BRAINBUSTER !!!

When Kronk asked Harry if he had a positive childhood experience with his dad and his brother Harry remembered Spiros Arion and the flickering embrace that followed a famous victory.

Harry’s first memories were of a language only understood by male wogs in the inner Melbourne suburbs in the mid 1970s. It was the language and kitsch theatre of professional wrestling that provided one of the few life-affirming bonds with the male members of his family.

When Arion, Maniac Mark Lewin and King Curtis took on Big Bad John’s ‘People’s Army’ that included Abdullah The Butcher, Waldo Von Erich and The Tojo brothers you would have thought that a real war was taking place in the hearts and minds of Melbourne’s migrant male population. When referee Wallaby Bob McMasters was given the deadly brainbuster by Big Bad John you knew that it would be no holds barred and no disqualification.

Harry was four years old when his father and brother would re-enact the wrestling moves from world championship wrestling in their Preston lounge room. An old mattress would be brought in to the room for Ross and Jimmy to test their moves on Harry.

Harry was body slammed, pile driven, brainbusted, elbow dropped, figure four leg locked, sleeper held, spine busted, atomic dropped , hammer blown, suplexed, Boston crabbed, cobra clutched, mandible clawed, leg dropped, jack hammered and reverse neck broken within and inch of his life. Apart from Jimmy being a little careless with his elbows, he felt safe and loved being thrown around for the amusement of his elder male role models. It was the only time they gave him any attention and the memory brought him joy and a sense of belonging. They all cheered for Arion and the good guys and footy didn’t matter momentarily.

Fast forward a decade and Northcote Boys High is in the grip of Wrestlemania,brought to them by Vince McMahon and the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). It seemed like every male teenager in Melbourne was swept up by the phenomenon of wrestling once again. This version was hyperbolic Americana at its finest and the imagination, like Hulkamania, ran wild in the hearts and minds many Northcote Boys. Wrestlemania 1 included Mr T teaming with Hulk Hogan, Cyndi Lauper managing the Women’s champ Wendy Richter, Liberace as the time keeper and Muhammad Ali as the special guest referee. Popular culture, spurred by MTV made wrestling hip again to new generation.

The locker shed on Friday mornings, following the ‘Superstars of Wrestling’ which aired on Thursday nights, would turn into a free-for all. Uniforms were ripped, tag teams were formed and reformed, posers were triple-teamed and slammed into the lockers just that little bit harder, hair was ruffled, egos were bruised and reputations were built. Teachers knew that they had to allow the year 9 and 10 boys of 1985-86 to get whatever it was out of their system on those Friday mornings and refused to intervene. At 8.45am pandemonium would break loose, but by 8.55 the boys were ready for class, testosterone released pubescent tension allayed, reality suspended.

In the two years that this mayhem went on there was not one serious injury. If one of the combatants took it too seriously he was swiftly thrown out of the shed as it meant that the teachers would have to crack down and thus spoil the fun. Occasionally you’d cop a knee in the nuts or an errant elbow in the face. It came with the territory. If you didn’t like it you had to come early to get your books and get out before it started.

Harry and Johnny St Kilda loved Brutus Beefcake and Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine managed by Luscious Johnny Valiant. They were bad guys or ‘heels’, but they also knew how to wrestle and make the good guys or ‘faces’ look convincing in big title matches. They were brash, colourful and the reigning tag team champions going into Wrestlemania 2. Dermott Brereton famously mimicked Beefcake’s strut after scoring a goal late in the 1985 GF. Dermie even listed Brustus as one of his sporting heroes in the Footy Record.

Valentine and Beefcake won the belts off Barry Wyndham and Mike Rotundo in August 1985 when Beefcake put out Luscious Johnny Valiant’s lit cigar in Wyndham’s eye while the referee was distracted by Valentine. The ‘Dream Team’ would defend the title until they faced the acrobatic British Bulldogs at Wrestlemania 2.

Valentine was a master technician who executed text book suplexes, elbow drops, scoop slams, hammer blows, greco-roman eye pokes and the dreaded figure four leg lock. Beefcake was quick, athletic and displayed an array of crisp moves that showcased his speed and power in the ring. He could lay on nasty swinging neck breakers, vicious knee drops and bile draining gut-wrench suplexes to complement the power slams and running clothes lines that would also devastate hapless opponents.

