The warmest summer I ever spent was a winter in West End, Brisbane. Or so I wrote, paraphrasing Mark Twain for pretentious literary effect, on postcards back home.
At the beginning of July 1993, as the days drew short, the sun didn’t rise so far and fires had begun to be set in the hearths of the suburbs in Surrey Hills, we took a bus from Sydney and headed north, stopping off at Byron Bay, the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and others. We camped and tramped our way until we arrived in Brisbane, where we stayed with friends in a fantastic 100-year-old Queenslander on the banks of the Brisbane River.
A temporary stay, walking up Hoogley Street to the shop on Hardgrave Road, I noticed an equally fantastic-looking Queenslander on the left, this one painted bright pink.
In the alternative bookshop window, a postcard advertised a very reasonably-priced rented room in a share house on Hoogley Street.
Could it be, I wondered, the pink house?
It was, and we took up digs with a bunch of teenage anarchists.
At the time, West End was home to artists, activists, anarchists, vegetarians and vegans, an active community that would now be called LGBTQ+ and a collection of ne’er-do-well, ragtag loafers and travellers.
We found work in local restaurants, and cultivated a wonderful group of friends.
The anarchists, meanwhile, refused to work and set about their mission to antagonise authority, with the aim of toppling it and establishing disorder.
Part of this meant not paying the rent.
To their, but nobody else’s surprise, this was of great concern to both the landlord and the real estate agent, the notorious Mr Magaffey, legendary for setting dogs on people and running them out into the street in the middle of the night.
He and a friend arrived one day in a truck and, on demanding the rent, which wasn’t paid, angrily said he would be back with The Regulators.
This was ominous.
The anarchists had a variety of friends that used the pink house at their leisure. One of them, named Bryan, had assumed something of an inspirational leadership role among them. Eloquent and talented, he was well placed to do this, also being the singer-songwriter for a band, Thugs and Terrorists.
As night fell, Phil, the largest, and actually the gentlest and kindest of the mob, was busy hammering three-inch nails into a large stick with which he intended to ‘defend his property’.
Bryan walked off into the early evening, saying he had some urgent things to attend to.
My girlfriend and I stayed up all night, and we all feared less a knock on the door, more a battering ram through it.
Thankfully it never came, but Bryan managed only to sheepishly return around 11:30 the next morning, saying he’d unfortunately fallen asleep at his girlfriend’s and couldn’t be woken to take his rightful place on the ramparts.
It was obvious to all this wasn’t true.
Magaffey returned in the early afternoon, somewhat chastened, and in a much more civilised frame of mind. Holding a tape measure and a clipboard, he inspected the walls and counted things, making sure everything was in place.
The electricity had already been cut off, and people were leaving. We had to go.
We bid our friends a reluctant farewell and continued our journey north.
What did I learn from this that relates to business?
Threats may be empty, not as bad as they seem and often mere negotiation tactics. People often don’t follow through on the things they say, whether they be threatening or evangelical.
If you choose to lead, be resolute and true to your word. If you follow, test your leader before they are truly tested.
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