He had been watching us since we pulled in; had once broken the traditional Silence Between Campers to offer use of his mallet as I pounded the tent pegs into the dense soil with a purpose-scavenged stone. I accepted it with what I hoped was good grace, though the hammer wasn’t strictly necessary.
It was obvious he found our camp a bit laughable: the plastic Ikea chairs obviously intended for indoor use, the Big W gas burner that we used for stove top espresso, the noticeable use of blankets instead of sleeping bags. Sitting across from his extensive set up, our dinky little home base must have seemed quaint. The inelegant function of city slickers playing at camping.
I could feel his eyes on me while I sat there shaving tinder from the large pieces of hardwood we had bought from the campsite operator. I don’t know how long he waited, but eventually he wandered up and handed us a fire starter.
"Might make it a bit easier for you," he said. There was kindness, but also arrogance.
Again, I thanked him, and turned back to my tinder. He looked around our site.
"You have an axe? You’ll need some smaller pieces to get it going."
"Nah, we’ll be fine," I answered.
"You need an axe. Do you want to borrow mine?"
"No, we have plenty of small pieces. We’ll be fine."
He looked critically at our wood pile, remained silent for a moment.
"Okay," he said and hoisted a blowtorch, "but let me know if you want help lighting it. If all else fails, I have some petrol we can use."
I knew he was trying to be friendly, but I was getting annoyed at his paternal hovering.
When it was time, Jac and I moved to the fire pit. I carefully built a teepee from smaller kindling and stuffed it with my tinder and some cardboard strips from an empty six-pack. I walled in the back and sides with some larger pieces, being careful to leave room for an air vent at the bottom. After a moment’s thought, I placed the firestarter near my tinder. No reason to be reckless.
It started slowly at first, but soon the entire structure was engulfed in flame and we could toss large chunks of Jarrah on the fire without fear of smothering it. Our fire had been a success, and its heat was all that much sweeter because it was tempered with our neighbour’s surprise.
The next day, as Jac took a nap and I sat reading a book, I watched our friend struggle for nearly two hours at his fire pit. Petrol, fire starters, newspaper. Nothing helped his pitiful pile of smoking timber. After a truly Herculean effort, he finally got the bugger lit. And not a moment too soon, either. I was just about ready to saunter over, sipping my stovetop espresso, and ask if he wanted to borrow some tinder.
It was just a matter of time, really. Perth is famous for thissort of thing. I spent a few months working for Criminal Injuries Compensation, where people who are seriously injured as a result of a crime are given money for their troubles. Most common crime related injury? Punched in the face in Northbridge.
So last night I was leaving a party at a friend’s place right on the edge of that infamous hive of scum and villainy. I was with a few girls and we were going to walk over to a main street to grab a taxi home.
A group of drunk blokes were walking behind us, shouting the standard drunk bloke mating calls. In my memory, they yelled something like “Nice gams, dolls!” But it wasn’t the 1950s and they weren’t at a construction site. So it was probably more like, “Ay, youse cunts wanna bang?” Steff politely declined and they heard her Canadian accent.
"Oi. Where you from? Listen to me. Where you birds- Oi, where you from?"
I can’t quite remember Steff’s response, but it was something like, “your face.” Sure, it didn’t make sense and was probably an ill advised response, but it didn’t warrant the vitriol with which one gentleman chose to respond.
"You’re in PERF now. PERF, you unnerstand?" He was puffing up his chest and sauntering with braggadocio that would funny if it weren’t so earnest.
This is where things took a turn for the worse. I decided that the best course of action was a sarcastic riposte.
"Well shit, really? I thought we were in Melbourne. We must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere…" I said, looking around with wide eyed surprise.
At this point, the most vocal of the drunk blokes stormed over and said something like, “Oi cunt, you wanna get bashed?”
I had misjudged. Maybe my timing was off. Perhaps he just didn’t like Melbourne. Whatever the reason, he was not impressed.
I was about to respond in the negative, to inform him that I wasn’t particularly interested in getting bashed. But before even waiting for my response (how rude!) he threw a punch squarely at my jaw. Lucky for me, he was kind of smallish and drunk enough that his punch included very little backswing. I think those are called sucker punches? I don’t know, I’m not a punching expert. But also lucky for me, his friends jumped on him with cries of “Oi, mate, what the fuck? They ain’t done anyfing to us. Not anyfing!”
With precision timing, the cops showed up (thanks guys!) and he took off, leaving his two friends to explain that their mate got angry about how some girls were declining his advances and decided to wallop me right in my smart mouth. Truly stand up bloke.
