June 6, 2015
Palmyra, Central Syria
Blood pooled in the pot-holes. When the blood mixed with the dust on the footpath it formed a brown dough. Right at someone’s front door was a chunky splat of red blood issuing carmine rivulets that ran in the gutters. It simply looked like someone had been beheaded right on that spot. Flies ate the blood and fucked in it. It was just everywhere, the blood. Down every street to the left and the right, ahead and behind. There was a blood splat glistening in front of most houses; in every street, there were dozens. Every hole in the footpath ranneth over with blood. Every storm-drain thirstily gobbled up the blood. Blood scribbled a sticky, scarlet script in the cracks of the uneven footpath, indecipherable. My footfalls added to the bloody smudge of red footprints, though I tried hard not to walk through it.
When the sounds of gunfire rattled off the stone mosque, my arsehole cinched even tighter and my legs stiffened. When I had the courage to raise my eyes from the street, I spotted bloody handprints on the front doors of the houses.
Are you fuckin’ serious?
Why didn’t I just go to Tuscany for my holiday like Mum had suggested.
That bus driver had calmly dropped me off in the middle of a coup ! I was totally lost, and clearly, I had to get off these streets.
Thing is, outside of my own prison of blind and clamped terror, there was a festive atmosphere in the streets. Up the end of one street an old man operated a pedal-operated ferris wheel surrounded by multi-coloured lightbulbs, while a delighted crowd gathered. I could see an old convertible full of gleeful teenagers, driver’s hand heavy on the horn. I steeled myself to be gunned down or beheaded. I didn’t run because I didn’t want to seem like a pussy. And I knew in my gut, that if I ran, they’d see me running and gun me down by instinct. But mainly I didn’t want to seem like a pussy.
They drove past, whooping and cheering, with sparklers and cheap fireworks, and bang-snaps that exploded like gunfire when they dashed them to the ground. They cheered to me as they passed. I have no idea what expression greeted them from my own face. I was wincing I think. One of my eyes was squeezed shut. The clothes stores were full of women in full scalp-to-footpath black robes and burqa, holding up pretty garments to one another and giggling; men in barbers shops were surrounded by mirrors, admiring themselves from every angle, heavy on the hair gel as only an Arab can be.
Well, they didn’t shoot me, which was a start, but I could only assume that this was the first day of a new regime. I really should read the papers more. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d almost stumbled into a civil war because I wasn’t keeping up with current affairs. In my own defence, the newspapers ARE all in Arabic. I may as well get a chicken to walk in ink and then run around on butcher’s paper, and then try and read that, as I am to try and read a Syrian newspaper.
I found the Bel Hotel. I dumped my burdensome pack onto the concrete. My hands were shaking, my voice dry.
“Eid saeed!” the hotelier welcomed me. He too seemed joyous, due to, or oblivious of, the string of decapitations that had swept through his town. “Careful, careful ! Wipe the blood of the qurban off your feet! At least I hope is the qurban! Eh? Eh? Hohohoho.”
“The qurban? What is all that blood out there?”
“Haha ! It is Eid al-Fitr. Our holiday! It is like your Christmas! We celebrate by killing the sheeps – the qurban. Relax! Palmyra is very safe town.”
This was his mistake. A moment ago, I would have paid any price to stay off the streets. Fear is expensive. But now, with his leverage gone, I succeeded in one of my greatest bargaining success stories. I got him from 20USD a night, down to 3USD a night.
But then of course, that very hotelier, who was all smiles when I arrived, didn’t turn on the heating in my room, or the hot water, and he spent every second that I was in the lobby hassling me to buy carpets and turquoise.
“You have a house?”
“Think how beautiful this carpet would look on the wall.”
“You have a house?”
“Think how beautiful this carpet would look on her wall.”
At dinner I met a cool crew of Palmyra locals. One guy’s sole objective seemed to be fucking tourists: “What do Japanese girls say? Itai. When you are fucking them. Itai ! Itai! Haha.”
Mahran, on the other hand, was a beautiful muslim man, and he explained what Eid al-Fitr was all about.
There’s a story in the Bible where God told Abraham to go and kill his son, and then at the last minute he said, “Just kidding, here kill this sheep instead.” Well the qurban, the sacrifice of the sheep, is homage to that. Once the sheep is dead, they take a third of the meat and eat it, give a third to their family, and then give a third to the poor. The central theme to Eid al-Fitr is charity and generosity.
Mahran explained, “Those puddles of blood in front of people’s houses show the sacrifice of the sheep, it shows that the family are generous Muslims. Some people even put handprints of blood on their front doors to show their generosity, but I think this is too proud.
“I really wish that I was poor,” Mahran exclaimed.
“Er…what?” I was confused.
“ It is much easier to be a good Muslim if you are poor. I’ve never done qurban – we should get a sheep tomorrow and do it.”
“Really ! There are some very poor people in Palmyra. Some people never get to eat meat. Some people never even get to smell meat. Some people dream about meat.”
Well this got me thinking. This actually sounded pretty fun. And I’ve always been interested in checking out the halal killing stroke that the butchers do. Surely a sheep can’t be THAT expensive. Maybe I can get some other tourists to chip in. It is for charity after all.
Next morning I headed downstairs into the Bel Hotel lobby.
“You have a girlfriend?”
“Think how she would look wearing this jewellery.”
Mahran was out front, and dropped me at the ruins, the greatest set of ancient ruins I’ve ever seen. There is a temple to Baal (or Bel) here, who is an early God of rain and storms, very important out here in the desert.
Baal’s father was the King of the Gods – El. Our own God – the Christian, Jewish and Muslim God -got his name from El. We can see evidence of this in names – Michael (who is like God?) , Israel (contends with God), Raphael (God has healed.)
This ruin is a truly ancient place where people worshipped not only prehistoric Gods – but the ancestors of our own God. I find that shit fascinating. The stones here have seen the rise and fall of many an empire, uncaring.
Any tourist-trap in the Middle East has its camel-riders. One of them was on me like a fly on an infected ingrown toenail: “You want camel ride? I give you good price. Where you from? Australia? Kangaroo!”
After being unsuccessful with his sale, he wanted me to add to his international collection of condoms. He already had a German and a New Zealand one, so I furnished his collection with a French and Turkish one. “My girlfriends will be very happy now.”
Pretty funny, though the ancient stones were the only ones to see, and they were, as usual, uncaring.
I had my mission – get some money together to buy a sheep to butcher for my own hedonistic pleasure, I mean, for charity, yeah, for charity. I spotted an American family on camels, the mother walking behind. You could tell that they were American immediately because they had writing all over their clothes: YALE, COWBOYS, NIKE. I approached the woman, with my sales routine: “I know you are probably sick of people trying to sell you stuff all the time – I know I am. But would you like to put in some money toward this Islamic festival, and we could buy a sheep together and have it slaughtered and give the meat to some poor widows.”
She must have had a secret signal, because her husband raced over, gave my hand a cursory shake, said goodbye, and violently corralled her away.
Fucking tourists, they go for a camel-ride and think they’ve experienced the Middle East. I offer them the cultural opportunity of a lifetime, and they flee in terror.
“It’s for charity!” My cries echoed off the uncaring stones.
I prowled that ruin all day like a ghoul, terrifying all the tourists with my proposition. A German group thought it was funny, but they were leaving that night. By the end of the day I’d raised absolutely nothing, AND I’d had to pay entry fee into the ruins! I was ashamed, but the ancient stones didn’t seem to care.
My shame was doubled-down at dinner that night, as the restaurant was full of the tourists that I’d spent all day haranguing.
They kept well away from me, but I could hear their conversations.
“Oh you just HAVE to check out the textile museum in Damascus. It’s amaaaaaazing.”
“Have you been to Petra yet? You can actually go to the place where Indiana Jones goes to in the Last Crusade!”
“The baba ganoush in Lebanon is to die for!”
Some French dudes studying Arabic in Damascus joined me and Mahran. They were new in town and didn’t yet know I was outcast among the tourist community. They knew about Eid al-Fitr, and the qurban. They gave me 10USD (which didn’t even quite cover the entry to the ruins that day) and didn’t even want to see the slaughter. “It’s a beautiful and generous thing you’re doing,” one of them said.
But it wasn’t beautiful or generous. I just wanted to see the killing stroke, do something out of the ordinary. I truly didn’t give a flying fuck about the poor. I am just some kind of tourist fetishist.
Going to see a waterfall, that’s not good enough – I’ve got to piss off the side of it. Going to a sultan’s tomb’s not good enough – I’ve got to get nude and run around in it. Going to see an old castle, that’s not good enough – I’ve got to have a fuck in one of the dungeons.
Eid al-Fitr is boom-time for the Bedouins. The nomadic families come in from the desert to the stockyards on the edge of town with their flocks.
The Bedouin we were (Mahran was) negotiating with was tall and very handsome. He was the sun’s representative in human form. He was strong, his skin was bronze, with a glowing sheen. Even his teeth were pearly white.
“Bedouins are not a modern people,” Mahran said.
This fellow didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t speak Arabic, and he thought I was either taking the piss out of him, or that I was retarded. I played the retarded angle, because this guy was a monster. He kept bringing sheep to us, and grabbing my hand and thrusting it into the slinky greasiness of the sheep’s fleece, dragging me right into the flock, shoving me at the sheep.
He eventually understood that Mahran could translate for him, and he asked me where I lived. I told him that I’d spent the last year in France. Bashar al-Assad the Syrian president had just been in France, so he asked if I’d met him, and I laughed.
He flared, and his eyes flashed. He was speaking fast. And I couldn’t understand the words, but I got the idea.
Mahran asked me to leave because I was going to get him in trouble, and at the very least we weren’t going to get a good price for the sheep.
We found a sheep, paid, and took it back out front of Mahran’s place. The price for the butcher’s services was the fleece and the gut. I was expecting some kind of prayer to Allah or for him to turn around three times and place his forehead on the ground. But without any fanfare at all, he started sawing into the sheep’s throat, like into a loaf of bread. The pornographic machinery of its gorge opened up, it twitched once, it kicked. It was dead.
He hung the carcass. He placed a steel pipe up the dead sheep’s trouser leg, and blew into it. The corpse inflated, until there was a sheep piñata hanging there. With the skin stretched tight like a balloon’s our butcher was easily able to peel off the fleece. When air started escaping through the dead sheep’s arsehole with a farting sound, he casually stuffed his thumb in there, all the way, without even a break in his work.
The fleece removed, he opened up its stomach, most of the contents of which hit the steel bowl below, though plenty splatted onto the ground. The blood drained onto the footpath for a minute or so, and the deed was done.
Mahran’s family and I stood around the corpse for a photo then took it into the laundry to be chopped up for dinner.
