Monday, June 25, 2007


I used to work as a human cannonball, until one day i got fired.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


"Whenever it is a drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick

We run into Stelio at the pub. He has been out at sea, catching the snow crabs. I never would have picked him for a seafarer. More your groover and shaker - wax in the hair, funky streetwear, bit of bling - Stelio hangs out with the lovely Kristal. We always seem to run into him at the pub. So it comes as quite a surprise when he says he has been spending time at sea. At the edge of the continental shelf.

Yeah, i've been working through the pain, he says. Sea-sickness. When you're 200km off the Carnarvon coast, there's no barlese. Just got back, and had to play a team pool comp at the Sandy the other night. Grand final it was, too. Lost every frame. Couldn't stop the table moving.

Poor Stelio. Saw him again at the lovely Kristal's barbeque party, briefly, then he was off again on the boat. It was, like, eight o'clock at night. The tide was running out.

Crustaceans. What a way to make a living.

We went out on Scott's boat the other day, for sea trials. Scott's boat looks like the SS Minnow from Gilligan's Island, but without the hole in the side. Big, white and wooden. We were out on the drink the night before. I thought, sleep it off on the boat, then go to work Sunday and finish the paper. We get out there to the harbour, Louie, Mick, Chrisso and i, and Scott has the instrument panel pulled out, wires everywhere. It's spaghetti marinara.

This is Mark, says Louie. Oh, good, says Scott. He shows me the wiring. Temperature guage keeps showing high, and the ammeter's not working. What do you reckon.

It seems i've been nominated to fix the wiring on the boat. Unfortunately nobody told me i had been hired as the electrician, and i'm completely hammered. I stand swaying in the cabin, and we haven't even cast off. Still, my experience as a professional photographer has taught me one thing: as a professional, you must always remain in command. And make outrageous demands. Sorry, my experience as a professional photographer has taught me two things: always remain in command, and make outrageous demands. If you're on a shoot, demand exotic props. And employ the argot, the vernacular of the field.

Sorry, three things. Remain in command, demand outrageous props, and use specialised language.

And always appear confident at all times, even if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing. Especially if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing.

Sorry, four things. If there are four things i have learnt whilst working as a professional photographer, it is command, demand, bamboozle, and bluster. I stagger into action.

Where's the multimeter? Take me to the bridge!
You're standing on the bridge.
Then the engine room, goddamn it! Where's the alternator? We need to check the diodes!
We descend into the hull. Darkness. Bilge pumps. A great big inboard diesel. I move about, poking at wires and nodding sagely.
Just as i thought! The single phase inverter is coupled to a transistorised regulator!
Oh, says Scott. Is that bad?
Of course it's not bad, you fool! I am disconnecting the sender unit!
I pull a wire off the temperature sensor.
What do the guages read now, Captain?
Scott scrambles up through the hatch to inspect the instrument cluser. They are exactly the same, he calls down.
I put the wire back on. Just as i suspected! i yell. You have an earthing problem!
That's just what i thought, he yells back. An earthing problem!
I stand up too fast, and suddenly everything is spinning. I fall down with a thump.

Needless to say, we don't get to sea that day. I can't understand why the instrument cluster is not earthed to the body of the boat. Scott has no idea either. The two guages are connected to each other via black wires bolted to the metal instrument panel. But the instrument panel itself is set in a wooden fascia. Where is the earth?

Eventually, after i burn a hole in the end of my finger with the end of a shorted wire, Scott calls my bluff.
You're not a sparky at all, are you, he says.
Sort of, i say.
He stares at me.
I take my finger out of my mouth.
Well, no, not exactly, i say.
What are you then?
A writer.
A writer, he says.

We retire to sleep off our hangovers.

I wake up hours later, and suddenly realise i was on board a boat. A boat is not a car. Of course nothing is earthed to the body of the boat - it floats in seawater. Seawater is an electrolyte. Of course you wouldn't use the chassis to return the current.

I probably would have figured that one out, had i been sober. You live and learn.

Well, you live.

Tomorrow we take out the Minnow for sea trials.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Morning is hell.

I peep out from inside the sleeping bag, but the light hurts. I tuck my head back under the fleece. Free beer. Always dangerous. Don't remember much of the beach party. A fire. I remember a fire on the beach. Guitars, a djembe drum, girls … as i drop back into the brief panacea of sleep, i remember …

Somebody tears down a tamarisk tree, covers it in diesel, and sets it alight. Well, they're a weed. Sitting around the fire, the drum thuds away as the other guitarist and i meander around each other. All is going splendidly until the Professional Partygoers turn up. One is carrying a big pine pallet. You idiots, he says. Trying to burn a green tamarisk tree.

He drops the pallet on the fire in front of us, with an expression of smug self-satisfaction. Which slowly fades as our fire goes out.

