Friday, March 30, 2007

THE LOST HORSES OF THE CAPE RANGE

Alas, avid reader, you are once again stuck in front of an episode of In The Wild With The Art Director ...

I wake early, gazing silently at the sublime, rugged beauty that is the Cape Range, before urinating on it and heading off. Once on the highway, i realise the big game-fishing tournament in Exmouth must have already passed its bloodthirsty climax, an asinine apogee of aquatic annihilation, as there are more boats on the road than cars. As i head north along the long straight road into Exmouth, one after the other of these large four-wheel-drives passes me, southbound, each towing a Pleasure Craft.

A baseball-capped, sunglassed driver raises one hand from the wheel, the traditional salute of the grey nomad. I am hunched forward, my hands gripping the inside of my steering wheel, my knuckles facing outward toward the windscreen, my teeth embedded, just slightly, in the top of the wheel as i face the harsh reality of a morning without coffee. As his vast ensemble of destruction rolls by, i raise both my quivering middle fingers in a silent salutation.

We publish them in the newspaper. Week after week. Insanely grinning fishermen with their grisly trophies. To hell with it, i think. I will replace the "Fishing" page with something else. "Hunting", perhaps. Publish a picture of Raoul, blunderbuss in hand, standing next to a freshly-killed Bengal tiger. Or perhaps an albino rhinoceros. Or maybe even a giant numbat. See if anybody really notices, or cares.

I stop in Exmouth for two coffees and a toothbrush. Are we all really, i wonder, as i stare ruefully at the toothbrush display, are we really just passive, innocent victims of a monstrous international rort, an dire price-fixing scam, an evil collusion between all the toothbrush manufacturers of this world - or am i just crazy? A small stick of plastic with nylon bristles sticking out the end. Five dollars. Five frigging dollars ... i hunt around in vain for the Black-and-Gold Toothbrush, but alas ... it's all overdesigned, overadvertised, overpackaged and overpriced and probably produced in some third world toothbrush sweatshop where workers are paid peanuts and toothpaste is tested on monkeys and who cares if they've got flexible heads and bristles at slightly different angles. I resign myself to the monotonous monopoly, and buy one with a green zigzag racing stripe.

Remember the supermarket scene in Repo Man? With Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton? The supermarket, where every single product on the shelves was a generic no-name brand? Where food came in basic packaging with "FOOD" written on it? Ah, heaven. Those were the days. Movies were better made then. And the toothbrushes were cheaper. And dialogue was just tremendous:

Lagarto Rodriguez: ...yeah, well that's not the only thing, Marlene. This car is hot.
Marlene: What do you mean? Stolen?
Lagarto Rodriguez: No, I mean it's hot. Really hot.
Marlene: Hot?
Lagarto Rodriguez: Yeah! We're sweating like pigs, man.

Ah, the good old days. Before Harry Dean Stanton went all hang-dog and started mooning over Nastassja Kinski in Paris, Texas. Poor bloke. Must have been those big, sensuous lips of hers. Nastassja's mother, Mrs Kinski, used to affix her to the window with them while she ducked into the supermarket for a pack of Black-And-Gold smokes, to save money on the 20 cent electric unicorn rides. Paris, Texas was called Motel Chronicles in Germany. I read this book by Sam Shepard once, the Paris,Texas screenwriter, and it was called Motel Chronicles, but i don't remember it bearing any relation to the Paris, Texas movie except in its mood... Motel Chronicles and Hawk Moon was the book's actual title, and it was two books in one really, and they were the best two books i ever read. Two for the price of one. You can't get better than that.

By this time I am driving the road between Vlamingh Head lighthouse and Yardie Creek Station, my mind wandering in a surreal and arid tableaux. And that's when i see them. The legendary Lost Horses of the North West Cape. I have heard stories about them, of course - everybody has - but always thought they were creatures of myth - the pegasus of the spinifex. Heard stories of how they would suddenly appear in the barren landscape, standing on the road, these four-legged x-rays, tragically undernourished, mournfully staring down drivers in the hope of a food handout, like some wandering troupe of equine understudies in a bizarre allegorical production of Oliver Twist. But i had also heard they had gone. Vanished.

I see them out toward the range, between the coast road and the rusty hills, three of them about five hundred yards distant. I walk out through the scrub for a better look. There is a big strawberry road mare, a brown gelding and a rather sick looking brown filly. They approach me and stare. When they realise i have no lettuce, they turn and walk away, sulking.

Stories of their origins vary wildly. Thoroughbred racehorses, abandoned after the Exmouth racetrack closed. Wild bush brumbies, anything up to a string of thirty. But the truth is perhaps more prosaic. When Yardie Creek Station was taken over by the government, years ago, Conservation and Land Management pronounced the area a National Park. Tremendous. Unfortunately all the stock horses on the station were simply left in limbo, left to wander a strip of unallocated crown land between the station and the lighthouse. Which, in times of drought, became a kind of Horse Ethiopia.

