Archive for Australia
Notes from Australia
The little shit seat kicker sitting behind me – running his fucking little; toy car up and down – up and down the window sill – his parents oblivious or not caring. I could lean over the seat and poke his fucking little eye out with my plastic fork which I have removed all but one tine. I feel better already.
They lay in the darkened bedroom together, bodies stretched out on the narrow single bed, staring at the roof. There was a torch but they had no use for it tonight as they lay there plotting. Tomorrow, as they made their way to school, he would turn onto the track about half way to the front gates. The track was dark but offered a shortcut. They would time it so they were behind him. They now conspired together to get the words right. The words that would burn themselves into his brain. The words that they would repeat as they left school to go home so that he could hear them in all their unpleasantness. They giggled and twined their fingers together as they conspired to kill a soul.
It could be a prison yard – barricaded from the street by mechanical arms – the dark interior poorly illuminated by a barely functioning fluorescent light which flickers – on/off, on – off. Dark, brooding figures fork little bunches, handing around bottles, joints, pipes. A family waddles down the ramp that connects the underground park to the mall. Hormone disfigured bodies, breasts impossibly large on a 10 year old girl, the overdeveloped shoulders as if she was a short put thrower. Her eyes swollen and blackened but not from makeup but some vague internal deficiency that will only be discovered when she has breed another generation of her ilk. She is destined to become like her over4sized and 13 year senior mother.
“Jayden. Yoise won’t come back here again if youse keep on behaving like that ‘ – she screeches as she backhands the girl.
Inside the mall an enormous women squats on a stool which looks on the verge of collapsing – hair dyed blonde so many times it looks like hot steel. She is admiring a $1080 ring on her pudgy finger while her mullet headed partner or ‘friend” sporting the ubiquitous Holden t-shirt mentally calculates whether last night’s blow job was worth this.
I am reliably informed that many of these people make some effort to look attractive to each other until they are married (usually involving at least ten grands worth of rings and maybe another 25 in wedding arrangements and then they let themselves go.)
He sweeps into the room, eyes narrowed, cocky swagger, hands already going through their routine. A quick look around and he has summarised who is with and who is against him. He barks out a command as he discards his jacket to some underling who hangs it up. It better be crease free and untainted by smoke when he wants it back.
Veronica cowers in the corner where she hopes she will go unnoticed. God forbid if he decides to ask her anything. She would be paralyzed by fear, Could not, would not, be forced to answer.
He is now centre stage sand delivers his messages in a machine gun burst of names and verbs. There are no pleases or thank you’s for this man. “What do you want?”
They came from the island of Great Britain to the continent of Australia mostly as convicts or indentured labourers. Poor, uneducated, uncouth peoples who populated this vast country and rapidly took it from the indigenous peoples. Hundreds of years later that generation has gradually turned the soils to produce the best wines and foods in the world (although to attain this greatness the immigrants looked to more recent immigrations from Italy, Greece, Germany and latterly Asia). But they still have not left behind that convict culture. The hotel where I wrote this from has about a page of unprecedented rules for anyone who is ‘obnoxious, drunk, uncouth, or a smoker”. The elaborate punishments are not only the obligatory fines, but banishment from this and any other like establishment(‘we will inform all other hoteliers in Australia as to who you are and you can guarantee that you will not be accommodated”) Oh – by-the-way – give a false name is a punishable offence as well.
Even the language is derived from prison. Slang, code words, abbreviations are almost unintelligible to the traveller. Salvo (salvation army shop), servo (service station), garbo ( refuse/ recycling engineer), Kangaroos loose in the top paddock : Intellectually inadequate (“he’s got kangaroos loose in the top paddock”), Nipper : young surf lifesaver, Sheepshagger : A New Zealander.
