nomadology heading undergrowth-typeface (1K)
Navigation.
Everything is burning 
Arnhem Journey 
The City of Gods and Windows 
The Rainbow Conspiracy 
Shedding Skins 
Saturns Return 
Sex and the Mega City 
the floating world 
Excess Baggage 
The Global Marketplace part 4 
Three Moons 
Brave New Babylon 
The Global Marketplace 3 - Tobacconista 
The Middle Kingdom 
Animism 
Instant Illiteracy 
The Global Marketplace part 2 
Lets Not Talk About Politics 
Crumbling Empires 
The Global Marketplace 
Hot Sex and Cold Feet 
Always Waking  
The Mystery of Daybreak 
the city which became colourblind 
Castles in the Sand 
The Man From Seoul 
The Bar at the End of the World 
Pussy Galore 
Chased by Stray Thoughts 
Samsara and Nirvana 
Interzone 
the city at the end of the world 
a moment in reflection 
Stuart Highway Songline part 3 
The Commonwealth Game 
The Stuart Highway Songline 
Personal Journalist 
The Strawberry Project 
101 year old eyes 
59% battery 
ABRACADABRA 
Our Nations Capital 
Invisible in the City 
Life at Sunrise.. 
The Meditation of the Open Road 
East Coast Tour Diary 
Fear and Loathing in Brisvegas 
Booty Dancing and Petroleum Dreaming 
Escape! 
Natural Intelligence. 
Landscapes of Flesh 
same lifestyle, different scenery.. 
three degrees of separation 
migrating north for the winter 
drinking in the multitude 
finding treasure 
journeys inward 
exploring the playground 
art crawling through the cracks 
multinational dreaming 
no ticket to ride 
another civilisation 
everyday journeys.. 
crossing invisible lines 
Celebrate Revolution 
a sort of homecoming 
salemat jalan 

verb

Return home

 
Everything is burning
Everything is burning around us, but tonight the fire is a gentle companion to our journey. Smoke rises in soft pillows over the horizon of the hill as we light our campfire. the setting sun lights the sky in tides of purple and orange, flat blankets of the disappearing bush floating into space. We are cooking kangaroo and sweet potato on the settling coals as the day dissolves into night, settling into our stories around another flame. The annual dry season burn off flavors the air a musty scent. all the firemen here are used to setting fires as much as putting them out. They understand the fire has uses. It is their ally more than an enemy, because they know how to control it's power. Down the side of the mountain long trails burn for hours. From a distance, they looking like lava flows from a volcano. their crackling ambience sets the night's tempo. Our voices are her melody.

A few months ago we watched as the forests of Victoria burnt all around us, out of control. We were at a bush festival in the Ottways when we heard the news, and it was only luck that the flames or arson that birthed the disaster stayed on the north east. Now they call it Black Saturday, and it's memory is burnt into the hearts of every Victorian, trying to figure out what we could do to tame this demon. In a few months I will be at the Burning Man. Watching them burn time as the world tree burns like some pagan sacrifice of the future to live the present to it's fullest, or perhaps to burn the past into memory so that we may grow fresh sprouts from the desert that was.

"Everyone is burning" the Buddha once said of the human race; burning with desire, with suffering that it causes. Behind me I catch sight of a long burning shooting star as it descends straight down toward the earth. The rock stars of another age just past burnt out like shooting stars, Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, and perhaps even Cobain in the hangover of punks grunge afterculture. The mythic self destruction of the modern world encapsulated in the roman candle celebrity of its youth. Western culture burning the world's resources ever since the dawn of the industrial era, forcing the rest of the planet into the same template through imperialism, globalisation, or seduction of capital. Were all in the same boat now, and they keep telling us it's running out of steam to keep burning, but that the pollution is suffocating us at the same time. What else is there to do but change course?

I see a flurry of embers rise from the bushfire that keeps slowly getting closer. They scatter in every direction, manifesting the wind, lighitng the outstretched arms of the Eucalypt that stands above with little fear. He has seen their kind before. They will pass, and he will scar only for one season before his skin grows back. And I wonder if this brash modern people are the same, burning the ancient people of this land with such brilliant abandon, but burning out like the gods of rock and fading into the sky like spaceships aborting the earth, only to realise they must land eventually. The atmosphere is limbo. Gravity, a fundamental law of thermodynamics, the binary sister to entropy. Together they pull us apart and bring us back together again. Expand our minds with explosive consciousness, and ground us with the reality of mass. Birth us with fire burning, burning bright as a supernova only to implode within it's own weight and become another black hole for new galaxies to pivot around.

Fading from view over the horizon another God of past culture's burns a seemingly endless nuclear combustion. Clever kids of that same rock age have learnt to catch it's winds in their solar flowers. These are not burning souls, these are flower children. Breathing out oxygen that will feed another kind of flame, somewhere in the future that we all know is inevitable.

But today I am thinking of this eternal moment. How each of us contain a flame within us, how each culture is sparked bv the same soulful ignition. That some cultures burn fast and fall to the towering inferno of their own babylon, and others learn to live with the fire and tame it to lesson the damage when it eventually burns to the ground. Some used it to hunt, like the First Australians. The seeds of native plants are germinated in this fire, and in this act the ecology becomes symbiotically entwined with the human appetite. the fire in us can consume us, like the rage of jealousy. Collectively our culture can burn black sundays across the world, roaring with the viscous abandon of a juggernaut out of control. Or it can be a gentle campfire, where travellers sit and share tales, illuminated by the kind warmth of the flickering curve of flame.

At the heart of the universe, I see an engine that never ceases to spin. It is the philosophers stone. A heart that beats with the orgasm of the big bang. This is at once the spark of all existence and the holy fire that allows us to becomes ashes once our body has ceased to oxygenate this heartbeat. The warmth in your smile. The embrace of every lovers passion. The tantric nature of DNA's spiral. All of the ten thousand things, burning, forever, as one.

Everyone is burning said the Buddha, and Everything is burning till the end of time, unless you jump ship, and rise to the space between, even if only briefly.
That is the way of our world. Ashes to ashes they say at ceremony, when your fire has burnt .
Ashes spread into the wind.
Let free.

 
Arnhem Journey
[ file under: Working Holiday? ]

Two weeks on the road, one troopy full of muso's, one troopy full of musical instruments, the Yolgnu-wise guide Gathaka, my beautiful lady Lulu and me filmin' it all. This is a short video clip I produced for Darwin band The Neo in July documenting our trip out to Yirrkala in far east Arnhem Land, Northern Territory where they recorded a series of young bands from the local school, played some amazing gigs and recorded new tracks at the Yothu Yindi Studios at Ski Beach.

It's really only a short preview of a larger doco still in progress, and a bigger story I'm gonna write about here soon. I promise. But for now, this'll have to do...

xx
Tim


Neo - Arnhem Journey from Verb Studios on Vimeo.
 
The City of Gods and Windows
[ file under: Pilgrimage ]



Forty days and forty nights pass through us as we drift through the timeless mysts that inhabit this land called Avalon. Peering through the window of our caravan, I must squint to make the landscape decide it's own contours. At times the air is so thick with superstition I can no longer see through my own flesh.

Finally, breathless, broken, filled with spirit, we reach the shores of the river Styx and confront the boatman, shrouded in his own prison of duty. Some contract chains him to his cloak that we will never understand and he knows we are free. He will never forgive us this trespass on his purgatory, but we are prepared. From our packs we pull instruments from across the spheres and strum the alphabetic formula of the chord progression that forms the Dylan's timeless tune
'Mama take these guns from me...
coz I can;t use them anymore...'

As we sing, the melodies entwine the fog of wars and romance, carving some new soft machine to pierce the heart of our solo audience. Framed in a moment of perfect silence, a tear falls like a balloon, slowly from the dark absence of the ferryman's face. It crashes into his outstretched hand. They say moisture such as this, born from musical bloom, transcending monkey tongues, is worth the weight of a soul in this barren land. Enough or just, to pay the toll of our counterfeit visa to cross the silent landscape into this next bardo.

Above the stars flicker the embers of some previous aeons flame, forty thousand years too late. We navigate the treacherous waters where souls are said to clamor for karma to resuscitate their purpose. Broken by the hours of my journey, I forget myself in dream, and find myself staring deep into the river's endless narcissism. A million incarnations of my own scattered seed pull me forward from the edge of the vessel. Voices sing to me from under the surface, whispering, screaming, laughing hysterical, crooning for my blood, seducing me with promises of immortal love and the perfect easy answers of all religion. I could have given myself then perhaps, if my companions had not evoked the song visionary. The one which brought us all here. Which echoes through our heartbeat, since our firstborn breath. The shaman moon swept in from the horizons attention span and whispered;
'Be patient'. It told me
'We are almost there now...'

And then, beyond the reflection, with all three eyes wide torn and open, I saw the city in the sky where we had come to study the art of the invisible. We had arrived.

Avatar is a city which sits proudly atop the clouds of mount Olympus, perched around the source of this infamous riversong which leads pilgrims from across the land up to its gates.

Entranced, I watched as my fellow travelers delivered their gifts of idols and statuettes of the myriad gods and goddesses to exchange for board with the residents of Avatar. Each one is accepted and graciously placed with honor upon their windowsills. A birthing ritual of sorts, for this happened since anyone can remember - it may as well be since the dawn of time.

And so it is that when you walk through this city you truly feel as though you are in the company of the celestial, as their gentle frozen statuesque eyes follow you without judgment down the avenues.

Yet every year, they say, powerful winds come to flow through these city streets and ceremoniously topple all of these buddhas and shivas, all the christs and pagan animals kings, all the totem poles and television antennae, all the gargoyle demons and garden gnome angels, the fierce warrior gods of gun and tantric lovers yin and yang.

All of them, tumble from the window sills of Avatar, creating space for the newest wave of pilgrims and their latest symbols of the divine.

And we celebrate, knowing, temporal, mortal, breathing, alive.
 
The Rainbow Conspiracy
[ file under: The Human Zoo, The Gypsy Life ]

There are rainbows falling on the crowd around me. We are getting soaked under the shade cloth cloud. Punctured hoses wind around the scaffolding, shedding raindrops onto the mass of gyrating bodies below. Arms outstretched to drink it in. The sun above is smiling through the water, his teeth are all the colours in the colour wheel. All the shades are here. Blue Sky encompassing, sunburnt earth and skins. Dust covered sunglasses, barefeet babes, flip flop tribes. Lazy moments people watching in the hammock oasis, feet up as exotic fruits pass at the speed of pedestrians. The cars are locked out in the suburbia of tents that surround the stages - that pop up city of persian rug loungerooms, mandala sarong walls, blue tarpolin rooftops, gum tree shading, wind air conditioning, solar lighting, moonlight night visions last night lying under the hanging double helix sculpture, dangling from the branches of evolutions gum tree, ear to the ground I hear echoes of the many beats merging on the outer limits of the carnivale, the heartbeat at the psychedelic center. The are three stages; the sacred, market and mainstage which forming a triangular party zone in some sacred geometric pattern from the birds eye view, bush citizens wander through past sculpture parks and half naked traffic, sunkissed, dreadlocked, wind beaten, bass driven, sleep deprived and the newly arrived. Bedraggled morning fashion and smooth all-nighter feral chic, wholesome hippy chicks, urban escapees, refugees between worlds, the concrete jungle and the electric outback, we are, one and all.

Now I am an iris. A curious camera, recording light with words with hangover insight. Swinging from my hammock I watch the jewelry of piercings everywhere they can pierce and the tattooed graffiti of the flesh lovers dropping mathematic mandalas and celtic labyrinth fusions on back and shoulder canvas murals of the magic forest populated with pixies, faeries and elven folk flexing on the gallery of these skins; maori zebras, cosmic DNA octave chakra points, double helix shoulderblade wings, ancient heiroglyph forearms and belly button temples. Naked children run past, huge chinese fans hang from the armpit of paperbarks. They chai tent is overflowing with limbs and tiny giftgiving stoners. The healing space teepee filled with crystals and rocks of different frequencies emanates calm in the zoo. Beuna Vista trumpet cries from the cafe's renegade stage. An indian man skinning up next to me smiles at the passing scenery. An Australian flag flies from the gourmet spuds stall, and I realise, it's Australia Day! Proudly I sing to myself the anthem of my tribe; I am you are we are... mammalian.

There are couples sharing love flavoured icecreams on hammocks around me, as the parade continues; she's carrying an inflatable crocodile, he's dressed as a roman, trumpet dangling from his rope belt, red cloths and wraparound shades. A barechested man with pineapple dreads tied up, over, around pixie hats, utility belts of shells and seeds, pink neglige cutey with bindi foreheads, rainbow gypsy dresses twirling, psychedelic parasols spinning, headband hipsters huffing and puffing smoke, fluffy punks, spiky bedheads, tall lanky white long sleeve gurus, an elven girl with face paint, glitter cheeks, mascara eyes, wombat hat, batman shirt, fairy wing girl, fairy wing boy, fluttering along, a crowd watching the japanese soccerball busker who never lets the ball touch the ground gives out fair trade propoganda to a switched on crowd, children on shoulders eating organic corn, gourmet sausages, brattwurst and laksas. Mullets of all proud shapes parading, tribal pouches with patches, cowboy goddess, rustic blue singlet and beer swigging psychedelic bogan, the techno hippie, the digital feral, the eucalypt punk, the dust poet, the bush bohemian, the japanese sculptor, the post apocaylptic survival dance troupe, the vegetarian groovers, the musical tricksters, the humble goddesses, the israeli trance fundamentalists, the glitch genius on the decks stretching my physiology in chaos contortions trying to keep up with the nestegg of beats hatching through the speakers, the amateur shamans, the cynical city kids melting into the sweat and the sprinklers above the dancefloor and the acid melting the boundaries between matter and spirit and the rationalists giving away their fences too, I see inhibitions float like lost balloons in the sky, high on the zoo of costumes and persona, people watching with a pen and a piece of shade as bicycles low ride past, thai fisherman pants swagger, ripped sleeves flex, pirate strips hijack bare skin, Tolkien boots skip across the path, leopard strapless dress hunts the dancefloor with pattern spiral shade clothes above dappled with leaves and light, always moving, the wind, the beat, the dust, the leaves, the earth echo soles covered sun skin eucalypt crunching electronic beat sandwich bbq chatter laughing masquerades, costumes and the eternal carnival.

Forget the nuclear family, here's the quantum tribe in all it's shapeshifting forms. The city a myth of concrete too far away to matter, the nomadic instinct a new reality well established in this petri dish, never lost, always dancing around the edges of the dancefloor, free solar energy, eternal children of a nascent fractal future seeding the ground with sounds and experiments in the laboratory of festivity, art, socialism, and evolution that looks like dancing, that sounds like laughter, plays like gameshows with no rules, and everyones a winner, you cannot lose unless you want to - to lose yourself in the rhythm, letting go of ego, giving in to the frequency of play, fucking off the tv and opening the channels instead of switching from one to another, channelling dance, throwing away the remoteness, embrace the presence, we accept the present, unwrap it, cut the ribbon that ties it down, unveil the bridge and let the traffic through you, the journey in, you me us them, together on spaceship earth's bass engine crew, barefoot and dancing to the cosmic tune, BPM the speed of light shattered in the crystalline spires of this iris into seven heavenly pirates, abducting all of the visions we've ever known and tuning in through to life's secret plan to raise the vibration of the group mind with the simple recipe of heartbeats, solar energy, naked flesh and ecstasy. And of course, Love - Life's secret weapon to make us make more life. You Yin my Yang baby, and that's all I need to know, right here, right now, we be; the cosmic serpents rainbow conspiracy.

a song.

 
Shedding Skins
[ file under: The Gypsy Life, Pilgrimage, Dislocation ]

Everytime I travel I shed a skin
Or rather, I shrug off the self that had been growing on me,
vaguely holding me down…
The blur of trees past my window is like a washing machine. Washing through me as I watch them, flicker past.

Cast away ` , I feel free again, in some way. Fresh in my new environment. With the gift of perspective from where I had been, and who I had been whilst there.

Its like getting a haircut, cutting away the dead cells that accumulate from your bodies process of day to day routines.

When I become static its like I slowly forget who I am. Gradually, I become someone here, in this place. I become what people know of me. Who they think I am. Not what I know I can be. It’s just so easy to forget, caught in the soft cobwebs of routine. Running on autopilot.

And so when I move on, I let that me that go too.
Because even if I return I will never be the same.

When you are in love, or with a lover, they become apart of you, slowly your lives intertwine until you cannot think without your partner in the picture. I guess that’s why we call that unit ‘a couple’. After a while you forget how you can be alone.

Living somewhere is the same. Losing yourself amongst the mass movement of bodies. You become a citizen of somewhere. Like a cell in the social organism. Fulfilling career obligation to society or the economy. Accumulating assets and status symbols. You become attached to things, and they become attached to you.

My teacher said that nomadic cultures don’t just observe the land like tourists. They live the land they are traveling upon. It becomes apart of them. And when they move, they bring the ground with them.

I was watching Koyanisqaatsi yesterday. Reading it like a time machine played out on my tv screen. And as I saw the people in the film, I saw myself. In my car or walking the streets. Busy with my business. Like a cog in civilizations machine. Or a cell in its organism.

And I realized, watching this I was like an alien observing our world from outside it…
Or observing myself from the perspective of time and space. Because even though I could see our species in greater clarity, I can’t escape my place in it. No matter how conscious of how our lives run like the clockwork of some insane organic machine, I am still apart of it all. Maybe more aware somehow of this enormous natural force we call culture, or civilization, or whatever it is.

Its as inevitable as the weather.

You know, some people search their whole lives seeking to find answers from gurus and spiritual leaders. Seeking direction. Or meaning. Never realising that all they can every truly find is themselves.

Everytime I travel I shed a skin
And I learn who I am
A little more
Each time.


(penned whilst travelling around Australia in 2000)
 
Saturns Return
[ file under: Dislocation ]

Saturn has returned, and everything is different.

Is this how it happens? As if you have been travelling in a time machine and everyone is living one year into the future. Once close knit groups have scattered like cards left out in the wind, shuffling the deck. Some have gone, some remain. Some have forgotten that you ever even shared that intimate conspiracy of moments. They greet you like strangers, or traitors who defected to the other side, wherever that is. Others sing memories as if they were yesterdays blood. Their hearts still young, who know these friendships are beyond time that passes between breath... Brothers and sisters I'm looking for you in this jungle now. We made such a good secret society, don't let us all fall apart just coz we all got jobs. Just coz thats how they tricked you into thinking thats what growing up means. When you've quit the passion game and joined the legion of televisions. My fellow conspirators, what happened to you? Once I saw the glint of revolution in your cheeky grin. When you knew we could do anything. Did Saturn return for you too? Did she maul you at the gates of the party, and now you don't want to play anymore, so hungover from the party of your youth.

I have returned and everything is the same.

The earth has turned. How do we reconcile this old world with one we found out there. How can I make you understand the intensity of the moments we grasped in both hands and drank fresh from the source of the sky itself? How do we translate tales from the landscapes of mind which changed something in yourself so fundamental. And you wonder often if you have the patience to play this game anymore? Who is the umpire anyway?

I have returned and you have changed.

A year is a long time. Our lives are so pregnant now, it's that age I suppose. Old friends have birthed entire families since you were gone. Your ex-lovers have married, leaving you to wonder of what passing sparks you once shared, of possible roads you could have taken. Exploring the world together or rediscovering your own adventure, that seemed to be the choice we made. The touch of many skins, or the knowledge of one so deep it becomes as to your own. You watch some friends career onward into their passions, others rotate around their lifestyles reincarnating the same reality every moon. Neither coming nor going, they are just here. I smell wildflowers planted in this creative soil. Fruit blooms in their studios from the years harvest but I have only ripe memories that cast shadows in my minds incandescent sky to trade. And there are too many now. Too many to ever share...

I have returned and I am not the same.

How do we let each other know of the monarchy we found on those mountains inside, singing to the wind our royalty of soul? It's simple, we cant. We don't even need to try. We go on. Our lives have changed us - that is what it should do. This day does not repeat like old sitcoms. Choose Your Own Adventure.
We sail into new waters, new friendships, new lessons, new love. New chapters. New landscapes. New episodes.
Even new personas.

Everyone is still here.
But I am not anymore.
The world swallowed me whole.
I disappeared into it.
Who is this person that used my name?

As they say;
Life goes on.
And then it doesn't.
 
Sex and the Mega City
Perhaps it is the loneliness which comes from being surrounded by ten million people a day, crushed into the peak hour trains at Shinjuku station, yet never getting to talk to each other. Perhaps it is all those girls with knee high boots and the cult of kawaii that makes the girls here so damn cute. Perhaps its the repressed male sexuality of a culture where everyone lives at home till their 30 or married. Or maybe they just like it kinky.

Whatever it is, the game of sex is played slightly differently in the megacity of Tokyo. Delve beneath the polite surface of the immaculately clean streets and youll find back alleys full of Love Hotels, basement shops with bizzaro marital aids, and libraries of otaku manga soon to be sticky with semen.

Here's a few consumere items you can buy, to satiate the lustful energies of the neon jungle. Coming soon to a future near you.

The Buddha of the Big Dick. Actually not a Buddha at all, just an animist God that looks like the western image of Buddha, but it's easy to make the mistake.

So real, you might just fool yourself. Dont get amazed yet, just wait till htey marry this little lady to the cult of the robot...

Pre-pubescent sex dolls in a toy Shop vending machine, Akihabara

Futurotic (tm) Foot Masturbator - one of the most bizarre readymades just waiting to be exhibited in an art gallery...

"Bury your head in her breast, and you'll be a good sleeper." - "for nap", "as cushion" or "touch!"

One of the many displays of erotic figurines for sale at a normal(ish) toy shop, Akihabara

The hostess clubs are famous, but here's a host club, for all the lonely girls looking to meet a guy with nice spiky hair.

or maybe bestiality comics is more your flavour?

These thin black lines seem to be the extent of Japanese censorship. Rape - ok. Bestiality - ok. Pedophilia - ok. vagina? - oh... maybe we should cover it...

Baby-Mate Magazine - I wonder what their circulation is?

Now thats just fucked up.

Just a phone sex line, but I found this magazine taped to a lightpole in Shinjuku, a busy office district full of lonely salarymen perhaps.

Mre erotic figurines. The maid look is actualy the newest fashion here, with many new 'hostess' clubs specialising in girls who will wait on men hand and foot while dressed in this getup, speaks volumes about the state of the patriarchy.

Test your virility at home. Perhaps a big issue here too?

Maybe to help those with low sperm counts who are scared of all that love juice like in the comics?

Love Hotels are a Japanese phenomena due to such a huge majority of the youth still living at home some estimates are that most of the sex in Japan takes place i these rent by the hour spaces... (also the cheapest rent in Tokyo besides the capsule beds)

While the real porn has pixelated genitalia, no such rules exist fo the porn anime, oh yeah, except that they can't have pubic hair. Huge amounts of sperm all over the place seems to be common, at least as far as the covers tell us..

hmmmm... actualy im pretty sure this is an American import (made in China) - bad taste is everywhere.

and to end it a night of fake sex.... (actually from France)

The flipside to all this is the natre of sacred sexuality as worshipped in the traditional shinto culture. Perhaps this is part of the more liberal and accepting nature of Japanese culture toward sexuality, sometimes manifesting in the perverse or kinky?

These are old fertility statues which combine the male and female genitaliainto on hermaphroditic symbol. It's similar to the indian yantra or Star of David (although less abstracted), but the meaning is the same I believe. Yin and yang combined

 
the floating world


everyone sleeps here
calmly on public transport
trusting in strangers

on the train homeward
we close our eyes to escape
from the other eyes

rich man suit and tie
poor man in the homeless street
both dream of women

she has makeup on
commuting to the wild night
napping beforehand

in zen museums
the silent guard watches all
eyes rarely open

sleep always so close
half our lives somewhere beyond
a small taste of death

shared meditation
in the techno cities centre
no mobile phones here

with my eyes still closed
your kisses welcome me home
back to this body

my dreams like echoes
come back to me all day long
there is more to this world

on the other side
i made love to earth herself
would you be jealous?

always in motion
our heads sway with inertia
in this floating world
 
Excess Baggage
eight months ago i packed my melbourne life into boxes and a bookshelf, stored them in a warehouse in the backstreets of northcote and became light enough to fly over the sea.
Carrying my entire home on my back, the idea is really to keep your possessions down to a minimum or you become a slow moving mammal - or you just stop moving altogether. I came to collect experiences, but somehow objects from six different countries seem to fill my bags and weigh me down. Finally, I have reached the limit and I can't even close the zippers of my three bags. What the hell have i got in here anyway?

clothes;
3 x long sleeved shirt
4 x shirts
1 x vietcong uniform top (tailor embroidered with tree)
3 x t-shirts
3 x boxer shorts
1 x pin striped pants
1 x suit coat
1 x black cap
1 x yak cloth poncho
1 x tibetan woolly coat (fake yak wool)
1 x jeans (ripped to shreds)
4 x pants of different sorts
1 x bathing shorts
3 x pair of socks

technology
1 x apple macbook
1 x multi point extension cord
1x stereo to rca adaptor
1 x rca to rca connector
1 x aa battery recharger
2 x mobile phone (from japan and australia) and power adaptors
6 x mini dv's (full)
1 x pencil case with textas, pencils, watercolours, erasor, stanley knife, etc
1 x universal power adaptor
1 x apple hardrive (salvaged from old computer which died in thailand)
1 x external hard drive (and USB cord)
1 x video out to rca adaptor
2 x aa rechargable batteries

art materials
3 x notebooks (full)
1 x notebook (half full)
4x sketchbooks (full)
1x sketchbook (just begun)
3 x stencil cutouts
1 x pocket notebook (full)
1 x pocket notebook (in use)
1 x roll of vietnamese calligraphy paper
1 x set of colour pencils
1 x japanese calligraphy set
1 x colour pastels

toiletries
1 x toothbrush
1 x lonliqi chinese toothpaste
1 x packet of panadol
1 x packet of imodium
12 x condoms
1 x deodorant
1 x sunscreen (30+)
1 x tiger balm oil
1 x bar of soap

books
'the present history' by the contextual villains
'the inheritance of loss' by kiran desai
pocket interpreter (chinese)
martin walker's russia (martin walker)
'the tibetan book of the dead' translated by chogyam trungpa and francesca fremantle
lonley planet (japan)
lonely planet (china)
kyoto journal #65
'quotations from chairman mao'
undergrowth #6 - random molecules
'the narrow road to the deep north and other travel sketches' by matsuo basho
'my name is red' by orhan pamuk

dvd's
snapshots of the resolution (undergrowth)
2 x blank dvd's
'yellow star' book of dvd's purchased from vietnam, thailand and china
1 x cd - suara sana (japanese experimental)


miscellaneous
1 x sleeping bag
1 x hammock
1 x chinese zodiac compass (laos)
1 x wind up mao wrist watch (beijing)
1 x chinese chess set (travelling)
1 x hudertwasser badge
1 x cuban cigar
1 x scissors (for cutting hair and paper)
1 x taoist medallion (Tai Shan)
1 x small wood and metal pipe
2 x chinese spinning tops
1 x vietnamese incense (from Hue)
1 x sewing kit
1 x set of stowaway keys from random locks in australia
1 piece of a broken marble flute (shangri la)
1 x bag of international loose change (you never know)
1 x tokyo rail map (laminated)
1 x ceramic ocarina
1 x boomerang

~

I'm not quite sure how i managed to actually carry all of this across half the planet, but I'll admit machines have helped. and what kind of gypsy carries so many books?

time to send a package home.
oh shit... where is that again?

slow moving mammal (there's also a third bag on my back)

 
The Global Marketplace part 4
Merchandise from markets, street stalls, touters and supermarkets across China.

If any Nomadology readers have photos of other interesting items from around the world and would like to submit them for an upcoming booklet, please email me with them at: art(a)undergrowth.org

thanks

Since they make everything here, you can get counterfeit everything in China, including the huge counterfeit money trade. Not strictly something you buy, more what you end up with if you buy from the wrong person on the street.

Bin Laden's bust is one of the many display items in this apparently revolutionary Lijiang tourist sculpture portrait shop

Old skool Chinese porn, hidden inside this seemingly innocent piece of crockery. Gets the pulse going. Lijiang Markets

'Bolivar' cigars in a boutique Cuban Cigar shop in downtown Beijing where they had a photo of Mao himself puffing on the ol' Cuban. Slightly decadent for a pure communist leader, but the guy was only human right?

No part of the Chicken is wasted in cooking this meal, but no one at our table could come to eat the recognisable head of the hen at hand. Xuancheng, Sichuan

Brains for sale in Indian Restaurant. photo by Ben Donovan

Why even pretend that its a famous brand you are counterfeiting? Its just a fuckin shoe. Thats why I like Feike. Keepin' it real. - Shangri La, Yunnan.

Squirrels in a treadmill for sale on the side of the street. I've spent a long time here and Im beginning to forget if this is normal or not.

More ye olde porn, or is it an antique sex education book? Either way, it's classy. And the articles are great.

just some great old bric-a-brac at the Shangri La Horse Festival markets, incuding old tibetan coins, Mao badges, Yak horn, porn carved into bone and buddhist beads.

Only in other countries could a magazine get away with callig itself 'Cool'. All the trendy youngs Chinese things are reading it, Im sure

Apparently it tastes like Coke will, in ten years time!

Tibetan Caterpillar Fungus Drink. Quite nice actually. Smooth and sweet.

In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan everyone drives electric motorbikes and bicycles. They purr through the streets silently, cost about AU$500 and can drive 100k's on a full battery. Why aren't these machines everywhere in the fucking world?

The Electric Bicycle, perfected in China. All over the country, but nowhere else I have seen. Anyone wana go into business with me exporting them? Seriously.

A traditional Naxi voodoo doll... i think. Well hung and fun for all the family. Lijiang, Yunnan

Cutesy and slightly perverted percelain sculptures explaining how the traditional Chinese 'split pants' work. Im sure this will be big in Paris runways or Goa trance parties sooner or later.

Hemp seeds, full of essential oils are popular for their health benefits are for sale all over western China. Here they were a free condiment at the restaurant where we had breakfast.

A Geomancy compass used for Feng Shui readings far beyond my understanding. Lijiang Markets, Yunnan

Wake up and smell the Cultural Revolution. Mao's alarm clock, apparently part of the kitsch souvenir boom made in the 80's with his image.

Guevara AK-47 Whiskey. "a man"

apparently it IS good for your skin.

more skin whitener. its everywhere.

Pigs tails. Don't knock 'em till you've tried em.

chinese version of The National Inquirer

some of the huge variety of Chairmen Mao posters you can buy on the streets of China. Chengdu. Sichuan

This sticker was in the toilet of an underground reggae bar in Chengdu. Permits to Tibet can be very expensive and difficult to gewt, which explains why there is an underground system to get them.

holy yak skulls on sale in Shangri La, Zhogndien old town, on the edge of official Tibet.

'Tibet Water World Water' billboard in the Beijing Subway. Surely only one of the many resources being taken from thie region...

 
Three Moons


This is my last night in this country, after three months in a land that is too many lands for me to really think of as one, learning of a people that are more numerous than i can comprehend, yet who are one, even if by coercion. I've been watching the emerging global power lines, stumbling through industrial wastelands, seeking ancient culture scarred with a blank slate, meeting victims of the trauma of history which no one wants to remember, making contact across a border, only just beginning to awaken to the outside world after decades out in the cold war of isolation, watching the powerhouse factory of the world shouldering the pollution that comes with this mantle, hiking through ricefields and pristine mountaintops, listening to the dynamite rumble of development in the distance.

