Like every other human, I love a lot of things. However, my all-time favourites, if I were to make a list, aren’t the two that I’m peculiarly obsessed with to the degree that I’ve been thinking of something to do with one or both of them at least once a day since the late nineteen eighties. One is thirtysomething, a television program about a group of people who have various neuroses but also have jobs, and the kinds of big houses that people in their thirties (or their fifties) could never afford in 2021. The other is Dogs in Space, a film about a group of people who, now I think about it, mostly bury their neuroses with drugs and random pointless activity, but most of whom don’t have jobs, and who all live together in a filthy house that, while not small, is too small to hold that amount of people.
As is obvious from the fact I’m going mad with the hyperlinking in this piece, I’ve written about Dogs in Space before, and acknowledge freely I’m not personally acquainted with anyone who likes it. At best, I can think of one person I’m still friends with who quite liked it at its time of release and who, if I were to ask her about it, would possibly respond with moderate enthusiasm. However, most people I know – and these are people I like and respect – loathe and despise it. Even back in the day, the day being 1987, many individuals found it quite boring and/or bogus in the extreme; I still recall a Triple J announcer (I think it was George Wayne) speaking slightingly of it. And, mind you, these were all people who were the target audience.
It certainly grabbed me, though. This was due to many reasons, only some of which follow: its humour – as it is much more funny than it is pretentious; the wardrobes and general personal style of everyone on screen, which suggested that many Melbourne opportunity shops in 1986 must have been fished out by all involved with the film; the noisy music; and, while I hate to be parochial, the fact it was Australian made it all seem thrillingly close to home. The other thing I liked, though, was the unexpectedly welcoming feel of that house in Berry Street, Richmond, even though it was so full of people who looked and acted cool. When I say welcoming, I mean that no one in that place seemed to mind who turned up and lived in it. Even if you were a square in flared trousers, or a teenager who appeared uninvited on the front doorstep, you could end up in a VW car being nearly killed on the way to a gig.
Dogs in Space is often described as plotless, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. The events in the film don’t always seem directly related but they still grind together in a way that leads to an unhappy ending: of a death by heroin overdose almost simultaneously with everyone getting the boot from the sharehouse. And, of course, the person who dies is Anna, played by Saskia Post.
The spell this woman cast was partly due to her exquisite beauty, set off by artfully teased bleached hair and a stunning array of cute nineteen-sixties dresses and cardigans. She looked the way I was aiming to, as I staggered round the local Lifeline shop in the heat, squeezing my more solid frame into synthetics, and sweating into my hair, which, while also bleached at the time, was too fine for a rich ponytail like Anna’s. But it was also due to how touching Saskia Post is in the role, and the way that Anna was both kind and explosive. Despite the circles she moved in and how she looked and dressed, she wasn’t cool; she showed everything she felt. She would cheerfully give you a home dye while singing along with the radio, and good-naturedly pay for everyone’s junk food, but also get snappy if someone was nagging her to answer the house’s only telephone. She was the sole person in that house with anything resembling good manners, but she’d call you a fuckwit if your car broke down in front of her when she was late for work. I’ve wondered to this day if the point was that Anna was tightly wound generally; or simply that being in love puts anyone on edge, given that her relationship with her almost monosyllabic boyfriend, Sam (Michael Hutchence) would be like dating the family dog, if the family dog lacked loyalty, was only sporadically affectionate and was generally completely useless.
Speaking of love making fools of us all, the other reason I saw Dogs in Space five times at the cinema in a short space of time was that I was madly in love with Edward Clayton-Jones. As Nick, a bass player with a speed habit, he too cast a spell over me, with his lustreless dyed black hair, chalky skin and lanky frame. Luckily, in real life, he was in the Wreckery, so I could see him in the flesh when the band came to Sydney. The Wreckery is a band that I can only describe as peak Melbourne, given that everyone in it followed the Clayton-Jones template appearance wise, and that to say they were indebted to Nick Cave would be like saying someone with a large mortgage is indebted to a bank. Then, one night, my making a point of always standing in the crowd on his side of the stage actually paid off, when Clayton-Jones smiled at me! That meant he and I were practically engaged, to my way of thinking.
Probably the venue at which I saw the Wreckery perform most often was the Kardomah Café, in Bayswater Road, Sydney. I spent many pointless hours there, nursing a tequila and orange and waiting for the band to come on stage, which I remember them as never doing before three in the morning, but perhaps it just felt that way. One night, though, I saw Clayton-Jones mingling with us losers in the audience and talking to Saskia Post. It was clear to me from the expression – an almost daffy smile – this usually stone-faced individual wore that this was a man in love, and it was also clear I had to relinquish my non-existent claim on him. But I didn’t mind, because I was relinquishing it to Saskia Post.
