"TVU is where the Melbourne Shuffle began. The place: TVU Warehouse. Wingfield st Footscray (Melbourne) 1992. To celebrate 20 years since the Melbourne Shuffle formally began, 1992
The different elements had been floating around town for a while, but the TVU Warehouse in 1992 was the year and the place that all the elements came together and ignited. It had the space to really move freely and it was all filmed and broadcast for a mass audience. You could join in even at home all ages, on free-to-air television.
It only lasted one year at TVU. Live across Melbourne for 48 hours non stop every 6 weeks or so. We accidently blocked out TV reception in the central CBD and took over all the TV and HiFi walls in department stores on a Friday and Saturday with our broadcasts. The stores loved it sold heaps.
We had to air an identifying clip of no less than 30 seconds every hour to identify ourselves as part of our test broadcast license, we were TVU - TeleVision Unlimited. We had very little stuff that we could put to free-to-air television in Melbourne because of the PG13 or M17, TV ratings. Doing stuff in art galleries and underground party venues was one thing, to suddenly broadcast that across town, in an age before the internet Windows 95 existed, was a very different story.
But these were very different times. The Berlin Wall had been torn down barely 24 months before this clip, we had known nothing but the Cold War Era, and suddenly normal every day people pulled down a symbol of oppression and corruption, from both sides with their own hands. Melbourne was in it's 2nd year of crippling recession, the city was a ghost town, and artists were living in the abandoned offices of a society that was bankrupt, the 1980's was over.
So we were pushing boundries, and even dedicated this video clip and a broadcast to the Russian Cosmonauts, stranded in their space station, with no way to get home because the government was broke. The USA gave them a ride, which was an extraordinary gesture at the time that would soon be declared by Prez Bush snr as the New World Order, with smart bombs and ... We said stuff that mate, we're gonna have some fun tonight, and tomorrow night. This old world is over, a new ones begun.
And that's when the Melbourne Shuffle was born.
TVU was a community Television group who had got hold of an empty warehouse in Footscray, an inner Melbourne suburb. Most importantly the warehouse had line-of-sight with 101 Collins Street’s communications tower. That’s where our TV transmitter would be. Bolted on by a brave few such as ourselves as a privileged rite of passage before each broadcast.
We had big dreams, and the technology to make it happen. In Australia at the time there was no cable or pay-tv. Just 3 commercial networks 7, 9 and 10, and the government owned and operated ABC 2 and SBS.
TV was the most powerful communication form on the planet, but for most of Melbourne their culture was invisible. Even today Australian TV is called a white-wash. You’ll find token inclusions of other cultures to appease anti racial discrimination laws, but in the land that once had the White Australia Policy a generation before, that’s all you’ll get.
So here we were with a test broadcast TV license and an empty warehouse, and we were going to enjoy ourselves. Stick all that racial and bigotry crap outside, and just be human beings having fun for a change.
Yeah well, a nice thought for as long as it lasted. We had no idea how powerful having a test TV Broadcast license was. We soon found out.
We needed a bigger transmitter to broadcast further, they cost about half a million in 1992 dollars, and suddenly we had the Chinese govt offering us 3 transmitters in exchange for 4 hours weekly air time for Chinese language programming, one of the major satellite TV services covering most of the east and north Asia area offered us 200 million viewers and 4 hours a week in return for 4 hours of ours, the racing lobby wanted on air betting and live races, and on it went - the racing industry won, then lost after mass public objections, including the major networks who asked why they couldn't have an extra (broadcast) license to print money.
A TV bureaucrat from Canberra (Australia’s political capital city) flew down to Melbourne to evaluate us a being fit and proper people to hold a TV license. Unfortunately Deb forgot to tell us he’d be comin
g for a 9.30am Monday morning meeting, straight after we’d done a 48 hour non stop, no sleep broadcast finishing Sunday midnight just hours before.
I’d been up all night editing some stuff and was ready to sleep for days and there was this guy, standing in a suit right next to me saying, I think I’ve got the right place, I’m here for a meeting. My eyes were still flickering from hours of flashing colors on the TV monitors, and I had headphones on, I wasn’t too sure what was going on.
We had that lounge area you see in the TVU vid above, separated by sheets of black plastic hanging from the roof, and there were about 5-6 people snoring, farting and sleeping just the other side. I crept in and tapped Deb on the shoulder, said there’s a suit outside here for a meeting. She quickly sat up half asleep, and said, Oh sh*t, I forgot he was coming…where is he ? “Right here” said a voice loud and clear through the plastic. "Oh Hi I’m Deb I’ll wake up and be out in a minute", that was the introduction to TVU.
I was due for a coffee and asked the guy to sit down. He was cool about everything. He’d been on planes since 6am from Canberra and spent 2 hours of the one hour flight circling in Monday mornin
g air traffic, and was happy to relax and stretch his legs on the coffee table. Pushing aside the left-overs of a weekend long party, without saying a word, and leaned back in the morning sun.
He said he knew we would succeed in what was a cut throat industry for the wealthy networks, because you couldn’t pay people to work in the conditions we worked under. It was immense passion that drove us.