For three months i have walked these streets an oddity, a stranger who knows he is a little strange, an alien trying to get grounded in another planet. It doesn't matter how long i stay, i will always be a rare species in a sea of asiatic eyes and straight black hair here. People steal glances as I pass them on the street, or politely ask for my photo. Little kids laugh as we walk past dressed in our strange skins. The brave young english speakers make conversation on the bus or try to scam us with elaborate setups that involve tea ceremonies or art galleries where we are pressured to buy ludicrous prices, or made to feel guilty for wasting their time. Finding temples that are tourist attractions, and we are all spiritual consumers to the monks who demand money before we can enter their sacred walls and meditate on the cushion before their idols which expects generous offerings, not all, but enough to seem the rule. Learning that poor people are distrusted by the new middle class, so much they are used as the main excuse that there is no democracy; "They are uneducated you see..." Just like the size of the population. "How could you possibly govern 1.3 billion people?" is the question. "Democracy would not work here, there are too many people." But then mention the idea that some of those people would prefer to be independent and you are accused of wanting to break up the empire. China is one people. Don't you dare disrupt the enforced harmony is the edict from on high, taught to parrots in the schoolyard. People go to jail for suggesting such heresies in the newspaper, or they just disappear, so why should a foreigner feel they are confident enough to suggest such as thing? We don't know anything, it's true, except what cannot be printed in the media within these borders. I know democracy has its faults too. There is not a country in the world without a historic mess and a journey to clean its own backyard, but the purpose of internationalism is to learn from each other, not just to make money from the visiting foreigners. I didn't travel here to buy souvenirs. I came here to learn more than a newspaper could teach me, to demystify the world beyond the west, to question communism in the 21st Century and the shift to a free market, seek wisdom of spiritual traditions that date back thousands of years. Study the politics of a country which still controls its people in such coarse techniques, and which refuses to face up to to the horrors of the recent past. Where a megalomaniac who built a cult in his image subverted the ideals of equality to become an emperor in all but name, and is still revered as if a god... His statues in every town square, his face on every bank note, everywhere you look sometimes.

What i found was a complex ecology of political puppet strings and cultural threads, tightly wound around this country as it pulls itself out of a whole it dug for itself. A brilliant, powerful elder suffering amnesia, under the new spell of technology as much as any infant in the modernised world. I found agrarian societies that date back beyond the Greeks. I found minority cultures holding strong to their language and their culture in the face of overpopulation from the majority Han. I found a people who defer to authority, who cannot help but do so, who have given up politics to the elite. Who avoid confrontation that can only lead to heartache imprisonment, or worse. A rising middle class who are entertaining the spoils of capitalism and have forgotten the ideals of socialism. Who are told it is right to do so. Of billboard propaganda that has been copied from the western social laboratories par excellence. I found skies scarred with the grey cloak of carbon in megacities that span thousands of kilometres, smokestacks that shoot the sky like industrial weaponry, and steal the stars, turn the sun into a rumour at dawn from sacred taoist precipice where Monkey Magic was born, watching the sky fall in acidity onto grey city ghettoes which await the bulldozer of development planning boards to dislocate generations of locals. Of art that has just begun to crack open the great wall, not the one which the Mongols conquered, but the one the Communists built through destruction, of history, and lies in the form of revolution and poetry. I saw the pop cult of personality in Mao wind up wrist watches and lighters, badges and shoulderbags bought by ironic western consumers who didnt even bother to learn the real history. I saw the Dalai Lama hidden in lockets around the necks of Tibetan elders, behind closed doors in backroom altars, in temples on mountains where rainbows have fallen onto rocky hilltops, and passing trucks throw multicoloured prayers to the windspirits in celebration of the beauty that is everywhere. Children with split pants pissing into street gutters, helped by their mothers. Cowboys swaggering down dusty tibetan towns, flirting with gorgeous red cheeked beauties with jewelled braids that come down their back, rocks in ears, monks on motorbikes, wearing sunglasses, a thousand prayers wheels, the biggest in the world, pushed by Chinese tourists in a town they now call Shangri La, like a religious theme park.

I climbed mountains with musicians and acupuncturists, red robed chefs snorting snuff. Snorted K in the toilets of innercity nightclubs where we had to make the dancefloor by rearranging all the furniture, breakdancing till the dawn rose, smoking sheeshes of apple tobacco and hashish, blowing smoke rings to the sound of arabic drums, jamming in reggae bars next to rivers, learning tai chi next to tipis, skinnydipped in mountain top lakes, rode horses through cemeteries, saw taoist poetry carved into rockfaces, drove motorbikes across yak studded nomadic countryside, argued democracy with russians, taiwan with kungfu students, mao with beijing factory workers, tibet with law students, drinking bai ju and plum wine, tsingtao and great wall wine on the great wall which we climbed at night and slept upon under starry skies, escaping the city lights and tourist droves. I painted walls in every state i visited, swapped art for food and lodgings, gave away all my portraits, played street fighter arcade games against local tibetan kids below a monestary in Litang, got robbed of colour pens by young monks there too, drank yak butter tea with a teacher, then taught english and astronomy of the solar system in a primary school to giggling girls, played chinese chess with street vendors, cooks, artists and travellers, read propaganda newspapers full of lies and half truths, and understood another dimension to the manufacture of dissent, slept in overnight hard sleepers, stayed awake in day long bus trips followed by rainbows, spent a week hiding from the rain gathering thoughts, drank mohitos and painting above a bar called the sexy tractor, rode through rice fields and city streets filed with eletric bicycles and wandered confusedly through entire city blocks of mobile phone dealers, climbed the great wall under the cover of darkness with friends, waking to the dawn of a wonder of the world, hours before the tourists even arrived, got turned away from tempes when i refused to pay, was invited in to others when i asked to sit and draw, slept in dorm rooms full of intricate multicoloured designs on every inch of the rof and wall, playing card games and smoking blunts with kids from every continent in the world, got hustled in pool by dark skinned cowboys smoking cigarettes, fell in love with countless nameless beauties, wishing i could speak their language, tempting myself to aty and do so at every town, never quite denouncing the possibility of doing so in the future, playing marble flute at waterfalls and dropping it on unforgiving rocks, splitting it in to, watching dogs and cats make love, meditating in a circle of incense in mountain engulfed in clouds, watching the dawn with an army of tourists behind us, all clothed in the warm folds of the red armies green duffel coats, shared a drunken threesome, shyly kissed a princess, lamented a muse with coffee skin, found satori in the skin of an indian goddess, saw the most polluted city in the brave new babylon, where sweat itches and skyscrapers disappear in the clouds of industries cough, fell asleep on zen mountaintops, made peaceful protest, meditating on the centre of tiananmen square, argued with arrogant taxi drivers trying to take me for a ride, avoided death on chaotic street corners so anarchic they would make guy debord proud, dreamt deep oceans on mountain tops where memories take longer to evaporate come dawn, wandered through wild forests of marijuana, drank from the stream of wisdom where confuscious once sat, sang quietly to myself walking along tiger leaping gorges, telling tall tales and anecdotes late into the night, smoking herb with local mountain climbers, singing with kids, drawing sigils on their arms, rolling down hills, rejecting pimps and their clubs of hostesses and vague prostitution, climbing over walls to get in past curfew, watching my friend fall through the roof and almost break his back, wandering through the basecamp of skyscrapers high on poor mans cocaine, watching the spell of dawn again and again and again..

three moons under the reincarnated empire of the east where cranes are still building the cities from mountains that have housed ten thousand years of soul. never enough, but long enough to learn a thing or two about myself, if nothing else...

only three months i have lived here,
travelling by land
to the eastern edge of planet
and tomorrow i sail away
off the edge
of the world






 
Brave New Babylon
[ file under: The Human Zoo, capitalism and communism ]



I feel like I've seen the end of the world, or the beginning of a new one. The air, heavy as lead, swallows the skyscrapers just down the road. It fills the sweaty streets of Mega City One with a haze so thick you can see it collect on the horizon. Around these cities for miles and miles, the whole country is coated in this thick curtain, from here to the eastern seaboard. Sometimes the blue sky comes out, and it seems so alien, like miracles. The effect is ethereal, as though some grand murder mystery were taking place; 'Who is responsible for the death of nature?' I wonder, walking these streets, trying to avoidthe acid rain.
Was it humanity? The industrial virus? Capitalism? All of the above?


Or perhaps the mystery is how we can come to live this way and let it become normal. This is not the first city to ask this question of me, it will not be the last. Adaptation. It's our forte. From the arctic temperatures of the north pole to furnace of the deserts, we can do it all, us humans. If we can't adapt we must alter the environment to adapt to us. The same goes for this city life. Air conditioners on every building will surely solve the crisis, or maybe it will be virtual reality that saves the day. The new coal power stations will burn brighter to fuel them. Shopping will distract us. Art will entertain us. Love will still make us happy. And when it does all end, well be too busy to notice it all anyway. Overwork will already have consumed our will to live.

In Beijing I stayed five minutes walk from Tiananmen in a busy nearby Hutong, that has survived the gentrification that has claimed so many other public housing areas. Steam rises from the dumpling baskets making me hungry. Satays cooked on the busy streets are aromatic flavour for the grey painted streets. Spruikers sell Maoist memoribilia to the pop culture tourists of the west. They must think we really like him the way it sells so well to tourists, these badges, clocks, wind up watches, posters, and stencil style bags with his faces - they're all here - right next to pictures of Che Guevara and Bob Marley. At a club one night with graffiti all over the walls except for a Chairmen Mao framed picture, I am told by a local girl that Mao has come to represent a kind of underground cool in the face of the ubiquitous capitalism. Somehow he has been reinvented as a counter culture icon for a new generation. Further down the street there are people selling squirrels in cages and three wheeled rickshaws are plowing through the pedestrian traffic. Above us, trough the everpresent knot of powerlines, a flock of homing pigeons fly silhouettes against the grey daylight. Children are dancing out the front of their parents shops to attract customers. Someone approaches me to buy a counterfeit American DVD, like they always do. I escape in to a dumpling shop and eat lunch to gather my thoughts dipped in soy sauce. Drinking Coke has never appealed to me as much as in a communist country like this. Its fizz tastes like sugary capitalism, but its outside is red. I wonder if the heroic poster of Mao on the other side of the street would agree.

Every day thousands of families line up for photos at Tiananmen Square. They come from all over China to sit on newspapers waiting for the flag raising ceremony at dawn and dusk. The dying sun watches like a red puncture in the counterfeit sky. Behind the flag is the Forbidden City where the Emperor once lived, to the left the National Parliament which causes the entire area to be closed off whenever something is actually happening. To the right is the National Museum, with the countdown clock to the Olympics ticking its way toward global domination. This is surely the centre of the Middle Kingdom and Mao's benign visage watches over the whole scene from atop the entrance to the Forbidden City, a kind of god in a country that is officially atheist. He is staring at the memorial behind us, his own mausoleum where his elmbalmed body remains a shrine to his everpresent legacy. Was Mao the glorious incorruptable architect of Red China which has all been left behind or the megalomaniac who put everyone else in his Govenrment in prison when they threatened his supreme power? Don't try and ask anyone, they wouldn't read about that history here. Unlike Russia during perestroika and glasnost, China has chosen not to open these wounds just yet. The bruises are still raw and red, so the schoolkids are still taught that Mao was the greatest leader of all time, less they lose face, and the newspapers mostly keep mum. Many conversation I have had with young people give the impression that it was only he that freed the nation from imperialism and corruption. This, the same man who inspired an entire generation of Red Guards to take up arms against their parents, against their culture, against their own history, destroying Taoist monestaries and crippling the spirituality of a three thousand years. Jailing intellectuals and scaring everyone away from speaking about politics for another fifty years. In Beijin I finished the very famous book 'Wild Swans' where the author describes her own inculcation into the cult of Mao. She tells of a time when school lessons were thrown out of the window and teachers jailed, and children were read the latest speeches by Mao everyday. Waving his little red book they would search the houses of suspected 'capitalist roaders' or 'reactionaries' looking for proof of their treachery, often using violence, never giving fair trial. She describes in enormously powerful detail how a whole country could be enthralled in the madness of of this political feeding frenzy, either horrified and scared or militant and fascist. Only when Mao died could this collective spel be lifted, and the China we see growing today could become what it is. It is one of the most profound and moving books I have ever read. For obvious reasons it is not for sale in China. The propaganda these days is that Mao was 70% right, 30% wrong, whatever that means. No specifics. His crimes were too great to expose yet, just wait another generation. It would cost too much to replace every single note of Yuan for a start.

"Change the things you don't like, and adapt to the things you can't change." I am told by one young business student in Chengdu when I am painting a mural of a city being overrun by greenery. On the edge of what was once Tibet, she tells me that she believes the Dalai Llama abandoned his people and now lives in a palace in India, that he only serves himself, amongst other distorted viewpoints fed straight from the official line. We discuss Taiwan as well, which she assures me is still apart of China. "Just go there and see." she tells me. The students at the Universities are all aware that there media is being filtered, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have any idea what kind of information isn't getting through. Most don't care. Politics, of course, is one of those things which you can't change, so why get worked up about it? The only tangible way left to make a difference is to make money then, which is exactly what everyone is trying to do. She tells me she wants to go to Australia and learning English so that she has more career options. Politics is boring. I realise of course, that most young Australian's aren't much different, and would prefer not to think about politics if they didn't have to. Having a democracy doesn't necessarily mean anyone uses it very well.

But now of course, everyone in the world keeps talking about how China is destined to become the Next Great Superpower, so this issue is becoming more and more urgent to us liberals in the west. We all watch how this monolith of country is racing fast toward that idea, eager to defeat America at its own capitalist game. They've upgraded the program though, ditched the free speech plug-ins (it just gets in the way). I call it Capitalism 2.0 - The Next Generation. Don't ask about the human rights problems, no one will answer you anyway. The media has its hands tied in perfect red tape knots. But big questions remain in everyones heads; like how is it that no workers in the biggest communist country in the world can form a union? Somehow a new generation of rich industrialists have risen up who are willing to poison the ecology, abuse their workers and break the laws, but here there are no journalists or activists to catch them out. Minorities seeking representation, but being refused because they are not atheist. And what about independence for Tibet? Well, as far as I can tell, having that discussion in the open in China is a long long way away. Most don't even know that there is an independence movement in the first place.


As for this polluted cityscape that has become normal life for twenty million people? Life goes on, doesn't it. It's a big city, so it has a great nightlife, drugs, clubs, hookers in the massage parlours or the karaoke bars (if you can afford it of course). People adapt you see, and the new Olympic Stadium looks fantastic. Don't worry they will shut down the factories two weeks before the games so that the blue skies will come out on cue. In the meantime, more skyscrapers are being built. The nouveau riche are busy buying out the new shopping malls too. The farmers in the rural outskirts are aware that they missing out. The city swallows them as migrants. It eats the landscape as it grows fatter, drives away its animal kingdom. Crushes rock and blows up mountains (but only the non sacred ones), and churns out concrete. It swallows the dreams of its people and broadcasts them back as television and advertising. Digests their lust and their angst and uses the bile to sell. It dines on our dollars, whatever form they take, and belches out carbon clouds from the million exhausted exhaust pipes. It's the same city, the same industrial virus all over the world. And the answer to the greatest murder mystery is that no one is responsible - it's just history taking place right in front of our eyes. No one can stop it either. The economic cats out of the bag now, all those in power can really do is try and keep it under control.

This sleeping giant has woken. It spawns megacities overnight. Coal power stations pop up in the blink of an iris. Shengzen is a case in point, from fishing village to 15 million people in just one decade... I am told by one local that Chonqing is now the biggest city in the world.. Or is it Beijing? Who knows anymore? Half the migrants don't even register. They say the One Child Policy has also influenced many families not to register their new children too, for fear of punishment. The population is hungry. It needs more energy than this little planet can provide. Forget the west, they'll be trading with Dubai, competing for the next centre of the world within a decade or two, just watch they tell me in the filtered press. Its the new new world order, and it feels like blindness, like watching mountains grow out of newly minted coins, like consumer ecstasy, a soft pink fascism, an ecological holocaust that has already happened when I ride intrains along the east coast and look to the skies for hundreds of kilometres, but it is never there. The new new world order is upon is. Huxley was right, It's bravely breaking free of tradition and its making itself new; and its Babylon all over again, with another face, another time, another place.

The Brave New Babylon.

they sell cheese with these burgers

waiting stoically for the dusk flag raising ceremony.

subliminal messages while commuting to work

the classic little red book painting, for sale at the Forbidden City art gallery shop.

grey skies blue

babylon; under construction - the new CCTV (national broadcaster not surveillance network) buildings

the broken rainbow sculpture. im not sure what its supposed to mean.

A communist statue next ot the Mao Mausoleum

count down

the wet streets of our hutong in the morning

Tiananmen is a popular place for kites and photographs, but not protests. Never happened.

young child at the dusk flag raising ceremony

 
The Global Marketplace 3 - Tobacconista
The most popular drug in the world...

'Falling Rain' from Thailand

'Wonder' from Thailand

'Angkor Cigarettes' from Cambodia

'War Horse' from Vietnam

In Vietnam these big tobacco bongs were everywhere. Even police smoked them on the side of the road.

Although I don't smoke, Im always interested in tasting the customs and hanging out with the locals

*cough!* - one cone in one breath. actually it got me quite... and a little bit queasy.

In China, everything is bigger, including the bongs like this, smokin out the front of the supermarket.

Snuff; in the loving hands of our Tibetan guide on a pilgrimage to his temple in Lijiang

American Spirit - on sale in Japan.

In China there are no health warnings on the cigarette packets which, on the contrary often describe the beauty of the natural landscape you might want to imagine while puffing on their cancer sticks.

'Hope Cigarettes' - for sale in one of the million strong Japanese vending machines.

TIME - The Power Brand - Cambodia, Siam Reap... (i like the 'West' branding at the very top too...)

Life. Full On. - what a slogan for something that kills you. I Love the irony of zen imagery mixed with a man in a business suit, which is perfect, since it's from Japan.

Chinese' PRIDE. As represented by the Panda on a cigarette packet.

He picked me and my friedn up from the morning dumpling and soup house we loved and invited us to join his family at the Buddhist temple on the edge of town.

The taxi dropped us all off at the bottom of the mountain and we had to walk the rest of the way, much to the regret of his family dressed in their sunday best. He must have been about sixty years old, but with he stayed well ahead of the rest of us...

This made me laugh. HONERED CIGARETTE RETAILERS plaque at a 711 in Chengdu, Sichuan China. A fine and honorable trade indeed.

 
The Middle Kingdom


As my bus began to rise into the mountains of Yunnan, the south western corner of China, I fell into a deep sleep, exhausted from my hard seated overnight train ride from Vietnam the night before. When I woke the landscape had become shrouded in a soft blue lense of mist as raindrops crawled across the window. Though the blur of pine trees I peered down at endless terraced valley of rice paddies where tiny blue figures knee deep in the water were harvesting the grains that keep a billion people fed. On the side of the road women were carrying huge bundles of sticks tied to their bent backs and pulling old wooden carts of straw. Men smoke huge tobacco bongs lazily out the front of their tiny shops which seemed nevertheless packed full of an entire supermarket. Sometimes all the stock is just piled on top of the tables in a mess of merchandise. We passed village after village of sleepy medievil architecture with satellite dishes poking above the mudbrick walls and arched terracotta roofs. Through the misty horizon, the silhouette of stone age gates to hilltop vistas and temples vie for real estate with the encroaching powerlines and telecom towers. On the other side of the valley, village after village curve at the edges like wings in an ancient architectural feng shui. We passed slow carbon spewing third world tractors with bonnetless engines with exposed fanbelts and handlebars which look like the horns of the water buffalo they must have recently replaced. Our bus was in turn overtaken by shiny SUV's and sports cars which race around the mountains bends beeping warnings as they pass the villagers like sneak previews into the future, or advertisements of the wealthy lifestyles of the city people who are racing ahead in the new economic boom.
And I remember why I am here.;

There is something awesome and mythical about China, something ancient and powerful that I want to understand, if I am to know anything about this part of the world. Here is one of the worlds greatest and oldest civilisations which traded with the Roman Empire at it's height, fell to the Mongols, resisted the Russians, the English and the Japanese imperialists and now looks to supercede the United States in the next few decades. A land born of confuscian discipline, cultured in taoist poetics, abundant with kung fu mythology. A buddhist heartland where all religions were smothered in the cultural revolution's atheism. Where the legacy of Maoist communism is now giving way to free market of global capitalism, making it the factory of the world. In the last ten years, it has undergone the greatest single human migration in the history of the world, with over 500 million people flocking form the rural areas to the new mega-cities. But for many of these rural people, the modern age that already dominates the mega cities to the east has only barely begun to pierce their lives. But change is hapening, and in these contridictory countryside landscapes it is as if you can see one of the largest agrarian societies in the planet racing headlong into it's own industrial revolution with all the problems, pollutions and class struggles that that implies. Here you can travel back and forward in time merely by travelling from city to countryside and find a people that have endured thousands of years of emperors and dynasties uniting and disbanding the many tribes under the banner of one kingdom. The Middle Kingdom, known in the west as China, right in the middle of the greatest change in it's long, long history.

Travelling through south east asia, these changes loomed like a oncoming footsteps of a giant on the edge of town. While Thailand is it's own economic force, the rumbling echoes of China's newfound industrialism can be felt strongly through Laos and Cambodia where investment from newly rich Chinese businessmen and government grants is funding the infrastructure those governments cannot afford to create, like big fucking roads that will change everything in a very short time. In the mountains of northern Laos I stayed in a sleepy village of wooden huts where a new Chinese built bitumen highway was still sticky and glistening. The lorries full of northern exports were already roaring through on their way to the ports of Cambodia, watched dolefully by herds of free running cattle, scholchildren and novice monks from their temple on the hill. As we kicked around the cane ball I had bought from Thailand, I wondered if they knew what changes this new highway would bring. If they feared, welcomed or even understood what it would mean for their beautiful village life. Whether they even had a choice if they did.

It's overbearing shadow continues further south in the rumours of plans to build highrises on the other side of the river of the jewel that is Luang Prabang for the expected tourist boom of newly wealthy middle class. Or the whispers about the plans to set up a hydroelectric dam at the Chinese end of the Mekong River which runs from Tibetan Plateau down into the neighbouring countries of the south. I spent two months following that river the whole way down the spine of the Laos and into Cambodia and then finishing in Vietnam where it meets the sea. One night I was staring into the river's reflection of the clear night sky and it's splatter of starlight in the four thousand islands that border Cambodia and I realised the Mekong was more than just a river. It is actually the beautiful and endangered naga serpent which is revered throughout all these countries. It is the lifeblood of this region, sustaining hundreds and hundreds of traditional fishing and farming villages the whole way down it scaly rippled freshwater body. I realised I had fallen in love with its people as I travelled through their lands and the more I was seduced by their humble way of life the more I began to fear the overbearing presence of the giant that lay to the north. Laos for instance has a population of 7 million, compared to the forty in the state of Yunnan alone, just over its northern border, almost twice the population of my own homeland, Australia. I wonder how this much population of China comprehensible to anyone?

In Vietnam, where the Chinese ruled for 1000 years before being repelled by a now mythical warrior king, a great deal of distrust continues this day. In a jazz bar in Hanoi I met a businessman who had worked out of Taiwan and China for the last fifteen years. He told me that it was a mistake to think of China as one country. Instead, he told me, it makes more sense to understand it as a conglomerate of nations, like the European Union - only thousands of years older so the borders have become more fluid but they still exist. He went on to explain that within China there are dozens of different states, each with their character. Hundreds of different ethnic groups, many different languages which coexist with the dominant Mandarin and multiple independence movements beyond just that of Tibet and Taiwan. In short, it is more than just a country. It is an an ancient empire.

All over the world, commentators constantly speak of China becoming the next great superpower of the world, but when you are smack bang in the middle of the asian sub-continent, there is no might be, there is the reality of a country that has been a superpower for thousands of years. The rest of the planet is just about to wake up to this fact.


hemp grows wild throughout China, although aparently most locals don't even know it is a drug. Eating the seed is popular for its health benefits though.

A street poster encouraging the One Child Policy

 
Animism
[ file under: Ecology ]

A friend once told me that every animal you meet is an envoy from the non-human world - an emissary of the gods which have inspired evolution of the forms which life has taken. Each of them whispering quietly to us, in language more profound than any words, that there is more to the earth than the politics and culture of humans.

'Consciousness is everywhere.' they tell me in a million different ways.

'The world is alive.'

Kia measures the size of the largest moth we have ever seen, at the mountain top temple at the heart of Luang Prabang

little pigsy comes to greet me in his bashful way at this Hmong village in the northern mountains of Laos

An old spirit in a young body, Dali Lunar Festival markets

squids which can change their colour to communicate emotions in Halong Bay floating village aquafarm

a flurry of life in the air next to our house on Ko Mak, Thailand. These insect swarms always make me think of a presence which only the insects are aware of.

what the mind looks like up close

A swarm of tadpole consciousness on the trek out of The Gibbon Experience, Boekeo, Laos

a gecko clinging to the backlit signage of a thai massage parlour, Soi Rambuchee, Bangkok

A bird. Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

After growing up in a city which is rife with Box Jelly Fish for half of every year, it was only in Thailand that I was ever stung by this one, which we had to catch to make the beach safe again. My scars only lasted a few days.

This poor mangy kitten appeared as if no on ehad ever given it a pat, but Cautious was happy to give it some love.

A peaceful bug of unknown title crawls upon Cautious' skin, his Hemingway tattoo the landscape to the scene, Vang Vieng, Laos

This was only one of the many caterpillars I would find stuck in my paint every morning while doing a mural in Bangkok.

Two young bears held in captivity at the Luang Prabang waterfall's park. Supposedly a wildlife park, at nighttime we found these beautiful intelligent cubs locked up with their parents in these cages...

this pet monkey had a particular liking to my friends Swedish copy of the Tibetan Book Of The Dead at the infamous Reggae Bar, Don Dhet, Laos

one of the many coloured dragonflies which came to say hello in the Bokeo Forest of Laos.

A speck of phosprescence, illuminated in the sands of Ko Mak. The children thought it was a fairy. I told them that perhaps it was true.

 
Instant Illiteracy
[ file under: the language code, Dislocation ]



Instant Illiteracy is what happens when you cross the borders of any new country. Suddenly you are surrounded by streets full of intricate squiggles, where street signs or sales pitches should be. Humans who seem to speak in a highly sophisticated gibberish are everywhere, on the intercoms you hear the most incomprehensible squawks which are probably telling you something you need to know. You can take nothing for granted. You are child again and everything is new.

This is the fifth time I've crossed a border in as many months, with language, culture and politics changing each time, so I thought I was getting the hang of it - but China is a whole other story. Story? Its an entirely different bookcase. A different library, the words written downwards not across. Backwards not forwards. In complex calligraphic brushstrokes to boot. I very soon learn that virtually no one speaks English here, at least at that I can find in my first 24 hours. And unlike the more open and tourist friendly people of south east asia, they don't seem to want to try and understand my bad western attempts to pronounce the complex accents of their amazing language. I am a deaf, dumb, mute now. A microbe in an enourmous petri dish. A tiny speck of the west, blown like a leaf over the border by the wind of curiousity. Watch me confuse taxi drivers and amuse children on the street pointing at my strangely coloured hair and big feet. Any attempts at bartering for my hotel room or food is ridiculous when I have to learn how to count from scratch again. Er... how much was that dumpling? I pass the street vendor my thirty yuan, but she laughs at my bluff, giving me 27 back in change. Oh I see. San, not San Shi. Of course. that would have been how much it costs in MY country...

In 'The Spell of The Sensuous', author Dave Abrams writes about the way language transforms our consciousness. He analyses the way we train ourselves methodically to understand the strange mouth noises emitted by our parents and then ape them clumsily before slowly figuring out the rules of the game. The same goes for the written word and it's development. He tells the story of how the shapes and squiggles that have evolved into the modern alphabet came from magical origins, artworks channelled by shamans and wise men and women of the old world, infusing these glyphs with meaning. Nowadays, in the hi-tech modern scientific, globalised age it is easy to take for granted the ubiquitous nature of language all around us, forgetting what a strange and magical acoustic technology it really is. That is, until we are thrown back into the world of an infant by crossing the border of culture and stepping into a new and totally foreign culture.
Then you realise that words are actually a highly sophisticated form of telepathy, funnelled through the medium of sound. Or at least thats what I was beginning to think when absolutely nothing I heard or spoke was making sense anymore.

I'd been warned about this of course. Everyone in the well worn trails I had come from will tell you that South East Asia is travellers paradise compared to the seemingly impenetrable fortress of the immense Chinese empire. But its a beautifully humbling experience to be so out of your element too. To realise that you are also an exotic beast which Chinese tourists want to take photographs of. I totally inverses the usual tourist/local divide. To be stared at blankly by young children next to me in the bus, or otherwise ignored completely ? There is always a way to communicate through the barrier. We employ strange hand signals to explain the simplest concepts possible. Childhood games of charades at suddenly become invaluable training for directing taxi drivers to the hospital. You rely on the kindness of strangers, the professionalism of bureaucracy, or failing both of those things, the universal language of money.
Somehow though, with only a 'Nihao' to my vocabulary I manage to get through customs unscathed, but only just.


"Where is your guidebook?" says the young soldier in the first English I hear in the country, motioning to the bag which had gone through the metal detector. I am embaressed to say that I am carrying a stupid amount of books which I had bought from the infamous counterfeit book trade in Cambodia, but still haven't managed to finish a month later. He want to have a look at them all. He carefully inspects my almost finished copy of The Life Of Pai, leafs through the pages Murikami's 'Hardboiled Wonderland and The End Of The World' that I haven't even begun and probably has no idea what Hakim Bey is saying in 'Millenium' about black magic capitalism and the apocalypse culture (I get a bit lost in that one too). He looks more intrigued at the scraggly bunch of sketchbooks and writing pads I have somehow filled and not yet been able to bring myself to send back home.
I know what they were looking for though; The Lonely Planet guide to China which the government has censored here due to the fact that it depicts Taiwan as not part of China (Along with other numerous controversial references and historical footnotes which go against the official line). Luckily I had been warned about this possibility by a group of French bicyclists who I had met while changing my Ho Chi Minhs for Maos at the currency exchange on the Vietnam side of the border. It's so easy for cynical travellers to be critical of The Lonely Planet for sanitising the adventure of travel and aiding in the colonising of whole strips of tourist trails, but I have a lot of respect for our little Australian company that has chosen not to bow to the Chinese over it's political censorship. If the government notices you, then you are doing something right goes the anarchist saying, about the complete opposite to the Ancient Chinese Curse I was recently told:
'May You Come To The Attention of The Authorities."

Finally he comes upon the 'genuine counterfeit' copy of Nomadology I have left from the dozen I had made in Cambodia. He looks at the map of the world suspiciously and calls over another officer. Together they talk with each other for a minute in an alien dialect, but I understand what they are saying. Finally they let me through, and stuffing my impractical luggage into my bags I walk through the automatic doors into another world where everything is new.

Wandering down the road to the transit center, I sit down and dig out the phrasebook I was given in Laos months ago which will quickly become my best friend in this country, saving my ass many a time. I've never needed one before, but before long I swallow my pride and take to carrying it everywhere, close to my heart, like a lifeline. Although I did start reading it in Vietnam, nothing has yet sunk in and I begin to re-leaf through it's various categories looking for something that could work like a secret password into the bus station attendant's mind. I am soon enchanted to discover that China has a long history of poetry that has been absorbed into the everyday phrases, similar to Shakespeare in English. The one which stands out to me today is:
"Like A Hunter Waiting For A Rabbit To Kill Itself By Running Into A Tree" which essentially means; trusting dumb luck to get you through. Oh yeah, I understand that one. Alone. Wordless. In a totally new world. Way out of my depth. All if which is a great new challenge.

