Ray Goodwin

I first crossed paths with Ray in Auckland in 1973. It was a Sunday afternoon at Mandrax Mansion, down the bottom of St Mary’s Bay Road, and there were going to be bands playing in the big upstairs room that day. I would have been with Dean Buchanan and others from our disreputable crew – which in those days included Brezhnev and Robin Hood along with Jenny Harland and the Thompson Brothers, Cameron and Nick, and cartoonist Laurence Clark and his girlfriend Phillipa. Anyway one of the bands that played that afternoon reckoned they came from Taumarunui; two Fijian brothers and a Tongan and I don’t know who else. Whether they were already called Dragon or if that was still in the future, I don’t know either; but Ray was part of the line-up, playing guitar. I can’t actually remember anything about the gig apart from the fact that I was there. Like everyone else, I would have been drunk and stoned – though not on Mandrax, which for some reason I never took.

The next encounter I had with Ray was even more fugitive. It would have been during the same year. We lived in the country, in an old farmhouse on Pukapuka Road near Puhoi, and came into town to party every weekend. A woman I met had taken a fancy to me and asked me back to her place. Subsequently, I would sometimes knock upon her door (or ring upon her doorbell), hoping to be let in again; this happened a couple of times and then came the night when she said she couldn’t see me because she already had somebody else there. It was Ray; though I can’t any longer say how I found that out. Gossip, probably, Auckland was still a small town then. In all the years I knew Ray, I never told him that story.

I didn’t actually meet Ray until I moved to Sydney in 1981. He had a gig at the Seymour Centre as a stage hand and he found me a job there too. It was one of those gigs where you do almost nothing but stand around and yarn. There were and are two theatres there, the York and the Everest, and one of the benefits for me was that, as a casual employee of Sydney University, I qualified for a badge that gave me entry to the university swimming pool. One of the fellows we worked with had decided that he would do everything with his other, his non-dominant hand, which sometimes made it tricky when you were shifting flats or blacks around with him.

I knew a lot of musicians then, including a guy called Rick Caddell who lived in a terrace house on Cleveland Street, while we were just across the road in Thomas Street, behind the Britannia Hotel. Rick was another guitar player and he knew Ray. They had been in bands together, including one called ‘Win a House’ – a name that still makes me chuckle. I saw them set up on the floor in the big bare public bar of a hotel in the Haymarket whose name I have forgotten. They rocked; but not in any straight ahead way. I could already see that there was something unusual about Ray’s approach to things.

He was mates with my good friends Lud and Lexie so if there was a party going on, Ray would likely be there. Lud and Lexie were fans of a rockabilly band called The Lion Cat Tamers who were pretty good too. I don’t know if Ray had anything to do with them but he had an amazing address book, with contacts all over the place, both musical and otherwise. The interesting thing about the Sydney scene in the early 1980s is that there were quite a few really good bands around who weren’t trying to scale the ladder of success; they just wanted to play.

Ray had left Dragon by then, long ago, but he still sometimes used to get some stick for having done so. How come you left just as they were getting famous? people would ask. The implication being that either he wasn’t good enough or else couldn’t take the pace. I never asked him that question myself but a couple of times he said to me: ‘When the smack arrived, I left.’ He also told me that, every year in the spring, he’d get a call from Todd Hunter inviting him to join the revived Dragon on their annual summer tour of beaches, leagues clubs, pubs etc; and, every year, he would, politely, decline.

He was living down in Bray Street in St Peters; that’s his kitchen in the picture below, taken sometime towards the end of the 1980s or the beginning of the 1990s. Ray had a business hiring props to theatre companies and his house was full of the most extraordinary bric-a-brac, anything from a life-sized Tutankhamen to a blow up rubber dinghy as used by the military. It was the overflow from his props warehouse in Petersham. He also collected antiques and Polynesian artefacts.

I moved out of Sydney in 1995 and went to live up on the Central Coast; and so lost touch with Ray for a few years. When I moved back into town, to Summer Hill, in 2004, I met him again. He used to get his hair cut in a small, garish salon across the road from my building, owned and operated by an extravagant Pilipino woman with whom Ray was friends – as he was with her husband too. I bumped into him one day in Lackey Street and still remember what he said: ‘I’m like one of those cockroaches you see dragging themselves along with half their guts hanging out behind. They can’t kill me.’

