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 this sort 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.
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.
Like Mink, a vodka bar with house infused spirits and a Soviet aesthetic. Or Gin Palace, which serves The Martini That Won the 1951 Chicago Martini Competition. Or The Croft Institute, a warehouse-cum-nightspot that styles itself as a laboratory and serves precise shots in those plastic syringes that you use to give medicine to dogs. Or Ponyfish Island, a bar that is literally built on the pylon of a bridge in the middle of the Yarra river. Or 99 Problems, which looks suspiciously like it’s just somebody’s house and has a $3 Tecate night.
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 National Gallery of Victoria is impressive. It puts the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Western Australia to shame.
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.