Wednesday, December 31, 2008


This is a recipe for instant gratification. You can cook this while totally off your tits. I know, because i was there.

Serves 2
Mi Goreng instant noodles
two eggs
coconut milk
sprouts or other vegetation
meat, fish, or fish substitute

Dylan is back in town. I don't quite know what he is doing here, but that's OK, because neither does he. After lurching about town for a 'quick drink', we finally stagger back to the apartment and start in on a stash of New Zealand's finest, thoughtfully left behind during a recent visit by a local bohemian guitarist. It's been a big afternoon slash evening. Sarah Toa was right. There is no such thing as a 'quick drink' with Dylan, unless bouncers are involved. As it was, i had to drag him out of the Tangehead pub before we were thrown out. Once again. After weeks of practice, i have found there is an intangible yet clearly definable line, which, if we stick to it, allows us to be happy, smiling, partying drunks. Once the line is reached - and this is easily recognisable, because suddenly everybody is our best friend - the trick is to drink one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. And drink slowly, preferably while wearing a Hawaiian shirt. To quote Safari Bob, everything looks better in a Hawaiian shirt.

But if i succumb to that almost irresistible urge to increase my alcoholic intake fourfold and /or start in on the spirits, i will cross this fine line, and become an instant nuisance. Or, along with Dylan, two instant nuisances.

After Dylan sits down at someone else's table and starts talking in what sounds like a Lithuanian dialect to Ann-Marie, the pretty, short-cropped blonde-haired ex-model, i decide we must have inadvertently crossed that line at some point on our crawl between the Hurl, the Premier Hotel and Tanglehead. Ann-Marie works at the hairdressers downstairs from my apartment and, a couple of days ago, they were all working dressed in elf outfits. Ann-Marie's red pixie party dress, trimmed with white faux fur, came down to her upper thigh, followed by a short space of white flesh, then sheer white lace-topped stockings. She was wearing high heels, and her legs went all the way up until they met our expectations. We had just returned from the beach, and stood in front of the window - sandy, stunned and somewhat stricken - as Ann-Marie bent over to pick a dustpan and brush up off the floor.

"You looked very festive in that elfin outfit," Dylan says to her during a brief moment of comprehensibility. "My friend and i were watching you through the window. I've got an ostrich egg at home. I can show it to you if you like."
I collar Dylan and drag him toward the exit. "Let's go."
"We could listen to Barry White! Do you play Yahtzee?" he shouts over his shoulder.
Our exit is complicated by the sudden appearance before us of two blonde girls, dressed all in khaki. They introduce themselves as Steve and Bindi Irwin. This proves too much of a distraction for Dylan, who immediately launches into another improbable dialogue.
"A dingo ate my baby," he begins.

Eventually we reach the relative solace of the apartment, light up a pipe, and get bombed. Dylan raids my vinyl collection, and begins to irreparably damage my mint condition Beatles box set. I go to the kitchen to see what's to eat. Not much. Some leftover beef vindaloo. And a couple of packets of two-minute Mi Goreng instant noodles.

I boil some water on the stove, and crack in a couple of freshly plucked eggs. After these have cooked for about a minute, i chuck in the noodles and their concomitant condiments, squeezing them out of their little plastic sachets. Dylan has found some Stevie Wonder. The street scene from Living For The City plays out on the stereo. I lurch about the kitchen. Two minute noodles. It doesn't quite cut it, does it. I find a tin of coconut milk. Mmm. There's an idea. Coconut milk. I open it and set it aside while i go looking for some coriander. Coconut and coriander. Like Steve and Bindi. I find some coriander and some leftover salad, and tear it all up. The noodles are cooked, so i tip in some coconut milk and throw the vegetation on top. Looking good. But it needs some body, some meat, or better still, some seafood. Fish. Or perhaps some nice fish substitute? I ransack the fridge and cupboards. Nothing. Only the leftover beef vindaloo. Where is Sarah Toa, rogue fisherwoman when i need her? What the hell, i think. I quickly heat the vindaloo in the microwave and throw in some beef strips and, as an afterthought, tip in some of the curry oil.
"Mmm," says Dylan, and he takes a mouthful from his bowl of noodles. The Saints are on the stereo, stranded far from home. "This is great curry laksa."
I look at the bowl, with its coconut soup intermingled with curry oil. Bean shoots. Noodles. It does look like curry laksa. Well i never.
"Oh it's not bad," i say, nonchalantly. "I got the recipe from a Thai monk during my stay at the Suvarnabhumi Temple at Three Pagodas Pass, up near the Burmese border. Back in '72."
"They love their Yahtzee, those monks," says Dylan. "You got any beer?"

