Pat meets Billy
(The First Meeting)
Ian Johnson 1998

[This response went to my aunt, Brenda Matthews OA who remarked upon a long drop porta potty in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado where she recuperated from a head-on with a big 4x4, while on foot. My aunt is a strong woman and has survived remarkably in-tact; I am not sure of the connection between long drops and great reds but here is the reply.]

...The bloke sounds like a Great Red or an Eastern Grey on steroids (or maybe my old mate Stiltz, I'll tell you about Stiltz some other time.)

[But as it often happens a chance sighting of a couple woofing into the one huge hamburger in the street (simultaneously.) Lettuce and pickles all over the street and sauce all over each of them. Just about sealed the tall story I was going to tell her some other time]  

He was not an eastern grey on more steroids then half a dozen Chinese swimming teams but Ian Sharpe (as far as I know.) When I knew him he liked to call himself Stiltz. Beats me why. He was as skinny as a drought raised beanstalk and 7 foot high. Stiltz was his pen name.

Australian cartoonists have been important in our history. Not least were the underground cartoonists of from around 1965 to 1973. There were half a dozen doyens of this group revered by all good anti-war and a few good women's lib proponents. Stiltz was one of them.

When I met him in 1974, Stiltz was looking to find his place after the covert glory of the age of the underground cartoonists. I remember little more than vaguely the first couple of accidental meetings; these involved some philosophic posturing but we also must have invited him around to our shambles of a house and community.

He turned up one early afternoon as I was busily creating a "work of art" across the entire kitchen wall. Peering through the open window he refused to be distracted by joint offers from all the buggers around the table who had been sitting daydreaming their way through the painting and the haze. Eventually he disturbed me with one word - "good"

I may find compliments a little difficult to field but mostly they do get to me. I turned around and he said:

"Anarchy - you have what I need"  

That seemed fair enough but it is for each to find their own place. I said:

"There's another brush."

He grabbed the opportunity and soon there emerged encapsulated order in the free form universe which my painting precociously proposed. The work was satisfactory.

He stood back and marvelled.

There were perhaps 8 of us in the room, 4 or 5 from this house. He said:

"I'll move in"

No one said no so he found himself a place and was around for a year or so.

A month later he joined the wonderful Anne, my student house-mate and I and we went off to see "Pat Garret and Billy the Kid," that movie which Bob Dylan played for. We were all impressed, some more than others.

The morning after the movie, way too early, Stiltz, unannounced, stepped through the cupboard into my room (shades of Nania) and stood upright. A hat was pulled way down over his eyes and a long black coat reaching almost to the knee gave way on one side to a 6-gun worn in reverse and hung very low.

"Get up Billy, suns out."

He was Pat Garret and stayed that way for the next year. His cartoons were law and order and he knew that was important but he sought Billy's freedom. Billy's supposed freedom.

Actually, Billy was a brat and that may also be close to the point but I did not see that. Essentially none of this concerned me much - it was his game, I was having a good time the way I was.

With my hair, I probably looked close enough to an outlaw and Anne, with her equally long golden hair, occasionally buttoned her gorgeous self into a checked shirt and tight jeans á la Annie Oakley but that was about as far as the West was won.

Pat wore his 6-gun everywhere.

A number of us were invited occasionally to Parliament House to discuss matters of no particular political import as I can see with the late Dr. Jim Cairns. Pat was never stopped at the door - I think that concerned him.

Dr. Cairns, no matter what you may consider his politics, was a very pleasant fellow. I think I can recall him making a warm and sincere comment regarding Pats gun, however smoke, not gunsmoke may be colouring that memory.  

He seemed a whole lot more genuine than Andrew Peacock who I  felt obliged to quietly ignore there on several occasions while discussing his private secretary's construction interests.

Pat eventually decided that his name was, in fact, Ian Sharpe and took to drawing political cartoons for daily consumption at the Canberra Times. He was still there the last time I checked the Times out and was still a great cartoonist. He may have worn a badge but was really closer to the gentleman bushranger.
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