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Matthew Spong's Commonplace Book

So much silence, stretching above me...

Michelle Walker - 13/11/1963 1/3/2017
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Reading in hammocks in Callan park. Climbing the steel ladder to the warehouse loft balancing a cup of coffee. Chasing the ferrets around the yard. Scavenging roadside fence palings for nans fire. Watching King Street TV from the Townie balcony. Passing the Eraserhead test. Driving the beetle down to Kangaroo valley for a weekend of pot and hangi, slowly swerving past the wombats in the headlights. Breaking down the Smail street studio, salvaging the paint and light tables. Enduring the terrible drip-drip music. Teaching me knitting as I taught you the net. Watching the Olympic marathon pass with dad and Betty. The church in Bendick Murrel, another timeline passed by. Waiting for Y2K on old Glebe Island Bridge and almost wishing for the lights to go out.

Laddas, for red beef curry. Cafe Nikki, wholemeal focaccia. La Pergolata, spaghetti marinara. Vegetable salad at Glebe Markets. Blowing off the Rose street warehouse with a scorched earth retreat and Betty's meat trays hidden in the walls. Listening patiently while my dad relived the great depression, the happiest time in his life. The bathroom sink full of fierce hissing kittens with Chucky at the bottom. The Canberra no-talent festival. Watching the working girls at the Dom hotel in Darwin. People watching everywhere we went, this peculiar species, so alien. Schooners of coffee at Cafe 163. A kaleidoscope of dresses, the most colourful goth in the world, positively glooming as she said, it never rains but it shines! An avalanche of handbags, and always the search for the perfect shoe. Ganeshes, barongs and rengdas on every wall. Trawling the streets during council pickup looking for Georgian wood and art nouveau.

The scans, the needles, the tests and the wait for results. Clipping your hair for the chemo wig, just as you clipped mine.

Late breakfast with the trannies at Una's. Late night conspiracies at the Mu Mesons, holding hands in the dark. Stitching and bitching with the underground aristocracy. Stoking the fire at Waratah Cottage and watching Black Books. The amazing zombie puppets. Tea in the Glover street garden amongst the herbs and ghosts. Buying veggies from the farmer at Addison road, giving the finger to the supermarkets and middle men.

Melasti day in Ubud, following the ogoh ogoh in the gamelan clang and chanting and fireworks. Nyepi day, silent with birds and the occasional snake. Watching the invisible djinn shaking a tree like a rattle and realising there was another world. Getting image sickness in the Louvre. Children piping to the moon rising over Avebury stones. Nearly getting caught by hikers in the Royal. Queen of the Galaxy at the Sounds of Seduction. Driving up to Mountain Lagoon road for driving lessons, coffee and roses at Tutti Fruiti. The Halloween stores in San Fran, tentacles and bats everywhere. Nonesuch Island. The spooky abandoned hotel in the mists on top of Mount Batur. Staring down pickpockets on the cable car in Lisbon. Swans at the Metro, D-Minor at the Annandale, Sigur Ros at the Enmore, and Sunn at the Factory, so heavy we had to run away! Those spicy, smokey perfumes.

Talking and talking, a 20 year conversation and never boring. True Blood and Penny Dreadful. Washing and drying up, making the bed, pegging out the laundry. Parking magic. 7 cats and loving every one of them, and learning again and again the pain when they left. Watching kangaroos sneak past the fence at Portland, looking for grass in the snow. Struggling with your Etsy shop, a vision of independence from managers and bosses. Christmas, and hand made rocky road for all the doctors and nurses. Switching off wildlife documentaries because an animal might die. Stopping for every lost dog we saw, because animals should be rewarded for not being people. Old fashioned roses and moss and velvet and wood cravings and beach glass, and always maximal, everything always had to be full to the brim. The glass was always full to the brim.

19/6/2012 Wagga Wagga to Cooma
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19/6/2012 Wagga Wagga to Cooma

So efficient, I looked up the op shops on my phone before we left the motel. I discovered opshop.org/ which is worth checking out if you are in Australia and like bargains. We had breakfast in a great greasy spoon milk bar called the Silver Key, where a chinese woman made good bacon and egg sarnies and cappuccino in thick old china cups. Then, horrifyingly, the Vinnies turned out to be recently demolished, a pile of rubble and pipes in the middle of a busy street! Disappointing.

