Tuesday, July 28, 2009


3 JUNE 2009

Greetings from Western Australia! We’ve covered a lot of ground in the past month since we left Tasmania and it’s been quite an adventure.

For the first time since Deloraine, we’ve got our own little place again for a while, courtesy of Gus and Julie here in Albany. They have a nice “hobby farm” on the increasingly less rural outskirts of town; their place is buffered by 30 acres of paddock and wetland, but the “devel” of development is encroaching from every direction. Three years ago, when I first visited, this area felt remote and quiet; now, noise from construction machines and traffic is pretty much a constant, even as I write at 7am. And when you look out back, what used to be a distant tree-line has been replaced by roof-tops of the ubiquitous and unecological “paddock-turned-development” box houses; these almost cancerous growths seem to be popping up everywhere we go.

But, for now, we have a place to work on our creative projects and we are very thankful. After a week resting up, cleaning our gear, resizing photos and painting rocks, we’re almost ready to start on our second film, “The Chronicles of Balarnia”, about our adventures at Arni’s place on Flinders Island.


Since we left Balarnia, we house-sat for our friend Jo in Deloraine, Tasmania, for about a month, where we did massive amounts of art and created a second medicine wheel, using four kinds of culinary thyme in the corners. Jo’s living room has awesome natural light and made a fantastic temporary studio space. Deloraine is a quiet little community and is the original “alternative” (= “hippy”) center of Tasmania. At Jo’s we ironed out the final technical details of our first film, “Cryo 2008” and started burning copies for everyone.

Before returning to Melbourne we did a little visiting, including Roger and Katherine Scholes in Hobart. They are an interesting and creative couple; she is an internationally-known author and he is a film-maker whose projects include a documentary about Arni for the ABC a few years ago, as well as being a master house-builder. Roger’s current video gear, which he will upgrade with his next film gig, is what I hope to have in the near future; he showed me a mike that costs more than my D700! I was impressed when Roger told me that he has 14 terabytes of hard-drive to use for his projects…I’ve only got 2! He told me about one thing he’s working on based on a book called The Singing Neanderthals which involves the paleontology of communication using sound; this has a lot in common with my interest in cetacean communication. And it was cool to learn that Roger knew photographer Peter Dombrovskis quite well and that it was Roger who shot the footage of Peter in the wilderness for the ABC doco Wildness.

While in Hobart we visited the top of Mt. Wellington, a massive mountain that looms over the city. It’s a huge presence and home of many parks, rivers, water-falls and walking tracks, but at the top are two huge microwave antennas, one of which looks exactly like a colossal albino penis or rocket. At the top we felt as if we were being irradiated, probably because we were. There are even signs at the parking lot telling you that the extremely powerful microwaves may cause malfunctioning of your door-locks…but no word concerning it’s effects on YOU. See, that would open a window of liability. This is why all corporations categorically deny any negative health effects of their products or services: even the tiniest acknowledgement of a problem could open the door to a flood of litigation.

We took the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait to Melbourne, on what was the roughest crossing I’ve had in 9 years of visiting Tassie. The Spirit is bigger than a lot of towns in Australia but she was heaving on 5 meter seas which, according to boat personnel, were just “ripples.” Yachtees in the “roaring 40’s” have experienced 30+ meter swells in the Sydney to Hobart race but I don’t know how the Spirit would handle those conditions!

I’ve always loved Melbourne as the special and friendly place that she is, but after four months in Tasmania, of which seven weeks were on Flinders Island, even Melbourne seemed alien and smelly. We had a nice little visit with John and Liz in Williamstown, an upscale coastal suburb, before beginning our westward journey along the Great Ocean Road.


I travelled the Great Ocean Road frequently a few years ago, when I was spending some time in Apollo Bay, which back then felt wild, remote, distant from Melbourne. Not the case any more. We took the V-line to Anglesea, and at first considered staying at a caravan park there, until we learned that they wanted $32 for an unpowered tent site. Twice what it should be…but this was the OFF-season rate. “No thanks. By the way,” I inquired, “so what do you charge during the season?” I cringed when the officer, I mean, attendant, revealed the extent of extortion: $54 for one night of unpowered tent site. We hitched on to the next town, reflecting on the fact that out of four months in Tasmania, we had only one night where we had to pay to stay anywhere. And now this…the good old mainland! What kind of people, we wondered, would pay $54 for an unpowered tent site? NOT anyone we could relate to.

