Don’t know why.

“The sticker has to be applicable to the person. Putting it on [greenie]’s Kombi would be pretty superfluous. It’s got to be directed.

2: “I think a prank has to have a good sense of humour behind it. The best pranks are ones that are actually making people think about something. They have to be educational.”

‘Pranks’ that go down the hierarchy, from the powerful onto the relatively powerless, are pointless and barely deserving of the name ‘prank’. It’s the ones that go upwards that are worthwhile and fun. The statue of Justice, for example.

R: “Time bombs are good, too. If you put a ham sandwich into a container that’s supposed to be opened and put it somewhere it won’t be opened for a long time, after six months it turns liquid. You leave these in various places ... If you have a dumbwaiter, as a lot of government departments still do, you put them in and address them to the registrar or the head of department. That works well.”

2: “Abbie Hoffman talks about renting a safe deposit box from a bank, putting half a kilo of fish in it ... and never going back, except to pay the rental. ”

A friend of Jello Biafra’s posted him an eel from Germany. Just shoved it into an envelope and posted it ...

R: “There is actually a department within Australia Post where things that are not correctly addressed end up. They then open them and try to locate the owner, and if they can’t then the item ends up in this huge warehouse for auctioning at a later date. And I met someone there ... they have bizarre things. Every Friday, the go down to the pub, get pissed and have dildo races — charge ’em up, put ’em down the hallway ... Choice could publish a comparative test of thirty dildoes on their racing ability.”

2: “They used to get jars of marijuana and all sorts, didn’t they? But they weren’t allowed to notify the police because, legally, they’re not allowed to open the mail unless a sniffer dog sniffs it out.”

Or if it’s from overseas; Customs can open anything. So when did you discover that ham sandwiches go into liquid form after six months?

R: “Oh, trial and error.”

2: “Sounds like one of those primary school things to me.”

R: “Leave it in the bag ... I’ve just always done obnoxious things. I used to get a ball of string and tie it around chairs and things, so you couldn’t get around the house. Glue in my sister’s hair. Anything, really. I’ve never done the drawing-pin-on-the-chair; that’s really just boring.”

2: “Tell us pranks involving telephones. I find telephones really are a fine toy.”

If you get on a telephone and say the right words, you can talk to anyone, anywhere ... any position.

2: “I love answering machines. I used to work in an office where I had to phone people up all the time, and I loved leaving messages. The company did a lot of marketing, so we were constantly phoning other companies and a lot of them had answering machines. I hate the way people get machines and have a message going, (flat Dalek voice) ‘Hel-lo-you-have-reached-la-la-la ...’

“I picked up a guy the other day — and this is a prank in itself — and the voice said, ‘HELLO?’ and there was really loud music in the background and party sounds, and I said, ‘Hello?’ and he said, ‘HELLO?’ and I said, ‘Hel-LO,’ and he said, ‘HELLO? Look, I can’t hear you, I’ll turn the music down, hang on a minute ...’ and I heard the phone go down, I heard him walk across the room and turn the music down, heard him come back across the room and heard him say, ‘If you care to leave a message, please do so at the tone.’ (beep)  ... it was very convincing.”

I’ve heard a Sunday morning one: someone snoring for thirty seconds, then a beep.

2: “Everyone knows what to do anyway, so you don’t need all that other stuff.

“I used to leave messages on other machines where, for instance, I would talk in another language. Not that I know any, but I can make one up on the spot — I’m quite fluent in Jyberish. Inventing an accent on the spot is the trick. Or I would say, (pissed-off tone) ‘3-4-1-5, could you please call that number immediately, it is very important, thank you.’ Then hang up. Drive ’em crazy.”

R: “Though it’s probably not very nice, I like the one where you break into someone’s house and phone the speaking clock in Turkey and leave the phone off the hook.”

2: “That is good if done to someone who deserves it. You wouldn’t do it purely for the hell of it. If you could do it to some deserving corporation at a time when they would be closed for the next several hours, that’d be fantastic.