Johnny and Harry were like a tag team and they soon became known as Brutus and The Hammer in the locker shed. They strutted, smirked, jabbed, jibed, jibbered and chided to their hearts content, all in good fun through the reanimation of a theatre that was an essential part of their childhood psyche now being re-born in their teenage years.

Wrestlemania 2 would be telecast on a Saturday night in mid April of 1986. There was a choice to made that came in the form of Jenny and Mary who had become their girlfriends over the summer. They wanted to go out to a club to dance and party. Johnny and Harry wanted to stay home and watch the wrestling. This was important. Titles on the line, the British Bulldogs a threat to the crown, Jenny and Mary suddenly challenging childish dreams.

What would they choose?
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About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. Great stuff, Phil.

    But it wasn’t just the male wogs in the inner north.

    Down in Elsternwick, Brian O’Connor (no relation) used to regularly threaten me (in the nicest possible way) with Ox Baker’s “HEART PUNCH”.

  2. david latham says

    “Harry was four years old when his father and brother would re-enact the wrestling moves from world championship wrestling in their Preston lounge room. On old mattress would be brought in to the room for Ross and Jimmy to test their moves on Harry.”

    I don’t have a brother, only older sisters who liked to pin me down and tickle me until I nearly pissed my pants. My ability to exact clarifying moves on them for these humiliations was all out of step. Therefore, I had to go two doors down to the house of the Turk brothers to view males asserting their prowess.

    Their dad Gabe worked at the Kenworth factory in Bayswater and as the couch cushions were arranged in preparation for battle, he used to like to start clapping ebulliently and singing his nonsense ditties: ‘Sven Svenson and the Svenson mardens, sing yu hu hu-hu-hu hu, you yu hu yu-hu harden.’ Don’t try and penetrate what he was talking about, it was simply a method he used to infuriate his boys who hated his nonsense talk and which would drive them to more exacting violence.

    The target of this violence by Paul and Adrian was often times their poor younger sister Amber. Paul would jump off the couch with an atomic elbow drop. On other occasions I saw a figure 4 leg-lock employed to devastating effect. The pecking order was quickly established with Paul first among unequals, then Adrian, then Amber. But when Gabe tired of his chanting, he might enter the fray and turn it into a battle royale. Paul would usually end up in a headlock while someone might deliver a glancing blow to Gabe’s stomach and call him a blob. But the trumpet of Jericho, the end-game was near when Gabe would yell ‘brayyyyn-buster’ and dig his knuckle a little too hard into a temple.

  3. packer and WSC killed off Australian wrestling

    who can forget gorgeous George, gorilla monsoon killa Kowalski, larry O’Dea and ronny miller at the thebby town hall Friday nites in adders. WCW was televised and that helped convert the moves phil is talking about into testosterone reduction programs in secondary schools. WCW waned when WSC cricket came along in the 70s as they did not get a contract renewal with Channel 9 despite being more fair dinkum than the early contrived pajama stuff.

    bring it all back. not the Greco roman stuff that roy and HG had delight in calling in the 2000 Olympics but the body slamming, ear twisting etc.

    Nank

  4. bob utber says

    One of my first wrestling/sporting? experiences must have been in 1948 when my dad took me to Festival Hall to see Chief Little Wolf wrestle Dirty Dick Raines (I think that was his name. It was a packed house with the Chief arriving in full regalia and the sound of Indian drums.
    The Chief was famous for his Indian Deathlock which we all used to practice at school. We listened to Ron Casey and Merv Williams on 3DB on other nights just waiting for the Chief to attack his opponents with the dreaded Indian Deathlock which was the end for his opponent once it was applied.
    Ah the memories. Do many of you out there remember the good old days?
    There seems to be more “good old days” the older I get!

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I never made it to Thebby, but on a visit to my western Sydney grandparents in 1969, we went to a venue in St Mary’s. Can’t remember who was on, but pretty sure that Mark Lewin was there.

    My Sunday arvo was Channel Nine Footy Show (Max Hall hosting), followed by VFL replay (Ted Whitten commenting) then WCW (Jack Little hosting), followed by a trip to Mofflin Reserve to watch the Hurling and Gaelic football. Bliss.

  6. Callum O'Connor says

    Nature is a language, can’t you read…?

  7. Dave Brown says

    I reckon by the time I got interested the WWF would be shown as a regular spot in the Wide World of Sports. Coco B Ware was my favourite and Hulk Hogan v Andre the Giant was the defining wrestling moment of our schoolyard.