It just means there's a lot to learn.
 
The Global Marketplace part 2
[ file under: capitalism and communism ]

More exotic shopping possibilities than I ever dreamed of.

A traffic cop watches the obelisks for sale at a roadside shop across the road. These kind of large rocks are very popular for carving auspicious symbols into in China.

Insects, lizards and testicles at the Dali markets, Lunar Festival, 2007

Lizard on a stick. Tastes great with a bit of sweet chilli. Trust me.

Mao's Little Red Book is mostly for sale on the second hand market these days, but his paraphernalia is everywhere.

If I had studied Traditional Chinese Medicine I might realise this is a treasure trove of healthy goodness. But it looked like a pile of dead snakes nd turtles to me. These guys had loud speakers to sprouk with too... Dali Markets, China

I am told that it's actually not that long ago that cow tongues were also sold in Australian butchers. Now meateaters are more squeamish about what they know they are eating. In Hanoi's old town markets in Vietnam however, it is a delicacy.

A young boy persuses the merchandise at this simple streetside aquarium. Dali, China

This little guy only has a limited time in this size cup. Turtle soup or turtle pet? I dunno.

This was one shop on a street that sold exclusively in toys in Hanoi's old quarter, Vietnam. Rather than huge department stores and malls, entire streets cover one theme. This road was known as Fluffy toy lane.

I found dried squid for sale in Thailand and Vietnam but, not surpisingly quite rare in the landlocked countries inbetween. This is at the markets of Hanoi's old quarter.

Actually I found that the salty flavoured Con Ca Muc (dried squid) tasted quite good with a glass of Bia Hoi.

The amount of people wearing facesmasks on the streets of Vietnam has created a whole fashion market of it's own. This reaction to urban pollution is only the beginning. Rest of the world, take note.

Cling wrapped is the ONLY way to buy a Buddha statue these days. The owner of this place asked me for money after I took this photo, then laughed when I acted outraged. Cheeky Buddhist merchants - watch out for 'em. - Hanoi, Vietnam

Dear genitalia is good for so many things. Unfortunately for the deers, Chinese humans think so too. Dali markets, China

The same goes for deer antlers.

Here, the antler is for sale in convenient slices. A Chinese medicine I also once found for sale in Richmond, Australia. Not sure whats it for though. I hope it's not another virility drug though, we have enough people in this world -and not enough deers.

Although he might be horrified at the iea, Ho Chi Minh has become a new idol for the people of Vietnam. This is just ome of the merchandise available at his mausoleum (which he never wanted apparently - traditional cremation was his first choice.

As for what the atheist Mao would think of his image being for sale at amongst other gods and statues at this Shangri-La gift shop, who knows. The communist cult of personality lives strong though, was it also just another opiate for the masses?

I was told these guys were selling Skin Whitener - very popular thoughout Asia where to lok white means that you dont work very hard (ie. inside). The perfect irony as people across the western world pay for tanning lotion, solariums and the like...

 
Lets Not Talk About Politics
[ file under: Politics, Sex, Love and Travel, The War Machine ]


i met a girl tonight,
eyes shining warm
smiles and magnetic curves
as we played the game of flirts
laughing at pool table poker faces
cheating at boule
dancing in the dusklight,
and i wanted to kiss her
like i wanted to breathe
until the bar was closing,

and then
in a quiet moment
which could have been filled with ten thousand things

i fucked up

and asked
about the politics
in her country.
which was
called

israel.

she told me of serving army
before she had come here.
how it was not so bad,
they made it easier.
being a girl...

then i could not help but speak
the question that so many share,

i said;
will this never end?
this domestic violence
these sparring partners
which runs like scars
through decades past
as far as we can see
into the future which repeats
itself
to in finitum

she told me; No.

You Do Not Understand.

i said;
how to understand
this endless kamikaze
i watch this desperate television,
torn by walls and bullets
with no voicebox,
but a bomb.

she said:
the media lies
and no one knows us
biased it is,
always against us
when it is they
who will never settle
for this peace,
we offered them

i said,
i am your friend,
as many are in everywhere
can no one come between?
to mediate the message
that is peace

she said;
she did not understand,
and no one can.
but she was sure that she knew
what was right.

so we said;
'lets not talk about politics'
in a pact to bury the silence
uncomfortable questions
under superficial conversations,

but it was too late...
a cloud had fallen
between our games
in my stomach
in our hearts

reality cutting in to the bar stools
that held us up,
that carried our weight.

soon after that
she left
with her friends

and i wondered
why the fuck

i can't not talk

about politics.
 
Crumbling Empires
[ file under: Travellers and Tourists, The War Machine, Politics ]



We were picking through the ruins of a once great empire today. Watching how temples and palaces built from stone could crumble under the weight of a million raindrops. How the trees could wind their threaded limbs around the most permanent of architecture, and slowly drag them down to earth, crushing them into rocks and then perhaps finally dust over time. We passed stoic stone gods and warriors with broken faces who stand their ground still, defiantly surrendering to the slow decimation at the hands of the elementals who must be responsible for this vandalism. Time moves slow here, if you let it, and if you can avoid the busloads of tourists who click their way noisily through the ruins. When you do let the silence find you though - hiding behind a broken wall or under a half demolished bass relief of hindu cosmology - it as if this world were still hundreds of years behind us. With each step, through each stone portal, we travel further back into the world as it was. Trying to imagine the glorious previous incarnation of this corpse, when it pulsed with living culture, when gardens were tended, and people were housed. When royalty and priests frequented these grounds daily. When the most brilliant artisans of a civilisation at it's height competed for the chance to etch their visions into these stone tablets. When the Khmer empire ruled these lands a proud and powerful kingdom.

On the outskirts, children from the future are begging barefoot. Trying to sell us books which detail more recent atrocities they cannot yet understand. Just to check i ask one boy 'Do you know what this book is about?', pointing at the autobiography of Pol Pot. He tells me No, Sorry, he cannot read. Sometimes when we do not buy their merchandise they get angry and try another tack; guilt. 'Oh my God! You are rich and we cannot eat!' yells one girl at us in rehearsed theatrics, hands to her cheeks as we politely refuse her bracelets. Another is mad because I spoke to her before entering one Wat, and then bought water off another. 'You are not nice!' she yells at me as my friends and I get on our bikes and escape.

It leaves a bitter taste, this harassment, but we know it is not their fault. These kids are forced to do this by their parents who know the tourists will melt in the hands of their adorable Cambodian moon shaped faces. It is the same in Phnom Penh where children hawk Lonely Planets and the same books of Khmer Rouge history door to door, restaurant to restaurant. They're clever too, memorising information about your country so they might establish a connection which they will then manipulate if you refuse to buy their wares. Sometimes we manage to distract them with games to make them forget about their sales pitches. This is when you manage to see that they are children and all they really want to be doing is playing. At the next place, a policemen tries to sell me his badge for one US dollar as I enter another former palace. The desperation in his voice as he haggles down the price even when I tell him I am not interested makes me feel uncomfortable. Is this what happens to all great empires once they've fallen? In one thousand years will the grand edifices of America be in similar state? Will young New York children attempt to sell books about 911 to wealthy Chinese tourists that have come to see the ruins of the Statue of Liberty?



That night as we ride home late through the sunset trying to avoid the traffic jam of buses carrying thousands upon thousands of tourists, we pass a new development just outside of town. It's a private estate which will no coubt cater for discerning visitors who don't want to have to stay in the town of Siam Reap and deal with Cambodian people and the army of touters. The name of the estate is 'Charming Tourist Village' which makes us laugh.
"They should call that place Anglo Wat" says my cousin Hatty, as we ride past, although as far as I can see there actually more Japanese, Korean and Chinese tourists than there are Europeans.



A little further close to town, we pass the turn off to the Landmine Museum started by a man called Akira who was forced as a child to fight with the Khmer Rouge, then when the Vietnamese came he was captured and forced to fight with them. One day he says he was shooting at them from across a field and he recognised his own Uncle in the enemy lines that he was shooting at, so he missed on purpose. Such was the insanity of that time. The Khmer Rouge had made everyone an enemy of each other, under the guise of making them all one. Families were torn apart because they distrusted anyone having loyalties beyond the 'angkar', the 'organisation'. Any educated people, former government workers, artists, even doctors were seen as the enemy and killed because they were seen as threats to dogma of puritanical, fundamentalist egalitarianism. They sought to relegate everyone to the same standing, even if that was total abject poverty. It is impossible for us to understand how complete and utter the psychological terror would have been. And now, with a country side strewn with landmines the legacy continues to this day. We also learn here that many of those statues of Angkor Wat and it's sister temples were undamaged up until only twenty years ago. That was until the jealous ego's of the Khmer Rouge decide that history was obsolete, and these were relics of another ideology. Marx said 'Religion is the opiate of the masses' and thus communism was an anti-religion of materialists. The Buddhist and Hindu spirituality of another epoch did not fit with their new ideology, and so the heads were shot at and destroyed. They say that if they had ruled longer, they would have raised these temples to the ground. What they didn't destroy was either also damaged in the fighting with Vietnamese who had apparently took over some of the temples as bases while this area was fought over. Then there were the simple thieves who saw fortunes in the ancient sculptures, were others might have seen a legacy worth protecting. Nowadays, many of the most important sculptures, such as the Buddha in the centre of Angkor Wat itself have been replaced with newer, less sought after replicas which greet you at the summit of the temple.



We ride on tired from the day and looking forward to eating a meal in Siam Reap before crawling into bed. We pass huge billboards which call for people to give in their guns: "We don't need weapons anymore." It tells the Cambodians, who were still fighting the Khmer Rouge up until the late nineties in some parts of the country. This kind of advertising lets you know that the echoes of violence are still strong, even though this feels like one of the most peaceful places in the world. Indeed the people are so genuinely friendly, it is hard to believe they have been through so much, and so recently. The population of Cambodia is the youngest in the world, such was the amount of killing directed toward the older generation to create the dreaded Year Zero. Perhaps for most of these young people who never saw this period, much of this recent history really must seem a lot further away than it actually was.

A little further we are intrigued by another billboard out the front of the Children's Hospital promoting a free musical performance called 'Beatocello' at 7pm. We check our watches; five to seven. Just in time, so we decide to hold off dinner. Inside, the seats are packed with European tourists who have been similarly tempted. Finally a man in a white doctors suit comes one stage carrying a cello. "I am Dr. Beat (pronounced be-at)," he says in a heavy Swiss accent "and this is my cello - together we are Beatocello."




For the next two hours we come to realise we are in the company of a very amazing man. Dr. Beat's work has almost single handedly built the hospital we are in, and another in Phnom Penh. Through regular fundraisers such as this, where he lures westerners in through the promise of refined classical musical performance, he manages to tell people about the health realities of Cambodians. He also travels back to Switzerland ever year where he performs on television and speaks about the issues facing this country, trying to build its way out of the trough of history. As a result Swiss aid account for 15% of the money donated to Cambodian health. The rest, he explains comes from private donation.
"That means, from people like you."


It's not often you get to see exactly how the money which comes in to a developing country through tourism helps the people of that land. But here, Dr Beat was intent on letting us know exactly how it could happen, and how we could help. Angkor Wat is THE tourist destination of south east asia, easily catering for a million tourists a year, perhaps more. However, he tells us that three years ago, there were no tourists in Cambodia because of SARS scare throughout the region. It did not matter that there was not a single case of SARS in Cambodia. This did not stop the tourists from staying away in their endless droves. However, what was happening, he explained, was 10,000 reported cases of dengue fever, which is usually not lethal, but because tuberculosis affects 66% of the children in Cambodia, their immune system are weakened and often this combination can lead to death.
"I wont be shy about" he says to the crowd in between songs "I want your money. If you don't have enough money, thats ok, I want your blood."

Dr. Beat tells us many stories inbetween his cello recitals. He tells how he lived in the once prosperous Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge, but like all westerners he was forced to leave when they came to power. He returned soon after the Vietnamese overthrew their regime and went immediately back to work. Then he shows us video footage from inside the hospitals, with children hooked up to drips and worried mothers beside every bed. This is a part of their unique approach to healthcare he explains. They have realised that when children are left alone without their family they become depressed, and sadness causes T-cell production (which is reponsible for immunity) to lower. Antibiotics are not enough, he explains, they need human care. The figures speak for themselves, the hospital has a 99.925 success rate.

He also tells us how it all started. About the effects of the US' secret war, when they were bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply lines (illegally) in Cambodia, killing up to 500,000 civilians in the process and inspiring the evolution of the Khmer Rouge into a popular front against imperialism. This was admitted by Henry Kissinger himself. He sees the ripples of this war continuing to this day as children die of easily treated diseases which the country cannot afford to treat.

"In light of this history" he tells us unsentimentally, "To help is not aid, it is justice. To not help is criminal."

But it isn't all the US fault of course, corruption is rife through out Cambodia and then there is the attitude of western aid who are no longer supporting his projects. How UN officials who come to Cambodia tell him that the facilities of his hospital are 'too sophisticated' for the Cambodian reality. To them I suppose it is a realpolitik, because they have to spread the aid through the whole world, but then, when they leave they go home to their hotel next door which costs $350 a night (the same which perhaps many of those in the audience might also be staying in).

"This is a mirror of a system of absurdity. Not a totalitarian system, but an international economic system which we are apart of, which we benefit from, which is insitutionalised absurdity. Of course, nothing is perfect, and we have to forgive the system." he says, but stops there and retracts "Yet while we may forgive the system, we can not resign ourselves to it - or else we will go insane."

"The war is over now" he says, finally, "but without justice there is never peace."





a turtle caught by some kids in the Ankor Wat moat.

We went swimming in the Angkor Wat moat, and then met these kids. They tried to sell us a turtle they had caught, but we ended up ust giving the a dinky on our bikes instead, which they loved.

Illustration at the Landmine Museum of execution methods used by the Khmer Rouge, who were famously stingy on using bullets.

Empty landmines and unexploded ordnance put to good use at the landmine museum, Siam Reap.

The bomb turned flower holder at the landmine museum

Our guide at the landmine museum. He told us he had stepped on a landmine when he was 10, but he was 18 now.

An unusually quiet moment at Angkor Wat. We didnt realise it at the time but we had chosen the best time to visit - at lunchtime when the thousands of tourists on organised tours are all eating lunch en masse. For 30 mins it was just us and the monks

 
The Global Marketplace
[ file under: capitalism and communism ]

Some of the shit you can buy.

in this reality, everything must be pink!

Some poor hippies who were caught unawares by the cut throat sales merchant headhunters in Ko Sahn Road.

Sex manu pushed on you while walking down the streets of Pat Phong, Bangkok. I had to pay the touter to let me take this photo...

A magazine about how to stay on the well beaten track. Best avoided with a bargepole I reckon. Bangkok, Thailand.

Monsters of the new world order. And Bart Simpson. Ko Sahn Road, Bangkok.

Some kind of strange American bikini fetish in this japanese pop culture store. Chinatown, Bangkok.

Buddha is watching from everywhere, including the t-shirt rack. Ko Sahn, Bangkok

waste not want not. All parts of the animal can be used, including the... what exactly is that bit? Luang Prabang markets, Laos.

Celebrity gossip mags are the same same everywhere, but different, right? Thailand newsagency.

Hip hop flip flops will be the next big global fashion trend. Trust me.

These lovely little manga ornaments were all at children's head height at a japanese toy shop in Chinatown, Bangkok.

I was told by a bar owner in Laos that 'happy' is code word which the police who rarely speak english have not yet cottoned onto yet. Although in Veng Vieng, the managers just pay them off which makes it all a lot easier for everyone involved.

The 'luminous lives' of three great dictators for sale in Vang Vieng, Laos.

yum yum, anyone feel like suckin on some chicken feet? Ko Chang, Thailand

monk in a box. the perfect addition toevery living rom shrine. please remember to feed him once a week. The streets of Bangkok

A counterfeit copy of Apocalypse Now Redux for sale in Dalat, Vietnam. What do the locals think of this cinema I want to know, but no one I talked to had actually seen it, only the westerner tourists.

The Thai love their zombie flicks. This is just one of the many VCD's for sale like this.

Snake Oil Merchants sell this whiskey concoction to increase male virility. In fact the 'cobra' inside is actually a normal snake with a wire placed into it's mouth which causes the bulge in the neck.

 
Hot Sex and Cold Feet



My feet are freezing. The thermostat on the bus seems to be stuck on ice generation point as it hurtles through the dark night. Outside we catch glimpses that must be the mountains of Vietnam. No matter how much I attempt to translate my desire to turn down the temperature, the bus attendant does not, or will not. And it's not just me, everyone in the bus is huddling in the arctic ambience as the vietnamese karaoke blares out love ballads on the television. The lady next to me has cover every part of her body, including the face mask usually reserved for the polluted soup of the motorbike street. While I managed to grab a jacket out of my bag at one stop, my poor sandaled feet are getting the worst punishment.

I had almost forgotten that the world also had cold in it. So normalised has the sweltering concrete heat of these cities of Indochina, so ubiquitious is it's humid atmosphere that the lower parts of the thermometer seemed to be merely a waste of precious mercury. So many mornings I have woken to the dampness of my sweaty back underneath the mosquito net of my room I have begun to think of it as a natural byproduct of sleep, like the gunk that collects on the inside of your eyes. The bedside electric fan rotates back and forth like a clown from some alien sideshow alley, staring at me in it single cycloptean breeze. Sheets, of course are unnecessary and clothes too, unless you are sharing the room with a friend, or bunking in a dorm room somewhere. With eyes closed you wait patiently for the appliance to complete its circuit and return to circulate the air.

The Thermodynamics of Yin and Yang.

I've heard a theory that there are two kinds of people, the hot and the cold. Those that would prefer the winter chill to the sweltering humidity, and those that will always pine for the warm nights where they can wear as little as possible rather than rug up or cuddle a fireplace. One cold winter morning my old Northcote housemate Brian explained to me that chinese medicine, which has been developed from the ancient philosophy of taoism, diagnoses people in regards to hot and cold dynamics of the body weather system. This can also manifest into wind and damp he explained. It seemed to me a poetic approach to understanding physiology which cut to perhaps the heart of the cosmic code. Hot and Cold. Fire and Ice. Light and Dark. The thermodynamics of Yin and Yang.

Now, I'm not unaccustomed to living in the tropical humidity, growing up in Australia's northern outpost of Darwin. But Darwin is a first world city flourishing with trees and plant life. Lawns fed by an endless reservoir of fresh water, gardens overflowing in the wet season with lush green vegetation that soaks up the heat and cools down the suburbia. In the lead up to this season lies the infamous 'build up' where 'going troppo' describes not a fever or a sickness, but a slow gradual descent in heat induced madness. At night lovers do not touch each other as they sleep. No spooning is as unromantic as that which turns into uncomfortable sticky sweat. Sometimes sleep is impossible, specially for those who do live in the airconditioned workplaces for all of their days. Their bodies never get a chance to acclimatise to the changing temperature and moisture in the air and so when they leave it it becomes unbearable. Southerners are the most guilty of this climatic escape hatch, and the new housing developments which cater to them bear nothing of the intelligent design of a generation of tropical architects, brick shithouses they are, with sealed windows and air conditioning in every room, greenhouse gasses be damned. It is the kind of development which saddens the locals who watch their town turn from a unique wooden stilt leafy suburbia into a crop of mcmansions, full of empty front lawns but absent of space for a real garden. Unfortunately this is a pattern I have seen taking place
everywhere in our wide brown land.


When the west season does hit and it is going to rain, everyone knows about it. The temperature drops a few degrees as if the entire sky had become one huge natural air conditioner. The clouds congregrate on the edge of the horizon, some looking ominously pregnant in their dark bellies. Winds begin to rise, sometimes lightning sparks the sky and we would make our way out to the East Point nature reserve on the edge of the sea. Passing the forest where wallabies still hop undisturbed, we would climb the large grey monolith of the old gun turrets built to defend against the bombing raids of the Japanese in world war two (it didn't work but thats another story). And when the downpour finally came we would stand in it laughing, with no fear of catching a chill. That is the greatest part of it for me, the ability to enjoy the shower of the heavens without any of the uncomfort created in a colder climates.


It seems the days in Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh are in a constant state of heatwave, relieved regularly by a generous windspirit which comes to visit on a random if constant basis every hour or so. We sit out on the balcony of our lakeside guesthouses, watching the fishermen and waiting for the telltale ripples which form in the distance. On these dyas you know that rain is truly a blessing from the heavens, but it is rare in this part of the calender, if it is supposed to come at all.


However, on my last few nights in here I believe I figured out a way to conquer the heat once and for all. Let me tell you how. It started with meeting Genevieve a true wildflower, fire spirit poured into the form of a girl. She had appeared into the Lakeside tourist ghetto minutes after I had booked my ticket to Vietnam, and it was clear to us both that we had electricity to discuss. She told me she was from Montreal, a french canadian, whose blue eyes were never far from laughter. Her body always on the verge of dancing. Oh yeah, she could freestyle rhymes in spanish too... I was hooked.
Later that night once everyone else in our crew had gone to bed, we sparked the flame with a kiss upon a houseboat that looked out upon the waters of Lakeside. The next day I decided to forget about my bus ticket and stay for another few days extra. Why leave when the world has spun such a beautiful web to catch you?

That second day the sun was casting powerful waves upon the sultry concrete, and the idea appeared that we should all check out the water park on the edge of town. Within half an hour we had a posse of eight travellers from all corners of the planet piling into a single tuk tuk and flying across town to find this oasis. We spent the next few hours hurtling down the only two slides that seemed to in functioning order, and trying to surf in the wave pool, unsuccesfully. But all this good clean fun did a god job of cementing the crew we would need later that night when we started an uprising in the streets of Phnom Penh. Genevieve had decided that we needed to take over the alleyway and create a spontaneous street party, and under her influence I was easily persuaded to perform. If this girl had a superpower, it was to be able to inspire others into the mood for festivity, including me. Armed with Guitars, flute, drum, fire pois and firestick and a cane ball to entertain the onlookers we took the street It was ours. Like a military operation in the service of art, we successfully managed to shut down the road for an hour as the bemused traffic became seduced by the spectacle of random bohemia. A fascinated crowd of tuk tuk drivers joined in, guitarists coming out of the woodwork, me crooning to the half moon, tipped on it's equatorial side like a cosmic trireme. As the crowd increased, chaos did too and we eventually declared that no more tuk tuks were allowed to pass. 'Reclaim the streets' I sang, ''This is our heartbeat!".
It was one of those nights when the wildlife within us burns bright as a star system, a supernova, and this golden haired fille was, in my eyes, the beautiful culprit behind it all.

Then just as suddenly we stole away amongst the maelstrom we had created, escaping to our room. Peeling off our clothes. Greedy lips and glistening skins sliding across this great divide of bodies. Breath and flesh. Heartbeats the bass note. Sweat poured out of our pores until we were sheathed in it. The fan could do nothing to cure the furnace of our entwining limbs - but who cares anymore in the heat of passion? We became the climate, immersing ourselves in it totally, it no longer had any power over us. Dancing that most beautiful dance of eros.

We conquered the fire.

And now days later on this bus, hurtling through the icy night, I wonder how I might conquer the ice? If perhaps I also need to make love to them, naked to these elements. To let the cold capture my blood in a similar way?

Or perhaps I just need to get some mere appropriate footwear..
 
Always Waking
[ file under: Travellers and Tourists, The Gypsy Life ]

Always waking in different places, it takes a moment to regain your bearings. Moving from town to town, bed to bed, sometimes night by night, there is no time for us to develop psychic bonds to the pillows in which we lay. To plant roots in the places we stay. To meet the land and get to know its people is to localise. You let the places wake different parts of yourself in their own unique ways.. This world on the road is a blur of flora passing you. A dash of sky. Fleeting memories of glistening conversation that lasts into the deep night. A pinch of grounding. A sprinkle of folklore. An ocean of peoples. A string of anecdotes.
And then we take off again. The next destination calls. You never know what is next, except that it will be different and new, inspiring you to keep going, to find new parts of yourself, to wake again, and again, and again...

Where am I now?

It is just before dawn as the bus pulls into the town. In halfsleep you are shuffled out into the dark cold of the abandoned street. Rubbing eyes and yawning mouths fil the air. The driver is banging on a shuttered window in the dark. A ruffled bird of a man answers and everyone is let into the empty restaurant. Passports and currencies are collected by a man who promptly disappears into the night. Will you ever see him again? Of course. But the whole operation still makes you feel a refugees doing an illegal border run. Actualy, half the bus is doing a border run, but one which will allow them to stay in Thailand. As soon as they get their visas they all jump back into the bus which will deliver them home to to the bohemian village of Pai, eight hours away.

As the sun ries you can see across the Mekong to gt your first glimpes of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos. You don't know how democratic it is, but you know it's the first communist country you have ever stepped foot in. But in this day and age, what exactly does that mean anymore?

Where is this?



You open your eyes to be faced with a pair of feet inches from your face. You are sleeping head to toe with your friend Ruth whom you have travelled with for a week. Below you can hear the gentle babble of a waterfall and the bird calls from the trees around you, louder than usual. Then you notice a slight rocking to the floor beneath you. This is when you remember that you are actually one hundred meters off the ground in a large house built into the limbs of a tree. The only way to reach this structure was by going flying fox across a two hundred metre zip line, and it is the only way you can get off. You are on the second day of an adventure trek with a difference in the protected Bokeo forests of Northern Laos caled The Gibbon Experience. While walking through the forest path yesterday one of the young guides called Som tells you that in one year this project makes more money than if the entire forest was logged once. It makes you wonder if a similar initiative couldnt be undertaken in the endangered forests of Tasmania or Gippsland in Australia. Most of the forest activists you have met are already experts in setting up treesits, they've been doing i for years in an attempt to protect those forests. But what if they were allowed to build permanent structures? Who wouldn't want to spend a night in canopy of the Valley of the Giants or the Tarkine wilderness? You are told that there are many Gibbon monkeys, although over the three days you spend there you never catch sight of a single one. It doesn't really matter though because after living and sleeping in the trees for a few days you begin to feel like a monkey yourself. Or perhaps it is just an excuse to act the way you always wanted to? A funky monkey, flying through the trees.

{
ps. I shot some video of this experience which you can watch here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyaXsmQ8WQs
and here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byCIRn-7RMc
}

Where am I?




In the distance you can hear a bell from the the temple which sits atop Phou-Si Mountain. This morning you are staying in the heart of Luang Prabang's French Quarter, perhaps one of the most jewelled towns you have ever seen with it's mixture of buddhist temples, french architecture, silken farbic markets, cobblestone streets all along the majestic Mekong river.
Although you had wanted to rise early this morning, the bell is so serene it is not enough to wake you. However, your roommate, (a Canadian who calls himself Cautious Ninja) also has a bad habit of setting his alarm clock too early for his own inner clock and then continuously pressing the snooze button every ten minutes for the next hour. At the third snooze it is the last stroke and you decide that this will be the morning you will rise to see the buddhist dawn ceremony where hundreds of monks queue for the traditional donations of rice and other food by the lay people of the town. Its a beautiful ritual which takes place every day, and the monks hold such integrity in their poise, that even the army of tourists who have risen to take photos of the ritual does not diminish its dignity and style. Actually, after you have given donation of a basketfull of sticky rice yourself, you cannot help but fall in line with the other amateur photographers and also take a quick snap. When the world is this picturesque and you have a camera in your pocket it is truly a difficult urge to suppress...

Where am I now?



You wake again from a night of heavy dreaming, wiping the cobwebs from your eyes. The mists of spliffs have cleared the air and from your mind enough for you to notice that it is hot. It's always hot when you sleep in and let the sun sneak high into the sky though. The small wall fan only teases the surface of your skin, slightly cooling the sweat on your back. The mosquito net dangles lazily above, still tied in a ballerina bow over the bed. You didn't need it last night. the dry weather hasn't left any ponds of water for the mozzies to breed in yet.
Outside the window, a purple waterfall of bougainvillea flowers branch out over a stone staircase with naga serpents sculpted onto the banister. A salt water river hugs the villa with wooden huts floating above like a traditional fishing village. At night they are filled with phosphorescence. You are in the south of Cambodia, just outside a small town called Kampot.
How long have you been here? you wonder to yourself in your half sleep. The days seem to flow into each other like the river that passes by your window, and there are too many expert joint rollers staying here who take advantage of the endless bowl of buds supplied by the guesthouse to keep track of how much is actualy being smoked. Apparently this was a popular custom throughout this weed loving culture until recently when the US put pressure on the government as part of it's endless global war on drugs. It's amazing what the threat of withdrawing aid will do to a developing country. It's another paradise, in anyone's definition of the word - but you wake with the knowledge that today you have to get out of here - you have to escape this paradise - otherwise you might just never leave...

Where am I now?




Yesterday you were in the middle of the capital city Phnom Penh. Your bed was in a guesthouse called Number 9, in the Lakeside tourist ghetto so called because all the guesthouses are built out over the water of a lake where locals fish and harvest water vegetables. It's beautiful and idyllic that this still takes place in the middle of a such a big city, although you soon notice the water is green from all the algae and you are sure all the sewerage from the guesthouses is dropped straight down into the water. Crossing a small bridge you get to the restaurant and 24 hour bar area, where people watch a stream of dvd's and in the next room play pool and smoke joints till the late hours of the night jamming away on the 5 strings of the guitar and making up songs about Angkor Rock'n'Roll. Or at least thats what you were doing. You spend the day designing and then printing a poster series of a fictional band called 'The Golden Triangle' with your cousin Hatty and his girlfriend Annaliese. The plan is that as you all travel in your different directions these posters will be put up in all the cities that are part of the 'Angkor Rock' world tour. You even make a myspace account to top it all off at http://www.myspace.com/angkorrock



Where?



It is your first morning in Cambodia. Late last night your bus driver had dropped a dozen of you off at a hotel that turned out to be full and you were forced to find alternative arrangements. The only other hotel on the street had a lot of young girls hanging around the front of it who each eye you off as you enter to enquire about rooms. It soon becomes apparent that this is a brothel, but at least the rent is cheap you all decide. You pass a series of loud karaoke 'dancing' rooms on the way to your room and a gang of girls hanging out in the foyer. In your bedroom you find a huge foot long gecko with red polka dots hiding behind the warddrobe, but the hotel manager assures you it is good luck. One of your fellow travellers finds a condom in their room's bin. You tell them: be quiet, or everyone will want one.

Now?



Around you stretches a mosquito net. The ceiling is made of thatched bamboo. Outside, you can hear the too early call of the rooster, even though the sun is not yet risen. You wonder if these birds compete with each other for the first to call the day for what it is, and some in their excitement to win make the mistake of calling hours before it has even begun to think itself into being. Papaya trees sway in the morning breeze. through the window you can see the jutting silhouettes of the mountains that let you know this is Veng Vieng, the rock'n'roll backpacker centre of Laos where hundreds of travellers enjoy the low impact tourism of tubing down with the currents of mekong on big inflatable tires, fished in with bambo sticks by beerlaos saleswomen and swinging from tall treehouses into the river all day. At night on smile islands many many waterside bungalow bars, happy shakes are served with your choice of marijuana, magic mushroom or opium flavouring.

