Wednesday, February 28, 2007

CAUGHT IN THE NET

While The Nerve's foreign correspondent Raoul reports direct from the bars on Soi Cowboy, Bangkok, Yours Truly the Art Director is tied up in Perth, doing a course in layout at The Newspaper. Lying back on a hotel bed at the SunMoon resort with fellow journalist Melinda Mayhem, i remark, "Now this is what i call layout."

It is a pity i am not on the Thai sojourn with fellow photographers Safari Bob, Das, and Raoul. But sometimes one's priorities must take priority. Like shooting, stealing, meditating, partying, and searching for Lost Animals.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BACK ON THE SOI

It's good to be back on the Soi. They say familiarity breeds contempt ... but not here.

The throaty rattle of the tuk-tuks, the sing-song chatter of Thai housemaids doing the laundry next door ... and the smells ... coconut cooking oil intermingled with stagnant water in the klong, incense burnt at shopfront shrines, wrapped up in a humid pall of exhaust fumes. A cacophony of noise, sights and smells that assault, nauseate and arouse in an instant ...

Like a drug, Bangkok overwhelms and seduces, its finely tuned madness offering insight, clarity and pleasure in a single hit. A hit that allows you to taste, but never leave fully satisfied ... and when it's over you start thinking about the next time. It's a beast that fucks with your head!

I used to hate "Hotel California" ... whining American West Coast pap I thought. Then, about a decade ago I stumbled into the Country Road bar on Soi Cowboy, seeking respite from the craziness outside and an opportunity to share a beer with Spud, not fight off the hordes of bar girls offering pleasures known and unknown along with demands for 'lady drinks'. About a dozen tables, mostly empty (the action has always been in the GoGo bars down the soi), some hosting middle-aged men steadied by clusters of beautiful petite Thai women, fully clothed...straw bales, a buffalo skull with redlight eyes, pool tables, a stage with musical instruments, no mirrored floors and poles and not a GoGo girl in sight. Then the band cranks up ... Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee"

... fuck me, where am I, what is this place? The band is made up of geriatrics belting out the same set they have done since the 60s when they were entertaining GIs on R&R from Vietnam. The Doors, Otis Redding...

... and then, just as Spud and I are drunkenly reliving the past fortnight's hedonistic madness ... "Hotel California" ...

"Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
They livin it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise, bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said we are all just prisoners here, of our own device
And in the masters chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just cant kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
relax, said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!"


Suddenly these words make sense, and looking at the other men in the bar I see it makes sense for them too. Bangkok IS Hotel California...

10 years on, and Country Road is still there, albeit slightly rearranged. Pun, the manager is long dead ... along with some of the band it seems ... new younger faces on some of the instruments ... but a couple of the geriatrics are still there, belting out the same songs

I take comfort in this. Safari Bob is arriving tonight, and I can feel the beast is twitching.

Friday, February 16, 2007

GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORAL

Ok. Coral. What's it all about? I go back to Coral Bay tomorrow to find out. I leave at dawn, to meet a group of locals who want to fight Alannah. She is the Planning Minister. "Alannah, as in spanner," as she puts it. I had a shouting match with her this week over my last story. Well, she was shouting, i was talking ... "It's not a LAND GRAB!" she said loudly, about the 2km exclusion zones she wants up the Ningaloo coast. "It's not their land! These are pastoral leases! Do you understand LEASE?!" It's also a bit more complicated than that. This coral issue seems more straightforward. The planning department are putting in a $7million boat launching facility at Paradise Beach. Stage One involves putting a whole pile of silt, sand and rubble into the water next to the coral reef. Stage Two involves taking it all out again. Uh, why not just go straight to Stage Two, and save a whole lot of coral?

The access road to Monck Head is being built even as we speak, and the dirt goes into the water on March 7. Grandmothers will be tying themselves to bulldozers, i hear. I don't think that this is good enough. I will be taking some heavy chain and padlocks to secure these grannies properly.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

GIRLS WITH GUNS

Mickey T and Big Louie set off on a downwinder from the mangroves of Bush Bay, 35-40km on kites. They are extremists. I drive back with Heidi From Ag. It turns out Heidi From Ag is a shooter. Shortly after i arrived in the Gascoyne, i heard about a program to shoot feral goats in a flyover of the Kennedy Ranges. So i began to wangle my way onto this goat shooting tour. I need to photograph the shooters on the helicopter platform, i said. "Girls with big guns!" i said. "That's what we need!" i said. "Preferably wearing bikinis!" i said.

We commence the long drive back. The kite sails are visible above the dunes over my left shoulder, billowing colourfully above the red dirt, as the extremists make their kitesurfing run back to the delta. "So you're the new photojournalist," says Heidi From Ag flatly. "You're the one who wanted to photograph me in my bikini."

In a small town, irony, like fine wine, does not travel well.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

SPACE TRAVEL IN CARNARVON


Well, i guess we nailed these pics for the Crusty Demons. Looks like good fun, don't it? I can't wait to hurtle into space off this freestyle motocross ramp on a Vincent Black Shadow. No animals were hurt and no Photoshopping was used in the making of these pics - this is just what Mr Fungi Furniss does for a living. He has a ride sponsorship with KTM motorcycles and is sponsored by clothing manufacturer Anything Evil. AE's catchphrase is "Have you done Anything Evil today?"