Michelle drove us out of town to the petrol station, I think she's still nervous about my driving near the bowsers. After that I took the wheel and drove for the rest of the day. The highway out of town was easy, mostly straight sections and easy merging traffic. I feel different about driving now, more relaxed and ready to face whatever comes at me. I know what to do and can see that the other drivers mostly know as well. That's a skill my father never mastered, he always drove as though squeezing the wheel hard enough would magically prevent accidents from happening, and he seemed to believe that maintaining enough tension in his tendons would give him superhuman reflexes to dodge accidents. I find that driving at least 5k under the speed limit allows me to change lanes easily and my pedal foot never tires or slips.

I followed signs pointing towards Tumut, but turned off at Adelong, a small town with a single street, and took the scenic route through Batlow. The hills rose around us as we headed for the mountains, traversed by cow paths and sprinkled with granite boulders. Trees appeared, plantations of mature pines hidden behind screens of native trees. Logging trucks roared past us, all the same, a truck and trailer with upright bars to hold the load of logs in place. A fine rain of sawdust and sand blew off the loads onto our windscreen. They returned empty, the trailer upside down on the back of the truck with the bars folded down. We stopped for a closer look at the pine forest. The edges were dense with brambles and weeds, the interior of the forest spooky dark and waiting. I noticed large divided hoof prints, small holes rooted in the soil and strange pasty dung like human shit. It wasn't until we drove away that I realised it was pig spoor, there must be wild pigs in the forest. Wooly cows grazed the fields between sections of forest, wild cows that ran away when they realised humans were watching them.

Batlow looked familiar, an apple region like Bilpin, where we often go mushroom picking. The apples had almost all been picked for the season, and there were many orchards where the old unproductive trees had been grubbed out of the ground and were piled up ready for a fire.

We stopped in Tumbarumba when we spotted a Vinnies on the main street. It was full of a mob of old ladies who said "yes" to each other repeatedly in a soothing tone, discussing how they ought to catch the bus to Corryong just to keep it running. While Michelle picked over their knitting needles looking for tortoise shell pairs, they tried to work out how to cast on a synthetic yarn one had bought, which was actually a tape with holes in it. Michelle tried to help, but they wouldn't listen to her. Another of their number entered the store and announced that she had been to a workshop on modern knitting in melbourne and knew the secrets of the tape holes. We escaped gratefully an had lunch in a small cafe run by a frazzled young couple who could barely cope with 3 customers at a time. I had sautéed potatoes with bacon, because, bacon.

Onwards we drove, into the mountains proper. Michelle became worried about the height, barking at me to brake on the corners, or "harelip bends" as she called them, her hands convulsively reached for the wheel, until she forced herself to relax and see that I was not in any danger of flying off the side of the mountains. I enjoyed the bends, slopes, switchbacks and single-lane bridges. Luckily there was no traffic on the road besides ourselves. I kept to 60k at most on the straight sections. Mich kept her eyes ahead, trying not to notice the drop always to our left. We drove through forests of snow gums, tall with streaky bark and masses of hanging bark strips like a frigid spanish moss. The moss grew thick on the rocks. We drove under high tension power lines carrying current from the hydro electric scheme, passed concrete overflow chutes running down the sides of the hills, small waterfalls gushed from culverts. The orange roadside marker poles appeared, announcing that we had entered the snow district. The trees fell away and we entered the wide U-shaped glacial valleys full of dry brown grass and old granite, surreal in the late afternoon sun. For hours I had silently worried that we might be lost, turned around somehow, headed up a one way road to some isolated ski town, but we saw signs for Cooma ahead and knew we were okay. We paused in a layover beside an old hammer mill and a big perforated iron cylinder, mining equipment from an old gold mine, used to crush ore and extract gold dust. Our car windows fogged up and Michelle had to run the de-mister for me, usually my job while she drives. The sun set, casting a rose peach light across the barren hills. I practiced switching on the headlight, setting te beam high and low, Driving at night had the feeling of an old computer game, navigating a black world strung with simple lights of roadside reflectors and oncoming vehicles. In the distance ahead the lights of Cooma appeared and disappeared behind hills.

We arrived in town around 6.30. I drove through the town while Michelle looked out for a hotel, but she couldn't make a choice on the first pass. I let her take over driving while I looked out. We found a likely place that claimed 3 1/2 stars but was the shittiest hotel we stayed at so far, with the sprayed concrete ceiling that looks like porridge and for some reason horrifies Michelle. At least it has radiator heating, a necessity in the mountains.

