First look at Jimmy Barnes doco
JIMMY Barnes could hear his parents screaming at each other and see his boyhood self being dragged down the road as he stood transfixed outside the former family home in South Australia.
Barnes was transported across five decades back to his traumatic childhood as he returned to that house in Elizabeth for the Working Class Boy documentary film, which will premiere in Australian cinemas on August 23.
Even after the catharsis of writing his best-selling memoir Working Class Boy, which detailed the family violence, poverty and alcoholism which indelibly scarred the revered rocker's adulthood, he was emotionally overwhelmed returning to his "nightmare".
"When we were standing in the paddock across the road from the house we grew up in and it was like looking at a nightmare," he said.
"I remembered being dragged down the road, our parents fighting over us - you could feel it, taste it again.
"The director Mark Joffe was trying to talk to me and I couldn't hear him … I looked at the street and almost every house I looked at had something about it that made me afraid.
"After writing about it and reliving it for the shows, to go there again made it more intense, more real but in a way, it helped put a bit of closure to it."
The memories were just as intense when Barnes and his family went to Edinburgh and Glasgow to perform his shows and return to the home where he was born on the kitchen floor.
Barnes was struck by the familiarity of the streets where he and his siblings grew up before immigrating to Australia and marvelled at how they survived the poverty-stricken reality of those neighbourhoods in the late 1950s and early '60s.
"Going back made me realise just how harsh and hard it was, my mum being 18 to 21 years old with five kids and living in these conditions with domestic violence, abuse and alcoholism," he said.
After relentless approaches from filmmakers to turn his life into a miniseries similar to the Molly and INXS productions, Barnes agreed to work with director Mark Joffe on a documentary based on his first memoir.
"Everyone wanted to do a TV miniseries like Molly or Olivia Newton-John and I told them it is just not happening," he said.
"I wanted it to be true to the book. We're dealing with sensitive issues, sensitive to me, my family, my siblings, my friends and I didn't want to glamorise it or play down the gravity of the violence of abuse."
While he has been almost relentlessly reliving those memories - and believes there are others yet to surface - since publishing his memoirs and performing the wildly successful Songs and Stories tours, Barnes said he isn't shocked to feel the "pain and hope and lack of hope" all over again when making the Working Class Boy documentary.
Yet he does he remain shocked that he survived the decades of self-harm in an attempt to escape the horrific memories of his childhood.
"It shocks me I managed to live through it. If it all hadn't come out in the book, at some point it would have all washed over me and dragged me down.
"It probably would have a long time ago if I hadn't been constantly trying to dodge the past having the distractions of drugs, drink and rock'n'roll.
"I'm surprised none of that didn't kill me sooner."
His return to Scotland may have been in exploration of his family's past but it also offered an opportunity to celebrate the joy of his much-loved extended clan now.
Barnes and his wife Jane used the homecoming to gather cousins, their children and grandchildren for a reunion.
"I didn't want to leave Scotland with a bad taste because of reliving this stuff so we got this big house in Edinburgh and had a clan gathering complete with kilts and pipers.
"It was hugely joyous, lots of singing and food."
The documentary also features his wife, son David Campbell, Cold Chisel bandmates Don Walker and Ian Moss sharing their reflections on his Working Class Boy revelations.
That memoir has sold more than 250,000 copies and was named the Biography of the Year at 2017 ABIA Awards.
Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy was produced with the assistance of Screen Australia and Create NSW. It screens nationally in cinemas from August 23 for a limited release through Universal Pictures.