Thursday, March 27, 2008


Picture, if you will, the most inane, inept and pointless arts and crafts you can possibly imagine. Scatter these woebegone works about in an unrelenting series of cheap marquees, and intersperse these with ridiculously long lines of people waiting for expensive takeaway coffee. Add to this a band or four of happy, hippy musos, playing a hotchpotch of Celtic jigs and Indigenous surf music on flute, electric mandolin and djembe drum, fronted by singers dressed in what Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac would wear to change the oil on her Volkswagen.

Then imagine taking the competitive, climbing masses from every clamorous Saturday Coles supermarket in the western suburbs and flinging them, holus bolus, screaming and scolding, children and all, onto the grass amongst the stalls.

There you have a picture of the Denmark Easter Markets. Imagine if you will coming face to face with this dire ensemble as you crawl hungover from your cheap hotel room and blunder out to face the day. I pay my gold coin "donation" to enter the markets, and buy a spinach and feta parcel from two brightly coloured unwashed girls with dreadlocked beads in their hair. What have they got to smile about, i wonder. Perhaps all the money they save on shampoo. The spinach and feta parcel is a tad too flaky - but then one is what one eats.

The cheery sounds of the flute fills the air once more and suddenly i just can't take it any longer. I leap to my feet and mindful of neither face-painted child nor barefooted rainbow coloured hippy i elbow my way out of this torment. Sartre was right when he said "hell is other people". I make good my neurotic and terror-stricken escape from these seething hordes.

The chirpy folk music and its magpie aesthetic is, thankfully, dulled into oblivion by the deep throaty roar of the 650 as i set off for the Denmark tip. I shake my head. If people must spend their money on rubbish over Easter, there are far more civilised ways of doing it. I flip down the visor as i gather speed, and leave this tie-dyed melee to contemplate the sounds of the Doppler Effect.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Ooh, it's cold. It's a different kind of cold down here. They told me it would be cold, but nothing could have prepared me for this.

Well, i suppose looking at the weather report could have prepared me somewhat. Or bringing a warm jumper. But nonetheless i am here on the Southern Ocean, after a very, very cold 400km ride from Sculpture by the Sea. Including a godforsaken 250km stretch from nine to midnight on a highway from frozen hell where all the servo owners were safely tucked up in bed with a mug of cocoa and a hot woman by 6pm. Damn them. Damn them all, and damn their warm appendages. The bike usually runs out of fuel at around 200km on a full tank. But what do they care?

I get the news from a farmer as i fill the Yami at the Williams servo. He is staring at my motorbike. "An XS650," he says knowingly. "I crashed one of those once. Where are you headed?"

I point at the Southern Cross and inform him of my wooly-headed intentions.

"Nothing's open mate, not between here and Albany," he tells me, still looking at the motorbike. "Though i've got a spare can of diesel i could lend you." What a joker, i think. What laconic country humour. But he is serious. He comes back from rummaging in his rather agrarian ute with a brand new five litre Rheem plastic fuel drum, with yellow flexible spout, worth about twenty dollars on the open market.

"Just tip the diesel out the back somewhere mate and fill it up and tie it to your bike. Bob's your uncle."

I am overwhelmingly overwhelmed by his generosity, but there is nowhere i can attach the fuel drum without it becoming a hazard. I am already loaded down with a backpack, a front pack, a Cathay Pacific airline bag strapped to the seat and a leather pannier on the side. A supplementary drum of diesel - or whatever - is just not going to happen. Instead, i get the funny farmer to help me stand the bike perfectly upright while i squeeze another litre into the top of the fuel tank. I pull on my helmet and fingerless gloves, and make a dash for it. At a slow and steady 80kmh, hunched up, one small aerodynamic ball of Art Director.

It gets warmer as the bike climbs to the top of the hills, possibly even above freezing. But the valleys - oh, the valleys. Not even my desperate screams and shakes seem to have any effect on this blasphemous cold. My neck is a freezer block, my fingers popsicles. After the warm climes of the North West, i feel like i am heading towards Antarctica. Which, of course, i am.

The Gods of Premium Unleaded smile on me. I make it to Albany, having switched to reserve near Mount Romance, and trundle hollowly into town at midnight with about one shot of fuel left in my tank. Two dollars in my pocket and my fingers numb.