    Lucky enough to have a gentle brother five years my elder, my mates and I used to pile onto him at every opportunity as he held us all off – until we made it to high school anyway. He happily plays the same games with his nephews and niece now but without the overlay of professional wrestling moves.

    Interesting, nank, that WSC supplanted WCW – that might explain the behaviour of some of our cricketers…

  8. Phil, no prizes for guessing where my nickname of Stone Cold comes from???

    Loved pro-wrestling for a while in the 80s when Channel 10 screened the first Wrestlemania. I was a Hulkamaniac for about five minutes until I saw The Macho Man and Elizabeth and that was it for me. I was all about Macho Madness thereafter.

    I used to often go with some friends to Leapin’ Larry L’s wrestling shows at the Prince Pat where there may or may not have been imported VHS copies of classic matches screened (like Terry Funk v Mick Foley’s classic All-Japan match) and the annual ‘Seasons Beatings’ get-together with the years best bouts.

    Some of my fave’s – Bruno Sammartino, Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, Triple H, Bret Hart Big Sexy Kevin Nash

  9. Rick Kane says

    Thank you Mr Lord Bogan

    Oh the memories … of pain! My elder brother John would practice the moves on me following the Sunday wrestling on TV back in the 70s. I’m pretty sure we watched it straight after we got home from mass. I’m pretty sure I sprinted home so that John could inflict more pain, that was how much we loved the wrestling. The brain-buster was the worst! There was also the typewriter. Pin down your opponent and literally stab fingers in a staccato beat into his chest.

    Fast forward to recent years and I have taken my son to Melbourne Wrestling at The Thornbury Theatre. It’s a lot of fun, more than I imagined when I bought the tickets. One time we watched a fight spill out of the ring, circle the audience, head up the stairs to the mezzanine and then both wrestlers, entangled, fall spectacularly, from about 12 ft onto a table, smashing it to pieces. That was cool.

  10. Matt Quartermaine says

    Excellent memory for the holds Phil. My dad took his four boys to the wrestling at Perry Lakeside Stadium in Perth when I was very young. Brute Bernard had his forehead opened and the claret flowed. Our highlight was the midget wrestlers “coming off the bottom rope”.

  11. david latham says

    Special Delivery Jones I had high hopes for after some quality bravado but never heard from him again. Stand-outs include Mr Wonderful Paul Orndoff, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Brutus the Barber Beefcake and the commentary of America’s preeminent politician – Jesse the Body Ventura.

  12. Dips O'Donnell says

    Superb stuff Lord Bogan. We had the valley of death in our wrestling area (which was a gap between two beds. If you’re opponent got you down there you were as good as dead). The Butcher’s Axe was my favourite.

  13. Now correct my feeble old mind if it’s wrong, but the Tojo twins had the rack, and the claw; right? What was Tiger Singhs lethal grip ?

    Glen!

  14. david latham says

    On Jesse the Body in the commentary spot, I will always remember this commentary.

    The ref was dealing with an opponent of Brutus the Barber Beefcake – some Mr X type character – while Brutus was pulling out some concealed weapon from his gloves. It was a monkey wrench and soon the Beefcake was going to town on his quarry – delivering an avalanche of blows.

    Vince McMahon was heard to say ‘you can’t do that’ to which Jesse the Body replied ‘that’s a perfectly legal manoeuvre McMahon.’

  15. Phil, I never made it along to Festival Hall (a.k.a. House of Stoush, House of Whacks) to see the wrestling live, but boy I loved it on TV in the late fifties, early sixties.

    Pretty sure it used to be on a Saturday afternoon, either before or after Roller Derby and followed by an old western, Epic Theatre or somesuch. It later moved to Sunday on Channel 9 and ran against World of Sport on Channel 7. Lots of dial twiddling involved – no remotes in those days.

    It was hosted by Jack Little and another gravelly voiced American guy whose name escapes me (Paul Jennings and Teddy Whitten turned up some years later). Introduced by a pompous-sounding Sousa style fanfare it featured such luminaries as Killer Kowalski, Mario Milano, Skull Murphy, Brute Bernard, Mark Lewin, Andre the Giant, Tex McKenzie, Australia’s own Larry O’Day, Haystacks Calhoun, Tiger Singh, Killer Karl Kox, Spiros Arion and the Von Steiger Brothers.

    We learnt all about Boston Crabs, Claw Holds, Full and Half Nelsons, Stepover toeholds and Sleeper Holds, among others. Naturally us boys couldn’t wait to try them out on each other at school, usually with fairly ineffective, indifferent results, thank God.