“I had a particularly obnoxious neighbour in St. Kilda who was a fascist. He was a very strange man. He had posters outside his house which didn’t actually make any sense — they said things like ‘1 + 0 + 1 + 0 + 1 + Computer + 1 + 0 + 1 + Jew + 1 + 0 + 1 + ...’ He had a South African accent and had lots of young skinheads coming around to his house all the time. I don’t know what this man did for a living, he was always in his house. Invalid pension, maybe. I didn’t care.

“He approached me because I’ve got very short hair, so he obviously thought I must be okay, and I told him to fuck off. I then decided that I didn’t really like having this house near where I lived; it was so ... offensive to me — the actual look of it, what was going on in there, the whole thing ...”

R: “Yes, but not everyone has tactical nuclear weaponry.”

2: “I didn’t want to blow things up or anything ... His car had stuff like that, too. It was some old car, but it had stickers all over it — National Front, little things about Jews — just stuff I found very offensive. I was walking along one day eating ice cream and, as I passed his car, I weighed up the pleasure of the ice cream against the pleasure of doing something annoying to this offensive arsehole, and I decided to make a big ice cream swastika on his windscreen. And a few days later, my housemate and I went out and let down his tyres.

“But what we eventually did was what I think was the best one, which was the superglue in the door locks — completely fill the door locks with superglue, then superglue five-cent pieces over the keyholes. What I would imagine is that he’d try to put his key in the keyhole, think, ‘oh, I’ve got to get this bit of metal off,’ spend ages getting that off, think, ‘phew, I’ve finally got the lock free,’ then discover the lock’s jammed anyway. A good double-whammy is always nice.”

How about a potato up the exhaust pipe?

2: “If you stuff it well up the exhaust pipe, it can’t actually be gotten out without a great deal of trouble. The car will not start, and the best mechanic in the world won’t know what’s wrong unless they know about potatoes and exhaust pipes.”

Tell us more about the nature of pranks.

R: “I don’t really have to see what happens; I’m content in the knowledge that something will happen. I think the problem with some people is that they set something all up, do it, then sit around like a dickhead waiting for it to happen. I mean — a quiet street, a car that’s been heavily altered, you’re the only person there, looking at this car ...”

2: “A lot of people get into pretty much random acts of vandalism and destruction which, with a little forethought, be very pointed and motivated; they could actually say something. If you’re going to spray-paint on a wall, why not spray on the wall of an offensive business and spray something offensive to that business? Why not make a statement? I mean, spraying your name on someone’s wall ... big fuckin’ deal.”

R: “Outside most butchers’, they have pictures of happy little cows and happy little sheep! Can you believe it?”

2: “Put ‘cut along dotted line’ on them.”

R: “Or blood squirting out of it, that’d be enough — just bring the image they’re using back to some sort of reality.”

Happy little cartoon of cows and lambs outside a butcher’s is really weird. It’s like Social Security posters with a smiling dole queue. Have you ever seen a smiling dole queue?

2: “The only time I’ve seen people in a dole queue smile was in St. Kilda, when they had an armed guard there — one guy went berserk, and the armed guard ran away and locked himself in the manager’s office! Left all the poor DSS employees out there ...”

R: “The nature of the prank ... It’s a bit like art — it’s something you have to do, it’s not something you really have to think about. It preferably shouldn’t be something actually hazardous; the object should be to ridicule, rather than harm. It should really just be intended to produce disquiet. If it makes people think or feel uncomfortable, it’s good; if it actually physically injures them, it’s not.”

2: “I think property damage can be okay if it happens to people who can afford it and who do deserve it. But people shouldn’t be hurt physically ... or even too severely emotionally. But it’s okay to shock them occasionally.

“About a year ago, I saw a performance art group in town who were all dressed in perfectly normal business suits and carrying cellular phones and briefcases, but there were about thirty or forty of them all walking together in a pack and talking into their phones at the same time. And that’s just taking something everyday and accepted and viewing it from a different angle. And it does confront people a bit, but it doesn’t hurt anyone; it just makes them think.”

R: “Thought ... thinking is a terrorist weapon that’s not really utilised. It’s true — if you get a section of the populace and actually get them to think about something, it has a much greater effect than getting them scared shitless of catching buses does. Graffiti of some form is actually a terrorist weapon in that it does create thought.”

