Sweet baby jesus, i'm back in this woebegone city. It's vapid. Vacuous. Superficial. Not just ficial, it's superficial.
I can't get out of here fast enough. Perth is no different from any other mediocre city, i suppose. Christmas eve i spend on the streets. I'm trying to save my barely extant money by alternately couch-surfing, back-packing, and sleeping under trees on Adelaide Terrace. I wake Christmas morning in a homeless person's camp, under the fig trees next to the old ABC studios. Quite a contrast to the previous night's luxurious soirée in Huss and Veronica's swish penthouse apartment, overlooking the river.
The mosquito bites are a mild annoyance. Or were those fleas? It was a singularly uncomfortable night, either way, with my spare shirt wrapped abut my head to fend of those whining little bloodsuckers. I dust off my leather jacket, brushing away a flattened snail. Apart from swathes of polyethylene wrap, which served as bedding, the morning light unearths a ludicrously bouyant Bananas in Pyjamas motif on the banana-shaped cushion that served me as a pillow. Plus a couple of discarded backpacks, two carefully coiled pieces of electrical cable, and an empty can of eucalyptus spray. And, oddly enough, a hospital ID tag, with a picture of "Nathan", who looks Nigerian. With the word "Nurse" underneath. Nathan, the Nigerian Nurse. So this dump under the fig trees was probably home to a recent immigrant. Maybe Nurse Nathan is trying to save enough money to pay the bond on his first flat.
It is woefully hot. I fire up the motorbike and ride over to Matilda Bay, where the baking hot easterly is at least coming across the water. I fall into a fitful doze in the warm shade, only to be woken around midday by a worried-looking middle-aged Western-suburbs woman. She asks if i am ok.
Would you like some tobacco, or something? she asks slowly and condescendingly, as if talking to a very small child. Do i look like i have just gotten out of prison, or something? I politely decline, and roll over.
It must be the Christmas Spirit, i think. So volatile in the noonday sun.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Sweet baby jesus, i'm back in this woebegone city. It's vapid. Vacuous. Superficial. Not just ficial, it's superficial.
Monday, December 24, 2007
It probably would have made sense to plan this 1000km motorcycle trip to Perth, rather than just jumping on the bike and taking off. On an impulse. It probably would have been worth figuring out where to stay, when i was due back, that kind of thing. But, hey.
On the drive up, riding in the truck with Demo Bob nearly a year ago, the long distances of hot, flat bush between the roadhouses seemed so harsh and unforgiving. The red dust, snakewood and melaleucas fringing a thin strip of bitumen littered with roadkill under that vast white-hot blue sky - a man could perish out here, i thought. Now, this wild terrain seems more friendly and familiar. Like an enormous back yard. The distances have become shorter. The heat more tolerable.
Pushing into a southerly wind at a steady hundred clicks, i reach Wooramel River in just over an hour. The bike is behaving herself. Good bike. She hasn't shed any parts, or conked out. On the first test ride around Carnarvon a couple of weeks ago, one of the mufflers just simply fell off. I picked up the hot metal cylinder off David Brand Drive with my leather jacket, balancing it on my knees for a bleatingly loud and sheepish ride home. Then, the other one fell off, out by the plantations. These are minor bugs, i told myself. Just one of those things. Teething problems. Then the ignition key fell out from the switch, from where i had relocated it on the side of the 650. Somewhere between Ag Department and the office, a distance of about ten kilometres, the keys disappeared. The only set of keys to the ignition and the fuel tank. Oops. Mayhem and i tracked them down, and the bike now seems fairly integral. And it is registered. Which is, of course, a bonus.
I coast in to the shaded concrete forecourt of Wooramel Roadhouse, and kill the motor.
The tank takes a few litres of premium. Pushing through the screen door i find a chatty blonde in a low-cut pink top. I pay her for the juice and we discuss the slight prospect of rain. I sit down for breakfast and a quiet read. Over an instant coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich, i escape to Sicily, its seafood, piazzas and dark underbelly. The next stop is Overlander, a hundred and something k's south. Then another long empty stretch of highway to Billabong Roadhouse.
On past Nerren Nerren Station to the mighty Murchison, the first river i've seen in months that is full of water, rather than sand. Then it's on through the rolling hills of Northampton, with the farmers' increasingly bizarre roadside Christmas decorations. I ride on towards Christmas, civilisation, and the promise of a cup of real coffee.
This roadhouse coffee is shit.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The roof of the shack is covered in sheets of marine ply. Some very considerate beach bum has created the perfect platform for quietly viewing these dusted stars. We lie under a darkly blazing hemisphere of night.
We've rolled out a couple of swags, a little drunk, a little stoned. It’s Mayhem’s last day tomorrow. Staggering about the rooftop, disoriented and windblown. So this is Colby’s swag, says Melinda. Oh Lordy, do you think i could get pregnant from sleeping in this?
