Monday, May 29, 2006

On my soapbox/icebox

In response to Barnaby Joyce's hopes and dreams for an industrial Antarctica. (Pic thanks to NASA... how ironic)

HIGH in the valleys of the Transantarctic Mountains, laying on rock that is so cold it has frozen solid, is the mummified remains of a seal.
It has lain there for centuries, possibly millennia, on ground that hasn’t seen rain for more than two million years.
Belted almost constantly by powerful katabatic winds, the seal is preserved forever in the most effective, powerful and awesome deep freezer in existence.
It is Antarctica, and there is nowhere else like it on Earth.
When Captain Cook’s botanist Joseph Banks first set foot on what was to become Australian soil in 1770 he was single-handedly able to increase by a third the number of plants known to mankind. Flora on Antarctica is limited to moss, lichen and algae.
It is remarkable even that these two organisms, and in symbiosis, are able to exist in the world’s most inhospitable environment.
What is even more remarkable is the fantastic array of fauna that is able to cling to its fringes, clutching life from a wilderness so harsh that survival is an unrelenting daily battle.
There are 43 species of bird that regularly visit Antarctica, including species of petrel and albatross noted by Cook in his 1773 journal. The birdlife includes the majestic emperor penguin - the only warm-blooded animal to remain on the continent during the harsh months of winter.
Also at the fringes are species of seal and whale.
It may not appear the most biodiverse region in the world, but surely it is the most resilient, interesting and impressive.
It is for this reason that Antarctica and the Southern Ocean must be conserved. Nowhere in the world do the interactions between species - and species and their environment - remain so untouched by human hands. Antarctica is, quite simply, a gift to science.
Though many countries claimed territories on the frozen continent, in 1959 a treaty was signed to set aside the area for peaceful, conservative and scientific purposes. Mankind could do nothing else with such an inhospitable place. Indeed, attempts to conquer it are futile.
Take Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans. Built for the ill-fated 1911 voyage to the pole, it has been preserved in the snow by the same process that froze the seal.
The hut could symbolise many things, but Antarctica has no need of another example of the struggle to survive.
To me it is a symbol that we are not meant to be there. The seal belongs, we do not.
Antarctica is for the scientist, not the developer. And maybe it is for the adventurer, but it is not for the entrepreneur.
On a planet where habitats grow smaller by the day Antarctica should remain an unsoiled jewel in planet Earth’s crown.

Carriage under fire

I KNOW what that smell is you get on public transport. Adrenalin.
I know this because last week, on the 6pm B express from Perth, a man decided to tell the whole carriage that he had ‘666’ tattooed about his persons.
Well when someone discloses this kind of information to you uninvited, whilst you are trapped in a tin cage and hurtling along at 130kmh, you don’t have too many options.
Generally, my ‘fight or flight’ mechanism doesn’t bother to ask, it just bolts. But on a train, you’re a captive audience.
He continued: “I let the Dark Lord into my soul back in ‘87”.
And I had to admit, he looked rather convincingly like he’d been to hell and back.
Some passengers giggled with nerves. I, personally, pretended to turn up my headphones. In fact, I turned them off. I wouldn’t have missed this for quids.
Eye’s darted from passenger to passenger. Some displayed fear. Others, clearly, found it as comic as I did. While the reaction was mixed, everyone was united in terror at the thought he might get off at their station. The tension grew more palpable as, stop after stop, he remained on the train.
One young woman with hair as red as the flames of hell decided to take him on, at which point he explained: “My bible’s much better than yours”.
I didn’t realize the satanic scriptures had been written down, but apparently beelzebub’s bible is available at all good book stores.
After a while without getting a bite he moved to the next carriage, presumably to try the same trick down there.
“I was just starting to have fun,” I said aloud. It’s amazing how brave I can be after a crisis. That broke the tension for a couple of old ladies who’d been clutching their handbags so tight their knuckles were bleeding.
Once upon a time I would have been scared witless as well. But in these days of global terrorism the occasional nutter has to do better than claim he’s the devil’s disciple. Satan holds no fear for rail commuters in 2004.
In my opinion, at $2 a trip ($7 for a family pass!), the train is the best value entertainment you’ll get anywhere. On most days there is some kind of carriage cabaret: you’ve just got to pick the train that smells like fear.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Does this photo make me look fat?