Judging by the text message i got from Mz Mayhem, Anything Evil should be sponsoring her. More on Mayhem's amateur video editing sideline later ...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CRUSTY DEMON OF DIRT

Jeremy "Fungi" Furness is on a first-name basis with doctors and nurses at the Carnarvon Hospital. Mr Fungi will perform in Perth with the Crusty Demons of Dirt, a relatively insane group of motocross riders. If you've been near any extreme sports or gravity games, you may have seen these crazy dudes flying over your heads in a kind of zero-G freefall, more or less attached to their bike. Or sometimes just in a low orbit alongside it. So i'm driving down Speedway Road in Mickey T's 4WD, looking for Mr Fungi and his ramps. Suddenly, in the distance, a motorcycle and inverted rider fly high into the air, appearing magically above the horizon as if propelled by a rocket launcher. The ensemble then drops dramatically earthwards. A sure indication of a Crusty Demon.

"Yeah, i've broken all the bones down my left side," says Mr Fungi. It's spitting rain and the wind is gusty, so he only does a few runs. One of which is pictured above. We agree to meet early in the morning to try again. Like, early early. "I'm not much good at getting out of bed in the morning," Mr Fungi admits. "I better have an extra cup of coffee to make sure I'm awake."

I imagine being awake would have certain advantages in this line of work.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

THE LAST CENTIMETRE

The Adelaide poet and journalist Max Fatchen once wrote:

"Journalism is indeed the great game. It is demanding with all its facets: it has its boring calms and its furious storms; it demands speed, accuracy and integrity; it often involves sacrifice and sometimes danger; it can be a royal road to literature. The women and men who pursue it are an individualistic, fascinating, lively, investigating and sometimes unsatisfied race, always striving for the last centimetre and the exclusive story. It is indeed the great game."

True. Although Pop-O-Matic Trouble should never be overlooked.


Office photo by Safari Bob.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

ON THE GASCOYNE COAST

Mural of Red Bluff by Leslie Lee, Patrick Lee, and Boston Markham at the Gascoyne Mental Health Centre - my new home away from home.

BULLIES OF THE FOOD CHAIN

"You're that journalist, aren't you." The man stands in front of me, beer in hand. Sandy blond hair, about my age. I take a drink, and look carefully around the yacht club bar. A couple of old women carry seafood dinners out to the patio, an offduty cop stares down into his bourbon and ice, and a woman in tight jeans does the twist with a four-year-old on the dance floor. I figure he must be talking to me. "Well, i guess so," i say. "Come and sit over here," he beckons. We go and sit at one of the laminex tables in front of the tiny stage where CJ and his band are hacking their way through cover versions like drunken machete-wielding pygmies through a marijuana crop.

"You're the one who complained about the roosters," the man says. Roosters, plural? As in, more than one of them? He takes a slow draught of his beer. "I mean, that's o-kay." The way he says o-kay, with a querelous, rising inflection, makes me think it's not okay. "I know I'm not supposed to have them in town," he says, "I was just trying to fertilize some eggs." When i was at the Lodge, this godawful cockle doodle doodling startled me awake around 4.30am, then continued at random throughout the morning. On the other side of the Lodge, a dog stood barking at a Hills Hoist for hours on end. Moving to Mickey T's, just next door, has merely moved me one step closer to my nemesis. "I'm Dave. I'm a bricklayer," he says. We shake hands. "Mick came round this morning, said they were bothering you. So I killed them."

"I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?" asks CJ, finger-picking his acoustic guitar. "Comin' down on a sunny day?" The bass player and drummer shake their heads left and right, as if in a desperate attempt to locate the beat. The four-year-old stamps his little feet and claps his hands out of time, a mini parody of the rhythm section. No-one offers any reply to CJ's meteorological enquiries. I assume his questions must be rhetorical.

"Well, you didn't have to go and do that," i say. I guess i had half-imagined there might be a simple vocal-chord operation, or a Rooster Retirement Village, or some slightly less drastic solution. Although i had wanted to throttle that damn rooster every single morning, the reality of its sudden demise has made me feel strangely culpable. "Oh, it's o-kay," Brickie D says. "I'll drop one around for you later. You and Mick can eat it."

Brickie D and i discuss the best way to cook such a tough customer. We concur that freezing him first, then slow cooking him for around five hours, might just soften him up enough to eat. The conversation takes a turn to meat in general. "It's weird how you can't get roo meat at the supermarket here," i say. "You have to get it from the pet food shop." Mickey T bought roo meat home the other night. We chopped some up for Mira the dog, then thinly sliced the rest, and threw it into a blackbean stirfry with pistachios, bok choy and egg noodles. It was o-kay, although it did remind me a bit of Iggy Pop circa 1980, and his song Dog Food.

"Im hanging around that same old scene," says Iggy. "My girlfriend Betsy, shes just fourteen. There's nothing better for me to do, i'm living on dog food. Dog food is so good for you, it makes you strong, and clever, too. Dog food is a current craze, eat some every day. I chew up my Sunday Mirror, i read about the rich i fear, dog food is my whole life, dog food composes my wife. Yum yum yum woof woof woof arf arf."

Brickie D nods. "There's the Pet Meat Supply, but you're better off getting your roo meat from the other one, the Gourmet Pet Meat Supply." I snort some bourbon out of my nose. The what? "Yeah, its gourmet. They have a sign displayed by the meat that says 'Not For Human Consumption', but everybody knows it's a nice cut of meat. They had some nice crumbed roo patties out there the other day. For the dog, you know. It's all nod and a wink stuff."