But our spirits lifted when a cool chick named Nettie stopped and gave us a lift. She was almost done working for the day and was going to pick up Moses, a couch-surfer from Germany whom she had inherited for a couple days. She was going to drive him along the Great Ocean Road, then leave him to hitch west. She brought us along, which was fantastic, as this way we got to make lots of stops and see a lot of views that are often hard to do when you’re hitching. We stayed at a caravan park in Port Campbell for $22, which was reasonable. We could hear the pounding surf, and we camped right by the river, right next to pipes dumping something into it. We were bombarded first thing in the morning by the delicate sounds of edger and weed-eater; even though our site was directly beneath the brightest street-light in the place, my crankiness abated upon Liesbet’s discovery of a switch on the pole! Joy of joys…even though it was about 3 or 4 meters up, I was able to stand on a rubbish bin and extinguish the beast! Alas, if only edgers and weed-eaters had remote “off” switches…I remember doing that kind of work manually, that is, “by hand.” Sure it took a little longer, but you got to enjoy the silence of being outside…and you weren’t inflicting sonic agony on any beings within say 200 meters.


I’ve come up with a new side-project to our travels. It’s called “investigative tourism”, or “IT.” Somebody’s got to do it. There’s heaps of “information technologists” out there, just waiting for their chance to “re-boot” your system…yikes!...and Bill Bryson only stays in fancy hotels! Without front-line reporting from the trenches, I mean, tent-sites, themselves, all we’ve got is banal and misleading propaganda from the tourism industry. It’s the same crock of shite no matter where you go…web-sites, posters and pamphlets advertising identical table-cloths and cutlery. Sure, the views might vary slightly as do the brands of wine, but what’s being marketed is the same everywhere: it amounts to the sum total of everything you DON’T need when you’re supposedly experiencing “the great outdoors.” It’s all the stuff that people fill their over-sized caravans with, burning up astronomical amounts of fuel to tow them with their SUV’s to distant national parks, then sit there watching tv, oblivious to the sounds of edger and weed-eater, of kookie and corella. “The Game” has got ‘em by the balls…eye, that is! I’ve even been thinking of contacting Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, to see if they’d like some feed-back from here on the road! Monty Python might be interested, too! Just imagine the respect with which we might be treated when we rock up flashing our official Lonely Planet “Investigative Tourism Division” ID card…laminated, of course? [note: the caravan park price quotes and comments are part of the “IT” thing]

We must thank Nettie for a fantastic effort to counter the adverse effects of the tourism industry! Thanks to her enthusiasm, we were able to see a lot of cool stuff, as well as to stay at her friend Gary’s place the next night, although we did end up at the (currently fewer than) Twelve Apostles at 2pm on a Saturday arvo, with non-stop chopper flights to and fro and wall-to-wall view-seekers. I laughed when Gary wanted to put on my fully loaded back-pack. He’s a pretty stocky dude but after he had hoisted the monsta all he could say was “Incredible.” On Sunday she dropped us on the far side of Warrnambool to hitch to the Grampians. Warrnambool, like Apollo Bay, seemed very different from the last time I was there. Now it seems like a long strip-mall…but it’s still my favourite Australian place-name to pronounce backwards: “Loob man raw.” I also heard that Lisa Gerard of Dead Can Dance lives there now. If these items of note are related, fill me in.


We almost got out to hitch on the wrong road…or, a less-direct one anyway. But as soon as we were on the right road, another cool chick stopped within about five minutes, Dani from Port Fairy. She’s a Melbournian who left years ago, and was on her way to do a walk in the Grampians. She dropped us first at the turn-off where her walk began, but when we were still there two hours later, she picked us up again and returned us to the caravan park in Dunkeld, the southern gateway to the Grampians. This two hour period of almost complete silence was actually quite nice, sort of like our introduction to the spirit of the Grampians.

Neither Liesbet nor I had been here before. We felt very powerful good vibes here, and it was if we were being kept in a really nice spot for a while, to get in tune with where we were. This caravan park was nice, right by the road but not much traffic. This plus the rain is why we stayed for two nights! We had our own little picnic table beneath our own little deciduous tree, with a view of Mt. Sturgeon, or Wuragarri. And it was $15 per night, which is about what an unpowered site should be these days. We enjoyed the novelty of being at a caravan park which we not only weren’t in a hurry to get out of, but actually liked! Off the top of my head, I can think of only one other caravan park experience I can say this about…a small family-owned campground in a forest near Yallingup WA where we stayed in 2007…which was on the verge of being taken over by some corporate entity like Big 4.

The rain persisted so we took a bus to Hall’s Gap, the tourism hub of the Grampians. Despite being a bit over-developed, the vibe there was quite nice. The caravan park had a really nice grassy shaded area, but it had been closed off for the winter; consequently we were crowded in like cattle amongst the mega-caravans with identical SUV’s. It is not an exaggeration to say they are identical. Even the people are almost exclusively retired couples, with the occasional “foreign tourist” in the mix. The tourism industry calls them the “gray army” because they come in droves from the wintery south…most have Victoria tags…headed for balmier pastures to the north.