Something to look forward to

Hopefully the UK Home Office won't be asking me questions like this...
Although according to all the news reports, I'm more likely to know the answer than a lot of the people actually working within the Home Office... several thousand of whom have been discovered to be illegal immigrants.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I ain't sayin' he's a name-dropper...

...however, this IS me showing off yet another close encounter with a minor celebrity.
When you work in radio (as I sometimes do, but sincerely wish I didn't when 4am rolls around and it's time to go to work) you know that it is profoundly UNCOOL and UNPROFESSIONAL to get all fan-ish when someone famous comes into the studio.
I resisted the temptation with Hanson and several others (though the Hanson boys did get cute after puberty), but I couldn't hold out on Sandra Sully.
Knowing the dulcet-toned Channel Ten newsreader was in the building had me very excited... (not that I was tenting or anything, you understand).

PS. Skateboarders have taken up residence in my street. I have to listen to them clacking up and down the footpath now. They woke me up this morning. I want them dead. Jesus, don't they have an Xbox or something?

A proposal for the Oxfordshire Tourist Board

I’M planning a return to my roots – a trip to the UK.
My departure from the antipodes isn’t exactly imminent, but I will be in Ol’ Blighty by Christmas.
Apart from the fact I want to live and work there for career and cultural reasons, some of the reason for my life-long fascination with the UK is history. Not just 1066 and all that or seeing Big Ben, the place where Mary’s gullet was irrevocably severed or the spot where Wembley Stadium used to be before Multiplex went international… but also my personal history. Family history.
It’s always been an interest of mine so I’ve quizzed my grandparents for information mercilessly over the years. Today I have been researching the lands of my maternal grandmother.
The Hill’s lived in what was Berkshire, but is now Oxfordshire, near a place called Abingdon. In researching this town, and other smaller localities like Didcot, Blewberry and Harwell, on the internet, I have discovered some disturbing news. This is not the romantic Darling Buds country I had imagined.
In fact the promotional picture for Didcot is the two great nuclear-looking smoke-stacks of the town’s coal-fired power station. As God is my judge, see for yourself -
This is not the sceptred isle set in a silver sea I had hoped for. (Either that or the Oxfordshire Tourism Marketing Board needs to be sacked wholesale and replaced with trained monkeys in red fez hats… “release the monkeys!”).
All the articles about the towns focus on how great these places used to be. They also tend to outline the fact that, not only do people not want to go to these places any more, but there is no way to get there.
Here is the entry for Abingdon – a slightly major centre.
“It was a flourishing town in the Roman period, which in turn gave way to a Saxon settlement…When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1538, Abingdon Abbey was the 6th richest in Britain,” the site says.
“In 1810 the Wilts and Berks canal arrived with Abingdon becoming a key link between such places as Bristol, London, Birmingham and the Black Country.
“In 1906 it was abandoned as the canal sides collapsed and the railways offered faster transport. The first link to the railway came in 1856 with a branch connection to Culham and subsequently via Radley. The local station closed in 1963.
“(Motoring company MG is) synonymous with fast, sporty two seater cars which were manufactured in Abingdon for 50 years until production ceased in 1980.”
At which point they fucked off up the M4, never to be seen again.
I’ve been worried about what I’m going to do for work when I get to the UK. But now I have found the solution. I’m going to approach the Oxfordshire Tourism Marketing Board and ask if I can re-write their website. I’ve re-jigged the entry for Didcot as an example, using some of my actual family history.
“The building of the Great Western Railway from London to the West Country sparked the growth of Didcot in the 19th century. It is now 160 years since the passing of the Act authorising construction of the line,” it will open.
“But it is only 60 years since Bolton Gray’s fishwife great grandmother spent the war flat on her back with her legs in the air, servicing any troops who called into the historic George Hotel for a refreshing ale.
“Her husband, who was fighting in France, got his own back by not returning to Didcot after the war and instead hooking up with some vichy madam moiselle and commencing a fresh breeding program.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Brains of Britain

Last weekend some of the best journalistic brains in Western Australia (if not rural Suffolk) got together in one room to get hammered.
This is two of me bichiz... the rest are either still drinking or waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
The good news is the evening was a fantastic cocktail soiree enjoyed by all, the bad news is we can't get the cosmopolitan stains out of the carpet.
Or the semen stains... but that's another story.

