A couple of preview chapters from Morganics' forthcoming book
Hip Hop Is My Passport

NORTH SYDNEY

I always say that if you're a muslim, you've got to go to Mecca, if you're a Hip Hopper you've got to go to New York. If you're serious about a culture, you're going to want to go to the birthplace of it, to try and see and where it came from. Now most people know that the South Bronx, the Boogie Down Bronx, in the early 70's was the birth place of Hip Hop, but for me, I first came into contact with Hip Hop in my neighbourhood, so for me, Hip Hop started in North Sydney.

Up the back of the school bus, the 672, just before Cremorne Junction at about a quarter to four back in '84, my good mate, an American exchange student with the unfortunate name of Randy, tells me of a song he heard back in the states just two weeks ago. "There's robots dancing in the air in the clip, it's made by a jazz pianist and there's a guy scratching on the records, it's some futuristic funk thing like you've never heard before. It's huge over there, man when you hear it, it's gonna flip you out" he tells me as he steps off the bus. I sat there, on my own, up the back of the bus and thought " When I hear this song, my whole life is going to change".

DJ cue in the soundtrack of Herbie Hancock's "Rockit". There I am down at Circular Quay, I hop off the ferry and there's a huge circle of curious tourists watching a group of other kids breaking, or as Molly Melldrum misnamed it, "rapdancing". One of them is balancing on his head and you can feel the crowd whispering to each other "He's going to do that really dangerous move, you know that one that Garry Coleman from Different Strokes broke his neck doing? I think they call it a headspin". I eye the crew suspiciously, after a long pause balancing, the kid starts to try and spin, but just manages about 20 degrees rotation before he falls to the ground, the crowd groans, I snigger, they look up and see me. I've got my lino on my left shoulder and my ghetto blaster on the other - not just any ghetto blaster, I made it myself.

After hours of studying the stereo on the front cover of Malcolm Mclaren's Duck Rock I caught the bus up to Hobbyco at Crows Nest, with my Mum's old cassette radio that she let me have. I explain to them that I need a silver marker pen,some glue and some paint, I choose the colours, bright orange, red, yellow. I go home, raid my old lego collection, stick on a lego flower to the antenna, a coffee jar lid on the speaker, get the silver marker pen and do my tag of "Enzime" that I got from science class, write "A Morgan Lewis Production 1984" with my phone number on it - this was before websites - buy six double DD batteries from Franklins and it's done.

They look up at me, spot the stereo, look at each other, grab their shit and run off. I walk down to my patch, it's normally just me and this one African American kid who is really good, we don't get in each others way. He's tight, he does a good show, I have a show too. I bought my white gloves - to highlight my mime routines - from the local chemist, I bought my Odyssey black and white pants from Paddy's markets down in Chinatown and the piece de resistance, my red nike swoosh canvas hi tops - that I keep clean with my Mum's shoe whitener - take pride of place. I put down my lino and start my routine, I have a cool routine to White Lines, another to Thriller and of course my mime basketball routine works perfectly to "Rockit!"
At school, me and my mates Dave and Dominic are sort of little stars, everyone knows we are the breakers. We sneak into the hall at lunch time to practice, Mr Miller hears the music chases us all out but catches Dominic and proceeds to punish him with the wooden paddle, Dominic refuses to cry, Mr Miller acts tough but can't help but admire him and we all think Dominic's the coolest. Dave does the meanest knee spin, Dom does backspins and my specialty is handglides and turtles. I am so small that I have hardly any weight and these moves work well for me. I rock the mad style at the blue light disco at The Police Citizens Youth Club; a hot pink Tshirt, a peroxide fringe that I did myself, layers on the side - done by my Dad's Fijian Indian friend Danny - and of course a rat's tail. But we all get shown up by the professional show put on by the DDT, the Digit Dance Team, I still remember one of the guys was called Vlad, a big Russian dude and he could do the best nutcrackers - windmills whilst holding your nuts.