You remember that last night you had tested the mushroom shake as the sun was falling majestically behind the silhouette of the limestone mountains. In the oncoming torrent of epiphanies you began to wonder how such a place did not spark a revolution or at least an artistic underbelly with so many psychedelics coursing through its veins. This town is planted on one of the most beatiful places you have ever seen, spooning the river mekong, under the gaze of the limestone, sublime on all sides. But you walk past restaurants in the main street where tourists have been sucked into that old psychic vampire, the television, prefering to watch continuous reruns of Simpsons or Friends as they eat their food.
This is when you begin to understand the meaning of the phrase 'tourist trap'. A carefully constructed reality net which is cast wide upon the trail that winds through a country. Inside, people are lured into being spoilt by the creature comforts they are missing while in a foreign land. Football and hollywood on big screens. Pizza and pepsi. American television series. Red hot chilli peppers and jack johnson on too many stereos at once as you walk through the streets. This is the californication of Laos, and it has nothing at al to do with the culture of this land, but it has everything to do with consumer culture.

Does anyone even notice? You must ask; What are we here for?
Wake up, you say.
Wake up.
 
The Mystery of Daybreak
The rumour of sunlight leaks through one hundred keyhole shafts of light into the room we are sleeping. It peeks through the newspapers which cover the bamboo lattice in their alien heiroglyphs of the laos alphabet, wallpapers of information, landing like stars on the canvas of our mosquito net.
Outside, the raucous call of roosters begins to increase incrementally with the oncoming flood of solar energy, as if they are calling us to celebrate this momentous moment when the source of all things rises once more. It works, and very soon their soundscape is joined by small footsteps which shake the timber in the house where we are the only guests. I listen to the subtle cacophony of voices, childlike and adult of the villagers, speaking in tones and syllables that could be the song of birds for all I can understand of them. Somewhere a neighbour's hammer begins to construct a new day.

I rise in the pincushioned light and clothe my skins, then break open the portal from this slumber and enter the awoken. I discover that a fog has descended overnight and covers what was everything in this mountain village, shrouding the distance in a firm curtain of mystery. On the hilltop I can see the orange shapes of novice monks as they crowd around the heat of a morning flame. The mountains are merely rumours now too, engulfed in the cloud of mornings breathe. I see huts form from the void as I move toward them, and children who appear as if from nowhere, out of the beyond.

I walk blindly into the mist, and on the edge of town I pass the school where a family of cows stand blissfully blank of expression, save perhaps a open acceptance at everything, the miust, the children, me. I wonder if they are in fact enlightened as the Hindu's believe - and is this what an enlightened stare might look like - curious and full of awe? Their calm aura is shattered momentarily by the roar of a dragon in the distance. It takes a moment to realise this is an engine growl which precedes a truck that has also awoken and begun its duties, hurtling toward us down this single road, past the children, through the town. Emissaries of the industrial age, they are. They carry messages that somewhere else, beyond this rural idyll, everything is different.

I keep walking up into the empty present, shrouded in invisible tides, as the road stretches high into some heavenly mist, climbing an unknown peak. It is still only freshly laid and it's bitumen is sticky and reflective, as if it were only paved as it came into view., is still being made, just outside of my vision. Above I watch as the sun enflames the tip of the mountains that have become ripped edges of the sky now. Watercolour brushtrokes in the eternal. And as the star grows out of the earth, an egg hatching, it becomes a reincarnated pheonix, blinding the sky.

Down below the mist is already retreating into the armpits of the mountain, and our shadows are becoming sharp and defined inscriptions on the earth below. The infinite cloak of the valley is disappearing, like a ghost, and the rainbow of colours is returning to land it had been sleeping in - as if we had been living in some monochrome cinema and someone had just discovered technicolour. In front of my eyes they are retouching every frame in this valley with some acrylic blessing.

I realise, somehow, or where, or when, I have forgotten all of this took place every day, lost in my dreams and late wakings. This is why I thank the rooster who calls me back to the world, even when the world has not yet been made again, so I can witness its rebirth with eyes refreshed at the wonders of this everpresent twilight, balancing on the edge of night and day.
The mystery of the dawn.

 
the city which became colourblind
[ file under: Travel Poetry ]

In the mega city known as Noir, there is no such thing as pollution - just as to the fish there is no such thing as water, or to the ancients, the molecule called oxygen was never contemplated.

On the street, you can lose yourself in the bustling crowd of busy and wealthy city people who come from all over the world but have somehow melded into some universally pale shade of their nativity. They are always immaculately dressed in powersuits and dresses, shiny leather shoes and stillettos, stockings and sensible hats. On alleyway corners you can smell the dark red of meat cooking on the side of the road as its colour seems to lift off into the ether with the smoke from the grill, leaving chargrilled flesh which is seen as a local delicacy.

The finest art you will find here is not in any gallery, but on the walls of this metropolis which are painted with the evidence of its citizens passions for urban life, funnelled through their fossil fuels. Smeared against the brickstone or dripping down the metallic skins, the signs of life lived at full throttle are everywhere. Listen and you will hear the engine of this art roaring everywhere.

A grand view for many is to stand on the bridge between the cities west and eastern hemispheres and regard the passage of huge black towboats the size of centipede trainlines that crawl along the dark vein of river carrying the future treasures of unmade diamonds, coughing night into the day. Dozens of these at once, always docking and unloading, swapping their freight with the refuse of the city which heads off outside of town to be incinerated into the out of mind.

The sun watches all of this, a bloodshot wound in the endless autumn of sky, shedding its poisons into the rain which nobody would dare trust in their watertanks that have long sat rusted on buildings, squatted by stray cats and greying anarchists.

If you are planning to stay in Noir, you must must be prepared to leave it every month, or else you will begin to ooze its sweat through your eyes and expel its breathe through your skin. So when you go, as you must, we recommend to go by air. As the plane rumbles along the tarmac, spluttering propeller languages, take a long look at the landscape which surrounds you. Under you, the cracked surface of the runway, smeared with tar to seal its crumpled contours. On either side, the coridoor highrise of public housing forever incomplete or half demolished, who can say? The blanketed sky above, always humming a tone somewhere between brown and grey.

Then, as you take off and rise into the skyline, gaining the perspective gifted with height, notice the red beacons of the telecom tower totems that begin to wink the rumour of colour. Still rising, the horizon of circuitry will begin to devolve into an opaque blur as you pierce its breast. And just then, as you shatter the musty heavens in your escape hatch with wings, be sure to keep watching the window television screen broadcasting, as if for the first time the rainbow shade that you had all but forgotten. The aquarian myth - extinct in all but the last irish iris. The skies clothing or it's naked face, the pigment that we call the sacred blue.


thanks to Italo Calvino and Miles Allinson for the inspirations...
 
Castles in the Sand
[ file under: The Christian Massive ]



The kids are building sandcastles on Childrens Day in Thailand. Towers and moats, paths and tunnels, walls decorated with shells and debris from the mouth of the sea. We spent the morning at the local school watching the parents treat their kids to games and prizes. Even the Navy came in with a swag of gifts for the school. Afterward all the soccer and basketball tournaments started and we made our way back to the beach where the castles in the sand started construction. The developers in question are the children of my friends Jane and Kylie, all of them classmates from the Steiner School in Darwin, holidaying together here in Thailand over the break. We are on Ko Mak, another island in the north east cluster of the Thai gulf. It's smaller and more secluded than Ko Chang, where I spent a few days exploring the party culture before catching a ferry here for more peace and quiet. Or so I thought....

The children wake early and their screams of play and occasional tears can be heard at all hours from then on. Running around the house, playing soccer with local Thai kids, playing card games or generally just mucking around. I believe children hold the secrets of the universe even if they don't realise it. It's in their curiosity at all things, and their understanding of play as a way of life - something adults could learn a lot from. So I'm learning, as I watch their elven spirits learning through playing, fighting like cubs, telling stories and creating worlds. Aiya is Jane's daughter, who I have known since the day she was born. She's a gorgeous kid, who I shared house with last year in Darwin - and her accent is somehow grafted from all the travels her parents have taken her on, somewhere inbetween countries where she will forever be home I think. The other kids are all half Swedish/Australian - Misha is the only boy, a faun who seems to live on a constant fuel of adrenalin, and bursts into song often about whatever is happening as if he were living his life in his own personal musical. Lara is his older sister, who plays the responsible one who keeps the other kids in line, and impresses her mum with her wisdom at the age of 7. Tiana is the smallest, a crazy little chaos faerie overflowing with make believe and only freshborn to the language of the big people. She makes up words, struggling to convey the imaginary worlds in her head. Somehow in her mind, my name Parish becomes Pirate - although I try to convince her Im an elf who escpaed Santa's factory and grew a bit bigger in the process.

They tell me they actually met Santa only two weeks ago when they were in Finland for Christmas which is the official home of Father Christmas. It's where all the mail from hopeful children around the world end up just prior to that auspicious day. Kylie tells me how they saw huge piles in Santa's office as part of an official tour, although the location of his actual factory is kept secret (I wondered if it might have been moved to China). It's a big tourist drawcard as you might imagine, especially in the winter months when few might visit the sub zero climate of far north Europe. Apparently Sweden had closely contested for the official XMAS HQ but it was awarded to Finland by the EU where there is not a great deal of other attractions... Except, in my mind the aurora borealis which shimmers strong at this time of year, above the twinkling snowscape past the rare daylight hours when the sun only peaks over the mountains and then, perhaps afraid of getting a cold decides to come back to the southern hemisphere. As did the family.
Now the days are spent chilling in hammocks, swimming and reading by the sea and mediating the childish disputes which rise and fall as often as the tide (actually only once a day here for some reason). Our little rented house has no TV so the kids dont get tempted, not that they would understand any of it anyway. However, most of the restaurants seem to have the ubiquitous karaoke machine churning out the thai pop stars that hypnotise the kids throughout the meal. They seem to often have lady boys (katoi) booty dancing in front of blue screens - although from this distance who can tell? It's a fun challenge to western homophobia, so widely accepted it even plays on video hits.
One night I wander to buy some dinner at our closest guesthouse called Lazy Days and have a chat with Reno a local tour guide who has an amazing knowledge of the history of Thailand and this region. He tells me that a big part of the national pride lies on the fact that it was the only nation in the region which was never colonised by any European nation. Reno lives on this island paradise for ten months of the year, and he says when he wants to go travelling he usually goes inland to Laos to relax by the Mekong, and the cheaper currency.
"How do you like our island?" he asked.
"It's beautiful. I like the change of pace from Ko Chang too, there are good parties up there, but in the north in White Sands Beach it is getting very developed which I don't like. The 711's and western style air conditioned hotels are beginning to take over some of the beaches." He looks at me seriously for a moment and says "Fifteen years ago, White Sands was exactly like this beach" motioning with his hands at the quiet lazy bungalows and empty beach poured full with moonlight. "In fifteen years, this will also be like that."
"Thats a shame," I tell him, thinking also of the developments happening in my own hometown which seems to roll out like a carpet of bad taste. "I wonder if there is any way to stop them..."
"No." he says. "Nothing can stop it, until it is all destroyed." Wioth this he gets up and excuses himself as his dinner is ready, and I'm left to look at the empty beach again, at the other travellers who populate its quiet nights. The family of Swedes who I hunted jellyfish with after i got stung, the lone Irish girl, the Bulgarian family who we played Russian folk and drank vodka with the other night, and myself, just another foreigner bringing money and in the process change to these islands, even if it's the last thing we want to do. I learn later from Jane who has come here for almost ten years that Lazy Days is just about to end its lease, so Reno and the others are sadly letting go of the business which will doubtless be transformed into something more expensive, air conditioned, and apparently, modern. The Thai constantly tell us they aren't sure what Farang want - so they change the land to become what they think we want, judging from how we build back home - and maybe some do want these comforts, but the rest of us see our version of paradise paved into another kind of parking lot, the kind which hosts tourists by the busload instead of locals the tuk tuk.
Perhaps this is all inevitable? Unstoppable like Reno told me, the tsunami of gentrification in every city of the world. Economic development is another way to look at it of course, as locals become more prosperous in the process (at least some of them) as the native traditions are swept into a tumultuous head on with the currents of this new history.
I've heard many indigenous cultures speak of a time before time, before the coming of History's Arrow and the linear fragmentation of the cycles of life which was effectively, a timeless realm. Since coming in contact with history, time has begun to pass and everything has changed. This is the age we live in, a time of constant irrevocable change and a slow realisation of the natural wealth and subtle wisdoms which the previous cultures embodied, usually too late.
The Buddhist philosophy which most challenged me when I was studying meditation was the acceptance of impermanence. The idea that we always seems become attached to the world as it is, and then are inevitably saddened as it changes, This, Buddha said, is one of the prime causes of suffering. 'This too shall pass' is the mantra you must tell yourself. This too shall pass. The good and the bad. Do not get attached. The sand mandala is created with intricate skill and sublime design theory, but it will always be brushed away at the end of the day.
Perhaps this change is natural, or at least part of some cycle to big for us to understand. Perhaps the development will reach a crescendo and retreat like the waves on this beach. Or perhaps like the sandcastles these kids are making, all of these resorts and beach houses by the sea are also destined to be washed away in some unknowable future. This too shall pass. The children are still building empires in the sand, about to learn this too. The tide must rise, but they are looking the other way, enjoying the day and the smiles of the present sunlight. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

aiya playing in the hammock, ko mak

our neighbour, hanging out at the Childrens Day fete on Ko Mak

a game at the school's children's festival on Ko Mak which involved children in a tug of war to reach the money at the edge of the ring

jackpot

Tiana, the chaos faerie

the toys donated to the school by the thai navy on Children's Day, Ko Mak

the camera is really just another toy

 
The Man From Seoul
[ file under: Pilgrimage ]



"I've come here to find God" said Hyung as we ate okinomiyaki on the balcony overhanging the ocean with two new Japanese friends. "I want to know if it is true, or if it is not, without any doubts."

He had appeared an hour before sunset, with a backpack, six two litre bottles of water in a plastic bag and told me he was an engineer from Seoul in Korea. His head was wrapped in a scarf and he wore a big friendly smile at all times. I was writing on the balcony of my guesthouse as he arrived and offered him directions if he were looking for the beach or a nice place to stay the night. He wandered off up the bay and returned an hour later telling me he had decided to just camp outside for tonight. In the morning he would be catching a ferry to another more secluded Island where he knew he would be able to find solitude in nature.
"I am told from a friend in Soeul that it was on this island that he saw a world so beautiful that he was sure God did exist, and so I have followed him on my journey of.. how you say?
"Pilgrimage?" is the word I donate.
"Yes. That is it."

I am intrigued, as you might imagine, as to what would bring someone so far from his homelands. It is one of my favourite subjects, I suppose, this seeking. This universe. We speak for a while of what God could mean, what he could be hoping to find here that is not already everywhere.
"For me God is every particle, every star," I philosophise like a pantheist astronomer, "every ripple and every being. All that exists is infused with this spirit - a word I prefer to God."
He tells me this sounds familiar, like the debates which took place in Korea a few decades past when the Christian majority began to reconnect with other spiritual faiths. But he is not convinced, seeking some kind of grand creator.
"For me, I need to see proof one way or the other" he says, not with difficulty, but a big monkish smile. "I do not want their to be any doubt in my mind anymore."

Hyung tells me he has studied zen, tai chi and meditation techniques but he is not yet convinced of anything. He tells me that when he studied vipassana he was struck by a bright golden light, which he was told was the kundalini energy within him stirring.
"....but God is not the same thing. It must come from outside, not within."
"What are you expecting to find?" I ask him, playing the zen inquisitor.
Nothing short of revelation, seems to be his response.
"For me, meditation seemed like masturbation is to making love - a pale comparison to life." the Japanese boys laugh hysterically at the sacred and the profane words, getting excited when another religion is mentioned, as they follow the skeleton of the dialogue.. They are only just following the conversation with broken English, but some of the concepts are universal like God, Christ or Buddha. Everyone knows these words, everywhere in the world.
"Perhaps you are looking too hard?" I wonder. "Maybe it is not all so difficult? That perhaps there is no single answer, and this is the revelation which you will not permit." Hyung looks intrigued, and I continue.
"For me, I say, all of the philosophies and religions of the world are fruit born from the many branches of the human tree of life, stretching it's leafed fingers in every possible direction, exploring the possibilities of the cosmos. Perhaps now, in these days of global culture we can become more like the birds which eat from these fruit, or the bees which fly from one flower to another, collecting the most beautiful pollen which our ancestors have given us. I think we pay respect to their wisdom by learning and respecting the lessons they have to share with us.
"I think perhaps you are a poet," he says, still smiling " but I believe that god is greater than all of these theories and even this beautiful language. I cannot be unsure."

The night flickers us on, like flames. One beach house turns into another where I speak another language with French philosophers drinking Red Bull and Vodka as a house party on the beach. We find a thai kickboxing tournament and a dancefloor where my Scottish friend Jen and I search for midnight gas outlets to fire our pois - to no avail. We laugh and dance and sometimes even sing. It is a good night, and somewhere along the way all lose each other.

The next day Hyung and I find ourselves on the same ferry, although on our way to different islands in the archipelago. He tells me more of Korea's recent history, it's Christian conversion in the early twentieth century, and it's war in the middle, the first of what would become the cold war that lay waste to his countryside so that forests like the ones on these islands no longer exist.
"Now our country is totally infiltrated by capitalism" he tells me, without envy of those in the north living under totalitarianism, yet like the rest of us knowing there is more to life than the market. I agree wholeheartedly.
"I hope you find what you are looking for here." I tell him as he disembarks at the islands jetty where the waves are strong and the boat is rocking violently. I watch as he wanders down the jetty, alone, still smiling, carrying his many bottles of water, looking up to the forest where God might reside.

As our boat departs, I keep watching as everything slowly becomes a miniature of what it was, before dissolving into another blue silhouette on the horizon, blue ocean rippling infinite below and the clear blue sky endlessly watching from above.

 
The Bar at the End of the World
[ file under: Travellers and Tourists, The Gypsy Life, Dislocation ]



It wasn't hard to find, or perhaps it found us, hunting travellers on this tropical bohemian paradise amidst the trees, the Bar At The End Of The World, where internationals intersect one thousand different journeys, crossing paths and dissolving borders in these eternal nights by the sea.

They have it down to fine art here, I have to admit, this Thai architecture is something plucked from my visions of what the world could be. A rustic bohemia, elegant, twisting wooden robinson crusoe shelters, overhanging the sea, low slung tables and cushions of incense set the scene.

I listen to the sound of the tides crashing beneath the wooden floor as I rest on this hammock, drinking Elephant Beer on Elephant Island, Ko Chang, they call it here. Our hut is only a few dollars a day, metres from the shore of pebbled floor. Funky Thais man The Treehouse with their earrings and tattoos working the bar where 'happy' cakes are sold above and thai buddha sticks lie just underneath the counter.

Belongs To Roads they call us, the travellers from all countries of the world. South Americans are chatting up the gorgeous french girls making jewelry to my left, fresh Swedes with peach white virgin skin are just arriving, Koreans and funky tanned Japanese chill by the balcony.
Kiwi's and Dutch dancing by the bar. Drunken Irish and spunky Scottish.
Every meter hosts a different language. Leave your shoes at the door.

One day I meet a guy from Mozambique called Bambu, who tells me he played percussion with Lucky Dube, but now plays with a local Thai band. We grab a few jembes and cruise to the beach to jam and smoke the local herbal remedy. As the beachlife passes our beats, a Morrocan guitarist finds us and dazzles us with complicated timings, before settling on a simple blues beat. Locals who know Bambu come and invite us to a party tonight at the Paradise Cottage, they roll a joint from his stash. The one with a big smile and bigger sunglasses introduces himself.
"Everyone knows me here, I'm Crazy. See you soon." he says puffing on the joint, then cruising down the tideline.

I wonder back to my bungalow which I'm shared with a Scottish girl I met on the ferry over called Jen. We soon figured out she has done the journey I am planning from here to Japan but the other way around so she has had much advice and expeirence to share over the last few days. On the way I bump into the Laotian/French crew we shared the taxi with. They ask if we are coming to the party? I tell them perhaps but I was planning to leave the island tonight to meet some friends on the next one. A few minutes later the Dutch couple we danced with the other night are chilling at another beach hut inn - they'll be there too. I tell them of course. How could I leave a place that invites you at every corner to play? And this is the Bar At The End Of The World after all. Where else is there to go?

Let me explain what I mean: I once realised every story is a journey we weave to share with our friends, laying tribute to times past, like a gift from the journals of our own personal history. In good conversation, one tale leads to the next and sometimes the entire night
dances to their babbling rhythm as the echoes of our voices disappear
with the moon over the sea, our timepiece in the sky. Our lives are placed on the table, like shared dishes in the traditional eastern
banquet style. Noodles and spice, soy sauce and rice wine on the side
as we rest our bodies on hammocks and cushions, the sound of the tides a mantra for the oceans breathe as it falls and it rises, hypnotically alive. A zen feathered sky descending as bodies lie, drinking the sun and the shades of skin shift to the color of the earth.

Here I sit this night, discussing phenomenology and quantum physics, the magic of language and the wonders of our worlds lessons on this balcony with strangers from every corner of the planet. We spark a handsome flame in these songs which could almost take place anywhere, at anytime. This is when I begin suspect that in times like this we actually find space beyond time - not the physical location, but the place we find in between minds and tongues and hearts and ears. The rippled river of conversation which has no end, where all stories reside and the world disappears, if ever so briefly - only to reappear in the echoes of some remembered dream. All that is left is this moment, and we are fruit of knowledge overflowing with seeds of experience which become our tales over time, each containing the potential for a piece of wisdom as they mature like wine within our bellies.

This bar is a boat upon the water, about to fall off the edge of the world, and we are all here adrift at the end of time on this oceanic ship, loving it. The perfect skipper has quit and we are free floating through the finest designs of tranquility. The vision of how life could be, if it were eternal festivity.

internet kiosk on the beach, Ko-Chang, Thai

 
Pussy Galore
[ file under: Sex, Love and Travel ]

"You can't say you've been in Bangkok, until you've been in a Bangkok girl." says my Thai friend as he drives into the city on this fresh new years evening. "F." is a wealthy Bangkok local who I met through a club I am doing a mural for near my guesthouse, and when he learns that I am fresh into Thailand he is adamant that I need to see the nightlife of Bangkok before I leave town. I've never actually been to strip club, so my curiousity was peaked. What bad could it possibly be? But now I know - Ko Sahn Road is a hippy love fest compared to the seedy debauchery this city is capable of.

As F. drives me into the cities financial district he tells me proudly of all the different kinds of clubs there are here, like a guru of the girlie clubs. First off he takes me to a plce called Phot Po road, a long street full of another endless bazaar of trinkets, fake armani and pirate dvds. This is the famous shopping which Bangkok is famous for, all copied from the top shelf brands of the day by clever Thai's and sold at a tenth of the price. Behind the wall of shops are an army of men attempting to sell you various stageshows by shoving menus of raunchy acts in your face for some of the seediest girlie bars you could ever imagine. My friend tells me he wants to show me what these clubs are like; a wicked glint in his eye as he introduces me to another dimension of the yin yang orgy of this world.

Inside a club called Pussy Galore we sit down and order an overpriced beer and settle into watch the show. It's not really a show, more like a kind of aimless sloppy go go dancing. On stage a dozen thin thai women in black g-string bikinis cavort around poles listlessly, pretending to be enjoying themselves. They each try to catch the attention of the guys who sit around oggling their meat.
"What kind of body type would you like? Take your pick." F. tells me.
To me the girls look somewhere between slightly embaressed at their situation and boredom at the utter mindlessness of the job. Every 10 minutes they swap with another dozen girls who have been working the room.

"They get paid a commission for every drink you buy them." I am told as three girls descend onto our table. One whispers in my ear almost immediately "Come upstairs and I suck your dick good for 100 baht ($3)" as she pushed her breasts against me and rubs my leg. F. buy the girls a drink each and for the next ten minutes they each try to lure us upstairs. They're all pretty enough, even caked in cosmetics which I dislike - the Thai women have gorgeous faces - but I find the situation strangely unsexy . Through F. as the translator I make a few vaguely flirtatious witticisms about the absurdity of the situation, which the girls pretend to laugh at, but my hearts not in it. Who am I kidding though, this sure aint the place to be seeking romance, and I am a hopeless romantic. It's the chase that makes flirting an exciting game, but there aint no chasing going on with these girls, more like trying to hold them off.
"If you want to take them out of the club for the night it will cost about 500 baht." F. tells me, offering to pay.
"You mean like a date?"
"Sure. But it will cost more to sleep with them. Probably 1000 baht ($30)"

The girls have only half finished their drinks when they get the signal and their time is up. Time to go back on stage to dance around the poles a bit more. They tell us they will be back soon. You're my man, right? You stay here, they tell me, blowing kisses from the stage.

"Watch out for the lady boys " I am warned as an unusually tall Thai girl totters past us on stillettos and mingles invisibly with rest of the bikinis. "You can always tell when they talk." F. teaches me "Their voice is deeper, and their girliness is just a bit too forced." He points out another beautiful girl whose jaw line is just a hint more masculine than the rest, her bouncy breasts obviously fake implants.
"The thing is, they're getting so good at it these days, it's very hard to tell. The rule is, if it's too good to be true, it usually is. But maybe in the end what does it matter anyway, they have the right equipment for the job, so perhaps you have an interesting experience?" He says, with a surprisingly open mind.

As we leave, we pass dozens more identical nightclubs, and more men try to push the various menu's in our faces. They are fuck salesmen, and they want us to know, you can watch anything here, you can have anything you want. Men walk the streets like kings and women are mere playthings to be bought and sold. Every club has another sales pitch, another special show upstairs which they promote on their menus. Come and see the girls inside our club they say, dozens of them dancing on stage through every door. Thousands of them on this street alone. I wonder where they all come from, this endless procession of breasts and pussies.
"They're all from the country outside of Bangkok, probably from farms. They come here to either work in factories or in the clubs." F. tells me, and then his attitude changes a little, "But it's dangerous for them, because if they don't get customers they end up becoming in debt to the club, then they can't leave. There are other bars of course, like the 'Coyote Bars' where girls just dance on the tables. Mostly they are prettier and not so desperate. They're just girls from the universities trying to make some extrra cash so they can buy more clothes and things. It's much more materialistic."

Out on the main street, a family of Muslim women pass in headscarves and I think I don't blame them after what I have just seen. The thing is, an experience like this changes the way you look at women. It's really hard not to suddenly see them all in a different light, sizing them up like merchandise. Sex becomes a currency and every interaction is merely another sales opportunity. Even the billboards using sex to sell toothpaste are innocent compared to this crude trade of curves and naked flesh. But I am trying hard to understand the Asian psyche, as I realise this takes place all throughout the country, from here through China Geisha's to Japan's hostesses it's been going on for so long it's mundane and everyday to most people.

I wonder though, what kind of relationship do men and women form when there is so much power in the hands of the men? Again F. is happy to explain it from his point of view; "It just makes it more honest." he says, "There is no pretending. You can have the sex, or you can take her out and get to know each other. If you want to meet up with her the next day she can come over to your place for sex before she goes to work and earn some more on the side. It's all very businesslike, like any contract." he says in his white collar business shirt which he didn't bother changing before coming out.

We go to meet up with F.'s swedish friend Fredrick at a Jazz Bar called Brown Sugar. "Fredrik is a crazy traveller, you'll love him." I am told. As we drive, we pass a park where more women are working the street.
"These girls are a little better quality than on Phot Po" F. explains, as he checks out the merchandise from the drivers seat like a predator. "Mostly only locals come here, so these girls are a little cleaner" I am told, "they haven't been damaged as much as the girls in the clubs.
"Damaged?"
"Yeah, mostly by the Africans. " he says.
"Do you mean with disease?"
"No, I mean stretching. Do you know how big their cocks get? It's ridiculous!" he says holding his hand up to his chest and laughing. The mythical black cock, I think. Perhaps size ain't all it's cracked up to be.
"But is HIV a problem in Bangkok?" I ask him.
"Not really, there is a little bit."
"Have you ever known anyone who has died from it?"
"I know a few people that have passed away, but they never told us exactly what it was, you know? They just get very sick. i suppose people don't want to talk about it because then everyone will think they are diseased and stay away from them."
We pass one of the million billboards of the king, praying like a good Buddhist as he lords over the country.
"What does the King think of all of of this?" I wonder out aloud.
"He permits it. Mostly it's all done with good enough spirit."
"When would it crossover to become not so good ?" I ask him.
He pauses. Good question.

We meet up with Farn's Swedish friend Fredrik who tells us he has just got back from travelling yesterday. He likes to jump onto a bus, often without even knowing where it will go and then rolling with the adventure of where it takes him for weekends at a time.
"So you know how to speak the language?"
"I do now, but not when I started. It was more difficult then, but I like the challenge.
Fredrik says he's been in Thailand for ten years, making lots of money in the telecommunications industry, but recently he has given his career a facelift and moved over to the plastic surgery industry. At first I think he is joking, but he assures me he is serious.
"I've just spent the last month learning everything I can about sex changes and liposuction," he says, describing in detail some of the videos you can watch on You Tube of real life operations. He goes on to explain how the sex change operations in Bangkok are at the height of plastic surgery technology in the world. For the boys wanting to be girls, it's about taking out all the plumbing inside the penis but keeping the skin, then turning it inside out, inside the body. For the girls wanting to be guys it's a different story. They have to grow the skin on the same person otherwise the body will reject it, so they usually do it on the forearm, implanting silicon in small bits to stretch it and then letting it grow at it's own speed.
"So just keep a look out for girls growing penis's on their arm!" he laughs.

After the Jazz bar, we go to a club where we will meet Fredrik's Thai girlfriend, Na, who is of course, very beautiful, but in a more sophisticated way than any we have met tonight. I begin to realise this is a very high class club as security guards usher us through checkpoints set up since the bombing a few days ago. The guys say say they will have to sneak me in the back so that I don't get bounced with my sandals on. Inside it's all plush lounges, leather, mirrors and flat screen televisions on the walls playing music videos from various channels. An African American hip hop-booty cover band is playing on the stage, and I realise it's the first hip hop cover band I've ever seen. I didn't know they existed. They do it all very slick, but not with much soul or originality (it is a cover band after all). Unfortunately the music is too loud for us to all talk anymore, so we have to be content with tiny snatches of conversation and a lot of looking around at the televisions or everyone else, who are all doing the same thing.

The girls are definitely more classy here than any others we have seen tonight, some so exquisitely beautiful I wonder if they might be models. It turns out that it is models night, but that doesn't mean they aren't up for a bit of paid action too. All the girls are, according to F. - It's a strange experience, because I don't really get the feeling anyone is really here just to relax and enjoy themselves. They dance on the floor with totally self conscious air. The rich tourists from the hotel upstairs and the models from the magazines, pretending to like each other. Or maybe thats just because I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with this whole scenario.

After we dance a bit, F., Fredrik and Na decide to leave, the music isn't really that good, but they didn't come here for that anyway. Farn asks me if I can get home OK in a taxi, then he says; "You should go and choose one of the girls and take her. Think about it, it's that easy - and why would you want to go home alone?" It's an interesting challenge, but something in me feels like it would be more of a failure to have to pay for sex than to just happily go home to sleep in my bed. There's a lot ego issues going on here too, as beautiful girls inspire male insecurity and macho posturing like nothing else. The girls play up to it. They do the girl thing, making the guys feel bigger and more manly if they get to take them home, no matter how mercantile the arrangement..

So there I am alone on the dancefloor, shakin my booty to a stupid song by a group called The Pussycats who strut their midriffs as if they were weapons on the televisions to lyrics like 'Dontcha wish yer girlfriend was hot like me/fun like me/ wrong like me/ dontcha?' I'm trying to just enjoy myself, but all this shit is on my mind. I didn't really come to Thailand for sex, but it is one of my favorite things in the world, and these girls are very beautiful. The sad thing is, I no longer know if I can trust any of them and I don't really want to just fuck them and be done with it either - always a little too willing to make an intellectual connection because I have always found the clever girls sexier than any others in the long run. What's the point in hanging out with bimbos? - they just rot your brain I think to myself, like whores might rot your soul. But perhaps it would be so much simpler to just treat them all like prostitutes, and leave it at that, but I'm no tantric capitalist, more a poet, interested in romance and the art of living. So maybe it is true that it's much more complicated and confusing if you treat women like equals, but it depends what you want to find.