His props warehouse was nearby and I visited there a few times for reasons I don’t remember. He was living in Arthur Street in Marrickville and I went to his sixtieth birthday party there. Among the guests were some people who became big in my life for a while. One was the sculptor Antony Symons, now also deceased; another was the Aboriginal Anglican pastor Ray Minniecon. I used to go and stay with Antony at his place in Rydal, over the other side of the Blue Mountains; and Ray Minniecon was of material help to me when I was writing my 2014 book Battarbee & Namatjira. Desmond Edwards has a DVD of footage taken at that party and he’s promised to bring it around.

The reason why Ray knew Antony, and the other Ray, was because he was part of a push to have the Black Diggers recognised for their contribution to Australian military forces in both world wars. They were trying to get a sculpture commissioned, commemorating the Black Diggers’ service. At one point they were planning to claim Native Title over a piece of land at Circular Quay just large enough to install the piece Antony had made, called Dancing the Land, upon it. Near where the troop ships came and went. There is now a memorial but it’s in Hyde Park and, rather than the Black Diggers, remembers the Indigenous resistance to the White invasion of Aboriginal Australia. The maquette for Antony’s sculpture, half life size, is now in the Aboriginal and Islander Dance School at Kariong. Ray organised that too.

At some point he sold the props business, sold his house in Marrickville and moved up north. He had a friend in Woy Woy and he lived with her sometimes; that’s when my two sons, who grew up on the Coast, got to know him. He also had a property outside Mullumbimby and gradually moved most of his operations up there. Ray was always a wheeler dealer; he had the ability to locate and acquire all sorts of things, including, in later years, rare books and manuscripts, which he would bring down to Sydney to sell to a wealthy collector he knew in the Eastern Suburbs.

He was always secretive, not to say conspiratorial, about this side of his affairs, suggesting there was a lot more to it than met the eye. No doubt there was; but this was amusing rather than solemn; Ray had the gift of laughter as well as a wicked subversive take on almost everything. One of his documentary finds cast new light on the genealogy of Malcolm Turnbull, the then PM. It was a long term plot. He was expecting to earn a lot out of that.

He had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. He was connected to the Tongan communities in Australia and New Zealand, and in Tonga itself; but that wasn’t something he talked about a lot, or not to me. He had a fund of family stories, by turns scurrilous, improbable, hilarious, deeply strange. I’ll miss that side of him too: when someone goes, their stories go with them.

One of my last interactions with him involved an American lawyer, from Miami, who reckoned he had been run out of town by corrupt interests, people compromised by their involvement in the cocaine trade, and now lives in Sydney. It was going to be a movie but I think has turned into a book project. Ray met Joe through Eve, a journalist he knew who worked on the Byron Shire Echo. Another Kiwi. I met and talked with Joe, a nice enough guy, but I didn’t take the gig.

I had an open invitation to go and stay at Upper Main Arm and I wish now I had. So far as I understand, it was a ramshackle, fecund place built on the side of a hill above a stretch of water. Someone told me Ray was selling it, he had a buyer lined up, a young tradie who was going to restore it, when the heavy rains of February and March came and washed the house down the hill into the Brunswick River. He went to live in nearby Durrumbul. He would have got the guitars out first.

Ray got bladder cancer a few years ago now and gave up drinking and smoking and otherwise reformed his diet; he beat it. He also had, I think, cancer of the thyroid; or maybe of the throat; he beat that too. Last time I saw him, in Summer Hill, he’d come to pick up some old books he’d lent me. I’d had them for years and had never been able to make sense of them.

He told me he’d beaten three kinds of cancer and intended to beat the fourth, which was of the bowel or the rectum, I’m not sure which. Before he drove away that day, returning to Mullumbimby, he showed me the special cushion he sat on to relieve the pain and discomfort of his affliction. When we went to Japan in 2019 we sourced some mushrooms for him, which were supposed to help with the cancer but I don’t know if they did.

Over the last few years Ray got back into music, writing, composing, jamming, playing live, recording. I don’t know how much he left behind but wouldn’t be surprised if there is quite a lot of it. I used to talk to him on the phone but never about his health: I didn’t ask and he didn’t say. I think he preferred to live a regular life for as long as he could. He was seventy-two.

B&W image from the Violet Hamilton Collection; colour pic by Gerard Smithyman; Ray on the left, Colleen Forde on the right, me in the middle



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8 responses to “Ray Goodwin

  1. So glad to have found your post, Richard. I have been searching the net for anything I could find about Ray. I only knew him in the last two years of his life, and then only at a distance, as he was in Upper Main Arm and I had moved from Byron shire to Brisbane. But we hit it off when we met, and kept in touch via texts.
    He made a tremendous impression on me. Perhaps it was his stoicism – I didn’t know he had cancer, I had to hear it from somebody else. Perhaps it was his humility – I didn’t know he was co-founder of Dragon, I had to hear it from somebody else. I sent him books, he sent me cds, and we texted.
    The only reason he survived the landslip was that he was in Byron Bay at the time – I suspect he was in Byron Hospital for one of his many treatments. Again, he never said.
    My last text from him was on 15 March. In answer to my text, How are you travelling? he said: Slowly, but still determined. Realising i hadn’t heard from him for a while, I texted him on 28 March. Nothing.
    He died on 26 April. I have no details. Was in in hospital? I don’t know. I would be most grateful for anything else you could tell me, any photos you might have.