I ride to the storage unit on Vine Street, where i deposited my worldly possessions via a hired truck just one week previously. As i noisily pull up the roll-a-door, i think what am i doing here. I drive the motorbike into the 4x3 metre den. Piled high with tea chests and books and furniture, and, yes, a swag already rolled out on the floor. Nothing like a bit of forward thinking. I kill the headlight, roll down the door, and go into a kind of Self Storage hibernation. And defrost my sorry arse. For tomorrow i will become a Sub Editor.

The City of Albany is a scene torn straight from of the pages of Moby Dick. No doubt these waterfront hotels on Stirling Terrace serve a great Nantucket Clam Chowder. The cold grey streets wind their way precariously up and around the twin hills of Mount Clarence and Mount Melville, where there lie scattered huge dimension stones, boulders of cold granite, which adorn the hills and the shorelines and plunge like a broken string of pearls into the waters of Princess Royal Harbour.

The permanent rainclouds. Opshops full of coats and scarves. The stony hills, the sharp outlines of the ranges on the horizon. The harbour and the islands. There are no traffic lights, but roundabouts are strewn like some spastic game of quoits throughout the town. Where bogans in Holdens do their donuts. The bookshops on the main street, cafes, the nouveau antique shops. Emu Point. Frenchman's Bay. Everybody a stranger. Tanglehead Brewery - as if anybody could drink beer in this weather. What do they grow here? Trees. And real estate. The town is beseiged by tree corporations and real estate agents.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals opshop has two blown emu eggs for sale. How ironic. Isn't it cruelty to animals to steal their eggs? Imagine, if you will, that you are an emu coming home after a hard day's foraging to find somebody has stolen your fucking eggs. Alas, such a cruel yoke. The large green eggs are $10 each. A shop on York Street has carved emu eggs for sale at $120 each. Hmm, now there's a way to scratch out a living.

My grandfather had some carved emu eggs from Albany. And two large sperm whale teeth decorated the rough red bricks of his fireplace. Intricately carved with ancient scrimshaw. Delicate outlines rendering the gossamer web of the rigging of a clipper, or a schooner, or some seagoing instrument of whale nemesis. Two fine examples of scrimshaw, carefully etched out by some artistic old sea salt in his whaling downtime. For Albany, like Carnarvon, had at one time a bloody whaling operation.

History. That king wave which will ultimately envelop us all, consigning each one of us to its impenetrable depths. My great great grandmother, so i am reliably informed by my Mother (and yes, dear readers, i do have Parents), was Albany's first nurse back in the 1870s. Selena Griffiths no doubt tended to those intrepid seafarers accidentally harpooned or otherwise damaged in pursuit of their blubber and ambergris.

Selena's daughter Agnes married one of those Northeys, my mother's clan. Who, through a long and convoluted series of mishaps, produced the Art Director, who, over the next few months, will be your guide to the magical Rainbow Coast. So called because everybody here is either gay, or a raving hippy. Or perhaps "Rainbow Coast" is a nice way of saying it's always fucking raining?

Friday, March 21, 2008


Joerg-Werner Schmidt: Humans Emerging from the Water - Imprinted by their Origin - Imprinted by their Aim

Women everywhere in varying states of undress. Topless women rubbing sun cream on each other. Bikini clad girls running through the surf. Ah.

None of this, however, can distract me from my mission, which is of course Art. Two weeks photographing Sculpture By The Sea, Cottesloe. When the semi naked women appear, i point my camera at the ground and stare at the sea. Stare at the sand. Lest i am mistaken for some kind of pervert.

Anna Gunnarsdottir (Iceland): Sea Shells

Arriving on installation day, straight off the motorbike after a thousand kilometre, two day ride, i'm thrown in at the deep end. If only i'd remembered to take the Sony Ericsson out of my pocket first. Shoot.

Still, life is simpler without the mobile phone. Mornings i do yoga stretches and swim out past the end of the sea wall, soaking up the coolness and the calm. A double shot coffee at Il Lido, and i'm ready to shoot again.

But it's a tough assignment. And not just because of the relentless pull of the sea sirens. It's the sun. And walking on beach sand all day: an iron man i am not. So i buy a ridiculously large straw coolie's hat from the surf shop and slap on the suncream, but it's still a long hard slog. It's no day at the beach, i can tell you.