M: “I saw these adverts on all Queensland trains that had a picture of an aerosol can in a dark, empty street, and it said, ‘If you ever see one of these, or someone using one of these, contact us immediately and you may receive a reward up to’ such-and-such an amount. It was really fascist. They had a notice up saying all the different fines in the trains. It was so amazing.”

2: “Yeah, when we were in Melbourne we worked out that if you were standing on a seat, eating, drinking alcohol, spray-painting graffiti and using abusive language all at the same time, they could put you in jail for several years or fine you something like twenty thousand dollars.”

R: “In fact, they’re just waiting for someone to do just that!”

2: “In 1991, there was a group of local celebrities who were going to be sleeping out in a carpark. Did you hear about that? ‘To raise money for homeless youths ...’

... and the homeless youths set fire to the sleeping bags, because they thought this was bullshit!

2: “And what’s interesting is that the media presented that whole incident as if it were an act of senseless violence — ‘the very people we were trying to help have destroyed any chance of it ever happening!’ — how tragic! — whereas I think it was a very well-thought-out political action; they were saying, ‘don’t patronise us, don’t come out here with your thermos of coffee and a full belly and spend one night sitting round with all your chums and think that you could possibly understand what it’s like to be in my shoes!’ But what’s interesting is that the media presented it as being such a pointless act of vandalism.”

They didn’t present it very much at all, because people did realise why it had been done. It’s so obvious when you read that it was a bunch of homeless youths who set fire to the sleeping bags.

2: “One interesting piece of information with that was the reason they couldn’t apprehend the two people that did it: they actually saw them doing it on the surveillance camera, but, legally, they’re not allowed to record off those cameras when there’s any sort of rally or gathering in Forrest Place, because that could be used to identify people of a given political affiliation. So if there’s anything organised going on, it could provide good cover ...”

Tell me how you met your wife.

R: “Oh, that’s not really that unusual; I just used to like taking things to pieces. I was working in the state Public Service. The photocopier wasn’t working, and so I thought (lightbulb going on above head), ‘It’s broken!’ I was a very good public servant — most people would have just sat there for the rest of the day — so I took the lid off, then I took the front off, then I found there were bits inside it, and I wondered what they were, so I took all the bits from the inside out and it still didn’t work — and by this time there was actually quite a crowd, it was turning into a bit of a spectator sport — I think they were amused by the fact that someone was working — and all the bits were out, so, obviously, it was the bits that should go back in; so I put all the bits back in, put the lid back on and put an ‘OUT OF ORDER’ sign on it.”

2: “Not exactly in the same order you took them out.”

R: “Well, I put them back in ... I mean, they were inside the bounds of the machine, it should work ...”

2: “Did it all fall on the floor when the technician opened it up?”

R: “It did, actually. And do you know what the technician said? He said, ‘It doesn’t work!’

2: “To dismantle the entire machine then put the bits back inside and seal it up would really make that technician’s day. Possibly his whole week.”

R: “The thing with government departments is that they run with very tight parameters; they have watchdog systems, methods of putting information through the various procedures with lots of checks and counter-checks for internal validity. Most documents have to be signed and in a certain fashion to become legally binding; if they’re not signed, or if they’re signed and then added to, they cease to be legally binding. So it’s quite possible to penalise people by getting access to the documents and signing under their signature, ‘Donald Duck’. All you’ve done is write ‘Donald Duck’ underneath their name, but it actually makes the document no longer legal, because it contradicts the security file. Most documents are filmed, and, when any major goverment transaction goes through, they usually take the original as well, to be the certification. If the original has been altered, then the security copy isn’t valid and they have to go through all the paperwork on that document again and re-present it; and if it’s a major deal going through, this could take an extra couple of weeks. So you can essentially slow down a lot of business.”

M: “Would this apply to police statements as well?”

R: “Definitely. Essentially, what you do is to sign anything — you put anything! — above where the signature is. ‘It’s a fair cop, guv’nor.’ It’s not a legal document any more, in that it doesn’t represent what they believe it is; it’s been tampered with. Just go to where the original documents are and put something on them.”