A third of the meat goes to Mahran’s family, a third to his extended family and friends, a third to the poor. Mahran’s mum had bagged up the meat, and we got in the back of Mahran’s ute.
There was a cute girl in the money-changing place, so I wanted us to stop off there. Nothing says I think you’re hot like handing over a fist-sized bag of raw meat with a fly on it to a girl at her place of work.
“That’s just not the spirit of the occasion is it Mahran.”
“No Dave, it’s not.”
Mahran seemed to know where all the widows and the cripples in town lived, and I spent the afternoon on the back of his ute, the wind in my hair, the dust in my eyes and nose, knocking on doors, handing out bags of meat to women with bowed heads, men with club feet or gouged eyes or missing limbs. And man, did they light up when they got their little parcels of meat, but only for a moment. With little fanfare they’d nod their heads, say something, presumably “I submit to Allah,” or some shit like that, and then disappear into their hovels behind their iron doors.
Here I was in Syria, Islam’s heartland, and you know who I felt like? Fucking Santa Claus. Instead of a sleigh I had Mahran’s ute; instead of a bag of toys I had bags of flesh; instead of reindeer I had Mahran, uttering his Islamic wisdom: “You know that any gift of charity given in the name of Allah does not decrease your wealth, because Allah will record it, and he will repay you. And Allah is the greatest of all providers.”
That afternoon, once we’d handed out all the meat, we drove around town, throwing bang-snaps, and just generally feeling amazing. I felt a connectedness to the town of Palymra like I’d been born there. I could look everyone in the eye, and felt that they were my kin. Because I’d spent the day being kind, I could recognize the kindness in the people around me. I could see warmth, a generosity in everyone’s eyes which reflected in my own. I felt tumescent, buoyed.
Back at Mahran’s family’s place we sat around in a circle under the stern gaze of a large photo of Syria’s president. His mum brought out the lamb stew and we devoured it.
This was my last day in Palmyra. As I got back to my hotel, I understood a kind of truth: I might not be from here, but this is my town motherfucker, this is my world.
I entered the lobby, powerful and fulfilled.
“You have a girlfriend?”
“I am sorry, but maybe you can find girlfriend if you give her some of this beautiful jewellery!”
January 5, 2015
I know you’re hiding, wrapped in a banana leaf. I can see your eyes like broken mirrors, and they can’t find our love.
I know where to find your love. Your heart’s engine beats warmth, and dovetailing my body with yours, my warmth blends with yours. My fingers twirl our love in your hair. My love tries to coax a smile with words. My fingers trace our love on your back. The cat’s feet in the hallway pad the familiarity of our love.
A bead of sweat drops from my nose to your lips, and a single pure note rings out, but only for a moment, not even for a moment. I try to find our love in your eyes, our breaths mingle, like our warmth. I search your lips, your tongue. I search your jawline, your throat, the plump softness of your breast, my right thumb brushes past a nipple, my left thumb, a hollow.
Static electricity sparks a moth, and he alights. He can feel our love, and flirts and dances, but in the dark, hidden and unseen. I search with my hands, my lips, between your ribcage, your sternum, your belly, your pelvis bone. I find the mar in your perfection on your right thigh, and it is burning hot. The banana leaf fills with moisture, heat and pressure. Sweat pours down my arms my back. Condensation seeps from the ceiling, it weeps down the walls. The bed is sopping with our love. Our love smells of dank swamp and humidity, like hot tar, like the thrill of an oncoming storm.
Clouds collect and gather, thunder barks our love exhultedly at the night. When the rains come they fill the upturned mouths and cupped hands of the thirsty. A frisson of pleasure washes through a lonely man. Two old enemies dance together in a puddle. The wilted trees shift and upstretch their branches. The rains paint the stories of our love in the rivers and the lakes. The storm-winds write the lessons of our love in the scattered leaves. The rivers engorge and swell. Mighty and ponderous, they drive towards the sea. Immense and thick, hard and powerful, I fill you with the ocean of our love.
We are wrapped together in the mud, in the loam. I have pushed through your womb, forcing apart your eggs, your organs. My hands can stroke the folds of your joys and your memories. We are filled with one another. Your eyes are replete with luminescence. Your cells are bursting with ripeness. Your fruit has blossomed and unfurled. You are perfect. A garden blooms around us, mushrooms and flowers, in all the colours of our love, and when your heart pounds the colours tremble with a blinding intensity.
A chirrup escapes your lips, and the magpies join with it to sing of the sunrise of our love. When the wind soughs through the forest trees, the leaves add their voices to the song. The rumbles of avalanches add their bass-line, and the waves smash their percussion against the reefs. The song leavens the bread and sweetens the apricot, it yearns for and then releases the tide. Breasts swell and fill with the honey of our love, and all the world is nourished by the sound of the sweet choir of our love.
I split the skin of your fruit and peel it back, so that the softest raw flesh is revealed, and I mash my pelvis against your clitoris. I know you like that; your gasps have told me. And I pulp and pound you, with all the strength and size that I have. I try to split you open. We are the sweat, the muck, meat pounding on meat, thrust on thrust, day after day, forever.
But not forever. The people have forgotten about life before our love. They have grown fat, entitled; they grasp for the love of their neighbours, and when they take it, they keep it, but they lose everything else. And when they lose our love they fight, they war. Your tears of frustration sour the water, turn the milk, harden the bread, desiccate the soil, vinegar the wine. The fields crack and dry, the lemons die on the trees, the flies swarm the meat. The people grieve and rage for our lost love. They destroy each other for our lost love. Corpses pile up in great stinking continents. Fires as angry as mountains burn, and the black smoke fills the air and blots the sun. Darkness and cold and stench replace our love.
There is only our banana leaf, and meat grinding on meat. With each thrust I grow stronger, thicker, harder. When you are in ecstasy you speak a language, but I can’t understand the words. I thrust, I listen, I pound, I decipher. There are lands beyond that I can only reach if I can understand the language of your gasps, of that tongue you speak in your rapture. The right thumb brushes a nipple, the left thumb, a hollow. I shut my eyes, I reach out for you. I stop listening, and start to hear. I start to pin understanding to your speech. I know what you want now. Each thrust becomes more precise, more yielding, slower or faster, your language washes over me, the message of your gasps, and I know, and with each thrust, each gasp, I am learning from you, what you want, what you need, each day I am better, each month I am stronger and more resilient, more understanding, each year more fluent. And when I finally understand the language each day becomes a fiercer celebration of you, and of our love. We rise above the soil, lightning courses from your fruit, tears us asunder and binds us, and in a moment of untainted bliss we both issue from a final unspent teardrop a long shivering sigh.
That sigh courses through a mountain-fire, and it roars. Ashes and cinders swirl up into the black sky, and a single seed. The updraft carries that seed above the smoke, until it catches on a single zephyr of our love. The warmth of the sun quickens the seed, and it finds a place in the pile of corpses deep in the endless black smoke night, carrying the sun’s warmth like a baby in swaddling. It buries itself deep, deep in the compost of our love.
In the black burning silence, a flash of green. A shoot pierces the ground, a sapling, drinking the succour of the warmth that seed had nursed. It exhales upwards, clearing a column through the black smoke, which meets a pillar of sunlight streaming from above. Sapling and sunshine are coupled, and they burn away the smoke and illuminate a halo around the sapling. Its wood hardens, the leaves are aflame in green, the branches raise their arms in adoration. The tree reaches out, and those radiant leaves fill the sky. The roots anchor themselves in the bedrock of our love, and somewhere, a song can be heard.
To the right of that great world-tree, the women stand around a steeple, holding hands in a circle. To the left, the men draw water from a deep well. A boy climbs in the branches, higher, higher. A girl with freckles on her nose frolics in its shade and twirls her frock.
And in the morning, every morning, we wake. The light is grey. The fog is cold and sullen. And in the morning, every morning, we forget.
August 19, 2014
Out this far in the red desert, the silence sounds like the opposite of waves crashing on a beach, like dried bones creaking and cracking in a fire. The iron escarpments here were once the largest mountains in the world, but the tectonic movement has long subsided. Now the air oxidises the exposed iron and the wind shears it off, scouring away those once great mountains, leaving stony bluffs, nubs of once great mountain ranges. That red dust that clogs in your window-frames, and gets in your beer, that turns your snot black – that red dust was once the mountain itself.
Skeletons of old army hangars loom through the red dust storms. Aboriginal fellas, like black ghosts, pick their aimless way amidst the carcasses of rusted-out vehicles. A willy-willy, a red wind funnel of spiralling dust and garbage sweeps a channel through the township –it’s like a waterspout, just replace the water with dust, beer cans and plastic bags.
The store huddles at the centre like a bunker. “Tupac”, and dicks-and-balls with spiky pubes and cum squirting out the end are hastily scrawled in black marker pen all over the walls. The store – the place to come for your lumpy milk, mis-shapen ice blocks, sprouting onions, flat batteries, squishey potatoes, and last week’s paper – doesn’t even sell meat pies since the footy team stole the microwave and wrecked it. Yet the stink of meat pies endures.
The people here live and die, unnoticed by history, except as an expense in a bureaucrat’s ledger, entitled collateral damage. Rust gnaws at car wrecks, diabetes devours the people’s eyesight, TV shows and video games and rap music distract the children from their ancient customs. It is forbidden to write the traditions down, so with each elder that dies, with no child to care for the rituals and ceremonies and stories and dances, that knowledge from the profundity of time is lost forever. The people watch, like wraiths, as their culture corrodes, like the very mountains themselves.
The gauntlet of car wrecks and beer cans, 21st century midden heaps surrounding each community is going through that same process. The mountains call to the people, and they, their cars, their culture rusts away, all crumbles here together.
But there is more to Papunya’s story.
If you’re ever dancing on a table in Paris in the Café Oz pub, or eating a burger in the Never Never Land restaurant in Berlin, or a reef ‘n’ beef in the Outback Bar and Grill in Tokyo, you would be sure to see, painted on the walls – above the corrugated iron and behind the surf boards and between the yellow diamond road signs with kangaroos on them – a painting, often of a boomerang or a serpent, often of people dancing, often abstract, made with dots.
This dot-painting carries on its curves the Aboriginal soul, it speaks of those unknowable and unchanging times before history, of that fifty thousand year long moment. Aboriginal people have used art and dance all through time, for lessons and instructions and maps, painted on bodies, and in the sand.
But these world famous dot-paintings are NOT an ancient art form – you’ll not see them on rock paintings at Uluru or Nourlangie or Ubirr Rock. This dot painting was invented in the 70’s.
