Australia, three weeks in December, 2005
i visited sydney, melbourne, and sydney, then rented a car and drove down along the coast back to melbourne. after that i went back up to sydney via the hume highway, living out of the car for about a week before doing so. and i went to perth for a few days.
ok. now that we have that statistic out of the way we can get to business.
north america is australia riding tectonic-scale hallucinogens. the two (nearly equal sized) countries are sisters. the land of AC/DC, nick cave, olivia newton john, dead can dance, INXS, stellarc, robert hughes, and a hundred other cultural gifts come, i've now learned, from Down Under. and may be worth noting that AC/DC is pronounced, as Old Man Pesce tells me, as 'accadacca'. i think this needs to be implemented worldwide for the same reason that we don't call croissants by that nasal and noxious sound of "crescents."
sing it with me: "Acca Dacca" (a friend of mine in australia has confirmed this)
so in 1978 i lived in northern maine; the land of snowdrift, maple syrup, government-nursed poverty, inbred big-skulled potato farmers,and 4th grade class assignments that required me to write to an airport, presumably one in the US. instead, i wrote to sydney international, asking them the requisite Qs my teacher had charged me with: how many planes, how many runways, how many employees. it was all worse than you'd expect, the questions we were given. eventually, during a thawing 1979 april spring The Envelope arrived. the blue stripes at 45 degrees, the stamp with the strange woman wearing a crown, and inside was a piece of paper that, if i touched it, revealed indented letters left by a typewriter far far away. it was like a hand written note, scrawled by one of the heavenly host, or, well, the wizard in Oz.
this proof of another world became a kind of shrine next to my bed for nearly four months until it was squirrelled away with my most cherished possessions: the name tags of my dead dog, a leaf i had found years before (from colorado), the skull of a robin (also from colorado), and a big, dead bumblebee corpse. and the letter from australia. this box, in retrospect, was full of one sort of thing: a collection of proofs that another world, distant and different, existed. it was a promise that someday i'd visit the land down under the equator.
now, 27 years closer to a dirty old man, 30 countries meaner, thousands of cigarettes drier, and more like judas than dorothy, i've finally made it to australia. and it's all They say. it's like getting laid for the first time, only it lasts longer, and i get to show the photos to you.
i saw furry wombat roadkill, laughing parrots in flock, met the man who schooled me on liquid propane, a man playing digeridoo (digeridoo, by the mention, is an english word), my second retarded hooker in a wheelchair, and an addict with a trust fund (his name was charles and he was addicted to opiates with over AU$500k in the bank). i met a woman who worked on the railroad tracks installing switches and a man who used to do the same, but had to stop because he got into a fight and woke up in the morning with a shattered eardrum. i found a beautiful streaked mascara goth girl and we kissed until 4am. i ate kangaroos and emus and fruit with unpronounceable names. i found waves that marched persistent against the ancient sands, big like little gods. the lifeguards are hot like buttercakes, the skies are clear as a snap, and there's enough space that you can think about stupid and important things like wombat roadkill and 4am goth girls. australia's lovely and, like the US, a little dense.
it took a mere 72 hours until i fell in love.
with all this beauty it's hard to look into the history (or into the future) and see what's happening here. as the united states was in the 1970s or 1960s, she's at a critical juncture and will either go the way of america, and tumble into the irrevocable abyss of industrial hate and capitalist waste, or she'll take a more even tack and learn from the mistakes of her wiser and older aunt and go the direction of europe. anyone that has half a head and has visited both places will know what i mean. but there is a mild tenor of tyranny under the surface. and so she'll probably head the direction of america.
but despite its lovely ripe and perfect nature, australia's a brutal land for more than three reasons.
first it's well known now that australia was 'founded' by convicts (before 1750 this is 42% true of america, as well). convicts live a brutal life and these chaps, when they got off the boat, set the cultural DNA down alongside the plows, shovels, and sheep.
britain's jails were squeezing at the seams and there was a notion that a "criminal class" needed to be bumped out of england and left to rot, like condemned souls in tartarus, anywhere else. most of the crime was property based crime and most of these criminals were sent to north america. the US was the penal colony until the American colonists rebelled in 1776, leaving mother england with a few choices, the final one being Oz. but let's look at the interesting details; the criminals.
one of the prisoners, a chap named Joseph Mansbury, had gotten flogged about 2,000 times in a three-year period and his back appeared, according to one of the guards,"...quite bare of flesh, and his collarer [sic] bones were exposed looking very much like two Ivory Polished horns. t was with some difficulty that we could find another place to flog him. Tony [Chandler, the overseer] suggested to me that we had better [do it on] the soles of his feet next time."the medical treatment for such a whupping was a briny bucket of seawater.
ten years after the US made herself unavailable to the british, the first fleet had arrived in australia. this english fleet contained 736 inmates, age 13 to 82 (the oldest was Dorothy Handland, a dealer in old cloth who had gotten pegged with seven years for 'perjury'; in 1787 she set foot on australian dirt and two years later, in 1789, she managed to get her feet off the soil by hanging herself from the branch of a gum tree that overlooked sydney harbor with an old leather strap and some frayed hemp rope. she can now claim the fame of australia's first suicide as well as the oldest 1st fleet convict).