We had dinner at the Tourist Cafe, a brightly lit 60s style joint on the main street. The host was a vigorous older lady with a hoarse voice of an all-day talker, her staff were all earnest teens, the cook was a giant cheerful surfer dyke. Michelle had pork, I had a mixed grill, which had local sausages and fresh eggs. We watched the fascinating patrons, especially the perfect specimen of a long haired spinster hunched over her travel diary in drab grey mens clothes, a couple of local GenY kids out on a date, and a party of old people reading books together and drinking tea. The host was conferring with various staff members about someone on the day shift who had been rude to customers, she was considering firing this person because customers were walking because of her. We decided to come back for breakfast and see who it was.

18/6/2012 Young to Wagga Wagga
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After a refreshing nights sleep we left relatively late for us and did some more bog laps of the main street. There is a shop dedicated to books, adult toys and aquarium supplies. There must be a link of some kind but I'm still working on it. Mich went into a store to buy some knit tights, a necessity in the cold, while I checked out a promising crowded second-hand book store and picked up some old fiber-art books and a 50s street directory for Sydney. Then we had breakfast in a glossy new cafe-bakery, where an old guy stared at me for the duration of his morning bagel for the crime of writing in my travel journal like some arty wanker.

Next, Vinnies, the first of several during the day. The theory is that country charity shops are better than those in the city, because the people don't know the value of their old castoffs. They don't sell their unwanted coats on Ebay or Etsy or pass them on to the relatives, the country towns are full of declining old people clinging to their 60s disposable consumerist mindsets, fearful of computers and afraid of being judged for buying second hand for themselves. In reality, the prices are slightly cheaper but the range is about the same as in any good city store. I happen to work right near one of the best in Sydney, the Vinnies at North Sydney, so I'm spoiled. There might be a few more warm shirts, corduroy garments and and old recipe books in the country, less kitchen utensils maybe. The store at Young was very small and crowded with locals slowly picking over the rags. They were fusty old men and women dressed in very worn old pilled polyester tracksuits and sprung joggers, looking for bargains with the patience of unemployment and need.

We left town and decided it was time for me to take the wheel. Two weeks before I had acquired my Learner licence, for the second time, so I could drive while Michelle enjoyed the scenery. Driving country roads is much easier and an ideal way to get confident behind the wheel. I was confident enough because this is the second time I've driven for long distances in the country, and the week before we left we went up to Bilpin and I did some test driving on a side road to get familiar with the qualities of this car. Everything went well until a passing truck blew the magnetic L plates off the bonnet and into the weeds. I retrieved them, but it happened again, the wash from a passing truck seems to have some quality to suck the plates right off the car. Michelle offered to drive onwards to Cootamundra and we would look for some other method of attaching the plates.

In Coota we visited another Vinnies. Michelle scored a stack of old 60s hardcover childrens annuals with brave names like Lion, Valiant and Charger. I bought a plate holder at the auto supply store, and then we located the RTA to acquire the plastic plates. While waiting in line I listened while a battered looking lady presented a letter at the window and asked what it meant. It slowly became apparent that she was illiterate, had been in an accident 4 months prior, knew that she was due a fine, and basically wanted to confirm if it was and if she could pay it at the RTA. They pointed her towards the local cop shop.

Everything went much better once I attached the plate holder and plate. Without worrying about the plate I could concentrate on not crashing. The miles rolled by easily. I turned down some side roads, lined with old trees covered in dust from the unsealed surface. Back on the main road I easily coped with the usual hazards of the L plate, such as tailgaters who were impatient to get to the passing lanes, and cop cars who lurked behind me while obviously timing my speed. The country cops were actually very good, maintaining a sufficient distance and only overtaking in the right places and generally adhering to the rules of the road, which city cops seem to be a bit hazy about. Other drivers were mich worse, such as green P platers who overtook on double yellow lines. It was strangely frustrating to cross the nearby rail line on the typical S bridges, with their 25kph speed limit, after cruising for hours at 80. My learner speed limit also meant I tended to find myself in small convoys with other L drivers and the occasional hippy bus and camper van.

We approached Junee, a historic town. Site of the famous liquorice factory, and the most haunted house in Australia. Once this town was a giant grain and produce terminal, now its a bunch of echoing old pubs the size of barns, clustered around the huge train station, inhabited mostly by disenfranchised and old people unable to escape. I saw this phenomena in the UK as well, towns like Wallingford near Oxford that lose their young best and brightest to the universities and the jobs in London, leaving only the old people and angry losers, thugs in patriotic colours, chavs and neds.