I drive a few more kilometres down the road, and come to a tollbooth at the Cape Range National Park. There is a sign that says ten dollars entry per vehicle per day. Ten dollars?! That's two new toothbrushes! I have just driven about fifty kilometres from Exmouth, around the Cape to the south again, with no idea that this was simply a no through road unless you are either cashed up or carrying a gun. "Everybody knows it's ten dollars to get in here," says the man in the Akubra hat.

Everybody knows this is nowhere.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

MAXIM FROM A WISE MAN

I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.
- Mahatma Gandhi

Something in that for all of us...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

ROUGHING IT IN THE RANGE

It's an eerie long drive at night, dodging the wildlife and the wandering stock. Soon after dusk, the new moon slides below the horizon to my left, leaving the sky a moonless, starry black. The kangaroos are the worst. I slow right down for them, but of course you can hit a roo even when you are stationary. The idiotic creatures will just jump into the side of your car. The lights of Minilya roadhouse come and go. I drive past the campsite fifty kilometres further north, and its solar powered light diminishes in the rearview mirror. I take a sip of water, and test out the cruise control. Rest the accelerator foot. Then, sleepily, i take the turnoff to Coral Bay for a coffee and some takeaway lasagne. Last time i was here i had the seafood basket. It was fabulous. I ordered extra whale meat.

I sit, staring at a turtle ashtray. I really am an idiot sometimes, i decide.

Writing for a while by the dim light outside the restaurant. People come and go on their rusty, dusty, red quad bikes, carrying up to three passengers at a time. They seem to be having fun. I have taken Safari Bob's advice and bought a whole suite of Hawaiian shirts. Life is more fun in a Hawaiian shirt, says Safari Bob. Well, with that and my blond hair, i should be having more fun than hot dinners. My hot dinner arrives in its rectangular plastic box. I finish up my coffee, climb back into the car, crank up Nick Cave, and drive. Bring it on, sings the former Saint, Chris Bailey. Bring it on. All your shattered dreams - and I’ll scatter them into the sea.

Into the sea.

Driving the North West Cape at night is an eerie experience. All those military installations all lit up, those Federal Government warning signs that flare up in the headlights, prohibiting trespassing, shooting - let alone camping - and the ubiquitous wandering wildlife. I hunt around for a place to crash. Stuff it, i think. Into the ranges. I turn up Charles Knife Road, the front wheels scrambling to pull me up the winding razorback ridge road between the gorges.


I inch carefully off the road and park on the edge of a cliff, locking a canvas windbreak into the doors of the car. I roll out the swag under the blazing stars, and crack open my hot dinner, eating by starlight. The Coral Bay chef has decided lasagne doesn't really need bechamel sauce. I chew stoically on dry minced meat between sheets of gluey pasta.
Living in the North West really toughens one up.

Friday, March 23, 2007

PHOTOGRAPHING THE PHOTOGRAPHERS

See the Art director weave his magic in the pharmacy at the 6701 website: Christian Byrt's Carnarvon photos ...
Thanks Christian!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

COD WRANGLING AT THE OYSTER FARM


The most crucial cargo for any boat trip in the North West is, without a doubt, beer. No skipper worth his salt would even consider venturing out onto these wild and remote waterways without an esky full of beer. Screw the lifejackets, where's the beer. As Mickey T and i make our way down to Town Beach, i shoulder a carton of Corona from the Troppy. We aim to meet Louie and The Austrians at the beach, then catch a boat out to Oyster Creek, to investigate these legendary ponds that have been abandoned to the man-eating cod. This failed research project turned bizarre demersal nightmare. These giant, mythical cod.

I have come straight from work. Not dressed for the beach or the boat, let alone cod wrangling at the oyster farm. I've just filed, five minutes before, the front-page for the Pilbara newspaper. In addition to my regular paper. The two hacks who work at Hedland have quit, leaving in their wake a 36-page paper and no journalist. An interesting prospect. I file a story on the Port Hedland Immigration Detention Centre: federal politicians, boat people, mothballs, scandals, iron ore and cyclones. It is pithy and eloquent. After three years of the centre sitting empty, mothballed, the Federal government have finally relinquished their hold over it, to alleviate the housing crisis in Hedland. But only after a Federal minister and the local member were caught staying there last week, in the wake of Cyclone George. The fools.