An art revolution commenced here in Papunya. Geoffrey Bardon, a white fulla art teacher arrived here in 1971, and describes “a community of people in appalling distress, oppressed by a sense of exile from their homelands and committed to remain where they were by direction of the Commonwealth government. Papunya was filled with twilight people, whether they were black or white, and it was a place of emotional loss and waste, with an air of casual cruelty… It was a brutal place, with a feeling of oppressive and dangerous racism in the air.”
Geoff Bardon supplied the acrylic paints, and the men of the region started painting in earnest. They painted their stories, their dreamings, onto walls, corrugated iron, canvas, boards and tiles. They painted a famous mural on the wall of the school, the Honey Ant Dreaming. Up until this point, their stories were painted during ceremonies onto bodies or into sand, and were cleaned off or smoothed over after the ceremony, so that only the initiated could witness it. This was the first time the dreamings were made permanent, for the world to see.
The elders were outraged. They didn’t like their ancient culture, their stories, their totems, their songs, their lessons, their secrets, handed down from parent to child since the bottom of time, suddenly being exposed, recorded and peddled. In a metaphoric act, in 1974 white fullas, had the Honey Ant Dreaming painted over.
But they couldn’t paint over the passion for art that had been kindled in Papunya, and the painting kept coming. The dots became a way to disguise the detail of the painting, the images, the human figures, to appease the secrecy and sanctity of the traditions.
And it wasn’t long before everyone in the world wanted some dot-paintings on their walls. Everyone wanted an insight into the world’s oldest culture. Soon money started flowing into Papunya, followed by white fellas, booze, and crooks.
There’s no amount of art and culture, history and ceremony, that can’t be destroyed by a shitload of money. These days, Papunya is the wreckage of what is left after that money rained down its destruction.
Maybe art is still produced around here, but it sure doesn’t look like it. People just seem to sit here and to wait. For what, I don’t know.
But that dot-painting, that image that people the world over associate with Australia, with Aborigines, it was invented in the 1970′s, right here in Papunya, this sun-scorched lost-soul purgatory.
We pulled out of the servo and headed further west. There was a guy passed out on the side of the road dressed in a Santa Claus costume. It was May.
April 28, 2014
Bluesfest showcases brilliant music, and musical legends. And if they can’t get the legend in the flesh, they’ll get his old band or his brother to come play, like The Wailers without Bob Marley, Frank Zappa’s old band, Frank Zappa’s kid, Roger Hodgson without Supertramp, Robert Plant without Led Zeppelin, Simon without Garfunkel. And we punters herd in our tens of thousands and pack into sweaty tents to see our legends, or at least a sniff of them, for quite possibly the last time.
I saw them wheel BB King out onto the main stage a few years back. His support band slash carers were superb. The man himself was obese, and his breasts were like great whales beached on his overindulged stomach. His support band carried the show, and on the few occasions BB King had a crack at a guitar solo he couldn’t keep it together and the sound guy would have to fade him out. It was a bit like visiting your elderly aunt in hospital and her nipples are plainly evident through her nighty and you can’t stop glancing at them, and she knows that you’re looking at them and you know she knows and you’re pretty sure she likes it.
First stop to the Delta Stage for Suzanna Vega. One thing I’ll say about Suzanne Vega is that she has an awesome name.
At the Jambalaya Stage, the problem wasn’t with Steve Earle, it was with me. Every song in his set was just another three minutes twenty seconds I had to suffer through before he played Copperhead Road. It’s a shame because I think he played some pretty cool songs. Pity I missed the entire set even though I was standing right there. And then when he finally played Copperhead Road it was like, yep, that was Copperhead Road.
When I saw Dr John inch out onto the stage, a bit hunched, in a purple suit with gold trimmings, a skull on his grand piano, and his necklace and cane draped with voodoo charms I thought here is a man like BB King, past his best before date. Did he prove me wrong. He smashed out his creole funk and jazz for over an hour and I never wanted it to end. And damn if he didn’t have the most awesome chick in his band belting out this muted trombone. What a set of lungs on that woman. And I don’t mean lungs as in a euphemism for breasts.
September 30, 2013
We were in El Questro Wilderness Park. A million acres of park in the middle of the Kimberley. We’d been on the road for a week and were so feral I hadn’t worn underpants or changed my clothes for 5 days, and my travelling companions were so feral they hadn’t complained about it. A fella pulled up in his 4wd. It was chunky and when it pulled to a stop the red dust slid off it into a pile in front of the vehicle. It had ‘Big Girl HOOVER’ writ on the front and ‘SWEEPER’ on the side. I have no idea what that meant, but I bet it was tough. The driver had one serious authoritarian beard – not one of those ‘I’ve-never-left-the-confines-of-a-major-city-but-I-own-a-motorised-skateboard’ kind of beard; but a beard that spoke of having fucked every roadhouse waitress from Cooktown to Margaret River. And I mean properly fucked them so that they made sure they were back there on next year’s anniversary in the hope he’d be back. He had wrap-around sunglasses, a tattooed scalp and a work-hard-play-hard beergut.
Me and Keir struck up a conversation with him, swapping stories of outback travel and adventure.
He was talking about his trip along the Canning Stock Route, a dirt track that by all reports was specifically designed to shred all your tyres, rip your car apart and leave you stranded in the desert to die.
He was hardcore, and travelling the country via all the dirt tracks, while we were on the sealed roads. By God we were driving fast along those sealed roads, and I made sure he knew it: “I just set the cruise control on 150 and kick back.” There was no part of this statement that was true.
He raised an eyebrow, “I never go faster than a hundred. You wouldn’t either if you’d ever hit a bull. Those stupid fuckin things literally weigh a fuckin TON, and they’ll jump the fence and charge down your car. You can stop at a hundred k’s. Any faster and you’re fucked. It’s no drama hitting a ‘roo or donkey, but those bulls don’t have much give in ‘em. So I figure I’m not gunna go faster than a hundred, so I might as well take the back roads, just for the adventure, see the countryside.”
Keir chimed in, “Yeah those back roads, haha, those corrugations make you feel like they are unscrewing the screws from your car!”
“Well they are, they fuckin are. Ya gotta make sure you tighten your wheelnuts EVERY DAY ! Those fuckin things unscrew about a halfturn each day from the corrugations…”
“…oh yeah,” I said, “Course we do that…”
“…last week they unscrewed the screws holding the tray on the back of me ute! The tray actually. Fucking. Fell off. The back a me ute. The whole tray just came right off and landed on the road. Shoulda heard the racket ! And my shit went fuckin EVERYWHERE! No cunt was anywhere for miles, so I had to rig up a winch, and haul the thing back up and screw it back on meself.”
I commiserated, “I hear ya mate, one of those corrugations this morning actually made my windscreen wiper turn on ALL BY ITSELF !”
“Yeah it’s been a tough fuckin’ trip. The manifold came unstuck, and my fuckin’ battery split in HALF, a hundred k’s from anywhere ! Right out in the desert.”
Keir didn’t know what a manifold was, “Your battery ! Yeah, that’s like last night when we ordered dinner! You know those vibrating things in pubs that light up when your dinner is ready? Well ours was OUT OF BATTERY, so we didn’t actually know when they’d cooked our dinner, so when we finally got our food it was cold !”
This guy was hanging on our every word, “Anyway fellas, I gotta go.”
I turned to Keir, “We’d better make sure we tighten our wheelnuts tomorrow.”
April 3, 2013
To go along with the Tropicarnage Cup theme, I asked if all the MC’s would bring something colourful or tropical to jazz up the announcers’ booth, the Tropicabana. I arrived on Saturday morning to discover that Denouncer Dude had ripped up all the palm trees in his front yard, set up a frame and made an enormous cabana out of the palm fronds, right in the commentary box. Scarebear works in a sex shop, so she had inflatable flamingos to scatter around. Raspberry Bullet, Hell-on Sundae and Sweet Fanny Adams had a ton of colourful nick-nacks, and Meatbiscuit brought a plastic banana that he’d stolen from a homeless men’s shelter.
The Tropicarnage Cup was, tragically, a dry event, and obviously you can’t commentate a game of derby sober, so we turned to Denouncer Dude and Johnny Smash to sort out the booze. These two are legendary for smuggling piss into events. You’ll regularly see Smash commentating a derby match with a line of crushed and empty beer cans arrayed along the commentators’ table, of a brand not available for sale at the venue. During the recent Great Southern Slam, Denouncer Dude hired a locker, and filled it with ice and beer which kept him, and the rest of us, sorted. Same can’t be said for whosever lockers were UNDER his when the ice melted. So the two of them snuck eskies into the Tropicarnage commentary booth, and brought regular beer and ice shipments hidden in skate bags throughout the weekend. We then camouflaged our XXXX cans with flowery leis, or poured them into plastic coconut cups.
Video Bob set up his live-stream command centre, and spent the next three days sweating and peering into the screens, with a look on his face as though he couldn’t believe that he was actually pulling this off. So we were ready – we had the cabana, we had the grog, we hung the DNN poster over the side of our raised platform, and started yelling into the microphones.
There were twelve teams stretching from Townsville to Lismore, a distance of 1500kms, the same as from Paris to Rome. The team list contained Gold Coast Roller Derby, ranked tenth in the country; Brisbane City Rollers ranked seventh, Northern Brisbane Rollers, ranked third; and the Sun State Roller Girls, ranked second. So I gotta say, not only is the Tropicarnage Cup the biggest regional tournament in the country, it’s also, by far, the toughest.
There’s a nice comp going on in Northern New South Wales at the moment, and that really showed with early victories in the tournament by Byron Bay’s Bay Rollers, and Lismore’s Northern Rivers over Toowoomba and Tweed. Coastal Assassins only had a narrow victory over Gladstone, a brand new league in their first Tropicarnage.
Gold Coast showed they were the new kid in town by pummelling the Potluck team, and then pummelling Townsville, who were the fourth place-getters in last years Tropicarnage.
And as the second day ended, the final four teams started taking shape – Sun State, Northern Brisbane, Brisbane City and Gold Coast.
Day three started with game of bloke’s derby. When I am announcing the men’s derby, I always start off, tongue-in-cheek, with comments like ‘dangle derby’ and ‘tradies in fishnets’ but within minutes of that game I was entranced. There was no slow-derby, no stop-start-derby, just skills, strength, speed, tactics, and massive shoulder blocks.
As we came into the finals we had an upset. Gold Coast claimed victory over the Brisbane City Rollers, coming out of nowhere to claim bronze, and shunting Brisbane City down a place from last year. And the grand final, again between Northern Brisbane and Sun State, was an epic clash, full of fury and passion. Northern Brisbane were up 24 to nil in the first couple of jams, but by the time the clock had run to zero Sun State were in the lead, taking the Cup for the second time. The only Australian team that Sun State has ever lost to is Victoria, but Northern Brisbane got closer in that grand final than they, or anyone else, ever has. A magnificent display of derby.
