“What are we doing here?” asked Joe Strummer, lead vocalist of UK punk band The Clash, at a press conference held in the Australian Museum in 1982. Shaded by the bones of the giant Pliocene ground sloth Megatherium americanum, he smirked. “Rock and roll is nothing but a bunch of old men… but we’re different from the rest!”
To illustrate, he spat on the floor of the old fossil gallery… and then mopped up the gloop with his cravat. What are we to make of the gesture? Was Strummer, famously unrepentant, showing remorse? Or was it a class act of contrarian virtuosity?
Whatever it may have been, the Museum was left scratching its head. One staffer would later reflect that the visit “did very little to enhance our image as a lively place for the young. The intention all along was that they should be interviewed in a place which clashed with their image of rude, aggressive people. This is a quiet, refined place – just the opposite. I certainly don’t believe our image suffered… but I’m not convinced there were any advantages either”.
Strummer was less uncertain about the value of his visit, declaring “there’s no use in us being here”. Perhaps he was disappointed; The Museum had been a second choice. The press conference - the band’s first stop in their tour of Australia – had been relocated from the Liberal Party Headquarters in Anchor House.