At town beach we run into concreting Chris laying a new section of path along the Fascine in front of the Gassy. I suddenly realise the Coronas are not twist-tops. And we have no bottle opener. Fortunately, all concreters are alcoholics, and Chris is no exception. "Use the shovel," says Chris, pointing to where it lays in the grass. A tad brutal, i think. Opening a fine Mexican boutique beer with a shovel. Why not just smack the neck off on a pole and have done with it? Too long in the North West, i think. Too much sun. He is become a barbarian. Then i realise Chris has a carefully cut notch in the edge of the mouth of his shovel, for precisely this eventuality. I pick up the giant bottle-opener, and gratefully prise open what is to be the first in a long line of alcoholic beverages. The beginning of a long day's journey into night, a night filled with chaos, with unbridled, liver-destroying binge drinking and aquatic mayhem, a night of wanton, inebriated cod wrangling. Thus shall i mark out my 45th birthday.

When Louie and the Austrians turn up, they are carrying a ridiculously large XXXX esky, filled to the brim with ice, and beer. Louie has lemons for the Corona. When Richard the Oyster Farmer runs up onto Town Beach in his runabout, we load the esky and Austrians into the boat and push off. But, of course, nobody has thought to bring a knife for the lemon, let alone a bottle opener for the Corona.

We head across the Fascine to collect Doctor Case from his waterfront apartment at Pelican Point. We open a round of beer using that giant marine bottle-opener on a string: the anchor. Dr Case has brought a knife. This is why he is a doctor, and we are not. We slice some lemon and raise our beverages to the good doctor. Then Richard points the vessel out into open water, where are instantly and thoroughly drenched with spray. The low skyline of Carnarvon slips away past the port bow. Another wave crashes over the bow. We laugh, the taste of salt and lemon on our lips. Salt, lemon and beer. This is the life.

Before taking up oyster farming, Richard ran tours of the Kimberley coast from his catamaran Sundancer. He certainly knows how to entertain a boatload of beer-drinkers. He runs the boat through the mangroves at high speed, cornering so the upturned side of the boat brushes furiously past the glossy leaves. I feel the boat bottom out slightly on one of Richard's madcap changes of course, then he abruptly cuts the throttle and the planing dinghy drops to its gunwales. We drift amongst the mangroves in the quiet upper reaches of Oyster Creek. I am wringing wet. I don't care. I open some more beer.

Richard grows oysters in a hatchery. He takes grown up oysters and stimulates them to spawn, to make babies. And just how does he stimulate them to spawn?

"Usually I put on 'You Sexy Thing' by Hot Chocolate," says Richard.
And if that doesn't work?
"Barry White."

He feeds them algae and sunlight, then ships them off by the millions to Exmouth and the Montebello Islands. Here they use them to grow pearls, by placing between their jaws small spheres cut from the shell of the Mississippi Pig Toe Clam. We drink some more. Richard shows us around the rabbit-warren of dongas, sheds and tanks that is the Oyster Farm.

But he is casting pearls before swine. We all know we are not here to look at baby oyster clams. We have bigger fish to fry. Louie knows it, Mickey T knows it, Dr Case knows it, i know it, and even the Austrians are beginning to pick up on this growing sense of trepidation, this feeling of an impending violent confrontation between man and beast. Because there is something else lurking out there, something unnatural and deadly lying in wait in those ponds beyond the research station, down by the mangroves. Finally, Mickey T wipes the beer foam from his lips, and asks about the mutant cod. His eyes take on a strange shine. Richard nods slowly, and looks about nervously. "Yes, the cod," he says, wiping the sudden beads of sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. "First, let me show you the laboratory..."

What is really going on out here in the wilds of Oyster Creek? Why are they growing pearls out at the Montebellos? Is it because of the background radiation? That's where they tested atomic bombs back in the fifties ... and what is in these curious flasks, with their constant bubbling, in this sterile, climate-controlled environment? Have the mutant cod of Oyster Creek been exposed to radiation? Are they survivors of the British nuclear tests, cross-bred with piranha? From the chill confines of the laboratory, Richard takes us out to the huge tanks, standing quiet and empty, where the cod experiments were conducted. "The cod were just left here, abandoned, when the scientists suddenly fled," he says. "We transferred them, carefully, one by one, into those ponds by the mangroves. Now they are like ... our, our ... our little pets." He smiles grimly, rubbing his hands together.
Richard guides us out to the ponds in the eerie calm of dusk. The water is muddy; impenetrable. Nothing looks much out of the ordinary. "Don't slip in," he warns. "I've seen a dog picked clean to the bone out here within minutes." He takes a small fish, a herring, and tosses it into the pond. Immediately, the surface of the water explodes. Spray and mud is flung skyward, and the water becomes a seething, broiling mass. We watch in horror as a huge, brown-spiked dorsal fin cuts briefly through its surface, then all is quiet once more. Richard smiles. "Let's wrangle us some fish. And drink some beer!"

The rules of engagement are simple. You tie a little fish to a piece of rope and throw it in the water. When the killer cod go for the fish, you haul them quickly out of the water. These cod are so ferocious, so hungry, and so downright mental that they fall for the old fish-on-a-rope trick every time. If you are quick, you can haul them straight out of the pond. Then, unless you are crazy, you let them go straight back in again. You don't mess with them, or their razor-sharp fins, and you need to watch your footing. They can pull you straight into the pond if you don't look out. And, when a killer cod suddenly lets go, you can overbalance and fall into the pond on the other side, fall straight in amongst all these radioactive, hungry, mutant piranha-cod hybrids ...