By the end of that weekend, there was a broken ankle, a cracked skull, a dislocated collar bone, a sprain and a bruised pancreas. And those that weren’t injured were far too exhausted to party afterwards.
I was anyway.
The Tropicarnage Cup. The toughest regional tournament in the country. Don’t miss next year’s.
March 11, 2013
I took her out for a cursory steak dinner. She was a virgin, so she ordered it well done. Usually I won’t pursue a girl who orders her steak well done. These are the kinds of girls who’ll come with you down to the waterhole, but just dangle their feet in. They’ll dance, but only once they’ve taken lessons. They’ll only sing karaoke in a trio. They won’t wear g-strings or shave their bush.
Girls who order their steaks rare are wilder, like hippies, jillaroos and rugby players. They don’t shave their bushes either.
My kind of girl was medium rare. But a man in my situation – that situation being inappropriately erect, with chewed fingernails and what looked like a cum-stain on the front of his only pair of trousers – would take what he could get.
* * * * *
I found out I was an antipodean when I moved to London. An antipodean, whose literal meaning is ‘someone who comes from the diametrically opposite side of the earth.’ Aussies, Kiwis, and South Africans in other words. Antipodeans fill every dank unliveable hole and unwanted job in London. We swarm in nightclubs, stinking and dark. We infest the Tube. Our razor accents slice open the sky at Hammersmith on Boat Race day.
Open a London pub, serve snakebites, add a covers band and some corrugated iron, paint a Rainbow Serpent on the wall with dots, and we are drawn there, like stillness to the eye of a cyclone. And the Redback Tavern seethed with us antipodeans.
I first held her sopping body on the dancefloor of the Redback. She was French, and would go there every Sunday with her friends. They were just so crisp, so new – I’d been trying to nestle one in there for ages. Not necessarily with her, but with any of them. They thought Aussies were cool.
* * * * *
She danced like a virgin too. She was tall and spindly on the dance floor, like those guys at festivals that walk around on stilts. She was gangly and almost insectile. Her bones seemed to pop in and out of their bone-sockets. Her moves involved waving her fingers in front of my eyes, to drag the orbits of my drifting attention back to hers, because that’s what she thought love was. She danced at the limit of my stretch and my strength, relying on me to keep her upright, because that’s what she thought love was.
* * * * *
She even drove like a virgin. She had a car, which was cool. I got to see above ground London in between Tube stops. She placed her foot on the accelerator so gently that the car was permanently about to stall.
I prefer a girl a bit heavier on the accelerator and a bit heavier on the brake. But like I said…
After the steak dinner, in the Jamaican bar, she finally broke to the pressure. And it was on the drive back to hers that she confessed, in the darkness, that she’d never done it before, and asked that I be gentle. I was thinking, ‘I have to be – the condom in my wallet is three years old!!’ My insides thrilled, but the hand that stroked her hair, and twirled it into golden ringlets was steady, gentle.
* * * * *
Her flat was above that pub in Crouch End. On the walls were those black and white photos of the tradies sitting on the Empire State Building girders eating lunch, and the stage-by-stage black and whites of the Eiffel Tower being built. She shared a bed with a friend, who was back in France for the weekend. The lashes of her sagging eyes were long, drooping and unkempt. One day she would learn to capitalise on them with those metallic things that look like medieval torture devices. Someone told me once that a woman should beautify, first, her eyelashes.
I laid her down, and unveiled her long and angular body. I kissed her lips and throat, and behind her ears. Then she took over, I think to assert her independence and culpability. But she didn’t follow the contours of passion – she forced her tongue into my mouth like a lolling invertebrate, leaving saliva soaking into my chin and into that bit under my nose.
Then she started biting – she must have seen it on a movie once. I didn’t really dig it, so I rolled her back over, and re-took the reins. My kisses left glistening footprints down her throat, her breasts, between her breasts, down her clavicle, between her ribcage. Down between the clenched muscles in her belly, my tongue flicked over her outey navel. A string of uninspired and unbeautiful sentences. I grabbed a teethful of her pubes and gave them a yank, then started to probe her unfurling labia with my tongue. It was less swamp and mangrove, and more beach and rockpool. That new car smell.
But we weren’t riding the same train. She couldn’t give herself to me, she was frightened.
My kisses returned up her body, to her throat and her ears, not her mouth, to avoid putting her taste in her mouth. It was time, so I rubbered up.
I was frightened too. I was remembering my first time, when the two of us were virgins, and I couldn’t shove the damn thing in there. And where is that girl now? Child in foster home, running with a circus and whoring herself to pay the expensive rent her drug addiction charges. Much as I’d like to think it is, none of that is my fault, but the shark-fins of those thoughts were starting to circle.
This must be how hard it is for a rich man to ascend to heaven. I couldn’t stop the thoughts. She can’t find her opening – and I’m not sure she even wants me to – she can see, not love in my eyes, but victory, and I am desperately shoving, before she sees sense and changes her mind. Her jaw is clenched. I can feel every muscle in her belly, every cell, every nerve and tendon coiled to repel boarders. And I just can’t hurt her, can’t shove it in there, can’t give her the solid penetration that will open the way for the rest of her life. All the panic, all the thoughts, are starting to have a negative effect on the rigidity of my hard-on, which isn’t making the job any easier. I’ve got it in there a little bit, but her eyes are squeezed shut and teeth are grinding.
What should be beautiful and rhythmic becomes desperate and scrambling; what should be soaking is cinched tight; what should be hard becomes limp, and I slump, defeated.
I rub my cheek against hers, and hold her close, real close so that neither can gain a good perspective from which to view the other’s embarrassment.
* * * * *
When she slept, she lay her prone body on top of mine, even when I told her it annoyed me, because that’s what she thought love was.
In the morning, after caring and paternal kisses and promises to call, I fled the scene of our impotence. What would she do now? Would she be afraid of sex, and shrivel from the world, her hormones dried, into a dusty spinster? Or would she do the opposite, and desperately enter into an orgiastic frenzy, to prove that she was a sexual being, that she hadn’t failed as a woman?
I remembered this guy in Egypt, Rasheed. His head and body were pinched and bald, shiny from horrendous burns. But he was frantic to prove that the burn-scars hadn’t reached his spirit, and he was forever reaching into the fire, stepping across it, handling fiery brands.
On the walk from Crouch End, the hills undulating past, I knew that I had been in the saddle of one of a man’s great undertakings – defloration – but that I had failed. I couldn’t shove it in there. I couldn’t inflict the pain on her, that would open the gates of her future. Was this the role of a man? To inflict pain for the greater good? To cut off the gangrenous leg to save the body? To cut corners to make a profit? To fire the employee to bail out a failing company? To send a squad over the trenches to save the battalion?
I couldn’t shake it. I crossed Blackfriars Bridge into the cavernous belly of the Tate Modern, where I learned that there is a spot where no-one will stand, and that spot is directly beneath a grand piano suspended from the ceiling with chains.
I couldn’t shake it, is this the role of the man? There was an ostrich egg that had been cut into jigsaw pieces.
And if so, what is the role of the woman? Up on the walls were keys and locks, feet and footprints, Escher’s tessellating ducks, coupling, dissembled cars.
Perhaps, perhaps it is to suffer.
June 18, 2011
Lindsay said to me once that she would never visit Australia, as she wouldn’t learn anything while she was here. For a long while, I glumly agreed.
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
Tara, Neutral Junction Station
They still call me Max at Neutral Junction even now. If I’m in polite company I say I named myself after my childhood hero – the protagonist in ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ but really, Max is short for Maximum Penetration.
I couldn’t call myself Dave you see, because a fella called Dave had just died. Tara is a traditional Aboriginal community, so during the mourning period, you can’t use his name. The house where he died had to be deserted and smoked out, all images of him removed. They’re serious about it too. We blotted out Dave’s name with Nikko pen on all our lists, and I changed my name from Dave to Max, after my childhood hero.
We stayed in workers’ quarters, on the station. John, the ringer, was spending a lot of time in the community store because his mother-in-law was visiting: “She keeps cleaning! She’s vacuuming the fuckin’ nails out of the floorboards ! She walks into the laundry, and the washing machine starts backin’ into the corner.”
A black fulla walked in. John wrinkled his nose: “Did you step in something mate?”
The Countryman shyly shook his head, and John sprayed him down with Glen 20. I couldn’t really argue with John though – he smelt of curdled sweat that stings your eyes. They call soap ‘Sunday’ round here apparently.
Tara is a tiny place of ten or twelve houses, on Neutral Junction Station. Maybe fourteen houses. The last white fellas who came to Tara were kidnapping their children. Like a desert storm is heralded by a massive dust cloud, our arrival was heralded by Aboriginal families fleeing into the desert, or up the secret tracks to Utopia – that heat-blasted area to the north. We had to find these people.
Stage One was clockwork. There’s nothing lures a black fulla out of his home like the smell of sausages and onions. We fired up the barbeque. First came the camp dogs, many of them leatherbacks, hairless and slumped. Those people that hadn’t fled to Utopia, mostly men, soon followed. We had our meeting, and signed the agreements with them, while Nelly, cut-snake, stormed around, lashing at the leatherbacks with a cane.
We discussed with John the problem of the mothers having fled into the desert.
“Haha ! It’s simple. They can live out there, hunting, for weeks on end, shooting wallabies and chasin’ goannas up trees in their four wheel drives. But there’s one thing they can’t go without. Beer.”
So that was that, the three of us, we encamped around the Barrow Creek pub, like lions stalking a waterhole.
And when the 12pm bell rang, the ladies appeared like goannas from their holes, and we pounced on them with our laptops and our agreements.
The Erldunda Roadhouse
I opened the car door, and a crushed Victoria Bitter can clattered to the ground. There were some emus behind a fence. An aboriginal kid was hittin’ one with a stick, while the parents sat nearby sharing a tin of bully beef. Who’s to say actually if they were the parents – you never can tell with black fullas. I thought Sam was going to say something to the family, but she didn’t. In the pie-warmer in the back of the roadhouse they had a few limp pies that looked like they’d been bashed and robbed. A bit of steak-and-kidney gravy had squirted free from one, and dried to the outside like a scab.
Honest Dave: “I’ll get one o’ these triceratops pies thanks.”
Samantha Yeates: “What do you mean triceratops pies?”
Dave: “Well they look like they’ve been around since back then.”
Sam: “That’s true.”
Dave: “I’ll get a pterodactyl chicken wing as well.”
Sam: “And I’ll get a dodecahedron pasty.”