"This next song is for all those golddiggers in the house" announces the MC, " coz I know you're out there." And as they kick into the refrain of the song called Golddiggers, I decide to refrain from this scene. I leave the richest, most superficial club I have ever been to, and wander through the opulent marble stoned foyer, alone, slightly confused, and a little demoralised. I begin to feel like a boy from a small town called Melbourne on the other side of the world. Just a little fish in a big city. Out of my depth and wallowing, momentarily, in the shallowness of the shallowest shallows.

 
Chased by Stray Thoughts
A city is like a painting, it is never finished, artists just leave them in interesting places and then they get sold. Bangkok has been left in an intriguing state of incomplete. I am told that the Asian economic meltdown of ten years ago halted work on dozens of skyscrapers and highways which still sit, half born amidst the bustle of the living city. But apart from this, it is as though it is a beast which was never designed to have skin. It's nerves and veins and arteries are exposed to the elements in the mess of powerlines that knot the sky and sewer canal plumbing which crisscross the urban slums awash in mountains of rubbish which no rubbishmen would ever hope to conquer.
~
I wonder through the streets like a cow in India, allowed to go where I please yet obviously another species. I am respected but ignored by all, except one mangy stray dog who chases me out of a buddhist monastery on the edge of a city slum.
~
I drift like an alien iris, drinking in the scene but unable to connect with anyone in any meaningful way unless they have learnt my language... The barrier is oppressive and isolating - but smiles are a universal tongue.
~
The walls of the city are literally coated in carbon, like the interior of a chain smokers chest. I wonder, who will clean off this terrible graffiti and stop the vandals of all our lungs?
~
The king's face is everywhere, even before the film in the cinema. He is like the benevolent uncle of Big Brother whom everyone sincerely loves. It is quite surprising for an Australian raised on a diet of British Monarchy which is scorned left, right and centre. Today, half of the city is wearing royal yellow to celebrate the King's inauguration 60 years ago, and I can't help feel like it looks like some kind of school uniform from my primary school - except everyone wants to wear it.
~
Waiting for the bus back to my guesthouse, I see it finally lumbering down the road. Yet before it reaches us, a smaller sprightly minibus with the same number speeds ahead of it in the traffic and eagerly ushers us on. As I ride it home, I think; what an amazing economy - where people even compete with the public transport system!
~
Walking over a traffic bridge I see a beggar prostrated silently in the corner, his arms stretched out but head facing down. A cup next to him and the strange wart like sores all over his feet say it all. He does not move, even when I place a twenty baht note in his cup. He does not move. I walk away and turn to look from the end of the walkway. He does not move.
~
I realise I no longer know what day it is, or have any need to. My hotel pays by the day. The transport is the same every day. Sunday doesn't mean the same thing here. The sun rises and falls. The moon waxes and wanes in perfect calendrical fashion, filling the sky or reborn every two weeks. I remember, the calender is actually a spell we are all under. Time is an artform.
~
On the third night in Bangkok I have a dream of arriving back in Melbourne, and meeting friends at a party where I knew everyone. Although I am happy to see them, I feel like I have cheated myself out of some opportunity which I have been presented with and wasted. I wake in the morning glad that I am still travelling, and am only on the beginning of my journey.

Zen Megastore Grand Opening

 
Samsara and Nirvana
[ file under: Pilgrimage, The Human Zoo ]

I once wrote a story about a futuristic world in which butterflies had been replaced by mechanical versions because they had accidentally been wiped out by human folly. Today, I found that future has already come true.

In the tourist mecca of Bangkok, near the King's glorious Palace and right next door to a large buddhist temple lies the infamous Ko Sahn Road. Here, the mechanical wind up butterflies are fluttering through the air, thrown by excited salesmen for the joy of onlookers. Next to him another man performs extravagant robotic ballet with the twisting and turning body of his next generation remote controlled car on the dirty concrete streets. Around us every spare section of the avenue is filled with trinkets, fabrics, jewelry, CD's, stingray leather wallets and a million statues of buddha for sale. Every hour the police car marauds the walkway like a shark scaring off illegal food merchants who have snuck onto the road amongst the million starred attractions concocted to lure the eyes and baht filled pockets of the Farang travellers in this brilliant bazaar.

We took a short cut from our guest house through the monastery to get to this market, and on the way join in on a ceremony. Burning incense and sitting ith the local Thai's. Now, the Buddhist philosophy has a name for the physical world, with all it's distractions, it's materialism and it's suffering in the cycle of reincarnation - they call it Samsara. Walking through those loud streets of Ko Sahn Road afterward I felt like I can see all the games of Samsara bursting forth in a thousand thousand petals of spectacle. Fireworks of neon palm trees and eccentric fashions flash brighter and faster, on and off, on and off. On the churning stomach of street, an army of merchants are always at work as tourists window shop at the windowless shops, browsing random trinkets of world trade fallen onto the racks. The air is thick with smoke and spices, blending into a cocktail of aromatic pollution. Rainbow ribbons bless auspicious trees and bonsai temples adorn every backyard and car dashboard, holiday houses for the spirits of that land. Motorbikes growl past, pimps proffer prostitutes, and the monks wander through shaven headed like memories from some other dreaming. After the curfew, stray cats, drunken backpackers and plastic bags are all that is left in the deserted aftermath of the night sky.

I stumble through this tangled strobe light wondering what exactly I am doing here. Something has called me to throw myself into this world alone and intoxicated. To dive into it's alchemical soup kitchen leaving behind friends, family, projects, parties and home for a while to find an answer to a question I am still forming.

What I do know is that I want to cut myself with this blood of culture and see what it can show me as it bleeds experience. Dare it to surprise me. Invite it to shock me. Bow my head and ask it to teach me. Give up and let myself fall in love with it all again, warts and all. Beyond the scars from the fallen stars drawn down from the sky, shining on regardless through the dust and smog that covers the buildings of this city. Within the mystery that propels human actions. Mindless or mindful - in the end I sometimes wonder if they are all just ways to pass the time in this avalanche we call now, as spirit plays our lives like flutes, blowing minds of those that come anywhere near to suspecting the enormity of the theatre we have been scripted into. We never can comprehend it all of course, the world is too huge, too rich and overflowing with finely detailed chaos for us to ever sum it up successfully. It is beyond these words I paint in your mind now as well, however i place them on the page.

In that frame of mind, I realised Samsara has it's place in the mirror image of Nirvana, it's twin sister in the circus of the manifest - and perhaps the Thai understand this better than annyone. Right here in the market, next to the Buddhist temple the games of the world play themselves out and the monks watch it with careful wisdom from the gates because it is through this lense which we can contrast that which is calm water and that which is the storm. The world hangs in the balance of matter and spirit's dance.

That's all.

 
Interzone
[ file under: The Christian Massive ]



They call it the 'sterile zone' in the industry. It's that point once you have passed through baggage, customs and quarantine and all the bureaucracies of the nation state. Beyond that checkpoint there is only the vast limbo of the airport, that place behind the border, and just before the next. As a result, no one is ever really here. We are all just inbetween places.

In Singapore's Changi Airport, all people of the world wander through this limbo of geography awaiting their next burst of aviation which will propel them homeward, or into alien worlds. Tiny Hindu tribes with cheeky kids that laugh and play on the baggage turnstile. Buddhist monks in who don't make eye contact with you. An Indonesian princess in a silken pink muslim headdress. Africans in suits, Americans in Nike, and every other face in the global game of the human race - racing from one shop to another. All the proud peoples from across the planet, trailing suitcases underneath huge Benetton style One World (tm) billboards which say 'hello' in 15 languages. They are watched by machine gun wielding guards who look as bored as the girls paid to hold a tray of alcohol samples on the edge of the liquor embassy.

Upstairs, past the McCafe mezzanine and the free flatscreen TV's sponsored by the National Geographic and Discovery channels, you can find fresh air in The Cactus Garden, like a desert in this oasis. It's another of those bars at the end of the world, where they accept almost any currency and stray characters from across history congregrate to share tales before they continue on their way. I wish. Instead a brethren of smokers chuff with purpose on their only opportunity between 10 hour flights to feed the lung demon. Here sit lone chinese men contemplating deep solitary nicotine and private Germans chewing on the humidity of December in Asia and the wofting curls of the threads of smoke disappearing into the atmosphere, just like the planes. The contained roar of take off and the high pitch squeel of jets idling in the parking lot over the wall merely adds to the serenity.

And here I sit writing this with ten hours to spend in this land beyond lands. My luggage has been dumped unceremoniously in the lost and found after I was told I would have to collect it outside and risk not get back into the airport until two hours before my flight tomorrow morning. I refused, preferring the Gardens of Babylon to the shopping districts of Singapore finding a happy compromise by leaving my bags in the main departure area with all the other missing bags.
"But what if someone steals them?" I asked the helpful Immigration Officer.
"Don't worry!" He told me happily "No one steals anything here - they are too scared of the death penalty in case it has drugs in it!"
"Of course..." I agreed, suddenly feeling a little more uneasy amidst the machine guns and straightlaced mall culture than I had before.

But I made my way back into the airconditioned luxury of the airports inner sanctum anyway. A free man, wandering freely through the mall of the world, armed only with a few Singaporean dollars to hire a killer of time. I gotta say, as malls go, it ain't that bad... There are plants everywhere which are kept sprightly by daily sunlight that shines through carefully designed transforming roofs. I got a bit lost in a maze of endlessly repeating duty free shops that seem to repeat every fifty metres. I note how they declare their global branding with seductive sheen from behind the ridiculously airbrushed faces of celebrities and supermodels. That enourmous homogenous beauty that follow us everywhere. For a moment I lose myself in the immaculate casino carpets where spare change is swallowed in a second. Muzak drifts through like a kind of aromatherapy, colouring everything into an easy listening experience.

The Christmas decorations are more elaborate and longstanding than any in Australia. In Darwin International Airport from where I flew out you would be hard pressed to find a single bauble now, at least three days after the holy day. Here on the other hand, there is plastic ivy grafted onto every spare parcel of roof. They are decorated with silver stars, pine cones and baubles galore. Of course in true modern form they bear no reference to anything actually Christian anymore - it seems the disney fairies and cocacola Santa Clause have won that holiday season in some symbolic way. Filling the centre of the promenade, purple and white decorations are draped over polystyrene snow and huge pine trees - in this tropical asiatic nation where you won't find either snow or pine while on the other side of the world Europeans look desiringly at postcards of tropical island nations where they can escape the winter chill. A perfect irony.

The kids love it though - getting their photo taken in front of the fantasy land of presents - so how could you not smile a gentle cheek at the whole honest kitchness of it all? Of us all. Here, in the middle of the mall that is inbetween countries, inbetween cultures, everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
The global interzone.

 
the city at the end of the world
[ file under: The Human Zoo ]

This morning we woke to find the city had disappeared. From the hill upon which I live overlooking the high rise of it's centre, all i could see was the white absence of smoke, erasing the distance. Down the road the mystery closes in at only a few kilometres. Leaving only the immediate vicinity left within our field of reference. People wander in a daze, unsure of what to do about it. They cannot do anything, so they go about their business, aware that some thing is terribly wrong. Something terribly tangible, but too complicated for us to right with our hands. We cannot grab it, it is a ghost, haunting us through the hours.

These are our forests that fill the air you see - or what is left of them - defended against logging onslaughts and now erased by the tinderbox of droughts breathe spoken onto the delicate landscape. The lightning strike which dazzled us in the distance at the weekends festival, might have done it, or it could have already started. The sparks from the sky and earth meeting have brought an inferno to the dry summer, blazing into what they call a firestorm - a being so intense that it has created it's own personal climatic system, altering the weather all around it. The human authorities claim it is beyond our control and we can only wait fo rit to burn itself out, perhaps months from now. In the meantime, when the winds see fit, our metropolis is engulfed in it's carbon sauna.

Some claim it is the environmentalists fault that there is so much forest to burn out of control. Other's wonder what kind of burning regimes the local Aboriginals might have done to curb such elemental outbursts, did they do ritual burning in the same way as those now adopted by firemen in other parts of the country? Some wander the streets, breathing the hint of eucalypt and acacia scents and wonder if this is a window into the invisible wounds of climate change. A month ago it was hailing ice from the heavens, now they are filled with hot ash and the sun is a bloodshot eye smothered in the hazy echo of a disappearing rainforest.

The smoke from it's breath fills our avenues and lungs and we drift through the carbon streets unsure if there is anything we can do. And when we look across to the skyscrapers, those proud symbols of modern human ingenuity, they are nowhere to be found.

 
a moment in reflection

Today my head is full of the ten thousand things.
they call to me like children yearning to be born,
they sing for me the delicate muscle of dawn, wings cast upon the myth of
creation.
i hear the narrator's voice sprouting somewhere deep within my throat, it
tastes a wise resonance whose vibration connects my head and my heart in
romantic collusion.
The words fall out of me at these times, water bursting through the levy
of distraction.
Cool night air surrenders into day dream before me and I watch the azure
wave that preceeds the suns golden entrance.
Does this also have a name?

This morning I awoke to the metronome of timekeepers. Heard the distant
chime of traffic meeting train, swam in the breathe of my friend sleep, is
if it were some mantra of resurrection. A gust of your breathe dances
with leaves. The lungs of everything.

Outside, the day is still waking and the people move in silent duty. They
fill these streets and cars and trams without a word - the collusion of
the civilian soul. To some it might seem oppresive, today I find it
strangely comforting. No one need speak. The private respect of strangers.

I step onto a ship that surfs the avenue, piloted by electricity, drunken
with dawn. The road pulsates at the rate of mountains heartbeat, the glass
is melting too - but none of us shall witness their long flood. Each
heartbeat a microcosm of rhythm, each lifetime a song being spun to it's
crawl.

As we travel I watch a mess of angles gather on the horizon ahead, curving
with the contours of bitumen, threaded with the powerline of stitching.
This whole city is a sculpture of robot dna, each cell a perfect cube in
the machinery of commerce and architecture, straight lines carved from
earth and mortar, surrendered by rock gods with metallic skeletons. This
is an age of concrete, where the world becomes manifest. Where the
dreaming is cast into echoes forgotten in the breaking of day. Where magic
is only rumour and money is plastic, made from oil, burning always,
painting the sky.

My fellow passengers, I want to ask them;
How did this miracle first birth, wandering mind?
Who seeeded the rivers under skin, or painted the stellar canvas of stars?
What breathe performed this insurrection of spirit and matter?
This music of light and sound? This aching of curiosity? This ocean of
desire?
We catch glimpse of the culprit in the threaded notes of poets dancing
quills upon the page of histories. We hear the evidence in our minds eye
whispering the endorphins of love to our virgin physiology, intoxicating
us with spells of breath and flesh.. We are drawn to it's lustful gravity,
calling to us from the end of all things.
Language speaks of it's faceless persona, powered with the vessels of all
our lives metaphor.

When I look at you I see a world of mirrors, reflecting the impossible
truth, the gaze of a mirrorball, scattered into moments, we are fragments
each and everyone. These eyes of ours, they drink in colour, chew on form,
grasp for meaning, taste lights echo potions. Nestled between each blink -
an ocean. A sky within each pupil.

We are but curious birds perched upon evolutions vast family tree.

And You, who never ceases to surprise me.
I do not want to even name you.
Not today.
 
Stuart Highway Songline part 3
Fog greets us at dawn's waking. The air made visible. Beyond the haze, the Flinders Ranges looms on the horizon, a mighty geological gateway to the centre of the country. These awesome sleeping giants rise from the flat earth, covered in dabs of green, a sculptural Fred Williams scene. As we boil coffee on our little stove and resuscitate the engine to begin our journey again, I watch the fog slither across the hillside's breast, dissolving into the warmth of morning.

Now, of one thing you can be sure out here. The further inland you travel - the higher the fuel price. The costs of power rise over the horizon as certain as the rising of the sun. I know all these arteries run with the blood of deisel and petroleum. From the view of roadkill, there must be an endless wave of road train, greyhound bus, tourists and army personnel. The metal megafauna of the new age. One day, a flock of renegade bikies surf the bitumen past our bus. Eagles scavenge the meat of roadkill, casting off into the air only when the petroleum beasts roar close in. Occasionally we catch sight of the winding snake that is the Ghan trainline, like some mythical serpent of the desert.

On this journey north I am travelling with my mother, Jo. The entire Parish tribe had just congregated for my cousin's wedding in Adelaide and I asked her if she would like to share this voyage with me. She agreed. Since retiring just a few years ago she had no need to rush back to Darwin. It's not very rock'n'roll compared to my last road trip, but a beautiful way to get to know each other again since I live mostly on the other side of the country in Melbourne. My mother is a patient travelling companion too, understanding when I decide that I want to stop and drink in a song of landscape. For me, getting out of the car and just walking into the landscape for a few minutes when you feel like it is what travelling in your own car is all about. Therefore I feel compelled to stop at random locations along the way and pay homage to the beauty of a hill, a tree, or finding kangaroo bones. At these undesignated pauses, it is much more likely to come eye to eye with a local lizards or feel the gaze of a bird above intrigued by the sight of a human.

Having been involved with Australian activism for the past few years, much of what I know of this land has been learnt often in relation to political issues. As the earth rolls beneath us, huge political landmarks pass, just beyond the horizon, always out of view from the road. My mother also shares an interest in social justice and environmentalism. In fact, I'm sure she helped cultivate this ethic in me, gifting me birthday subscriptions to New Internationalist for a few years when I first started studying. In recent years I have been able to introduce her to new interesting sources such as Adbusters Magazine which she liked so much she bought a subscription for herself.

As a result, both of us are thinking the same thing as we drive into Port Augusta and pass a sign declaring the multi-milion dollar high-security Baxter Detention Centre for refugees is situated close by. Jo has been volunteering with Amnesty International since retiring, and has written many letters to the Gvoernment about children in detention. We exchange a look of sad knowing. But continue on, powerless. On the way out of town we visit the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens and find out has been funded by Western Mining Corporation who runs the Roxby Down's uranium mine. Further up the road we turn off the road into Woomera where a rockets are still tested to this day. Not far from here is Maralinga too, where the British tested a nuclear bomb, exposing a whole tribe of Aboriginal people to the radiation as if they meant nothing to the government of the time. Apparently there is plaque commemorating this tragedy in Adelaide, but out here on at the tourist park where you can get your photo taken standing next to a series of rockets, there is not a word.

Just through the town, and past an unmanned checkpoint which reads 'No Trespassing', I drive through to the Woomera Detention Centre. The last time I had been here was during the Easter of 2002 with thousands of protestors from all over the country, trying to oppose the Government's hardline stance on mandatory detention for all refugees. At that protest the emotion of the people on both sides of the fence welled up to such a boiling point that I watched protestors actually starting to help refugees escape as they tried to bust out through the cyclone barbed wire fencing and twenty foot high metal cages that surrounded them on all sides. Even after the protests, subsequent breakout attempts by desperate refugees on the inside eventually caused the closure of the facility and the removal of everyone to the more high security and expensive facility of Baxter. What is left of Woomera is a ghost prison, all of it standing just as it seemed to look at the time, but now empty as a graveyard. As we walk around the perimeter, I look through the bars into the compound where we have learnt that men, women and children lived in demountables for sometimes up to two or three years. There is barely a tree anywhere on site. The only sign of humanity in the architecture I find is a series of murals, painted it seemed for children. One is of bunny rabbits (which is ironically, an introduced species seen as pests in the desert) another of three muslim women on boats... The echoes remain.

I begin to realise that this path we are travelling, and these landmarks I am describing, map out a new story of this land. If the original songlines of these areas have been lost or muffled, then these new flashpoints of political struggle are almost the way the land is singing new chapters of it's story, adding another sedimentary layer of time. Politics, I'm thinking, is all about power and the way it is wielded. These locations I am describing are points in the landscape where power has either been wrested or challenged in some ways, which is where activism comes in, the democratic process of protest. Out here in these sparse human settlements where the earth falls off the edge of the horizon, there are major powerplays afoot and these locations are a series of power centres in the emerging activist songline of Australia.

Another good example is a few more hours up the road at Kupa Piti. Here the Kungka Juta, a group of Aboriginal women elders created the Irati Wanti campaign to stop the proposed waste dump on their land (literally translated, Irati Wanti means 'The Poison, leave it'). Just further east in the region of Lake Eyre, Arrente elder Kevin Buzzacot continues to oppose the mining of uranium that lies under the land. Much has been written of the amount of water which the Beverly and Roxby Down's mine's use every day, stilling ancient aquifiers and hot springs which were regarded as sacred water holes in an arid desert. In 2004 Buzzacot was involved in an international peace pilgrimage walked from Lake eyre to Canberra, then continued in Japan.

If you make a point to be politically conscious, none of these stories will surprise you. But I know many do not know of them, no matter how hard our fledgling Indymedias attempts to spread that word. But these stories are still being told. The land of Gondawana is still here, it's people are in a state of flux. In fact I think we are all still redefining what it even means to be Australian. Every day we are dreaming it into being with our actions.

Yet as important as all of these points of struggle are to the land and it's identity, it is not as though there are conveniently placed tourist signs on the side of the road letting anyone know that this is taking place. There is no plaque explaining the history of Woomera and the struggle to close it down. It just sits there, like an open wound on the psychic landscape. Many would choose to forget these recent histories, yet, like Woomera, they continue to exist, crouching on the edge of our nation's psyche. Until we confront these ghosts and face them honestly, we will not have truly reconciled the past in this country.

I feel that we still have a long way to go as a nation.
So do my mother and I on our journey into it's centre.

To be continued.
 
The Commonwealth Game
A backtrack.

<<<< A week before embarking on my trip through Central Australia, I still had to get to a wedding in Adelaide. still had to pick up the vegie oil car I was driving there. Still had to escape the gravity of this city they call Melbourne...

It was the height of the Commonwealth Games fever and the city was awash with bodies. I had never seen it so full to the brim and bustling with so much pedestrian energy. Entire streets in the CBD were closed off to cars. Volunteers acting as live streetlights directed traffic from surf lifesaver towers, shouting at the herds through megaphones. Tourists from all over the Commonwealth wrapped themselves in their nation's flag. I even saw one child wearing a Sex Pistols 'God Save The Queen' t-shirt next to his dad draped proudly in the Union Jack. Ahhh, the irony - and the amnesia of radicalism. On the opening night celebrations, the skyscrapers in the city all shot fireworks from their roofs, like a gang of ejaculating fallaces bursting with loud bright pyrotechnics. Below at street level we watched in a kind of shock and awe at the orgasm of commonwealth fever.

As I wandered throughg the streets that week, I realised no expense was spared to make this event a true spectacle for the masses. Coinciding with the sports was the Melbourne 2006 Festival, shifted conveniently to be held six months earlier than usual. Performers from the four corners of what was once the British Empire were performing everywhere you looked.On the Yarra, a fleet of boats hosted metal sculptures of fish that were native to each of the lands participating. Also, on the southern bank of the river an auditorium had been contructed for world music concerts every night of the week, pinching the global superstars of Womadelaide the week before.

In the Melbourne digital fringes the Next Wave Festival for emerging local and national new media artists was also being held in galleries and backstreet installations everywhere, adding to the cultural hubris. One of my favourite installations was by Nic Low, flash designer of the Nomadology site, whose Clean Project was a series of installations in the famous stencil back alleys of Hosier Lane, commenting on the city street culture and the government's pre-Games clean up of the city, rounding up homeless people and shipping them out of the CBD and painting over lots of the very popular local street art.

Next Wave's launch party was at the 'container village' in the new docklands, right next door to where the Sea Shepherds had moored just a few months earlier on their way to Antarctic waters. Inside the huge empty warehouse suspended above the water were dozens of shipping containers which had been transformed into temporary art galleries exhibiting works from artists shipped in from across Melbourne, Australia and the Commonwealth. It was packed to the hilt with art, like a shopping centre where you couldn't buy anything. Bluesmen crooned at the door as you entered, someone gave me a comic which was missing text in the speech bubbles. I could pick up the dialogue at all the galleries over the next week, she said. Inward, there was a great dancing stop motion figurine from Michale Jackson's Thriller animating itself under a strobe light as it spun. A huge anti-globalisation murals filled an entire temporary wall. Illustrations from South Africa, experiments in surveillance, obscure conceptual art that left you scratching your head and even a maze to get lost in. This festival was curated by Marcus Westbury one of the founders of Electrofringe, a wonderfully intelligent and carefully subversive curator who had decided the theme for this years festival would be 'Empire Games'.

And then, past all the concert and fishy commotion of the river, "King's Domain" was also occupied by the Camp Sovereignty. An Aboriginal tent embassy had been organised by the Black GST crew to raise consciousness with the Commonwealth visitors about the ongoing issues in Australia. It was a humble camp. A few tents with donated food. Another with a map of Aboriginal Australia and information. It all centred around the sacred fire which had been carried down from the Canberra Tent Embassy for the occasion.

The day I visited the camp and paid respect to the fire, I saw Targan - who designed the Black GST logo - talking with two park rangers form the Botanical Gardens. They were two friendly white women who were very interested to learn about the Aboriginal history of the land they were in charge of. He asked them if they realised that there were Aboriginal remains buried underneath the land the camp was situated. They had no idea.

One night some of the Aboriginal protesters even got on the main festival stage to do a smoking ceremony at the invitationof reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. The Melbourne City Council decided not to evict the symbolic campground while the world's media eyes rested on our town. Afterwards however, the conservative media pundits came out with teeth sharpened, outraged at the audacity of the camp. The politicians agreed, all in total denial that the Aboriginal people had any legitimate business to discuss in such a public space, and lacking the vision to see what good it could create. Sadly, as we all know, the fire was evicted two months after it had started.

But at the time, there it was. Melbourne during 2006 Commonwealth Games Festival, and all the echoes and ghosts of an imperial history washing at the gates of the city.

Amongst all this chaos I managed to drop in to my friend Zak's house one saturday afternoon. In the front yard of his East Brunswick shared house were a lazy gang of circus performers, musicians and funky ferals - the kind of youngsters who give local right wing columnist Andrew Bolt a paranoid inspiration to lash out and bite in fear of 'barbarians at the gate'. Well today the barbarians were lounging around on the grass, eating cakes, drinking tea and having a fine picnic.

Zak welcomed me in and told me that it was only a few hours till he was to jump on a plane to meet his lover Yael in Israel. Then he introduced me to his car, a green tank that ran on vegie oil which I would be driving to Adelaide. I was doing it as a favour for my friend Nat, who bumped in to at Womadjust a few weeks before. She mentioned that she needed someone to drive her new car up to the desert in Alice Springs. I told her I couldn't make it that far, but I could at least get it to Adelaide where I was returning for my cousins wedding. She could pick it up there and drive the rest of the way. She agreedm, we shook hands and now here I was. About to inherit briefly one of the anarchist fleet that run on vegie oil and travel around this country for free..

Of course, that is dependent on if you know what you are doing. Zak was leaving the next day and had many things to do beforehand, so he very quickly gave me a onceover of the var and how the vegie oil ran. He showed me how to heat the vegie oil to increase its viscosity so that it could run in a regular diesel engine. He showed me where the filter was hidden and where the pipes might need to be cleaned. He showed me the valves which let through the veige oil. He showed me a few other things which I tried to memorise, hopelessly. I'm barely literate with normal mechanics, let alone this DIY business and alot of it went over my head. Zak saw my cartoonish struggling facial expressions and decided 'Maybe I'll write all this down? You know you have to pass all this on to Nat when you give her the car."
"Yeah. Maybe you should write it down." I agreed.

A few days later I was cruising out of Melbourne in the bio-tank. Onward to Adelaide and then the Stuart Highway. I maneuvered my way around the Commonwealth Zoo, onto the Westgate Bridge and waved goodbye to Gotham City. I knew I would not be back for over a month, maybe more? Every time I leave this city, I wonder why I have this wanderlust. Why I feel the urge to travel, especially when it treats me so well, and I have so much fun here. But as soon as I begin my journey - casting off my cobwebs and discovering new dimensions of the worldgame - I remember. I love the chaos and the art and the politics and the people in this city, but honestly, I know it'll still be here when I get back.

Cya soon Smelbourne.
 
The Stuart Highway Songline
I came here looking for the Australian desert, but there is no such thing.
Out here there is life everywhere.
Plants and trees line the road through the country.
Bonsai forests abundant with life which reach your knees make you feel like a giant amongst the wildlife.
Away from the dangerous highway; birds, lizards, bugs, kangaroos and even wild camels can be found everywhere. If they don't appear immediately, be patient., Their tracks are never far away, scribed into the red earth.
The sky transcends us all, north south east and west.
The blue canvas of atmosphere.
Occasionally you see a speck of plane amongst it's tides of cloud.

I must have traversed this continent dozens of times in my life. My parents grew up in Adelaide and relocated to Darwin before I was born. As a family we made the annual Christmas pilgrimage by air every year - perhaps this is why I feel such communion with birds? I have shared their view of the world since I can remember.

Air flight is one of the wonders of the modern age as is the internet inwhich i publish these words. Born into this world, I am a native of airports and cyberspace. I feel no fear in these habitats, but in recent years I have begun to question what we have lost in this faustian pact of technology. The speed of communication has rendered our words into mere data in the optic fibre, I keep in touch with my friends across the world via email where once we might have taken months to correspond. Likewise, modern travel is all about the conquering of space and time by techno-magical combustion of fuel. The greater our industrial prowess, the faster we can move across the earth. The faster we travel, the less we see.

This time I have chosen to travel the country by land because I want to drink the clear desert oxygen. Feel the unbroken sun on my skins.
I want to taste the quietude, away fromm the noise of the city. As far as I can go.
Right back to my homelands; the city by the northern sea, Darwin.

For this journey my steed is a an orange combi, almost the colour of the earth outside. It has the words "Neo" pasted on it's outside, the name of a band whose members, friends of mine in Darwin have asked me to return the car for. We are riding the serpent they call the Stuart Highway. 2700 kilometres of bitumen and gravel which follow (roughly) the path laid out by John McDouall Stuart, a freemason who began as an explorer claiming pastoral leases and finding mineral deposits like most of his tribe, who was the first European to cross the continent succesfully in 1862 (Burke and Wills made it to the top but never made it back).

My friend Citt Williams is a filmmaker who has been working in Alice Springs over the last few years making documentaries. She told me recently she is working on a new film which explores the unknown stories of the Aboriginal trackers who guided many of the European explorers through the Australian landscape by following the ancient songlines which had been used as trade and travel routes for many many thousands years by the Aboriginal people. As a result, many of our national highways still follow the general lines of these songlines and continue on their use, albeit with a little less poetry. A recent book titled "Making Connections: Central Australia's Aboriginal trading routes" published by Arts Queensland in 2004 reinforces this idea:

"Routes followed by the ochre men to the Pukardu (ancient ochre place at the
Flinders Ranges) from the south and north and by the pituri (native tobacco)
parties were critical to European exploration of the Australian continent.
They showed explorers like John McDouall Stuart, Augustus Gregory and others
that it was safe to venture into the desert along the Dreaming Pathways. The
most successful explorers were those who realised the value of Aboriginal
knowledge of the country. They talked to Aboriginal people and took
Aboriginal “trackers” with them to guide them through unknown and often
inhospitable country"
.-Philip Jones

Stuart was known to be a talented bushman who gained a strong appreciation for Aboriginal people and their knowledge of the land, he is know to have commented on the bravery of the strategy at the Attack Creek incident where he experienced a hostile encountered with the local Warumunga people near Tennant Creek in 1860. He was friends with other explorers Sturt and Eyre, both who had trackers and guides. It is likely that Stuart learnt much of his desert knowledge from the trackers who began the expedition with him and showed him hopw to find water holes and bush tucker deep into the desert. All the way, Stuart took it upon himself to rename the landscape with European names such as 'Newcastle Waters' and 'Chambers Creek' as explorers are want to do. On his fourth expedition he encountered hostility from the Waramunga people who were based near the town we now call 'Tennant Creek' - this area is now called 'Attack Creek'. Perhaps they had heard of what the coming of the white ghosts had precipitated in other parts of the country, or perhaps he did not enagge the proper protocols to enter country? Either way, Stuart and his expedition returned to Adelaide only to try two more times before he succesfuly 'conquered' the country. Today his legacy is inscripted in marble monuments and printed on highways signs that span the entire country. His journey into the unknown territory will forever be marked by this road which carries tourists, road train supplies and the "Cannonball Run" car race and a million other uses.