Despite the population density at the caravan park, our Hall’s Gap experience was wonderful. The ancient beauty and gentle power of the Grampians, or Gariwerd as the indigenous Australians call them, was undiminished by the human constructs. The people at the caravan park were quite friendly; after we gave them some rocks our third night was free. We visited the Brambuk Cultural Heritage centre, and discovered a little arts studio where they were doing rock-painting with kids, so we gave a painted rock to Jeremy, one of the rock-painting “instructors”. The next day we did an 11 km walk along the river up to the Pinnacles, the highest point in Gariwerd. The rock formations are extremely prehistoric looking, resembling the Lost City in the Territory, as well as the Bungle Bungles in the Kimberley. Because of low traffic volume, we hopped on the shuttle bus again which dropped us at Stawell, a little town to the north of the Grampians, on the main highway from Melbourne to Adelaide. There we spent the night at Grampians Gate caravan park, which was $16 for the night…it was pretty good, with $2 washing machines. Our days in Gariwerd, from Dunkeld to Halls Gap to Stawell, were quite enchanted…a very lovely place where the dream-time is alive and well. Next time we’d like to check out some of the more remote camping areas.


The next morning we took a cab out to a good hitching spot on the edge of town, and got a ride in about 45 minutes with Wayne, a truck-driver going to Adelaide. He was pretty cool, a huge chunk of dude about half again as big as me, who had been a sniper in the Army, had damaged his knee para-trooping, had spent time in prison for bashing people (he said it was his “other” self who he named “William!), and, most interestingly, he knew how to crochet, as his mum had taught him when he was young! He dropped us safe and sound in Adelaide several hours later, and we spent the night with our friend Leanne and her girls. After an evening of metaphysical ramblings with friends, she offered to drive us up to Crystal Brook to see my old friend, cosmic researcher John McGovern. We spent a day hanging out with John, who for years has been engaged in extensive explorations of indigenous cosmologies and high-energy physics.

I’m not at liberty to divulge very much about his current research; it’s not “top secret” or anything but they are keeping a low profile on it until their “data sets” are complete. He is working with a plasma physicist from the US who has been cataloguing ancient rock-art from around the world. What seems to be emerging is that many of these glyphs depict the fundamental patterns that are formed as plasma discharges, whether at the micro-level in the laboratory or at the macro-level between planets, stars or galaxies. John and his fellow researchers are somewhat neo-Velikovskian in their belief that humans from tens of thousands of years ago witnessed energetic celestial phenomena in the skies, recorded them in stone, and stored the memories of awe and catastrophe in mythologies about dragons, thunderbolts, and theomachy, or “war between the gods” in the heavens. If they can derive a periodicity for such phenomena, we might know when to expect such displays again. And could they be more than just a “light show”?

After 24 hours of intensive “down-loading” from John, he and his wife Mira kindly drove us up to Quorn, at the southern edge of the Flinders Ranges, to the home of Bob and Sue Tulloch. On the way John showed us where we crossed the Goider Line. You might think this has to do with regions where your thyroid gland may become inactive, but no, it demarks the boundary of a zone north of which you are unlikely to be able to conduct agriculture due to low rainfall.


I’ve visited the Flinders Ranges numerous times in my years “down under” and it remains one of my favourite places in Australia. It’s a relatively high desert area similar in many ways to northern New Mexico or southern Colorado…awesome landscapes, sparsely vegetated, lots of rocks and dust, sparkling stars and a clear spiritual energy. This was my first real visit in around five years.

Bob and Sue are classic Aussies in that they are conservative yet progressive (they don’t smoke weed but are into alternative energy, for example) entrepreneur-farmers who can do just about anything themselves. When I first met them, they were selling their enterprise in Copley, the Quandong Café (“quandongs” are an indigenous bush tucker similar to a small peach); since then they closed their quandong preserve business in Quorn to focus exclusively on building their “dream house” that’s been in the works for decades. They are now only months away from moving in; they’re doing almost all the work themselves. They chose a pole structure to minimize the local ecological foot-print, and it’s a huge powerful environment with lots of good energy and two-story windows! Sue is working part-time working with prison inmates in Port Augusta and studying banjo, while Bob is in the planning stages of a serious active solar energy installation that will be their next project when the house is finished. They are lovely people with 3 nice hounds and limitless reserves of hospitality; and Bob makes the wickedest cup of coffee this side of the Restaurant at the End of the Universe! We camped out in their back yard for a few nights before making our way to Wilpena Pound, and again for a night before heading across the Nullarbor.

Bob dropped us to hitch on the far side of Quorn in the middle of the afternoon. Traffic was almost nil, but a little piece of rainbow told me that we’d get a ride, and we did! After about two hours, two young Adnyamanthaha (indigenous tribe from Flinders ranges) guys en route to Leigh Creek, Duncan and Edwin, dropped us in Hawker. They even know Uncle Ron (Coulthard), an elder who has a rock and painting I did for him years ago, and who is active in the anti-uranium mining movement. The hour was late and we stayed the night at the Hawker caravan park, which was right where we were hitching. Here the rate was $24…high but not for Big 4!!! The kitchen was like a closet, but the people were friendly…and, once again, the light next to our tent had a switch! Praise the Lord!!!