Girl-behind-counter: “Well listen, if you don’t like them, you can cross the road to the cow paddock, and help yourself to one of Paddy’s Pies – they’re free.”
Dave: “They’re no doubt fresher – That sounds like a well-practised line – not the first time people have complained about your produce?” I handed over the money.
Girl: “You payin’ for all this yourself?”
Dave: “Sure am – no pie is too good for my sheila. What about beers?”
Girl: “The Ringers Bar’s round the back.”
I walked into the cozy little place. Corrugated iron. Crappy aboriginal dot-paintings festooned the walls along with other vital outback commodities like furry kanagaroos and those koalas that clip on the front of your shirt.
“Sixpack a VB thanks.”
“Sure, there you go.”
Sam: “What ‘dja get VB for ? What about Coopers?”
Dave: “Coopers Gay Ale? If you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
Sam: “Hundred bucks says I would.”
Dave: “Hundred bucks? That would almost cover the price of this sixer. Fuckin’ Territory.”
Sam: “Yeah, well it’s the…”
Dave: “…I know I know, the freight. If I had a dollar for every time a Territorian told me that, I could almost afford this six-pack.”
Sam bought herself Coopers and we headed back to the car. I made some space for my feet among the ankle-deep jingling carpet of brown stubbies and greencans on the car floor. Sam mentioned that I should be throwing the cans out the window as we drove, in case the cops pull us over. It’s the Territorian way.
Sam: “VB is fuckin’ foul. I won’t drink the shit. Well, not until I’ve finished my Coopers anyway.”
Dave: “Such restraint is an inspiration.”
. . . . . .
Magela Creek, Kakadu
I sat down by the river, and shared my Barbeque Shapes with an Aboriginal woman. She smelled pretty strongly, such that it was making me sneeze, and making my eyes itch. So when I say I was sharing my Shapes, once her hand had penetrated the box, I pretty much left her to the rest. Her family was upstream casting nets and handlines, the children were leaping from the ¬‘DANGER – CROCODILES’ sign, into the water.
The woman laughed, “Crocs don’t have good eyes. They can’t see our black skin. But you white fullas shouldn’t go in the water. You glow like lightbulbs. And we have women’s business where we slap on the water’s surface – this annoys the crocs, and they go away.”
I asked her to show me this dubious science of ‘women’s business’ to which they trusted the connectedness of their limbs, but she looked to the ground and fell silent, and her hand, which up to then had been relentlessly shoveling Shapes into her mouth, dropped to her lap. I apologised, and moved the subject, as always, to fishing.
“Black fullas’ lazy,” she said. “Everyone knows that. If you want to know the easiest way, ask a black fulla. When you are fishing it’s not just you and the fish. The insects and birds can help you fish if you ask. All of the world acts on all other parts of the world, all the time. Always be thinking of how it does.”
A sea eagle alighted on a high branch. “To find a fishing spot, watch for the sea eagle. He sits in the top of the tree, watching the water for fish. Sea eagle, he’s a good fisherman. So we look for the him. When we find him, we sit under his tree. Here, we throw in a handline. No sweat. And when you catch a fish, throw the sea eagle a piece of it, thank him, and he will help you next time.
“That plant there, white fellas call it the billygoat plum – when the flowers blossom, the barramundi and turtles are fat, so we fish for them. In the month when the plum is ripe, we stop fishing, and eat the plum instead – easier. In the Dry, when the creeks stop flowing, we crush the bark of the billygoat plum and soak it in the still pools – it poisons the water a bit, and the barra float to the top. Easy.
“Paperbark tree, best tree in Kakadu. See that bulge at the side, it’s full of clean fresh water, drill a hole, take a sip, and plug it back up with bark. The paperbark tree can help us fish too. Go down the river at evening time, just before the mozzies come, you know? Peel off a bit a bark, and wrap it up into a candle. Stick it by the water’s edge, and light it. Go away for a walk for a while, maybe go check the traps. When you get back, the mozzies and insects, they come for the light and smoke – and they fly round like crazy. Sometimes the insects hit the water and die. So then, the little fish come for them and eat them. Then the big fish come, and they eat the smaller fish. And soon the barra will come. Throw in a line, and haul out one a dem big barras. No sweat.”
The Mackenzie Country, New Zealand
The winds off Antarctica scour the Mackenize Country bare. The high country is primal, spindly, mighty and barren. A tremendous silence echoes from the mountains. Massive hydro plants link the lakes – it seems that New Zealand has learned to harness power from the country’s very stillness, her peace, her eternity.
Stags, and Himalayan thar rove the mountains. American trophy hunters prize them – the stags for their antlers, the thar for their magnificent manes. Sensibly, due to the region’s scorching cold, safari season tends to be in the summer.
What the postcards don’t tell the tourists, though, is that in the mildness of summer, the thar have no need of their precious manes, and shed them.
This is where Spinner comes in. Friends say that Spinner earned his nickname from all the bullshit he spins when he is pissed. Spinner insists it comes from his prowess on the cricket pitch. There’s no denying that he’s a great cricketer, but strangely, he’s a pace bowler. When his parents went back home to England he had to quit school, and joined a shearers’ gang. He did this for decades. The problem was: “It’d happen too often: I’d be shearing, and the fuckin’ sheep would kick me in the shin, or in the balls, or across the jaw when I’m on the long blow. And I would hate that cunt of a sheep. And I’d grab it. And I’d hold shut its nose and mouth and try and suffocate it. But while it’s thrashing round in my grip, I’d kind of… realise it’s my job to get that sheep down that chute, shorn. And while it’d probably take me, I dunno, two or three minutes to suffocate it… well, it’d only take me a minute and a half to shear it. So I would.
“I realised I had to give it away. I started to come to hate the sheep. I hated them for being fucking stupid sheep. The smell of them made me hate. One winter I went up into the mountains – started killing thar. I spend every winter up there now. I shoot ‘em, scalp ‘em, and sell the manes to the taxidermist. Then when those tourists come on safari, when they have the heads of their kills mounted on the wall, they attach my manes to their kill. Cos they always come in the summer when the thar don’t have their manes any more, dickheads.”
In the summertime, when he’s back in town, if you want to kill something, or have something killed, you talk to Spinner. Need to have a lamb slaughtered? Possums in the roof? Neighbour’s dog keeping you up at night? Speak to Spinner.
Well, me and Dad wanted to kill some trout. So we spoke to Spinner. Spinner took us up, high up, through the farms, into that desolate Mackenzie Basin – every stream, every valley, every paddock, held a memory for Spinner of something that he’d killed.
We were bobbing in the tinnie in Lake Benmore, lines cast, the slap of the water the only sound. As always while fishing, the conversation went from espousing the beauty of a sunset, or birdsong, or a river’s bend, to catching fish, to shooting pigs. But I just couldn’t relax – he was wearing the tiniest pair of denim shorts – there seemed the constant danger that one of his testicles was going to sproing out the side, every time he shifted in his seat. I was beset by a teetering worry, like when your kids are playing by the highway, or when you are drunk around your great aunt Madge, and you know at any moment a swear word is going to fall, unsolicited, from your lips.
He was elaborating a story (which was further impressing on me that I want to be on his side when the revolution comes) when a black shag alighted on a branch to clean her feathers. Spinner snatched into a new tale:
“We were fishing for brown trout this day. Nothing. We weren’t getting a bite, nothing. All fuckin’ day we sat there. The sun was setting and we were getting hungry, and it was pissing us off. But those black shags were all around us all day dive-dombing the water and pulling up trout. Those black shags would eat their own weight in trout every day, and they didn’t even have to pay for fishing licenses.
“So, bein’ a bit cheeky, I picked off one a the shags with me rifle. Then me mate did. It was fun, and I reckon we killed about 20 or 25 or something that night. Thing is, after we stopped and that crack of rifle fire stopped echoing off the mountains, we heard this insane squawking coming from everywhere. Yeah we soon realised it was coming from the shags’ nests. It was their babies, their chicks poor buggers. There was nothing for it – they were orphans now, wouldn’t survive, so we took to the nests with shotguns until all the squawking stopped.”
He sat back, one wrinkly bullock about to erupt from his shorts like a spudgun: “Next day but, when we went out in the tinnies, let me tell you, no sweat, we caught some fucking trout.”
. . . . .
Gunbalanya, Arnhem Land
The pilot’s descent toward the airstrip seemed far too vigorous for my comfort. When he saw my concerned gulp, he pointed down, shouted above the engine noise, “Brumbies. Here yesterday too. Hiding from the fires.”
Wild horses littered the runway. The airstrip fence was only on three sides. When Gunbalanya Council applied for the government grant for the fence, they miscalculated the length required, so it doesn’t completely surround the airstrip. Our pilot buzzed the runway, the brumbies scattered, he banked.
Across Arnhem Land, a half-dozen craters of fire unfurled stalks of smoke that mushroomed across the sky. The whistling kites, known as firebirds, swarmed these great towers in a bustling explosion of dive-bombing, as they hunt for small marsupials and reptiles and insects escaping the flame. When the fire gets hot enough that the prey are dying rather than escaping it, the whistling kites collect flaming twigs and drop them elsewhere to start their own smaller fires. I shit you not.
That’s the Territory right there, death coming at you from all angles. Sitting on your back porch in the dry season, there’s six enormous fires stalking the eucalypt forest out there in the darkness. Your house and fence are made out of kindling and match-heads, and you’re wondering if one of those conflagrations is gonna come your way, wondering if this is going to be the last night of your life. And it’s just you and your brother-in-law and the hose, shovel, shotgun and esky.
The hose puts out spot fires from the raining embers.
The esky keeps the beer cold. Der.
The shovel takes out the snakes that are fleeing the fire and onto your property.
And the shotgun takes out those fucking whistling kites that keep dropping flaming fucking twigs into the yard !
The pilot landed the plane hard enough that it put my back out.
The top end of the Northern Territory has, of course, three seasons.
The Build-up – you virtually need gills to breathe during this time. Clouds, like great continents, march toward you over the Arafura Sea, formed from the moisture the sun is sucking from your very cells. Any attempt at perfume or deodorant is futile as torrents of sweat just flush it away. A piece of A4 paper will go limp like cloth. Sometimes you’ll do a toilet stop for no other reason except to wipe.
The Wet – those clouds finally break, and the lowlands flood. Hills become islands, and most places are cut off except by plane. Accompanying the rising floodwaters are the crocodiles, who rule the Top End during the Wet.
The Dry – what was underwater during the Wet, burns during the dry. This time of year there are mountains of smoke on the horizons. On the highway you’ll drive past a bushfire whose heat you can feel through the walls of the car. Fire is a season in the Top End. The Dry and the Wet may as well be called the Fire and the Flood.