Cod-wrangling. Not a sport for the faint-hearted. We drink more beer, and wrangle us some fish.

ART DIRECTOR SAYS: BINGE-DRINK RESPONSIBLY

Monday, March 12, 2007

FINDING SALVATION

It is a sweltering heat. A different kind of heat. The kind of heat that can only be produced whilst sitting amongst strangers, in a country town, on a plastic chair, in a windless church, on the hottest day ever recorded in that town. That kind of heat.

Southern US preacher and former KKK Imperial Wizard Johnny Lee Clary starts out, like all of us, by sweating. But he soon warms to his task as he points out how he was "taught" racism. "That's right," he says. "Taught. Racism ain't something you are born with." Brilliant! Nor is the belief that Jesus Christ is our saviour, but i keep that revelation to myself. Johnny's simple stratagem seems to absolve him of all personal responsibility for his prior actions and beliefs. He was "taught" to hate blacks. Any notions of self-determination, free will or critical thinking would have gone right out the window, had one been open amongst all this airless piety. Johnny was simply "taught" racism.

I soon discover i have been labouring under a severe misapprehension. I had thought this man, a former KKK member who now preaches in a black ministry advocating civil rights, must have undergone some kind of epiphany. Johnny must be one of the Enlightened Ones, i thought. But Johnny, it seems, has simply traded one set of prejudices for another. White supremacist to Christ supremacist. "You won't get to heaven unless you follow Jesus," he says simply. "Mohammad ain't gonna get you there, the Buddha ain't going to get you there, old Krsna or whatever his name is ain't gonna get you there - only Jesus." This, apparently, is because Jesus is the one and only prophet whose bones are not laid in the ground. His Ascension has placed him head and shoulders above all the rest of them. Only Jesus has the flight plan to the Promised Land.

While in the KKK, Johnny was even prejudiced against other white, racial supremacists. He hated nazis and skinheads. (I can picture the skinheads accusing him of hairsplitting). Johnny particularly hated the nazis because of their attitude to Israel. Johnny tells us it says very clearly in the Bible that those who praise Israel will be welcomed into God's Kingdom. The rest of them can literally go to hell, it seems.

Johnny is an opportunistic survivor, a relentless self-promoter, and a persuasive public performer. He tells us how his mother was no good and how his father put a gun to his head and blew his brains out in front of him when he was only 11 years old. He tells of a childhood lost in the wilderness of East LA. Approached by the KKK, he embraced it like a family. "If the Church had come to me then, I would have embraced Jesus Christ," Johnny says. "But it was the KKK." Later in life when he is on the skids and is pointing a gun at his own head (a family heirloom perhaps) he looks across the table and sees a Bible. He decides to devote his life to Jesus. I wonder what would have happened had Johnny looked across the table and seen a pentagram. Such are my doubts as to his capacity for critical thought.

As Johnny proceeds with his Evangelism on Butcher Street, it suddenly strikes me that his career path is not so disparate as it had at first seemed. Johnny has worked in professional wrestling, with the KKK, and in car sales. Think about that. What kind of person a) convinces you to lynch those darn blacks b) convinces you to buy that Plymouth Barracuda with no money down c) convinces you that the Killer Hulk, lying, wailing, on the canvas in his leotard, mask and boots, is really struggling for his life, as Johnny Angel twists on that leg, and d) convinces you to Praise the Lord while handing over your money?

You guessed it. Plus ah reckon Johnny was wearing a durn toupee.

Nonetheless, i am held in thrall. This seems just too good an opportunity to pass up. I bow my sweaty head with the rest of the Congregation, close my eyes, and solemnly raise a sweaty palm when Johnny asks, "Who amongst you is not ONE HUNDRED PER CENT certain they are going to Heaven?" I raise my hand once i realise i would put my odds at around one quarter of one per cent.

Then Johnny the Evangelist does us a deal. All we have to do, we who have so recklessly raised our hands in the presence of the Lord (and He knows exactly who we are), is simply come forth, raise our hands, say a prayer for Jesus, and receive Salvation. But wait, there's more. Along with that we receive, for no extra cost, Johnny's own personal, rock-solid, a one hundred percent guarantee that we will all go to Heaven. Well, i can tell you, i just can't get out of my seat quick enough. What a fabulous deal, i think. In a flash, i am standing shoulder to shoulder with a few Aboriginal women, in front of the entire Congregation. Repeating after Johnny. Hoping to be struck hard upon the forehead, to fall back into the welcoming arms of the Congregation, amidst cries of Hallelujah! and Praise the Lord! But alas, it is too hot for such theatrics. Johnny touches each of our hands in turn, blesses us, and we are saved.

