Still photographer Carol Jerrems made a short film in 1975 featuring 15-year-old schoolboys from Heidelberg Tech. Most of them had been expelled and, in Carol’s words, preferred ‘bashing, beer, sheilas, gang bangs, gang fights, billiards, stealing and hanging about’.
Rushes footage from a never completed film, Schools Out, is shown with commentary from the boys in 2005. They discuss having jumpers and shoes made for their gang. One of the boys also reveals why he was away from home on weekends – his father would be drunk and argumentative.
This black-and-white clip shows footage of a skinhead or sharpie gang, shot by photographer Carol Jerrems in 1975. A voice-over narration from Jerrems’s journal has been added in which she reflects on the sharpie subculture and her interaction with it. Mark Lean and Jon Bourke, two of the teenage boys featured in Jerrems’s footage, who are now adults, are heard speaking about this period. Footage shows the boys swimming, hanging around wearing signature skin-head clothing and breaking things. The clip ends with two photographs of kung-fu fighting.
Educational value points
- Photographer Carol Jerrems (1949–80) was influenced by the photo-documentary tradition, which uses photography to chronicle everyday life and highlight issues of social justice. Jerrems’s black-and-white photographs focus on the urban counter-cultures that emerged in the 1970s, including youth gangs, as well as on marginalised groups including women and Indigenous people. However, unlike photo-documentary practitioners, she increasingly involved her subjects in the construction of her portraits. Her work was widely exhibited in the 1970s.
- Jerrems made Hanging About (c1978), which explored the impact of rape on a woman, and an unfinished film called School’s Out (1975), footage of which is featured in this clip. While Jerrems saw herself as ‘an artist whose tool of expression is the camera’ (www.adb.online.anu.edu.au), she believed that art should comment on social issues. To this end she turned her camera on marginalised groups, both to make mainstream audiences aware of these groups and to document social diversity.
- In Girl in a Mirror, filmmaker Kathy Drayton creates a complex portrait of Jerrems by assembling examples of her work, including her photography and film footage, as well as extracts from her journal, which are either read by actor Justine Clarke or appear as written words on the screen. The decision to use Jerrems’s own words as the voice-over narration gives the photographer a living presence in the text and imbues her story with intimacy and immediacy.
- By combining footage from an unfinished project called School’s Out and Jerrems’s account of this undertaking with the adult recollections of two of the sharpies featured in this original footage, this clip raises the very questions about representation that concerned Jerrems. The two men remember themselves as being less menacing than Jerrems believed, suggesting that she may have wanted her film to shock or at least challenge a mainstream audience, or alternatively demonstrating how adults filter their childhood memories.
- Jerrems often went to great lengths to take a photograph or capture images on film and even became immersed in the lives of her subjects. This approach sometimes came at a personal cost, as she recorded in her diary when describing her encounters with the skinheads. However, it reflected a desire that her work be ‘natural and real’, and also produced ‘a level of intimacy … that comes from a relaxed and knowing dynamic between the photographer and her models’ (www.ngv.vic.gov.au).
- Skinheads or sharpies were a small but visible part of the youth and urban counter-culture in the 1970s and were mainly white, working-class adolescent males who adopted a code of dress such as that seen in this clip and followed bands such as AC/DC, Lobby Loyde and the Coloured Balls, Buster Brown, Skyhooks and Hush. Gang names denoted the suburb that the gang’s members came from, for example the ‘Blackburn South Sharps’.
- The references to gang rape in this clip suggest that sexual violence against women may have been an accepted part of sharpie culture, and that participation in a gang rape may have been regarded as a form of initiation.
- As with the still photographs that appear in this clip, Jerrems often used mirrors to insert herself in her photographs as either a direct or indirect presence. In doing so she acknowledged her role in constructing the image. Elsewhere the film quotes Jerrems’s observation that ‘Any portrait is a combination of something of the subject’s personality and something of the photographer’s. The moment preserved is an exchange’. This method departed from the more dispassionate photo-documentary tradition.
- Skinheads or sharpies had a particular dress code that included tight, knitted cardigans, bought from one or two preferred men’s outfitters, chisel-toed leather boots, and tight jeans or pinstripe trousers. The hairstyle often consisted of closely cropped hair, sometimes left longer at the neck.
This clip starts approximately 29 minutes into the documentary.
A handwritten inter title for the short film 'School’s Out’ appears on screen, as though written in white texta on a window. Boys rough-house with each other behind the glass.
The clip shows footage of a skinhead or sharpie gang, shot by photographer Carol Jerrems in 1975. A voice-over narration from Jerrems’s journal has been added in which she reflects on the sharpie subculture and her interaction with it. Two of the boys are interviewed as grown men in voice-over fashion.
Narrator A short story with social comment, disguised as a documentary- about a group of 15 year old boys, most of whom have been expelled from school. They call themselves skin heads.
Man 1 We were a bit wild and out late at night, wouldn’t come home and stuff like that. We were 13, 14 years old. You know, we’re gone for the weekend.
Man 2 My father was a drinker.
Man 1 Yeah, and you’d always clear out on a Saturday night before Dad got home, because he was belligerent and want today tell you about, you know, the world’s problems. You’re it, Dad. You are my world’s problem.
Narrator The main actor I know well, having taught him drawing and photography last year at Heidelberg Technical School. Now he’s in Form four. 15 years old. Tattooed, with self-pierced ears and very short hair. He and the gang he hangs with in Heidelberg like bashing, beer, sheilas, gang bangs, which is rape, gang fights, billiards, stealing and hanging about.
Man 1 It was a look. It was a fashion. It was fashion. It was more fashion than anything. We had our own jumpers designed and made, shoes were made. I think it was born from A Clockwork Orange and it was just a look that people liked.
Man 2 Before that time, there used to be a lot of gang bangs and stuff like that. If the girls’ parents found out, there was big court cases in Heidelberg. A lot of people went down for it.
Man 1 Yeah, a lot of kids went to jail. 17-year-olds. We were – they use today call us the Brussels sprouts. Little louts. The apprentice.
Narrator So far, I have myself only narrowly escaped rape but was bashed over the head by the main actor whilst driving my car, which had just been dented by the rival gang with sticks. They steal my money and cigarettes when I am not looking, but I refuse to be deterred. My consequent kung-fu lessons and panelbeating costs are not included in the budget.