During the many quiet hours we drive past these names, crossing the grated road crossing with the signs which proclaim "GRID" through the arid wilderness I wonder what the original name of this landscape sounded like. What the song of this l;and might have sounded like, it's verses pointing out the major geological landmarks and underground water systems before the coming of service stations and mining towns made more obvious blips on the landscape.

This is the spinal column of Australia. Ancient trade route of Gondwanna land. We are hurtling Neoists, travelling through compressed space and time straight through the red heart of Terra Australis.

Travelling by road is not the most efficient way to travel, timewise or moneywise and we are taking our time as we travel. Almost as soon as I arrive in Darwin I will have return to the metropolis of Melbourne city for our Random Molecules exhibition.
But it's not really about the destination anyway.
This trip is all about the journey.

To be continued
 
Personal Journalist
a photo a day keeps the muses at play

21/3/06 - A quiet moment at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Melbourne during the the Stolenwealth Games

22/3/06 Photo taken during the Commonwealth Games, East Richmond train station is a well used street art billboard

23/3/06 harvest time, undisclosed location

24/3/06 "Our Land, Your Law", drawn on the walls of the old Melbourne Jail, found during Next Wave exhibition.

25/3/06 'who cut down your stem, moonflower? a poem by the lovely Wren i discovered while packing up my belongings today..

26/3/06 driving across the Victoria, the legacy of christian torture and television frequecies filled the skies of this smalll town...

27/3/06 - i see these flags flying everywhere in this country.... multinationalism

28/3/06 Sculpture of the first Atom Bomb tested which my cousin Hatty made a few years ago. Might be considered terrorist material now..

29/3/06 - the sacred animal of the people of the torrens river... my favourite street art in adelaide, next to the transit centre.

26/3/06 (2) - is this another way of saying 'better the devil you know'? Small towns of Oz united in bewilderment in the divine.

30/3/06 - random magical symbols found in the sandy shores of the port augusta - furthest inland beach in the SA gulf.

30/3/06 - mural at woomera detention centre, which is now a ghost prison.

31/3/06 - Alice Springs - the central hub of the international Aboriginal art market.

1/4/06 - yellowcake for sale at Undergrowth fundraiser screening at Watch This Space gallery, alice Springs

 
The Strawberry Project
While in Adelaide recently for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, my friend Rob E and I discovered The Strawberry Project installation by Peter McKay at the Carclew Arts Centre with the following artist statement:

"For about three years I have been planting strawberry plants in the cracks in the pavement and guttering of the city of Adelaide. I like strawberry plants because I think they are particularly generous plants, especially considering their size.

Sometimes these plants are documented photographically. More importantly the plants are always recorded on a map of the city. Plants can live either a suprising long time or a suprisingly short time depending on weather, the various modes of traffic around and on them, and random acts of generosity toward them. From a distance I have seen a good number of people 'discover' a strawberry plant for themselves, and from what I can tell they seem to think their encounter borders on the miraculous.

Please take a strawberry and plant it in a crack in the city if you feel so inlcined. Digging tools are available too, but please return them for others to use.

Peter McKay, 2006"




We were so inclined, so we borrowed a gardening implement and made our way out on to the streets, which was hopping with energy in the midst of the Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival, et al - definitely a great time to be in Adelaide..



We chose some pavement near the river entrance to the Adelaide University. As Rob E dug his plot in the naked soil between the gravel concrete and the fence I stood look out and took these photos. Passersby were intrigued by our random acitons, and stopped to ask questions. We found they were very impressed with the idea and voiced the idea in all of our heads; 'why is it that we don't ever grow food in public?' It was a question which had been raised a few timesin the Community Gardens Conference held out in Flinders Uni earlier on in the week. City Councils the world over have developed an elaborate public park infantry of professional gardeners and intricate underground watering systems, but none of this infrastructure is used to actualy produce food.




I think that Peter McKay's artist statement gets to the point when he recognises the 'miraculous' nature of finding a fruit plant in the city street. But what does this simple act say about our culture and it's disenfranchisement from the simplest of natural wondders?




Under the suggestions of the pedestrians who stopped to talk (our Community Consultation proces, no less)
I decided to plant on the other side of the wall, to maximise shade and excess run-off from the university gardening system. Unfortunately these factors limit the potential for random discoveries by other pedestrians.




If you are in Adelaide, please take the time to visit our Strawberry plants and see they are doing. They are located between Adelaide University and the River Torrens, just a little west of the main footpath entrance to the Union area. If you taste one of our strawberries, please drop me aline to tell me what they tasted like!



thanks to Peter McKay for the beautiful ideas..

Long live the guerilla gardening meme, and may it grow like these strawberries!

xx
Tim

 
101 year old eyes
Adelaide is where my family first landed in this country, or at least the main branches of the tree... It's where my parent's grew up, one suburb away from each other. And where they fled from once they were mmarried, to avoid it's social heirarchies and cultural conservatism. I've come back here almost every year of my life, slowly getting to know my aunts and uncles, my cousins and grandparents during the Christmas pilgrimage.

This time Im here for my granddfather's 101st birthday.
Yep, 101. His stamina is incredible. A hulk of a man in his prime, he spent his twenties as a serious rower and filled the potential of his physique to its maximum.. He's lived on steak and three veg for the rest of his life as far as I can work out, so you can see why he doesn't totally subscribe to the vegetarian health philosophy.

I had only planned to stay here for a few days, but when I realised how frail he was I decided it was worthwhile to stay a little longer. My mother has been here for a month, tending his bedside after the resting home called her with the news that his health was diminishing rapidly. She told me when she arrived he was barely out of a coma, but soon recovered with her company, like a plant. It's the spiritual connection that medicine can't deliver that really makes life worth living.

We can only really get to spend an hour a day together as he gets very tired and falls asleep after a little while entertaining people, but if thats all I can get, thats ok. The Adelaide Fringe Festival is on as well, so I've been able to fill my nights exploring the art and theatre, comedy and music that is filling this town to capacity at this time.. But everyday I drop in to see him at his 'Eldercare' home, which is halfway between my Aunt's where Im staying and the city.




I've been inclined to think about this phenomena of the resting home. These large communal houses for the elderly as they wait out their days. Multiple occupancy for a generation who never lived in shared houses. It must be an interesting change for theem at such an age. I wonder if my generation will have evolved this cultural habit by the time we reach this age. Will we incorporate more exotic influences? Yoga and meditation? Art and music? And perhaps I imagine our pasttimes could get more trancendental our bodies give way - workshops on trancendental meditation and lucid dreaming as precursors to astral travelling - wouldn't they be great ways to spend your winter years? The only other alternative is the western equivalent, which is virtual reality. Only time will tell.

Some of the guests here are more chipper than others, many watch tv a lot. Others are becoming so frail they barely leave their rooms. In the last few months my Grandpa has reached this stage too.. His feet are bloated and red as his blood no longer circulates properly. Yesterday when I visited him he was lying staring into middle space, as he often is. he has a tv, but has never really liked it. It still sits there though, completely useless, but my mum has stuck pictures of our family onto the screen instead.

I've always found it hard to relate to my Grandfather about what it is that I actually do. I've found he's not particularly interested in discussing art and culture, and avoids the complex conversations about politics or philosophy which I've come to enjoy. I've always had the feeling that he doesn't really think I will be able to make a living out creating art.
Usually when he tells me things like
"I don't think you can make a living out creating art."
I would reply
"Well, many in history seem to have been able to!"
"Have you ever thought of studying economics?" he used to ask me everytime I visited him.

Today I brought my laptop along to show him some of what I create. I pulled it out from my shoulderbag and plopped it in front of him - plugging in the phone line and explaining how the modem could communicate via binary signals through the optic fibres of the global telecommunications sytem as I brought up the Undergrowth wbesite. He was rather impressed, annd perhaps a little overwhelmed when I downloaded a film I had made right there and then (although it took a while on dial-up). I'm conscious of the fact that when he was growing up there weren't even cars around, let alone televisions or computers! He's watched the whole 20th Century unfold and it has only taken two generations to completely transform the technological world. It's too easy to be blas'e and pass off previous generations for not keeping up to date, but truly that's just youthful arrogance speaking. I think it's actually infinitely more interesting for those of my generation to try and put our feet in their shows and connect to the reality of this kind of cultural shift. It is only with this kind of perspective do we not take for granted all this technology and see it for what it is, magic. And at the same time, remember that none of it is necessity, and that humanity has enjoyed life on this planet for many millenia before these kinds of technologies had manifest. And so this is the lesson I see in my grandfather's eyes as I show him my skills.

Now here we are, sitting across from each other, separated by over seven decades, an entire lifetime between us. I want to learn from him, but his mind is getting tired to tell his stories anymore. I know he served in the war, positioned in the Torres Strait Island, and travelled a bit with his wife to Europe and Egypt many years ago. About five years ago he had to finally sell his beautiful home in Unley where he had cultivated a productive garden for fifty years, growing apples and oranges, carrots and more. A creek ran through the back of the house, although it is was mostly empty of water and my sister used to play in there as children visiting for Christmas.

I ask him questions about all these things, but when he's lying down he often fades in and out of consciousness as we talk, like you would when you are tired... Sometimes when he does this I have to check that he's still breathing.. I take his hand in mine. His skin is pale and blotchy, easily bruised because he is overdosed on aspirin in order to thin his blood out because his kidneys are no longer working. His body jolts in his sleep. I could almost imagine him to gently fade away here and now in front of me, and to tell you the truth I am not scared of this idea. I no longer see death as being something to fear.

I will miss him, but I don't fear death for him, there is no point is there? You may as well fear the moon that's going to rise every month. Or the dawn every day. Or sleep.
I wonder if death is similar to sleep as I wake one morning and drift softly in the limbo between dream and consciousness for a moment longer than usual. It's a calm, blissful, almost out of body experience where you flirt with the waking world, and dance on the edge of manifest.

I don't see fear in my grandfather's eyes either. I see a calm relaxed patience.
He is waiting for his body to let go.
"It's not much fun getting to this age." he tells me, as he struggles to his feet to go to the toilet. The drugs they give him twice daily keep him with us. To not take them would be suicide, and no one wants to disobey doctors ordersm and so it continues. The slow, but sure decay of the connection between body and spirit.

He wakes again, and sees me sitting there still, next to his bed and a smile crosses his lips.
"Thankyou for your companionship, old boy." he tells me in his Victorian era language, "It's good to have you here."

His blue eyes are as clear and milky as a pale summer sky. We hold each others hands silently there for a few minutes, and he falls asleep again with his fingers still grasping my own. We've never been so close, and I have tears waiting just behind my eyes. But there's nothing to cry about, instead Im smiling.
Quietly I pack up my computer and my bag and leave him curled in the echo of a foetal position on his bed, like a child again, tucked underneath his blanket.

I whisper 'goodbye' one more time, and then I let myself out.
 
59% battery
59% battery
edinborough gardens, nth fitzroy
i'm riding home, drunken, inspired to type
something, everything, anything
whatever gets out
overlooking an oval field over looking the city
a maze of office lights grids cross the ladder of sky
these days pass through me,
cyclones of moments,
oceans of conversation,
fleeting moments of epiphany and laughter
those times where we touch the mystery and tango within it.
red wine and summer sweat.
my lovers flown away
across hemispheres.
maybe i see her in a few months?
maybe not?
tonight i'm thinking of you,
sending transmissions through the stars,
the sky above looks into me
moon nowhere in sight,
possums fighting in the trees,
growl above the slow roar of traffic
white noise across the horizon
insect mantras
breath
56% battery
 
ABRACADABRA
laying by the yarra
rippling serpentine freshwaterbody
solar energy caught in the atmosphere is wounded to the blue depths of the minds eye
it continues through ozone, lands upon my skin.
upon the water's skin.
reflecting upon the scaled surface patterns
and dancing up the proud neck of eucalypt trunks
adorned with light echos
serenaded by the twix twittle and tweet tweet whistle of the canopies acoustic radio birdcast.
im drinking it all in,
recollecting last nights journey.
through the psychedelic landscape of dimethyltryptamine, a shamanic substance which is said to be released from the pineal gland of the brain naturally during birth, death and mystical experiences.
Smoking the refined DMT powder is said to trigger a kind of hyperdimensional shift in consciousness akin to these moments (whatever that means).
In the past few years I have read a number of different accounts about this experience, including the work of psychedelic philsopher Terrence McKennaand The Spirit Molecule by Dr. Rick Strassman which follows a whole series of different journeys under the influence of the plant. These different trip reports detail stories as varied as out of body experiences, the sense of shifting dimensions and even contact with extra terrestrial intelligences. Until now something (fear?respect? patience?) had prevented me from trying it. Then last week Brian, a chinese medicine student who lives with my Undergrowth cohort Rak invited me to join in on a journey circle and partake in an expedition into these alchemical worlds.
I decided the time was ripe.
So here is the travelogue of my first journey into this beautiful and technicolour experience.
A psychic nomadology, if you will.

The moon was full that evening as five of us made our way down to the Merri Creek.
We unrolled our carpet by the celtic labyrinth which someone has built out of stones there and built a fire from the branches of trees around us. The flame was sparked, we sat around it, discussing what we were about to do. What we hoped to learn from this experience.

At Rak's suggestion, we each of us adopted an element to embody;
rak =fire.
brian = air.
jay = water.
a girl I had just met but whose name I have forgotten, who brought her violin played spirit.
i was earth.

earth began the ceremony...
breathing through a glass pipe.
lay back on the carpet.
labyrinthine diagrams began to unfold behind my eyelids.
A felt a brief moment of dislocation, as if i was being propelled into another kind of space, or perhaps it was infiltrating my consciousness...
but then, almost immediately i returned... quicker than i had anticipated.
I had not smoked enough.

Brian upped the dosage as he went around the circle and when the pipe returned to me he gave me larger dosage... finally i had a dosage which took me to a completely different space.
i felt the origami of consciousness deconstructing around me...
Veils dissolving, at first it seemed as though i was looking over a fractal patterns maze. It writhed and shifted dancing like a kaleidoscope around me.
Then I the colours changed shape resemble more an Aboriginal dot painting, at once interstellar and quantum.
sound disappearing into the void of silennce
matrix star systems moved around me
a three dimensional animation spiralling into itself becoming more flat..
i realised i could no longer hear any voices around me..
where had everyone gone?
could i open my eyes?
i didn't dare..

silence enveloped me.
or perhaps i had moved into a place beyond sound.
i was still sitting, crosslegged.
i felt like a golden buddha sheathed in translucent light as i felt energies all around me.
a scientific energy as if was being explored by a thousand mirrorball irises scaning my soul.
there was nothing I could hide, so i didn't try.
but was that just my own headspace approaching this like a scientist?
i felt out of my depth, as if i was no longer breathing. was this a friendly place anymore? i could not tell.
i felt energies around me.. I could see them..
I hesitate to use the word alien, as many people have described DMT as such.
only when they began to make small noises, giggles and sighs i realised they were my friends, back in the world, and I was somehow percieving them, seeing them even, with my eyes closed...
I was on the return.
Slowly we all returned to normal consciousness and shared our experiences.
Jay felt she had not inhaled quite enough so she wanted to try it again.
i decided i would as well, fascinated by the world i had just discovered and keen to explore a little more..
this was something entirely new to me..


the third time was nothing short of phenomenal, but not in the way I had read of other DMT experiences at all..
What astounded me was my ability to bring back these visions to this world, something I had never expected before.
Perhaps the tryptamines had built up in my bloodstream, it lasted alot longer..
the violinist began playing as i lit the pipe.
i was listening to this sound as i descended into the space again,
and watched it completely disappear..
finding the silence.
that space beyond sound again...
i felt the energies circle around me
was i being inspected?
i asked myself why i had sent myself here
but did i ask myself this or was i asked it?
i realised this place i had found was not necessarily fun.
i was out of my element, like a fish might feel jumping out of water for the first time.i saw my fear rise within me, but knew i was safe.
i understood that this wasn't a toy.
the fear was there, i could almost see it, circling my being like a serpent, but it wasn't going to take me.
it was as though i could see through it, into it's very nature, and in doing so it lost all of it's power over me.
i saw how it would hold me back if i were to let it.
How it holds us all back as we let it.

Then I realised; where had the violin gone?
i was no longer using my ears, but i knew she was still playing it.
I was sure.
I concentrated on it, and as I did the violin seemed to poke through the veils, as if sliced into slivers of sound...
sss .sss. sss. sss..
it felt as if it were a golden cord which i then used to follow back into the waking world, bringing with me the bejewelled iris i was still freshly intoxicated with.

I opened my eyes.
To my right, Brian was lying down.
It looked as if his body were wrapped in a serpentine layer of gills. I didn't quite know what to make of it. (He would later tell me that is trip had been one all about coming face to face with the reptilian nature within him.)
I rubbed my eyes and looked again.
I saw Rak walk over to the fire, or rather he seemed to glide as though he were liquid. A resplendent red wizard in a robe of stars.
I looked down to the fire and saw it as a ruby crystalline energy - an organism as much alive as the trees dancing patterned fabric imprinted on the sky above us.
I did a double take at the world around me.
What was I seeing?
Usually while using psychedelics I have seen more detailed vibrant colours and life pulsing around me, but mostly it has been a mental and symbolic journey into the mythical nature of things.
I have never had hallucinations like this, and I hesitate to even call them hallucinations.
That is to say, they were not merely arbitrary patterns.
They were more like energy signatures overlayed on the physical reality, each infused with meaning, like visions into another energetic layer of reality I had never before quite seen..
As though everything was filled with brilliant magical information which I could now access...
It was as though my previous insights, based on poetic intuition and metaphor were being proven with my own eyes .

I had the urge to explore with these new hallucinogenic binoculars.
Imediately I sprang to my feet.
I ran.
I rolled.
I cartwheeled.
I breakdanced.
I walked on my hands...
I climbed trees.
I continued on away from the group, lured by the violins lyrical thread.
Content to leave the company of human eyes and observing energies.
i rolled onward, half running, half jumping, doing backwards rolls, walking was so boring.
Gravity is a habit.
i arched my back, a cat.. a wild animal stretching it's muscles within me...
so comfortable in my human clothes..
I danced underneath the friendly canopy with the spiralling trees which were playing with each other, spinning in mosaics of branch structure, like two brains meeting.
I could see how their leaves were tongues drinking in the cool breeze of the night air..
I felt their energy.
They sit and feel us all with such utter warmth.
Such patience.
Such love.
More and more i realised Fear was the most ludicrous thing in the world..
It only has one purpose, to prevent growth.
I roll back onto the gorund.
The grass is giggling at me.
Im giggling back,
Moreover, I let laughter dance out through me, as it is always there and ready to dance.
The spirit of play.
I laughed at myself and all of us and the weight of human worries which all add up to nothing but cages to prevent us from rising.
But there is nothing to fear.
Not even death.

I peered up to the endlessheavens and felt the sophisticated energy of aliens peering back at me through the twinkling light of the stars. But I didn't feel alienated from them, so alien seems the wrong word.
It just seemed... consciousness existed up there.
quite obviously.
I continued on.
I came to a path and touched it with my fingertips.
Mourned with the rocks, thanking them for the forms they had sacrificed for this humble service to the bicycle wheel.
Lay upon it's still warm body, heated by the radiation of summer day.
I caught my breath.
That was when I heard the river's gentle bubble babble and immediately felt compelled to run down to greet it (her?).
As I ran I passed underneath the Weeping Willow, gracefully posed in waterfalls of green hair. It seemed out of place somehow, an introduced species, so far from it's homelands, like we all are, yet living as we do anyway.
Peacefully.
Upon reaching the river I delved my hands underneath it's liquid surface cloths,
It was almost an erotic act..
I felt a warm welcoming presence within it and suddenly wanted to shed my cloths and enter the water, but my rational mind resisted the urge, knowing of the invisible tragedy of poisons that this city of scars and car runoff has left in it's winding currents.
We both mourned, the river and I.
I vowed to it I would do all within my power to help it heal so that one day I could return, or my children, to enjoy it's sensual pleasures, as should be our birthright.
I knew that it would require years of work and imagination and support to be apart of the change in this society, but why not?
it deserved to be saved..
it is obscene that it is taken for granted that it cannot be.
i refuse to believe it.
I had seen enough.

By now I could feel the visions were clearing away and my normal sight was returning. All in all it has only lasted about ten or fifteen minutes. But what intense truth packed into those miutes. As it faded away I had the intuition that this kind of sight was a more honest vision of the world somehow, and it was something I could access without the use of this chemical. I decided that I wanted to learn how to see this way all of the time, as if it were merely a muscle I could cultivate.
It would be a skill to develop, the inner eye, perhaps.
Another way of seeing with the eyes I had been born with.
How much we take everything for granted.

The next morning i woke to a shaft of sunlight crawling at the speed of day across my body through the curtains of my room.
Illuminated in it's gaze was an ocean of dust particles drifiting along the invisible currents of the room.
I breathed and caused a hurricane
i remember i am enourmous
an ocean rests within me
a thousand rivers run through my veins
my imagination, the size of sky
my desire, furnace enough for all volcanoes
i am also simple, humble clay.

And now here I am, relaxing in the morrow, by the river again.
At a different juncture, but the same river, as all rivers are the same and never the same, as I am always myself and yet forever changing and shifting in endless potentials manifest.
Paths chosen.
Oceans traversed.
Landscaped breathed.
Spirits evoked and inspired by.
I am still decoding the information I have downloaded, but something has changed in me.

Today the sun is dancing on the rivers body, and when the wind comes to play I see it's form in starlight flickers brushing across the surface.
A rower passes. The droplets from his paddle glisten, ephemeral as diamonds. Glorious in brief flight. Rejoining the whioleness of this water body in which treasures more valuable than any greedmonger could recognise swim
Content..

But I know.




 
Our Nations Capital
After a two days in Sydney, I met up with band and drove with them to Canberra. Once we arrive Saritah does a quick interview with the local radio before the gig and then I spend the night with my friends Rachel and Paul, aka The Contextual Villains who I'm staying with. I sleep in their living room surrounded by a beautiful mess of half complete art projects, video cameras, and cut out magazines, all of which inspire a longing in me for a nest of my own to make such a creative chaos.

In the morning the band continued on to do a series of gigs down the South Coast, but something impelled me to stay in Canberra and explore our nations capital for a few days.

The next day I am sitting on a hill next to the Lake Burley-Griffin with my old friend Laurel who has just arrived back from New York State a few weeks ago. We are both suprised to see that someone has saved a large peace sign into the grass near us, large enough to be visible at Parliament House on the other side of the lake. We go for a stroll around the Paliamentary Triangle with Milo her housemates three year old boy who says hello to all the birds we pass from the luxury of his stroller.

Laurel and I used to work together on a community telelvision program called Access News in Melbourne, and she tells me of various media-activism projects she's been involved in in the States. She tells me about the Republican national Convention which turned New York into a police state for a day as tens of thousands protested and the National Guard took to the streets. She tells me of the general paranoia within America straight after 911- and the suspicion of those not waving flags. In particular I am interested in the work she was doing with the Navaho people, in the American midwest, who she tells me are currently opposing a new coal power station, a nuclear power station and a coal mine on their ancestral lands, as well as the alcoholism and general community breakdown which is afflicting their reservations. Sound familiar?

As we cross the Lake Burly Griffin we are beset by a blizzard of white petals that fill the air on this perfect spring day. The sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia is consumed in them, covering the ground like it has been snowing. Effortlessly outshining all of the metal and wood creations in this glorious seasonal occurence.. Milo, who has been silent listening to our conversation up to this point jumps gleefully out of his strollerIt's like dry snow and we roll around in it for a while before straightening up a and entering the austere architecture of the High Court..

Walking Through The Architecture of Power.

In this city I am beginning to understand something intrinsic about the nature of how power exerts it's authority over a society. It's all about the surface projections. The Architecture of Power. The prestigious clothing of space. The superficial dominance of style over substance which makes someone in uniform or a suit demand respect, while historically, a naked Aboriginal might be treated as insignificant.

This is why our politicians all wear business suits in Parliament. 'The Suit' is a modern day uniform of the elite. The business class wear them and so our politcians must wear them. If they don't they are likely to be ridiculed by the newspaper for upsetting the orthodoxy.

What I'm talking about here is the vocabulary of prestige, wealth and power which is in the end all about illusion, but in reality is incredibly politically useful. Every millionaire needs a large house to reflect his enourmous ego, a monument to symbolise his sense of importance. Every monarch, emperor, dictator and ruler has understood this inherently.

Every Nation needs a fitting Capital to reflect it's shining political power structures. Perhaps this is the secret power which the original Freemason's understood better than anyone. After all they back then they were the architects and engineers of old - they must have understood the semiotics of power invested in architecture. It's the spacious opulence that demands our respect and awe.

The High Court is a case in point. It's huge spacious ceilings create a sense of physical awe and respect. Every sounds echoes the halls, and thus we are led to whisper, as though it is a sacred space. Children don't obey these social codes though, and Milo laughs in glee at the novelty of the revolving doors as we enter. Runs up the long ramp pretending to hide from the security guards and Laurel and I follow, entertained by his enthusiasm to explore. At the top of the ramp Milo stops at the tall austere statue of a judge in full wig and regalia. I know exactly what he's thinking.
"What's that on his head?" he asks, innocently.
"It's a costume which judges wear." Laurel tells him.
"It's a colonial echo." I think to myself.

We find the the three large court rooms empty, and I get the sense that this is a museum, one built for justice, but only occasionally employed for that end. I'm told later that even when the courts are in process they are more often than not using the new technology of teleconferencing, which means that sometimes only one judge is present speaking between a bank of cameras and screens that contain the images of judges and lawyers around the country. I could not imagine a more surreal picture to represent the turning of the wheels of justice in a media dominated, technological society..
At the very least it would make an intriguing photograph.

Breathing Eucalypt at the Sacred Fire

At the centre of the Parliementary Triangle, smack bang in front of old Parliament House sits the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. While the High Court and the Parliament stand like castles of power and prestige, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is the opposite. Its a collection of humpees, a political shanty town, raw as can be. There are no public relations spokespersons or security guards to greet you as you enter it's vicinity, only a group of rough around the edges activists and elders sitting around a campfire exchanging tales.

After listening to their conversation for a while I introduce myself, and tell them I'm interested in learning about the history of the Embassy. A lady called Caroline introduces herself to me and invites me over to the sacred fire at the centre of the clearing.

We both take a branch of eucalypt leaves which she explains has been used for healing and ceremonial practices in th traditional way. Silently we place them on the fire and watch as their tiny branches light up in golden embers and crackle, their leaves combust into a cloud of smoke as the wind turns and directs the smoke in my direction, engulfing me briefly.. I close my eyes, and let the smoke shower me as it rises, taking in a breath of the sacred.

"Now you've been welcomed to country proper way.." Caroline tells me "That's what we call Wamu."

She tells me how the embassy has been here for thirty years now, and holds a Corroboree for Sovereignty every Australia Day which an Aboriginal memory chooses to call Invasion Day or alternatively, Survival Day. She also tells me how they need to hold constant vigil to maintain this place as the authorities continue to try and shut them down, even though the embassy has been listed as a site of National Heritage. This has included firebombing of one of the original demountables and the destruction of any attempts to build a more pemanent museum of aboriginal artefacts for historical display. "They've even come and attempted to extinguished the sacred fire" she coptinues.. "But underneath this little fireplace there's an underground bank of coals, and other fires held elsewhere.. They'll never be able to extinguish it.."

Caroline goes on to tell me about Uncle Kevin Buzzacot of the Arabunna People, an elder/warrior who is fighting the Beverly Uranium Mine on his land which is stealing water from the underground water basin and making the natural springs in his area dry up. Apparently a few years ago Buzzacot stole the Commonwealth Coat of Arms from the Old Parliament House in a symbolic action to question the validity of the Australian Government using the sacred totem animals from his country - the emu and the kangaroo - in their emblem.
When I first heard this story I marvelled at what a powerful symbolic action that was, and I thought it was a brilliant piece of performance art but little more.
However, after coming here to the Tent Embassy I am beginning to understand, these aren't just symbols. To these people who have remained true to the lore of their own traditions, who are still mindful of the recent history of this land, these aren't just empty symbols, they are significant reflections of an ongoing struggle to be heard and respected.

I am realising, for Aboriginal people whose culture is full of living breathing mythology, these symbols are real. And while it is very easy for most Australians to dismiss all this as history, those that are living inside the social structure that has come to dominate these lands and subjugate the original people, it is as contemporary as it ever was. But of course, it's would be easier to say it's over from the conquering side wouldn't it? The greater challenge is to sit down and listen to what the Aboriginal elders have to say. And what better place to engage with the symbolic nature of our cultural heritage than in this city, full of symbols and mythmaking monuments.

The Case of the Empty Parliament.

It's getting close to five o'clock as I walk up the hill to Parliament House and Im concerned Im not going to see any of the latest proceedings, as they are debating both the anti-terror laws, the Industrial Relations changes and VSU at the moment in a series of radical legislative spearheads by the Coalition Government.

Passing through security checkpoints always makes me feel like Im travelling to another country, and here I am getting padded down by insecurity as I enter into Politician Land. This is the castle of democracy in our country, annd it feels like it. It's large spacious foyer with pillars made of marble exude a royal sensibility. I walk up the large marble staircase and check my bag and hat into the cloakroom before entering the Legislative Assembly, only to be confronted with a rather bizarre sight.

Down below in the large chamber stood one lone politician on the side of Labour making a speech, with no one else in the room except the Speaker and the Hansard. I sat alone in the public gallery and watched the strange performance which no elected ears were present to hear. Hanging over the scene was the large coat of arms held diligently by the emu and the kangaroo, watching over this bizarre moment with me. With only a few minutes until the end of sitting I thought perhaps the other politicians might enter so I decided to wait it out. No one came.

The Speaker called the end of sitting and I watched in fascination at the arcane ritual of lifting the golden sceptre, complete with royal crown was carried out ceremoniously before everyone else could leave. I wondered what the Aboriginal dissidents at the Tent Embassy would have thought of this pomp and ceremony.
I wondered what I thought?

It seemed like such a hangover from British monarchism, still practised diligently at the seat of our countries power. It all served to reinforce my intuition about the currency which these old colonial heritages still maintain in the far flung corners of the Commoonwealth that is Australia. No matter how little the general population might find them relevant, here in this city of symbols they are very relevant.

I left the green hall of the Legislative Assembly and heard the chatter of voices from the level above me, and looked up to see a crowd milliong about drinking chapagne and wine. Perhaps, I thought this is where all of our politicians were? I continued on to the other side of the building where The Senate sits in an identical, although pink chamber. As I enter they were discussing the death of parliamentary democracy due to the fact that the Liberals now control both seats of power and can push through any legislation they choose.