I managed to drive around Junee well enough until some old bastard in a ute psyched me out at a roundabout, refusing to enter even though he had right of way. Michelle took over. She had spotted a promising op shop and we returned to check it out. On the way we passed two young women with double strollers and at least 5 walking children in a swarm around them. One of the kids expertly mimed throwing something at the car as we passed. Of course they were heading for the same shop, and invaded it like a small army soon after we entered. The kids spread out through the store, pulling things off the racks and demanding this or that. The women had many tattoos, bitter faces, they mimed discipline by rushing forward and loudly shouting at this or that child from time to time, in a practiced display of frustration that felt totally rehearsed and false.

We escaped, and searched for the famous liquorice factory. It was a tall old building made from corrugated iron on the outskirts of town, a former flour mill. Lots of rusted massive factory machinery set up as sculpture around the grounds, giant gears and drive wheels and shafts. Inside the building was divided roughly in half, with a functioning factory making liquorice sharing space with a shop and cafe where we had lunch, bacon chowder, so fatty it congealed on the spoon. We bought some liquorice and ginger products for friends back home, but resisted the urge to go on a tour of the factory. We could see enough through the hygiene curtains next to the shop. People in hospital whites and hair bonnets were pushing big carts around loaded with boxes and tubs, and there were no Oompa Loompas.

I ended up driving out of town and all the way to Wagga Wagga. back when I worked for XchangeIT on of the most troublesome customers had a shop in this town, but it's closed now and replaced by a new age healing centre, nice touch. We did several bog laps through the newly developed shopping precinct. Wagga seems to be a regional support centre for the mining and resources boom in this area, there's been a lot of development but they have lost all the character other country towns retain. You can't have both I suppose. We checked into a motel on the outskirts of town. The next room was full of workmen, we could see them through the curtain, in their fluorescent utility vests, with their muddy boots up on the bed watching TV.

Despite all the development and new buildings everything closes very early. We had dinner in a late opening italian diner on the main street. I had a Caesar salad to try and get some greens.

Sunday 17 June 2012 - Orange to Young
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What a shit nights sleep. I‘m tired of hiding my head under the pillow to avoid Michelle's sonic blast snoring. I should have brought the noise reduction cans to supplement my foam earplugs. If there was a product which paralyzed and temporarily deafened the aural nerves, I would use it. Perhaps trans cranial magnetic stimulation will provide the answer.

We stayed up too late watching the SBS movie last night, a Scando baww fest about a brilliant young concert pianist who starts going to pieces, like his father who became an hero by killing himself before the son was born. By the end of the movie it appeared that the lads tutor had been fucking his mother so the father killed himself out of jealousy, and he was now fucking the boys mother again briefly before switching to his girlfriend, another student at the school. Bit of an ethics issue there, and the boy threatened to tell the school principle, but ended up bashing his tutors brains in with a rock.

In the early morning I scraped myself together, put on a khaki parka to blend in, and walked around a few streets. I‘d love to live here. Cheap property, plenty of services, interesting people. Ancient european trees, steeples arising from all parts of town, vacant shops with 1920s style carved wooden back shelves with mirrored panels and pinnacles and gingerbread scrollwork. The Essential Ingredient, a gourmet providor shop which used to be on Parramatta road, is here, catering to who knows? Maybe the local population has embraced foodism as a hobby or way of life, we all know the only way small farmers can compete with factory combines is by growing organic regional specialities. The window was a heaped display of Moroccan tagines and pressure cookers and wooden spoons.

There was a car boot market setting up in the basement car park of the nearby Kmart. A dozens cars had arrived. Fusty old people huddled over blankets spread with hundreds of romance novels and the rejects from a hundred kitchen cupboards. An old man sold homemade fishing lures incorporating a novelty torch he bought from a toy shop. Another had bowls and nicknacks carved from mallee root, the red burl wood that grows in the southern deserts, tough and hard as a briar root. He said that his biggest trouble was making things look the same as each other, because everyone seems to want sets of things and the individuality of the raw material made it very hard to create objects that matched. A creepy old gypsy lady had a table of interesting looking pickles, but there were no prices and I have a policy of never buying something that isn‘t priced at a market.

After checking out of the hotel, I dragged Michelle to the market. She picked through the knitting patterns on a stall and found some war era Patons books. The cheerful tubby lesbian at the stall sold them to us for 10 cents each. We scored a small saucepan for making coffee on the road, and I bought some gingerbread men. I made Michelle try one, which she did reluctantly, but she couldn‘t stop eating them as we drove out of town.