I stand with the Congregation and belt out a few more Gospel tunes with the Christian rock guitarist and his alleged drummer, and then it is all over. But as i leave the church (a few dollars lighter after the collection sack is passed around) i feel somehow cheated. Even though it didn't cost me much, i really think Johnny should have given me a three month warranty with that Salvation.

Visit Johnny's website and be taught how the Beatles are really the Antichrist.

Friday, March 09, 2007

UH OH

Jean Baudrillard is dead.

"Deep down, no one really believes they have a right to live. But this death sentence generally stays tucked away, hidden beneath the difficulty of living. If that difficulty is removed from time to time, death is suddenly there, unintelligibly."

Baudrillard predicted the first Gulf war, in 1991, would not take place. During the war, he said it was not really taking place. After it finished, he announced, implacably, that it had not taken place.

His point was the Gulf war was a simulation, a media spectacle, rehearsed an played out like a video game, its "reality" overridden by the electronic metanarrative. Welcome to the desert of the real. Baudrillard was an original thinker who avoided labels, although some saw him as a 'pataphysician.

"It is the task of radical thought, since the world is given to us in unintelligibility, to make it more unintelligible, more enigmatic, more fabulous."

Jacques Derrida is gone.
Jean Baudrillard is gone.
Which unintelligible and fabulous thinker will be next?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

SEEKING SALVATION

It is the hottest day ever. The footpath along the Fascine buckles in the heat; the concrete thrusting upwards into a sauna-blue sky. My bicycle has a flat tyre, the tube has simply burst from the extreme temperature. Boyle's Law. As i push it slowly up Hill Street, a crow falls dead out of the thin air. I lean the bike against the peeling verandah post in front of my oven-like room. I go inside, switch the airconditioning to full, and throw my backpack onto the tiled floor. I have a backpack-shaped patch of sweat on my shirt. I strip off my sweaty clothes, throw them into the washing basket and close the lid. I walk around to the front door of the baking hot house, grab a cold Coopers from the fridge, and try for a cold shower. The water comes out warm. The beer, at least, is cold.

The heat eventually gets to me. I dress and go out in search of Salvation. Johnny Lee Clary, a former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard turned professional wrestler slash used car salesman slash civil rights advocate slash marilyn manson-hating evangelist, is preaching at the Church on Butcher Street tonight. This should be interesting, i think. He has come all the way from Oklahoma to save me. A walk across town is the least i can do.

I am met by an assembly of sweaty freaks with interesting dress sense. The Congregation. They seem friendly enough. I pull up a plastic chair in the pew and watch the ceiling fans circling uselessly. I sit and sweat like a dog-faced pig. As i bow my head in silent prayer, electrolytes drip from my nose. Oh Lord, i beseech thee, grant thy godforsaken worshippers some fucking airconditioning. A sweaty woman wearing a yellow headband (sweatband?) comes up to shake my sweaty hand. I have apparently published her photograph in the paper. "Are you here for a story?" she asks. No, i am here for salvation, i reply, with the sincerity only a true sinner can muster.

Johnny is late, so we have to stand and sing. There is a band of sorts up the front. I can just see a child, seated behind an oversized drum kit. His twin brother places an acetate lyric sheet onto an overhead projector. A man stands to the right of stage with a bright red electric guitar. His guitar strap is blue and white checks, emblazoned with the words "Crime Scene". This has me baffled until i hear his playing, which is criminally bad. Although much better than the drumming. The child bats at the kit with all the energy and panache of a dying man swatting flies.

We stand, crucify some songs about Jesus, and wait for Johnny.

(continued - click 'newer post' below, and then click it again)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

BOB IS IN BANGKOK

Bangkok; Tuesday (AAP/Reuters): Two Hotel Ramschitt staff members have been admitted to hospital suffering chemical delirium, after attempting to clean a hotel guest's room.
The staffers, known only as Jasmine and Angel, said the chemical contamination suits supplied by hotel management were ineffective.
"I became dizzy as soon as I entered the room," Angel said. "Then Jasmine collapsed on the wreckage of the bed.
"We were not properly equipped to deal with the situation."
Bangkok police said several new species of fungus, a carton of what appeared to be Viagra, a vial of blue liquid and some unidentified white powders were seized from the room and taken for chemical analysis.
Hotel Ramschitt manager Mrs Pinky T. Watt said all 163 hotel staffers were undergoing counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The occupant of the hotel room has been named as 33-year-old Australian citizen, Mr. Safari Bob. Mr Bob has not been sighted since Monday night. Police said they feared for his safety, and have called on the public for help.
"We appeal to members of the public to be on the lookout for a tall Caucasian male, last seen wearing a Hawaiian shirt and carrying a tent in his trousers," a police spokesman said.