I watched a moth glide across the room as the voices of the Senators bellowed through the house, from both sides back and forth all day. The high ceilings work well to make the sound travel and echo throughout the chamber. There are others in the gallery with me here, and begin to feel like we are bearing witness to one long conflict resolution seminar... as if all the politicians are representatives of the various disputes within the same family of Australia. There are the rich and wealthy whose liberal views are based on personal freedom to accumulate wealth. Then there are those who traditionally represented the working class who rose up to challenge them. Inbetween are the Democrats who have risen up to challenge the to and fro of the two party system, and then the Green vote who to me represent much of the new wave of thinking which the younger generation typify, unencumbered by old party prejudices and social norms, committed to environmental, reconciliation, peace and trade justice. The politics of the new millenium - or at least I hope so.
Oops. Did I just out my political allegiances there?
(As if anyone reading my blogs wouldn't have figured it out yet.)

Anyway, apparently just before i had entered Senator Robert Hill, Leader of the Liberals in the Senate had come in and put forward a motion to hold a Senate inquiry into the anti-terror laws. No sooner had he done this than he unceremoniously exited the room to let everyone discuss or argue about it. No doubt he had better wine to drink on the second floor.

The combined Labour, Democrat and Green Senators blustered at the fact they were being left to discuss the inquiry into an act they hadn't yet been given the priviledge to even see, and because they were not putting forward the inquiry, they were being told it would only last a week, so as to rush it through before Christmas.

"This is a low day in the history of this parliament.. " Stott-Despoja appealed to the Liberals themselves to question the the government undermining the process of the democracy...

"Yer Dreamin" shouted a cheeky Liberal form the other side. Filled with arrogance.

Stott-Despoja seemed to be appealling to the camera's more than the actual Liberal Senators, hoping that the Australian public will see that this is a problem.

After a while I decided to leave. Since it was after five, I was escorted by the security guard.. we talk about the political theatre we had been watching and I express my fear of the fact that the Coalition had power over both houses, but the security guard didn't seem fussed.
'well if they really fuck it up, they'll be voted out next election.' he said.

But judging on recent history and all the lies, mistakes and controversy which has been ignored, Im not so sure.


The Memory and the Amnesia of War.

Thart night I stayed at Laurel and Vaughan's house and spent the morning walking through the suburbs of Canberra back into the city. I observe the difference of these houses is that so few if any of them have fences, it's a nice surprise considering the way that all the other cities in the country are going. Many of the gardens are native too.

I wander up Mt Ainslie and at the top overhear an architecture student giving a presentation at the lookout about the organic architecture of the town designed by Walter Burly-Griffin. It must be the most pre-designed city in Australia, and over the last fifty years it has grown into it's preplanned street patterns..

On the other mountain I find myself at the War Memorial and decide to have an explore. Inside, young boys run around excited by all the guns on display, pretending to shoot each other. Elsewhere A schoolgroup peers into the tiny display of a melted clock, a sad and miniscule monument to the chapter of Hiroshima.

At the centre of the memorial lies the eternal flame where people have thrown their dollars in respect (or perhaps as wish for change?). Further on lies the Shrine of the Unknown Soldier, a temple dedicated to all those who have lost their lives at war in Australian hisotry. It is beset on all sides by the stained glass window portraits of Australian servicemen, diggers and a single woman. Each of them are underscored by the noble qualities they must represent such as 'patriotism', 'individuality' and interestingly 'coolness'.

A boquet of plastic flowers sits at the centre of the room, and holy light shines from above upon the faces of the soldiers employing deeply religious techniques. The architecture of Canberra affords a long clear view down through the memorial and its long empty front lawn that stretches to the lake, over the lake, over the old parliament house and up the spires of the new. From here I can also see the makeshift shantytown of the Tent Embassy as well which I visited yesterday. And I realise that this is a testament to another kind of war that this memorial doesn't mention at all.. although it is the only war which has actualy taken place on these lands. Im talking, of course, about the war waged between the indigenous people of Asutralia and the colonial powers that have built this monument. What, I wonder of the guerilla warfare led by resistance fighters such as Pemulwuy? What place do they have in the legacy of Australian warfare which this museum is built to commemorate? And what kind of questions would they raise about the ongoing warfares that we have since been involved in on behalf of our the British Monarchy since then? I have no doubt that these histories will have their time in this place, I only wonder how long before these stories are told and given fair hearing in these national shrines of remembrance. Surely this is a key point in our countries process of reconciliation? A recognition, no matter how uncomfortable or ugly of the history that has passed, so that we may finally make peace with it and let it go, knowing that there is no one left alive who was responsible for this complex and bloody part of our collective history, but which we must face up to regardless lest we live on the foundations of patriotic lie?


I stumble onto a tour being conducted through the section devoted to Gallipoli and am interested in the delicate way the guide dances around the controversial subject of the way the Australians were used almost as cannon fodder as they were sent in wave after wave against the guns of the Turkish Army ('The Turks' as she describes them). Instead she describes it as 'diversionary tactics'.

In another section she shows us a medal given to the surviving ANZAC soldiers fifty years after the war.. I ask her why it took them fifty years to award theiir bravery and she tells me in a hushed voice, which signals that it's not apprpriate for the whole tour, that it was because the British didn't give out any medals to their soldiers, so neither did Australia - I guess until it became lionised as the most iconic defining moment of our military history.

Walking on I catch a glimpse of myself in the glass of a display and realise that Im actually wearing a green long sleeve shirt I picked up from the Adelaide Army reserve store earlier this year, although covered with my own screenprinted designs and a 'Kill Your TV' badge from the activist community TV show in Brisbane.

Im led to remember the first time I visited the Goolengook Forest blockade in Victoria's East Gippsland in February 2002 and met Jack, a soldier on leave from the Australian Army who was teaching the forests activists various military skills in camouflage, bush tucker, making fires and general bushcraft.

He explained to me around a campfire that night that in his mind, this was another kind of defence force. That these young passionate environmentalists who were volunteering their time and risking their bodies were on the front line of another kind of war in defence of this country - not the idea of this country, but the land itself. Who were fighting on behalf of the native wildlife and future generations who might look back in more clarity at a time when clearfelling of ancient forests continued all over the world despite issues of increased carbon in the atmosphere.

I wonder if there would also be a time when these unknown soldiers of Australia would also be valorised for the non-violent campaigns they have waged protecting this country and it's ecological heritage. Now, in a time when the economy still dominates political decision making at the expense of everything else. Or will the war museums remain the domain of the 'Great' Wars where so many young men died serving their nations for the sake of their imperial allegiances?

Amidst all the historical signs, military data and battlefield re-enactments I still find there is something unspoken in this memorial.. that is the shadow story, which tells of the machinations of power, the manipulation of patriotism, the political backstage strings pulled which hides behind the heroism of the individual and many soldiers. The thing is, I can understand why it is still hidden. There is a fear that to discuss those aspects of these wars it will belittle the memory of those who lost (or gave) their lives for the glory of King and Country. But amidst all the lionising and mythmaking, something about the utter and complete tragedy of humankind which these episodes contain is in danger of being lost.. What of the entire European history of war which led to Australia's eventual formation? What of the history beyonf the last two hundred years that led to this point? Is this part of our nations collective amnesia? The myth that we are a young nation, with no roots to our European legacy?

I am led to think of the long warlike imperial histories of Europe that culminated in this 'Great War', and wonder if it were only after the entire world had been subjugated to the onslaught of colonialism that the various military states of Europe turn their mighty and war machines toward each other. It was then and only then perhaps that the truly monstrous nature of their military technology become understood to them. It was also then that the fascistic and racist tendencies within the Nation state became pronounced, and the march toward democracy and freedom had to defend itself. Now, hopefully with honest insight, we can even see that if we were to go back far enough all colonialism involved a form of fascism, that being the domination of the native people by military power. Perhaps the moral leaders of Europe must have seen this coming, and feared their rival nations aggressive ambitions, leading them into an arms race for hundreds of years which culminated in these scarred chapters which fill this memorial. All of them merely footnotes in the worlds slow crawl toward global peace - a crawl we are still undertaking.

I've given up trying to lay blame for the history of violence and warfare that seems to cover our collective past on any single root cause.
This is just humanity at its ugliest and most despairing..
It's not anyones fault.
It Just is.

Now, accepting that, where can we go from here that will respect all of these ancestors, and those of the living, and those of the future.
And then we can properly ask;
How can we make peace?

On my way out, I notice at the entrance of the War memorial is a large historic boat, with the sign; 'Please dont touch or rock this boat.'

But maybe it's about time somebody did...
 
Invisible in the City
Im walking down the street, it could be any street. The place means nothing. It is every city. Here there is little wildlife, but there is much nightlife. Im trying to hold on to the breath of land I have just been swimming in.


I'm alone tonight.
That is to say, I've been travelling alone for a long while and enjoying my solitude, but tonight I feel alone.
More than I have in months.
Only here for three days, there seems little sense in buying groceries, so my kitchens are cafes and retaurants. I fill my hunger, watch couples share intimate dinners, friends enjoying each others company..
I delve into my notebook. Into the latest novel I am reading. Into the newspaper..
I play with my phone.. scrolling through the names in the address book..
who do I feel like speaking to tonight?
Is there anyone I feel like speaking with tonight?
I can wait until we share the same physical space before I need to share tales...
Im staying with Miriam, but she has disappeared into the city to perform a kind of reconnaisance mission on a right wing think tank and the pro-globalisation guru they are touring around the country..
Is there anyone in Sydney I want to call?
I decide not to go there...

This is a night to spend with myself.

I pass people on the street wrapped up in i-pod cords or each other's arms.
The walls are filled with thick layers of posters for gigs and protests, which I begin to read as though they were poems to entertian myself..

hermitude endorphin
vanguard lava lounge
the zion band
bollywood bloodlust
mylo versus miami
bloodlust

An Aboriginal man sitting in a doorway next to the supermarket is holding an empty cup out to the passing crowd.
I give him some change, and walk on.
But something stops me, and I turn around.
We talk. He tell's me his name is Nick.
"Where are you from?" I ask him.
He tells me he's been staying at a squat in Redfern, and he is tired, and cold.
People pass as we talk, ignoring his empty cup.
"No, I mean, where doyou come from originally?" I ask "Where's your your mob?"
Nick starts to tell me about his family's land further North West. How beautiful it is, the forest and the rivers..
I have to ask the obvious.
"So.. what are you doing here- in this city?" I guess it was a question I had been asking myself that night as well..
He looks at me for a second, as if confused by the question. Not quite sure how to answer. Then finally he says
"I couldn't go back there.. there's no work.."
We both sit silent and the cup in his hand speaks volumes..
"Besides" he continues "I'd get bored out there, you know.. There's nothing to do.."
I nod, but I don't agree.
I buy some fruit in the supermarket and we eat crunchy green apples and share an orange on the doorstep.
I look around at the passing traffic. All the posters on the wall.. The things to do here..
It's only been two days since I got back from the country, but it feels like so much further here, in the city..
It feels like another world.
Or perhaps, it feels like this IS the whole world, swallowed up
The city casts a spell over all of us.
We forget we can leave it at any time.

Im talking about all cities here.

Sometimes we forget there is another world outside of the city walls..

And the more we forget about it, the more it all disappears.
 
Life at Sunrise..

I have landed in Sunrise, an organic farm amongst the rolling hills of Bellingen a Alpha Centauri is the name of the house next door. As i write this horses graze in the paddock with effortless nobility. Magpies play in the trees. While doing some emailing in the office i watch a large white Cockatooo land and steal mandarins from the fruit orchard, picking it up and peeling it with it's clever claws. At night the frogs come out and fill the valley with their acapella rhythms. At morning the echo of the roosters calls to us of the coming of dawn. There is a freshwatercreek a few minutes walk away which i go to cool off in after working up a sweat shovelling the compost, and a rianforest out the back.. The property is owned by Kathy a teacher, and Darryl a sculptor. The yard is filled with surrealist sculptures that Darryl has create and scattered around the garden lovingly. A metal and wood mobile hanging from a tree includes a dish of seeds which birds land on and set the wheels of it's limbs in motion.

Sunrise is a part of the global WWOOFing network - Willing Workers On Organic Farms - a phenomenal international grassrooots organisation. The idea was seeded in Australia, but has spread across the world, operating on a horizontal non-heirarchical structure but coordinated by the central office in Melbourne inwhich the directory of farms is collated. It's a fantastic alternative approach to travelling and farming which typifies the community minded spirit of organic farmers everywhere, which invites travellers to ccome and stay on their land with food and board provided in exchange for four hours of work a day.

Saritah and the band have continued on with the tour but I've decided to hang out and do a bit of wwoofing. I decided I needed a break from the tour, and negotiated with Kathy a few interesting jobs to pay my food and board. It felt like a perfect opportunity to learn about organic farming practices too, so I decided I would stay for a few days, which quickly turned into a week.

One night before the Band left we all snuck into the Belingen Global Carnival. As we returned the sky was a huge expansive ocean above us and I convinced Darryl to pull out the huge 5 foot telescope i had seen in his studio earlier that day. It's a grand looking device - a massive white tube with a tiny eye piece jutting out of its top. It was all kind of anti-climactic when you look through it expecting to see mars or the pleaides in perfect huge relief and in fact they are only slghtly larger than they were originally in the sky.. Its' a good lesson to learn though, and Darryl tells us that in the end the best way to see the sky is with our own eyes.



Sunset at Sunrise.

Many an evening pass, sitting out on our balcony, discussing the wind over a glass of wine under the moon. We have all the time in the world.
An endless expanse of conversations spread out before us.

Is money a god for secular times?/ Is art magic?How can the war on terror be going successfully when terrorist attacks only increase in number?/ Exactly how will people be electronically tagged under the new anti-terror laws?/ Is the exploration of space wasting the billions of dollars that we need to fix this planet up here and now? /Do the birds listen to the song of humans? And if so, would they find our babbling sweet to the ear or crude and unharmonic? / Are aliens transdimensional beings travelling here in thought form or just conspiracies for alienated cultures? / Are psychedelics a necessary chemical antidote to rigid industrial society?/ Was Steiners genius in his ability to translate occult wisdoms and make them palatable to superstitious Christians?/ Why do those fireflies light up? / How does phosphorescence work?/ If we balance our own feminine and masculine selves, do we become less in need of a a co-depedent relationship? How can Australians respect leaders that lie to them? Could military expenditure be any more misguided in age of global warming? Are they really using depleted uranium in military exercises with the US government on Australian soil? (apparently). Are we gifted species on the forefront of cosmic evolution or a precocious upstart with delusions of grandeur? With increasing climatic instability annd resource depletion, will elections based on fearmongering increase? At what stage does democratic injustice become petty fascism? Is America a religion unto itself? Are children enlightened beings or echoes of karmic existence?
Are we the doers or the done to? Are we both?


The next day Im back in the garden. This time my job is to turn the compost so that it can properly breathe in the warm late spring sun. It takes my full four hours, spaced out with a lunchtime break and swim in the river. I develop callusses on my soft hands. I could imagine that if this were my only option of work it might feel oppressive, but right now it feels amazing to have the chance to do work away from the computer. Actually in many ways, working out here, learning the cycles of the farmlife, collecting eggs from the chickens, milk from the cows, berries from the trees, rockks from the river to build stone walls, painting the house - altogether it's more intellectually stimulating than the office job I was doing in Darwin. One day we harvest the garlic, peeling the layers before dropping it into the local market. I painting the walls of the mosaic bathroom and make rock sculptures by the river with Darryl. I also learn how to saddle a horse, collect fresh milk from the cattlefarm next door. The variety is refreshing compared to the work I was doing making DVD's for the NT Education Dept, and in many ways it just feels more important. Real.

I am reminded of the lucid essays of Gary Snyder, zen poet of the beat generation, where hedescribed these kinds of manual tasks as 'the real work'. He wrote that the zen philosophy sees all these practices as meditation. It is personally fulfilling, not for the purpose of carer, but for the peace of the soul. I am finding that working with my hands, outside, muscullar consciousness, simple earthy tasks, they all give me a great deal of mindspace to clarify what it is I want to do. The physical labour clears my mind and exercises my body. I can imagine this might be a pattern I could follow my whole life - escaping the city periodically to come and work in this kind of farmlife for a few weeks to gain the clearsight of what it is I wish to do next on my journey.. Wwoofing is always here too, so it's liberating to know that it is always an option.

The horses are still running around in the yard. Watching their proud movements I begin to imagine a future where dwindling fuel supplies inspires a return of these beautiful beasts as a popular form of transport. It is not too hard to imagine the economics of an animal that can live on grass and hay becoming increasingly attractive.. and what beautiful beasts! so noble and regal as they gallop across the pasture spontaneously. Their huge gentle eyes are all one huge pupil..
What do you see? Can you read me? I may never know.

After a week I decide it is time to move on from Sunrise, as much as I found it soothing, I am inspired and re-energized to enter back into the city. I have made arrangements to meet up with the band in Sydney and catch a lift with them to Canberra. After that I am excited to get back to Melbourne and jump back into the thick of cultivating more Undergrowth vines. But I know I have been reminded of something important here, i know more and more this country is filled with a incredible natural abundance, and people who are willing to open their hearts and homes to like minded souls. There are utopias around every corner, hidden from the crude surface eyes of tourism and eco-resorts, in the spark of friendly eyes with a shared vision of the world. I a realising, you see, 'Organic' is a code word which represennts so much more thhan just a way of farming. The WWOOFing networkk is one of those secret treasure maps that will lead you to these people, this community, anywhere in the world. It's another weave in the tapestry of the sustainable worldview. Another way of living.







 
The Meditation of the Open Road

The least romantic aspect of a road tour is that most of the time is spent in the van. The musicians talk about how the boredom at these times counterpoints the height of the performance, but rarely is there much to speak of in this part of the journey. Fede medicates himself with endless spliffs. Dan goes silent as he drives, focussing on the road.. Brian disappears into his laptop, mixing tracks recorded from last nights gig. Saritah sleeps in the back when she's not driving and organising interviews on her mobile. I disappear into the passing landscape..



I realise there's a subtle hypnosis to watching a road, a meditation not unlike staring at a flame, or perhaps like television. The long black tongue of the highway is in constant motion, writhing left and right like a serpent, it's long white painted skeleton flying underneath you i-ching patterns of broken and unbroken morse code. These are the languages of the highway, it slowly seduces the driver into a calm meditative state in which they are in rapport with the road and the car, the language of signs and arrows pass, and we obey it's well defined contours..

Also, I find the more I travel by land around this country the more I understand about it, details which the ease of airplane travel would make me completely oblivious of. I begin to think of the landscape as an open book as it shifts through different ecologies and economies before my eyes.


I drink in police roadblocks and tollways and see the state exerting it's power.

Lone trees in vast empty cattlefarms speaks of forests that once would have covered this land.

The sign which reads "taoist temple left exit"
tells me all is not as straight and redneck as it appears form the road.

We pass battery farms which are really just big sheds with hidden chicken atrocities.

Petroleum prices that rise by a decimal point every ten or fifteen k's out of Brisbane speak to us all of this resources limited supply. How long will road trips like this still be affordable?

On it goes..
We pass hitchhikers and roadside produce stalls, telecommunication towers and altered roadsigns that tell us to form one planet in clumsy scrawls of texta. Stories in each of them.

I watch the long white skeleton of the bitumen snake pass curl between us and the oncoming traffic.

The late afternoon shadows of trees embroidered upon the road.

The brief cemeteries of roadkill bones scattered on the edge of tyre marked gravels that indicate the burn marks of sudden brakes..

The tar band aids over tectonic stretch marks that meander over the road like the patterns of stringy bark worms..

The patterns of a city are always the same.. on the ouitskirts of town you pass through endless car yards that circle the city like roadside farmers markets - freshly picked from the factory. These are always followed by the industrial suburbs and then further on you begin to reach all of the farming land. But now I've begun to notice a new pattern in the landscape, and it's happening everywhere. I'm speaking of course of the new wave of outer city property development subdivisions.. What I call the new suburban sprawl.

On the political circus of the newshour the property boom is made to sound great for the economy as everyman and their wife apply for the first homeowners grant before prices skyrocket out of their means, and in doing so contribute to the property markets permanent state of inflation.

As we drive down this road we see the realworld effects of this boom, as football field after football field of bushland is methodicaly cleared of all vegatation before houses are planted and the instant lawn is rolled out. The bitumen is poured like concrete slushee in predictable cul-de-sacs and a billboard is placed out the front next to the adjacent highway like a cherry on top..
Have you seen this one:
The picture is of a child or two, running on a big fat lawn. Or maybe it's a whole family smiling in their new suburban utopia. The name of the estate will no doubt be of some suitably natural sounding names such as 'Lakeside' 'Lakes Estate' 'Northlakes' or a hundred other titles for the man made lakes that everyone must live near to.


I don't see anything wrong with the idea that people want to carve out their own paradise for their family, and the quarter acre (or is it an eighth now?) is the classic Australian suburban dream. It's the fantasy which Neighbours has canonised over the last twenty years which English tourists still make pilgrimage to Melbourne's Ramsay St to honour. It's just that for me, these new developments pale in comparison to the radical forward thinking approaches to living in multiple occupancy properties that the Intentional Community movement has been pioneering for the last thirty years. Whatever happened to cooperative ownership? Or retaining native bushland? Or even renewable energies?



The sad fact is that there is so much a race to develop all of this land, it leaves little time for thought about appropriate development of alternative housing concepts, even if a coooperative structure would actually save people a hell of a lot of money, and give them more creative and varied neighbourhoods.

And so it we pass these nascent suburbias, all the way out here in the middle of nowhere. These carefully manicured streets where the architecture is pre-chosen to ensure suburban sameness and the houses are left with no space between each other for trees, and the country folk who were here first just shake their heads in disbelief as they try and understand the headspace of their new neighbours who still commute into the city everyday.



Slowly everyone in the bus drifts off to sleep in the warm gaze of the late afternoon sun. The van is our travelling home, and we carve out comfortable corners with our bodies in the overpacked cargo. Contorting our limbs and torsos into the necessary folded positions, sometimes curling around each other to get comfortable and then falling asleep to the roar of the wind through a halfopen window..
Sun peaking through the windows and strobing through the passing trees.
The kilometres rack up on the speedo, onward we travel.
Another day.
Another town.
Another gig.
On we go..
 
East Coast Tour Diary

Today the Pacific Highway is rolling underneath me at 100 k's an hour.
Reggae bursts from the stereo, competing with the scream of the wind through the open window. Im on a roadtrip down the east coast, following the songline of a musician called Saritah as she tours with her band - Dan the drummer, Federico the boisterous conga player, and Brian the bass player who tells me he flew back from playing jazz in Saudi Arabia to do this tour..



My job is to make a music video of the journey somehow. It's the first time I've ever been with a band on tour (not suprising since Im not a proffesional musician) but Im liking the way it is giving me an insight into the time honoured journey of troubadours (actually the was the name of the venue the band played in Brisbane where I joined the group).

After a brief stop off in Brizvegas, and a trip out to Maleney we arrive in Byron Bay. It's late and we make a beeline for the radio station where Saritah has an interview scheduled. I film as she sings a live song or two and fede plays the conga and talks about some of the tour with the interviewer.. We spend the night at beautiful house in the hills of Bangalow.

The next day we spend hanging out around town, exploring the esoteric bookshops, swimming, eating sushi. While the muso's prepare for the gig I sit and watch the traffic of people pass from the front of the organic supermarket.

This town attracts such crazy beautiful energy. It's a meeting place of so many journeys. Gypsies from everywhere gravitate to it's nexus point, appearing suddenly on the promenade straight from anywhere in the world. The street is a carnival of random paths in cowboy hats and behind mirrorshades, wearing sandals and thongs or barefoot. Unbelievably spunky boys and girls wearing as little as possible strut along the boulevard, rasta hats and beanies abound. Blues and roots musicians compete with circus performers busking on the street. SUV's and combies roll along the avenue. Millionaires and hippies mix it up; the hippies that live like millionaires camping on the beach, and the millionaires that dress like hippies but live in mansions atWatego's beach. The grey elders, hitched in from the hills who walk the streets barechested, trailing their roots.



At dusk I cruise down to the beach to film the sunset and find some locals have parked their car and unloaded a variety of drums, playing to the wild passionate ocean as the sky plays games with the wounded light of dusk. A passing Aboriginal woman breaks into dance spontaneously and I join her, before joining the drummers themselves. On the rocks a boy is meditating to the fading pink and white feathers of sunsets wings disappearing over the horizon.
It's a classic Byron scene.



Saritah's gig is at the Rails Club and it's packed with funky kids, travellers, local activists, ferals and hippies, gypsy styles. At the bar I can see men in suits discussing numbers on the tv screen, in another dimension, the real world, people are smoking numbers in the beer garden. Im told that Bob Brown is in town tonight as well launching his new book 'Recherche Bay' about the french sailors who arrived in Tasmania before the English and left it as they found it.. unfortunately I miss out on hearing one of my heroes speak in person.



The next day we drive back up the coast for a gig at the Sunshine Coast RSL, apparently the best venue in these parts. I decide to film the band entering in with all our instruments, past the entrance to the gaming room. Suddenly the easy listening golden oldies music on the intercom is interrupted and we are informed that there is to be a minutes silence to pay respect to the those who died at war.. I take off my hat and lower my camera and watch as all the gamblers stand for a moment and stop gambling. The only sounds is the obnoxious 8-bit sounds of all the poker machines trying to attract our attention like immature children. Upstairs the audience is a lot more sedate than Byron, but Im interested to recognise a few faces in the crowd from somewhere or other.. around.. The music gets the crowd up and dancing, and once the tape runs out I decide to join in too. Afterward I cruise backstage with the drummers and smoke a spliff while Saritah meets the crowd and sells CD's. Fede and Dan talk about chatting up some of the spunky girls outside.. but in truth are just as shy about approaching them as anyone. The fact is if some real flirting began we've still got to pack up and drive back to Byron tonight anyway. The touring reality ain't always like the rock'n'roll mythology.. Especially when you've got to pack up you're own gear. A friend in Darwin, the drummer Krafty, said that after the high of the performance this was ritual which brought you back to earth, and controlled your ego.. Otherwise, as he put it, the natural high of performing would make it so easy to just become a rock star wanker..
I suppose it make sense..

I realise I'm in an interesting position here, touring, but not performing. I get an insight into the life a professional musician from the inside. I try to imagine how it would feel to pack all these personal lyrics, melodies and rhythms into the finely sculpted song crafts, recording them with laser technology onto optic discs and organising the entire band to pack up their lives and cram them into a tour bus and take them on the road. I begin to feel that touring is like a travelling circus, planting song like seeds in the cities and towns we pass through. Or perhaps the hurtling energy of the van, packed with instruments and musicians to it's brim and creating brief bursts of performance in every city is like a small comet. The band leaving echoes in every venue - some of which Im recording with my camera contraption.



Thus, here we are carting a ton of equipment, all these wires, plugs, amps and speakers, drum parts (the most complicated instrument of them all) and the guitars - those beautiful medievil instruments that have evolved and mutated into the electric age - carrying within them the history of blues to folk to rock'n'roll, reggae and on. Saritah's songs are a fine testament to this history, compositions crossing over all these genres, but somehow merging them all into a singular style. Making the video I get the chance to watch her ambition in action, playing the gigs, organising on the phone and email, even driving the tour bus.. Her flight is steady and strong, passionate and playful. Watching the gig's over and over again, I have plenty of time to meditate on the lyrics too.


I love watching how they connects withthe different crowds. Which song's people know already. Which one's really work, get them up dancing, or create THAT space.. the holy silence when everyone in the room is just mesmerised.
I love playing with instruments, but I hesitate to call myself a musician, knowing my creativity is better crafted into other channels, but I love the way musicians sculpt sound into a language that travels over cultures.
Songs come straight from the heart chakra and into the microphone.
It's philosophy we can dance to.
rok'n'rawl..

to be continued..
 
Fear and Loathing in Brisvegas
Today I ate lunch in an inner city park of Brisbane's CBD. Sundried tomatoes and fetta cheese from the deli, avocado and organic grapes are my kind of decadence. Around me office workers are on their lunch break, eating out of plastic containers with plastic forks. I watch an ibis pick through the scraps of a plastic bag. The bird looks as if it could have flown straight from some ancient egyptian temple as I watched it glide here through the high rise valley, straight to modern day corporate Australia.. It's noble profile doesn't deserve this kind of beggar pose, but the city makes scavenger's of all wild animals doesn't it?

This past week I've been staying with my old friend Daniel who I grew up with in Darwin, and is now a successful corporate lawyer. Dan's parents started Solar Village in the rural outskirts of Humpty Doo and built their own house out of rammed earth back in the seventies. I remember visiting their beautiful bushland property as kid and being spelllbound by the kangaroos that would hop up to the verandah to eat food offerings and learning about the real potential of domestic solar arrays for the first time. Nowadays in a classic role reversal that often happens to kids raised on alternative ideals, Daniel is working on the 38th floor of a high rise in Brisbanes CBD - about as different a landscape as possible from the one in which he was raised. I called him up a few days ago after making a shotgun decision that I needed to catch a flight out of Darwin that night so as to avoid the thousand dollar pricetag of a weekend ticket. Without hesitation he said I could stay in his apartment in Fortitude Valley. Legend.

Life in the Body Corporate

Dan's home is a large complex called 'Cathedral' which he explains was named after the Catholic cathedral which was supposed to be built on this land until the cardinal disappeared with the millions that had been saved for it. Now it is an apartment complex for rich european students and young urban professionals. It is an inner city compound which employs very high security codes and intercoms to police who enters and leaves. Im interested that all the buildings are named after rural English localities; Oxford, Canterbury, etc.

I've never lived in an apartment before, and feel like I would miss not having a garden, but I can see that for many people in the modern working life there is not time to look after a garden, so it is not too much of a sacrifice for them. There is one garden at the centre of the compound which is managed completely by an army of hired staff.. it surrounds a lavish pool and a heated spa like a private oasis in the middle of the concrete desert that is called Fortitude Valley. It's a far cry from Solar Village, and I wander how Dan has adjusted to it.
This feeling increases when, after dinner on my first night i learn that there are no facilities for compost in the two thousand bed apartment complex, or even recycling(!). It's something I find particularly hard to get accustomed to since I have assimilated this practice so deeply. It literally feels obscene to me to just throw all the foodscraps in the same bin as everything else.. and although I realise that this is how a lot of yuppies live, it just makes me feel disconnected from the earth.

One day while Dan is at work I hook up with Liam (stage name; The Monk) from the hip hop band Culture Connect that I've just finished a music video for. I've just discovered half a tab of LSD left over from the Mayan Day Out of Time party we held on the outskirts of Darwin a few months ago, and Liam's eyes light up when he hears this..
Half an hour later we are wandering out of the concrete valley with eyes slowly peeling off the veils. Normally I would not use this powerful substance in the complex energy playground of the city with all its spectacle and media toxins, but perhaps for that very reason I am interested in having a look at what it will show me of the metropolis.. I find that psychedelics give me insight into the layers of reality that is more mythical and energetic. The symbolic nature of any situation suddenly becomes clear as day, this can be an overwhelming headspace, especially if you are running away from any personal issues, it is an unforgiving mirror. But that's cool, I've burnt most of my demons away in moments of illumination, all that is left is the mirror of the world that I amm exploring, which is also me. Today I want to know what it is that I can find of myself in this corporate landscape.