Spinifex grass secretes a flammable gum. The Central Australian desert is rife with the stuff. Any spark, and that spinifex whips it into a frenzy of flame, and lashes it across the desert like gossip across a beauty salon. The fire acts as an agent of destruction, by razing the scrub and small trees to ash, but also as a medium for rebirth. The hot wind and smoke carry with them a freight of spinifex seeds, that plant themselves in that ash.
Black fullas understood fire. As the boys become men, as part of their men’s business, first trick they learn is to make a fire from rubbing sticks together. Only a man may start a fire, only a woman may transport it. The women store the coals in hollowed out roots, like didgeridoos, where they smolder slowly when moving between camps.
They have always burned off land to prevent a dangerous build up of tinder, and that’s still the policy today – those fires you see out your car window were mostly started on purpose.
The Aborigines would also use the same trick as the whistling kites, and start a fire to flush out the kangaroos, which they’d ambush with boomerangs and spears.
That night in the beer garden of the Gunbalanya Sports and Social Club, one of Australia’s great pubs, my back still twinged. Keith Urban on the telly, I was speaking with the Council about the agreements. The Club was girt by orchards of flame. The speargrass was brown, and the fire was roaring its crackling and pitiless applause. No-one else in the pub, the local fellas, the road crew guys, seemed concerned, so I drowned my apprehension with beer. In fact it seemed to them no more worthy of interest than the sound of traffic, or a distant car alarm. But while my right hand was on my beer, my left was in my pocket on my car keys, key to the driver’s side door at the ready.
By the meatworks, a pandanus palm was shriveling to an arthritic claw as the fire guttled it. The setting sun glared red onto the heat and dry haze and smoke and dragonflies and hayfever.
As night arrived, so did the mozzies and the cane toads. While the white fellas sprayed on insect repellant everyone at the table put their hands over their beers, as subconscious and practised a motion as scratching your stubble or biting a hangnail. The floodlights came on so the people gathered around them, not for the light so much, but for the entertainment. The lights quickly attracted thousands of insects which would cyclone around the illumination in a great whirling funnel off into the darkness. As they spiraled spastically some would strike the lights themselves and their fried remains drop to the grass below, food for one of the dozen cane toads sitting in wait – it would flick out its tongue and reverse-vomit the insect.
But the cane toads’ free buffet was not without its cost. Although one of the kids had a cricket bat, the others were just using planks of wood to smash and kill the toads. This would remind me every time of that golf club I have back at my apartment – I never use it, I should give it to one of these kids to use.
At 7pm the curfew siren blew, so those kids, and the violent drunks (identifiable by their brawl-scarred faces) filed out with slung shoulders.
Out there, the scene was hellish, the fire cast menacing spears of shadow through the night.
I said to Isaac, I said, “What’s with all the fire? Are people hunting?”
“Nah,” said Isaac. “I think someone dropped a cigarette.”
Darwin, Northern Territory capital
The most powerful truths (and thus, the most dangerous) are those that, once revealed, seem self-evident.
In the late eighteen hundreds, Darwin’s theory of evolution was inflaming the imaginations of white men. Religion was dead, but no longer needed. Galileo had given religion the first bullet by showing that we weren’t cupped in the Lord’s palm with Heaven above and Hell below; but were rather a speck spiraling and wobbling out of control in an endless and unknowable void. Charles Darwin gave religion the coup de grace by teaching that we come, not from Eden, but from monkeys.
So, on encountering the Aboriginal people, the Europeans, their thoughts enslaved by Darwin’s newfound science, figured it went like this – amoeba to tadpoles to fish to dinosaurs to monkeys to gorillas to black fullas to white fullas. At best, Europeans considered Aboriginal people primitive, degraded and abject – a situation from which to be rescued. At worst, they considered them proto-human, or the ‘missing link’.
The scientists’ understanding of the truth of evolution was malformed and foetal, and they wielded it dangerously. In fact humans are not evolved from monkeys. Monkeys and humans, blacks and whites alike, are evolved from the same ancient creature, one that no longer exists. Never, through the momentum of evolution, was man ever a monkey.
Meanwhile, Darwinism itself was evolving. Rulers, throughout time, had used religion as a goad to send people off to war – Pope Urban promised eternal life to the Crusaders who fell against the Muslims. The Conquistadors, the Inquisition both used religion as an excuse for their acts. Islam flew from the Arabian Peninsula across the world on wings of war and violence.
Since no-one believed in God any more the kings and queens needed a new doctrine to coerce their subjects to kill.
Social Darwinism became the newest creed to justify violence and colonialism. Social Darwinism says that human beings are part of nature, and the exigencies of nature’s laws govern our behavior. Struggle and competition are inevitable and are, in fact, vital for our progress. Conflict is irrepressible, inexorable. It’s not war, not racism, it’s survival-of-the-fittest.
So sharpen your bayonets boys, and stoke your muskets. If they can’t stand up for themselves, it is our civilisation’s right, our duty, to wipe them out, to purge the weaker part to preserve the strength of our species as a whole.
The Aboriginal people of Australia didn’t hold up well against these ideologies, and were slaughtered. To be honest though, ideologies shmideologies – these were just so that the soldier would sleep better at night – the truth is the blacks were on territory the British wanted. All the Aborigines who lived on land considered valuable or fertile were butchered. The high-water mark of blood is Far North Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory, whose landscapes of swamp and flood and desert and crocodile and heat and fire and snake are so vast, rugged and unrewarding, that by the time Europeans had secured dominion over it, conscience had overtaken our bayonets, and those black fullas who lived here were able, to a degree, to hang on.
Darwin is the name of the Northern Territory’s capital, which shows the reverence which those early colonialists felt toward the man. These days, if you google ‘Darwin’ and ‘Aboriginal’ to discover the consequences of his discoveries on their people, you get links to a heap of backpacker tours to Aboriginal sites heading out of the capital, and stores that sell boomerang key-chains and stubbie coolers emblazoned with dot paintings.
. . . . .
Cahills Crossing, East Alligator River
The East Alligator River is tidal, so the currents and water levels are ever-changing and treacherous. We were taught, before fording a river in your vehicle, to first cross it on foot to test the depth. Well, the East Alligator River is called that for a reason – and I ain’t risking getting torn apart by crocodiles for my twenty-five bucks an hour plus travel allowance. So in reality, in the Top End, how one negotiates a river crossing is to wait for someone else to drive across it first.
And while you wait, you fish. The East Alligator defines the border of Arnhem Land, Aboriginal land. So the western bank is crowded with white guys, the eastern with a few black families (known as bininj in this region), while the sea eagles appraise the scene from the treetops. It’s not enough just to hook a barramundi – once you’ve landed it, you gotta fight the sea eagles for the damn thing.
It was only last week that I’d seen two crocodiles having a fight out in that river, just a few metres out. And today, there are tourists waist deep, confident in their fisherman’s waders; and Aboriginal kids down in the shallows casting nets and handlines. Wouldn’t catch me down there – I’m standing so far back from the river’s edge, that half of my casts don’t even reach the water.
It was only a few minutes before an Aboriginal family drove across the river in their rusty and bouncing Falcon. We all piled into our 90 thousand dollar Landcruiser, and followed in their wake, into Arnhem Land.
Like all good Aussie signs, the Welcome to Arnhem Land sign has been taken to with a shotgun.
Until I came here, I didn’t even know Arnhem Land was a real place. I just thought it was that fairy-tale land where kangaroos got their tails, where the crows got their black feathers, and where Tiddalik the frog vomited up all the rivers and the billabongs.
The Australian government has returned the whole enormous slab of Arnhem Land to the Aboriginal people, the traditional owners. I always thought this a wonderful thing – that this country, this Arnhem Land, would forever be kept in its pristine state, preserved by its hereditary custodians. Thing is, in the end, the black fullas do what you and I would do with a heap of resource-rich land – they lease it out to the mining companies, squabble over the royalties, and spend their share on beer.
Our mission this time was to hit the outstations, impossibly remote communities of a half-dozen or so families. Thing is though, we didn’t account for the secret men’s business – the gunapipi – that had just started. Just our luck, it was the first in a decade or more. Men’s business is a ritual coming-of-age, where the men take the boys off across the countryside, teach them where to hunt, how to hunt, how to make weapons, how to make fire. They teach them the songs, the stories, the dances. Gunapipi is some kind of sea monster earth-goddess, who swallows the boys, and when she regurgitates them, or the sea eagle slits open her belly, the boys emerge as men.
The thing about secret men’s business is, it’s secret. No one who ain’t involved is allowed to see it. If someone sees men’s business, they get payback. And whatever the crime, there is only one punishment in the Aboriginal culture – to stand there while everyone chucks spears at you.
Only one dusty road crosses this part of Arnhem Land, like a rusty and mostly healed catscratch across the desolation. With secret men’s business on, that road got closed just in case (God forbid) we should catch a glimpse of the men performing their ceremonies.
So that was it for us, with that road being closed, we’d just kick back in Gunbalanya, do some fishing, or hang with road crew, and still get paid our twenty-five bucks an hour plus travel allowance. I am most certainly the motherfucker for that job.
Balanda Road, Gunbalanya, Arnhem Land
I sat in Steve and Charlie’s yard on Balanda Road – White Fella Road – drinking a boot-legged can of VB, gaping at the view. Part of the sell to get a white fella to work in Gunbalanya is this view. The whistle of the kite and the twist of the pandanus palms frame the reflection of the sacred escarpment Injalak in the sweeping billabong. The heat is your constant companion – it softens your bones and roars in your ears and smothers your motivation, and the first sip of a cold beer runs like silver across your tongue.
Steve’s beard and gut were truly prodigious, so you knew he was someone important. He worked out at the Ranger Uranium mine. “Yeah,” he confided, “I’m head chef out there. Worst job in the place – you know, soon as a bloke isn’t content with his lot, what does he start whingeing about? The food.”
His missus, Charlie, pulled up in an ambulance: “The bininj have blocked off the road with their men’s business, so I couldn’t get back til now. I mean, I’m a doctor ! They won’t even let us through ! They’re makin’ us fly everywhere. Insane the shit we let ‘em get away with.”
“And for what?” Steve commiserated. “You know what those gunapipis, those ceremonies, are about don’t you? They’re out there in the bush, wearing loincloths fuckin’ ritual scarring and circumcising each other with oyster shells. I kid you fuckin’ not,” he turns to me. “Just be glad we’re in the Top End near the estuaries – in the Central Desert there aren’t no oysters. They’re mutilating each other’s genitalia with sharpened flint, or bone shards or some shit like that. “
Charlie was getting her boots off, tripping over herself in her eagerness to get at a can of that ice cold contraband, “Well, I mean the clinic offered to help them out with it, but they wouldn’t have it. Which I’m not unhappy about – I’ve never had to do a circumcision. The parents don’t get it done any more. I mean white parents don’t – Aboriginal families are still doing it – and not when they’re babies either – those kids out there right now are, like, thirteen or something.”