And the newspapers are full of it. Debra Buckskin ( beat up her ‘colored footballer husband (and its only Australian rules when we talk about football) ; Madelaine Pulver (18) vicim of a bomb hoax without any seemingly obvious relationship to the vicim or the victims family ) Judy Moran (gangland killer mum who is now behind bars for life; Angelika Gavare (murders an old lady to get the proceeds form her house after parts of the dead women’s body are found bagged up – she quotes – “old people are always wandering off – she probably wandered off, got lost and died) ; and finally the driver of as car that kills a gang member in prison now fears for his life that he will be murdered on orders from the prison inmate.
The little shit seat kicker sitting behind me – running his fucking little; toy car up and down – up and down the window sill – his parents oblivious or not caring. I could lean over the seat and poke his fucking little eye out with my plastic fork which I have removed all but one tine. But hey! Each to his own. He has every right to amuse himself on this incredibly boring and lengthy flight. I might even offer him my complimentary pottle of ice cream. .
Dark storm clouds hang menacingly in the northern sky as tiny spittles of rain dot the windscreen as we speed north. Easter Monday on NZ road increasingly resembles scenes from a third world country. Lines of assorted vehicles hauling boats, trailers, caravans, and horse floats stumble along at sub-optimal speeds that dog narrow state highway one. An occasional police-car lends some credence to the myth that authorities care about what happens on roads and it is heartening to see one particularly recalcirant offender hauled over and ticketed.
Sydney airport resembles Tieneman square. Over half the people waiting at border control have just alighted from an Air Korea flight and half of the Quantas flight contains Asians of all descriptions. A large number of them sport the SARS mask that is almost de-rigueur on flights these days. I am particularly offended when one gentleman in front of me pulls his mask form his face to violently sneeze into the queuing masses then blithely replaces it for ‘protection’
She glances down at the notebook in front of her. The gently sloping pencil lines went in and out of focus as she tried to make out what she had just written. The tear stained paper doesn’t help as the writing is almost indecipherable in places. She looks across the table at the man she has been married to for nearly thirty years. The romantic devil. Not! Here they were on what was increasingly jokingly referred to as their second honeymoon (not that there had been a first) and all he seemed interested in was a Canadian ice hockey match playing on the giant TV screen in the crowded bar. Not a word over dinner apart from a grunt when she had announced that a glass of wine rather than a bottle was on the night’s agenda. She looks jealously at the young couple dining at the nearest table. She only has the back view of the woman but she can see the black thong peeing over the top of her low-slung hipster jeans. The couple are in what appears to be an animated, sexually charged conversation. Matching tops and lots of gold rings. Where had she failed?
Sydney: 12o C at 6.30, 21 0 C at 11.00. Hot, smelly and busy. $200 a day is just not going to cut the ice. An all day pass on the railway – $18. A hot krantzky and coffee – $9. A fruit juice $4.50. Gulp, gulp, – gone. A bearded man in a holey jersey arrives outside trendy David Jones department store, selects a spot, and unravels his cardboard plea for a warm place to sleep this night, a piece of bread to fill his empty stomach. He has his act down pat. Downward cast eyes – don’t look at the punters until the money hits the hat, then – glance up and give pathetic acknowledgment. Unlike his less experienced contemporary in Jehovah’s witness mode and official collectors card for some non-existent organization who is in your face and shaking his tin. I watched for five minutes. The homeless guy – $4 – JW – zip.
Cathedral Square (St Andrews) has its fair share of characters. I spy two of them emptying a four litre bladder of cardboard wine into fruit juice bottles to avoid or appease the remote police presence and keep the tourists happy while their contemporaries down the bench don’t give a shit and tuck into their second Victoria Bitter of the day. Downstairs at David Jones the Centerpoint Market teams with every conceivable delicacy known to man. Soon to be refurbished, everything is reduced to clear by the 24th of the month. No! My $200 a day is looking really, really, sad.