A stranger on the bus

I never even knew her name.
About four months ago I gave up my seat on a crowded bus to an old lady.
As a result we began chatting - I have a gift with women who were my age when John Curtin was in the Lodge.
She told me so much about her life, including things she’d never told her family.
Sharp as a tack and quick as a whip, she was a shrewd judge of character and nobody’s fool (to mention but four clichés).
I don’t have any right to reveal her confidences here, as anonymously as that might be, but I think she felt the end was near and needed to clear a few things from her chest.
But there are two things I will say: Firstly, war has a lot to answer for. Secondly, love is the most honourable cause you can dedicate your life to.
It can also be the loneliest.
Two weeks later I was validating my multi-rider and there she was in the second row of the bus. The stories started again.
I went three stops past my house just to hear her story to the end. Even then I was sorry to be leaving her. I felt enriched by her company.
A few weeks later we shared a seat again.
This time I took the opportunity to jot down my name and number on a piece of paper. If she ever needed a hand, or just wanted a cup of tea, she was to give me a call. She tucked it into her handbag.
It was still there when, according to the message on my answering machine yesterday afternoon, her daughter found it.
She explained that her mother had died over the weekend and she had found my number while sorting through her mother’s things. She didn’t know who I was, but called to let me know.
I was sad at the news. Sadder still that her secrets probably died with her, save for the unfaithful memory of a stranger on the bus.
Talk to the old people in your life: Their stories are your history.
I’ve wanted to write about her before, but something has stopped me. Perhaps it was because I never knew her name. Now I do.
Rest in Peace, Joyce.

Life more chaotic than Quixotic

SHE’S a man-eater. There isn’t really any other term for it.
My best friend Becs is ‘looking for a husband’.
That’s what she calls it, but to my mind it’s more a predator/prey thing.
I’ll demonstrate. Whilst driving recently she decided that, from the look of the reflection in his rear-vision and wing mirrors, the guy driving the HSV in front of us was rather good looking. But how do you get him to notice you?
“If I ram his car, legally he’ll have to give me his phone number.”
When I pointed out what she was considering would require police attendance, she got excited about the uniforms.
“You’ll end up in court, as well,” I said.
“A lawyer? Something cute in a suit?”
Her brain really is a weapon of mass destruction - Becs actually declined to fully brake at the next intersection, causing a minor bingle. Her performance was truly stunning. In the time it took him to get out of his dented HSV and appear at her window, Becs managed to apply both lipstick and eyeliner.
“Make sure he knows you’re gay,” she whispered.
“Or he’ll think you’re my boyfriend.” She hitched her skirt a little higher and opened the door, putting one stiletto to the ground.
“I’m so sorry.” Cue eyelashes.
He executed a sentence peppered with more swearing than punctuation – directed not at the driver, but at me, the passenger.
I spoke for the defence – complete with requested lisp.
“Hey buddy, she’s had to pedicure a minor celebrity, sell enough eau de gastroenteritis to make commission, take her cat to the vet and still find time to coordinate her accoutrement. She’s had a tough day. Give her a break!”.
She burst into tears on cue and handed him her phone number.
She got her date. And an excess bill of $750 from her insurance company and a lecture from Daddy - apparently, that’s no way to treat a Mercedes.
The irony is, she could have any guy she wants. Becs has a great personality, money behind her and a career in over-the-counter cosmetic sales ahead of her. (Where, as she constantly complains, she meets very few men - or very few straight men, which amounts to the same thing).
But instead she drags me around everywhere. She calls me her Gucci handbag – not too expensive, very reliable, and able to go with everything.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I could look like this if I waxed...