Anyhow, I’m unscathed and that dude probably got a drunk and disorderly or something. Lesson learned: drunk, angry blokes don’t have much of a sense of humour. And you probably will get punched in the face in Northbridge if you live in Perth long enough.
For some reason, the nice folks at The Thousands blog are letting me contribute. Here’s something I wrote about the new show at OK Gallery, Wilderness Years. (Which you should go see if you live in Perth, because it’s going to be awesome.)
Melbourne is pretty great. It’s a lot like two other cities that I think are pretty great: Vancouver and San Francisco. It has lots to do, great places to drink and it’s easy to get around without a car. Jac and I were only there a week - not even long enough that I could pronounce “Melbourne” without saying the “r” sound - but it was long enough to get a feel for how excellent it really is.
The nightlife is awesome: varied and surprisingly easy to navigate. Aside from a truly dizzying array of dive bars ($1 beers!) and live music (no cover charges!) there were a host of kitschy, weird drinkeries and late night venues.
Even midweek, we had little trouble finding something to do every night.
But of course, there were plenty of daytimes we had to fill too.
We saw the Tutankhamun Exhibit, which was rad. I learned that Egyptians carved little statues of themselves that would apparently do work for them in the afterlife. I might get a few of them, just in case.
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is super cool. I’m fully behind any museum that considers movies, video games and the internet works of art that should be considered critically and preserved indefinitely.
Oh, and on the last day there we went to a cafe called Fandango, which is apparently The Best Cafe in the Known Universe. The food and coffee rival that of any other breakfast cafe I’ve been to, and the Secret Gardenesque courtyard in the back is goddamn idyllic.
Coming back to Perth has been bittersweet. I mean, we ran out of money pretty fast doing all that eating and drinking and seeing, so we need to get back to making coin. But in the land where bars have lineups before midnight and a drink special is a $10 beer, I suspect I’ll be missing Melbourne most weekends.
Did the Great Banana Crisis hit Canada as hard as it hit Australia? I figure most Canadian bananas are sourced from Mexico, so many of you probably didn’t even know about the GBC.
Back in February, Cyclone Yasi tore a swath through Queensland and decimated all the banana plantations. As it turns out, that’s the only place we get bananas from. In the ensuing economic fallout, bananas went from lunch box staples to totems of wealth and power. ”He’s got heaps of bananas” became an Australian colloquialism that means “that gentleman is very well to do.” Fortunes were won and lost on banana trading. Bananas were literally worth their weight in gold.
(When I say “literally” I’m using the term “literal” figuratively. Gold is like $1,650/kg. Bananas were not that expensive.)
Did you know that bananas are naturally radioactive? Only a little bit. Like, say, 1/4,000,000 of a Fukushima meltdown. Still, there’s radiation there. So I guess the GBC has been awesome cancer-wise, but here’s another banana fact for you: they are naturally delicious.
Which is why I’m heralding the end of the GBC. We might be balls deep in another Great Financial Crisis, but the dark days of banana rationing are nearly over. Jac bought a few at IGA the other day for five dollars. Five dollars! I saw them at Wooly’s for $7.95/kg. People were so excited that they were literally making hats out of the bunches and whooping it up in the aisles.
(Again, I mean literally in a figurative sense.)
We still have a long way to go, but tonight when I go to bed I’ll be dreaming of a day when bananas cost less than $5/kg. And you know what? I think that day might be closer than we think.
An objective account of things that are better (and worse) in Australia.
Well, I’ve been in this country for about 8 months now, and I finally feel as if I have the authority required to write a definitive list of what’s better in Australia. (And inversely, what’s worse.)
Wine I can buy a palatable bottle of wine for $5. I can buy a good bottle of wine for $12. Hell, I can buy an absolutely quaffable bag of the shit for less than $20. Put this together with BYO restaurants and you have a recipe for success.
Cheese It’s cheaper than water here. I once bought a 1kg block of cheese on sale for $5. My household is in the midst of a veritable Rennaisance du Fromage. I’m putting cheese in foods that I’ve never put cheese in before. You don’t even know what can be done with cheese until the oppressive confines of cost have been lifted. The next (or first?) Shakespeare of Cheese could be living in Canada right now, unable to ply his art for fear of financial ruin.
Jaywalking Laws Jaywalking is not illegal here, unless you do it at a cross walk. For real. You need to be 30m away from a designated cross walk if you want to jaywalk. Not that I’ve ever been ticketed in Vancouver for this, but I have always lived in fear of it. With every illegal step I take, my hands grow clammier and my heart beats faster. This is not so in Perth; I cross roads with fucking aplomb.