Sunday, December 28, 2008


My lids are red, almost translucent in this lucid December sun. I hear the soft shush, shush of the swell between the rocks, and feel the warmth of the sun, and its bite. I realise i will be prickly with sunburn tomorrow. But the heat is so relaxing my muscles have lapsed into a dream state. And i don't wish to wake them.

Yesterday i applied for a job as a journalist in Airlie Beach, Queensland, with The Whitsunday Times. No, not the Sunday Times - The Whitsunday Times. This is a subtle, yet vital distinction. Because the Whitsunday Islands are exotic, are far away, and have remote beaches. Mmm. The Whitsundays. I'd need a yacht. And perhaps there i can finally get away from it all. Perhaps there i can finally escape my past and stop running for a while.

So how do you think it feels
sleeping by yourself
when the one you love, the one you love
is with someone else

then it's a wide open road
its a wide open road
and now you can go any place
that you wish to go

- David McComb

But deep down i know the memories will follow in my wake, and when i stop she will once again wash over me. Getting away from it all on some remote beach. It's a romantic notion; and like most romantic notions, it will never work. Because on whichever beach i lay on - and today i'm laying on a warm rock off Mistaken Island - it is never remote enough. Wherever i am, the beach is right there under me. There is no escape.

Mistaken Island - a metaphor for my journey these past two and a half years, trying to forget, trying to push myself and my work out beyond the edge. And now today i have discovered i am not a photographer at all. I am merely a camera demolition expert. I have destroyed yet another Nikon, this time by dropping it onto Sarah's head as we climbed down from above the wheelhouse on the Cheynes II. She did a sterling job of breaking its fall, but as it hit the deck the back came open, ruining my last roll of film. The camera no longer works. Deja voodoo. I remember picking up another F3, also minus its back, its spoiled film spilling out like goat entrails out onto the highway near Ravensthorpe. Only a couple of weeks back. And the D70 ... well, best not to even think about that one. Suffice to say it's gone too. That makes four cameras lost, broken or completely destroyed since October. Ouch. I heard a theory, through a friend of a friend, that i am subconsciously destroying all my cameras because i don't value my skills as a photographer. Perhaps that's what happened in my relationship with Mili X. Perhaps i didn't value my skills. Or perhaps i'm just really stupid and clumsy.

Either way, i'm working on a deal with The Newspaper to acquire their stash of old Nikon film cameras, which are languishing and collecting dust, in a steel cabinet in the subs' room. A whole bunch of them. Which is good, because at this rate, i'm going to need them.

Just as we were about to push off from the Cheynes II, we suddenly realised it was a giant mussel farm. Never averse to a feed of those tasty morsels, we filled a third of a bucket in no time flat; Morgan, Catherine, Sarah and i pulled them from the hull where they were clustered between the high and low tide marks. Then Sarah piloted the boat around the coastline, past Fisheries, to the lee side of the peninsula and Mistaken Island, where we anchored and swam. I had only boxers. "Don't laugh," i instructed my fellow drifters as i prepared to dive into those crystal clear waters. "Oh, no," said Catherine, "We'll only laugh when you get out." Hmm. The shrinkage factor. I dive in.

Lying, drying, salt taut on my skin. Sarah and Catherine are stretched out on another rock somewhere on the island, while Morgan is fossicking about, swimming, and calling to his mum. The quietude and sunshine is bliss. I roll onto my stomach and start toasting my back. Perhaps i should stay put in Albany for a while, with its warm weather and stunning beaches. I'm earning good money now, as production editor. And Melinda Mayhem will be back from New York by the end of the week, unless they agree to extend her US visa - and even the US Government is not that crazy. Last time she flew from Manhattan straight to the mangroves and spent three months working in Carnarvon, where i broke her in as a journalist. If i remember rightly i was wearing spurs at the time.

"I'm thinking of coming down to Albany from New York," Mayhem says. "Can you find me a job? I mean, why break with tradition? We'll save some money, Art Director, and head for Europe. Go on."

Perhaps that's what i need to break this spell. My muse. I'm hot, and i'm dry. I wade out into the crystal clear waters for another swim. Fuck the X. Bring on the here and now.

Friday, December 26, 2008


It is a splendid day. The sea is glassy and white clouds scud, as only clouds can, across an azure Albany sky. The thirty horsepower Mercury is getting us across at a good clip. We can see the silhouette of the Cheynes II framed against the white beaches of Possession Point. The whole venture brings to mind Kenneth Graham: "There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

The Cheynes II. And i thought my '62 Spitfire was a rustbucket. It had nothing on this old Norwegian whalechaser. It is one of those spectacularly failed projects. You know the ones. Your uncle probably had one in his shed, a chassis of a vintage car or truck, dozens of cardboard boxes full of parts, and a head full of dreams.

