My dear friend Anthony Williams killed himself in a park in Brisbane near his home this week. That’s him in the middle at my wedding to De. He’s with one of his many girlfriends whose name I forget. He was found between the roots of a Moreton Bay fig. We’ll come back to that.
I met Anthony – always Anthony, never Tony but occasionally Tone – when I moved into a tiny house in Junction Lane, Woolloomooloo about 1985. His was the adjoining tiny house. A longish relationship with the one who I thought was the only one had just broken down. She kicked me out on a dark and stormy night, and I was in pain. Williams was just the cure I needed.
He was then an Encyclopaedia Britanica salesman, one of the best in the world. He had a flawless technique for getting into houses and shaming people into buying these monster books. He gave me a rundown on every step, but there’s one I’ll never forget.
“When they open the door, Sir John, wipe your feet on the welcome mat. They’ll automatically welcome you in.”
I was always Sir John. And he was Sir Anthony when he wanted to get a table at a restaurant. Worked a treat.
We spent a lot of time at the Bourbon & Beefsteak when it was the best bar in Sydney, the only bar as far as I knew where you could meet detectives, crims, jockeys, fight promoters, hookers and actors. These days when every bar in the inner city is filled with exactly the same lawyers, bankers and assorted sleek and trim-bearded wankers, it was a ramshackle, boisterous noisy joy. With a great jazz pianist who looked like Dennis the Menace’s father and whose name I have forgotten. We went to drink and talk and pick up girls. He was a lot more successful than me. I was a recovering love addict and he had the wipe the feet on the mat technique for picking up down pat.
That little corner of the ‘Loo was extraordinary. There were a bunch of us neighbours who have remained friends ever since. Anthony, then Tony Shannon and Jane Burridge who lived in Kidman Terrace and James and Evelyn Konstantinidis – James is now cooking in Greece, he had Never on Sunday in Rozelle and the Jimmy the Greek brand of tsatziki and taramosalata. I named it. Anyone less like a Jimmy the Greek than the elegant and handsome James you couldn’t imagine.
We all partied together, drank at the Bourbon, Kinsela’s and the East Berlin, as we called the East Sydney because of it’s German owner Harald “No Fucking Poker Machines in My Pub” Muller.
One night while I as lying in bed on the first floor of my tiny terrace I heard someone on the creaky staircase. I froze.
“Sir John” the voice whispered, “keep your head down there’s a bloke with a gun on the roof outside your window.” I peeked cautiously up. There he was, silhouetted by the moon, a revolver in his hand. Later we learnt the story.
There was a very nice street-worker in one of the houses in Kidman Terrace. When she wasn’t working – which she did in a nearby brothel – she’d sit outside her terrace knitting. A calm and pleasant young woman. But she had lately had another worker staying with her, a crazy, unstable and beautiful girl who worked the streets, often wearing fairy wings and a gauze tutu. The bloke with the gun was her ex-boyfriend. She had, he claimed, stolen heroin from him. He was going to kill her. But she must have been tipped off. She didn’t come home. He left.
As did we all after a couple of years. The encyclopaedia scam fell apart thanks to computers, and Williams had a variety of jobs. Two jobs I remember were selling units in Queensland, and reading the news on Channel Ten. He had been a DJ in Newcastle before I met him, and had also started but failed to finish a law degree, made a lot of money in real estate and walked out on his big house and pretty wife and three children because he just couldn’t stand it anymore. He went on the wallaby for six months, a stint that left him with a loathing for the Salvation Army, “the only ones who made you sing for your supper, the sanctimonious bastards.” It was immediately after that period that he arrived in Woolloomooloo.
The tragedy of his last days at Junction Lane was encouraging his live in girlfriend at the time, who he called Big Al, a clever, funny and pretty nurse to go overseas to see the world. She did, and in particular saw an Italian who she married. That hurt. That’s him with Big Al and the three children from his marriage outside his place in Junction Lane.
Anyway, I met and married my current and last wife, and went to live in Spain with her and our first born daughter. Before going I’d lent some money to Williams, and never expected to see it again. While in Spain I started and finished my first novel, Whoring, and stole Anthony’s personality for the character Burridge, a private detective, whose name I stole from another neighbour, Jane Burridge. I then wrote a second novel, The Man Who Painted Women, and that didn’t sell all that well either. We had to come back to Australia. Broke.
Anthony was living in Brisbane then. He got in touch with me and said, “Mate, you remember that money you lent me a while ago? I’m paying it back with the interest I calculated I would have paid a bank.” That saved our bacon.
We saw each other on and off, he’d come down and we’d go out to dinner. He didn’t care much for food our Williams, white sliced bread, instant coffee, steak and train smash were the staples. He’d drink wine if he had to but beer was his preferred drop, the ordinarier the better. And did I mention he smoked?
Anthony Williams smoked for Australia. He had a theory that the reason why people caught cancer from smoking was that they didn’t smoke enough. “You’ve got to coat your lungs with nicotine and the Spanish dancer can’t get a look in.” My father, who was then in his mid-seventies had a bet with Anthony that he’d outlive him. Five dollars. “You’re on Spitfire Jack” which is what he called my father. My Dad died in 1997 aged 83.
And then a couple of months ago I had a call from Brisbane. He told me he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. “You know Sir John, I’ve smoked maybe 70 cigarettes a day for forty years and when the doctor told me I had lung cancer… I was surprised.” He laughed. But the thing is, he did the radiotherapy and he dodged the bullet. Beat the lung cancer. I was going up to see him. Then they told him he had brain cancer.
When he got that diagnosis, he left the house in the middle of the night. Went into a nearby park. Took Nembutal. And was found in the roots of that Moreton Bay fig the next day. His partner, Roz, who I hardly knew, had a stroke and died the same day.
Maybe his theory worked. He beat the lung cancer. At any rate, when he first told me the news, I sent him the five bucks my father owed him.