anyway, the english penal system had gone into a stoccato stutter of psychotic reveries, condemning citizens to dance the gallows for, in the case of Thomas Hawell, "feloniously stealing one live hen of the value of 2d. and one dead hen to the value of 2d." Elizabeth Powly, who was 22 when she pocketed, in a desperate act to feed her family, several shillings' worth of flour, bacon, raisins, and "twenty-four ounces Weight of Butter, valued 12d," was sentenced to swing, but was instead given a one-way ticket down under. she'd never again taste butter and she'd never again be in her 20s. the 15-year old John Wisehammer snapped up a pack of snuff from a barrister in Gloucester and he got seven for it (is it just me or does that sound like american pot laws?). William Francis stole a book. he was sent off, too. the list of felons is as long as it is rediculous, and like most social diseases that a government passes on to its population, the problem was based on property. note that this was at a time when england was having some serious differences between the rich and the poor. of course, the poor were 'the criminal class' .. people born with criminal inclinations, unreformable and unstoppable miscreants that could only be killed or sent Away.
and so sent they were, like rubbage to the dustbin of a strange continent where trees lose their bark instead of their leaves, where mammals lay eggs, and where the stars are misaligned for someone a northern eye.
this first shipment of 'criminals' was sent down to New South Wales for delivery to a hungry continent of strange gastronomy. the 1787 menu read like so:
minor theft 431 'privy theft' (includes breaking / entering) 93 highway robbery 71 stealing cattle or sheep 44 mugging (violent robbery) 31 grand larceny 9 fencing stolen items 8 impersonation or deceit 7 forgery 4 other 35
these folks were shoved off the boat, handed some tools, and told to either work or starve. they did both, and in that order. australia is sand, stone, and salt, surrounded by a unique escarpment of saltwater. escape was mostly impossible.
second, australia's brutal because she's too busy having fun to give a shit.
the concept of a nation of fat-neck beer-swilling frat-boy television-screaming sports-fans leaves me as cold as thawed squid and i really don't, as the plane lands, imagine that i'll enjoy a machismo effectivado of big-balls surf culture. despite the fact that i'm a surfer (perhaps with big balls) i hate the chest-pounding bravado and guess that if i can manage three weeks with these people i'll be okay. it's not that i have problems with Crocodile Dundee. i mean, that guy is actually an interesting fellow and if i had to spend two months in The Bush with him i'd be well. no worries, mate. but AFL watchers? misogynist skull-crackers? fishermen and poachers? miners and kangaroo herdsmen?
but sydney also seemed a tropical london full of aging libertines and corporate nomads.
so during my first day in sydney i ask people who they are, where they are from, and what they do.
after these short interviews there were a few things that occured to me. first, these people are all, well, Happy. not happy like a 7-year old girl, but happy like a satisfied farmer.
Ms Wood wasn't too comfortable with me chatting up the schoolgirls, but she told me that all the girls were straight-A students and they were allowed out to the park for the field trip as a point of honor. i saw no boys in the crowd of littles, which i found interesting. boys don't get straight A's in australia i guess.
this is michael. he's a flight attendant on Qantas and gets to spend a good few days a week here in Darling Harbour. he likes tapioca.
this is alan. his last name, or maybe where he's from, is killamagoo. or something close to it. he used to install switches for the railway station until he got into a barfight one night. when he woke up he couldn't hear from his right ear and so the railway fired him since he needed to be able to hear if a train was coming. i can testify that he's deaf as dildo dug deep since when i met him i was sitting on the bench and i leaned over and tried to talk to him and he did NOT hear me at all. at first i thought he was telling me to fuck off, then i tried again on the other side (i'm a little deaf myself) and he heard me fine. he's worried about druggies.
linda is married to james and the two of them produced jacqueline. james sells insurance in melbourne. they had big smiles and little to say.
scott. he works at captain cook cruises. he tells me that he likes his job. when i ask him if The Ladies dig the hat he wiggles his eyebrows, pulls a coat button at me, and smirks, "you'd be surprised what the jacket does."
jeff and s'ra. s'ra is a student, james is a designer. i think they're sleeping together and he's funding her education, but i didn't confirm this theory.
robert from Canns (?). Canns is a 3 hour drive away and robert comes to Circle Quay every day to play digeridoo and collect cash. robert was nonplussed about his job and talented (as far as i could tell).
these were some kids off to prom or something. i had a hard time just stopping them, let alone collecting names. everyone looks pretty horny to me. especially the guy with the glasses on the right. maybe because he's the only male who is not sticking out his fingers and tongue. i would pay money to know what happened, really happened, to these folks that night.
this nice woman was someone i spoke with for a while. she has several interesting things going on, but i can't remember what they were. i do remember, however, that we were on a yacht when i took this photo. if this is you, i'm sorry i forgot.
