by Katrina Kincade-Sharkey
You’d guess this vibrant, politicised person had worn his adopted name most of his knowing years; and he has, although only formally registering it in New Zealand’s Greymouth in 1992.
And this bloke wears his name well, exceedingly well. Very Impressive is stylishly loud, occasionally excessively loud in appearance, yet one of those gentle souls few know really well -— not most of us, anyway.
Recognised around Melbourne town’s inner regions as much for his lofty locks of soft pink or green or purple or orange actually, his hair colour reflects whatever mood’s taken him that month. Very Impressive is known by this community — and by his cohorts at The Centre — as a truly caring gem.
He saunters in bang on time, flicking away droplets of autumn rain.
Very is a drag queen supremo who adores a late afternoon glass of decent bubbly, but is oh-so-frightfully-correct about it. “The best time I ever had drinking champagne was when [the film] Priscilla, Queen of the Desert came out,” he says.
“I was in Nelson, New Zealand, on the north-west of the South Island, and, if you came to the opening night dressed in drag, they gave you a champagne cocktail. Now, I’d never had a cocktail — which is just champers and a sugar cube — but because I was so splendidly attired in my drag, they gave me four!”
His ginormous blue-green eyes sparkle.
Very moved from his native New Zealand to Sydney in late 1996 to meet a brother “no one ever told us existed”. “He was adopted out before Mum and Dad were married,” he says, looking away.
We’ve dined at Ample and the Howard Street lunch crowd’s moved on, yet he now stares intently away, across empty tables to a languid coffee machine.
“We’re all one year apart. There’s my two sisters, Deone and Julie, and I’m in the middle of the girls, with our older brother, Blair,” he says proudly, noting their family name is “Greer, as in Germaine the magnificent”.
That Sydney trip was the launch of Very’s true comfort with his personal predilections: “I’d been living there for about two weeks and was shopping in Newtown one day when I sat on this massive timber/metal throne on display at a second-hand furniture business. Well, the owner got a shock, thought I was a mannequin and employed me on the spot!
“You see, I’d previously been a mannequin in Christchurch and knew how to hold a pose,” he grins, adopting a stupendous stance in the bistro. “Anyway, that job lasted six or seven months and I was living a glorious life with an entire wardrobe of sumptuous costumes.”
Yet this lean model’s youthful life had obviously demanded more purpose: “I became involved in a forest blockade against Sydney City Council’s ‘mega-tip’ on the Bendalong Road State Park between Nowra and Milton and Ulladulla, the decommissioned warship harbour.”
Very launches into a tirade of controlled, knowing abuse against people — accredited members of our allegedly civilised society — who compromise the environment.
“There was this plan by a self-made millionaire, Ian Malouf, in 2011 to open the biggest waste dump/landfill in the Southern Hemisphere at Sydney’s Alexandria … and it was obscene,” he groans, remembering operators who blamed their employees for breaching strict landfill guidelines, then ignored clean-up orders over several years.
Our environmental activist lobbied the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage about odours from the landfill site. A surprise inspection in April 2011 found a pipe connected to infested leachate, which was pumping it into a stormwater drain.
Then, responding to further lobbying in June of that year, OEH inspectors again visited the site and found that Boiling Pty Ltd, a company owned by the millionaire’s wife, Larissa Malouf, had 170,000-cubic-metre stockpiles of waste contaminated with asbestos. Other pollution breaches dated back to 2002, when Mr Malouf’s company, Alexandria Landfill Pty Ltd, was ordered to clean up leachates after residents complained about the stench.
“Interestingly,” Very remembers, “that Alexandria Landfill site was also bought from Sydney City Council in 2000 and was developed as a recycling facility; dozens of complaints regarding stench from effluent were received by OEH.
“In 2007, another property, at Marulan, was found with 1300 cubic metres of asbestos-contaminated soil levelled and spread across it,” he continues. “That property belonged to Mr Malouf’s mother-in-law Kathleen Hopkins’s company, Kathkin Pty Ltd, as trustee for his five children.
“It’s probably ancient history now, but Malouf was photographed attending a $5000-a-head fundraiser for the Liberal Party at the home of John Symonds. When it was revealed that Malouf, who is also a property developer, had been in attendance, the NSW Labor Party general secretary, Sam Dastyari, referred the $5000 donation to the Electoral Funding Authority for investigation.
“There was nothing decent about those shenanigans, nothing.”
Very then vividly tells of a dead tree in Ulladulla at the front of a property where the owners wanted their view unimpeded. “Our view of their ugly house should have been completely impeded! Anyway, they poisoned this massive ghost gum and it took several years to be removed, so what remained was just this large, dead white tree — a sacrilege,” he moans, the regret still deep.
Significantly self-educated in horticulture from extensive reading and astute TV viewing, Very shares some favourite mentors: Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Mark Carwardine, who wrote Last Chance to See with Adams. Those guys travelled the world looking at endangered species, looking at them before they disappeared, before they became extinct.
“Last Chance to See was revised as a TV series by Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine two years ago and it’s definitely worth a repeat showing. They showed us those species’ beauty before it was lost to our world,” he says, voice trailing as he looks away.
We’ve been joined at this luncheon appointment by Very’s close acquaintance, the exceptionally well-behaved Yarndi ‘the Magnificent Wonder Dog’, a seven-year old Cairns terrier/corgi cross adopted from North Melbourne’s Lost Dogs’ Home.
Yarndi’s obediently close; he’s known his prime carer since 26 November 2014: “He’s a loving dog, but not silly, and he has a delightfully dappled fawn coat that looks like Russian fudge.”
Yarndi sits peacefully at Very’s feet throughout our extensive discussion, showing no hunger pangs at our meals’ delicious aromas, more proof of his owner’s care.
Turning 48 in June, Very Impressive’s life has patently moved on from his New Zealand youth, but bred a glorious education in life. “The most memorable position I had in New Zealand was attempting to be a politician, to truly represent people,” he says.
“I ran for Mayor of Christchurch in ’92, when I ran second against the incumbent mayor, Vicky Buck, whose husband was a major housing developer, which I thought was highly inappropriate.
“Then in ’93 I ran for the McGillicuddy Serious Party in the rural conservative seat of Ashburton, south of Christchurch, where I received some 600 votes from no campaigning.
“I’d picked up [the potentially fatal] viral meningitis as a teenager and was very ill and people were saying then it was a reoccurrence,” he grimaces, no doubt reliving the pain of the lumbar puncture procedure used to confirm meningitis.
Anyhow, that was the end of Very’s New Zealand pollie notions and the start of his awareness that he needed a new life here. Everyone who knows this bloke is glad he settled in our part of Melbourne. Say “Hi” next time you see his flaring locks — you’ll be glad you did.