Our first destination of the day was Carcoar, a village renowned for picturesque English scenery and oldness. We pick destinations for reasons but they are really just placemarkers on the map to aim for, the real fun of traveling happens before you get there. Headed south through Forest Reefs, patchy sun and cold air, scudding grey clouds, moving shapes of yellow sunlight moving over the hills like golden manta rays. I fel in love with every gnarled old tree we passed, every knot and bare branch and cascading fall of mistletoe leaves. The lambs were all facing their ewes, who were all facing away from the sun, spread aout across their fields in their grazing pattern, scattered yet regular. Lamb wool still white and new, ewes dirty grey. Black cows with shaggy coats and the broad innocent faces of beef cattle painted on a butchers van watched us go past. We startled a fox, who ran ahead of us dodging back and forth before leaping a fence and watching us leave over his shoulder. I made Michelle stop outside a farm where someone had constructed metal animals and people, a giant red lady bug made from welded disk plough disks, a spiny echidna covered in nozzles from a seed drill. We stopped again when I glimpsed a white shape in a field under some trees, It was our first skull, and nearby our second, a couple of sheep, the wool still heaped around the bones. It was worth ripping my jeans on the barbed wire to see Michelle's face as I bagged them and slung them in the back. The cold air here is so precious, like fine wine, good and pure, clean on my face. I kept making reasons to stop and leave the car. If I lived out here I would always be doing this, driving down an empty country road looking for something in the ditch, some treasure or other, perhaps scraping lichen off trees to make dye, or digging up the ground looking for semi precious stones.

We saw towns on the map named Barry and Neville. I had to send Martin a photo of Neville in memory of his old boss. Barry was very small, a single road with short cross streets and a pub called the Royal, we saw dozens of pubs called the Royal, I guess it turns drinking into a patriotic activity.

I glimpsed a fascinating shape flash by, a bony spinal shape which looked clean. When we returned it was a kangaroo spine, picked clean, attached to legs and a tail, still too fleshy to put in the car. The skull and rib cage lay a bit further down the road, dragged there by a fox or wild dog.

Near Carcoar we passed the Blayney dam, spread out like a loch amongst the grassy hills, still and dead looking water despite the ducks. On a ridge beyond the further shore wind turbines span in the stiff breeze. Several campervans camped near the waters edge, and a huddle of caravans covered in grey tarp, with old style canvas annexes attached and a generator humming in a wheelie bin turned on its side. The inhabitants clustered around a smal fire in the ground enclosed by the vans; older looking dudes and a hard bitten lady al wearing hunter vests made from Drizabone canvas. I felt they were survivalists waiting for the 2012 apocalypse, when the turbines might be the only reliable source of power in the country. A classic car, a 50s station wagon with custom paint job, circled the camp ground revving its noisy engine.

The road crossed the dam wall, which was brimming, a thin sheet of water cascading down the spillway. I wandered through a small pine forest nearby with a carpet of bright orange needles on the ground. The sounds of the wind in the pines, the rushing water, and the beating of the turbine blades, made a symphony of white noise that almost hypnotized me.

I wanted to head for Collector, where my friend Dave told me an artist has created a huge disturbing sculpture of a wall of fused human bodies like a Giger painting. But, considering our progress so far, and the distance still to go, and the fact we would need to go through Crookwell, a town to which Michelle has a strange antipathy, we decided to head instead for points west and go to Young.

We stopped in Cowra, where a mother and daughter with strange small eyes manned a deep fryer and made us a burger and scallops. The scallops were forme, I am a connoisseur of fried potato slices. They were oka, but the potato had been parboiled first and was a little mealy. The batter was a bit underdone and not fried brown enough, or else the oil in the fryer was too fresh. Michelle said her burger was perfect. The local cool couple lounged outside on steel chairs, he in black tracksuit, silver wrap-around sunnies and mobile phone covered in skateboard stickers, she i a white track suit to match her blonde hair. A swirling cloud of hangers on blew around them, affecting casual nonchalant deadpan awesomeness and bulletproof attitudes while secretly wondering each if their inner dag was showing and everyone was laughing at them. I heard the coolest dude talking to a smiling girl who had just finished work at the KMart, still wearing her uniform. A bitch they both knew was just about to whelp puppies. The dude opined that she was comfortable and the puppies would arrive that night, while the girl was worried about the extension of her stomach. A yellow highway patrol car which had been trailing us on the road pulled into the KFC opposite to get some lunch.

There were no interesting hotels in town and it was only three PM, so we decided to push on to Young, where we stayed before, in a pub on the main street. Our path took us right past Bendick Murrel, the small town where we once contemplated buying a blue stone church which had been converted into a dwelling. We passed a lot of road kill, foxes and cats and even a frech looking cow lying in a ditch. A fascinating wooded ridge ran along the left side of the road, maybe a K from the bitumen, behind farms and fields packed with sheep and lambs mixed with cows. I felt the old urge to explore, to climb them and see why they were there and what was on the other side. Sometimes we saw fields of bright green grass and drill swedes, fertilized with superphosphate so they almost glowed emerald.