    We also used to love the work of the TV referee in his striped shirt – Mike…err Michael Hunt.

    Cheers, Burkie

  16. Mark Lewin was one of many who utilised the sleeper hold, but his ‘pacakaged’ pile driver took the pile driver to a different level. I’m trying to remember Tex McKenzies main move. Like with Tiger Singh, my memory draws a blank.

    Glen!

  17. Glen! I think Tex McKenzie’s main move was the helicopter spin. Tex was a very big, tall bloke. He was also a ‘goody”. He’d pick a bloke weighing about 120 kilos or more. drape him across his shoulders, spin a few times and bodyslam him from about 7 feet off the ground. It was then generally bout over.

    I think Mark Lewin also mastered the Atomic Drop, whereby he’d grab his opponent from behind, lift him into the air while kneeling on one knee and drop the poor sod onto his other knee, tailbone first. Ouch!

    Can’t remember Tiger Singh’s main move but he used to get a great mad stare on his dial at critical moments.

    Loved the old wrestling show. Bang, bang, bang! One, two, three! That’s all there is….There isn’t any more!

    Cheers, Burkie

  18. Mark Branagan says

    Superb work Phil.

    Great to see the Von Steiger Brothers (Kurt and Karl) get a mention. I think they were a world-class tag team with the sort of discipline and steely resolve you would expect from their heriitage. One of their signatures was either the Elbow Drop or maybe the Flying Elbow.

    I also have to pay homage to my namesake, Butcher Brannigan. Despite the mispelling of his surname, I am pleased to report that my 10 year-old son now carries the “Butcher” moniker at his junior footy club. Tradition. Respect.

    Cannot forget memories of Jack Little spruiking upcoming bouts with that booming voice – tag-teams in cages suspended above the ring; “no foreign objects”; sawdust; “this SATURDAY NIGHT at Festival Hall”; WOW.

  19. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    So many great responses and memories because wrestling was such a part of so many particularly, though not exclusively male childhoods.

    MOC, Ox Baker was a mean looking fella. I loved how they hyped the notoriety: “The Heart Punch has been banned in 48 countries and has killed 3 wrestlers!”

    Dave, sound like there’s a great story in the making about the antics in Bayswater. Jessie Ventura along with Gorilla Monsoon were a great commentary team. I loved how Jessie used to give it to McMahon: “Oh so it’s ok when one of your favourites gets away with illegal manoeuvres!” Or when he’d refer to Hulk Hogan as the “Pukester”.

    Nank, you are so right. WSC effectively killed of WCW. It all makes sense now. Bloody Packer!

    Bob, There have been a number of ‘Dirty Dicks’ in wrestling. The one you are referring to was Dirty Dick Raines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIfYdynqJY0

    Swish, Ted Whitten was quite a decent wrestling commentator and most of the wrestlers were smart enough not to start any funny business with him. Mutual respect there.

    Callum, Ok I pinched the line off Ask Me by The Smiths because I’m a big fan. Hope Morrissey doesn’t get all sour over it.

    Yes Dave, Wide World of Sports would show highlights, often from Madison Square Garden. Koko and his bird ‘Frankie’ were funny, although Koko was quite a technically adept wrestler that couldn’t get beyond mid-card status in the major events.

    Bakes, I’m with you on Macho Man: “Oooh Yeahhh!!!” Great performer and one of the best technicians ever who had the ability to sell his opponents moves and gimmick while not diminishing his own. That retirement match in Wrestlemania 7 against The Ultimate Warrior was shit. McMahon’s obsession with the ‘Warrior’ took a lot of charisma out of wrestling at the time. Macho was the total package.
    Stone Cold and The Rock’s feud late 90s was a ripper. ‘Stone Cold Stunner’ one of the best finishing holds seen in wrestling and a Austin played the lone wolf anti-authoriity figure magnificently. Bret Hart was a fine wrestler who had no personality. His match with Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 8 where he won the Inter-continental belt is still one of my faves.

    Rick, I’d love to go to the Thornbury Theatre if they put another show on and yes the holds often hurt.

    Matt, Brute Bernard was a vicious looking bloke. I was fucking scared just looking at him. That psycho walk was something to behold.

    Dips, Abdullah The Butcher was hailed fro ‘The Sudan’ but in reality was from Ontario Canada. The Buthcer’s Axe is something you don’t forget easily.

