Just testing this out. Posting a short Alternate History piece I wrote last year which posits not only a Bruce Lee that lives to present day but is also a naturalised Aussie.
AND THEY CALL ME BAZZA
Bruce “Bazza” Lee, a famous East Fremantle local, known as a lovable larrikin and jack of all trades. In his 59 years in Australia, he's done everything.
A docker, a welder, a taxi driver, a dishwasher, a deliveryman. In his 20s, he even had a stint in the local WAFL, his old practice grounds now bearing his name as a respectful tribute. A decision to open up his martial arts classes to all races and genders in 1966 unwittingly landed him in both the Aboriginal humans right and Feminist struggles.
Teaching martial arts and dance in his early years here, he went on to stage and television acting. Eventually landing the memorable role as a sandwich bar owner and antagonist to Alf in Home and Away.
He decided to sit down with us for an interview at his East Freo studio, where he still teaches martial arts and dance to this day.
Good morning, Mr Lee. Thanks for agreeing to sit down for an interview with us!
Bruce or Bazza is fine, thanks. And it's my pleasure.
You have a beautiful studio, I must say. The very first one that you opened, is that correct?
Yes, I signed the lease in 1964. Can you believe it?! It's been a long time.
Wow 55 years, that's incredible. So, you arrived in the 60s. From what I've heard about that time, it must have been very rough for you.
It was a very rough time early on. You know, there was still the White Australia policy going on, so I barely got in in the first place. And even then for maybe a decade, I felt was gonna be kicked out at any moment. I'm a Chinese man surrounded by all these white people and I'm away from family. I was lonely. And I got in a lot of fights early on, nothing I couldn't handle but it wasn't easy finding acceptance. But after I settled in Freo, I felt a little more at home.
Why is that?
Freo, I reckon, seemed to host so many of the weirdos, deviants and artsy types in Perth, so I felt like I fitted right in. Plus it's near the water, and I like the water. Nowhere else in Perth felt quite right.
You played footy for Freo for a few years. Was that a way to be further accepted by the locals?
Haha, maybe. I think it was more a way to get rough in a legal way, get some stress and anger out on other blokes. But I was never really good at it anyway. My old teammate Mick said, “Bazza, you can run and kick alright but you're shit at everything else. You can't catch and pass the ball for shit.” laughs Mick and probably the whole team didn't know that I was severely short-sighted and of course, I couldn't wear my glasses on the field, so I just squinted and improvised my way around.
Fair enough. We know footy didn't really pay in those days, so how did you support yourself?
I did school to improve my English, I made that promise with my parents. But I also worked a few jobs to support myself. I worked at the docks in Freo. I worked at Uncle Billy's in Northbridge, washing dishes and helping out front on busy nights. I did factory work. I was a courier for a while. And on weekends, I also taught Kung Fu and ballroom dancing, for a little extra money. I did hard yakka those first few years.
Kung Fu and Ballroom dancing. An interesting combo.
It's what I knew at the time. I was the Cha-Cha champion of Hong Kong, I guess enough people were impressed by that title to learn from me. Interestingly enough, a lot of American GIs who wanted to impress the local girls. You know, for the first maybe 5 years, the dance classes actually brought in more money than the kung fu.
Wow. What do you think changed?
Action movies got popular. People watched James Bond and wanted to know how to fight like him, you know flipping bad guys over with ease, knocking them out with one punch. Mind you, I never promised such abilities but I guess that didn't matter.
You were one of first martial arts instructors in Australia to openly teach Aboriginal students. Why did you make that decision?
Yeah...that brought a lot of trouble and the wrong sort of attention. I was completely unaware that I was one of the first at the time. I was already teaching women, I didn't think it was a big deal. I had made a few black friends in Freo by that point. It just seemed like a good idea to teach them too. When I opened up my classes to blackfellas, some of my own white students left in protest. I even got a few letters from some in the Chinese community that politely urged me to stop. But I didn't care. I thought back then as I do right now that it was the right thing to do. I have no regrets.
You weren't worried about the repercussions?
No not really. You got to understand, in Hong Kong, I had faced a lot worse. There was one point where the options for me were going to prison or get killed by gangsters. So I thought, what's a few angry white people. smirks
The only time I was really worried, was when I started receiving death threats in the mail. I didn't particularly care, I could handle myself but I thought about my wife and our two young kids. We had considered moving but the threats for some reason stopped after a few months.
Wow, scary. Any idea what happened to the people that sent them?
Who knows. Maybe they thought I had mystical Oriental powers and didn't want to risk my wrath. laughs
After you got settled in, at some point, you decided to become an actor. How did that happen?
Yes, quite by accident, mind you. Jack Davis, the great poet and playwright, one day approached me as a fight and dance choreographer in some of his plays. I was taken by surprise. Blackfellas must've put in a good word for me. laughs I thought, what did I have to lose, so I gave it a shot.
From there, I also helped out with fight and dance choreography for other plays in Perth and then eventually, I was wrangled in to act in a few small roles on stage. It wasn't much but I enjoyed it. I was a child actor in a few Hong Kong films, I guess the acting bug never left me.
It was fun. And from stage plays, I got into tele.
Getting in a shouting match and fist fight with Alf?
Hey, don't knock it. People still recognise me from Home and Away decades later! laughs
That's how I found out about you! As a kid in the 80s, I was so happy to see another Asian face on TV. There weren't many if I recall.
Haha, glad to hear it. You know, some young Asian Aussie actors have told me that I was their inspiration to get into the profession. I don't quite believe it but I'm glad they're doing what they love. Even some Asian American kids have said the same thing, I have no idea what they would've watched though. I had no idea my stuff had that kind of reach.
Speaking of America, you've mentioned in past interviews with others that you, upon leaving Hong Kong, considered moving to America but changed your mind and came here instead. Why America and what would you have done there?
You know, I was born there. I had family there. Still do to this day. And I guess, there was the American Dream. Everyone wanted a piece of it. I was no exception.
As for what I would have done in America. I'm not sure, probably the same things as I did here. In saying that, I did fancy myself being a big time Hollywood actor when I was young. You know, I had daydreams of becoming a Chinese James Dean or Marlon Brando. Don't get me wrong, stage acting and tele here is fun but Hollywood is big time. Could you imagine? Bruce Lee, the first Chinese superstar in Hollywood! Acting alongside James Caan and Steve McQueen! I would have introduced Chinese Kung Fu to the world with my movies. Sorry, I get a bit carried away thinking about it sometimes.
No, not at all. That would have been pretty cool. I would watch your movies.
So, for the readers out there, is there something that maybe you want to plug?
I have a book out. If you want to read about my boring life, it's in all good book stores right now and for a very decent price too. winks Also I'm in a very interesting play on at the State Theatre. I won't reveal much but if you want to see this old man dance, you won't be disappointed.
Umm and oh yes! My grand-daughter bugs me about this constantly. If you can check out my Face... book and Insta... gram, that would be great. I don't actually run them, I'm too old. I don't know about those kinds of things but my granddaughter, she puts in a lot of hard work to keep it all running. So send us a little appreciation.
**Any final advice for the readers? **
Um, keep your head up high and uh, Walk on!
Bruce Lee's memoirs, “Bazza: A Life” is out on shelves now. The play mentioned is “Senior Moments: A Comedy Revue” and will be running at the State Theatre Centre of WA from the 10th to the 17th April.