We used to practice down in an underground carpark right next to North Sydney Train Station. It was perfect because the concrete was polished, great for spins and it had the bonus that when the trains were coming, me and my mates would stop, quickly get ready and do a routine for the passing spectators. Blaze was a local graffiti artist and I used to love his huge piece above a basketball court of Dr Seuss' cat in a hat. I used to play tennis against that wall with my Dad. Coming up as a Bboy in North Sydney had it's downsides; everyone knew that the place to be was Burwood Park on a Thursday night. It was mythical to me, I was too young, too small, too scared to travel all that way over to the other side of the city. But when we were at a circle in the city we would get reports, "Did you hear Rosario did 15 handglides on a squashed coke can last Thursday!!?"

In front of Hoyts cinema on George St was the closest I would get, but it was a hot spot, everyone would pass through. That guy that was a mad popper who had some medical thing that meant he looked 40 when he was 16, the Lebanese guys that ran the "Breakdancing school" just a few hundred metres down - I remember watching one of them windmill one way, pause, then windmill back the other way, unbelievable! - all different crews. One day we get chased away by security, end up in Pitt St and there's a huge battle between three crews, Islander boys twice my size are throwing down, but one of them does a handglide and I am sent in, a tiny little white dude from the North Shore, to represent, so I do my thing, take him out and before you know it there are three Bboys in the circle all fired up, popping with their white chemist's gloves on, getting closer and closer to each other, close contact popping, the energy is tense, aggression is building, contact seems inevitable and then who knows what's gonna happen, when all of a sudden another security guards busts through the circle waving his baton, there's yelling and screaming, we grab our lino and stereos and all run down the street whooping and yelling, all three crews friends forever.


New York


This is it, the moment of truth. I step towards the customs officer at New York City Airport with my declaration form in my hand. He's a 50 something, six foot, barrel chested, probably Polish or Irish origin New York Native in the intimidating type of uniform that the States does so well. I have cleared immigration, now I just have to get past this guy. We will very quickly find out whether or not I have played my cards right. You see I have some copies of my new CD and vinyl 12" - that shit is heavy - in my bag. I have done the right thing and declared them on my form, since I have to pay import tax, but my guesstimate at the exact amount of vinyl might be a little bit less - oh, OK, it might be half the actual amount. I am trying to look calm and casual in the midst of my jetlag as I step towards him and he stares down at me
"What you got there?"
"The other officer" I say, pointing behind me, "sent me to you"
"Uh huh" he grunts "Where you from?"
"Australia"
"Where you headed" he still hasn't asked for my form,
"New York"
"Yeah, where?" he barks
"Oh, a friend's place, I'm staying with him and his wife" that sounds good doesn't it, marriage, respectable
"What you got" he grabs the form from my hand and looks at it as if it is written in Hindi
"Oh, just some vinyl"
"Vinyl?"
"Yeah, some copies of my 12" record, I'm an independent Hip Hop artist, I've just brought some promo copies with me" I try not to sweat
"How many?"
"About twenty" I lie
"Where you staying in New York?"
"The Bronx"
"The Bronx?" he looks at me directly for the first time, slightly surprised,
"Yeah, the Bronx"
He scans the room for any supervisors and says with a slight smile and wave of his hand
"You can go through, welcome to New York".

Now most people know that the South Bronx, the Boogie Down Bronx, in the early 70's was the birth place of Hip Hop, but for me, I first came into contact with Hip Hop in my neighbourhood, so for me, Hip Hop started in North Sydney.

North Sydney

Up the back of the school bus, the 672, just before Cremorne Junction at about a quarter to four back in '84, my good mate, an American exchange student with the unfortunate name of Randy, tells me of a song he heard back in the states just two weeks ago. "There's robots dancing in the air in the clip, it's made by a jazz pianist and there's a guy scratching on the records, it's some futuristic funk thing like you've never heard before. It's huge over there, man when you hear it, it's gonna flip you out" he tells me as he steps off the bus. I sat there, on my own, up the back of the bus and thought " When I hear this song, my whole life is going to change".

DJ cue in the soundtrack of Herbie Hancock's "Rockit". There I am down at Circular Quay, I hop off the ferry and there's a huge circle of curious tourists watching a group of other kids breaking, or as Molly Melldrum misnamed it, "rapdancing". One of them is balancing on his head and you can feel the crowd whispering to each other "He's going to do that really dangerous move, you know that one that Garry Coleman from Different Strokes broke his neck doing? I think they call it a headspin". I eye the crew suspiciously, after a long pause balancing, the kid starts to try and spin, but just manages about 20 degrees before he falls to the ground, the crowd groans, I snigger, they look up and see me. I've got my lino on my left shoulder and my ghetto blaster on the other - not just any ghetto blaster, I made it myself.

After hours of studying the stereo on the front cover of Malcolm Mclaren's Duck Rock I caught the bus up to Hobbyco at Crows Nest, with my Mum's old cassete radio that she let me have. I explain to them that I need a silver marker pen,some glue and some paint, I choose the colours, bright orange, red, yellow. I go home, raid my old lego collection, stick on a lego flower to the antenna, a coffee jar lid on the speaker, get the silver marker pen and do my tag of "Enzime" that I got from science class, write "A Morgan Lewis Production 1984" with my phone number on it - this was before websites - buy six double DD batteries from Franklins and it's done.

They look up at me, spot the stereo, look at each other, grab their shit and run off. I walk down to my patch, it's normally just me and this one African American kid who is really good, we don't get in each others way. He's tight, he does a good show, I have a show too. I bought my white gloves - to highlight my mime routines - from the local chemist, I bought my Odyssey black and white pants from Paddy's markets down in Chinatown and the piece de resistance, my red nike swoosh canvas hi tops - that I keep clean with my Mum's shoe whitener - take pride of place. I put down my lino and start my routine, I have a cool routine to White Lines, another to Thriller and of course my mime basketball routine works perfectly to "Rockit!"

At school, me and my mates Dave and Dominic are sort of little stars, everyone knows we are the breakers. We sneak into the hall at lunch time to practice, Mr Miller hears the music chases us all out but catches Dominic and proceeds to punish him with the wooden paddle, Dominic refuses to cry, Mr Miller acts tough but can't help but admire him and we all think Dominic's the coolest. Dave does the meanest knee spin, Dom does backspins and my specialty is handglides and turtles. I am so small that I have hardly any weight and these moves work well for me. I rock the mad style at the blue light disco at The Police Citizens Youth Club; a hot pink Tshirt, a peroxide fringe that I did myself, layers on the side - done by my Dad's Fijian Indian friend Danny - and of course a rat's tail. But we all get shown up by the professional show put on by the DDT, the Digit Dance Team, I still rememebr one of the guys was called Vlad, a big Russian dude and he could do the best nutcrackers - windmills whilst holding your nuts.

We used to practice down in an underground carpark right next to North Sydney Train Station. It was perfect because the concrete was polished, great for spins and it had the bonus that when the trains were coming, me and my mates would stop, quickly get ready and do a routine for the passing spectators. Blaze was a local graffiti artist and I used to love his huge piece above a basketball court of Dr Seuss' cat in a hat. I used to play tennis against that wall with my Dad. Coming up as a Bboy in North Sydney had it's downsides; everyone knew that the place to be was Burwood Park on a Thursday night. It was mythical to me, I was too young, too small, too scared to travel all that way over to the other side of the city. But when we were at a circle in the city we would get reports, "Did you hear Rosario did 15 handglides on a squashed coke can last Thursday!!?"

In front of Hoyts cinema on George St was the closest I would get, but it was a hot spot, everyone would pass through. That guy that was a mad popper who had some medical thing that meant he looked 40 when he was 16, the Lebanese guys that ran the "Breakdancing school" just a few hundred metres down - I remember watching one of them windmill one way, pause, then windmill back the other way, unbelievable! - all different crews. One day we get chased away by security, end up in Pitt St and there's a huge battle between three crews, Islander boys twice my size are throwing down, but one of them does a handglide and I am sent in, a tiny little white dude from the North Shore, to represent, so I do my thing, take him out and before you know it there are three Bboys in the circle all fired up, popping with their white chemist's gloves on, getting closer and closer to each other, close contact popping, the energy is tense, aggression is building, contact seems inevitable and then who knows what's gonna happen, when all of a sudden another security guards busts through the circle waving his baton, there's yelling and screaming, we grab our lino and stereos and all run down the street whooping and yelling, all three crews friends forever.

Amata (Pitjantjarra lands, Central desert Australia)

The cold, yellow paint is brushed onto my chest first, then the black. It represents the goanna - parenti - dreaming. Wire and I get the same colours. Then Manu starts getting painted up black and white, I ask our teacher, Tjapaya
"What do the colours represent?"
He looks at me, as if to say, don't you know anything? and says
"The magpies" the Aussie rules football team, and walks off.

Once us men have been painted up then we return to the group where the women too have been painted. There are six women and four men and we all assemble in front of Mantitjarra (Mrs Wilson) like a bunch of schoolkids on our first day of school, proud to have been painted, anxious that we don't make a mistake in the dance. Mrs Wilson looks us up and down, laughs from her large belly
"Ooh look, you lot looking good now eh?"
We laugh a little and smile oursleves into a slightly less awkward posture. In ten years of intermittent work with different Aboriginal communities, I've never been painted up and done a traditional dance before - I'm trying to look relaxed.

We're standing on red sand hills beneath the most magnificent blue sky, looking out onto a prehitoric vista of dark green desert oaks that dissapear into valleys of Grand Canyon proportions. Most of the teenage women we have travelled here with have opted to slink away. They are talking by the fire, doing milputjanyanni (drawing stories in the sand with sticks) or digging for water just 3 feet beneath the sand to make tea. I get the feeling they are all watching us though.

We are a motley group from Sydney and Adelaide along with some local Amata mob, all brought together by an ongoing community outreach project by Carclew Youth Arts who are based in Adelaide. Lee-Anne, my boss, is the woman who initiated this project, a Nunga woman, barefoot in a black negligee painted up and looking proud as punch. Finton, our video artist in charge of making video clips and short films looks like the six foot three half Fijian Tex Perkins that he is , or as Sammy Butcher from the legendary Aboriginal rock band, The Warumpi Band, refers to him as “This is my friend Nick Cave!". Wire is a short, nuggetty, Ghumbingaree Koori from the East Coast – a long way from his homeland – and I, a Brissy born, Sydney dwelling, slim, lanky white fella, am about as far away from the glamours of Bondi Beach as you can get.

Manu is selected as the goanna and as he stands there, the rest of us fan our hands over and around him while Mantijarra sings away with the help of two other women. No clapsticks here, they are banging two plastic cups together to keep the rhythm. Tourists like myself buy the clapsticks from the community art store but living culture like this can use anything. It reminds me of a corroboree I was invited to in Numbulwar community in Arnhem Land. Car headlight illuminated the scene in the dirt driveway of the backyard, aunties, uncles and dogs gathered around as the women danced in the dirt. Five women with two of them being albino sisters gave the scene a slightly heightened sense of the surreal. But the highlight of the night was when a five year old boy leapt out to do his dance in front of his grandfather, mother, father and family….in a spiderman suit. No problem, they sung their song, he did his dance with the same sharp intensity as his aunties and uncles, hit his final freeze in a cloud of dust to howls of applause and laughter from everyone around the fire. One woman turned to me and said with a smile
“That was a good one eh? Spiderman corroboree."

Back in central desert Pitjantjarra lands it’s time for the men’s dance. We have been given a quick five minute lesson by Tjapaya, only twenty one years old but already a keeper of knowledge, strong traditional dancer and occasional university lecturer. With cups of tea being passed around, the aunties and women dancers sit and prepare to watch Manu, Wire and myself. Like a footy coach Tjapaya is running alongside us telling us what to do.
“Step, step, arms up, run in now"
Mantijara starts knocking the plastic cups together and her singing seems to wind up from the soft, cool, red sand hills we stand on. I’m nervous. Put me in a Bboy circle and I can bust a move no problem, but this a whole other level. As we run through the sand, jamming our heels into the earth, kicking up the dust with these ancient voices singing to us I feel a bit like an empty vessel, floating, being guided, no room for ego, it’s not really about the choreography. As the sun sets in the valley and we dance I realise it’s not really my body that has to learn to dance here, it’s my spirit.