Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I AM HERE

It's good to be here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

ON SAFARI IN KENYA

I awake, stretched in a swag on a concrete pad next to a large shed. I decide to get up when the ants finally become too much to bear. I stomp around, brushing them off. Mickey T lays asleep in his swag, head up against the extruded green aluminium sheeting of the shed. It's been a big night. A man suddenly appears around the corner and fills an enamel mug with water from a tap, just above Mickey T's head. The man wears a khaki shirt with "Conservation and Land Management" embroidered just above his left breast pocket. He gazes down thoughtfully at the slumbering figure of Mick, then across at me, then at our car which i parked neatly in the centre of the concrete pad at around three o'clock that morning.

"If you're going to camp illegally overnight at Coral Bay, chaps, try not to do it right next to the Ranger's office." Mickey T awakes and looks up at the Ranger. "Mornin!" Mickey T says brightly. The Ranger smiles, and, with a shake of his head, disappears. It is around eight in the morning. We drive to the main beach, spread a large sheet of canvas out on the sand under an overhanging ledge, and resume our slumber.

Mickey T lived and worked in the surreal resort community of Coral Bay for 18 months, as a deckie on a charter fishing boat. In the resort town of Coral Bay the growl of quad bikes is a familiar sound. As the main mode of transport, quads have a big plastic basket up front for your dog, fishing gear, towel and whatnots. Riders don't wear helmets, simply because there are no police. I like this place already! On Mickey T's prodigal return to Coral Bay he is treated as something of a celebrity. Partly because his photo was recently published on the front page of the local community paper, pulling a ridiculous air on his kiteboard in the Carnarvon fascine, and partly because he is, in fact, a celebrity. We are plied with liquor as we distribute mangos and other less legal horticultural produce amongst the locals.

The "local community paper" has a distribution of thousands of square kilometres. Exmouth, Learmonth, Carnarvon, Monkey Mia, Denham, Shark Bay, Useless Loop, Gascoyne Junction, Murchison and Coral Bay. That's right - Useless Loop. There is, believe it or not, a Useless Loop Primary School. One can only speculate on the self-esteem of its students.

The fishing around Coral Bay is tremendous. Views from the beaches are spectacular. We arrive on the main beach to find a good-looking young topless girl standing pressed up against some dude who alternates between rubbing her bare breasts and her scantily-clad backside. It must be the heat, i'm thinking. It's a different kind of heat up here.

After our exploits at the beach i stagger about the front bar of the pub with my trophy fish, while Mickey T transfixes locals with a demonstration on how to climb from a sitting position atop a barstool, through its legs, and up again to sit on top without once touching the floor or falling over. Which i guess would involve touching the floor. As a piece of bar-room acrobatics, it is pure poetry. Our expedition takes in a jam session with local musos, an absurdly delicious seafood platter, a conversation with a local pioneer of the community (i was here when that pizza oven was installed, she says proudly), swimming, and copious amounts of alcohol. But it is our safari into Kenya that i find the most interesting.

Kenya is the shanty town where Coral Bay workers live. So called because of its Third World ambience, and because its occupants are constantly being asked, "Hey, kenya do this? Kenya do that?" We weave our way through a maze of vines, caravans, shacks, dirt bikes, rusting four-wheel-drives, walls woven from palm fronds, and sun bleached women. Down the aptly-named Butterfly Alley we find the abode of Mickey T's friend Noodles. Noodles is Coral Bay's resident graphic designer and signwriter. We very nearly mistake the slatted wooden doors of the outdoor shower for the front door, which could have been embarrassing, as there was someone showering at the time. We kick back in Noodles' airconditioned lean-to, have a drink (needless to say), and watch a bizarre documentary about an undersea research team whose members swim about inside a mechanical great white shark. Jimi Hendrix and Al Pacino circa Scarface stare down at us from timber veneer walls.

Kenya is an microcosm. Everybody knows everybody else. People know who is having sex with whom and who has uploaded video footage of said act to the web. Megarooting Ave, where Noodles lives, is in the new part of town. Dunrooting Ave is where the oldies live. Both areas are clearly signposted for the benefit of drunken resort tourists.