At the turnoff to Bendick Murrel we passed a gymkhana, a horse jumping competition for local equestrian types. The main street was a rough bitumen road with houses set on 2 or 3 acre blocks. Most yards full of rubbish or farm equipment, piles of bricks and rusty iron sheets, scavenged from around the district. The church looked just the same, although they had replaced the roof. A bus was parked in the back yard, the driveway was overgrown with grass. Nobody lived there. The litte junk shop in the old general store at the end of the road had closed down. A magazine rack sat sadly out the front. Utes parked next door covered in country slogan stickers, MY COUNTRY MY UTE NO PLACE TOO FAR etc. Michelle confirmed that despite our interest she could never have lived there, ever. I coud. As long as it has good fast internet. On the way back out I glimpsed a young man in the yard of one of the houses, delivering mighty whacks with a paddle to a tether tennis ball, belting it back and forth pointlessly.

We drove into Young, the cherry capital of the west. The only local industry is growing and selling cherries. And some prunes. Once we stayed here and drank at the bar of the hotel, and a local cheerfully informed me there was always work down the prune packing plant. Michelle swears we won‘t be staying at that hotel, because she remembers the beds being like wonky wooden tables. I remember being so bored at one point I bought a vegetable peeler and pot scourer at the local supermarket and swore to go on a peeling and scouring rampage through the town destroying all life in my path with my harsh cleansing action. That scared Michelle for some reason. After a few uninspired bog laps we picked a motel on the edge of town and checked in for the night. Motels out here tend to be sprawling haciendas with the rooms spread out in long wings from the office, we were at the end of one such row. I had a long soak in the bathtub while Michelle read her book, the last in the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy of chic porn. She makes a thing of reacting angrily every time I try and read over her shoulder, so of course I always try.

After the bath I donned my waterproof parka and crossed the road to the huge Aldi supermarket, 4 times the size of our local in Sydney, to look for some dinner. We had a severe craving for Salad, since we hadn‘t eaten fresh vegetable matter for about a week. Luckily they had coleslaw and tabouli salad in sealed tubs in the fridge.

By some amazing coincidence, I was dicking around with the TV and satellite box at just the right time, clicking past dozens of channels blocked because they were pay-per-view, when I stumbled upon unlocked HBO just as they were about to broadcast the first ep. of True Blood season 5. We watched it gratefully, but it was disappointing, nowhere near as good as the first season. We can see the dead hand of a committee somewhere making decisions about the story line, insisting that certain characters get screen time and do certain things. Mich noticed that Sookie was wearing jeans in one scene, something her character woud never do in the early seasons, she was always classy and dressed proper. We winced when Jessica, the cloistered fundie girls turned Vampire against her will, suddenly knew enough about pop culture to sing Foreigner songs at a karaoke party. I look forward to finding out more about Russel Edgingtons past history though.

Going on a road trip!
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Saturday. Today we leave on a roadtrip around NSW. Our plans are; head west, then south; visit ghost towns; stay in seedy cheapmotels; find and collect skulls. Michelle cals this skull hunting. On one memorable drive in the past we found a rams skull with magnificent horns. From the road we saw thew horns looping out of the field like a discared piece of industrial machinery. I think Michelle wants to recreate that thrill.

Here are some ghost towns we might visit:
Glen Davis
Yeranderie
Silverton
Newnes
Joadja
Sofala
Deniliquin

I am in a motel in Orange. We stayed here last time we drove through this country. The Town Square hotel, attached to the Commercial Hotel pub.

It rained all day. Torrents of large drops. Ridiculous rain, depressingly dark and dangerous on the roads. Every car dragged a ragged cloud of spray behind it, every truck threw up a rooster tail of dirty water on our windscreen.

We started out heading west along the familiar route of Bells Line of road, stopped for lunch at Tutti Frutti, which we visit so often they know us. We buy their apples at Marrickville community market where their father sells the from his ute. We buy their raspberries and blueberries in season, the produce they use to make the tutti frutti ice cream their cafe is named for. I also like to pick the interesting mushrooms with the attractive brown caps that grow amongst the roses that surround the picknic tables behind their establishment. I believe they must have used cow manure as fertilizer at some point, which is the usua growing medium these mushies prefer.

On through the mountains, the road winding through a notch in the rock, following the ridge, the trick the first explorers used to get through the range.