Taking a piss on the edge of the roof, i’m swaying like a bird on a wire. I can’t see anything below me in the dark. I hope i’m not pissing on anyone. A rope runs the perimeter of the roof, looped through four long, rusted, vertical lengths of railway track.
You’ll be right, i say. Just don't walk too far if you have to get up in the middle of the night.
Why? Is that an electric fence?
I climb into the sack, paralysed with a fit of the giggles. With 18 surgical staples in my torso, it only hurts when I laugh. Poor Art Director is coming apart at the seams. Still, better to get a hernia repaired in the Carnarvon Hospital than in some third world brothel overseas next year. Better - but only just.
Today we’ve been celebrating Mayhem’s successful three-month journalistic sojourn in the Gascoyne. With a big breakfast, and a run to the blowholes on the motorcycle. Down the South River Road. Chasing down the afternoon shadows, rushing past the plantations and out across that vast empty river at the Nine Mile bridge. Then the long, flat stretch of road past the Rio Tinto salt mines at Lake MacLeod, winding the bike out into the breeze, the mp3 player keeping us charged inside our helmets.
Cattle gaze ponderously at our approach, before stampeding into the scrub at the sound of the 650. A wedgetailed eagle lifts slowly, majestic, its wide brown wings spread against the setting sun. We run up the last few curves of road before peaking over a hill by the lighthouse.
The ocean effervescing in the afternoon sun.
I stretch my arms wide as the bike soars down towards the coast, Apollo 440 blasting in our eardrums.
At the “King Waves Kill” sign, we turn left onto the limestone road, and feel our way carefully down to the shacks. Down the boat ramp road, pushing slowly through the heavy drifts of sand, in a relentless mad urge to greet the sea. The bike loses traction, and keels over, as if exhausted. We crash-land on the beach, a couple of crazy Carnarvon cosmonauts. I hit the kill switch, and Mayhem helps me right the beast. We've reached our destination - the blowholes shacks, where we meet up with Mickey T, Louie, Chrisso and Kristy for some refreshing Coopers’ ales. Supplemented by a round of huge Pacific Ocean oysters, with alfalfa and Tabasco sauce. Steak, sausages, and a bit of weed. DJ Shadow on the stereo. We light a fire, and haul out an old sofa. Sit around and spin our tales of urban excess, tracing carefully, with our airy words, life's absurd spiral. Until the light fades and the sparks quietly die, flying upwards into that black, unimaginable nothingness.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The fever is beginning to take hold. In a moment of panic, i apply for a transfer. To Albany. The Southern Ocean. To those granite beaches, those tinglewood trees...
I feel my work here is done. There is generational change at work. A subtle, social paradigm shift in the seething microcosm that is Carnarvon. I can feel it. Civilisation is beginning to creep in, like a sombre assassin. I became completely certain of this a couple of days ago, when Louie declined an offer of another drink. Louie. Declining an offer of another drink.
And at the Gassy the other night, one of the teachers thought she'd picked up my drink by mistake. Is this your drink, she asks. No, not mine, i'm on soda water, i say. So am i, she says. And this, a teacher. On a pub crawl. We stare at one another, gobsmacked. The woman next to me shakes her head. It's just not right, she mutters. That's three people i seen tonight drinking soda water. She shakes her head again, in disbelief.
And the isolation. The fact that Carnarvon is around 400km from the nearest town north, and about 380 if you head south. It's five kilometres out to the Caltex Starmart on the North West Coastal Highway, and beyond that ... carry your own water for the next 633km, warns a big yellow sign. The Starmart marks the farthest point of civilisation. Starmart is the equivalent of the edge of the solar system. To a space traveller. And aren't we all space travellers?
To the west lie the islands, Bernier and Dorre, where they used to dump Aborigines with sexually transmitted diseases. Politely named a 'leper colony.' The islands, where some of these Aborigines would simply sit, for the rest of their miserable, lonely, truncated lives, at the edge of that barren island shore, and stare back mournfully at the mainland.
To the east is Gascoyne Junction, across 160km of broken road, then Meekatharra further out, out on the Great Northern. Gascoyne Junction, with its grand population of 43 souls. Including a publican who is owed $20.
And home: my room in a rough-and-ready shack, where sometimes it looks like i'm living in the bottom of a whore's handbag, as Mickey T would say. Still, i'll miss the place. Even Mayhem said today she would miss the place. I'll miss the freedom, she says. Freedom? The wide open spaces, she says. I suppose so, i say. If you wanted to go on a bender, some kind of spree, or just go berserk, well, there's plenty of space to do it in, and not a lot of people to stop you.
My manager comes into my office. Somebody died, she says, and they didn't find his body for five days. I shake my head. It's not news, i say. People die all the time.