I did this when they were finally kicking me out of the Commonwealth Public Service. The section manager kept bringing me these things to sign that were half truth and half lies, so I’d say, ‘OK, I’ll sign it.’ ‘You’ll sign it?’ ‘I’ll sign it.’ I just didn’t use my signature. I was just waiting for a document to be brought up as some sort of evidence ... they got rid of me first, but I did lay some groundwork.

M: “So you could go into Social Security and ask for your file and crumple up a page ...”

No, because they have someone in the room with you if you inspect it personally.

2: “How much does it cost you to look at your own file?”

Nothing. If Social Security is really shitting you, what you do is to request a photocopy of your file. You don’t need to give a reason. What happens then is that the file goes to central office, which means it’s out of the normal office and they can’t use it; and if they slow down your benefit in any way, you just call up and politely give ’em hell twice a day — just be a polite but bloody persistent thorn in their side.

2: “If you’re working in a major corporation or a government department, what you’re talking about is pranks that hit people right up the top. One thing to do is to get a piece of stationery from that department, type out a false circular and address it to all the heads of department, arranging a meeting for them all at a certain time and place; they’ll all turn up and none of them will know why the meeting’s on or who arranged it.”

Government departments are a bit harder on the phone, but the rule still applies: you can talk your way through by keeping perfect posture and demanding continuously. “None of your business! I want to talk to your boss! What level are you?”

2: “Yeah. I’ve always found that if someone in a government department is really, really pissing you off, one of the best things you can do is ask to speak to their supervisor.”

And then talk like the voice of sweet reason.

2: “The other thing that works is being really polite. That tricks ’em.”

Tell us more about your career in the state Public Service.

R: “Well, it wasn’t a career in the Public Service ...”

2: “... it was careering through the Public Service!”

R: “There’s no such thing as the Public Service — there are people, then there’s a point at which they suddenly become public servants. And it happens to some people quickly, to some people before they’ve joined and to other people over a long period of time — they could be there for eight years, they’re nice, decent human beings, then one day they’re suddenly public servants. I could feel this sucking vacuum and could feel myself falling into this vortex of public-servantdom; like an out-of-body experience, except you’re going down the S-bend of a toilet.

“I used to wear peculiar clothing in those days — paramilitary, makeup ... actually, I should have camouflaged myself and put rubber stamps on my head — ‘I’m a form! I’m a form!’” It was mainly black with things stencilled onto it, like nuclear bombs dropping. I used to wear eyeliner as well.”

2: “Did you have to deal with the public in your job?”

R: “Oh, yes, I was on the front counter.”

What levels did you start and finish at?

R: “They were the same, yes. I began at the bottom, worked my way up to the bottom and left from the bottom ... that’s an appropriate description of the Public Service, isn’t it? I usually worked with the public, and I actually like working with the public; and I think the reason I didn’t get kicked out was that people basically liked me — I was actually helpful to people. Not wankers, I used to ignore them and let someone else deal with them. Instead of going sequentially by their number in line, you rewarded nice people for being nice and penalised wankers.

“Basically, I’d get people what they wanted, get it quicker than anybody else and not charge them, which usually endears you to people. The Public Service expects you to be impartial, which is strange, since they’re not ... I actually used to give money back to people. That was fun.”

2: “The Robin Hood of the Public Service!”

R: “They actually give you vouchers because, of course, we’re not capable of holding money — money’s important and we’re not — so people would spend real money and get vouchers, which they then gave to us to do things for them; I’d do the thing and give it to them with a pile of vouchers, which they could go and get a refund on.

“This was just because they were nice people. The money for all of the nice people came from the wankers.

“Eventually, they tried to get rid of me. They have interesting ways of trying to get rid of people. They virtually never sack someone, as the procedures for doing so are too complex for even the Public Service to understand; so what they do is suspend you. This means you don’t receive any pay, so after a month or so you have no money and have to resign.”

M: “You could live off the vouchers.”

R: “No, no, that would be unethical. They’re for the nice people.

“I had a doctor who was prescribing me lots of very nice pills. I was working on the idea of convincing him I had work-related stress. That would get me worker’s comp for about a year or so, then go on an extended pension. But things started happening too quickly before that; I started getting silly ... putting food colouring in people’s tea, cutting up people’s umbrellas ... then they suspended me.