HEAT

Today it is 47.8 degrees in the shade. My clothes are all crumpled from the flight. I quickly iron them by rolling about on the pavement.

Monday, March 05, 2007

BACK IN THE REAL WORLD

One day behind schedule, i land at Carnarvon International Airstrip. Oyster Creek appears below the plane as we descend. I must go out there and investigate those man-eating cod, i think. Left to their own devices in the inland ponds, after a research project went horribly wrong. Now the subject of much fear and trepidation. "Don't bring your dog," says Richard, the pearl oyster farmer who lives and works nearby. "If he falls in one of those ponds, he's done for. Reduced to bones in minutes."

I walk through the Passenger Terminal lean-to and collect my luggage. A Sherwood amplifier in a suitcase. It's 37 degrees. I lug the suitcase down the airport road and i'm home. The fridge is full of beer and roast pig, left over from Mickey T's weekend Pisces party. Glasses, bottles and cans adorn the front garden. There are half a dozen eskies on the front verandah. Assorted bottles of spirits are lie randomly about the house, abandoned at various stages of utilization. Two burnt 44 gallon drums, their tops sawn off at an angle, stand in the front yard, a mute testimony to the weekend's festivities. Strangely enough, they look very much like the yellow bins you might find in truckstops along the North West Coastal Highway. I discover we now have eleven pairs of barbecue tongs.

Mickey T is just leaving for Perth, to get his kite surfing instructor's ticket." I'll see you in a week," he says as he climbs into the Pajero with Mira the dog. "Knock yourself out." I take his advice, along with three Mersyndol and a couple of shots of O.P. rum.

The real world can wait until tomorrow.

TRASH: HOW TO RECYCLE IT

Mayhem has been selected to produce artwork for a Greenpeace recycling / art project. I think it's through City Farm, but i'm not really across the details. I mean, do i need to be? I'm just the photographer. As they say, photographers just point and shoot. But at least i have the decency to wipe it off afterwards ...

We book the studio for Saturday night. Mayhem's shooting schedule is what you might call flexible (that's why i have you as my Art Director, she says pragmatically) and consists of a tornado of props and people tearing through her abode at Hotel D'Pravity at the very last moment. While she showers, i jump into her 666 Merc and whizz over to put in a brief appearance at a quite sophisticated Bayswater party thank you very much, populated by Feisty's friends. Who all seem to have stepped fresh off the pages of Glamour Gym magazine. I feel quite out of place in my opshop Hawaiian shirt and bottle-blond hair but what the heck, i'm from the tropics. I've never seen so many muscular young men in tight t-shirts. And the women! - well, i just don't know where to look. Although directly down a young lady's top does present itself as an option, as she leans out of her blue cocktail dress to select an hors d'oeuvre. I quickly do a few vodka jellies, to ease my social tension, then a blue cocktail, a yellow cocktail, and then suddenly i have this long black Russian thrust into my hand. My goodness! My mouth is full of chicken and salad roll, and i just don't know what to do with it. I manage to polish it off, then grab some party supplies and tear back to Hotel D'Pravity - where the trashy preparations are almost complete.

We arrive at Huzzard's studio around four hours late, Mayhem, Skotling, Alice, Sideways Dave and two cars full of trash. From what i can gather, through my alcoholic haze, the parameters for the shoot are simple: "trash" and "out there". I love simple. We go at it hard until around two-thirty in the morning. Trash, plastic bottles, newspaper, make-up, plastic bags, vodka, broken bottles, pills, clothes, no clothes, red tape, silver tape, foliage, injuries, violence, real blood and barbecue sauce. I fill a half-gig card while counting down the hours until my plane departs. And all the while the music blares through the stereo so loud i have to shout my instructions. They say genius is 1 per cent inspiration, and 99 per cent perspiration. I am sweating like a dog-faced pig, so i guess that must make me a fucking genius ... ah, i love this job! Amongst all the madness and mayhem, we somehow manage to drag up some eloquent images by the scruff of the neck. Like the aluminium recycling girl, above. Or Alice with Malice, the "recycle or die" girl, below. The images will be Photoshopped into cartoon cutouts by Sideways Dave. What a grand collaboration to help save the planet, i think, as i throw all the trash into a rubbish bin in the alley, from whence it will almost certainly never be recycled.

Sunday morning, Mayhem is suffering as she prepares to drives me out to the airport. She is covered in red welts from the aluminium tape. "You should see my body!" she keeps saying. Sure, that would be grand, i keep telling her. We breakfast in Northbridge on some damn fine victuals with lashings of hot coffee. Mayhem drops me at the airport with fifteen minutes to spare. At check-in, i get "the flight is closed" from the Skywest wench. She doesn't look like she is joking. But i check anyway. You are joking, i say. "No," she says. OK. So she is not joking. I immediately put Plan B into action, and panic. I call Mayhem, and she circles back to pick me up. "It's funny," she says. "Everybody i drop at the airport misses their plane." We pull up at some traffic lights. "Oh, Art Director, i'm so sore, you should see my breasts," she says, pulling out her dress and looking down her top. I look out the passenger window of her Merc. Sure, that would be grand, i tell her.