Words & Names Reckon, heaps, singlet, beanie. Words are more fun in Australia. And names, too! Everybody in Australia has agreed upon certain nicknames for pretty much everybody. Is your name Derek? People will casually refer to you as “Dezza” all the time. Are you Sarah? Well, on occasion you’re Sas. Maybe your last name is Dobson. If it is, you’re Dobbo. I assume there must be a codified list somewhere, because everybody I’ve met seems to know exactly what a person’s nickname should be without ever being told.
Wages Do you know how much money I make to sit in a comfy chair in a pleasant office and perform incredibly easy tasks? $25/hr. This isn’t a particularly good wage here, it’s just normal. Even if you work at McDonald’s you make something like $18/hr. This is one of the reasons you’re never expected to tip anyone: because they all get paid a living wage.
Every type of booze that isn’t wine It’s expensive. Like, prohibitively expensive. A carton of beer is usually $40. It can get up to $65 for a craft beer. A bottle of off-brand gin called “Houndstooth” over $30. Basically I just drink a lot of wine.
Men’s clothing There are two styles of clothes available in most stores: dickhead and surfer. They might sound like the same thing, but there is a subtle difference. If you’re a dickhead, you wear regular fit jeans, some horrible shoes and a graphic t-shirt. If you’re a surfer, you wear flip-flops, board shorts and a graphic t-shirt. And by graphic t-shirts, I don’t mean like ones from the internet with a funny picture on them, or ones that have a band on them, or ones with an obscure pop culture reference on them… I mean like ones with random photographs and french words emblazoned on them.
Northbridge Northbridge is to Perth as the Granville Strip is to Vancouver. Except it’s like 7 billion times worse. On a Friday or Saturday night, it’s like walking through a war zone. You will probably see blood on the pavement at least once. You will probably be accosted by gentlemen interested in melee combat. You will probably see bouncers detaining a dude that knocked out another dude with one punch because he gave the first dude’s missus a suggestive glance. I’ve read there’s a pretty big problem with speed in Perth, which would explain a lot of what’s going on there. But still, what the fuck?
Availability of Canadian delicacies. This isn’t really fair, because Vancouver is obviously going to have a better selection of Canadian delicacies than Perth. But still… Here is a short list of things that Canadians should never take for granted: Hawkins Cheesies, Old Style Pilsner, Clamato Juice and Root Beer.
Sunday, Monday & Tuesday There’s not a lot to do here. Stuff closes early. I think it’s just a Perth thing though, so I won’t ding all of Australia for it.
I know what you’re thinking: AWESOME. Because that’s what I was thinking too when I found it for a buck in Crazy Clark’s Discount Variety Store.
Seeing the tin made me aware of a problem I previously wasn’t even aware I had: sometimes I want a bit of mac n’ cheese, but the Herculean task of making it is just too tall an order. At last! An solution! No longer will tens of minutes be wasted in the kitchen just for a pot of gold! The tin proudly proclaimed that all I needed to do was “Heat it, and Eat it!”
As it turns out, Heinz “Macaroni and Cheese Sauce” in a tin is not awesome. Heed my warning… Like many things that appear too good to be true, it is.
I guess something was lost in the tinning process. Or maybe something was added (I’m looking at you, Maize Thickening Agent 1422). In any case, the resulting slop was totally unpalatable. Sure, I saved about 11 minutes of prep time, but it tasted like foul milk from a demon teat.
I’m perpetually confused by the night life in Perth. On the one hand, there are plenty of cool, small bars on offer. It’s no great chore to find a hip drinkery for a fancy cocktail and some carefully designed ambience. But where are the indie-pop dance clubs of my homeland? Where are the Biltmores, the Waldorfs, the Honeys?
Going out to dance in Perth seems to mean that you’re going out for dance music. For house, breakbeats, DnB, dubstep. So much dubstep. Perth’s cup runneth over with serious DJ culture…
But noticeably absent from the city’s soundscape is the middle-class hipster DJ with two turntables and a Macbook Pro. The aloof music nerd that spins whatever he can pull down off Hype Machine and Pitchfork. The guy that holds weeklies at whatever bar will offer the cheapest drink specials. He might miss all his transitions and furrow his brow at acronyms like “BPM,” but he’s the guy playing what I want to hear.
And he’s not in Perth.
Briefly, I thought I had discovered one of his ilk. The poster was a Warhol rip off. The DJ write-up promised “the best indie tunes to get you moving on the dancefloor.”
But when we arrived, the bar was full of Bros in indie-rock disguises. Muscleheads wearing an inexact pastiche of the hipster uniform: their jeans were tight, but not too tight. Their flannels were ironed and tasteful. Their haircuts were unironically conservative.