Down through Lithgow, full of junkies and ex junkies, skinny and old and moldy looking people wandering around the streets with shopping bags wearing heavily pilled nylon tracksuits. They moved here in the 70s and 80s when the real estate was cheap, and their numbers attracted dealers. With daily trains to Sydney, but too far from the city for commuting, it suited them perfectly. We noted caravans with layers of tarp on their roofs, linked to nearby houses with catenaries of extension cord, smoke puffing from shiny steel chimneys.

Here we left the Sydney sandstone behind. The granite and basalt tors sit in the cropped grass like gems in metal. Coated with rich grey lichen like woven carpet. The grass was toasty brown in the rain, it needed the water. On ward we drove, mile after mile of countryside we could barely see in the shifting curtains of rain.

Stopped for a smoko in Bathurst. Lovely shabby buildings, a well stocked art shop nearby, wide streets, relics of the age when horses and carts needed to turn around in them. There seem to be more social services out here, more rehabilitation clinics and employment agencies, but I think that‘s an illusion caused by the lack of vacant luxury shopping and other specialist establishments which you find in the city, with obscure these things by their sheer numbers. We weren‘t tempted to stay. Onwards to Orange.

The regional centre, the first inland city of the state. No tall buildings, but many relics of the golden age, the 1880s when huge amounts of money were dug out of the ground and spent on infrastructure for the ages, gingerbread and wedding cake architecture, hals and banks and churches in weird pastel blues and greys in the same pallet as 50s bathrooms. A big grip of streets. We quickly located the hotel, with it‘s broad verandas nwhere they have an excellent restaurant.

Dinner on the veranda, looking out through plastic curtains at the dark deserted streets in the cold. Big family groups at the long tables around us. Old men with startled expressions trying to focus on the screens of smart phones in the hands of their offspring, displaying photos of absent family and friends. Dozens of bottles of local wine on the tables. Cut glass bowls of ice cream for the kids. The inner windows of the hotel building proper, now the kitchen, are covered in thick welded mesh. The lady who checked us in took our order. We predicted each others tastes. Michelle had the chicken parmagiana, myself, lamb shanks. There were three of those, on a bed of garlicky mash, covered in well roasted carrots.

Afterwards we drank a beer in the bar downstairs. Warm fire in a barrel stove. International currancy above the bar. A surprising number of gourmet beers on tap, even a cider. Several patrons drank only soft drinks, one dude in a bright coloured leather motorcycle jacket, some designated drivers at the bar. A stereotyped old farmer in shabby blue clothing and droopy hat was hanging out with some younger metal types with creative facial hair and piercings, getting excited and ordering up drinbks at the bar. Huge roidy dudes with belligerant eyes sat around a tabe watching the footy. A princess type in a chilly red cocktail dress took endless upshots with herself, her date, and the desperate spare wheel male friend they had dragged along for a laugh on their night out.

Two-Situationist-slogan day
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carbonunit
Today was a TWO Situationist slogan day! This morning on the bus, written on the back of a seat, I saw this: "In a society that abolishes adventure, the greatest adventure is to abolish that society."

Then, on the way home, I saw this stuck to a pole outside the NSW library: "they try to keep us permanently at war, permanently in dept and permanently in the dark, but they don't know there IS no permanence".



(Actually, a little Google tells me that second one is more of a reference to the epic of Gilgamesh than Situationist rhetoric, but the spirit is the same.)

Extra!
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carbonunit
Check this out - the front page from todays Daily Telegraph. Sydneys most popular tabloid newspaper, a News Ltd publication, unrelentingly right wing, often called the Terrorgraph because of it's alarmist headlines.


It really caught my eye today with this headline. It's got an interesting back story. The news is about how the government is cutting a deal with the US to allow troops to train and be stationed in Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory, on the tropical north coast. There's already a large navy port there, but this seems to be more of an army deal.

That's all very well, but this headline is also a reference to a line from a song by a band called Midnite Oil, once king of the pub rock bands in the 80s. The Oils had a strong left wing lean, often writing songs about indigenous land rights and US imperialism. This particular song was called US Forces. The first verse went like this:

US forces give the nod
It's a setback for your country
Bombs and trenches all in rows
Bombs and threats still ask for more.

The lead singer of Midnite Oil was Peter Garrett, an angular giant with a shaved head who came from surf culture and was notorious for his jerky spastic dance stye on stage. Garret went on to become a lawyer I believe, although there was no mention on the Wikipedia page, and then got into federal politics.