The next day we were standing there hitching, making fun of all the identically ridiculous SUV-caravan combos passing us by, when all of a sudden, one of them stopped! Well, not exactly an SUV-caravan combo, but close: a Coaster pulling an SUV on a trailer! This was only our second ride ever with someone pulling another vehicle. But just like the special connection with the Adnyamanthaha guys who knew my friend, Bob, who was now giving us a lift, turned out to be a very lovely person, and a Tasmanian. And that’s not all: he was very close friends with a guy called Olegas Truchenas, an icon in environmental circles in Tassie. Olegas was a pioneer outdoor adventurer, environmental activist and photographer long before the Green party existed. He laboured long and hard to preserve the special Tasmanian Gondwana-remnant landscape, and mentored Peter Dombrovskis, who became an outspoken activist as well as the finest nature photographer in Australia.

Wilpena Pound is one of my absolute favourite places in Australia. Termed “pound” because in the earlier days of European Australia, cattle were kept in it, this unique geological feature resembles a huge meteor crater from the air, but is actually formed from tectonic upliftment. This region is quite dry overall, as is much of Australia, but when we came the land was aglow with the effects of plenty of recent rainfall. To the Adnyamanthaha, Wilpena is the heads of two huge lizards, or akkura, whose torsos form the Gammon ranges to the north.

We set up camp near my favourite site, in the south-east corner of the camping area, as far away from anyone else as you can get there, and close to huge “grandmother” river gums. Here we paid $20 per night, which was ok for a couple nights; after that, when you add up the $20 per night and realize that all you’ve done is take a shower every other day, those become expensive showers! The shower facilities there are progressive, but hey…! The universe, however, stepped in and helped us out, like she always does! Unlike in previous visits, some of the picnic areas had been taken over by huge over-sized caravans that had backed up and claimed them as their own site.

We did walks to Olsen-Bagge; a 16 km walk to St. Mary’s peak, the highest point in the ranges, at around 1700 meters; and the lookouts inside the pound. The weather was overcast most of the time; the grass trees were sprouting and flowering more than I’d ever seen, signifying aqueous abundance. And we hitched to Arkaroo rock, a very sacred site, whose rock images, according to John McGovern, have to do with “angelic visitations.” I did some photography for John, then we went further to a little-known secondary site which has a neat “birthing chamber” in the rock. We spent a couple hours here, just sitting in silence, feeling the immense good vibes and the dream-time connection, the presence of the ancestors, the tranquillity of the land, honouring the continuity of aboriginal culture and the suffering they endure even now.

On our last night at Wilpena Pound, we went into the “Captain Starlight Lounge” where I’d sat and painted rocks on almost every previous visit. I showed Liesbet my “magic corner” where I’d painted, drank Coopers and hung out with the employees there over the years. I also showed her the largest rock I’ve ever done, a slab weighing probably 50 kilos or more, on which I painted Wilpena Pound at night, with Milky Way. This rock never made it to its originally-conceived location, outside the visitor center, but was tucked away outside the back door of the bistro, a testament to the bye-gone days before Anthology took over the resort. The restaurant manager had been wondering who had painted that rock; when she met us, they were very happy with the painted rocks we shared and they made us an awesome dinner!!!

After five days we decided not to continue further north this trip, even though Arkaroola has some spectacular scenery, and Lake Eyre had massive amounts of water for the first time in over 30 years. You can’t do everything on one trip…but you can make notes for next time! We headed back to Bob and Sue’s, to prepare for our westward journey.

We walked almost the entire 5 kms from the resort out to the main road; finally, the weather had cleared on the day we were leaving and it was great to have a light enough load to walk comfortably and see the mountains as we walked. Almost to the main road, we got a ride with a cool dude named “Con” who was the maintenance guy at the resort. He took us to Hawker, where we caught another ride with Grant, the local mail/delivery person. He told us about the new horror movie they’ve been filming in the area, called Road Train. Several people told us that roads had been blocked while they were shooting. We passed the film set and saw “the truck” with the cameras attached to the passenger door. Supposedly they were filming it running over a caravan and a Pajero! And, just as you might suspect, “the murders” all take place in Adelaide! Good old Adelaide…city of churches!!! Hearing about this made me think of that early Steven Spielberg film Duel about the driverless tractor-trailer truck that hunted people down. Who knows what this one will be like, but I seriously doubt that we’ll ever see it. To me, a much scarier horror film could be made in the form of a documentary about what’s really happening in Australia, in terms of, for example, the nuclear scenario, the overall ecological scenario, or the not-inconceivable on-going “reality orchestration” experiments involving fires, floods, diseases, bank failures and public violence impaling the Aussie brain with the psychic taser called tv. Let’s see, what’s missing…some pestilence? You’ve got your cane toads up north and the Ruddites in the ACT. But who would go to see a movie like that when the Murdoch/Aus Tourism/Luhrman block-buster Australia is now out on dvd? Speaking of which…Leanne loaned it to me but we didn’t watch it until Albany mainly because I refuse to reset the region on my laptop dvd player. Why do laptops and desktop computers, mac or pc, all have the “you can change your region four more times” thing, but dvd players for your television play all regions?