Friday, March 02, 2007

TRASHED: HOW TO GET IT


With Safari Bob and Raoul away in Bangkok (gee, and do you think they might be having a good time) it is left to Slippery When Wet photographer Feisty and the Art Director to paint this town a fresh and lurid shade of vermillion. When Feisty turns up at The Newspaper to pick me up, i figure i must have been very good in a previous lifetime. There's no other way to explain it. I could get used to being picked up by these beautiful girls in fishnet stockings, black boots and fab new hairdos, i think. At the SunMoon it's straight out to the hotel pool for a sunset photoshoot.

There's something about shooting a sexy girl by a hotel pool. All the male guests at the hotel will suddenly find a reason to be out on their balconies. "I'm not very photogenic," says Feisty. Mmm. And petrol is not flammable.

Plasticene modelling, bending models into shape this way and that, does not come naturally to me. But i figure the only way to get better at it is to adopt a hands-on approach. What better way to learn than on the job, so to speak. The tactic results in some reasonable photographs, and of course does my mojo the world of good...

But after the clean lines of the hotel pool, things can only get messier. After two exhibition openings (read: after many, many free drinks,and yes, the words "exhibition whore" were bandied about in my general direction) and the third straight tequila at the Mustang Bar, things become a little blurry. I remember viewing some nice pictures from Duncan Barnes' Alaska at the PCP, very Twin Peaks, and i remember leaving with Feisty because the wine wasn't even up to the PCP's usual woeful standard. I can't remember if we vomited on the landscape photographs upstairs at the Brass Monkey, but it was certainly on our agenda. We run into Roly Skender of Electric Umbrella and Circus Murders fame, and i have a bitch to him about ex-Circus Murderer Seb as i get progressively more and more trashed. Andrew, the guitarist from the hair-farming band Thumb is there!
... as is Rachael Dease from the Schvendes. It's a regular music festival. Grapeskin manager Lithuanian Ausra is floating around, looking absolutely stunning as usual. But then, a tray of free food and drink always makes a girl look desirable ... as i help my self to my 222nd beverage i run into Taryne with her shocking pink hair. "Last time i saw you was with Bilyana at Sylvana's!" i exclaim drunkenly. "That was a few years ago now i suppose ... i took some black and white photos of you two. You were pregnant, showing Bilyana your ultrasound pics..." Taryne nods. "Yes, he's twelve now." Holy Cosmic Christ! As Marx once said, "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." (Do click on the link, and see Groucho as you've never seen him before).

Phil England from Terrace Photographers gives Feisty and i a lesson in how to shoot a girl (think Antonioni's Blow Up with Austen Powers in the lead role) as he grabs the Melburnian girl in the red dress and, at Feisty's suggestion, gets her up against the wall by the fire hose. Something i wouldn't have minded doing myself. After a few dozen more free beverages, i vaguely recall thrashing about on a dance floor with Feisty and a nice girl from Melbourne in a red dress,
probably at the Mustang Bar. We carry on out the front like bit-players in Reefer Madness before Nikki and i swing by the Moon, order a strawberry pizza and run into Blake and the omnipresent Paddo ... then Justin Spiers, the misbegotten, illegally non-elected chairman slash control-freak from PCP sees me and bolts out the door. Possibly because of the $500 he owes me, but more probably because he is a wanker. And then, suddenly i am awake in a strange house, thinking "Thank the Cosmic Christ i don't have to go to work today." Before realising that i do, in fact, have to go to work today. Dont you just hate that? When your brain instantly and incorrectly equates "shocking hangover" with "weekend"?
It's going to be a slow day. Nikki's nice partner makes me a breakfast and i stagger out in search of my bearings.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

PROGRESSING SPIRITUALLY

"Monday is a great day for church," Mayhem says. "You can go berserk all weekend, then cleanse yourself of all sin." Her reasoning is impeccable. I finish a long Monday's layout training at The Newspaper, then prepare myself for a thorough purging. Mayhem tells me to bring a flower for the Spiritualists as their payment. Hmm, same currency as the Buddhists. When i got married to Young Mili in '95, we paid them in flowers, too. Unfortunately, we couldn't understand a word the Buddhist monk said during our wedding ceremony. His English was almost non-existent. We just nodded our heads, smelling of bourbon. I think his address took the form of a cautionary, moralising tale, but this is just an assumption based on his tone, and his finger-wagging. He could equally well have been admonishing us for stealing flowers.

On one of the innumerable occasions in our marriage when Young Mili and i split up, i yelled at her: "You never understood a single word that Buddhist monk said, did you?!"

