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Rocker, writer, activist: The many lives of Paulie Stewart

  • 17 November 2022

Paulie Stewart, All the Rage, Melbourne  Books

I met Paulie Stewart on the last pages of All the Rage, when he came to work at Jesuit Social Services. There he lit up any room that he entered and helped change the lives of young people with whom he worked. I knew that he was the brother of Tony Stewart, one of the five newspaper reporters killed at Balibo, and that had also been a member of a band of which I had vaguely heard: Painters and Dockers. I found that he was a great story-teller. Two tales stay in my mind.

At one time he was very ill in an Australian hospital, his life hanging on finding a suitable liver transplant. During his agonising time of waiting an East Timorese Sister came by, to whom he explained his need. She said, Oh, I’ll get you one’. Two days later the liver arrived. I did not dare ask the obvious question.

In the second story the roles were reversed. He was chatting in the Housing Commission Towers with a downcast group of young women They had lost their football coach. Paulie said, ‘Oh, I’ll get you one’, chatted to a young woman on his way home and asked her if she would like to coach the team. She accepted enthusiastically.  Paulie was clearly a man around whom magic happened. He certainly proved that in helping struggling young people to discover gifts that otherwise might have withered and to share their stories and songs with students from privileged schools.

All the Rage is a collection of stories of his life, mostly written during convalescence after his liver transplant. They trace in roughly chronological order his childhood, career as a journalist, life in music and connecting with Timor Leste. His life was shaped by the death of his brother when Paulie was 15. It destroyed his religious faith, bred in him a determination to live to the fullest a life that could end so abruptly, secured him employment as a cadet journalist with the Herald Sun, fired his passion for the wild, take-the-mickey, music making of the Painters and Dockers. 

In his recounting of these early years I was struck by the way so many people at the newspaper and elsewhere indulged and protected him. In a workplace with strict dress codes and expectations of personal appearance, for example, he got away with painting his fingernails different colours and