Back at Bob and Sue’s we launched into preparation for the long hitching trip across the Nullarbor to Albany, a distance of well over 2000 kms. We were there only about 18 hours; Sue dropped us on the near side of Port Augusta on her way to work, around 9am on Friday morning. We were enjoying standing there in the perfect weather, filming each other talking about being there, wondering how many hours we’d be there for. We watched the coal trains from Leigh Creek coming and going from the Port Augusta power station. Sue was going to come and check on us around 4pm and possibly take us back to Quorn for the night if need be. I remember hitching from that spot once for well over 24 hours with no ride; I bailed out and rode the bus to Alice Springs. Another time I stood there hitching in the dark and rain, so desperate to get out of there that I actually taped large rubbish bags to my legs to stay dry in the downpour. I finally managed a ride to Alice by talking to people at the pumps. So my memories of hitching out of Port Augusta were tinged with challenge.

Our time hitching there brought a new “first” to our hitching experience: it was the first time that any cops ever stopped and talked to us. In my 9-plus years of hitching in Australia NEVER once have cops stopped to talk to me. When these guys pulled over, I wasn’t particularly concerned; they were young guys and actually quite friendly. They were genuinely curious and nice. And certainly they were checking out (sexy, fresh and young) Liesbet. The first question was “Are you having any luck?” I should have said “Hey we’re getting to meet YOU aren’t we?” but I just gave them a run-down of what we were doing, where we’d come from, where we were heading. I almost wanted to ask them if they wanted to be in the film…but then I thought better of it and just let them get on with their real job of locking up drunken indigenous people. No worries, mates…

After almost 3 hours we had a ride. What a surprise, as I was prepared to stand there all day if necessary and into the next to get one ride all the way across. I mean, it’s not likely that you’re going to get anyone going part of the way, as there’s literally nothing of human creation after Ceduna SA except a series of roadhouses and tiny townships and the old telegraph station buried in a sand dune at Eucla. We did have one offer of a ride with a bloke going to Streaky Bay, but that was way off the main route; and when he mentioned that the main reason he stopped was to have a crap, then he saw us, well, the name “Streaky Bay” took on a whole new significance!

Simon is a cool young guy from Clare, near where John McGovern lives north of Adelaide. After years of running amuk he had gotten it together and was on his way to Kalgourlie, a major mining center, to be with his girl-friend and see if he could find more work in the mining industry. He had been employed there as an explosives detonator, but had been laid off and was enjoying several weeks of termination pay without having to work!

We got off to a great start first by over-heating, then by going almost 70 kms down the wrong road, before we realized the upcoming town was not on the way to Perth! It was funny, on a trip like that, you’d kind of assume that the driver would have plenty of water, not only for drinking but for the radiator, as well as extra oil, fan belts, etc, in case of the dreaded breakdown in the middle of the Nullarbor plain…one of the largest, least populated and most desolate places on the planet.

When we over-heated the second time, I suggested that he drive more slowly as well as turning off the air-conditioning to lessen the load on the engine. This worked fine until we were actually in the exact center of the notorious Nullarbor plain itself…about 500 kms of nothing but flat terrain devoid of vegetation except for small bushes.

Here we over-heated for the third time…and this time the radiator cap was blown off and all the water was gone! Plus, “Simo” checked the oil, and concluded that it was all gone, too! Not a good report there in the middle of absolutely nowhere! We had almost no water, and I was beginning to wonder about this guy…and what was going to happen with all this. Watching what happened when Simo tried to flag down passing vehicles was interesting. Some kept going. Some stopped and talked but no one had extra oil, or so they said. A guy with a porno magazine open on the passenger seat stopped. I’m not sure why, but I should have filmed him! Luckily, after about 30 minutes or less a guy stopped and was nice enough to take Simon the 14 kms back to Madura to get oil and water; after the engine cooled down a bit I checked the oil, and it was fine. Whew! If the oil was gone, it likely meant that the block was cracked and that we weren’t going anywhere for days…not with him, anyway. He got back with several liters of oil, water, and coolant and soon we were on our merry way. From then on, my eyes darted to the temperature gauge about every five minutes, and I was just praying that we’d make it to Norseman without further drama. We’d already been warned three times, and I was certain if a fourth over-heating occurred, it would be more than just a warning. Perhaps a message at the cosmic level here, too, eh?

We made it. We pulled into the caravan park in Norseman around dark on Saturday, after riding with Simon for probably 1700 kms, including the detour! We had stopped to spend the night in Ceduna, and probably spent about 10 hours there altogether.


