The Canberran Senor Handsome - the late David Branson - wasn't a millionaire. But he acted like one, with everyone he knew - or didn't.
He didn't give up till the end. Not he, the actor extraordinaire, producer, director and musician. The Canberra-raised thespian died too young, at 37, in a car accident on Anzac Parade on December 11, 2001.
By then, he was already an institution.
Not everyone got to really know Mr Branson. But they all knew him. That was the feeling back in the 1990s.
Making shows, turning up to everything. The Gypsy Bar, the best club Canberra has seen and not seen since. That would be the feeling among any still around to say thanks for it. And now, 20 years after the car crash that killed him, a new book has been written by local writer Joel Swadling.
Best friend to Branson's well known brother Pip, and author of If This Is The Highlife (I'll Take The Dirt Road), Swadling has spent the past 13 years remembering things. Writing them down. Researching. Flicking through all the records David left behind - adult papers, normal things, bills unpaid. And Canberra. He influenced and impacted, impressed and sat down with a lot of people over the years, did our Mayor of Canberra's Underbelly.
And now - fans and foes can sit down and read about it. So can newcomers to this city, and anyone really, who needs to know about some significant Canberra history that hasn't burned out yet.
"It's really a book for the community, so I'm just hoping the community will embrace it," says Swadling. "Research began in the flat out the back of his mother and stepfather, this place where David lived on and off throughout his life. And there were 20 large crates of random papers that I went through and created an archive ... which the family then donated to the ACT Heritage Library."
A commanding presence, and mentor to many more than you would expect, Branson made an impression on everybody. At times, he was the kind of man people envied, or loved to hate, or admired. At the time, it seemed his detractors couldn't forgive him for living. But never for passing away. And he hasn't left. Not in the national capital's artistic memory.
So what better way to celebrate that than with his own Black Sea Gentleman, who will make a special one-off appearance for the launch of this book. Fronted by one of Branson's best friends, Michael Simic, aka Mikelangelo, there is bound to be passion and romance. And a room of old friends packed once again into the Street Theatre he so much enjoyed and appreciated.
"The first time I met David Branson was at a gig at the Terrace Bar in Canberra in 1990," says Simic.
"Throughout our set he constantly called out with theatrical flair 'Bravo!' and 'Brilliant!', applauding loudly after each song, even when everyone else had stopped. I remember thinking 'Who's this w**ker?' Some others in the room may have been thinking the same of me. After we finished our set, the black-clad man came over and effusively rained compliments on me, before disappearing into the night with a beautiful woman."
But it wasn't all about performance and Senor Handsome's woman.
"I recall another time, after a Splinters show at Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra, David effused to me that I had 'Zeus' energy," Simic says.
"He went on to explain just what he meant, at length. This was one of his great gifts, to believe in you more than you dared to believe in yourself."
Using Arts ACT funding to launch himself toward Melbourne for interviews, "I keep discovering, even since the book's been finished, and is now out, other projects that David was involved in," Swadling says. "He was involved in so much."
As anyone who knew, knew about, or just saw any of the work he had been closely involved with, to capture a life of the finest dramatist about town, wasn't easy.
"There was a period where I felt this is such a huge task, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it. Do justice to him," Swadling says. "Because he did so much work. And so many people knew him."
To handle the job, Swadling broke the work down into goals. And it is clear that he also put significant strength into the way the entire biography has been resolved.
"My structure is like a concert in that it has a prelude, three acts, interludes and a coda. And it's all centred around the funeral."
Using long quotes from his interviewees, in order to allow them to speak from their natural tongue, "It's about David, but it's also about the community that he helped engender, which is why I've used partly the oral biography approach."
It's obvious the entire creating of this book, including its launch, which will be on December 11 at The Street Theatre, marking 20 years since Branson's death, is something he has planned carefully. He even got himself in acting classes with local critic and heroic supporter of the arts Peter Wilkins, in order to prepare himself for this entire process. And he's now found himself performing with local acting troop Rebus Theatre.
"One of the things I'm hoping to do at the launch is to have a couple of readings where I'll read my narrative section and the quotes will be read by the people I'm quoting. So Patrick Troy, hopefully Louise Morris, Pip Branson, Michael Simic, potentially some of the more prominent people in his life," he says.
The entire process is a tour de force on Swadling's behalf, though he remains humble, and humbled by the journey.
"I don't like to use the word proud. But I am quite satisfied with what I've done," he says. "I keep looking, picking up the book, just to read it at random and go, you know what? This isn't terrible."
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