Thursday, January 07, 2016

MARK'S HANDY HOUSEHOLD HINTS NUMBER 4: THE TOOTHBRUSH HOLDER

Are you tired of living? Some days, do you feel that you just cannot go on?

Well, perhaps the real problem is that you are just tired of picking up your toothbrush every morning. Picking it up from some dirty old cup or disgusting communal toothbrush holder, from some grotesque, nightmarish object of paste-covered grime and filth that fills you with immoveable dread. From some sad Auntie's ceramic Christmas present that she learned to make at Craft Group or from an allegedly "stainless" steel holder from Guangzhou that holds more dirty brown microbes than you could ever possibly point a stick at. Two sticks, even.

Perhaps you subconsciously wish, in those vivid, early morning dreams, for a simple, individual, tidy and elegant little toothbrush holder, as happy and clean as a dental nurse on her summer holidays. A holder that you can just clip your toothbrush into when done and have those sanitary concerns vanish as if on a zephyr breeze.

Well, now you can!

Next time you are out in the street and see an electrician, or indeed any tradesman for that matter, stop him and ask him about those little stick-on clips they use to hold television antenna cables in place on skirting boards. Most likely, he will pull a dozen or so of them from the pockets of his King Gee workwear and hand them to you on spec. Failing that, go down to Bummings, and spend hours wandering cavernous warehouse aisles in the forlorn hope of ever finding that one, single cheap item so you desperately need so you can finally queue up for the eventual privilege of paying for it. Then walk out into the blinding sunshine, buy a sausage in a bun for no good reason at all, and spill the tomato sauce over your shirt as you try to wrestle a loose shopping trolley away from your door so you can clamber into your car.


Secure the clip to a ceramic tile, preferably over the basin, or in the shower if that's the way you roll. This way, once you rinse your toothbrush and press it back into place with a satisfying *snap* when done brushing those pearly whites, any watery residue ends up down the fucking drain, where it belongs, and not in the bottom of a cup, and the toothbrush stays nice and clean and dry, rather than lying sideways in a pool of it's own juices like some fourteenth-floor suicide.

For more Handy Household Hints, or to receive a free sample toothbrush holder, just send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:

Mark's Handy Household Hints
Harden Close Jabiru NT 0886

Remember to include a few unmarked fifties.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

BLINDED BY THE NIGHT

Thank you all for the outpouring of love, support and flowers during my recent stay at the Royal Darwin Hospital for eye treatment. It is much appreciated and I am truly humbled. I am on the mend and feel that I turned a corner last night. In fact, I turned several, after missing my stop on the Darwin bus and spending the better part of the next hour wandering the streets of Tiwi, blindly searching for the smoke stack and familiar tungsten glow of the hospital car park, unable to read Goggle maps and forced to navigate by dead reckoning and a rising yellow moon in the east, being barked at relentlessly by dogs from the safety of their steel-fenced yards like the gutless overfed four-legged suburban cowards that they are.

Where are all the blind dogs when you need them? Sitting in bloody shopping malls with coin slots cut in their skulls, that's where, as if that were of any practical use to anyone. Help Train A Guide Dog, they whine. Well let me tell you, I have, on more than one inebriated occasion. Sit! Stay! i cry -- and they do, without the need to be further anchored in place by the weight of my hard-earned spare change thank you very much.

So after a spiralling nocturnal tour of the football ovals, suburban driveways and rollershuttered supermarkets of Tiwi, I stumbled across the glowing blue sign that marks the way to the hospital, and was once again on the long, poorly signposted road to recovery.

Any further donations of cash and cigarettes can be forwarded to me care of the Jabiru Post Office. All such donations are fully tax deductible, depending on the courage of your accountant. Thank you all once again for your support.  I would be lost without you.

Photo: News Limited

Saturday, September 20, 2014

SANDSTONE

Driving back along dusty outback Arnhem roads tonight, through sacred country, around this solemn sandstone scarp, I sync the bluetooth on the troopy and tame impala and radiohead blast as animals and plants in this strange burnt place loom in the headlights and I realise I've always done this.

Even as a kid, getting on my bicycle and just riding, far as I could, anywhere, away. New places. To the other side of the lake. Then further afield. Up into the hills, wagging a day in my first year of high school to escape claustrophobia and boredom, all the way up into the hills to find the railway tunnel that cuts stone black and dark through the rock, where a runaway train once failed and sailed spectacularly backwards down through the Darling Range.

Even before I got my first car, wild and lost missions to Wungong Dam to find huge, mythical concrete pipes to skate. And even when I did get a car, just heading out on mad, hashish-driven treks to Kalbarri, Margaret River, anywhere. Away. New places.

One new year, taking a clapped-out Lite Stout to a place on the west Australian map simply because it had nothing marked on it. Just another one of those big, blank white spaces that marked the whitefella's idea of country. Wondering what was there, wandering out along some thin track northwest of Kalgoorlie, to Lake Giles, finding that explorer's cairn atop a lonely granite ridge. Repairing the radiator at an empty fossicker's shack to sail on past the shimmering flat salt of Lake Barlee, along the back tracks thinly disguised by my large-scale paper maps. Before Google of course. Even now, even with Google maps, I can barely trace this road on the satellite. Reaching a place called Sandstone, I place I never knew existed, to be welcomed by country people there with beer and rum counting down to the pointless celebrations of the early morn.

Shooting ceremony on country today. Amazing. Just amazing. Devil dancing in the twilight against the sacred stone sites of this oldest living culture. Yidaki and clapsticks from Elcho Island echo fresh in my memory with such foreign singing I can't begin to describe.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

THERE'S NEVER A TRANSMAT BEAM AROUND WHEN YOU NEED ONE

It's been a long ride in this heat. I've clocked up somewhere north of three thousand kilometres since leaving the old mudbrick hut west of Ballarat. I can't give a precise figure, because the speedo cable let go somewhere south of Woomera. I've been guesstimating my velocities and perambulations ever since. I know it's 673km from Tennant Creek to Katherine. And I know 4000rpm in sixth gear means 100km/h. But beyond that is pure speculation.

But before I can even begin to think about being in Katherine, I run into a bit of bother with the fuzz. Halfway to the horizon on the road ahead, red and blue lights atop a bacon machine start flashing. I watch with dismay as the Landcruiser grows larger, then slows and swings around behind me. I wind down through the gears, pull over, and hit the kill switch. Cops. Always looking for trouble.

I pull off my helmet. The leather jacket too. It's far too hot to be standing around in the desert in a leather jacket. The walloper slams the door and stomps over.

Any idea how fast you were going.
No.
149, he says.
Uh huh.
Can I see your drivers licence.

I peel my plastic smiling face out of my wallet and hand it to him.

Where are you going.
Just going to work.
Where do you work.
Starting a job in Jabiru.
So you've got a WA drivers' licence, a Queensland registered bike, and you work in the Northern Territory.
Looks like.

The tyre biter stomps off, boots crunching on the roadside gravel. I crouch against the slim shade of the bike as he checks my record on the radio. It must be extensive. He is gone a while. When he comes back, he hands me a ticket for a month's wages.

I'll spare you the lecture.
Thanks.
About how far it is to get help out here.
Mmm.
You're old enough to understand.
Uh huh.

He returns to the 'bruiser, fires it up, and continues south. I pocket the fine and ride off. A few clicks down the highway I'm sitting on the same speed as before. I know now, at least, how fast I am going.

I pull in at a place called Mataranka, intrigued by a series of colourful statues standing, staring, in the park. At the far end, under a huge strangler fig, a group of Aborigines sit in a circle, talking and drinking. One or two will occasionally get up and cross the searing bitumen to the general store. The women wear colourful print dresses. The thin brown men, wide-brimmed Akubras, boots, jeans and long-sleeved cowboy shirts.

Here is one now, sitting on a horse, staring down at me.

'Aboriginal Stockman', the plaque reads. And here, this Chinaman, in his tight-fitting blue skivvy, standing beneath a saucer-shaped water tower, looking like a long-lost George Takei twin. The plaque identifies him as Cheon, the Chinese cook. And over here, 'The Black Princess and her Dog'. A little Aboriginal girl. Someone has thrown a bucket of whitewash over her. I'm not sure why people do this, but the psychologist in me offers a theory. It's most likely because they are fuckwits.


It is when I find Mrs Aeneas Gunn and her husband, staring out across the road with a look of mild bemusement at the paddy wagons outside the Mataranka Police Station, that I realise this is no surreal outback parody of Star Trek. Not at all. These are but statues of the characters from Mrs Aeneas Gunn's 1908 classic bible of Australiana, We of the Never Never. Back in the day, Mrs Aeneas Gunn was at Elsey Station with her husband, Mr Aeneas Gunn. For a few months. Before Mr Aeneas Gunn died of malarial dysentery. Or maybe it was the chop suey.

The name 'Mataranka' begins to set bells ringing. I vaguely recall seeing a photo in a tourist brochure in a motel south of Alice, showing some bright young things swimming in a pool fringed with pandanus and paperbark. It said something about a thermal spring. There was a sign a back on the highway that said something about a thermal spring. I fire up the bike.

I could use a thermal spring about now.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

THE DEVIL PLAYS MARBLES

I awake before dawn, and pack my few belongings into the motorcycle panniers. It is cool outside under the poincianas, but a familiar red demon is rising in the east. It will be hot again today. The last three days have been north of 40 degrees, since heading out from my underground digs at Coober Pedy. Pushing on through that baked red heat.

Today's dawn start from Alice means I will beat the heat - but only to a degree. I will have to go slow, and watch the animals. They've all got the same idea - early bird, worm - and recent rain means there is feed along the edges of the highway. I tootle along in the early morning light at around 80, slowing whenever I see roadkill or movement in my peripheral vision. Here are wallabies, looking just like anthills. Until they move. There go some birds, feeding on carrion. You couldn't hit a crow if you tried,  but an eagle is a bird of a different feather. Eagles feeding on roadkill look very much like crows - until you're way too close. I learned that driving lesson near Exmouth in '88. A wedgetail, its wingspan almost as wide as the windscreen of my Phoenix, brushed my roof as I sped underneath it, gawping at each other in mutual surprise.

It's the wrong time of year for this desert run. As the sun climbs, I lose fluids fast, and the familiar fatigue sets in. The long, straight distances have me shaking my head to stay alert, stretching limbs against the frame, deep breathing, playing mind games to keep focus and attention on the grey nothingness of the road. I stop about once every hour, leaving the hot bitumen for the shade of some spartan steel shelter to peel off my jacket and helmet, stretch, and down a cold Staminade from the pack. There is usually a rainwater tank, sometimes with water, sometimes not. I wet down the stretch-fabric tube around my neck. The evaporation will keep me cool for a while. Occasionally, if I'm really starting to flag, I percolate some coffee, setting the stainless steel device over a small fire, or even grab a nap on the swag, the wet fabric tube pulled up over my face against the flies.

Back on the road, the government puts a hex on me with its road signs. 'Drowsy Drivers Die' they bark at me, suddenly, randomly. I mutter into my helmet. C'mon, I'm doing my best out here. There's no need for that. I shake my head clear again and focus on that distant grey-and-white point, that thin unfolding ribbon to the north.

The next stop is Wycliffe Well, the self-proclaimed UFO capital of Australia. A group of Aboriginal men sit under the bridge yonder. I buy a few mils of fuel, enough to get me to the Creek, and drop my remaining half a dexie. A silver bullet for the road. One of the men is walking towards me. I hope he's not going to start humbugging me. I'm on a tight budget.


Merry Christmas my friend, he says, and shakes my hand.

Back on the road, I'm just settling into the routine when the Devil's Marbles loom like a hallucination. Rising out of the heat as if from an unearthly cauldron, these huge hot blistering boulders burst upon the flat red landscape like a curse. I feel compelled to stop. Drawn in by a strangely gravitational pull, I ride in along an elliptical gravel track, orbiting around these huge round boulders, eventually pulling right up tight against a brutal concrete table set under an open steel shade. I kill the motor. Hooking my jacket and helmet onto the swag, I let the sweat and shade cool my core as I cast about the campsite. The large rainwater tank is empty, and I am getting low. I take my remaining small bottle of water and the Nikon and walk out amongst these boulders. The Karlu Karlu.

The sun hits me like a ball pein hammer as it beats its relentless noonday rhythm upon this strangely sculpted landscape. Here a boulder seems ready to roll, poised precariously upon the shoulder of its big brother. There a huge rounded rock is split asunder in the scorching heat. In the near distance, an eerie, repetitive wail echoes off the stones. Must be some kind of bird. Surely.

I crouch in the sparse shade of one of these massive stones. The Aboriginal traditional owners, the Kaytetye, have their own myths about how they were formed. But I keep First Peoples' myths at an arm's length. This is not my story, this is not my dreaming. Of course, there is a lot to be learned from hearing these mythical yarns, from reading them. They are moral, and even plausible, up until the point where someone or something turns into a rock.

But, dwarfed here into silent stillness by this inscrutable granite splendour, I can almost fathom the arcane logic.

I have about a hundred kilometres to go to reach the nearest town: Tennant Creek. From there I was hoping to push on to Katherine. Now I'm having my doubts. I've clocked up 400 kilometres since leaving the Alice; I'm hot, I'm tired - and what is that weird, strangulated cry? Can that really be a bird? It sounds like a ghost.

I'm beginning to feel like a character in one of those quintessential Australian outback novels, going quietly mad in this ancient, eerie landscape. But the heat. The heat!

I tramp back through the red dust to the motorcycle. Again I pull on the leathers, the helmet, and the ever-reliable Kwaka comes rattling back to life. UFOs, stones strewn by magic men, an empty and alien landscape. I'll be glad to reach Tennant Creek. Or Katherine. Or Darwin. Anywhere I can down a rum, and once again draw a veil across this brutal, indifferent, unacceptable reality.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SOME OF THEM ARE CHRISTIANS, SOME OF THEM ARE CLOTHESLINES




It is dark by the time I reach the island of Samosir. Not so dark that I cannot be spotted as easy prey by the touts languishing along the pier where the ferry docks. But dark all the same.

I am ill and feverish, coming down with some swine of a flu. After a seven-hour bus trip from the hell-hole of Medan, all I need is a bed so I can die peacefully in my sleep. It's not much to ask. I nod to one of the ojeks.

Sir where you go?
Libertas. Or Lindas. Anywhere with cheap clean rooms.
Ah, sorry sir, all cheap clean rooms booked now. Is Christmas.
Take me to Libertas anyway.
Yes sir.

I get on the bike and we wind our way through narrow alleys to a long, low bungalow. It sports a dimly lit bar, from which a smiling Sumatran emerges, sipping on a green tea. He is genuinely pleased to tell me all the rooms are full. Everywhere on the bay booked up, he says, gleefully. Is Christmas.
I thank him for reminding me.
A lone backpacker is sitting in a rattan chair on the verandah, flicking through a trammelled Lonely Planet. His unwashed hair is piled high on his head in the style of a Cambodian laundrywoman. At the opposite end of him is bright yellow rubber, the kind of footwear that flip-flops between being a shoe and a practical joke. He wears loose cotton pants tied with a string, topped by a t-shirt with a design that could bring on a fit of epilepsy in the unwary. He looks up at me and smiles the smug, self-satisfied smile of someone who has just had the last of the cream on his banana pancake.

Hello my brother, he says in an accent I can't quite place, but definitely from somewhere east of the Glastonbury Festival. I can help you with some information, he says. There is Mamas up the hill. It is not as cool as here, of course. And it costs more, but I am thinking you have no choice. He smiles, gets up, and disappears. I do the same, on the back of the ojek's scooter.

I know a place, they have rooms, maybe 80,000 rupiah, my driver says.
OK, fine. Whatever. I'm dog tired and sick and really need somewhere to crash.

This is my first mistake. Never, ever, show signs of weakness. Or the Sumatrans will eat you alive. Quite literally, only a few years ago.
You want nice room? he begins. I can find. Now Christmas. No rooms, everywhere booked, only expensive rooms, you know?  How much you pay?



He turns right and we make our way along a narrow causeway between the rice paddies. A Catholic church looms on our left. Everywhere there seem to be little shrines and crosses. Graves, perhaps. Graves of the people who gave me this flu. I see another tall building with a cross high on the hill.
I can find good room for 200,000, he says. Very big. Very hot water.
Just the 80,000 room is fine, I say.
I take you to Parnas, he says.
OK.

We ride past more crosses. Too many, it seems, for a Muslim country. Back in Jakarta, where the mosques swarm like mosquitoes, the blaring call to the prayer mat is everywhere. But here in the volcanic highlands of Sumatra, we are deep in missionary country.
Those crosses, I say to the ojek, what are they?  Christian graves?
He shrugs. Some of them are Christians, some of them are clotheslines.
What did you say?
Clotheslines.
He points out two wooden crosses standing ten metres or so apart, a faint trace of wire stretched between the two.
You can pay 500,000? he asks.
Oh Jesus. No, I cannot.
Because now is Christmas, he says.
And there's no room at the inn?
Sir?
Just take me to Parnas. 80,000 sounds fine.
Now I think they have only 400,000 rupiah rooms, he says.
Fuck my patron saint.
He slows the bike. To our left, a crater mountain rises high into cloud. To the right, a low building bears a sign, Parnas. The yard rambles down to a gazebo by a lake, where some women are tilling the soil.

Mr Ojek calls out to them: You have room for 400,000?

Not "do you have a room available" but "do you have room for 400,000". Just to let them know in advance that, on the back of his moto, he has the goose that lays the golden eggs. Oh God. It's dark, I'm sick, he knows I'm sick, and he knows I'll take anything just so I can die in peace.

Dear God, please spare me this hell.


I promise I'll hail Mary, my Lord, next time - and not some devil dressed as a motorcycle taxi driver.