I couch surf for a couple of days, but eventually i bite the bullet and check in to the spare room at the Aged Parents' house. They are retired, and are none too pleased to see me. The family's black sheep has returned, newly shorn by Plamina the Bulgarian Barber.

Evenings, the Aged Parents sit quietly side by side, reading their murder mysteries. Dawn and dusk they hand feed the local population of kookaburras and magpies. I can't venture out the back door without being set upon by natives - i tell you, it's like a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds out there. I shower, and head back out to the beach. I suppose the Aged Parents are upset at me because they think i am treating their home like a hotel. Well, i am treating their home like a hotel. And the free internet is a bonus.

Tim MacFarlane Reid: Origin

I suppose you could say the installation of sculpture on the beach works because of the subconscious associations of positive and negative sculptural space with the yin and yang energy of sun and sea. The sun, a positive male force - a yang energy - parallels the positive dynamic space occupied by the mass dimension of the sculpture. The masculine, positive, upward-seeking qualities of the work correspond to the light and daytime, the sun. While the sea, long associated with the emotions and nature - a female yin energy - represents the negative space in sculpture, a dynamic embraced by modernist sculptors such as Henry Moore and Jean Arp.

One could say that, but of course it is complete bullshit.

Friday, March 14, 2008


I have lost my faith that the ticket tells where we are going.
There are rumours the driver is mad - we are all being trucked
To the abattoirs somewhere - the signals are jammed and unknowing
We aim through the night full speed at a wrecked viaduct.

But I do not believe them. The future is rumour and drivel;
Only the past is assured. From the observation car
I stand looking back and watching the landscape shrivel,
Wondering where we are going and just where the hell we are

- A.D. Hope
(Collected Poems 1930-1970, Sydney 1972)

Sunday morning, and The Germans are up early. We throw some gear in the car and head off into the sunrise. For one last fling up the Ningaloo Coast. Rebekah, Marcus, me, and Mira the dog.

The wipers don't work in the Pajero. Marcus is not used to changing gears with his left hand. Mira is not used to sitting still. The windows are misted up, and Mira is running rampant. The 4WD zigzags across Robinson Street towards the North West Coastal Highway with a grinding of gears and a gnashing of teeth. I lie on the back deck of the Pajero, between the backpacks and the water drum, and fall into a fitful doze, happy in the knowledge that if i die, i might at least die in my sleep.

I've been up very late, throwing my few remaining worldly goods into cardboard boxes. Tomorrow is my last edition of The Newspaper. Then i'll tie my bags to the motorcycle and try to make Northampton by midnight. On Tuesday I am to due for reincarnation as the official photographer at Sculpture by the Sea. For two weeks i will be shooting art on the beach, and then it's off to the Southern Ocean to work on The New Newspaper.

The Southern Ocean. Cold waters, granite boulders, giant trees. And no friends.

Compare and contrast. Still, you've got to do what you've got to do. By definition, i suppose. And you've got to get out of your comfort zone. Like my French photographer friend Florence Alien says. Florence does not believe i am cursed, despite all the evidence to the contrary. She thinks that if you don't get out of your comfort zone and do things, then of course nothing can go wrong.

"Zees people, zey go to zair jobs, zey work, zey go home, zey eat, watch a beet of tee vee and zey sleep," Florence says, although i can't do her accent very well. "Zen zey get up and zey do eet all over again, Muck. What can go wrong for zees people, Muck?"

Ah, i love a French accent. French girls. Don't you just want to throw them on the ground and jump on them? So she thinks the reason why my life is such a shambles and why things keep fucking up is not because i have actually had a curse placed upon me by The Ex, or because my brain cells have been destroyed by drink, but simply because i choose not to spend my life on my sofa.

Florence. Her reasoning makes all the crap somehow seem worthwhile.

The Pajero grinds to a halt at the Blowholes, on the barren Quobba coast. Marcus is slowly getting a handle on the gear changes. We clamber out and look around. Lots of rocks. Quite obviously, this is the set where NASA shot all those fake Viking photos, allegedly taken on the surface of Mars.