We said, oh we’d be happy to get paid to work in these conditions, it’d be an improvement because we get nothing now. We all laughed, and we knew that though his words were genuine, he’d been sent to tell us we’d get no money from the government. Governments don’t like loose cannons shooting off their mouths with their own TV station. No governments anywhere like that hehe, and sure as hell they won’t be giving you any money to do it.
But we passed the tests and got the fulltime license in 1994. My weekly undergroun
d culture TV show TOE-THEORY OF EVERYTHING went to air the second week, (prime time Tuesday night up against Seinfeld) and then weekly for 4 years and repeated 5 times a week on cable tv.
All the local TV groups joined together for the license and were called Channel 31 UHF. Or C31 and it’s still on air nationwide on free-to-air digital TV today.
We always had someone in the warehouse for security keeping an eye on the equipment. Usually 5-6 of us. We’d roster sleepover shifts. It was a fun place we had no trouble getting people to volunteer. I was there a lot. I only lived 5 minutes drive down the road in the CBD – that’s 5 mins drive at 2am, more like 90 mins other times.
People would always be dropping by to see if we were real. You could only find us on TV by tuning in your UHF channels, when we were broadcasting. There was nothing on air for weeks at a time between broadcast. We had a strict limit on the amount of hours per year we could broadcast, so they were big events when they happened, if you could find us. Word of mouth was great. But like you have nothing else going o
n in your life but to sit at home and scan unknown UHF channels all night, just incase Martians have landed. And then suddenly one night, Sure enough, you found them. And they had their phone number on air for people to phone in.
I was pocking around the 2 largest rooms measuring up for decor shortly before our winter solstice broadcast party. The main room seemed to be about 1.5 meters longer than the middle room next to it.
I tapped on the wall and discovered a hollow wooden sound instead of solid concrete and brick. I pulled the panel away from the wall to look inside. There were lots of big clear plastic bags lined up behind the wall just sitting on the bare dirt.
I called the others to come and check it out with a torch, and we suddenly saw what was in the bags, they were full of bones, human bones, about 18 bags of different sizes small and big all with a tag
tied onto the top and some numbers written on the tag.
We immediately freaked and nailed the wall back, wondering what we should do. Were these mob hits, we were in an abandoned industrial area on the water front. The Maribyrnong River at the front of the warehouse went straight out to sea, it was a tidal river. Beyond the bay was the southern ocean and the south pole. Maybe they’re not meant to be found, especially seeing as they’re hidden behind a false wall in a basement in an old factory …
Soon some of the others arrived, and we just had to tell them. We had a party in days and the bones of humans sitting in the middle of it. They smiled and said to others arriving, ‘They’ve found the bones, you’d better explain…’
Well hell yeah, firstly we were told that yes they were hidden, and they didn’t take lightly to invited guest artists ripping off the walls to their warehouse when they were out, just to see what was on the other side hehe ...BUT, yes they were human bones.
The bones were found in what was now our party dance floors. They had been there since the 1918+ influenza pandemic. More people died from the flu than were killed in WW1. These bodies had been found laying on the banks of the river when the tide went out. They had all ID removed and were often decomposing. So they were numbered and buried in unmarked graves above the high tide water mark on the rivers banks, which is where the factory was later built.
Builders found the graves when they were laying the foundations and they were exhumed and the bones kept within a few feet of their final resting place.
The Melbourne Shuffle was created with a graveyard as the dance floor.
I was planning some sort of southern winter solstice ritual at dawn. I roamed around the dance floor in shaman robes gathering light in the shopping trolley. Then set it alight in the first morning sun after winter solstice 1992, with a sun symbol icon – the circular saw blade.
I told the others about it and we figured, hopefully anyone inside who didn’t want to be there with our noisy party, could spot me and follow me outside, where it was quieter and they could sit it out. We even had Melbourne soul food ! – hot jam donuts, hot chips and cold drinks.
The core basic dance steps for the Mebourne Shuffle come from Celtic dance, also known as Irish dance, Step Dance, Tap and Clogging. Shuffling is one of the steps.
Celtic dance was very common in Melbourne which has had a large Irish, Welsh, Scots population since the gold rush years from mid 1800's.
This video of Canadian roots music performer and step dancer April Verch www.aprilverch.com is a typical environment Melbourne dance was held in. An all ages event in the local hall which had wooden floors that sounded great tapping your wooden soled shoes (clogs) against. It was fun safe and communal.
The number of people in the band and the dancers could be expanded at will according to the space.
This type of dance music is centuries old and generally played in a series of looped melodies, which can be shuffled around in a mix to suit the environment, extending a song from 2 minutes to 10 minutes if desired with variations on the themes, inverting or reversing the melody etc. Virtuoso musicians can perform solo features and the Dancers would do the same.
The looped samples of electronic dance music is perfect for this style of dance and the two came together in a natural fit on the oldskool dance floor. Except the electronic music was so loud, you couldn't hear anything else, so we danced the same steps in our normal street or sports shoes as though tapping
with the music.
Dance is learnt by imitation, dancers would show their moves for others to try on the dance floor, sometimes to teach the moves, sometimes to display their skills, but all for the fun of it. It's a feel
good activity. See a couple of legends Bob Hope and James Cagney perform brilliantly in the 1955 movie The Seven Little Foys. Bob does one of the iconic shuffle moves, the Running Man @ 1:40. " As quoted by Garry from Melbourne Shuffle Oldskool