The last time we were in Norseman (named after a legendary horse from the bye-gone days) was the spring of 2007 when we caught a ride with Gary the trucker all the way to Adelaide after “hitching” for 15 minutes. That time we made it in around 25 hours. Norseman isn’t the kind of place you’d want to raise a family…or spend more than a night or two if you weren’t waiting on car parts. The next day we took our time getting ready in the morning, and weren’t actually hitching until after noon. We stood in front of the post office hitching to the negligible stream of traffic all afternoon, being scrutinized by everyone in Norseman it seemed, from kids on bikes to mothers with babies to people walking dogs to dodgy dudes in hooned Holdens. When we were still there at 4pm with no ride, we remembered our first lesson about hitching in WA: if you don’t have a ride by noon, you aren’t likely to get one. In other words, you have to get a very early start, as that’s when most of the traffic goes. We translocated to the visitors center and hitched until almost dark, then returned to the caravan park, which was not so bad. The tent area had grass and the kitchen had a jug. A jug is useful because this means you don’t have to crank up the Whisperlite to make your coffee, and you can pre-boil your spaghetti water. The management accepted a nice painted rock for our second night’s stay, and, most impressively, the showers actually had curtains…something rarely glimpsed in caravan parks!

Next morning we got a ride before we could even stick our thumbs out, with a guy called Doug, who was coming from Kalgourlie and headed to the other side of Esperance. He was a likable and jovial bloke, kind of like one of the seven dwarves from Snow White. He dropped us at a tiny little place about 70 kms west of Esperance, where he had to turn off. We felt kind of creepy vibes there, but after about an hour got a ride with a dude named Warik, who took us to Ravensthorpe.

There we hitched until the sun was low, but the caravan park was right there, and beckoned to us with seeming good vibes. It had trees and possibly grass…what more could we ask for. We made our way there, found a nice spot without having to walk too far, and set up camp. I went and paid…$16…not too bad. The chick working there, probably the owner/wife of owner, had tattoos coming out onto her hands and feet, probably covering most of her body. She seemed pretty cool. The caravan park was a lot like Balarnia…lots of flowers growing out of pieces of junk, metal sculpture thingies, flowers hanging in the toilets, some nice art-work on the outside of the “ablutions block.” This expression which we come across occasionally sounds like something from either the military or meat-packing industry, eh? We thought it would be nice to have a camp-fire, as it had recently rained; others had them going. I went and asked the chick if a little fire at our site would be ok, and she said fine.

Little did we know that the evening would bring some of the strangest happenings we ever experienced in a caravan park…something that might really freak some people out. It didn’t really phase us too much, but was more just anomalous entertainment, another ring in the huge human circus.

We had just lain down to go to sleep and were talking quietly in the tent, having enjoyed a nice dinner, beer, doobie and sunset. I made sure the fire was almost out…all the wood was burned up and it was just smoldering. I didn’t pour water on it as there was no wind, we were right there, and we would probably re-stoke it in the morning for a little plasma-thermal enhancement.

As we were talking, we began to hear another voice talking, that of a man. As it came closer we noticed that it was talking to us…in our tents and invisible to him. He said he had come to enjoy our fire and that it’s too bad we’d gone to bed because he had brought “drinks and smokes.”

I have nothing against people, being one myself; yet, I cannot say that I am a fan of what is passing for “person-hood” these days. We meet lots of people in our travels; indeed, the choice of hitch-hiking invites encounters of all kinds, which are invariably positive. Liesbet and I both like to avoid “people stuff” as much as we can in general, though, for many reasons. Low-grade insanity, noise and diseased vibes are three main reasons we like to keep to ourselves, not to mention that we often feel like we are a television screen being watched by zombie-like “reality spectators.” You know, we’re actually doing something and they’re watching. We witness and experience a wide spectrum of human behaviour, and I am a firm believer that most people, though they may not be proverbial “saints”, are not criminals, either. I think most people mean well in their own way. The bottom line, pragmatically speaking for us, is that, almost without exception, the people we meet on the road are pretty cool people.

With all this in mind, I listened intently to the voice talking to us. We had no idea whatsoever who this guy was. We had neither seen nor talked to anyone there except the chick in the office. We were in a really nice state of being, and this voice seemed more like an annoyance than a threat to life or limb. But another part of my brain, the “special forces” lobe trained by decades on the road, whispered, “…but you never know.” Logistically speaking, when you are lying down in a tent you actually are quite vulnerable relative to someone standing over you outside. You can’t see them, and your tent…even my Mountain Hardware Trango 2 expedition model designed to withstand over a meter of snow on top of you...isn’t going to stop a cinder block, sledge hammer or bullet (the Road-Train production company tried to hire my “special forces” lobe as a consultant but it was too busy…maybe I can help with their sequel Caravan Park or at least recommend that Road Train 2 have the driver transporting nuclear waste and threatening to crash it in Canberra).

I said hardly anything to him, but paid close attention to incoming information. When you don’t have any visuals, the acoustics become lucid. I didn’t detect any malice or “bad vibe” signatures in his vocal spectrum; he seemed to be at the fire, and “mucking about” with it.