Friday, January 26, 2007

THROWING MUD AT THE GOLD-DIGGERS

After flooding my second story apartment unit at the Lodge, i decide it is time to move on. Taxis in Carnarvon being what they are (well, take a look for yourself) i find it simpler to throw all my belongings over the fence into Mickey T's backyard, and move in there. Pipes, the laconic diesel fitter, is moving to his new job in Queensland, so Mickey T's granny flat will soon be available. Meanwhile i'm in the sweatbox out the back. Pipes and i get to talking about working in different places, and the Goldfields in particular. The Kalgoorlie goldfields is where Mistress Callista's axe-murdering boyfriend has his prospect. Gold prospectors, we are both agreed, are a suspicious and murderous lot.

I tell Pipes about the time i set out in my green '66 Lite Stout up the back tracks to from Kalgoorlie to Sandstone. Out past Ora Banda, through Carbine Station, Riverina, then way up through that rough bit of quartz country between the salt lakes, Lake Ballard and Lake Barlee.

Around Snake Hill Road i stop to take some photographs. A man bursts out of a shack, pointing a shotgun at my head. What are you doing here, he wants to know. Taking photographs, i say, waving my Nikon. You're after my columns, aren't you, the grizzled, gun wielding lunatic says. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. Doric? Ionic? Roman? Columns, it turns out, are 44-gallon drums of gold ore dissolved in cyanide. A pile of red 44's stands on my right. There's nothing round here to take pictures of, the prospector says, walking slowly toward me, gun still raised. Oh, i don't know, i say. I think the countryside is lovely this time of year. All that red, rusted corrugated iron. And the wildflowers!

He hesitates, lowering his weapon so it absently targets my knees. Do you really think so? he asks. Oh, yes, i say. He lowers the weapon to the ground. Yeah, i think so too, says the man with the shotgun. I think this country is just beautiful. I've got some fabulous photographs inside. Come on, i'll show you.

Yeah, says Pipes. They're all fucking crazy. I turn up to this gold mining camp one time, right, on a job, in a yellow and black truck with "CAT" written all over it. I'm carrying a big fuck-off toolbox with a "CAT" sticker on it and I've got "CAT" emblazoned across my hat and "CAT" written all over my shirt. And this guy comes out at me with a rifle, asking me what the hell i think i'm doing. Uh, did you call Cat for a diesel mechanic? Yeah, this guy says, still pointing the rifle at me.

I nod. Yep, i say. We drink our Cooper's.

Monday, January 22, 2007

THE END IS NIGH

A tropical malaise has obviously overcome Art Director. The opportunity to flee Perth was unexpected, but for him, dare I say, not unwelcome … that degenerate pervert had been waiting for an excuse all along. Seeking refuge somewhere above the 38th parallel may have provided the physical sanctuary that he has so desperately sought but like everything in this life it has come at a cost...and as we can see in his most recent posts, cycling on a 1960's vintage bicycle in 40 degree temperatures and attempting to irrigate his carpets, he is losing his fucking mind!

Safari Bob is partially responsible for this rapid deterioration, trucking him to the edges of civilisation, all the while lulling him into a false sense of security with booze and the dulcet tones of his ukulele. You will be held to account Bob…

For the record, my part in this misadventure has been coincidental and on judgement day I will be absolved of all blame. Art Director asked me to provide a reference, being a friend I complied, albeit against my better judgement. I reproduce that reference here… it may well serve as his obituary.

“Sometimes described as a lone kernel of corn in a pile of human excrement, Mark Roy represents an irrefutable argument in favour of infanticide. Although an immense disappointment to his wholesome God-fearing parents this man’s ruthlessness, combined with an idiot savant like ability with camera & pen marks him out as a journalist to look out for… and avoid if at all possible.

Despite his not inconsiderable retardation, Mark has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be a capable lens man, causing no small amount of professional jealously amongst his peers. His disregard for all the norms of human decency and his disdain for personal hygiene are often misunderstood as the quirks of a brilliant artist. This is of course bullshit.