Photo of Viking 1 Lander on Quobba coast courtesy of NASA

I didn't know a soul in Carnarvon when i landed here, other than my mentor and driver, Mr Safari Bob. Not a living soul. But now i am sad to be leaving this town and my slightly sun crazed friends. I climb back into the vehicle with The Germans and the dog and we drive a little way south to the Fishbowl. We climb down the cliff and wade out into the shallow, rocky water. The Fishbowl and the Blowholes Beach is protected from the killer King Waves by an island and a stretch of reef. Otherwise i would be nowhere near the water. Three people a year, on average, are lost off the Quobba coast. Most of them are Japanese tourists, who are somehow predisposed to spectacular deaths in the Australian outback. But i am taking no chances.

I take a piece of roast beef and pickle sandwich and hand-feed some fish. Just like Melinda Mayhem did for our article on the Blowholes for the Coral Coast Happenings magazine, all those months ago. Except Mayhem looked much better in a swimsuit. And her rubber booties. That girl! I can't get her out of my head.

What is the point of The Nerve without Mayhem? Where is its raison d'etre? Alas, my prose has degenerated, without my Muse, into meaningless lists of random events.

Marcus takes some pictures of the parrot fish snacking on the Starmart sandwiches, and then it's on, on, up past the Quobba homestead and along the dirt tracks to Red Bluff, with its castaway shacks and eco tents. A true surfers' paradise, with its huge, regular lefthanders peeling off around the headland. We take a swim in the bay.

Well, i use the word 'swim' loosely, as Marcus and i are relentlessly pounded by the breakers as Rebi shouts at us in horror. Get out of the water, she yells. What, and miss all the fun? Eventually it becomes too much for my weary bones and i catch one last wave, propelled up onto the sand beach amidst a flurry of foam. The sun is warm on our backs, Mira is chasing the seabirds, and it is a beautiful day. I pick up a small, dotted, orange cowry shell from the beach at Red Bluff.

Further up the coast we come to Gnaraloo. Dr Case and Louis are purportedly camped around here somewhere, at least according to a drunken conversation i had with them at the Gassy on Friday night. I suspect they might be at Three Mile Camp. But the intrepid Germans are heading further north to Gnaraloo Bay, where, without those bone-crunching dumpers, we can all take a leisurely swim.

Wandering the bay, the salt drying on my skin, i pick up another shell, a serrated geometric spiral. As much as i rail against both sentimentality and the plundering of natural resources, i can't help but pocket this small keepsake from the Gascoyne coast.

By tomorrow i'll be showering off the road grime in a cheap motel in Northampton, as the 650 clicks and cools outside the door.

So long to Dr Case, Richard the Oyster Farmer, Louis Weston, concrete Chrisso, Kristy, Colby the shark hunter, Dewse, Crusty, Nurse Nikki and punkrock Sean, Ant, CJ, Burke "Boomer" Maslen, Ray Edney, Leslie Lee, KJ, David Skene, Scott Brain, Wayne, Kristal Lange, Ryan, Kevin & Kevin at the Gassy, the unflappable Noel from Noel's Bar, Roxy, Pippa, and Olivia, Tony and Merome Beard from the Port Hotel, Branwen, Mel Meeks, Ken Young, Teressa Miller, Elliot, Bones, Paul Minnear and Liz in Exmouth, the neighbours Bruce, Brickie Dave and Yute Bannattee, photographers Christian Byrt and Karl Monaghan, Simon Moore, Paul Kelly (the bank manager, not the singer/songwriter), Gary Larson (the engineer, not the cartoonist), Ted Shultz and the rest of the Dash crew, Graeme Murphy, Hippy, Doug Hunt and Joe in Coral Bay, Brenton Baker, Rachellarella, Colin Andreoli, Darlene, Sammy, Paquita and Chris Boston, Saxon, Jennifer P, Westy, Sue, Lauren, Tracey, and Sharon, Vince Catania, Lionel Quartermaine, Constables Rob and Jordan, the crusty demon rider Fungi Furniss, Pompy, Jenny and David Walsh, Chris 'n' Amy, artist Bonnie Ingram, Kudzy, Damo the chef, Fully, President Dudley and Graeme from the Shire of Carnarvon, Eric at Boodalia, Eric Warren, the singing gem Ashleigh Rodier, Peter King and Lulu, and Downunda Thunda DJ "Nana" Mex, and Bluey.

And of course Mickey T, who gave me soul food, shelter, and the best possible company.

Shine on, my friends.