Hmm... spent a coupla weekends recently hanging out with some very very talented people. Only have a picture of one of them unforchoonately.

Anyway... at the risk of looking like I only own one shirt, here's a picture of Courtney Act with Courtney Crabs.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Uncle duties - don't answer the call!

I WAS called upon for ‘uncle duties’ last week.
All I had to do was babysit a 12 month old for 40 minutes while my sister went out to spend the $600 the Government had given her for uncrossing her legs in the first place.
14 year olds do it for a living, how hard could it be?
When I arrived my niece was busy growing two molars. Yards of dribble were shooting out of her mouth like streamers from a departing ocean-liner - her slobber-ridden hands happily weaving them into a macramé masterpiece.
It wasn’t just cascading from her lip, it was shooting out at warp-speed behind a heart-breaking scream.
Perhaps it was the fact I had the baby monitor clutched to my ear in one hand and my phone preset to triple zero in the other, but my sister noticed I was nervous.
“It’s okay, she’ll sleep the whole time. We’ll be back soon,” Emma said, closing the door behind her.
Silence. A full thirty seconds of terrifying silence.
Followed by the most mournful screaming known to man - 10 seconds into which my sister rang me from outside to confirm that bubba would, in fact, go to sleep.
I switched on the tele to dull the noise. Every channel was running an item on Azaria Chamberlain.
I put the dog outside.
Forty minutes came and went. As did another forty. I was in a clear panic and the baby monitor was silent, so I checked her room.
Therein lay the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed. This flaxen-haired babe, spread-eagle on her back, little chest going up and down with each breath.
And, even more beautifully, she was doing it all by herself. She’s so clever!
Then I heard a faint, ‘Hello?’ I took a second look at the infant. Then I realised it was coming from my phone.
In my panic, had accidentally called 000. Imagine the scene! Emma returns (having spent the money the Prime Minister bought her vote with) to flashing ambulance lights, a disenfranchised dog and me blubbering maniacally, “You were only going to be 40 minutes!” while being hauled away for wasting police time.
Forget ‘uncle duties’. Babysitting is for 14 year olds. My nerves won’t take it.

The Key To Embarrassment

It seems I gave them too much credit.
When my friends Adam and Rachael recently failed a random breath test, Rachael lost her license for three months. I thought they’d both learned some serious life lessons doing an hours porridge in the Mirrabooka slammer.
But they learned nothing. I relate this update in the hope that public humiliation might shame them into responsibility.
They were having a big night out: The kind you budget for three pay-weeks in advance.
Drunk and exhausted, at 4am they started for home. They live side-by-side so they share a ride.
Neither Rachael nor Adam could remember where they had parked the car. So they wandered around Northbridge until they spotted a clapped-out and rusting mint green Sigma.
Rachael pulled the keys from her pocket, choose a nice golden one, she stumbled forward, and fumbled to get it in the lock. It slid in, albeit reluctantly.
“Adam, it won’t turn”.
She looked up. Adam was gone. She twisted the key hard. Snap.
“Oh God.” Bending wearily at the knees, she eyeballed the broken key in the lock.
“This isn’t my car.” I can imagine the cogs working in her head as she said: “I don’t have a license, I can’t drive.”
“Adam?” Her calls going unanswered, she called a cab instead.
“Stop when you’ve got as far as…” she counted her coins, “…$7.80 will get me.”
A few kilometres from home, Rache alighted from the taxi (leaving her shoes in it) and walked home barefoot through puddles.
Imagine the relief in her eyes as she walked across her lawn to her front door.
“Oh God… I’ve snapped my house key off in someone’s car.”
The only spare in existence was with Adam and goodness knew what had happened to him. With her car safely impounded in the driveway and her car key perfectly in tact, Rache curled up for some slumber in the Sigma.
Adam gave her the spare key when he got home.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to call a locksmith – they cost like $100.”
They went off to their respective beds and arose a day-and-a-half later. At which point, Rachael, already suffering from the flu, left the house wearing only boxers and a singlet. She lit a cigarette, letting the door close behind her. Leaving the only house key in existence safely inside.
“Adam, can I use your phone? I need to call a locksmith.”