She thought it was him but what would he be doing in this backwater? Sure enough – it WAS him. As Iain bought her coffee and hot roll filled with tandoori chicken and avocado she glanced up at the man dressed in black as he strolled through Launceston airport. Seemingly lost, he became engrossed in a sign advertising marine memorabilia at a place called Evandale. If she dared she could tell him not to waste his time. The place was as dead as a proverbial duck. No-one got out of bed until 10am and all the goods were over-priced. A disembodied voice announced that you were listening to Triple J FM and that they were on a hunt for a word to describe the female state of wearing no underwear. Free furring suggested some sniggering young, testosterone, challenged male; Commando (come in and get it) squeaked a female in reply. Sophie scrunched down in her plastic seat, widened her eyes to look different, and pulled her Sydney to Hobart yacht cap tight down over her face. He walked by and with him the memories of those lost years went.
The Country Club Resort, Launceston, Tasmania. Vast, endless, corridors, golf and tennis, and GAMBLING. The lower floor is given over to a vast casino bordered by lavishly furnished, sun-drenched terraces, where you can drink and eat. The carefree exterior cannot distract from the rather desperate atmosphere of the interior of the place. Mostly older people clutch cupfuls of coins they can feed into the machines in the hope of a meagre return. For 1000 credits you get about $5 and I have not managed to win anything on three fifty cent tries. Solitary players try their hands at Baccarat and other games of chance. There is a noticeable absence of whoops of delight or high-fives. You gamble, you play tennis or golf, you eat, you gamble. If you manage to be on a winning streak, you stay at your table. I sit at breakfast next to a couple who have been at the tables all night. They are literally walking zombies, barely able to make their minds up at toast or tea. Their eyes are vacuous, their breath a mix of smoke, alcohol, and despair.
The idea had formed slowly at first then gathered momentum as the holiday progressed. He had seen his work colleague shed 10kg on the liver-cleansing diet albeit with a couple of hiccups and he had decided it was time for him to do the same. All he was allowed was red meats and fats which he knew he could never do without. Yes, Atkins was for him.
Now the SARS virus is fashionable. Both NIKE and ADDIDAS have nifty little SARS masks on sale. The Asian model has little bears imprinted on it to match the dangly little adornments on their backpacks. The Swiss variety has a striking red cross which makes the wearer look like a modern age Viking. I couldn’t find the NZ variant but I would suggest it would be all black.
Tamar River Cruise. Apparently, the Tamar River was named after its famous counterpart in Devon. What we were not told is that the Devon equivalent is so polluted by sewerage that the nearby Saltash Oystery’s produce has been declared unfit for human consumption for decades. Adrian, our tour guide, tells two stories. Number one centers around Bruno the bull of Tamar Island, now a wildlife reserve but formerly a farmed island. When the farmer was asked to remove all his livestock, he failed to locate a small, black Angus Bull who roamed wild his solitary reserve and thrived without any big brothers to stop him eating. When he was finally located and captured he weighed a whopping 1000kg (a lot of bull). Poor old Bruno was relocated to the nearby river bank, but, not knowing the ways of the world could not get the knack of inseminating the surrounding females. Once he caught on, he ran rampart, and Adrian indicates the surrounding paddocks filled with Bruno’s progeny. Trouble was that Bruno’s new found virility proved to be his downfall and the constant calls to prove himself led to premature exhaustion and death.
The second story is a little more factual but told with all the panache of an accomplished artist. A small trading vessel was steaming from George Town (the port at the head of the river which feeds into Bass Strait) with a cargo of gold dust from the gold rush that made Tasmania its name. As it neared a bend in the river, the skipper spotted a boat following them and rapidly closing. Either fearing they were to be past, or worse, robbed the captain ordered down to the engine room for more steam. This was provided but still the boat closed. He once again ordered more steam and the engineer shovelled more coal into the furnace and adjusted the settings on his boiler. Still, the ship closed. Once again, the captain ordered more steam, and the engineer, desperate to escape punishment, added more fuel but closed off the steam relief valve to provide the biggest head of steam. The inevitable happed and the boiler blew, sinking the boat, killing the crew, and scattering the gold-dust over the notoriously muddy bottom. The gold is still there and every day Adrian passes the spot, he puts on his echo-sounder and looks for suspicious piles on the bottom. The crowd lapped it up – panted for more.