“Fuck, darl, sorry, I always forget, I shoulda gone grab you one when I heard the car,” but Steve’s chair sat low, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Charlie, with a grunt, got the last bit of boot off, “But while you’re in there, can you grab me and Max one? I digress. White kids nowadays, if you tell them that when we were young the doctor used to cut the ends of all our penises off, the kids wouldn’t believe us. At school when we used to play sport, we’d divide the teams up into whether you were circumcised or not – skins or helmets. Hey, it was boarding school, so everyone knew. And the numbers were pretty much fifty fifty. These days there’d be no helmets team at all!”
Charlie arrived, brandishing fresh beers, “So was either group ever embarrassed? Like, were you ashamed of being a skin or a helmet if there were girls around or something?”
“Well, you were only ever as good as your last game.”
Charlie had brought out two beers for herself. Cracked one, guzzled it, then took out the insect repellant. Mine and Steve’s hands screened the mouths of our beercans while she sprayed the toxin over her skin. She cracked the second, sat down, “Steve is quick to slag off at the bininj traditions – circumcision, scarification, moiety, the stories, the dances.”
I piped up, “I always thought that circumcision was just some weird Jewish tradition, but here, as far from Jerusalem as you can be and the black fellas, the bininj (I said awkwardly), are doing it as well. And I mean they do it as far away as Africa – fuck in Africa they even take the scalpel to the women don’t they? What is it with the entire human race hacking at each other’s privates?”
Charlie wiped her mouth with her sleeve, “They say that back in the day, circumcision was useful to prevent infection. These days, as long as you give your old fella a wash in the shower each morning, it’s not really necessary. Although I still think un-circumcised ones look a bit stupid – they remind me of Beaker off the Muppets. But you gotta remember that Aboriginal people never had science. Before a people develop science, they rely on their routines, their traditions, for their survival. In ancient times, customs and religions became successful if they preached good habits, good hygiene. Judaism taught monogamy and dietary laws. Islam taught ritual hand-washing. Hinduism preached purity of the body, mind and spirit. Hinduism even teaches not to share a cup, and to use different utensils to prepare different types of food, though they didn’t even know about germs back then.
“So when a bout of syphilis struck town, the monogamous Jews weren’t affected. When some intestinal worm from the pork was killing everyone, again, the Jews were sweet. Cholera swept through Arabia, but the Muslims who washed their hands each day, lived through. Salmonella was making everyone sick in India, but the Hindus, who chopped the veges over here and the chicken over there, were less susceptible.
“And as those civilisations endured and bred, their culture and those life-saving traditions passed down through the generations, and began to dominate. The positive customs were rewarded by their survival. The people didn’t understand science, they didn’t know about infection or bacteria, they felt that their rituals pleased God, who allowed them to survive. For every religion that has survived, who knows how many have been weeded out. For every mob of Aborigines out there, a hundred have died out, a thousand maybe, through starvation, or thirst, or wild animal attacks or inbreeding or war, flooding, fire. For every religion that taught you to wash your hands, a thousand that taught harmful or pointless practices, like, I don’t know, human sacrifice or medicinal bloodletting, have been weeded out. This Aboriginal mob we’re looking at now, their customs of diet, travelling, hunting, moiety, age of consent, their punitive measures, their taboos, their health, their hunting and foraging sites are truly sacred, more sacred than anything we Eurpoeans can understand. They have helped them to survive the generations in some of the fiercest environments in Australia. But ask them why, and they won’t have an answer that we white fellas will understand.”
A weighty wetness slapped on the corrugated iron roof. As one unit, Charlie and Steve heaved themselves to their feet. Charlie fired up the barbeque, Steve grabbed the umbrella and the ladder. When I returned from the kitchen with beers and alfoil, Steve was up on the ladder fending off an eagle with his umbrella, fighting over some prize on the roof.
A sea eagle had snatched a fish from the billabong, but it’d proved too big for him midflight, so he’d dropped the thing on the roof. Steve climbed down, triumphant, carrying a fat barramundi, which got unceremoniously wrapped in alfoil and dropped on the barbeque. “Welcome to Balanda Road.”
While we waited for the barramundi that was wriggling on the barbeque to cook, Charlie continued on the topic, “When you ask a white guy, a balanda, why do you cook fish before you eat it, or boil river water before you drink it, he’ll tell you that’s it’s to kill harmful bacteria or parasites.
“Ask an Aboriginal woman why she does it – and keep in mind that a bininj wouldn’t ask why – she’ll say it’s either because if I don’t they’ll chuck spears at me, or because it’s what the ancestors have taught us in their stories and songs. Or, because it’s what my mother and grandmother and all my ancestors did, and they survived. And this third answer is the most important of all. Balanda proof, our reasons, exist in science. Bininj proof exists in the fact that hundreds of other tribes have died out, but ours has survived. The reasons aren’t important. If we continue in this manner, we too will survive. Evidence is the white fullas’ teacher. The past is the black fullas’. Innovation is not only pointless to them, but dangerous.”
After a few days, the council gave us permission to use the road to Gumarrirnbang. The outstation was built by the state government, so it looks vaguely like a primary school, except all kicked in and smashed and scorched and covered in poorly-spelled graffiti. The people loll around in the heat. The camp dogs swish their bodies and dig craters in the dust to keep cool.
The word ‘aborigine’ comes from the latin ab origine, ‘from the beginnings’ or ‘from the source’ – it’s like when the world was formed, when the first piece of slop slithered from the primeval muck, when God chased Adam out of Eden, the Aborigines were already here, checking the crabpots and carving didgeridoos. I found Mrs Maralngurra, my contact and interpreter. She was sitting in her front yard. The women all sat in a circle in their bright floral dresses, chatting, gossiping, picking nits out of each other’s hair. They looked so perfect, so primeval and epochal in their environment. They looked eternal, like the rivers and the trees and the rocks and the stars, so aboriginal.
I sat with them, and chatted for a while, I handled their enquiries, and got them to sign the agreements. One lady wanted to know where the pension money she got every fortnight actually came from. Another wanted to know the dates of birth of her children, so she knew when to get them birthday cake.
Mrs Maralngurra was ancient. Aboriginal people have the lowest life expectancy of any group in the country, and yet some seem to linger forever. To me, this township looked fetid and awful, but Mrs Maralngurra spoke with pride of their football team, and of her boy in school in Darwin, and of the rock band that practises all afternoon, keeping everyone awake.
I said to her, “You know these days you can just get shampoo to kill lice, and it’ll get their eggs too so they won’t come back – you don’t have to sit there picking them out with your hands.” The silence hung with the unspoken phrase, “like fuckin’ monkeys”.
Mrs Maralngurra was rare, in that she would be confrontational, which is one thing that made her useful as a guide. But still, she was uncomfortable. Her hands grasped together, and she looked to her lap, “I watched my boy do school play in Darwin. There was lots of scenery, they made trees and mountains and rocks from cardboard, and at the end of each scene they moved them around. That’s how white fellas think. All of the nature is a stage, and you move it around how you want. Kill this what you don’t want. Farm this what you want more of. We bininj don’t think like this – when we do a play or a dance, one person plays the hero, one the goanna, one plays the tree, one the mountain.”
She moved up close, her breath smelt like guts: “I remember when the first supply plane came from white fellas’ government it was like a miracle for our people. Older people used to say this was Jesus bringing us food and they would say prayers for the planes to come. And the plane came every two weeks. Later, government introduced the dole money, the sit-down money, for us mob. So then a second plane, the mail plane would come and drop us off our dole cheques, and then the supply plane would come the next week, and take our dole cheques and swap it for food. But the people didn’t understand what the dole cheques were, so we’d lose them. And then when the supply plane came, they wouldn’t give us the food because we didn’t have the cheque. So where before there was one plane that kept everyone fed, now there were two planes, only feeding half the people.
“We try and keep stuff pure out here. It’s hard, specially when government keeps handing us free stuff all the time, free money. I seen so many kids in front of their Nintendos, too shy and afraid to come outside any more. I seen utes full of people drive into trees, drunk men destroying their families, and their selves. We’ve sat in these circles under these trees, right here, in this Arnhem Land, picking the lice out of each other’s hair and crushing them between our fingernails, for a thousand generations. We Aboriginal people, who live out here in the outstations, we try to keep our simple lives, and try to remember the lessons taught by our ancestors. We know that one day those supply planes and that sit-down money are going to stop coming. And we have to be ready.
“A thousand generations us mob been here. 60,000 years they reckon. I wonder if you balanda, even with your remote controls and your panadols, even with your lice shampoo and your cash registers, I wonder if you can last in this country even half so long.”
. . . . .
December 14, 2008
I hate photographers, who think it their right to ask you to move out of the way so they can take their oh-so-important photo, and are always asking you to hold the lens but don’t get your fingers on it, and don’t get dust on it, and are always oh, I wish that kid would get out of the way, I wish there was less cloud cover, I wish you hadn’t taken so long getting ready because the light was better half an hour ago.
I hate it when your mate’s kid hates you.
I hate it when you have found a seat on the morning Tokyo commuter train, and are sound asleep, and a loathsome Aussie woman who has been up all night getting her tits out to her workmates in a karaoke booth, vomits on you while you sleep, and you don’t wake up, so you lie there asleep all the way to your station, covered in chuck, and everyone is too polite to wake you.
I hate that there is a tablet for absolutely every single goddam fuckin’ thing.
I hate Europeans, who don’t wait until the water from the tap is hot before they start washing the dishes with it.
I hate it when you have cocaine just at parties, and then end up partying every night just to have cocaine.
I hate it when you decide to only smoke when you drink, and then crack open a beer first thing every morning.
I hate it when you have sex with a girl, not realising at the time that this is the last time you will ever do it.
I hate Australians, who don’t rinse the soap suds off the cleaned dishes.
I hate it when an old bird has her cleavage out, and it’s not that great, but you still can’t stop looking at it.
I hate it when you you’re drunk, and you roll a car, killing the passenger.
I hate it when you get busted by your flatmate’s friend having a flog.
I hate writers who think that that makes it ok for them to behave like pricks.
I hate new mothers who think everyone gives a shit about their kid.
I hate Poms, who wash their dishes in a plastic bucket in the sink.
I hate that every mall, every suburb, every town just looks the same.
I hate it when you’ve quit smoking, and you have a smoke.
I hate newly returned backpackers who think anyone gives a shit about their trip.
I hate it when you are surfing for porn, and then a sheila you’re trying impress sends you an msn, or a Facebook instant message, and it snatches the cursor off the URL line or the Google search field, but you don’t notice, and you end up sending this sheila you’re trying to impress an instant message which says www.chickswithdicks.com or midget porn amputee anal cunt.
I hate that there are still sheilas out there I am trying to impress.
I hate that writing crap like this is not going to help the cause.
I hate cyclists in the Middle East, always poring over their maps, thinking that they are the only ones truly experiencing the Middle East, even though that bikeride that just took them two days of excruciating pain being neutered by the bikeseat, only took me an hour and a half on the bus and cost me three bucks twenty.
I hate pregnant women who think they are the focal point of the universe.
I hate artists and musos, whose stuff you have to pretend to like.
I hate it when you find out that all your flatmates have spent the last six months sniggering about you behind your back for a blob of cum that someone found in the shower and that everyone blames on you, even though everyone in the house is sharing a room except you, and so you would have less recourse to need the public space to masturbate in, and when it was quite feasibly just a blob of shampoo anyway.
I hate that as soon as you buy land you chop down all the trees and put a fence around it.
I hate it when someone’s telling you a joke and you’ve already heard it, but for some reason you pretend you haven’t.
I hate it when you break something that’s not yours.
I hate having blood in my stool.
I hate kiwis in the dole queue.
I hate it when your ex empties the urn full of your son’s ashes out the front window, and then, when you go to beat the fuck out of her, she slams the glass door in your face, and you punch through it and then your ex grabs your arm and forces it down onto a spike of glass, piercing the plump blue vein in that soft spot behind your elbow, causing you to lose 2.8 litres of blood and to die twice, once in the ambulance and once on the operating table.
I hate that the road less travelled doesn’t have any fuckin’ service stations.
I hate it when you buy a sheila a drink and then she won’t go home with you.
I hate cane toads, that hop away after they’ve been driven over by a car.
I hate cabbies who drive like maniacs when they don’t have a fare, and like old women when they do.
I hate that we have to rely on rednecks to grow our food.
I hate it when you’re depressed at work, so you quit, and you go to the doctor, and he says that you have depression, and you get another job, which sucks even more, and then you realise that your earlier job was actually pretty good, and it was just that you had depression which made you think it was shit, and now you have a crappier job, which makes you even more depressed.
I hate it when you go limp in a girl’s mouth.
I hate it when someone doesn’t put the toilet paper roll the right way round.
I hate it when someone pisses on the toilet floor and you walk in it in your socks.
I hate it when the Paris streets are jammed with parked cars, and someone hasn’t quite parked theirs close to the car in front, leaving a space, so all the housewives use that spot to toilet their dogs, and then, being a naive and freshly arrived immigrant, you use that gap between the cars to cross the road and slip up and fall in the enormous pile, and get your denim jacket covered in the shit from thirty terriers, on your way to a dinner-date that you’ve been nervous about all week.
I hate human trafficking and war and and that stuff about the environment.
I hate it when something really awful happens to you, so terrible that you live that moment for the rest of your life.
I hate it when you’re playing pool, and you just can’t ever seem to quite be able to manage to sink a fucking ball.
I hate it when a girl goes round telling everyone you’ve got a small cock, just because you had sex with her and now she hates you.
I hate it when a bloke is really into football, and he goes on and on about it, and even though you tell him you never watch it, it doesn’t register with him, and he keeps going on and on, and you’ve got no idea who these people are he’s talking about.
I hate it when you don’t realise you’re pregnant til you’re, like, six or seven months gone.
I hate when you tell a Jew joke and there’s a Jew in in the room – I think they should always wear those little caps so we know.
I hate it when you have an abortion and then really regret it later.
I hate cliffhangers, and stories that end in a question.
What do you hate?
July 8, 2007
It was at War Camp that I learned something about peace.
The Scouts versus the Venturers. The Venturers were older, stronger; we Scouts, more plentiful.
The setting was a plot of bushland. The hysterics of the kookaburra at dawn, the choir of stars, the occasional wallaby or sugar-glider. But no pleasure in Australia comes without price. Crisp, crackling, with prickles and biting blowflies and mosquitoes and crushing heat that burns your lungs. The dryness of the bush yearns for both healing water and cleansing fire, in equal measures. The bush loves little more than being reduced to grey ash.
The game went for forty-eight hours, and Ace explained the rules, after the flag raising. Ace was a Venturer with some kind of deformity – his face sagged to the left a little and he dragged his leg. Ace was short for Ace-metrical. “The rules,” he boomed, “are thus: each side has a camp about a kilometre-and-a-half from the other. All are armed with waterpistols. If one of us Venturers, say, squirts a Scout, then the Scout is imprisoned in the Venturer camp. The other Scouts can free him by tagging him, if they can avoid being squirted. The team able to imprison the entire other team, wins.”
The Venturers were older, more wily. Immediately after the starting bugle, they claimed the rainwater tank, the stagnant swimming pool, and the goat-tracks down to the creek. Suddenly we Scouts couldn’t resupply water pistol ammunition.
Proudly, we weren’t without our own cockroach cunning. After three hours of my arrival in that place, I was pissing into my waterpistol. After six hours, I didn’t even care if I got some on my hands.
The initial Venturer charge had claimed some of our troops. So we let our opponents know, full-well, that our pistols were full of urine. Even if they shot us first, imprisoning us, we squirted them with our piss out of spite. This knowledge made them very reluctant to break cover, and we easily re-claimed our prisoners of war.
The night passed with the Venturers claiming some more of us stalwart Scouts, due to their hold on the ammo dumps. Eventually they surrendered their claim on the watertank, to stop our dependence on piss-warfare. We’d still use piss, though, when we could, and so would they. They also had access to great quantities of slime from the swimming pool. So you would never know exactly with what you were being squirted – but by then, 18 hours in, you didn’t really care.
My recollection of little Johnny Nugus, after 24 hours at camp, hunkered down, shitting into a plastic bag and missing with some of it, is less one of horror and disgust, and more one of high comedy. I remember it being the colour of English mustard.
We charged a squad of Venturers.
Little Johnny Nugus, wreathed in a crawling halo of flies, stepped out from behind the silver gum. He let fly with the plastic bag. As it tipped, end over end, it broke into fragments and slammed into Ace.
Ace’s grunt, on impact, had a quizzical timbre.
On completion of our mission, we turned, we fled.
I wonder today, whether it was the smell of the shit, or its texture, which conveyed to Ace knowledge of its true substance. However it occurred, this realisation was followed with a bowel-loosening scream. It rang out among silhouettes of tree branches against the sky, and we bolted through the slashing lantana.
And it didn’t stop. He just kept screaming and screaming, until his howls staggered and collapsed over ragged vocal chords into cries, then sobs. What the sobs lacked in volume, they made up for in duration. Occasionally the sobs, emboldened by hatred, would swell again into cracked and wracked screams of rage and vengeance.
Ace’s scream tore apart any sense of fairness. That wail brought on the first true expression of barbarity, of anarchy. The scream was such that the imprisoned Scouts, against all rules of the game, broke rank. They fled the Venturers’ camp without having been tagged.
Little Johnny Nugus was like Cain, having introduced an act into the realm, for which there could be no forgiveness.
So we did what anyone would do. We started shitting in earnest. We shat into any vessel we could, cups and tupperware, plastic bags and purpose-built envelopes folded from porno mags. I remember Damien Bougore laying one out on Corn Flakes box, like a jeweller presenting a Rolex on his counter, to a prospective buyer. Fat Pat slashed the pucker of his sphincter on the torn aluminium half of a Coke can which he was trying to fill with diarhoea. We laid a few nuggets around the campsite, too, as landmines, and as a lure for blowflies. Tom fashioned a woomera, for extra range.
And we entrenched, awaiting the hearkening of Vengeance. We knew it wouldn’t be beneath the Venturers’ dignity to respond to like with like. There would be no mercy, no trust.
And no court in the country would convict them.
Night fell, on fear.
Fear smells, of course, like human shit wrapped up in plastic bags and newspaper. You had to keep your own turd close, not only for protection, but to overpower the scent of your neighbour’s.
Fear feels like a thousand biting and crawling insects, drawn to the cornucopia of excrement. Fear is dark – the fire made one too exposed, none would approach it. It burned out – fear tastes like cold tins of baked beans, and crispy biscuits of two-minute noodles.
Fear grows fat and paranoid on sound. Alert and coiled, our fear was, for the cadences of human voice, or for some rhythm in the constant sound of the bush which may mean footsteps. The ears created illusions for the delight of our fear, which cavorted.
At first the fear swirled in the sloppy recesses of my colon, like a lump in gravy. But the undulations of time acted on it, dulling it, making it sullen and hunched. We became rutted in our bolt-holes, and started to turn our fear into something we could use – hatred. And a lot of the hatred was directed at little Johnny Nugus, the harbinger of this new age.
The protractions of the night acted differently on him. He knew, we all knew, that if it came down to it, we would hand him over. This knowledge acted on his fear, like fire under a pot of water. He became manic, unsettled. He tried to convince us to raid the Venturers, deriding our cowardice. He became more and more alone, striking further and further afield, until he stopped even returning to our camp.
It was in that milky grey and blue hour, just before dawn, that hour claimed by kookaburras, sparrows’ farts and frightened worms, old people and joggers, and home-bound clubbers, that we heard commotion. Our arseholes cinched tight.
Little Johnny Nugus, shouted the password before belting into our camp. We brandished our turds, prepared for the inevitable.
“They ran,” he was victorious. “Soon as they saw me, they turned and ran.”
“What about you Johhny?” I could see that he was still armed with his three turd-bombs.
“I ran too – there were two of them. Let’s go back and get ‘em – they’re gay.”
“We’re not going to get them Johnny.” Nothing, not pride, not the petulant joy of throwing faeces at someone, was worth the risk of getting hit yourself.
And Johnny had just shown us that the Venturers felt no differently. We knew then, that they were afraid, they weren’t going to come. And it was thanks to little Johnny Nugus, our shithouse rat Messiah.
Over time we came back out of our tents and trenches. We even got the fire going again. When I heated up my pea and ham soup, what a joyous time. We always kept our turds close at hand out of instinct, and there were times, during gathering of firewood that we almost came in contact with our enemies, but both sides were careful, and stayed well away. And we all settled into our routines.
It was at War Camp that I learned something about peace.
Not all of this story is true. But the part that you’d hope isn’t – ie, young kids flinging shite at one another – is.
Thanks to Gizmo for the recollection, and the inspiration, such as it was.