What would you think if someone came onto your site after you’d bedded down for the night, uninvited and unknown to you, started talking to you and mucking about with your fire. Then you asked him to leave and he didn’t. What you think and feel?

This is exactly what happened. Basically all I said to him was “Do you mind getting off our site?” But when he didn’t comply, the tone in my voice changed. I think I then said, “Do you mind getting THE FUCK off our site?” but with a completely different vibration component that somehow spelled business.

He then says “OK. But I’m not your mate…my name is Paul. And I LIVE here…you’re a strange man. I’ll be back…”

By now I figured that this person was obviously missing a quid or three, or at least his meds had run out. He didn’t sound particularly threatening but the simple fact of what he was doing made it perfectly clear. I never called him “mate.” That he LIVED there made me feel uneasy. And I did feel strange in a place where he LIVED and might in fact be “normal.”

He left without visual contact and I didn’t get out of the tent or even look at him. I really just didn’t want to be bothered; he was like a huge mozzie in the tent. We finally got rid of him and could now rest peacefully after a long day of hitch-hiking and riding on uncomfortable seats. But the window of anomaly had not yet closed.

About an hour later, after we were fully asleep, we awaken to hear the “chug-chugging” of one of those four-wheeled buggy things that farmers use. This one was somewhat out of tune. It chugged up near our tent and its head-lights shown on us. Then I hear a man’s voice, not Paul but someone else. This voice was one I’d heard before…not a specific person but the voice of a particular kind of person: someone in their late 50’s who drinks heavily, smokes cigarettes, probably shoots smack, possibly molests their grand-children, with an IQ of around 60. The voice of someone probably on glue at this very moment.

In a very stupidly aggressive tone he identified himself as the “park ranger” (this was a caravan park, not a national or state park) and started verbally attacking us for having a fire. I told him that I asked the chick in the office and she said it was ok. Then I remembered that the fire was essentially out when we went to bed. He asked if I was going to put it out or was he going to have to put it out with his fire extinguisher. I said “I’ll do it” and started putting my pants on. Before I could even get my pants on he says “You’ve already been really rude to one of our residents. If you don’t put this fire out you can just FUCK OFF out of the caravan park.” I got out of the tent, basically ready for anything at this point, and stood up right in this dude’s face. His eyes were at my chin level as I glared at him. Yes, the face matched the voice. I took my water bottle and dumped it onto the fire. Without a word I went to go back into the tent when he said, “Don’t you want to shake my hand?” What the fuck! What kind of place was this, a loony bin? “Not really” I replied, in total honesty. But dude just stood there. Instead of going to the next level with it all, I simply shook his hand just to get rid of him. It worked. Off he went on his chug-a-buggy. I could hear the sound as he went around the caravan park, saying who knows what to who knows whom? Our only concern at this point was that he might come back.

My “special forces” lobe had come fully on-line there for a bit, but had now returned to “idle” mode. I had been not been so much rattled or even annoyed by all this as much as bemused. It was actually funny in a way, except that we really didn’t know anything about these people whatsoever. We managed to get a good night’s sleep but awoke well before the sun and got out to hitch before 8am so we could get out of lovely Ravensthorpe.

Now the clincher. The next morning I went to move the remains of the fire out of the way, as we had constructed a small stone circle for it; it was in the way of a vehicle that might want to park where we had camped. I suddenly noticed that two medium-sized logs had been placed on the fire after we went to bed…logs we never saw or knew were there. Good old “not your mate” Paul had rekindled our almost-dead fire before he bid us good-night. It was this Paul-re-kindled fire that drew the attention of Dick “park ranger”, or that Paul had pointed out to him; he had come to our site uninvited, rekindled our fire, was disturbed because we so rudely asked him to leave us alone, then went and talked to Dick… who then came and attacked us for having a fire that we had put out but that Paul had rekindled.

When I was using the jug to make coffee the next morning, I struck up a conversation with a couple at the “kitchen.” I noticed that they were travelling in a car but camping in a tent; I complimented them on their seldom-seen sensible approach, and related the previous evening’s anomalies. After hearing about this, the woman asked me if I’d seen the “Barbies” in the office of the caravan park. I hadn’t noticed, but apparently on a back wall were dozens of Barbie and Ken dolls in various stages of mutilation and dismemberment; she said there was even a kettle with two legs sticking out!

It was all becoming crystal clear now…we had stumbled into an “insanity vortex” just like an old episode of the Twilight Zone…hosted not by Rod Serling but by Monty Python, of course.

To be on the safe side with getting out of there, we made arrangements to catch the 10:15am bus to Albany, in case we didn’t have a ride by then. We hitched until the very last minute. If we kept on hitching we surely would have gotten a ride sooner or later…but we’d had our fill of (One Flew Over the) Ravensthorpe for the time being. Albany and our little room were calling us, and the Trans WA bus rates are quite reasonable, so we exercised our occasional option NOT to hitch; it’s not an option you always have, as in a lot of Australia there may be no buses, or the next one might be in 3 days…but sometimes it seems like the best decision.