I don’t think Chelsea is wearing any underwear. Buffet breakfasts are fascinating affairs – or not – if you are stuck with a nagging wife and four under ten year old kids – all scrambling for wheaties and toast. A portly Asian Australian businessman sits in the corner of the restaurant with a coffee or tea and little else in front of him, talking loudly and aggressively into a cellphone. I hear the words mergers, investments, hold-backs, risks, and equities. Why does he have to do all this in a crowded room? Why can’t he use his own damn room? An elderly American woman opens the silver bierre-marie and her lips form a little O as she hurriedly slams it down, then looks nervously around the bustling room. She catches my eye and sotto voice indicates that she has found the hash browns. Twice more she circles the food island that overflows with fresh fruit, nuts, yoghurts, cereals, breads, meats, eggs scrambled and poached, beans, spaghetti, mushrooms, and tomatoes before she nervously places two small hash brown on her plate and retreats to her table to savoir something she is obviously forbidden at home. Chelsea struts by, notebook in one hand, dirty plate in the other. My loins stir at the thought of her dressing for her mornings work. Maybe it’s a black thing, maybe she is free-furring, Commando style.
Anzac Day, 1100hrs, Penguin. Penguin, population around 3000, at last count. They do actually count the population and its easy to do because they all turn up to community events. Penguin is perched on the northern coast of Tasmania about 30 km from Birnie, which is the biggest center in the North apart from Launceston. A tight knit little community is Penguin and everybody knows everyone else’s business and, if they don’t, then they are not true Penguin citizens. They greet each other in the street by first name. Families such as the Beecroft’s, Gunns, and Burtons have lived here since 1861 when Penguin was discovered and named after the fairy penguins who reputedly populate the nearby sea. I never saw one live penguin but there are plenty of plastic and fibreglass ones on show. Also virtually, every building has a reminder that you are in Penguin in case you forgot and thought you were in Snug, or Wollongong.
Alan “Bluey” Adams blinks back a tear as the lone bugler plays blows a mournful version of the Last Post. He looks around the assembled schoolkids, scouts, army cadets, police and fellow comrades and squeezes Elsie’s, his wife, hand. There aren’t too many of them left now but the younger generation have taken it up and Anzac day will thrive long after he is in the cold ground. He had that all too familiar pain this morning as he slipped into his powder blue suit and meticulously assembled his rack of medals on his once proud chest, now riddled with the cancer. The pain was such that the lethal cocktail of drugs he was on that had almost forced him to give up driving his beloved Holden, no longer seemed to be able to keep it to a tolerable throb. When the day came that the Holden had to go up on the blocks would be the day that Bluey would know he was a goner.
At the Groovy Penguin across the road from the cenotaph, John looked at the ceremony that was disrupting his pleasant Friday morning. He had fought in Vietnam but he wasn’t one to prance about and show off. His hair, greying now, cascaded down his back and his face was ravaged from the Australian sun and years of heavy drinking. He didn’t know if the tremble in his hands was due to the day or to that last glass of whisky he knew he shouldn’t have had for old times sake, last night. He saw his fellow Penguin citizens greeting each other and the minister overseeing the Anzac day ceremony reading out the list of fallen Penguinites. Instead of pride, he seethed with a rage he hadn’t felt since coming back form Nam and the sullen greeting he had got then. Here, the Methers sat at an adjoining table ordering their skinny lattes, dressed in matching polar fleeces, each with a rosemary wreath firmly attached to the lapel. Ada, who used to have a soft spot for John before he went overseas, looked like she had been having the botox again. Reg, was like a cat who had had too much cream. Tanned, manicured, and as sleek as the town he lived in, you would never have believed the scumbag he had been when he was young. He had practically destroyed Penguin when he was on the council but, as always, with the elite of Penguin, he had emerged from the scandal with not only his reputation intact, but also with Ada and a small fortune. Their matching twins, now in their twenties and returned from Uni in Sydney, looked down their noses at the sights before them. Quaint, stuck in the last century, yokels, was how they now viewed the environment that had shaped them. John slid back the last of his drink and ambled over the road to the cenotaph. He bent in front of the wreaths and silently mouthed the words written on the cards. He looked up at the Australian flag flying at half-mast, shrugged his shoulders, and wandered up the road to the pub where he hoped there would be some free grog.