And i'm starting to get that feeling of deja moo. You know that feeling you get when you think "i've seen this bullshit before"?
The phone rings. It's Fully. He's come second in some business award, second to some - what do you call those butch lesbians? he asks. Dykes, i say. Yes, Fully says, i was beaten by some dykes. One of them was dressed in a power suit. He sounds miffed. I think back to the last time i saw Fully, steadfastly strangling the national anthem on his bagpipes at the HMAS Sydney Memorial cairn at Quobba, dressed in a kilt.
Well, if you can wear a dress, they can wear a suit, i say, and settle in for the usual long, rambling Fully-embellished conversation, running the gamut from the finer points of international law through to the Rabbit Proof Fence and a number of tangents in between. People southwest of the Rabbit Proof Fence can't get the same price for their grid-fed solar photovoltaic electricity as we can here in Carnarvon, Fully says, And the only reason is because of the bureaucracy.
Is that right? i ask. Yes, he says. Except that Esperance, which is inside the southwest grid zone, has been officially declared outside of it. And Kalgoorlie, which is outside of it, is officially inside of it.
Kalgoorlie is inside? Even though it is outside?
Yes, they ran a wire out there.
And Esperance is outside, even though it is inside?
I see. Like West Berlin was outside East Germany, even though it was inside it?
Yes, just like that. And like Babbage Island is not part of the mainland.
Babbage Island? Out where the One Mile Jetty is?
Yes, the Government excised it from the immigration zone of the Australian mainland, says Fully. A few years ago, along with Christmas Island and all the others.
But it's not even an island! i protest. I rode my bike out there on Tuesday. The road runs right across Shark Skin Crossing.
The river runs round it, so it's an island, says Fully.
They filled that in years ago! Everyone knows that!
Well, they don't know it in Canberra, says Fully. According to Canberra, it's an island. And you can't claim refugee status if you land on Babbage Island. You would automatically be an illegal. You'd have to make it down to the Gassy first...
And take your Australian citizenship test...
While downing three schooners and singing Waltzing Matilda...
Hmmm. Question one: Do you own, or have you ever owned, a pair of thongs?
Question two: what is the definition of 'circle work'?
Or Question three: What purple root vegetable, beginning with 'b' is, by law, required to be inserted into a Hamburger With The Lot?
Question four: where can you sell your solar photovoltaic electricity for a price greater than 7c per kW?
North of the Rabbit Proof Fence?
Exactly. We get 15.88c here. And Horizon Power can't get enough of it. Embedded solar PV. It's the way of the future. The Prime Minister's been knocking it, arguing that if a cloud passed across a solar farm, the electricity supply would fail. I mean, fair crack. That's absolute nonsense.
Of course it is. It's embedded PV. The mistake people make is assuming that there has to be a centralised solar farm. There doesn't. The electricity-generating panels are scattered all over the place, and the power supply is independent of each individual panel.
Like the internet. That's how the internet works - if any one node fails, it simply reroutes through another...
Isn't it ironic, says Fully, how these bureaucrats are using a non-centralised system like the internet to perpetuate myths about centralised power. It's nonsense. If a cloud passes over one panel, well, it's not passing over another, see.
There's never ever a cloud across the whole state...
Never! And they say it's unreliable, well, ... look at the wind-over-diesel power plant at Coral Bay.
What about it.
Well, they've never even used those backup diesel generators, not since they set it up! And they never will. You know, the first steamships were built with sails, just in case. And they kept building them like that for fifty years. Fifty years! How many freighters do you see these days off Gage Roads with sails on them?
Not many. It takes a while for the truth to set in. And people worry about the lifetime of the solar panels!
They do. So i tell them, look, the Apollo astronauts left some on photovoltaic panels on the moon, last time they were up there. And they still work fine. And those solar panels have not seen a whole lot of lot of maintenance over the past thirty-odd years.
No, that would be a bit expensive, sending someone up there to change a fuse or top up the oil. But you know what the problem is, Fully? Solar is still seen as marginal. The lunatic fringe.
So the business of the year award goes to — the Bindoon Bakery.
I've been there!
Must be some bakery.
It was ok.
Did it scream out "Business Of The Year Award"?
Well, the pie was nice. Anyhow, Fully, i've got to go. I have to speak to a woman in Shark Bay about some camels.
I hang up.
I'm flying out on the 15th, says Mayhem. You know, Art Director, i'm going to miss this place.
Hmm. Me too. Me too.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Eyes on the road
speedo needle hovers
The bridge yawns beneath me
stretching left and right, its sands run
to ancient horizons.
Brake and shift down, down to the turn
the south river road
a scrunch of bluemetal, then wind it back on.
blur past my elbow
as the motorcycle hums that half-remembered tune
that long blue summer tune
that fleeting illusion of freedom.