    Glen, Tiger Singh was a master of the ‘Sleeper Hold’ often mistakenly putting it on referees!

    Burkie, some ripper holds there! Surfboard and remember the Abdominal Stretch? Larry O’Dea was better as a bad guy than a good guy. He had a crazy athleticism about him. Much better character than the boring Ronnie Miller.

    My favourite wrestlers and holds were:
    Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts – DDT
    Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine – Figure Four Leg Lock
    Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage – Flying Elbow
    Sgt Slaughter – Cobra Clutch
    Diamond Dallas Page – Diamond Cutter

    Jake The Snake was also a Poet and a Socialist. This remains one of my favourite pieces of oracy in any literary field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzE9UgLGjWs
    As Mean Gene says: “Longfellow, couldn’t have said it better”
    Another pivotal moment was in 1996 when Hulk Hogan became a Collingwood fan and turned heel. The reaction of the crowd is noteworthy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hILCw66sLU
    Cheers and enjoy.

  20. DBalassone says

    I was too young in the 70s, but was there for the glory WWF days of the mid to late 80s – surely the greatest era of wrestling, so much colour & variety of characters. Favourite moves/memories/moments:
    -Slippery referee Dangerous Danny Davis becoming a Wrestler.
    -The Islanders stealing the British Bulldog’s mascot Matilda.
    -Honky Tonk Man smashing the guitar over Macho Man’s head.
    -Macho turning on the Hulkster accusing him of casting a lusful eye on Elizabeth.
    -Macho winning the title at the tournament of champions at Wrestlemania IV.
    -Ted DiBiase clearing a swimming pool of kids by paying of the pool attendant ‘everybodies got a price’.
    -Rick Martel becoming the model and choking opponents with a tie.
    -The lavish entrance to the ring for the King Harley Race, accompanied by the Weazel Bobby Heenan.
    -Ric Flair’s infectious ‘wooooo’ and outrageous theatrics in the ring when being thrown into the turnbuckle or when dropping dead to the canvas.
    -The Macho Man/Ricky Steamboat bout at Wrestlemania III – still the greatest wrestling match I’ve ever seen.

  21. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Cheers Mark B. Who could forget the ‘Louisiana Neck Breaker’ ? Your son’s footy club know their history. Great stuff.

    Damo, Yes to all of the above moments and Dibiase was a really effective character. Flair and Sting carried the NWA in the late 80s early 90s.
    For you Damo, backstory included: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WizE010F30
    Cheers

  22. matt watson says

    Mr Wonderful – aka Paul Orndorff.
    His ’bout’ against Hulk Hogan and Mr T was climactic. Rowdy Roddy Piper ‘accidentally’ knocked out Mr Wonderful with a ‘plaster’ cast on his arm.
    Hogan and Mr T placated Mr Wonderful and they teamed up.
    Who wrote that stuff??

  23. This is an inspired direction for the series Phil … my gut feel, is keep going all over the place with Harry, Kronk and co.

    Not a wrestling fan, myself, but love it’s vernacular:

    ‘He could lay on nasty swinging neck breakers, vicious knee drops and bile draining gut-wrench suplexes to complement the power slams and running clothes lines that would also devastate hapless opponents.’

    Magnificent!

    PS You have, of course, have seen Micky Rourke in the Wrestler, have you not? (and wow, what a film.)

  24. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thanks Matt,
    Wrestlemania 1 was indeed iconic in pop culture. Every Greek in Australia knew who Spiros Arion was in the 70s and I reckon nearly every kid aged 7-17 knew Hulk Hogan, Mr Wonderful and Roddy Piper by mid 1985.

    Thanks Zitter, Micky Rourke was brilliant in The Wrestler, particularly the addiction to the camaraderie behind the scenes which gets downplayed a little. As far as the story goes, I have my main characters. Now its just a matter of giving them material to work with. Can I get the girlfriends to like Wrestling? That’s the challenge. Ricky Steamboat and Mr Wonderful might come in handy on that score. Cheers

  25. Thanks for the memories, Phil.
    I had all but forgotten watching the wrestling – in bewilderment – on Sundays.

  26. Peter Flynn says

    Wow!

    How about that?

  27. Rabid Dog says

    Having a brother meant lots of action and practice (when not fast bowling/tackling the little sister). Mario Milano and Killer Karl Kox were the biggies in my house. From memory, played on ADL TV on Sunday mornings.

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