Dawn thought she had seen it all even though she had only been working at Banjo’s Bakery & Pizzeria for three years. Tourists, notorious for being loud, noisy, and obnoxious; the locals weren’t much better. There were a couple of them outside now at 7.30 am, riotously drunk and making a nuisance of themselves. Fishermen. Say no more. Then there had been the Irishman with more facial furniture than a New Guinean tribesman. Dawn couldn’t wait to see how he ate his Hawaiian special, and she hadn’t been disappointed. It bought a new meaning to spearing pineapple. But today left all that in the dust. It was a little before 7.45 and the bakery had produced enough rolls, pastries and breads to last until mid-morning when this tourist couple walked in for a full Continental breakfast. $15, all you can eat. He, the guy, looked a little off. Like he was rubbed out or something. Smudged around the edges. Dawn couldn’t place it but when he sat down he sort of melted. When he grasped his utensils to eat, they formed a liquid pool and even though the eggs and bacon disappeared off his plate, she couldn’t see him put anything in his mouth. She, presumably the wife by the way she nagged him, kept looking around in a concerned sort of way. Dawn didn’t feel like she could ask if there was anything they could do because she felt this paralysis. Like she was glued to the spot or something. It was just plain weird. Even weirder than the Irishman. When they left there was this little puddle on the floor under where he had sat. Dawn didn’t want to touch it but Banjo looked at her in that funny do-it-or-you-will-be-walking-down-the-road-with-no-pay sort of way and she had to get down there and scape it into a pan. It looked like liquid, but when she pushed the brush through it, it turned into dust. Dust that smelled of electricity. Like someone had lit a match, but instead of turning into charcoal, it had gone gray and powdery. Dawn realised that there were some things in life that she had not seen yet.
Katarina glanced over at the table where the blond woman and her husband were supposed to be dining. There was only the woman tucking into her third vanilla slice. People like that disgusted Katarina. She had stuck to her Greek salad and she had only really played with that while the others ate their courses. It reminded her of her second to last assignment in the Aegean. It had gone particularly badly and, once again, older sister Mia had to come to the rescue. Katarina had killed the woman but her lesbian lover had fought back with a vengeance that bordered on the insane. Katarina had taken a knife wound to her upper arm and had been savagely kicked in the throat. Barely able to breathe, let alone talk, she had autodialed her cell and within seconds, Mia was through the door and onto the lover. She quickly disarmed her of the knife then drove her nasal bones into her brain. One minute she was standing there, the next, she wriggled to the floor, convulsed, then expired. Katarina was nearly unconscious from the pain, when they doused the dismembered bodies in acid in the hotel bathroom. Sulphur fumes made her eyes water, but Katarina marvelled at our her older sister’s dedication and cunning. She also despised her for her success. Here she was tonight, dressed down in a denim suit, designed to look cheap, but Katarina knew that it cost the best part of $2000. She dripped with diamonds and gold, making her look like a queen to Vasili’s king. Vasili, poor Vasili. He dressed like a king, but like his brother Joe he was a three-time loser. They often worked as a foursome, husbands and wives enjoying a holiday together, reunited from the old country. The men did little though and only formed an image. They talked of the old days and got canned. Already, they were on to their forth double bourbon and cokes and had dropped close to $500 on the casino. Katarina and Mia stuck to orange and tomato juice. Katarina looked enviously at Mia’s plate. She had put away the grilled trevalla with fries and a plate of marinated calamari rings, and now she hungrily eyes the dessert menu. Mia looked up at her dowdy sister. Plump, fake-blond, dressed in a frumpy gray dress she looked less like her sister than her mother. She whispered across to her. “I think the death-by-chocolate. Most appropriate don’t you think.” and she gave a sinister little laugh.
