Brisbane’s Grunge culture

Words: Faith Thurnwald
Photos: Faith Thurnwald & Louise Nilsson
Models: Charlie Herbert, Connor Williams & Jethro Reed

We’ve all encountered the dirty realism that is grunge culture. Whether you discovered grunge while scrolling through Tumblr in 2013, or through your first adolescent existential crisis, wherein you finally came to the conclusion that nothing actually matters. Grunge exposes the raw nerves of the Australian youth: experiencing a nihilistic existence seeking relief in a few of my favorite things: sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.

Grunge culture emerged from boredom, the boredom of the working class; or rather the unemployed ‘working’ class. The 90’s brought in a time of class segregation, where young adults were experiencing a detachment from societal expectation. Identity was no longer wrapped up in work, as there wasn’t any. The economic landscape of Australian cities saw a decline in pervious ideological notions of egalitarianism due to this segregation of capital. Therefore a new outlook on life was inevitable. This is how grunge culture came to form.


Brisbane was the birthplace of Australian grunge, because nothing really happens here. The heat desecrates one into a lethargic state. We sit around in old Queenslanders, the air is humid, fans and aircon are nonexistent and in a state of dry, dehydrated boredom, we think… hey, maybe today is the day I’ll try heroin. This, at least is what occurs in Andrew McGahan’s 1991 Praise, the novel that won the Vogel literary award in 1991, and has been nominated as the founding novel of the grunge literary genre.


Praise follows a 20-something unemployed Brisbane guy, Gordon. His days surpass him in a nihilistic haze of heat, drugs and chain smoking. Praise is Bukowski-esque; the writing is minimalistic with autobiographical elements, Gordon’s girlfriend is slightly overweight and a nymphomaniac, who he fucks apathetically. All very similar of Bukowski’s Women, where he describes his various lovers as either having big vaginas or nympho tendencies. Ah to be woman in the eyes of a misogynist, delightful!

Gordon doesn’t care. He’s on the dole and he spends his last 8 bucks on white-ox, after being hospitalized due to smoking with asthma. He doesn’t care. Gordon enforces this nihilistic attitude on page 5 with ‘Next morning I woke late. Life was waiting there.’ Gordon wakes to the boredom of another Brisbane day. This apathy is a sort of cultural commentary on the Australian ‘slacker’, leftover laziness and anti-authoritarian inclinations from the convicts, and generally just not giving a fuck. The Australian psyche matches that of the grunge ideology and Brisbane seems the perfect fit.


It’s the rejection of urban culture, finding sustenance in drugs and escapism, because it isn’t present in the capitalist cityscape around you. This blatant rejection is seen in Christos Tsiolkas’s 1995 Loaded, ‘I spit out bile, semen, saliva, phlegm, I spit it all out. I spit out the future that has been prepared for me’ (p. 84). Here, Tsiolkas uses vivid imagery to evoke a gustatory and olfactory response to emphasize this rejection.


Grunge is about existing in-between spaces, in-between worlds, as a rejection of a homogenous identity. Grunge lingers in the dark, in the alleyways and dingy spaces of the city, think Ric’s bathrooms: sweat, piss and graffiti. Ric’s is perhaps the perfect example; a shit bar that no one wants to be at, so everyones peaked on molly chewing their cheeks off. In the literary world this can be seen as an allusion to the ability drugs have in delivering one physically and emotionally into a liminal and transgressive space of escape. The ultimate escapism of the monotony of an everyday nihilistic life, thank you drugs!

Although the Australian grunge genre was somewhat short-lived with the authors themselves rejecting the label, the genre produced a solution to the disenfranchised youth of Australia.

However, if this isn’t your scene, I leave you with the words of Andrew McGahan’s editor ‘personally, I’m looking for the next thing – I’m getting a little bored with bored’.