“Then I went back to my doctor. He was half-convinced that this was valid, and I turned it around and said it was his fault that I had behaved in such an irrational manner because he had said that I should act more naturally. He felt terribly guilty. See, doctors are great, because they really believe they’re important and have this professional ethic. I went to the doctor and said, ‘Look what I’ve done! Look what you’ve done to me!’ and he said, ‘oh, you poor thing,’ and wrote me a script which basically said that I was temporarily insane at the time of committing the offense and they should pay me eight weeks’ compensation. And when I came back, they were all very nice to me and I could do anything ...”

And you went, ‘GO FOR IT!’

R: “No, the challenge was off. I just used to leave the office all the time and no-one would really care.”

2: “I’d think they’d be quite relieved, actually.”

R: “I’d work a two- or three-day week. At full pay, of course. I’d come along in the morning, sign on and go home. That worked pretty well. Go to a movie. If anyone ever asked, I’d say, ‘oh, look, I was feeling really stressed out, I just had to get out ...’ Only a couple ever did.”

You were in that great big creaky building, weren’t you?

R: “That’s right. It’s like a skateboard park with steps instead of ramps.”

2: “And typewriter keyboards.”

R: “And keyboards. One of the best pranks wasn’t meant as a prank. They installed a wonderful whizz-bang you-beaut computer system which cost mega-dollars, then got an ordinary electrician to wire it up. The ordinary electrician looked at this piece of cabling, saw two wires coming out, thought, ‘oh, this must be the plug,’ wired it up, plugged it in ... and, of course, it was low-voltage coaxial interface cabling and he fried all the chips.

“The challenge left; I decided that I could either remain there and become a public servant with a ‘colourful past ...’


R: “Yep. Or I could leave. So I left. And other people who’d left a couple of weeks earlier had had big parties for their leaving ... I had absolute silence! In fact, my manager said, ‘oh, when you go to lunch, you don’t really have to come back ...’ I think they were worried I might leave a parting message for them.

“Before I left, I went to the computer room, went to the main junction box and took out all the terminal cables and rerouted them to other terminal cables. Everyone at one counter is doing one job, so the terminal is set up for that job; so they all had to move around, and it really, really upset them.

“After that, I was on unemployment benefits for a long time. That was fun, yes.”

You don’t have a lot of money to live on, but you sure do have a lot of time to plot things.

R: “Unemployment benefits were quite good then, because there were a lot of government departments also giving little handouts for various bits and pieces. Community Welfare used to give cash, so you’d work it that all your bills arrived within a certain period, go there with your telephone and electricity, say, ‘look, this comes to more than my dole money, what the hell do I live on?’ and they’d give you an eighty-five-dollar cash cheque.”

2: “Nowadays, you’d get a food voucher if you’re lucky.

“I’ve just remembered one that happened a few years ago, during the America’s Cup. Someone went down the Fremantle railway line and took every sign that identified the railway stations and swapped them around. There were thousands of tourists travelling along that railway line every day and none of them had a clue where they were. And such a simple idea doesn’t actually hurt anybody, but it really screws things around a bit. You couldn’t pull the same prank now because the trains talk to you and tell you what station you’re at; but imagine you were in a job where you had access to the tapes or chips or whatever they are ...”

2: ‘Ohmigawd, we’re gonna crash! Aaargh!’

R: “I actually know how to drive a shunting train — one of my many skills. They’re quite fun and very simple. You don’t actually rev them up — they’re set to go at a certain speed and you take the brake off to let them run. The long country rides are nice.

“I quite like what the farmers did during that little strike thingy. That was good, because it was using aspects of the law to minimise effects against yourself. They took a few trucks down the freeway, turned off the ignition, locked the steering wheels and threw away the keys; what they in fact did was to shut down the freeway and most of the city centre, but all they were guilty of was obstructing the traffic, which carries a twenty-five-dollar fine.”

2: “It’s dangerous if there’s someone sick out there; it’s probably more effective as a terrorist action. It’s like pouring concrete into railway switches — it tends to stop things suddenly. In doing anything like that, it’s important to phone up first — you actually don’t want people finding out the hard way.”

[ Party Fears #19 | Party Fears ]