My party and I watched, agog, as a gay dude danced a little too sexy in the direction of someone else and was met with an aggressive and violent affirmation of heterosexuality. And then the bouncers arrived and asked the gay guy to leave. For being gay. Understand that this is not an exaggeration or a presumption. I spoke to this man later and he confirmed that the problem was, in fact, that he was hitting on men.
We waded through the dancing throngs and I remarked that there weren’t any “indie tunes.” It was all generic house and top 40. And then I started to notice men slamming jaeger bombs. High fives and chest bumps. Girls tottering around the dancefloor in wedge heels. A terrible realization: I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. This must not be the bar that I read about.
But of course, it was. We left, still hopeful that next weekend we might stumble upon something a little more worthwhile.
Took a break from the blog for the last month or so because Jac and I were living in an abject den of iniquity and moral turpitude. I’m not sure if it was the ceaseless drum and bass, or the constant fear that the previous tenant would break in and spray paint my laptop… But for some reason I didn’t really feel like updating anything.
We’ve since moved to a much more awesome apartment in the heart of the city, complete with a carpeted kitchen and a life-sized Dalek, so you can expect a bit more news from me. (More on the Dalek later.)
Alright, I know this is going to ruffle some feathers. Specifically those feathers in Vancouver, which in addition to being ruffled are probably freezing and soaking wet. But here it goes…
IT’S TOO FUCKING HOT RIGHT NOW.
Let’s be clear: there is “nice day” hot, which I measure at about 27 degrees. Then you have “pretty fucking hot” hot, which hovers around 32 degrees at midday. But we’re currently in the “MURDEROUS HEAT” bracket, which means that when I woke up at 8:30am this morning soaked in sweat, it was already 32. It’s not even noon yet, and the thermometer is reading 37.5.
There is no escape from this heat. I put on a shirt, and it is moist within seconds. Every 15 minutes or so, I have to wipe another sweat droplet from my glasses.
It’s definitely better than freezing my balls off during the holiday season, but I’m actually a bit worried that I might die of heatstroke.
Everyone that heard I was going down to Hamelin Bay for a week asked me if I was going fishing. ”Oh yeah, mate, you can catch whiting off the beach down there no problem!”
(QUICK ASIDE: I totally thought the “mate” thing was a joke or a stereotype, but it’s not. Everybody says mate. All the time. It’s not even weird.)
When I was younger, I went fishing with my dad and my poppa once in a while. ”It’s like riding a bike,” thought I, “it’s not something you forget.”
So I borrowed a rod from Jac’s dad, picked up some bait from a gas station. I planned to catch whiting by the bucketload and barbecue them for dinner. I had visions of the entire campground lining up for a taste of my delicious ocean haul.
"Where did you learn to fish like this?" they would ask.
"On the banks of a river in the backcountry of Canada," I would reply, giving my rugged beard an absent-minded scratch.
But it quickly became clear that I was getting ahead of myself. My first cast got caught on a reef. I actually had to cut the line free with my jackknife and tie a new hook. My second cast? Same reef.
"It’s just this part of the beach," I thought. We moved on.
Third cast? Success! Wait, where’d the bait go? Fuck.
Fourth cast? You guessed it, reef.
This continued on for some time. I would alternately lose the bait, or get the line caught on the reef. Seagulls began circling about me. They could sense my amateurishness, ready to grab little frozen chunks of mulie as they flew off in the opposite direction as my hook.
It took all of 20 minutes before I trudged back to the beach chairs, dejected. Had I a tail, it would have been between my legs.
Suffice it to say, my fishing trip ended with me using my jackknife in the only pursuit for which it has ever been usefully employed: opening a bottle of cheap wine.
There are no pennies. You just round everything off. If your groceries come to $20.92, you just pay $20.90. I’ve saved literally tens of cents since I’ve gotten here.
Things have funny names. Cafe americanos are called “long blacks,” hot dogs are called “snags” and cars are known as “wollygoggits…” Also, I may have made that last one up.
Cricket is just as complicated as I thought. From what I can tell, the bowler is trying to throw the ball at the stumps so that he can win a wicket. But the batsman wants to knock that sucker past the slips so that he can score some runs. Once in a while they stop for tea. And this is all so that Australia can get some burned up stumps from a famous cricket game that happened ages ago.
Kangaroos are totally everywhere. Well, maybe not in the cities. But in the country, you can see them playing in fields around dusk. And sometimes, you can see them sleeping in very awkward poses right in the middle of the highway!