"It had a series of owners, all fixated on owning the ship as a kind of boys' own adventure," explains Sarah Toa, as she pilots Old Salt's tinnie across the harbour. "One of its owners was going to make his fortune out of it during the America's Cup, hiring it out to rich Americans, so they could watch the yacht race in luxury. Decked it out with a chef's kitchen, plush velvet booths, jarrah panelling. They went broke, of course."

As we approach the half-sunken ship, pigeons explode into the clear sky, circle, and resettle. We draw up alongside and tie off where the rusting deck lists right down to the high water mark. Surprisingly, there are no 'keep off' signs here to deter visitors, nothing imploring them not to trespass, no warning signs at all - other than the obviously dangerous deck. I step onto it, and see it has completely rusted through in parts. A bit like the floor in my '62 Spitfire. I welded the floor pans up, and then the sills rusted through. I replaced the gearbox, and then the cylinder head went. I went through two differentials and still it howled like a banshee. The fuel pump imploded along with various axles, bearings, radiators and starter motors. "No-one ever owns a Triumph," a knowledgeable friend told me. "You only ever own Triumph parts."

We weave our way past the rusted holes and scattered debris toward the bow of the ship. The bulkheads have long been stripped of their brass portholes. Pieces of chain and steel plate are lying about. What looks like a mast rises high above the deck, secured by cables. A rusted 44-gallon drum is affixed to the top, guarded by a lone cormorant. Of course this can't be a mast: the Cheynes would have been powered by a massive diesel engine. Or was it steam? It must be a lookout, a crow's nest, from which the whalers would have sighted their quarry. The cables still hold a few rungs, which run up to the rusted drum. One could still possibly climb it, but it would be a suicidal mission. And today i'm just not in the mood. I did try to commit suicide once, back in 95. I took up smoking and stopped wearing seatbelts. This, however, proved unsuccessful.

These days kids paddle out here from Camp Quaranup to do bombies off the deck. Miss Polly told me she came here once on a school camp, and did just that, only to find that the impact with the water a few metres below was sufficient to pull her bikini top off.

Ah, to be sixteen again, and swimming with topless, raven-haired girls. I gaze out into the green waters and trip over a length of steel cable.

The Cheynes II is, i realise, one of the last bastions of freedom. Here, we are completely free to fall down, hurt ourselves quite badly, and sue somebody's ass. It is a treasure trove of litigation. Sunken ships and treasure. A boys' own adventure indeed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


It's never much fun getting fired. But when you are a human cannonball, it comes with the territory. And Dylan's ballistic style was always going to land him in trouble.

He was a talented writer, our former arts writer, one of the best - and i've worked with some damn fine talent during my nine-month sojourn at The Newspaper. Dylan's words glowed with a white fire. He had the imagination and verve to carry the bright and blazing torch of prose well beyond the pale. He was a natural with words, and was never more so than when being ejected from the various bars around town. He would invoke heaven and hell in his brilliant drunken diatribes, bringing down all manner of blessings and disgrace upon our bleary heads. You could call him a troubled writer. And as his sometimes unwilling accomplice, i too was troubled, mainly by where we were going to drink the following night as we were systematically banned from each of the town's few watering holes. Even our friends started banning our late night, inebriated visits. Dylan was indeed a troubled soul. I got along with him famously.

Miss Polly and i went to see his bizarre film, Enter The Hobo, which had been included in an international comedy film festival in the nearby hippy commune of Denmark. We drove down there, bought some wine, ordered a pizza and sat through what Miss Polly later dubbed "officially the worst film of the entire festival." I didn't think it was that bad, although it was clearly a stoner movie. The pizza was a good call.

Anyway, after a particularly spectacular drunk one night he finally lost his artistic licence when he was fired on the spot. That night Lorenzo and i were nearly killed. But as we tore down the winding road around Mount Clarence, the silver sea shining like a sharp flat blade in the abyss below, i was totally fatalistic. Faster, faster! I cried. You need to accelerate through those corners! Keep the car balanced! Hit that bend at its apex! And so on.

And of course it all ended badly. We skidded to a halt outside Martine's place, where Derek, Dolores and Tiffany had just returned after the pub, but they wouldn't let us in. Tiffany, who is quite a responsible girl in a glamorous kind of way, tried to take Dylan's keys. But we took off again, back up the mountain, in an ill-fated search for a higher plane. Ours was a spiritual quest. There was a bottle of spirits out there somewhere with our name on it.