So i wander into the swamp, breaking all the rules by stealing a big, bright orange banksia flower. I stuff it in my backpack, then walk about six kilometres to Mayhem's, with only minutes to spare, and discover flower day at church is some other day of the week altogether. Undeterred, i leap into her 666 Merc and we tear across Highgate. Safari Bob is on my mobile, asking whether he should change some currency for Thailand. I don't really know; last time i went i had no currency to change. "Go with the flow," is the best travel advice i can offer him. I have to go - we are nearly at church. "You're going where for a what?" asks Safari Bob. "A purging? You're having an enema in a church? Are they using Holy Water?" It is a confused conversation.

The Spiritualists are seated in a circle inside the church. Mainly older women, but also three young blokes, one of whom leers openly at Mayhem, with a shit-eating grin. We have missed the first act, but have arrived, frenzied, late and sweaty, just in time for meditation. A large, blond woman dressed in black, a crocheted red shawl across her shoulders, prepares to lead us into la-la land. She briefly explains the process, staring at me the whole while. We must remain seated, both feet planted on the ground, eyes closed, with our hands facing upwards in our lap. "No moving around?" asks Shit-Eating Grin suddenly. He is still staring at Mayhem. "No," says our Spiritual Guide firmly. "No touching?" he pleads. Our Guide shakes her blond head. "No touching." The young man looks crestfallen, and the grin disappears.

What kind of spiritualists' circle is this, i wonder? Not that i have any yardstick with which to compare. I sit and close my eyes. In a soft, melodic voice, our Guide closes off our chakras, one by one. Right up to the white, lotus-shaped ones above our heads. Thus prepared, we are led into a magickal forest. "You are walking through a beautiful forest. The light twinkles through the trees. The air is cool and fresh. You come across a clearing. An old tree stump in the form of a chair is in its centre. You curl up in it, happy and comfortable. Rainbows of light appear, just for you, and they shine down on you through the treetops ..." at about this point, i start thinking about the carburettors on my motorcycle. Should i have them re-jetted, whilst the bike is at the workshop? No. Concentrate on the task at hand. Which, at this point, consists of flying up through the ceiling of the church. Hmm. Tricky. I put my mind to it, and do my best. "You see some archangels, flying down to meet you..." Eventually, our Guide stops nattering, and we meditate.

Meditate, meditate, meditate.

Suddenly, all my life energy streams out and appears, a foot in front of me, in a small, churning, orange ball of fire. Wow, i think. Break out the dmt. Then, just as suddenly, it merges back with my body. Cool, i think. That was pretty wild.

Later, our guide brings us slowly back down into the world. I open my eyes. The ceiling is miraculously intact. Now the really weird stuff begins. We take it in turns to describe our experiences. For me, all that stuff about the forest, floating upwards and meeting strange beings was just a means of relaxing us and easing us into meditation. No; not so. One by one, these freaky spiritualists describe the creatures they met and conversed with on their journey. Apparently, all kinds of goblins, angels and magicians have put in cameo appearances while i sat there with my little orange ball of fire. A relatively sane-looking woman seated on my right describes, in great detail, a little mouse she met. "He had on a little waistcoat, some little trousers, and was sketching on his little drafting board, lots and lots of little lines that didn't make any sense." I throw a glance past her, locking eyes with Mayhem. She is thinking the same as me. We quickly avert our eyes so as not to break the magick mouse spell with spluttering guffaws.

Every single last motherfucking one of them has had some kind of vision, incredible in its detail, like a lucid dream. Frankly, i'm jealous. Our Guide describes how she saw two archangels laying a shawl over Mayhem's shoulders, like some kind of accolade. Which is weird, because on this very day, Mayhem had set out to collect her Degree from the University. When my turn comes up, I tell the gathering about my orange ball of light. This, our Guide explains, is a healing energy. Excellent, i think. I was wondering how to fix my abdominal hernia.

When church is nearly over, Mayhem breaks into a sudden diatribe about Why, the lost dog. We found the notice on the weekend, plastered to a building just down the road from the Progressive Spiritualists Church - strangely enough, the very same building where i photographed Young Mili for an exhibition in New Mexico. Why, the missing canine, is a Chihuahua-Jack Russell cross, as cute as a bug. We sat in the car, picturing his poor, bereft owners roaming the streets of Highgate, crying "Why! Why! Oh, Why!"

Mayhem tells the Spiritualists' gathering how she rang the owners and gave them the phone number of a pet clairvoyant, who finds lost pets by divination. I nod; i heard how this clairvoyant had previously helped the stricken owners of a lost dog recover it, miles from home, in the wilds of Girrawheen. "Do you think they will find their dog?" Mayhem asks.

The Spiritualists stare at us, looking from Mayhem, to me, and back again. Clearly, they think we are insane.