12 May 2023


by John O’Brien

…eventually comes back around.

Local identity Trev quite literally wears rose coloured glasses. It is not that he is living in the past, he has been rocking this look since it was invented. Now in his late 70s, he was there for ‘The 60s’, dug the tinted view and it stuck. Is it considered retro when you never changed in the first place?

Retro is recycling by any other name. Given that it’s usually a term associated with fashion or design, each iteration being hailed as the new black, trends will cycle in and out of grace, until one becomes either an iconic style or ironic oddity.


Collage of cool

When friend Dave and I renovated a Victorian weatherboard in 1990, we decorated with the pastels of 20s art deco, then accessorised with 50s kitchenware and 60s furnishings, blending multiple design eras into one pastiche. Very chic, we thought. In a ramshackle, falling down farmhouse without a right angle amongst it, we styled the kitchen part Cabinet of Dr Caligari, part Mondrian on acid. It used to throw visitors right off kilter with its odd angles and colours. Chequered lino added confusion to the optical illusion. Even more so after a few sobriety rectifiers.

In that kitchen, we chose the coolest looking fridge we could find; a 60s HMV unit from the op shop, a timeless piece of industrial design. As a machine to keep food cold, it was adequate without being great. But that didn’t matter when it just looked right.


I was freelance gigging heavily and arriving home with all manner of treasures. Show merch, Access All Areas lanyards, set lists and random floor finds all got stashed or lost. Local crew stickers went onto the fridge, eventually covering the entire front. I had most of side two plastered by the time the old dear stopped slowing molecules down enough to keep our tucker safe. I couldn’t bear to part company with this slice of my history, a visual story of a chaotic work life, so used it as a filing cabinet for a while. It stayed with me over four more house moves and got planted under a couple of tarps (along with other valuable treasures that didn’t fit in the shed) when we eventually moved bush 10 years ago.

There were grand plans to make this beauty into a tool cupboard. Memories flooding back every time I grabbed a spanner. Unfortunately, the random number generator of life rolled low, and I wrecked my back. Projects like clearing up the shed to fit our excess trinkets under cover took lower precedence than trying to stand up and be useful again. When I did eventually come good two years later, I managed to organise the shed and went to check on all the stuff under the tarps. I’d copped bad RNG again. Storms and UV had left holes all through the protective covering and everything underneath was moisture damaged, mouldy, or eaten by termites.

Including my trusty old HMV. It was still structurally sound, but the unsavoury environs had destroyed most of the stickers and the rest crumbled off in the first slight breeze. I was quite gutted. I’d taken such good care of this personal icon over the decades, and it was now as good as ruined. Faded tags representing fading memories.

Circular trends

I have this theory that fashion is entirely cyclical. Iconic items, looks or vibes suggestive of a previous era, when things were always better than now (hint: they weren’t), every so often get recycled and repurposed with a fresh spin or new interpretation for the ‘hot new look’.

My approach is to do my own thing, regardless of wider trends, and wait for the next coming of my personal aesthetic to get popular again.

It works for me with facial fur. I wasn’t even good for bumfluff when it was big in the 70s, but from the mid-80s, I’ve rarely had a clean scraped face. Goatees, ticklers and variations of punk chins got hot in the 90s (I had a few), before baby-bum faces, androgyny and metrosexuals followed. Back out of fashion, I waited until the inevitable resurgence of natural neck warmers, this time around (2010s) led by hipsters emulating urban lumberjacks.

Then, I be cool once again. Woot, I think? As of now, we are well past peak beard, and it is so mainstream that it won’t be long before the razors come back out, and some other furless look dominates the zeitgeist.

Author in a rare furless moment ~35 years ago

I’ve quite enjoyed the ironic approach of recent trope rehashing, like; ‘yeh, I’m wearing a Nirvana shirt, but I wasn’t even born when Nevermind upturned the music world!’ Good for you, kids.

Speaking of which, I still have an original Nirvana t-shirt in good nick that is worth a pretty penny. I never wore it much in the day because the writing on the back is a little too fruity for general public consumption. Do I wear it today to be retro-cool for a while or sit on it like an antique investor, never sharing its inherent glory / shock with the world? Still getting splinters from that fence.

Real retro history

Way back in the early 80s, I was offered a whole paddock load of Valiants for $50 total. Sensibly, my dear mum said no to storing 60+ rusting wrecks in the back yard and there were way too many to fit anyway. Unbeknownst to us at the time, each of those R-series, S-series, Safaris, AP5s and AP6s would now be worth exponentially more. Yep, millions in toto. Foresight did not trump hindsight in this instance.

Even when driving forward, I keep a keen eye on the rear-view mirror. Stretching the metaphor thinner: without studying history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes. Like kaftans and Kardashians, we are recycling our fashion and design ideas in an ever-tighter loop. Perhaps we could just be like Trev and stick on a good thing when we find it.


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