As the years went on, I’d always yell with excitement to see her in anything, such as the 1984 film One Night Stand, which, with its storyline about being shut up together while awaiting the end of the world, is now relevant all over again, though, unfortunately, unlike the young people in the film, there’s not much chance any of us will be confined in the Sydney Opera House. Or there she is, playing a schemer, in the television series of Return to Eden, which I would argue beats even Taurus Rising and the parts of Sons and Daughters that were set in Dural as the most insanely enjoyable Australian attempt at a long-form soap opera about the lives of rich people. There she is in the exquisite Proof, memorable even in the small part of a waitress. There she is, coming in right at the end of Bliss as Harry Joy’s daughter, talking about his life and making me cry.
When Saskia Post died recently, from complications due to a congenital heart issue, I found I was crying at the music that was playing at the beautician, and at a YouTube video of a kitten meeting his dad. By a strange coincidence, I was also about to finish reading Dogs in Space: A Film Archive. Of course, that’s neither here nor there, but it’s a book I would strongly recommend; aside from anything, I had been enjoying getting to read more about Saskia Post. The internet is annoying, but there are certain things and people that I will reliably look for on it when I have an idle moment, and she was always one of them. There was never much to find, unfortunately.
I recall reading a 2005 article from The Age, called ‘The Lost Post’, which was an interview with her that was conducted when she was appearing in the play Vincent in Brixton, but it no longer seems to be online, the page warning ‘This was published 14 years ago’ and, yes, it’s certainly impossible to imagine anyone wanting to read an article that’s a whole fourteen years old. So, I’ll have to supply from memory some things that have stayed with me, and hope they are accurate. First of all, she did have a stab at going to Hollywood, but joked that it all went wrong because she was busy having conversations about how lawn bowls was a great game because you could drink beer while you were playing it. She thought money was stupid. She lived with animals. She wanted to get more acting roles, but thought all she needed for her life to be perfect was a better vacuum cleaner.
I have a couple of other random notes on Saskia Post. First, there’s my conviction that she went to the same school as I did, but it’s not a personal memory, as she would have been a few years ahead of me. If I made this up, I’d like to know when and exactly why I did this. Second, I recall another interview with her in the great Stiletto magazine, back in 1987. She was talking about working in, as I remember it, the bistro at the Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay at the same time she was on TV in Return to Eden. A customer said to her, ‘You look like that girl on Return to Eden,’ and she replied, ‘That’s because I am.’
Speaking of her employment, when Saskia Post died, I learned a little more about all the things she had done with her life. She studied writing and editing at RMIT. In recent years, she lived in the country, working at the Trentham primary school as an integration aide; she was a drama tutor and involved with the community gardens. The school’s principal said ‘she was confident and creative, very kind and gentle with the kids and much-loved’.
It’s a peculiar thing that even though most actors don’t come close to making a living just by acting, when we hear that an actor hasn’t worked solidly for decades, the inclination is to get all voice of doom about how life turned out for them. And I’ve been guilty of that too with a lot of people, including Saskia Post, but essentially I just wish more of her performances were on film and can’t understand why they’re not, as she was such a magnetic presence. It’s not as if she didn’t accomplish enough for my liking, for the love of god. If I’d appeared in two classic films and in Return to Eden, and contributed to my local community through valuable work that will have an impact, one way or another, indefinitely, I’d feel pretty happy with myself. Unfortunately, I’ve never done any of those things, and will never do any of them, but Saskia Post was clearly a talented and nice person.
Speaking selfishly, as ever, though, I’m starting to wonder if I can ever watch Dogs in Space again. Even the thirtieth-anniversary DVD edition rivalled the ‘In Memoriam’ at the Logies in featuring the deceased, but Saskia Post dying is starting to make watching it again seem impossibly sad. Of course, this is idiotic, as obviously everyone involved with a film, or anything else, dies eventually. I don’t watch Guys and Dolls under the impression everyone in it is hale and hearty. That said, no one in Guys and Dolls dies too young on screen, with, to boot, a whole dream sequence about the big moment.
Certainly, being so sad about Saskia Post dying is partly about me mourning a particular era (and, the way things are, I feel a Brideshead-Revisited level of nostalgia even about last month), but it’s not about me mourning my lost youth – it’s so much better to be older. It’s more that she was someone I liked to know was in the world, and everything I’ve read about her makes me think I’m right, for once.
I will end with the below quote from Benjamin Franklin, because I find it a consoling thought when someone’s died and I wish they hadn’t.
Our friend and we were invited abroad on a party of pleasure, which is to last forever. His chair was ready first, and he is gone before us. We could not all conveniently start together. And why should you and I be grieved at this, since we are soon to follow, and know where to find him.