As minister for the environment, he presided over a government initiative to subsidise installing metal foil insulation into the roofs of houses, to cut down on the energy needed for heating and cooling. This became a fiasco when the media started investigating claims that shoddy installation of the conductive foil by contractors was causing house fires. The Telegraph lead the charge, as they usually do, and conveniently let the story die when it was revealed that there was only a slight statistical increase in the number of fires caused by foil installed under this scheme, and that Garrett had been doing his job and any blame was really the fault of his advisers and the contractors who were rorting the system.

The Telegraph has always hated him, and his recent policy of following the party line on environmental issues hasn't softened their ire. If anything, it seems to enrage them more, as though he can't even be a consistent target as a commie pinko. I would bet good money that this headline reference, to a now obscure and mostly forgotten song, was a deliberate stab in the back for him and his party. It really is fascinating that a large popular newspaper can have such focused ire and anger, to turn this important news story into such a well directed barb at a single individual.

Weatherby found!
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carbonunit
A few months ago, I mentioned having a strange and puzzling memory surface in my brain. It was of a newspaper comic about a town called Weatherby, where it was always raining on one side of the street and sunny on the other, and the strange adventures of a boy and girl who lived there. I remembered especially the last issue, in which the town was destroyed by a terrible disaster and the couple disappeared into a void, and my parents telling me it was because the artist was dying of cancer and wracked with existential pain. All my online searches turned up nothing but references to Mr Weatherbee in the Archie comics.

Well, I found it.

While working in the NSW state library, I couldn't stand it any longer, and went and wasted a couple of hours in the microfilm section. I started in the Sydney Morning Herald reels for 1980 and worked my way back. Finally I caught it around 1976.

The comic was called Max and Min the Weather People, by one Max Foley. I immediately did a web search with this info, and amazingly found a reference in a blog from only a couple of weeks ago. There isn't much info about the artist either, this entry here is about it. He seems to be still alive, and under 70! I wonder if I can contact him and see about getting the series scanned and put online?



Rereading the comic again after all these years, it's just as good as I remember. It had a very sweet and dreamy vibe, and seems to hark back to the surreal dreamlike comics of the early 20s like Little Nemo, although much more modern, with a lot of self-referential humour.

The final destruction sequence was roughly as I remembered it, although it went on for several weeks. No wonder it stuck in my mind, I must have been appalled by the way this entire fictional world was being undone week by week, with dozens of familiar characters meeting their end in various ways.

Looking for Weatherby
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carbonunit
I have a faint memory and I can't seem to back it up with research. I seem to remember a comic in the Sunday papers when I was young, in the 70s. It was about a boy and girl who lived in a strange city called, I think, Weatherby, and everything in this comic was about the weather. I remember the town was split in two by the main street, and on one side it was always sunny and on the other it was always raining. There was a dome like an observatory, but the devices inside were used to control the weather.

The thing that really stands out is my dim memory of the end of the comic and the end of Weatherby. I remember a devastating final issue where an asteroid crashes into the weather dome, causing disaster throughout the city, the main street split down the middle, stranding the boy on one side and the girl on the other. Then reality itself dissolved away and everything vanished. All expressed in about 16 four-colour panels in the Sunday funnies. I think my parents said the artist who drew the comic was dying of cancer and this was his angry final comic when the paper told him he had to wrap it up.

The problem is, every time I google "weatherby" and "comic" I end up with Mr Weatherbee, the principle of the high school Archie went to. Even [weatherby comic sun herald -archie -jughead] doesn't do the trick. Anyone out there confirm I'm not tripping here?

(no subject)
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carbonunit
Yes, I am still alive. I just haven't been feeling much like posting anything here for some reason. Perhaps it's just the psychic contamination from the mass exodus leaving LJ. I'm not interested in shutting down my blog, but I would like to do something else creative online in another forum.

One thing I've been contemplating is using a box of Polaroids I picked up when I did some volunteer work at Reverse Garbage. The set contains over 700 blurry amateur Polaroids, many with Dymo labels attached to the white frame describing the scene. I think of them as shots from the Deserted World, because I can't think of one which has an actual human face or figure in it. This could be because whoever donated them to Reverse Garbage removed the shots of their family or friends, but it could also be the mind of the photographer. I also find it difficult to photograph people, especially strangers, but these photos tend to be snaps of the most mundane, ugly and empty sights you could imagine, like the sign of a seedy motel in Woop Woop, or some red tile roofs under a cloudy sky, or a swan shaped plant pot made from a tire. The only signs of human presence anywhere are a bizarre shot of an outstretched arm holding a melon, and a few shots of pets pawing at disembodied knees. It's a desolate, melancholy world, and I might set up a Tumblr for it if there is any interest.