In closing I have to say that Mark is ideally suited to the position of Knobby Head public lavatory attendant and should I ever have the misfortune to meet him in public, I shall have no hesitation in grabbing a large piece of timber and beating him like a gong!”

Raoul

Never trust a man who does not sweat.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

CYCLING TO JUPITER

I am eating mangos hot off the tree, and huge Shark Bay prawns so fresh they are still pissed off. Safari Bob, true to his word, has delivered me to the Gascoyne delta. Mission accomplished, he has turned his truck around and headed for home. He leaves me resolutely searching the plantations for a place i can call home. On my old single speed Raleigh i pedal the South River Road, looking for a shack. I find two old empty homesteads. Lovely corrugated tin and timber, high vented roofs. One is on Santa Rosa, the other is on Jupiter.

Jupiter is only 10km from Carnarvon. Santa Rosa is about 12. The plantations here have beautiful names. Calypso. Margaritaville. Hacienda. Emerald. Desert Bloom. Poinciana. Clearwater. And, of course, Bumbaks. They all have their own logo on their banana boxes, or mango cases, as the case may be. I reckon the banana boxes are a kind of folk art. Someone needs to do a photoessay on these plantations. And i think that someone is me.

The farmers pump their water up from underneath the river bed. When not in flood, the rivers here flow upside down. Sand on top, water underneath. It's wack. But when the Gascoyne does flows above its sandy riverbed, it tends to move a lot of water. 5,520 cubic metres is a lot of water, isn't it? Particularly when it's going past every second.

Suddenly my second story holiday apartment is completely flooded. I am lying on the couch with the aircon running and the TV on, watching Tais Toi on SBS, that French movie with Gerard Depardieu and Jean Reno. I am figuratively pissing myself laughing, mainly because of the humour, when suddenly my laughter turns to shrieks of horror. I have left the kitchen sink running on the far side of the apartment, with the plug in, and the couch has now become a kind of surf mat. The whole of the kitchen and carpeted loungeroom is under about two inches of Carnarvon scheme water, which, as all the locals know, will rot anything.

The NorthWest is subject to this terrible and random flooding, apparently.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

CRAWLING THROUGH THE TROPICS

I awake, horribly flungover. Which is like hungover, only a bit further over. Safari Bob, pictured here trompe l'oeil style at the Gascoyne Hotel, drags me about on a pub crawl through the windy streets of Carnarvon. We start at the Gassy, carry on to the Troppy, and wind up at the Sandy, somehow bypassing the Carny. At the Gassy the waitress mislays our meals: Safari Bob's reef'n'beef and my seafood chowder fail to arrive, probably because we are only ones eating, or at least hoping to eat, outside. Our choice of seating utterly confuses the staff, who apologise. "You got blown off," says the waitress. A quaint piece of the vernacular that i am still struggling to comprehend. Blown off? Something to do with these unrelenting winds? Perhaps a common fate for deckies out here working the tugs and the trawlers?

Whatever. Upon realising their error, the hotel staff ply us with free scotch and dry. Thus begins an epic tale of beverage consumption that ultimately leads us out to the boondocks, to face the double cranberry vodkas of the Sandhurst Tavern. Which, when mispronounced 'The Sand Hurts!' to the taxi driver, strikes us as overwhelmingly funny.

It is here we meet Belynda. I am struck dumb by her beauty. Did you know "Balinda" means "white woman" in one of the languages of Arnhem land? And she is predominantly Causcasian-looking, but has obviously had a bit of the native in her lineage at one time or another. As she pours me another drink, a smile briefly curls the corners of her perfect mouth, then she shakes her blonde hair with a haughty toss of her head, and departs to the other end of the bar, her slender body springing lightly across the beer-soaked rubber mat. I watch, mesmerised, over the clinking ice of my cranberry vodka. Meanwhile, the bar has grown slowly higher. I turn to face a large orange hibiscus that blooms next to me. "Sheez boowdiful," i mumble to Safari Bob's shirt. The tropical heat, the slowly circling ceiling fans, the alcohol coursing through my veins ... and those jungle drums! It is all conspiring to send me slightly troppo. Like one of the early colonialists of Rangoon, i believe i am going native.

But, as Kipling knew, gardens are not made by singing 'Oh, how beautiful' and sitting in the shade. Enough of the wanton waste and decadence of these bars. To the plantations!

Friday, January 19, 2007

GETTING INK DONE

I get an email from Donny Wooolagoodja and his partner Sahyma about my Wandjina tattoo. (See Cultural Inappropriation, The Nerve, December 11 2006). Donny's Wandjina artwork was featured in the 2000 Sydney Olympics opening ceremony. I thought i had better ask his permission, as one of the Elders and custodians of the Wandjina, before getting ink done.

Donny Woolagoodja was born in 1947 at Kunmunya Mission, in Worora territory. His father Sam Woolagoodja was a Worora man, born in the early 1900s when the wadjelas, or whitefellas, were starting to colonize his homeland. As a child, Sam lived the traditional life, hunting and fishing along the Kimberley coast. Sam followed the laws and customs given to the Worora. With other elders, Sam retouched the sacred Wandjina, who had left their images as paintings at rock shelters in the Kimberleys. The Worora believe if men keep these Wandjina paintings 'fresh', the rains will continue to fall, plants and animals will reproduce, and people's child spirits will remain abundant in whirlpools and waterholes throughout the Kimberley. "In the old days, only very special men could paint the Wandjina, but now we are the only ones left to paint him to keep his spirit alive," says Donny. "It's his last and only chance."

But these days it is not only the "special men" who paint the Wandjina. See Paige Taylor's article Graffiti Wandjinas risky, but in the right spirit (The Australian, January 5 2007) about Wandjina graffiti appearing around my old stomping grounds of Mount Lawley and Highgate.

Donny, the Chairman of the Mowanjum Artists Spirit of the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation, has given me the thumbs-up to get a tattoo of one of his Wandjinas. "Donny has no objection as it's for personal use," the email reads. "Thank you very much for asking permission , that is the proper way to go about it." Which is just as well, because painting the Wandjina without permission can result in severe tribal punishment such as a spearing. Oops-a-daisy. I hope the phantom grafitti artist has some betadine and bandages.

While on the subject, i got another rather interesting piece of correspondence, inciting me to get inked with one of the phantom graffiti artist's urban Wandjinas. A connection with connections offered to put me in touch with this phantom artist.

Decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

AN ART DIRECTOR AND MAYHEM FILM

Don't forget! The Maestro screens January 21 at Banks Reserve, Joel Terrace, Mount Lawley. Meanwhile, Art Director and Mayhem Films are currently seeking investors for two new productions:
  • Taxidermist, a horror-soapumentary starring Prince Leonard, Princess the Leopard, and Mayhem
  • Dash, a documentary on the Gascoyne Dash, a 485km desert race along a dry riverbed. The major sponsor is Strange Drilling. Mayhem and yours truly the Art Director intend compete on a Vincent Black Shadow. Safari Bob will drive us out to the desert in a hired a red convertible, and Fred, my lawyer from the Solomon Islands, will be in charge of logistics.
Go on. Give us your money.

SUITED TO SAFARI

007 arrives in style. The ABC radio announcer counts down to midnight on the radio inside the cab. Safari Bob stops the truck, and we break out the single malt scotch, lying on the still-warm bitumen of the North West Coastal Highway. We estimate we are a couple of clicks south of the mighty Murchison. It's pretty quiet out here. I have seen no headlights, other than our own, for over an hour. And the stars! I gaze upwards in wonder. There must be hundreds of them, i think.

Safari Bob goes easy on the scotch before we climb back on board and cover the few remaining kilometres to the Murchison bridge, our overnight stop by the river. Bob is a changed man since the Donstar castigated him for turning up drunk at her house one time last year. He comes back to Jo19's in Harley Street, his tail between his legs, figuratively speaking. "She told me off for being drunk and irresponsible," he says. Yeah, well, you looked pretty pissed when you left here earlier, i say. He lifts his bleary head. "I was here earlier?"

But all this changes overnight. The DTs pass, and Safari Bob becomes the clean-shaven, immaculately presented, fine upstanding pillar of the community you see before you today in the freshly-pressed polyester suit. I believe it was the ukelele that finally saved him. It was a lifeline. His salvation. The ukelele, and Jesus. Bob just needed to reach out for help, and he finally reached for that red ukelele and the spiritual song book.

Oh Lordy, pick a bale of cotton.

Safari Bob's hands are now so steady, he will sweep all before him at the Shark Bay Pistol Club. Meanwhile, we press on through the stifling, relentless heat. Safari Bob's self-proclaimed mission is to deliver me, my bicycle, and my red suitcase to the Gascoyne River delta.

And it is there, amongst the dusty red floodwaters of the delta, that i will be reborn.

O Lordy, pick a bale a day.

Monday, January 15, 2007

JESUS WALKS INTO A BAR

and throws a handful of nails down onto the counter.
"Can you put me up for the night," he says.

Well, let me tell you, being nailed to a couple of boards is nothin' compared with the struggles and humiliations we suffer in Kalbarri, digging out the bogged truck, surrounded by idiots, in a town literally crawling with drugged and drunken New Year's Eve revellers. Literally crawling. And i don't mean "literally" in the sense in which it is usually deployed, i.e. figuratively. I mean -
"I've got a good feeling about Kalbarri." Safari Bob interrupts my thoughts with a brief parody of our earlier optimism, as we dig out the back wheels of the truck with planks of wood. Yeah, yeah, i say.

The day begins with such promise. Safari Bob's ukelele playing steadily improves. Then he clears up the mystery bugging me since Lake Indoon: how do those big fish get into those freshwater lakes in the middle of nowhere? "Birds," he explains. "Birds fly them in from the sea and drop them. It's what's known in biology as a symbiotic relationship." Who would have thought? We throw together a makeshift lunch overlooking the mouth of the Irwin at Dongara, and it's the best thing since sliced bread. In fact, it's so good, it incorporates sliced bread. We drive up the Nangetty-Walkaway road, right through the centre of the wind farm. Flower power writ large. Very large. You know the tips of those blades travel at 220km/h? Wind farms are much like those fish farms the birds set up, i'm thinking. Fish need birds like the wind needs a clothesline ...

A swim at Ellendale Pool washes away the road grime and sordid filth of Knobby Head. Climbing the cliff face, i ask a man floating on an inner tube, decked out in sunglasses, suncream, and baseball cap, if the water is deep enough for diving. "You find the bottom and you'd be the first," he proclaims. "It's bottomless." Bottomless? "Yep. Goes down forever. They've tried to find the bottom with rope and weights, but they can't." I stand on the warm ledge, struggling to comprehend. Bottomless. This pretty, but otherwise fairly innocuous rock pool east of Geraldton, is actually infinitely deep? My goodness. Break out the Discovery Channel! Just imagine. One could sink an infinite number of Ford Galaxies end-to-end into its chill waters, and still never plumb its mysterious depths. I raise my hands slowly to a point above my head, as if trying to draw out these conceptual difficulties. Its almost ... unfathomable, i think, and leap off the ledge into the infinite.

Red ukeleles. Birds and fish, working together to populate beautiful lakes. Clean, green, limitless energy. Lazy, bottomless rock pools. Endless beer at the Geraldton Hotel, watching pretty girls blow up inflatable toys in the beer garden. Ah, isn't life grand? A supplies run to Utakarra, beer and veal schnitzel, then it's on, on, up past Port Gregory, past the Hutt River Province, a cheery wave to the loyal, wooly subjects of Prince Leonard, a race along the spectacular cliffs to Kalbarri, scooting along ahead of the weather.

Those were the days, i think, as i try reversing the truck out of another fine mess we've gotten ourselves into. Once again the wheels grip momentarily before spinning and digging another hole on the opposite side to the last. We take up our planks to continue our sorrowful labour. Rain appears to be coming up in the increasing gale. We have no accomodation. There are police roadblocks along the foreshore. We are beset by hunger, thirst, blisters, and, God forbid, clothes with dirt on them. "Yep, I got a good feeling about this place," mutters Safari Bob, as he drags a heavy piece of chain into place underneath one of the truck wheels.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION

A malaise, a lack of spititual direction, a certain ennui has crept into Western culture. It is nothing less than an existential crisis. I first realised this when i saw a man wearing a T-shirt that read:
"What if the hokey-pokey really IS what it's all about?"
Alas. We are lost.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

PERVERSE PERSEVERENCE

It's not easy being the Art Director. Let's face it. There are always those who would disagree, challenge my direction - always arguments and breakups over "artistic differences." But Safari Bob is a rock. And Mayhem rocks. So i persevere regardless. Someone has to grab the wheel and steer a path through all this rocky creative madness. I am a great believer in the philosophy of Dogtown skater Bob Biniak. Biniak said, "You draw your line and you stick to it." I read this gem in a skate magazine circa 1978, and it has been with me ever since. Biniak was talking specifically about pool riding, but i believe it has a much deeper meaning and is generally applicable to a far wider ambit than the empty motel pool. My current philosophy?
  • stick to your guns
  • give a wham, give a bam, but don't give a damn
  • draw your line and stick to it
  • use bullets wherever possible
This philosophy has gotten me far in life. I mean, here i am, staring at Knobby Head. The truck is a little worse for wear and Safari Bob and i are still yet to catch our bucket of fish, but, despite suffering Ukelele Exhaustion Syndrome at the salt lakes, we have persevered. We will make it to the Gascoyne River delta, come hell's bells or bongwater.
At Knobby head we find some free unauthorised accomodation. A 1960s fisherman's caravan with 1990s paint. Renovator's delight. Coastal location and breathtaking views, if you are a fan of melaleuca. But neither Safari Bob nor i feel comfortable about sleeping the night in a place called Knobby Head. We suddenly realise Knobby Head is full of seamen. We inch our way carefully out of this remote fishing village, our backs to the wall. Next stop, Kalbarri.
I have a good feeling about Kalbarri.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or Hotel D'Pravity as it is affectionately known, Mayhem has her hands full dealing with a lone ranger. "I got the council ranger trying to catch me because of the New Year's party," Mayhem says. "The Town of Vincent is empowered to impound any unlicensed party animals that leave themselves or other rubbish lying on the verge." The massive outdoor event at D'Pravity, combined with the tendency of her neighbours to drop assorted household wreckage on her verge, have somehow conspired to inspire the ire of the ranger.
But while one hand slaps, the other beckons. While the Town of Vincent is busily chasing Mayhem around North Perth even as we speak, it is also busily putting on a series of Summer Concerts in the Park, featuring Mayhem as the co-star in a movie and a special guest at precisely one of these concerts! You'd think they would put two and two together, and send the man with the net down to the park to catch her but no - bureaucracies will never ever be that smart.
The Maestro, a short film by Melinda Tupling and Mark Roy, premieres at Banks Reserve, Joel Terrace, Mount Lawley. The multimedia spectacular kicks off at 6pm, Sunday January 21. Cool band Huxley will pepper your peperoni before the film project screens, and Australian classic The Dish (obviously named in honour of Mayhem) screens shortly thereafter. As you are no doubt well aware, our short documentary is about a Sicilian mechanic, and i understand Mayhem will be arriving with the full red carpet treatment. Keep a look out for her. "I'll be the chick rocking up in a white cadillac with the mafia and enough champagne to relieve the droughts of Africa," Mayhem says.
So, god damn it, grab a picnic, a flute, and and head on down! What's a movie without a picnic? It's simply Un Australian!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

IN THE WILD WITH THE ART DIRECTOR

OK, so i ain't no oil painting. Photography by Safari Bob.

UKELELE EXHAUSTION SYNDROME

"On on," says Safari Bob as we break camp. We drive four hundred metres, then stop for a break. Bob strums the ukelele while i walk away into the bush to check on the zamias. They look a bit like a palm, but they're not a palm. They're a cycad. The trunk is more like a grass tree. The seed pods hang down underneath the leaves, large and heavy.

C, G, Gminor, C. Bob strums away on his Tiny Tim instrument. I tiptoe through the zamias. The soil is white and sandy. Grass trees, banksias, other strange unknown flora. I read somewhere that some of these peculiar native seeds will need a bushfire to get them to sprout. Very interesting, i think. I piss on a zamia and return to the truck.

"In the Wild with the Art Director," says Safari Bob.

"We should make a TV show," i say. "I could get a leather hat and, like, some Steve Irwin khaki shorts. We could travel all over the countryside, find strange and unusual flora and fauna, and then piss on it."

On on. We barely make it to the salt lakes before the homemade whisky kicks in.

THE Z-FILTERS OF BINDI BINDI

You can't help but warm to a bloke who begins a good proportion of his sentences with, "And when they took me to court over it, I told the judge ..."

John of Bindi Bindi is a man who likes to do things his way. "She's a one-off," he says of his homemade six-wheeled Nissan. "Got everything that opens and shuts. A slide-out double bed, a couple of custom-made fridges with a compartment on top for your food - they unclip like this, there you go - aircons, a kitchen, the boat goes up top, and take a look at this remote control light." He pulls out a lantern, a remote magnetically attached to its top. "Once me and the missus are safely inside the truck, and the bugs outside are still whizzing round the light, you know, we just go click," he thumbs the remote, "and it's goodnight Irene. Ironing board!" John slides out a rusty old ironing board from somewhere within the labyrinthe Nissan. He has obviously picked it up from the tip. Setting it up at the side of the vehicle, he puts the gas cooker on it to make a cup of tea. "Yep, she's got everything." He pats down the pockets of his shorts and looks around. "Either of you blokes got a box of matches?"

His other car is a Mercedes. Well, car ... it's a former MTT bus. Modified, of course. "I used to tow the Nissan behind it on an A-frame," John says. Of course you did, i say. We sit by the lake, Safari Bob and i sipping our rediculously mudlike percolated coffee whilst John stirs his tea. "But it was three inches too long. I had to put those ugly OVERLENGTH signs all over it. So I chopped the frame down by three inches and welded it back together." He looks out across the lake. "And when they took me to court over it, I told the judge it was done by an engineer - I forgot to tell him the engineer was me - to improve the turning circle and reduce wind resistance." He sips his tea. "I don't tow it on the A-frame anymore," he says. Oh? Why not? "I got this caravan. One of those old four wheelers with a full chassis. I cut the back out of it," but of course you did, i'm thinking, "and my Suzuki Sierra runs up these ramps and sits inside the caravan, the wheels directly over the chassis. Now I just have to cut holes through the cupboards." Oh? What for? "Home brew kit. And the whisky still. Z-filters, you know. You blokes drink Scotch?"

I look at Safari Bob. A worrying gleam has appeared in his eyes. Well, young Bob's been known to take a sip or two, i say. I must confess i'm a bit partial myself. John goes to his truck and returns with what looks like a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label. "This isn't Johnny Walker Red Label," says John. Of course it's not, i say. "It's Black Label. Only with a few minor modifications of my own." He three-quarter fills an empty Mount Franklin water bottle. "I've used my Z-filters to check for bodies," says John. "Ran some 8-year-olds through them, the Red Label, the Black Douglas, Teachers, and they all turned up crap in the Z-filters." I nod, slowly and thoughtfully, as though i know just what the fuck he is on about. "Bodies. Mine comes out clean as a whistle." He hands the bottle to Bob. It's nine-thirty in the morning. Bob unscrews the cap, takes a sniff, and then pulls a couple of shots straight from the bottle. He passes it to me. I do the same. It is very, very good.

John screws the cap back on his bottle of homemade Black Label. "Been making Scotch since 1963," he says, a note of pride and satisfaction in his voice. "And when they took me to court over it, I told the judge ... "

Sunday, January 07, 2007

OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE

I am not used to being a passenger. The fact that i am peeling flakes of sunburned skin off my left arm is testament to that. What am i doing on this side of a vehicle? Being a passenger makes me kind of nervous. Especially when the road trip is a thousand k's. I don't know what to do with my hands. There should be a dummy steering wheel for passengers like me. A pacifier. Instead of this stupid glovebox. Who wears gloves when they're riding in a truck anyway?

The only sensible use for a glovebox is to store the porno mints. These mints are so hardcore they have a XXX rating. Bob always has some in the cab of his truck, and since i always eat most of them, i stock up with a few packs before we clear town. We have been on the road for about an hour. You sure you're not tired? i ask. I will ask him this same question roughly once an hour for the next three days. But always the same grin, and always "No I'm fine." I suck another mint pacifier.

For the past few days, whenever anyone has asked Safari Bob what he is up to, he has jerked his thumb at me and said, "Getting this bloke sorted out and up to the Tropics." And so far he's done a good job of it. We drive through an ancient landscape populated by zamias and Carnaby's cockatoos. I've always thought the landscape round here was pretty special. I've driven along Cockleshell Gully road a few times, and the flat rolling green hills always looked strange and miraculous to me. As it turns out, the Kwongan Heath region around Badgingarra contains more diodiversity than a rainforest! Untouched by glaciers, it sat above sea level for 200 million years without any of those annoying mountains popping up to interfere with the relict terrestrial species. Like Prickly Moses (acacia pulchella). I see the ancient cycads standing on the hill as we race by Coomooloo. A two-metre zamia takes two thousand years to grow. Those things were around when Jesus was a lad, i say to Safari Bob. Jesus, says Safari Bob. You tired? I ask. He looks at me and grins. Nah, I'm fine.

We pull into the mining town of Eneabba to look for gas for the camping stove. There are two old women at the servo shop, who fall silent as i enter. One holds a cup of tea in an enamelled mug. The blue jiggly bit of the teabag hangs over the side of the mug by its thread. The other has no tea, but is sporting a pursed mouth that looks very much like an anus, its thin deep lines drawn in tightly to a puckered centre. They simply stand and stare at me. Am i still wearing the Andy Warhol wig, i wonder? I check. No; i'm not. Hello, i say. The women continue to stare. The puckered mouth of the woman behind the till makes her appear slightly mollified and disapproving. Can you fill a Primus bottle? i ask.

They stare. Finally the woman behind the till barks, "You've got to go to Leeman for that. You would have been better coming up on the Leeman road. They've got gas at Leeman. You should have come up that road." Oh, right-o, i say. I think we can make back it down to Leeman. What time do they shut? "Eight!" anus-face shouts. I thank them very much and turn to leave.

"That's what i say to them," anus-face is saying to the tea lady as i go out the screen door. "I say, you should have come up the Leeman road. We don't have gas here ... "

Lake Indoon is on the Leeman road, so we pull in to check the gas bottles, and look out across the freshwater lake. Miraculously, one of the gas bottles actually contains gas. It's blowing a gale, so we tie tarps up around the gazebo like an Arabian tent, break out the Heineken, and crank up the free gas BBQ. We throw our swags down right down in the gazebo, hang the gas lantern from its roof, and make ourselves at home. We cook up a feed and Safari Bob produces, from nowhere, a ukelele. New Year's Eve is tomorrow and the road trip has begun in a salubrious fashion.

But we will spend New Year on the road. Literally. Midnight on the eve of 007 will find Safari Bob and i lying in the middle of the still-warm North West Coastal Highway under the nearly full moon drinking Glenmorangie Scotch Whisky handcrafted by the sixteen men of Tain and home-made scotch whiskey handcrafted by the famous John of Bindi Bindi. We will sleep it off on the banks of the Murchison River, and i will attempt to wash away a year of sin with an early morning swim.


Safari Bob will further enhance his growing reputation as an Artist with photographs like these, and of the devastating rollover at the top of this post. You really must visit his photo page. But in the meantime, we will suffer the extremes of ukelele exhaustion in the heat of the salt lakes, the indignities of getting bogged and being forced to dig the truck out of a sand trap in Kalbarri using planks of wood and about twenty metres of heavy chain while all around us thousands of teenagers go crazy on alcohol and drugs, run the gauntlet of the traffic police, and endure the perils of Knobby Head.