  2. Richard Taylor

    It was said to me once: ‘The old Jewish woman who runs the shop in Dominion Road. If the person who said that (forget) was right it seemed amusing she was directing me to the Nazi things. But it wasn’t anti-Semitism it was more a fascination with a kind of abstract aspect. It was amusing as Graham was urging me to buy Brecht. Then Mrs. Brazier told me about her shop business, it was about the time I got interested in selling myself. I was working for Ron Riddell who had a shop also on Dom Road about 1994. But then she showed me her account book, and told me how she had hired someone to work on getting her books on line. I think I advised her not to be too open like that. (But she and Graham were very nice as far as I could ascertain). But the kind of semi-secrecy of your friend reminded me of the way Book Collectors create or are in this kind of secret, separate world. Where only the book or making (not much perhaps) but ‘beating the other guy’. So added to say Jack Rosses huge collection there is the background of this sort of thing….I heard that some years back he and his father had been in ‘The Slightly Foxed’ which I believe was a group of book collectors. For reading poetry that wasn’t exactly of the Beats one book collector at the reading I gave go really hostile to me. His area was the Beats and a few other areas. It is strange kind of, almost sub-group, not necessarily connected to what is IN the books! A partly “conspiratorial” world of bookers. Some make a pride in not reading what they collect (my addition but it seems like that).

  3. Anonymous

    You got the first cancer right but not the rest …

  4. me

    I never heard that Graham was Jewish. He was born in Liverpool and came out to NZ as a child. The name’s French perhaps. ‘Brass-workers’. They were solid working class people too, played Rugby League not Rugby Union. He did however go through a Brownshirt phase in the 1970s. And there was then that weird obsession with collecting Nazi memorabilia. There was a shop up at the top of Queen Street that sold militaria of all kinds and the guy who ran it also sold souvenirs of the Reich under the counter, as it were. And there was a small group of genuine fascists who gathered there. I don’t think Ray had anything to do with any of that, however. Gerard, who took that photo, is Kendrick’s youngest son.

  5. Richard Taylor

    Interesting. I didn’t know him. Was he related to Harry Goodwin? I briefly met Graham Brazier at his mother’s sec hand book shop in Dominion Rd, Auck, and I met Buchanan once when he came to Ron Riddell’s bookshop in K’Road. He was clowning around with Rod Scott, artist, booker and other things. But Ray seems like some of the others I met in the (e.g.) second hand book trade. Sad he has passed on. Your posts are always good!

    • me

      Thanks Richard. I doubt Ray was related to Harry, he probably would have mentioned it if he was. His family were from Avondale / Mt Roskill area, his mother was Tongan but not sure about his Dad. Hard core working class people, anyway.

      • Richard Taylor

        Harry was a nice bloke. Once a woman I knew opened a shop and I read at the opening (in Mt Eden), I used to drink then, but I had memorized a lot of poems and also read a lot. Harry said he throught the images would never stop. Re Graham, I used to look for books for myself and I started selling about 1998. I had seen him round but I am not into music much if at all. But he and his mother were a really “crazy” pair. She was rumoured Jewish by somene. I was in her shop and happened to look toward a display of Nazi stuff (books and some uniforms badges etc). Mrs Brazier was onto me to buy something from that selection, very isistent! Then Graham asked what I might want, he enthused about Brecht. But I knew about Brecht. Later his mother told me all about her business and there was other gossip…the book trade! Your post reminded me of that via Graham. But your Goodwin sounds interesting, much like, I believe, the characters in an Iain Sinclair novel. (But I have only read his book of crit. and essays ‘Flesh Eggs and Scalp Metal’. I was telling my son about you, we went to a book launch and Murray Edmond introduced the books. I think I confused my son who recently at the age of 48 took up reading and writing poetry etc. After years of just watching videos. So en passant I was talking about how “creative” writing can be what is called faction or a “factual” narrative or project can be like, so to speak, a ‘creative’ work. Sometimes almost more so. That photograph is good. By a Smithyman? Good stuff in any case!

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