So Derek rings on the mobile. "What do you think you are doing, you fools? Make him stop. He is in no condition to be driving. Get out of that car," he admonishes.
"Sure Derek. What would you know about it?" i demand, as i am flung hard against the window winder as Dylan negotiates another hair-brained bend.
"I work in the emergency department, i see what happens," Derek says.
"Try telling that to James Dean," I shout, and terminate the call.

I had absolutely no idea what i was trying to say, but i was saying it with great conviction. An ashen-faced Lorenzo jumped out at the next intersection.

It was a sad day, helping him empty out his room. It wasn't much of a house, out past Highway Meat Supply in one of the undesirable suburbs. The back door was broken and couldn't be locked. His flatmate was away on the mines. The recent downpour had covered the kitchen floor with water. Some aboriginals whom Dylan had given a lift home the night before had stolen all the cassettes out of his car. There was nothing much in his room to put into a storage unit anyway, but he insisted on doing just that. "I'll be back at Christmas," he said.

A clock radio, a small collection of the worst records i have ever seen, a cheap portable television and a box of oddments. Even in the smallest storage unit in the complex, his collection of belongings looked pathetically small. I tried to explain that he wouldn't miss any of this stuff, and that he would never come back for it, but after he accidentally snapped the key off in the roller-door, it was settled. We tossed the remaining LP records. Max Bygraves went onto the roof. An accordion band hit the forlorn-looking basketball hoop by the cyclone fence.

"I'll be back," he said.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


He found me through an article in the newspaper.

"When i first saw that story about someone with your name riding a motorcycle around Albany without a licence, and giving false details and a false address to police, i thought, that would have to be you," he says.

It's an unnerving experience. Someone you haven't seen for nearly 30 years on your doorstep. School friends - those school friends with whom you once spent a lot of time - have this innate knack of turning up and shining a harsh light on your formative years. Quite unintentionally, in the course of general conversation, they illuminate how you so carelessly chartered this course of self-destruction, how you so blithely cast off into strange waters, setting sail with nothing but a rudimentary grasp of trigonometry and the wan light of distant stars.

But this didn't occur to me when i first opened my door and saw Lachlan. These thoughts came later, after several red wines, and more several red wines. The first thought that came to mind was how long his eyebrow hairs had grown.

I invite him upstairs, and put some coffee on the stove top.
"Yes, that was me," i say. "I couldn't do anything about the article going in the paper, but i did get to write my own headline. 'Motorcyclist takes police for a ride'."
He nods. "Yeah, funny," he says flatly. "Then i read a story about your photographic exhibition. You were always photographing things. That's what i wanted to talk to you about. You see, i'm getting married next week..."

And so we get to talking. Remembering the days of the old school yard. Music, cars, the (still unsolved) mystery of girls, our first forays into pubs and clubs, and, of course, skateboarding.

"Remember the luge runs?" Lachlan asks.
"Remember? 65 miles per hour on a four-foot long skateboard. Three inches off the road. At night. Yes, i remember."
"There was one time at Kangaroo Hill, me and Tim were standing, waiting for the run. Then this couple came out into their front garden, just randomly; we didn't know what to do. Suddenly the luge goes past, whoosh, and they watch it barreling downhill, stunned. Hub dressed all in black, lying down on the board, lit by your headlamps as you both roared past their front gate at over 100km/h.
"This couple just stand there, stare at each other. Then the bloke goes, 'I have heard about these things.' We just took off."
I laugh. "I remember doing Ewan Street in Scarborough, from the water tower to Scarborough Beach Road. Ha. Crazy days."
"Ah, Scarborough High School...they banned all school socials after ours. Man, i don't know how you did it. You got third in the academic awards, and you were never at school."
"I was so."
"No you weren't. You were always out stealing cars, or down the beach, or making explosives, or doing some crazy shit."
"I was not."
"Then you would bring in sick notes, and forge you mother's signature." He laughs.

He must have me confused with someone else. I'm imagining he's suddenly going to look at me askance and go, hang on, who are you again? Oh, no, that was another guy. But he doesn't.

"Remember when we went to that gig at UWA? What were they called - Icehouse? Flowers?"
"Flowers. And no, i don't remember. I'm pretty sure i wasn't there." But there is a niggling memory.
"Yeah you were, we were looking for you after the show, and you'd taken off with the band somewhere."
"No." Did I?