As i am leaving, a fresh Professional Partygoer demands the guitar. Give me the guitar, he says.
Oh, i am just leaving, i say, my guitar already slung over my shoulder.
No, come on, give me the guitar.
Well, i'm—
Give me the guitar.
I give him the guitar.
He sits down with it, and launches into a series of self-important power chords. It sounds like shit.
What the—?
He looks down at the guitar.
It's in open tuning, i say.
Oh, shit, he says, rolling his eyes. He plucks the lowest string, and turns the tuning peg. Nothing happens. He tries again.
What the—? he says again.
Oh, the bottom string has been removed. It's in a five-string tuning.
Oh, shit, he says. Give me an A, he demands of the other guitarist.
A? says the other guitarist, gently mocking.
Give me an A!
A? A? we all start saying in unison. A? We laugh. I get the guitar back and head up the road. I run into Louie.
Pies, says Louie. Pies. Let's go.
We walk to the bakery. Chrisso is there. Mickey T is nowhere to be seen; he's probably in a sleeping bag somewhere with one of the girls from the party. It's about three. The bakers flail away amongst the flour, making dough on speed.
They're on speed, says Chrisso.
A baker pops out with four pies. Ten dollars, he says. His eyes like saucers. Flying saucers.
It is the best pie i have ever eaten in my entire life. Either that or i'm drunk.

Morning is hell.

For breakfast, i eat half a microwaved pie i find on top of the cupboard. As we check out of the Coral Bay backpackers, we check out the backpackers. There's Lydia, the Swedish babe from the beach yesterday, in the yellow bikini. Lydia is swanning around the place. She smiles. Mmm.

Ah, back in the Bay, says Mickey T. Now i remember now why i spent a whole year here.

We take our key and our borrowed rugs back to reception. Chrisso, Mickey T and i try catching moths in the lobby. For our wallets. The girls at the desk stare at us as we climb the walls. Call security, says the pretty one to the ugly one.
What are you guys doing? says the ugly one.
Oh, just catching these moths, to put in our wallets. So when we open our wallets, the moths will fly out. You see? It's like a joke.
She stares at us.
Maybe you should put them in your underpants, she says.

At the bakery, i order double-shot espressos from the french waitress. With a poker face, i open my wallet, waiting for the moths to fly out so i can play the old 'obviously i haven't opened my wallet in a long time' gag. A big moth lumbers out, slowly. Obviously dazed. It stands on the end of my finger. We both stare at it.

Eez that your leetle friend, says the waitress.

We wander the Bay in search of our sobriety. It takes us four hours to launch the boat. Finally, after several more coffees and red bulls, we head out into the bay, totally flungover. Which, as readers of The Nerve will know, is just like hungover, only further over.

Friday, June 01, 2007


I never really got the hang of Australian Rules Football. Of course, i played it at school. One was forced to.

But i lacked that competitive spirit. I used to play the forward pocket, and would spend most of the game engaging my opponent in conversation. What's it like at your school. Are all your teachers dipsticks. How many times have you got the cuts from the principal. Oh, is that all. Does he do it across your hands, or across the back of your legs. He is a she? Really? Far out Brussel sprout.

So when the ball did occasionally bounce past, i scarcely noticed. At regular intervals throughout the game, we would stop, and a teacher would bring us a cool drink and oranges cut into four. For a long while i thought this was what was meant by "Quarter Time". Time for quarters of orange.

As a child i was pleased to see on the TV that even the burly VFL players took time out from their hectic game to share some pieces of orange.


I have to go to Coral Bay this weekend, to do a story on the pub.
I mention this to Bart in my email.
Every journalist's dream, he replies.
Later, i discover our mate Noodles from Megarooting Avenue, Bones and the band will be supplying the musical entertainment. The publican will be putting on free food. And free beer.

That's free beer.

And an after party on the beach. When Mickey T, Louie, Chrisso and i roll up at the Bay, late in the day, there seem to be lot of blonde backpackers from Sweden getting about on the brilliant white beach in their bikinis. The tinnies are coasting in, and are being hauled up onto submerged trailers behind 4WDs sunk sill-deep in the water. As we slide Chrisso's boat out into the bay, i reflect upon my fate. Last year i had wanted to get out of my comfort zone, and go to West Papua or Afghanistan or Venezuela to cover the troubles, but somehow i have wound up only as far north as the Ningaloo Reef Resort. The path of least resistance is an understatement. Perhaps Heatseeker of Leisure is more apt. Because, my friends, this is supposed to be work.

And there i was lecturing Melinda Mayhem about getting out of her comfort zone. Ha! I feel like such an impostor. Prompting poor Mayhem to the limits of her endurance, urging her leave her boudoir, to fly as far from Perth as possible. Forcing her to widen her ambit beyond the North Perth Plaza and the dungeons of Mount Lawley. Have i prodded her in the right direction? Last time i checked on The Adventures of Miss Melinda, she was being smooched by Mr Fear'n'Loathing himself in Las Vegas and hanging out with a certain music producer of a certain favourite band. Mayhem. Thou rockest. I am but an amateur in thy presence. Thou art cool as kim deal.

Large spangled emperors swim at my feet, hoping for a titbit or two. They look delicious. But they are smart. They know this is a Sanctuary Zone. They eyeball us with smug amusement, and swim languidly away.

The sun is dropping to the horizon. The shadows of the girls walking the beach are stretched to barbie doll proportions, ridiculously long and slender. Black clouds are forming on the horizon. All the boats seem to be all coming in, droning their way in a long U-turn through the reef, carefully following the channel markers. We are heading out. There's still time for a couple of quick, high-speed wakeboarding runs through the polyps, i am told.

I climb on board, and hang on.