pat wasn't in sydney and he wasn't happy. i actually met him in perth. he's homeless and i traded him some cigarettes and a dollar in exchange for this photo. he should be a fekkin' model. what a pose. he didn't much want to talk. he reminded me of the apaches i grew up around, in colorado (USA).
i get the impression (with the exception of grumpy-homeless pat the aborigine) that they're snug with how they pass the heartbeats. they're also perfectly willing to chatter with me about what they do and how they do it well.
they're optimistic. if there's a complaint they'll say "we could use a bit more.." or "it'd be nice if instead we had a.."
in fact ozzies are so damn optimistic they could kill someone while smiling. being this happy affords them a brutality that the french achieve through disdain. real happiness implies brutality. there's no self-consciousness in this equation.
that's brutal. and that's one of the most attractive traits of australia. this happy-brutality trait.
third, australia's brutal 'cause of the chopped up wilderness. once upon a lifetime i lived in the desert of new mexico for almost six years, and i can testify to the brutality of jesse.james.histories. australia's a bit odd. i heard stories of a guy that cut his neighbor's dog's vocal chords out with a buck knife, the 55-year old silver-back that rapes his niece, the man in the wheelchair that sips absinthe while getting the blowjob from his malaysian servant, the dog fights, the gun contests, the car culture, the AFL, the beer, the sand, the sky, the respect of your neighbor because you just don't know when you might need him to save your life.
australia's got her share of freaks, and they have a brutal hue of wilderness that shrouds them in a kind of weird holiness. bad taste is delectable, it's okay to have chest hair, big hands, to wear boots, and to be a bit pissed off.
these brutal people are children of the brutal land.
ok, that's enough on the beautiful brutality.
australians don't have pennies. they do have insane speed limit penalties, and they also have LPG gas systems.
i learned these things one morning, waking up some 200km from the next town in this beautiful field:
well, not here, specifically, but down the road a bit. i had pulled over when i started to get droozy and all the signs were good reminders:
"REST REVIVE SURVIVE!"
"DROWSY DRIVERS DIE!"
so with this cup of visual coffee i climbed into the car, hit the radio, hit the little gas i had left (there wasn't much more radio, really). by 7 or 8am i arrived at the final stop for gas. they were closed. i had an hour to wait so i sat and read robert hugh's "A Fatal Shore" until bruce drove up, himself looking for gas. or lpg, as i was soon to find out.
we had a conversation that i managed to record which covered the topics of highway fines, included some bad comparative math on per capita highway deaths and murder rates, he showed me how to install an LPG delivery system you can hit with a sledgehammer, muttered "buh buh buh," and his wife tried to say a thing or two. her name's Poi, she's malay, and Bruce didn't allow me to take a picture of her. he also claims to know more about the united states than most americans. which, when i consider that most people outside of the US know more about america than most americans, is probably true.
so much for our section on driving and bruce.
when i got into melbourne the first thing i did was order a coffee. there's a codification system here that still baffles me, but when i ordered a 'flat white mocha' the girl working the espresso machine turned to me and asked, "Is that all yer aftah, mate?" and i got the beautiful warm feeling, like i was home in mississippi, and i fell in love with her immediately and told her so.
an australian can give and receive compliments as gracefully as anyone in the world. this is partly because they are so class-oriented.
in melbourne they have a Critical Mass bike thing.
eventually a business suit fellow got upset at this and got out of his car to yell at the cop and everyone just laughed him off until he wandered around like a drunk.
another thing that i was happy to see in melbourne was the metal club where i watched the teenagers swing their hair to Cradle of Filth and Cannibal Corpse. i smoked cigarettes and lurked dark in the corner, far too old to be there unless i was cruising pussy or looking for drugs (i was, of course, doing both and, of course, scored neither). and it was nice to see that death metal is so alive in this southern latitude. but of course, this is the homefield of Acca Dacca and so it only makes sense that the kids know how to rock.
now as i said, there's lots of music that comes out of Oz. listening to the radio was a fine education about groups like Architecture in Helsinki, Gyroscope, The Drones, and learned me well on why russel crowe's new band (the name slips me now) really really sucks. i love australian radio. especially JJJ (which was usually on the left-side of the FM bands). apparently it's a government-sponsored channel. they use the S-word and the F-word and make jokes about things like nicole kidman's foetus, and ask their listeners who talks with their barber while getting the haircut.
when not on the airwaves i spent most of my time listening to (what?) contemporary metal or chunk spooge poop or whatever it's called. wolfmother was certainly a primary theme. like Acca Dacca, they're debbil-worshippers. with a frank frazetta painting on their album cover it's all payment for them lost souls. hell, if you play the song "witchcraft" backwards, at 1:50, it says,"Horse of mine,
I wish you'd had butter better than giddyup mine.
Horse of mine,
you'd kiss your alto abscess!"
lord save us all from australia, another bad apple on the tree of english ascendancy.