It slowly dawns on me that i've blocked out a whole series of memories from those days. They were troubled times. I didn't know who i was, what i was doing, or where i was going. High school days. It was like being locked in the trunk of a car, on a slow crawl up a darkened road, suddenly emerging before a giant drive-in screen as some bright and strange movie unfolds before your eyes. Now that part i remember. That was 1979, the movie at the drive-in was A Clockwork Orange, and i'd been in the boot of Robbie Chapman's Renault. I got in for free.

After high school i worked in a bank for two years, to qualify for the independent rate of tertiary assistance. The stint as a bank clerk permanently scarred my soul. To compensate, i bought a '62 Triumph Spitfire, chopped and lightened, with a worked motor. My first car.

Always start as you mean to continue.

We'd drive out to wherever and just skate. All the old crew from school, the pioneers, were still skating right through 1980. We were listening to new wave, punk, whatever. Sex Pistols. Devo. The Ramones, The Cure, The Jam. We could see bands every night at the Cat and Fiddle for a dollar, but we'd still climb the barbed wire at the back to get in for free. We were punks. The pub is the Flying Scotsman now, and the old punks settle for pizza and a pint on Sundays. But the Cat had bands like Doris Day, the Neutrons, the Silent Type, the Manikins. And the Triffids, whose limp and laconic stage presence belied their panoramic music and Dave McComb's stunning lyrics.

I started to take photography seriously. Went off to university and spent two years studying physics. Then i met Sienna, and began fooling around with drugs. As you do. I'd jump in the Triumph with a ridiculous amount of hash and we'd just drive, to Kalbarri or Margaret River or wherever, sit on the beach and smoke until we couldn't move. Or i'd turn up at a ramp and try to skate on acid. Things spiralled out of control pretty quickly. The skate crew fell apart over the next year as people drifted off. I don't remember much of that period at all, right up until the beginning of 1987 when i discovered i was a father and had certain responsibilities...

But by 1983 i had dropped out of uni started played music. In those days, this seemed a viable career option - you could live on the dole and play punk rock in bars. The Old Melbourne, the Casablanca, Hernandos, the Seaview, Rockwells, the Stoned Crow, the Shents, the Wizbah, Ozone Bar, the Red Parrot. I was renting a run-down house near the Leederville Hotel, a two bedroom wooden cottage for twenty dollars a week. But most days i'd go visit Sienna. We'd get stoned, fuck, and lie on her bed, off our heads, listening to King Crimson, Return to Forever, Eno, or some wacked out shit like Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Sienna was going through a mad, bad time. Her boyfriend Bob had died of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of a roadhouse, while on tour as the drummer in the musical Hair. A phenomenal drummer, by all accounts. Sienna threw herself into his grave at his funeral. She was a nut bar, but i loved her. Then one night she just ran off. Turned up a few days later in the hills, at a friend's house in Darlington, where she'd spent the past two days blind on datura. Literally blind. She was never the same after that. We drifted apart. I joined a new band.

Lachlan, meanwhile, was Down South, surfing, smoking, and camping in the forest. Working his way through university, to emerge a decade later with a qualification and a house in Denmark.

"Last i remember, you were getting about in that Kombi," i say. "It had 'Copious Amounts of Marijuana' written all over it."
"That's not the half of it," Lachlan says. "I could tell you the story of my flatmate, Juan, and the two motorcycles he brought in from Peru. With two fuel tanks full of cocaine."
"Now there's a story."
He phones his fiancee. We pick her up from Pyrmont House, and start on the drive to Denmark. I'm going to shoot their wedding next weekend, on a hundred acres of land Lachlan owns in the forest. He met Nicola while doing aid work out of London.

So how did he end up there?
"I just got jacked of it all in '99, doing accounts and helping make rich fat people richer and fatter," Lachlan explains. "I wanted to quit Australia and go overseas, and do something useful. So i put my hand up for Australian Volunteers Abroad. After about a year, I got to the interview stage. They asked me where i wanted to go. I said i didn't care. They said you have to give us a preference, so we know where to place you. I thought about it, and said, well, I want to go where there's surf, women, and beer. In that order." He pauses to overtake a cyclist.

"So they sent me to Afghanistan."

"I had no idea where it even was, so i looked it up on the map. And i'm like, where's the fucking beach?
"I spent a few years there, mainly in Kabul, working amongst the Talibs for a Danish aid organisation. We were right next door to the Ministry of Vice and Virtue, the ones who did all the enforcing. Staff members would literally hide under their desks when those bearded bastards came in. They were scary. I remember one time we heard they had taken some kites off some kids, and told them they should be spending more time reading the Koran.

"Then we look outside and there they are next door, kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, flying kites."