‘My mother could draw – she won a scholarship to go to art school in England. Her mother pulled her out and made her go and do a job that she really hated somewhere. It’s terrible.
‘My father really should have been an academic but, through all sorts of things – poverty and a long story – ended up not being able to do that but going into various types of business. He eventually ended up doing what he wanted. He was a writer historian and wrote the Pictorial History of Newtown. That’s my dad, Alan Sharpe. He was a historian but a creative and imaginative person. He wasn’t a visual artist, but I feel that I got my art thing from him.
‘Even though they had gone bankrupt at one stage and had very little money, they were still anxious to do everything they could to help me do what I wanted in life.
‘I haven’t done anything else but art all of my life. I was the only person in my school who didn’t do maths or science for the HSC because I knew that I wasn’t going to be interested in either of them. I went straight from school to art school.
‘To earn a living, I was an artist model and taught part-time. I’ve never had a full-time job except now with painting which is fabulous, but I always just accepted poverty back then.
‘Creativity and the arts are something you’ll have all your life and it’s never wasted. It is enrichment that is forever.
‘Life is chance. You do make your own luck but only to an extent. If you’re out there doing stuff it’s far more likely to happen. It is chance – that’s chaos theory. That’s scary but it’s also good.
‘You have to put yourself out there or nothing will happen. You can’t guarantee if you do all these things that this will happen; it may not, but you’ve got to give it a go.
‘One of my favourite quotes is from Picasso: “Inspiration exists but it has to find us working.”’
‘We try to make really positive upbeat music so we can share good energy with people. We never intended it to be like that but the feedback that we started getting when we started performing goated us in to really creating a safe positive space through our music so people could express themselves openly and not worry about things that don’t really matter.
‘We just want people to feel like they’re either in love or they are loved and that they can express that love through dancing or singing along or just being a part of a group of people who are focused on the same thing.
‘In society as it is, it’s almost like built-in to be shy and to watch yourself, but the fact is that we’re all on the same planet. It sounds so cheesy and I know people have said it in more elegant ways but we’re like one consciousness and we should stop and experience that together sometimes. Music is our language of doing that but you can see that in art or theatre or anything. We just choose to bring people to that realisation through music.
‘I’m part of a 12-piece hip hop soul funk band called The Regime who get pretty active in the Inner West. If we’re not gigging, we’re busking.’
‘In the last few months of her life she aged 20 years in two months. It was really hard to see her deteriorate like that and not be able to do something about it. My mum battled different cancers for 10 years. She beat it twice and then it returned as a metastisised cancer in 2012 and was considered terminal. She was on a trial medication for around a year that had similar effects to chemo. That did slow things down but in the end it was just a slow deterioration. I think that’s the really horribly fascinating part of it is the way that it begins so innocuously. In the beginning it’s just a bit of pain and you almost wouldn’t even know there is too much wrong but then it’s like a slippery slope.
‘I was 23 when she passed. It was traumatic – the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. In a way I think that I kind of died that day with her and a new me was born. I really feel fundamentally different from the day before that.
‘Starting Busk for a Cure was a way to fill some sort of existential purpose as I was slowly watching my mum pass away from cancer. I love busking – it’s one of my favourite things to do. It’s so humbling and nobody ever needs to stop and listen or give you any money yet they do. I think there’s something so pure about it because you know they’re giving purely because they like your music – there’s no ulterior motive.
‘I know my mum would be proud. I just wish I could show her who I am now.’
‘You go on Facebook and Instagram and everyone’s like shiny and happy and that would freak me out even more thinking, I don’t know what my life looks like. I would then evaluate my career and relationship or where I lived and there was just no certainty and it totally led to these really intense panic attacks.
‘It was this pressure to kill it at everything and that is what totally triggered it for me – this fear of the unknown and wanting to have control over it. What if I do take this job, then this could happen or that could happen and it was all just what if’s. I would just spiral – I wouldn’t do anything and I would freak out – it was paralysing.
‘It was a couple of years ago anxiety came in to my life and hit me like a freight train. I never expected it. I never saw it coming.
‘At my lowest point I wrote this poem called “We’re all going to die”. It was the first time that I’d had a sense of certainty. There was this one thing that could be guaranteed in my life and that was that one day, I’m going to cark it.
‘I realised that the only guarantee is death and everything is a mystery and that’s the beauty of life. So, why not go for it and why not take a risk? I’m going to die someday anyway so I may as well be who I really am.
‘On Friday November 17th I’m hosting “We’re All Going To Die Festival”. It is an amusement park for the soul. As an audience member you choose your own adventure – art installations, a film festival, music, panel discussions around fear and death and a lot of immersive experience. There’s everything from a death meditation where you actually imagine yourself not here on Earth any more through to a dance class where you’re encouraged to dance like you do in your own safe space in your bedroom.
‘It’s really about shifting people’s perspectives to just go and live life. It’s going to be a whole lot of colour and humour and we’re delivering it in the most fun way possible, because, why not?’
‘They (Department of Education) told me in later years I wasn’t to hug the children and I said, “Well, it will be a long day before I can’t hug somebody.”
‘I can’t stop children from coming up and hugging me. I said that I won’t stop hugging them. I never did.
‘You know all children, doesn’t matter which ones they are, they all need love. You have to give it to receive it. I doesn’t matter how much their mums and dads love them, you can always give them a little bit more because everybody needs love and you can always do with a little bit extra of that.
‘Children are so hungry to be loved. That’s all most of them wanted – to be understood and loved. Because that’s the real main thing in life. Nobody listens much you know – they talk but a lot of people don’t listen to you, you know?’
You couldn’t script this if you tried. In the midst of two-up, the roof of the Courthouse Hotel collapses, everyone has to leave the pub (after a few sherbets), amongst the ‘snow’ fights, the fire station floods.
‘I was homeless for about 2 years. I had a bad breakup with my ex-wife. She was seeing someone else and then one day she just decided to tell me. I just walked out. I had nowhere to go and had no family.
‘While I was married, I had a job as a storeman in a chicken factory in Blacktown. When I walked out of the marriage, I just left everything – my job, everything. I just couldn’t handle it.
‘The hardest thing about living on the streets was finding shelter and food. I ended up stealing and stuff like that and got caught and decided this is not good for me.
‘I was unemployed and homeless and I wasn’t getting any money. One day I was at Matthew Talbot Hostel and one of the ladies from the office came in and explained The Big Issue to everyone so I decided I’d give it a go.
‘I’ve been selling The Big Issue for about a year and a half now. It was a bit hard at the start but once I got in to it, it got a bit easier. Selling The Big Issue has completely turned things around for me. They helped me a lot and I’m a lot happier now. I love getting to meet people every day.’
‘When I was 15, a lady came to our school and spoke about exchange programs so I went and spent a year in Costa Rica. I did my year 10 in Costa Rica and learnt to speak Spanish and lived with a local family there. We lived in the mountains surrounded by coffee fields. Before I went, I didn’t speak Spanish or anything so I didn’t really know what was going on. It was a poor school – 3,000 students with just a couple of teachers and none of them would turn up. No one really cared.
‘There was one teacher; she was a biology teacher, and she really cared that I understood what was going on and that I actually learnt. She told me to go and buy some rope and some paint and she taught me to make a really thick rope – like macramé. She was teaching us about DNA so it looked like a DNA thing. So I made a really big one – she taught me how to make it – and she told me to paint this knot blue and this knot green and I did everything she said and at the end she was able to explain all the parts of the DNA. To this day, I still only know them in Spanish.
‘Then she told me to go buy some smaller string so I could make bracelets for my friends and family. This is the jewellery I make and sell now.’