From August’s edition of the Esperance Tide, here is the 5 Minute History of when George Harrison came to town….
In 1983, a huge celebrity slipped almost unnoticed into the small town of Esperance. George Harrison of the Beatles arrived in town on a chartered plane, along with friend and co-worker Dennis O’Brien, and his bodyguard. He had been invited by one of the owners of Ocean View Farms, Benno Schmidt, who met him in Europe. It was his first trip to Western Australia. While in Esperance, he stayed with co-owner and manager Tony Moore and his family out at the Alexander Bay property.
George Harrison was the lead guitarist, and one of the founding members of the Beatles. Songs that Harrison wrote for the group include ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, and ‘Here Comes the Sun’. After the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison went on to have a prolific solo career. He was ranked at number 11 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Harrison also organised the 1971 ‘Concert for Bangladesh’, which was the precursor for other benefit concerts such as ‘Live Aid’.
In 1983, Harrison was mainly occupied with producing films along with Dennis O’Brien, who joined him on the trip to Esperance. Harrison and O’Brien had formed the production company HandMade Films together. They co-produced Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which Harrison mortgaged his house to finance. The two went on to produce many other films, including Time Bandits, The Missionary, and Pirates on Parade, several of which have become cult classics. Around this time, Harrison was reportedly looking for real estate to invest in, which in part inspired his trip to Esperance.
Tony Moore and his wife Phyllis played host to Harrison while he was in Esperance. Tony was a fan of the Beatles, and said it was a great thrill to meet George Harrison. Moore’s children, Fiona and Simon, were allowed to stay home from school, and told not to tell anyone about their celebrity guest. Harrison spent his time in Esperance looking around the property, and he especially enjoyed exploring Alexander Bay and the beautiful Esperance coastline. They also had the opportunity to get involved in some physical work on the farm, a novelty for Harrison which he also enjoyed. Tony brought Harrison into Esperance, where they had lunch at the Pier Hotel. He was only recognised by one girl. While in Esperance, Tony also took Harrison to watch a local football game.
Harrison brought his sitar to Esperance, which he played for the Moore family in their lounge room. He also allowed high school student Simon Moore to interview him, which was the only interview he allowed while he was in town. Simon’s interview later aired on radio 747. Simon also submitted the interview with Harrison as his final paper for English at school. “I got 100%, as you would expect for an interview with such a celebrity.” Fiona Moore, Simon’s sister, remembers Harrison as a gentle, softly spoken man who patiently tried to teach her how to play the sitar. Simon recalls what an amazing experience it was listening to Harrison play Beatles melodies on the sitar in their lounge room.
Harrison only stayed a few days in Esperance. Despite the Esperance Express reporting that local celebrity hunters were ‘frantic’ to catch a glimpse of Harrison, he managed to avoid the limelight during his stay. Although he was fascinated by the Esperance area, Harrison did not end up investing in any real estate in the region. In the wake of his visit, many local legends sprang up about what Harrison did while he was here, most of them stretching the truth somewhat.
Harrison continued to have a successful solo career. He co-founded the super-group The Travelling Wilburys in 1988, and collaborated on songs with musicians such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Eric Clapton. Harrison survived a knife attack by a stalker who broke into his house, but died from lung cancer two years later in 2001, at the age of 58.
George Harrison playing the sitar in the Moore’s lounge room.