At the adjacent table, Madge adjusted her watch which doubled as a highly sensitive listening device. It was a little on the blink tonight and she only picked up the beginning of the death by chocolate reference form Mia. Special Ops briefing said that these two Russian sisters were the business. They had been sent here to kill the NZ man who had a block of Huoun pine in which was a test tube containing the deadly SARS virus. He travelled the world trying to sell it to the highest bidders and sop far had been successful in China and Canada. He was supposedly here in Australia and NZ to put a halt to Asian immigration. He usually travelled with his wife but although Madge could see her, she couldn’t make out any 99 kg six foot New Zealander. The blond woman was now ordering another vanilla slice and another bottle of junk wine. Possibly she as drunk because she kept talking to the empty chair opposite her. What was she saying? Something about ‘at least try another glass of water dear, you’re fading away’.
Trang put down her the forth vanilla slice and bumped into the back of Mia as she did so, safely depositing the tracking device amongst the jewellery. She saw Madge glance over at her but the Australian Secret Service were four steps behind in this particular game. But where was the husband? She saw a faint shape shift in the chair opposite the blond woman and there was a smell of ketone in the air. She shrugged and moved back behinds the servery.
He felt dreadful. He couldn’t even drink the water. Thirty-five kgs in three weeks. It was if he had become invisible. He looked at his arms. They were like swizzle sticks. His stomach rumbled and instantly seven heads swivelled in his direction. And where had he left that block of Tasmanian pine?
He dreams nightly now exclusively of food. Food so impossibly sweet and rich. Food, scented with Huoun pine, with honey made from the flowers of the scant tress that grow in the mountains of Tasmania. Food, caressed and rubbed by the bodies of Armenian and Italian women who flit through the scrubbed wooden floors of dark buildings, in slight, black clothing that shifts and slithers and displays their dark sex and flour dusted bodies. They rub against him and taunt him. They push his skeletal hands over hardened nipples and bristling pubis. They taunt him with their abundant bodies. They touch him in places he has only dreamed about until he is screaming with pleasure. They serve him plates of breads, dripping with honey, jams, and creams. They come to his table and deposit first a dish of trevalla, smothered in a lemon butter and caper sauce on a bed of young English spinach and a sweet potato mash. Tiny anchovies, stuffed, green olives, shaved fennel, artichoke hearts covered in feta and blue cheese. Plates of veal, stuffed with sage leaves, wrapped in prosciutto. Perfect little quails, crusted in sweet vine leaves rubbed in rich, dark, green olive oil, tiny eggs from the same bird, bursting with primeval flavours. He writhes in his dreams, his sex hardened to such a degree he cannot sleep on his back and he screams in agony at his pent up seed. He frequently awakes to find the bed soaked in his semen, visions of the she-devils, taunting him, prodding him, kneading him as if he were food itself. He has never been so happy in all his life.
Before the holiday he had steeped onto the scales at a Christchurch mall. An ancient old thing with an ornate iron façade. It, for $2, read your height and weight and gave a fortune telling. He stepped back off the scale as the little machine produced a small strip of paper that summarised his life for him in three handy sound bites. 99.5 kg: ideal weight for 1.8m height, 80.0 kg. You will meet an old friend but be wary of renewing acquaintanceships. Plan carefully for the next six months Lucky number four. Lucky colour, pink.
Now he looked down at the new readout from an identical machine in Hobart. Weight 45kg – or thereabouts. Step to the middle of the weighing platform. There appears to be a malfunction. Lucky number 4. Lucky colour white or gray. Step to the middle of the platform. There is no future. No future, not future, nor future, no future, nor future.