And here we are. We are well-rested from several weeks and close to 4000 kms on the road. We’re almost caught up on maintenance activities…my sleeping bag got washed today for the first time in four years and I learned how to get dust particles off the D700 sensor. Arni’s returning from Bali soon and headed back to Flinders Island after visiting the Snowy Mountains just as we launch into making “The Chronicles of Balarnia.” After two or three weeks here of painting and film-making, we’ll make our way around the southwest and then head north up the coast, eventually returning to the areas in the Kimberley where we “rubbed localities” with none other than Nicole Kidman who was filming Australia at the time.

AUSTRALIA the film

In Darwin, Kununurra, and El Questro we found ourselves in the midst of block-bustage and celebrititis. We may even have glimpsed Nicole Kidman’s underwear on a clothes-line at El Questro, thanks to a bloke who was driving us around the area. We always found it amusing that this film was supposed to be such a big deal. I always made fun of it for being so ill-conceived: Rupert Murdoch and Australia Tourism’s “answer” to Lord of the Rings. What was the question again?

As I’ve written earlier, we heard only negative reports on the film, with problems ranging from Kidman’s fake English accent to “drover” not actually having a name to dis-locations to an excess of “cgi” (computer graphics imaging). In St. Kilda we even went to the theatre and were getting ready to buy our tickets when the guy working there talked us out of blowing money on such a “crap film.” We read that instead of “doing for Australia what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand” the film portrayed white Australians as ignorant racists and bombed in the global cinema market.

We figured that eventually we’d see it when it became available on dvd. Leanne loaned it to us in Adelaide, and finally, after much adieu, we got to watch it last week here with Gus and Julie.

After seeing it, I can say that part of the problem is that everyone has been taking this film too seriously. It’s really more of a fantasy-adventure and somewhat of a comedy than any kind of serious epic or docu-drama; although elements of the story may be factual, this film is by no means grounded in imaginative literary masterpiece.

I think what they meant by “doing for Australia what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand” was “enhancing Australia’s image as a global tourist destination.” Australia is a whimsical film, probably moreso than intended, and the only actual points of comparison to Lord of the Rings are Nulla (Frodo) and King George (Gandalf). They are engulfed in larger scenarios of scandal, drama and war, but they are really the central characters of the film to me. All the other characters are exaggerated, almost to comic book extremes. There are a few scenes of cool Australian landscapes, but it’s all heavily laced with computer graphics and it loses any “tourism potential” impact it might have had.

I won’t tell you too much about it, except that I actually liked it a lot more than I thought I would; my disbelief suspenders are quite flexible. It does seem stupid and cheesy most of the time, but it’s also funny; there are heaps of “racist” comments but they are being made by outlandishly exaggerated characters who sometimes made me think of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The relationship between Lady Ashley (Kidman) and “drover” (Jackman) is the overt story, but Nulla and King George are the main characters to me.

“Blackfella magic” gets them through, and in the end, all is well, we are told. King George bids them farewell, and welcomes them to “our country”, meaning black and white together in harmony. I wish this bore some semblance to reality. To me, the thread of indigenous culture is the only real life-blood of this film; unfortunately, the happy notes on which the film ends in no way do justice to the abject horror that black Australians…the REAL Australians…have experienced and continue to experience even now in the 21st century.


I leave you now with what I am calling the “Lawlor Paradox.” Robert Lawlor is a highly-respected author, translator, metaphysical researcher, mathematician and philosopher who founded what is known as “sacred geometry.” In his 1992 book Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime he summarizes the human condition today:

“We are blinded by the delusions that rise from our hollow and rotting social order. It is vain pomposity to believe that humanity can advance while the Earth and its native peoples, plants and animals are enslaved, desecrated, and destroyed.”

In truth, how CAN we hope to advance as a species while we are so deeply engaged in spiritually and ecologically destructive practices and worldviews? Our civilization at its core is based on an unquestioned paradigm of warfare against nature.


And why are we so unable to face this reality? A big part of the problem is our fiction addiction; on the whole, mass-media not only provides no exploration of this paradox but functions as a weapon of psychological imperialism unprecedented in scope and power.

Why is someone blowing millions of dollars filming schlock like Road-train when they could be documenting the real horror of uranium mining or old-growth logging? Why can’t Peter Jackson, Baz Luhrman, Australia Tourism and the Rudd administration get REAL for once and get behind some film projects…in the spirit of John Pilger…that actually MEAN something in the REAL WORLD? Because no one is interested in “reality” any more? Truth doesn’t really sell very well these days…unless it’s Al Gore’s brand of “truth.”

It’s a mystery to me. But this is why Liesbet and I have embarked on a path of reality-film-making…to share our REAL adventures here in the REAL Australia of here and now today.

She’s a fantastic land of awe and wonder and the dream-time is alive and well in us. Won’t you join us?

Cheers for now.

Jeff Phillips
Albany WA
3 June 2009

No comments: