Sunday, April 29, 2007


There is a lot to be said for being miles away from civilisation
... i just can't be bothered saying it at the moment.


Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
- Miriam Beard

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Mick drops me at the Gascoyne Junction turnoff, 15km north of town.
Just up there Mick, next to the tree. Thanks.
I haul out the spare from the back of the Pajero. Throwing it down on the dirt road, I walk over to the solitary piece of shade. Mick does a u-turn. Good luck, he says.
Thanks mate.
He roars off. It’s Sunday afternoon, and it’s hot.

I settle down for what could be a long wait. If I don’t get a lift within two hours, i will just hitch down the North West Coastal Highway back into town. It's a hundred and sixty eight kilometres to the Junction, with nothing in between except kangaroos, stray cattle and claypans. Almost immediately, a dark blue Falcon wagon turns off the highway, and rumbles up in a cloud of dust. Two women stare at me out the side window as i jump up and stick out my thumb. They continue on. I sit back down.

The flies stick to me like the proverbial shit to a blanket. A few minutes later, the car returns, and turns around.
Hey fella where you goin.
You wanna lift.
Get in.
I got that wheel there.
The girl gets out and opens the back door. There is a doona spread out. Pillows. A baby is lying asleep.
Put it up there, on top of the tent, says the woman driving.
Hang on mum. The girl removes her baby, and climbs with it back into the passenger seat. I lift the wheel in, and put it on top of the tent. We head off.

You got a flat tyre fella?
Yeah, about a hundred and fifty k's out, just before the Junction.
No spare?
Well i got this one here. I think it will fit.
We bump up onto a stretch of bitumen. This will run for about sixty k’s before we hit the dirt again.
I was tryin to get out to the Centenary Ball. Take some photos. For the paper. Didn't really think i would make it on those tyres, but, you know.
The girl turns around to stare at me. You that reporter. I seen your picture in the paper.
She turns back to play with the baby, who has woken up.
Yep. Where you ladies off to?
Back to Burringurrah, says the grandmother. Mt Augustus, you call it. 500k's. Long way. She laughs. Been in town for Bosho's funeral. Big funeral that fella.
Ah, yes, i think. Poor old Bosho. We filled half a page of ad space with obits this week. Bosho had four wives and ten kids. A huge extended family. Bosho was much loved around town. Heart attack, 43. Sweet baby Jesus, younger than me.
Yeah, poor old Bosho.
He good man that fella.
So i hear.

We drive on in silence.
The girl in the passenger seat has fallen asleep, the baby asleep in the pillow on her lap. We continue down the blacktop at a steady hundred and twenty clicks. Soon the doona overwhelms me and i too fall asleep. I wake to find we have stopped. The girl is smoking a cigarette outside. I take a draught of water from my bottle. The women change places and we drive on. The young driver puts on a cd.

Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me.
Don't cha. Don't cha.
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me.

Don't cha. Don't cha.

The girl sings along with the oh oh and ah ahs. We hit the dirt. She slows to a hundred. After about ten k's, she stops again.
Mum. Mum.
Her mother is asleep. She wakes up.
Mum can you drive. I'm tired.
They are both quite obviously tired. The baby is tired. We're all tired.
I can drive if you want.
They look at me, astonished. You don't mind, says the girl. We been at the wake, says the grandmother. Big night that one.
I don't mind.
We trade places. I drive on.
Soon they are both asleep. Bitumen again. The tyres drone on the blacktop. The Pussycat Dolls drone on on the cd player.

Who you think you jiving?
You're disturbing my flow
Why you be bugging?
Like I'm some kind of hoe

Some kind of hoe, some kind of hoe. Must be a gardening song. The Sunny appears on the side of the road ahead. I haven’t seen another car for over an hour and a half. I slow down, and pull over, leaving the engine and aircon running. I wake the girl, asleep in the back seat.
Oh, uh, thanks. She gets out, rubs her eyes and stretches.
I lift out the wheel. My bottle of water.
She gets in the driver’s seat.
See ya.
Yeah, see ya. Take it easy.
Ok fella.

The Falcon disappears in a cloud of dust. A cloud of flies immediately descends upon me. I look around at the landscape where I slept last night. A lone tree on the crest of a hill. Strange, sharp, mustard coloured stones lying all around. Smooth, sharp edges. Some white ones.

The back left tyre is completely shredded. I look down at the 14 inch spare wheel. I know it’s a different diameter, but one can’t be choosy on a Sunday. I pulled it off a car at the Carnarvon tip. Had to use a length of wood as lever to lift up the bomb car where it sat atop a pile of wrecks. It was a struggle.

I hope it fits.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Well, there it is. My latest automobilic aqcuisition, which will, hopefully, will get me 1500km to Broome to meet Kylie. And back. At two hundred dollars, it is twice what i paid for my previous car, the legendary Madaz. And, not being designed by Bertone of Italy, it is not nearly so stylish. But it has the advantage of the 1200cc Datsun motor, one of the most reliable engines known to Man. You can run these things for about three days, without any oil or water, before they finally seize. Valuable information, which will probably come in handy one day.

People often ask me, Art Director, they ask, where do you find such cheap, superstylin' cars?

It's simple. In the simple world of the Art Director, there are four stages in the acquisition of a fine used automobile.

Stage One: Learn how an automobile works. This stage, which is of course ongoing, will help in Stage Four. Trust me.
Stage Two: Find a car that has done over a million kilometres. If it hasn't, how do you know it is any good?
Stage Three: Make sure the car is broken. Nobody is going to sell you something cheap if it actually works.
Stage Four: Fix it.

See? It's simple. Where a lot of people go wrong is Stage Three. They buy an old car that actually works. Then they watch in abject horror as it breaks down and stops. Clearly, it is much better for your soul to buy a car that is already dead, and watch it come to life under the deft parry and thrust of your screwdriver.

The other stage where people tend to go wrong is Stage Four. They confuse fixing a car with restoring a car. Restoring a car is fine - but it is not cheap. And, of course, by driving a restored car, one sacrifices the innate panache and style that comes with driving a wreck.

There are so many cars on this planet they should all be free, really. While I have been known to pay good money for a car in the past ($2000 for a '65 Phoenix, $1700 for a '61 Spitfire) i object to it in principle. Here we are, with centuries of mechanical knowledge behind us, and the capacity to build a beautiful machine which could last hundreds of years - and manufacturers construct crappy disposable pieces of junk with names like "Daewoo." I mean, really.

So I place a "Wanted To Buy: licensed bomb" classified ad in the paper. One of the many perks of my job is free classified ads. Woo hoo. A girl rings up and says her boyfriend has left a Sunny in her driveway. She makes it sound like he has left a steaming turd. I say i will pop around and see what i can do. The rusty, dusty Datsun rests atop its blocks like Gandhi atop a funeral pyre. It has minor crash damage, nothing to stop it running, a rear seat decimated by years of sun, and a dead battery. Two front wheels with bald tyres lie in the grass nearby. Perfect, i think.

I arrange meet her inconsiderate boyfriend to work out a price. I drive out with Mick. Young Luke, an alleged mechanic, has gotten halfway through replacing the Datsun's tie rod ends before giving up, buying himself a 4WD ute like everybody else in town, and leaving the Sunny, immobile, in his girlfriend's driveway.

You'll never get that nut off, Luke tells me, shaking his head ruefully at the offending tie rod end. I've tried everything, he says. The front wheels lie on the ground nearby, their tread worn to the steel belts by the stuffed component. Luke has two brand new tie rod ends, all ready to go. Two! That's the way to do it. Homeostasis is what we're after. Balance, coherence, integrity. Plus he has a new slave cylinder, to fix the the leaking brakes.

I examine the old tie rod end and steering track rod closely. Clearly, this young "mechanic" has not tried everything to get that lock nut off. I can see where he has rounded a couple of edges of the nut trying to get it undone, but I can also see it is a left-hand thread. His valiant and no doubt strenuous efforts have gone towards tightening the nut, not loosening it.

How much are you looking at? i ask.
Three hundred, he says.
I've got 170, i say.
I won't take less than two hundred. It's licensed till July.
Mick, lend us thirty dollars.

We put the wheels back on, and borrow the battery out of Luke's ute. The Sunny starts first time. I pull the battery out. The motor keeps running. So the alternator works. This is good. Driving home, it looks like i have a severe case of the DTs, the steering shakes so badly. But this is why there are two brand new tie rod ends in the glove compartment.

I jack the car up, put a shifter on the locknut, its handle resting close to the ground, and lower the jack. The weight of the car on the handle of the spanner cracks the locknut. No strenuous, red faced, knuckle-skinning antics required. I unscrew the tie rod end, and replace it with a new one. The same on the other side. I take the back wheels, with their two good tyres, and fit them to the front, and vice-versa, then do a quick wheel alignment by eye. On payday, i spend $80 on a new battery. Voila.

The only problem i have now is the death-metal disc stuck in the CD player.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Yes, i am still out in the sticks. And the full moon is sending me slightly troppo. Or is it the tropical cocktail of corona, lemon and mary jane? I stand staring up at the clear midnight sky. A remote jumbo leaves a thin double trail of ice from horizon to horizon. It is flying straight into the Southern Cross.

Travels. Travels. There are plans afoot. Broome and Cape Leveque in early May, where i will meet up with Kylie for a few days in the sticks. Different sticks to those shown above, which i prepared earlier. Kylie is a researcher for the Australian version of the Celebrity Ancestry series, screened as "Who Do You Think You Are" on BBC TV. You will see it soon on SBS; it is coming soon to a TV near you. Poor Kylie has lived in Perth her whole life and has barely been out of the metropolitan sprawl. Travelled across Morocco, but scarcely out of the suburban sprawl whilst in Perth. Cervantes to the north, York to the east, and Busselton to the south. Well it's just not on. Those towns are just outer suburbs, really.

Kylie has booked her flight, and i am looking at a $200 licensed Datsun from Morgantown to get me up to meet her. No, no, its not the 200B. A Datsun 200B is just a Datsun 180B with twenty more mistakes. No, it's a 1200cc Sunny. It's twice what i paid for the last car, the Madaz, but it still works out at just under 17c per cc. Not too bad.

Richard The Oyster Farmer (see Cod Wrangling at the Oyster Farm) is just leaving, having helped us utilise a carton of Corona and some sundry embellishments. Richard The Oyster Farmer asked Mickey T, Louie and i if we would like to travel out to the Montebellos on one of the pearling company's sea planes. At all. Just for some skindiving, kitesailing and laying about on the beach. Oh, well, we suppose so, we said. Richard The Oyster Farmer flies to the islands every couple of months, and hunts oyster clams.

I was interviewing Richard The Oyster Farmer for the Coral Coast Happenings magazine. Getting across the minutiae of the operation. He was telling me how he chooses the breeding stock from the Montebellos, flies it back on the seaplane, and then takes an egg and a sperm, out at the Oyster Farm, and stimulates them to spawn. Oh, and how do you do that? Well, he says, usually i put on "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate. Uh huh, i say. And if that doesn't work? Barry White, he says.

It seems like quite an interesting operation, particularly the part about landing on crystal clear turqoise waters out at the Montebello Islands. That's the particularly interesting part. The other stuff, about fiddling with oyster gonads - well, whatever floats your boat. Which reminds me. I am now the proud owner of a slightly used three metre dinghy, courtesy of Richard The Oyster Farmer. It's a bit rough around the gunwales, but it floats. I am going to fit new rowlocks, and punt about on the Fascine. Richard The Oyster Farmer is worried the extra mass of the rowlocks, those crucial extra few grams, might drop the freeboard just enough to sink the boat. I think he doth mock me.

I like the boat; it's a nice shade of bleached orange.