Gonzo in the Matrix

As we wander out of the Cathedral Apartments into the city, we pass through a park beset on all sides by traffic, where drunkards sleep off Valley hangovers and big black statues of white colonists loom above us. We cross into the city center, and gravitate toward the river where public transport ferry's cast long ripples, and the Story Bridge crosses over like a metal spiderweb. Soon we find ourselves at the foot of the Australian Stock Exchange building which I recognise after once protesting outside of it during May Day (M1), 2001. That was back when the global justice movement was at it's peak jjust prior to the Sept 11 and the beginning of the war on terror destroyed it's momentum and simultaneously escalated global violence. Thanks Bin Laden, you stupid fuck. On a whim I decide I want to go inside and see the machinations of the stockmarket up close.. so we step into the revolving doors and find ourselves transported into a the building's opulent foyer, it's ceiling rising a thirty metres into the air above us. The walls and floor look to be made of marble. The waiting seats are leather. Wealth projects from every surface. A few days before Dan had told me about some of the funny psychological effects of working so high off the ground.. He described the exhileration of lifting off every morning into the vertical heirarchy, the view from his office of the mountains around Brisbane, but also the fact that because there are so many other high rises surrounding his building the sense of relativity in height is diminished from what it could be.. In my current drug induced mytho-poetic state I sink into the idea that this is a temple of currency, and I wan't to go deeper, to understand what lies behind it's powerful veneer.

As the security guard notices us I make a point to look business like, reading through the building's directory.. Amongst the names I notice 'Extrata', a corporation which only yesterday someone was telling me is a mining company interested in taking over Uranium extraction in Australia's red centre. Interesting..
Soon we are disappearing into the red reflective metal elevator doors. I press 6 where the ASX is listed, but then watch helpless as for some reason the lift does not stop and the numbers rise past this point. 10.. 15.. 20.. the armani suited woman behind us gets out. The numbers continue to rise.. 25.. 30.. 35.. I feel my ears pop..
A man enters the lift dressed in a fine black tuxedo like uniform, tie and shiny shoes.. it looks to me like he is on his way to some cocktail party.. I feel him stare at us from behind. Me in my magik hat, chaotic batik shirt and sandals and Liam with his big curly afro.. obviously we don't fit in, but thats cool, i am silently projecting a great excuse, and if anyone asks i'll just tell them i'm the millionaire son of one of the partners in Extrata.. this is how millionaire sons dress these days - only the underlings still have to wear suits didn't you know? Finally the lift arrives at the top of the building and we hesitantly step out of it's steel cage as if we were entering another world.. The man in the tuxedo disappears through a door.. I'm kind of interested who has run of the ceiling of our cities so we venture down the corridor.. not suprisingly perhaps we discover it is a Law firm. Im reminded that Dan told me how none of the main law firms in the city will take a floor which is below another law firm.. the psychological impact would be too great on the prestige and status that this kind of real estate is for, and perhaps only law firms have the kind of money to burn for this kind of symbolic heirarchy.. But here we are at the top of the city, Agents of Kaos with psychedelic sparks in our eyes running through the castle for the forces of Order. We decide to explore further..

Perhaps my millionaire projection worked, because no one asks us for credentials and we are left free to wander around the maze of faceless skyrise corridors. getting claustrophobic in the eerily identical floors full of rigid angles, and enclosed singular directions. We find one whole floor of doors that don't seem to wear any numbers or names at all. I was told by Dan that in his building the entrance to the Australian Tax Office is unnmarked, apparently due to the risk of terrorist attacks (or perhaps just irate taxpayers?). Perhaps these anonymous wooden borders are filled with similarly senstiive innards? My mind races to the limits of conspiracy; it could be anything; ASIO offices? CIA fronts? Halliburton war councils? Masonic lodges? Strange cults of numerology? Or maybe the Bildaberg Group themselves? The reality is probably much more prosaic, but for now the mystery only serves to feed my imagination. A part of me is tempted to play spy, but conscious of the new anti-terror laws that could mean they are allowed to detain us for two weeks without arrest if they suspect us of doing anything vaguely suspicious curbs my innocent curiousity. Some paranoid folks might think that what we are doing is very suspicious..

Descending to the sixth floor we finally find the Stock Exchange, but it's nothing like what I expected. There is no bullpen of traders shouting testaments to the absolute madness of hyper-capitalism and greed a la Wall Street - apparently America is the only place where that still goes on... Through the office windows we can only see sensible haircuts and cleanly shaven white collar suits and ties entering numbers into computers.. I had wanted to enact Abbie Hoffman's infamous money burning over the New York Stock Exchange, but alas all i could do here was make blowfishes in the windows of 21st century economic managerialism. And that's not a powerful symbolic action, it's just childish..

Looking for an exit we turn a corner and find ourselves standing at the balcony of a sixth story mezzanine overlooking the foyer of the building. In front of us stands a huge iron sculpture rising out of the ground in one long curve then breaking off into two large symmetrical arms. For a moment we wonder what it's meant to depict, and then it dawns on us.. they aren't arms at all.. they're horns.. the foyer of the Stock Exchange is filled with an enormous iron goats head! My mind filled with the symbolic possibliiltes - could it be that behind this dull veneer of shiny surface wealth lay the true dark gods of materialism.. and this balcony suddenly seemed more like a pulpit.. i looked down at the people entering and exiting through the large revolving doors below.. which through my psychedelic glasses suddenly seemed like religious symbols of some esoteric meaning, always spinning, like atoms, or souls departing and leaving the domain of the material world.. they spin like border checkpoints into the domains of the ruling class.. the heirarchy of wealth and power.. did that stilleto heeled number cruncher even realise what she was doing? does that gucci wearing alpha male actually know who he is really working for?
hmmm... some of them must know.. but definately not all of them.. it might be years before anyone would be invited into the fold of the ancient order of money and influence that had commissioned this huge towering beelzebub for the foyer of the ASX.. and in the meantime no one would ever find it odd.. The best place to hide things is in plain sight, coz no one even realises that all the symbols are staring them in the face..

Ok - let me take a moment out of my gonzo character role play for a reality check here;
I don't really think that modern economists and their corporate masters are actually occultists working for a dark satanic lord of money and arcane materialism. Those are just the kind of wild, exaggerated mythic ideas it is very easy to get while on LSD. Im just playing.. it's just corporate art right? I'm sure it means nothin' at all.

Wide Angle Vision

So anyway, we decided we'd seen enough.. we'd found the heart of this tower, and it was full of computers. Liam and I nodded to each other, and without a word we descended in the reflective red box again, and silently, walking under the shadow of the huge horned sculpture we exited through the revolving doors, leaving the ordered silence of the foyer and stepping out into the bustle of the street..
"Damn that place was scary." Liam finally lets out. I look him in the eyes and nod without a word, still trying to decode all the energies Im recieving. Across the road a glorious banyan tree is beset on all sides by roads and traffic.. Marooned in a world of high rise upstarts that dwarf it's curly, curved branches. We pass a McDonalds full of rich white collar customers and continue further into the heart of the city, the mall overflowing with people. I stop and whisper to Liam;
"Focus on your periphery vision so you encompass your entire line of sight.." he is intrigued and we roll onward into the storm. This is something I was taught by Charlotte when I saw her in Melbourne. She told me it's a technique used by trackers to pick up energy imprints all around them while hunting in a forest, but since then I've learnt to use it in the concrete jungle to avoid the power of the advertising and billboards.. My theory is that when you aren't under the spell of spelling in these kinds of environments you begin to pick up a lot of interesting insights that words trying to sell you stuff will distract you from..

We glide silently through the cities blood. Invisible as the wind. I feel the rise and fall of a thousand faces in the line of my eyesight as we all move in tides of humanity but I also feel still, as though my feet are pulling the pavement underneath me. The large flat horizontal landscape is adorned with the coloured brushstrokes of fashion and the shining beacons of eyes that aren't hidden behind sunglasses.. I see through the logo heiroglyphics of the shopfronts and they just become patterns, a hundred branded shades of the same free marketing dream. Finely sculpted technological jewels adorn the window displays. Libraries of art and entertainment in the CD, DVD and bookshops are culture stacked like canned goods filling up the aisles. I'm watched by blank faced mannequins that model the latest season of glamour cloths behind glass walls. I can see the currency of dollars flowing through this economic centre, money in the pocketed wallets of all these souls and their pin numbers, shopping bags full of finely crafted desire. This is the consumer cultures mecca, the city's centre, alive and bustling with trade and capital. But today I am not spending money, I am buying insight.

Then almost as quickly as it came upon us, wehave passed through the hurricane. The end of the mall had found us, and on it's edge we have found the next stop on our metropolis mission. That other nexus point of capital, the leisure centre where money becomes a pursuit in and of itself. If the Stock Exchange is the seat of high power in the religion of money, we were on our way to the community church.

The Casino.

Now I understand, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a horror novel, lamenting the failed serach for the American Dream. Every Casino in the world is linked to this global franchise. For a long while Liam and I wander in daze through rows of pensioners feeding their pensions into the robots, trying to understand what might be found here for those passing their autumn years within these rows of beeping lights and flashing electronic jingles. We think of another age when these grey elders might have been strong centres of family and community, passing on wisdom and tales, instead of feeding their life savings into poker machines called 'Mystic Tarot' while their grandchildren are at the professional childcare centre.

After visiting Arnhem Land recently I've been thinking about what happened to all the whitefella dreamtime stories. Here in the casino I find one answer because here they all are; the unicorns and the faeries, the roman gods, the druids, the four leaf clover and leprechaun. All the characters of European mythology lined up like political prisoners, enslaved to run in vertical circles for the godless god of money. It makes sense. Anything with a slightly magical rumour is perfect fodder to illicit the attention of superstitious gamblers who might believe that these little stolen demigods will shine luck and favour upon them.. and in one fell swoop our entire cultural heritage is reduced to a mere novelty at service to the machinery of capital..
But is anyone even surprised? All of their sacred powers were stolen so long ago no one even blinks when they are treated so cruelly.. And it's bad enough that the white secular culture has prostituted its own mythology, but amongst them we also find Native American dreamcatchers and new age dolphins joining the rows of mythological martyrs imprisoned in the robotic head of the poker machine. Could you imagine the uproar if Aboringal Dreamtime images where used in one of these gambling toys - or for that matter Christian symbolism? I feel the potential pandemonium like a vomit welling up inside me.

We leave, and spend the rest of the day meandering through the art gallery as the trip slwoly fades away, before finally quitting the city and returning to our suburban homestead where Liam's neighbours are having a party fuelled by bad sangria. James the bass player in Culture Connect gives me a CD of some rhymes we laid down a few days prior. Check em out on the Undergrowth website soon..

The next night is another Saturday night and Daniel takes me to a club called the Fringe Bar on the edge of the concrete valley. He's just split up with his girlfriend this week and so is keen to step back out into the meemarket.. I usually avoid these kinds of places, full of trendy twenty somethings getting very trashed to loud house music.. On the many plasma screens around the club they must have been playing the football finals, but now it is just the channel nine movie: 'Three Kings.. I watch with interest as people down $15 cocktails while on the screens Marky Mark is getting oil stuffed down his mouth by an Iraqi soldier.. no one seems to notice.. As we walk home I hear the wail of a lone aboriginal woman busking down the street, competing with the obnoxious sounds of techno emanating from the club next door where people are queuing up to get inside.
I am reminded again, this is a concrete valley.

Now I am sitting on the corner of Creek St. Perhaps there was once a creek here, now there is only a word on a sign. This is the Australian city as I find it today. A bitumen streetscape that could be anywhere.. shoes obeying white pedestrian broken lines..Wealthy kids with too much money and not enough sense looking to get drunk and laid every weekend, corporate high rises full of suits obsessed with numbers, community centres of gambling robots, the roar of bus engines running on natural gas.. a balding businessman, indian officeworker carrying her mobile phone in front of her like a leash.. a lone african amidst the wash of palefaces. The cafe Im sitting at is called 'Escape the Daily Grind', it has a painting of a city in monochrome.. across the road is a bank.. Somewhere above us all I know the sky is being scarred but we burn coal like there is no tomorrow anyway.. Somewhere on the other side of the world a hurricane is fighting back, like Mother Earth's angry little sister and we watch shocked on our media portals as if we weren't forewarned for decades.. Somewhere else third world poverty continues unabated while free trade dogma just rolls on. I don't need acid to tell me that this world is upside down, but sometimes it helps to burn away the convenient illusions..

Let me stop there. I know there is more to this city, and this is a very cynical entry.. and truthfully, I dont want to be cynical anymore.. i want to understand what is going on in this world without those cloudy spectacles of angst, but watching this city breathe petroleum in the hangover of my psychedelic visioning is making me feel that way. im searching, but i don't find much beauty in this monocultural lifestlye, and i need to record what i see for the sake of honesty... even if I am only feeling this way for a window in time.

Is this just my own warped view of reality or is there something really alien going on in this culture that is so normal that few seem to think it odd anymore?
Or has it always been this way?
 
Booty Dancing and Petroleum Dreaming
Bam bam bam chk bam bam bam bam back chk (repeat)
the eighties hardcore techno track 'Here's Johnny' pumps from the sound system of the blue light disco as we enter through the roller doors. In front of us the concrete dancefloor is packed with waste-high kids bumping and grinding their little bums to the beat. All the girls stand with their feet firmly planted on the ground, ass out, hands on knees in controlled motions while some of the boys are more radical affecting electric waves and robotbreakdancing moves. The dj is playing hits from the early nineties like 'i like big butts' by sir mixalot and i'm getting flashbacks from high school socials when this stuff used to be in the charts, except no one danced this well at Darwin High. Suddenly MC Hammer's "You Can't Touch This" fills the room and Sarita and I decide to brave it.. We dance around sparring with capoiera jengas and blocks and sweeps and before we know it we are surrounded by kids who are all fascinated at our strange dancing style. Capoiera was one of the roots of breakdancing, so this might explain why we got immediate disco cred and Sarita (who is a much better capoirista than i) is being mobbed by a gang of instant fans. They begin to run into the circle in front of us performing increasingly ridiculous dance moves that somehow cross between rapdancing, booty dancing and traditional ceremonial dance.... There's a playful self consciousness that means whenever anyone knows someone is looking they quickly run back to their seat and laugh hystericaly. It's kinda disco, kinda booty, kinda traditional, kinda hip hop.. Completely Gunbalunya.

Suddenly Im ushered over to the dj who I imagine is going to congratulate us for our dance moves, or the mere fact that we are the only people over the age of twelve who was dancing here..
Instead she looks serious; "Uh.. do you mind not doing martial arts in front of the kids? We don't want to encourage them.."

Drenched in sweat anyway, I grab an icy pole from the tuckshop and wander out the basketball courts where thirty kids are playing keepy off with a football, I join in for a while and notice the white kids sitting at a table in the corner of the yard, obviously wanting to join in, especially now that I've broken the ice, but they don't. I wonder how there could still be so much segragation when they are all locals. One of them, the largest who looks as out of place as me being in his twenties, approaches and tells me he saw us on the dancefloor before (i guess everyone in the whole place did). He starts telling me that his father owns the youth centre and the pub and the supermarket here. Im kind of disappointed, hoping that these main business might have been owned by the town council, but not suprised since it always seem to be the white folk who run those places out here. I had thought Gunbalunya was a dry community, but apparently not.
"Is the pub still open then?"
"No way, it's only open for an hour a night and has to close at eight thirty so the blackfellas don't get a chance to get too drunk." He tells me the pubs also open for an hour during lunchtime, and people are limited to two beers at a time.. I don't really like the way he talks about the blackfella's, but before I can say anything he takes a look at the door and notices a new crowd arriving - tells me they're all the boys from Jabiru, and they might cause some fights, so he runs off to act the bouncer. One of the kids throws me the football, and i'm back in the game.
Above the moon will be full tomorrow night.

"Petrol Manwari Dreaming"

I wake to the sound of hundreds of bats escaping the dawn light, screeching in the tamarind tree under which we have camped. The 360 degrees view around my flyscreen tent makes it feel like there is nothing between me and the night except for the satisfaction in being able to hear the frustrated buzz of mosquitos on the other side of the fabric. We're staying in the yard of the old Oenpelli misson house which has been converted into a visitors hostel. Yesterday I learnt that Oenpelli was the original name for this town when it was a christian mission settling the nomadic tribes of the area. Nowadays it is called Gunbalunya, although there is another spelling Kunbarllanjnja, and all three seem to be used interchangaebly.

As the sun rises I wander down to the billabong that cuddles the town, past the two story air conditioned houses which the whitefellas must own, and a small city of ant mounds. Behind them the almost full moon is still setting and I just have to smile, caught in the gaze of both the sun and the moon for this brief cosmic moment. I wish everyone else was up to see it, but when they are here Im often distracted by social concerns and conversation. Alone is the best way to appreciate the universe.
I wonder where in me comes this need to share every experience, as if it were only valid when another can compare it?
At the water's edge I can see the movement of thousands of birds, huge flocks passing over, magpie geese and brolgas dancing in the shallow waters edge. Im inspired to do yoga for the first time in weeks, refreshed by this glorious new landscape.
Yes, now I know I'm travelling again.

I've travelled here to Arnhem Land with a Darwin video production agency called Formation Studios headed by my friends Will Tinapple and Danni Green. They've just finished a six month project with the Gunbalunya town council making a community awareness video about petrol sniffing and asked me to come and help at it's launch. Will has spent a lot of time as a teacher on communities out in Arnhem land, and Danni is a health worker, so as filmmakers they bring an interesting insight to this kind of work. Will tells me he decided early on that he consciously didn't interview any of the white people (balanda) in Oenpelli for the video, because he thinks there is already enough media with white people talking about what Aboriginal people should do. Will thought it was more important that the affected parts of the community began to communicate about the severity of the issue.
"There's a lot of community breakdown out here" he explained as we were driving out of Darwin earlier that day. "A lot of people don't talk to each other about these issues, because they have their own social, health, cultural and political problems to deal with." Although he recognises that a video alone can't stop petrol sniffing, what it can do is assist the dialogue within the community itself which is full of division about a number of issues. Media as community mediation.

A few hours drive from Darwin and we're on the border of Kakadu, the East Alligator River which is the only entrance to Arnhem land by road. It's a tidal river so you can only enter annd leave once or twice a day inbetween high tides. Here English is a second or third or sometimes fourth language for the locals, and whitefellas are ountnumbered at least a hundred to one. You also need a permit to enter the Aboriginal Lands, which increases the feeling that you are leaving Australia and entering another country - Gondwanna perhaps? Or perhaps I wonder if this is the real Australia, and everything else is a Europeanised version?

In the community hall the kids are excitedly climbing all over the chairs waiting for the video to begin because they know they will be in it and wan't to see themselves on screen. I play games with some off them while we wait, showing them how to use the video camera and asking them questions about sniffing. Up the back sitting on the pool tables are some guys in military fatigues from Norforce the arnhem land wing of the Australian Defence Force.
Energy Resources Australia have placed a banner with their logo next to the screen, it turns out they're one of the sponsors. Interesting, the last time I was out this far was back in the days of the Jabiluka protest and ERA was the corporation trying to open the mine against the wishes of the traditional owners. I've learnt since then that besides art and tourism, the entire town economy pretty much runs from the profits of Ranger mine. On the other side of the room sits Yvonne Margarula, the outspoken opponent to the mine and elder of the Mirrar people. She also speaks strongly in this film about the problems of parents not watching out for their children, calling for more community action about this terrible problem.

The most confronting part of the film for me is actual interviews with petrol sniffers about what it is like for them to use.. One boy whose face has been blurred says;
"it connects me to my dreaming.."
Another young girl whose cheeky smile lets you imagine she hasn't really stopped using it says:
"It's like your dreaming, you can't feel anything in your body at all.. you begin to see spirits.."
It's the most honest descriptions I've heard from any petrol sniffers, and all the more confronting with their references to aboriginal spirituality.

As I watch the images on the screen I begin to envision a world of corrupted industrial shamanism that these kids have tapped in to with this powerful substance, Petroleum.
Black gold.
Firewater.
The dark lifeblood of our entire industrial civilisation.
I think of the millions of years of plants and organic material compacted into this dark liquid energy that propels our car culture and feeds our plastic society. I try to imagine the massive machinery employed to dig it up from deep below the ground, as if we were excavating hell itself. But it's not hell - it's just Power - and the whole industrialised world is drunk behind the wheel on it. All over the world Empires are fighting wars over it's dwindling supplies and terrorists are responding in kind. I've read accounts of many Iraqi's describing it as a curse planted under their country for all the misery it has caused them. And similarly, last year at a climate change forum I attended I listened to a Nigerian man talk about the corporate/military complex that was tearing his country apart who made the whole audience repeat after him the phrase that his people now say:
"We thought is was oil, but it was blood."

And here on the other side of the earth at the other edge of industrial society, in Arnhem Land, and in Aboriginal communities all over Australia, these kids are getting drunk on it too.. But they have no car to fill it up in, no helicopter to burn it with, only boredom to fill and perhaps a gaping hole in their spirit left by two hundred years of colonisation and cultural domination. They destroy their minds escaping their bodies to have some mindless fun.

It's just another thing that sometimes makes me think the sooner we run out of petrol the better.. Of course I know thats not the solution to all our problems, but what else could make us all sit up and take notice at what the fuck is going on in this world?
Or should I ask, what else will?
 
Escape!
Multinational Tourism part 3 (also published in Vertigo magazine 'Paradise' issue).



"Every once in a while you come across a place that's so special it takes your breath away.."

The tall blonde who has said this fades away to images of mountains and forests..

Suitably emotive music fades in.

"Now that ive done it.. how do YOU do it? well.. let me tell you.. "
The disembodied voice goes on to quote the relevant airline as animated prices appear on the screen.

It's redundant to discuss the fact that most of the holiday on this travel lifestyle television program is a thinly disguised advertising campaign and the presenters are on one long junket flown all over the world from gourmet restaurant to first class resort. It could very well be the scriptwriters of these shows are robots given the amount of creativity they bring to their stories - it's not like they're going to actually do anything unexpected, they just go through the motions, let you know what you can expect if you were to follow in their footsteps and rent out the same luxury villas that they have been given for free.. so we don't expect much more from them.. And what if we did?
Im interested in what causes this need to Getaway..



A few month ago I was standing in the centre of the storm that is Sydney Central station during Autumn peak hour. It had been a beautiful sunny day which I had spent wandering through the city. The train was late, and people started to get impatient. More people piled onto the platform. I started to get agitated too. But why? Something was making me uneasy here. I took a look around, and began to notice that in this entire space, frequented by tens of thousands of people every day, there is absolutely no plant or animal life.. which is to say, there is no natural environment, only the humans and their architecture of straight smooth lines and material constructs.

Dont get me wrong, I love cities. I love the crowded, overflowing energy of them - but when I think about it, it is the variety of art and music and culture in these dense human ecologies that I love the most, and when that aint there, I wonder if the cities got any soul.

But of course, in a culture dominated by rationale of economics, art is seen as a luxury. And this, it is a train station. An inbetween place. A nowhere zone. A place of utility. Art is for us to look at in the domesticated spaces of galleries or within the tasteful design of magazine layouts.. It is something to listen discreetly to on our i-pod. A polite private experience.
The closest thing that we have to art in much of the urban environment is advertising - which leaves only the creativity at the service of capitalism on the billboards. One theme I have noticed amongst these are the travel advertisements with slogans like: 'escape' pasted across them. To me they are like windows to the world outside of the human zoo.

To take a closer look at this train station, I see there is not even any colour (except greys and blacks) in this architecture besides the coke machines with a bikini clad girl carrying a surfboard - like the travel billboards, it's another kind of window into paradise, but this time it's painted onto a vending robot. Perfect.

It occurs to me that art is a wild act in this environment. art is the wilderness of the imagination, whereas advertising is that creativity domesticated to the service of the market. trained into the role of serving the economy, not the spirit.
In places like this, the tiniest piece of creativity would be an oasis in the desert. You could throw a molotov in the shape of a painted flower on the telephone box, but you can be sure it would be weeded out just as soon as it was planted. Walk along any street in Sydney and you will see signs of this creative pruning. It's illustrative of the amount of money there is here, and the political will to use it covering up the art of those who have none.



Again I want to reiterate the point that i love cities, i am just becoming more and more conscious that this kind of modern city is a species which is evolving in a way that i want to live.
And i don't believe we have to live this way.
So how can we transform these cities into the kind of place that people might want to be in as opposed to places we feel the need to regularly escape from. How can we make paradise our everyday reality as opposed to the mythical powdery white sand beaches on the other end of a $600 plane ticket?

Of course the logic of capital leaves no room for this kind of luxury, no space for nature in our vast architectures of commerce - but creativity does. Without imaginations and the democracy it demands, money will only leave us with a wealthy heritage of concrete deserts. If we give in to this kind of architectural fascism, we are reduced to the aesthetics of efficient machines. It's a kind of poverty where even the imagination for what else could exist in its place has been sold.

'Fucking Utopia'

i once fell in love with a girl who was researching utopia.. 'utopistics' she called it, the study of utopia.. she told me utopia is impossible, but a worthy concept nonetheless becausewithout a concept utopia to navigate towards we have no landmark through which we can guage wether we are actually progressing anywhere.. utopia is mirage, a little like democracy, it is a neverending journey, but a journey you undertake nonetheless, because otherwise you are just wandering aimlessly.. lost.

I remember we decided over dumplings and red wine all those years ago that while utopia could never be created in the outside world, it was only ever achievable as a state of mind. And we found that place too, briefly, nestled in each others arms we spun a cocoon of love and romance and passionate embrace.. it was perfect, and perfectly fleeting.. but i wouldn't have traded it for the world.
Outside of our bubble, the world continued in endless revolution. The war on terror amped up it's maddening cycle of violence, and all we could do was dance regardless, in the streets with tens of thousands of other peaceniks in opposition, at parties with our friends playfully intoxicated with art and music and passion for life, and in the privacy of our bedrooms, away from the witnesses we danced our own theatre of love, hoping that somehow our oceans might spread to quench this insane worlds desire for flames and revenge.

In the process we met others who shared this vision. Artists who create radical street murals and landscappe architects who are retrofitting the city. I've hung out with alternative engineers who install solar panels and wind turbines around the country and permaculturists who know we can reintegrate green life back into the urban ecology, if only we have the will to try. Ive been involved in city farms and learnt about green walls which can be grown up the sides of buildings and clean the air form the exhaust fumes of smelly cars. I've ridden bikes around every city in this country and discovered hidden suburban cul de sacs which have abolished fences and share backyards to grow organic food, others have figured out ways to share power and recycle water, holding street parties to celebrate the thing they have rediscovered called neighbourhood community.

So what's my point?
Sometimes, like when I'm standing in Central Station at peak hour, all those days and places and people and things Ive learnt just seem like a fantasy world I got caught up in and I fall for the dominant ideology that this - this is the 'real' world.
But what does that really mean?
Reality is such a promiscuopus concept.
Is the real world a place where revolution and poetry are irrelevant dreams? Where art is a market and advertising is our art? Where sex is a sales tool to sell chocolates to sexually frustrated pedestrians and Escape is a weekend colour supplement to the newspaper of politics and cars and real estate.
Is it a place where 'The Great Outdoors' is a television show selling package holidays? Or is all of that just another kind of strange dream that others have manifested into this world, and tried to make us believe is the only possible reality?
If thats the case ill happily live in the world of my dreams, outside of this city fortress if I need to, or perhaps like a plant, humbly growing through the cracks in the pavement.
Because I don't want my reality to be dominated by someone elses dream.
I want to dream it myself.
 
Natural Intelligence.
Five minutes walk from my home in the suburb of Rapid Creek lies the water body of the same name, a mangrove ecology on the edge of the ocean rumoured to be home to the only crocs left in Darwin. Croc sightings are rare, and no ones been taken from a Darwin beach in recent memory, but people generally swim around the corner at Nightcliff or Casuarina Beach all the same. As I write this underneath the shade of a grove of casuarina trees I see local aboriginal women catching mudcrab in the creek and wonder if there's anywhere else in the country where suburbia and traditional hunting sit so close to each other? Across the road closer to the Beachfront Pub (formerly the much more originally titled Arafura Hotel - still known as 'The Fury' to some locals) there are always people sitting on the foreshore park drinking beers and getting hassled by the police. Elderly white tourists rock up in their shiny red rav 4's for a quick squizz, before retiring to their air conditioned vehicles, and uni students ride over the bridge on their bicycles on the way to Charles Darwin University Casuarina Campus.

Two young boys passing on their bmx's stop to ask me the time.
It's 11:00am, perfect time for cloudwatching.. I ask them what they're up to today? "waggin school.'' The one in the baseball cap tells me.
"yeah obviously, but what are you planning to do?" they say
"hang out at the beach, explore the cliffs, catch some fish.."
Sounds like great fun to me, and it's a beautiful sunny day, so who can blame them? I'm kind of waggin work for the same reason.. Except that I am working.




"We represent the elements of natural intelligence"

Ive been hired to make a music video for a local hip hop crew Culture Connect. The song is called 'Natural Intelligence" and the chorus of the song goes; 'Forward motion/ propulsion of the ocean/motion is energy and energy is infinite.."
and so it is that fI find myself getting paid to sit and record observe elemental energies of earth, fire, air and water for a week to use in the clip.


Previous shoots in the video clip required a lot of riding and driving around town in search of the perfect tree which resembled the branch structure of the human brain from which the MC's could pronounce their lyrical expositions ( it's natural intelligence geddit..). It took many hours scouring the foreshore on bike and driving around with Vadim from the west indies and Liam from South Africa discussing hip hop, politics and philosophy searching for the perfect tree with the backdrop of a clear blue sky behind it for ease of chroma keying later in the editing studio. Eventually we found it, a flowering frangipannni in the middle of a cleared field that sat on the edge of the aboriginal land inbetween Ludmilla and Coconut grove.. (all the suburbs in this town are named after either aboriginal names or natural landscapes; Nightcliff, Casuarina, Rapid Creek, Coconut Grove all sit next to Larrakeyah, Anula, Wanguri, Jingili, etc)

I enjoy getting the chance to get to know the sky ecology. I've been reading up on weather phenomenon from a book on meteorology I borrowed from my part time workplace at the Northern Territory Open Education Centre. The clouds I am filming right now are named Cumulus. They're the ones that puff up in large cotton wool balls and roll gracefully across the sky like chariots of the water gods.

I begin to understand that nature documentary filmmakers have perfected a new form of zen meditation. Their video cameras are transformed into highly sophisticated tools through which they concentrate their consciousness for hours and sometimes days at a time only to capture shadows of the natural world and reflect them back at us through our media portals. It reminds me of a Koori word I learnt in the Blue Mountains a few months ago; 'Dadirri'. Apparently it's a form of meditation which consists of just sitting and watching the natural world for hours on end, sometimes entire days. What you soon discover is that nature holds no secrets for the observant eyes of a patient witness. Slowly all the energy flows and relationships of the ecology become clear as day. The language of the landscape becomes pronounced and perfectly articulated. Environmental scientists must have tapped into this concept as well to fill all our textbooks, but reading is no substitute for experiential knowledge. Sitting. Watching. Observing. Understanding.

So what I've learnt is, clouds move a lot faster than I thought.. I've underestimated them for two days, waking in the morning to a sky full of clouds and assuming I had time to go about my business, buy food at the markets and do a bit of painting before making it down to the beach only to find that the whole flock had disappeared!
The first time it was a hot sunday afternoon,but the breeze from the sea was cool and I was still tired form the night before so as I waited for more clouds to appear I lay down on my sarong and took a quick nap on the foreshore, using my camera bag for a pillow. An hour later I woke up to find I had company, a large beer bellied aboriginal man sipping on his VB can was sitting against the pongamia tree that I had chosen for shade.
"You had a good sleep!" he told me, and began to explain how he had protected my tripod and books while I slept and some people had wanted to steal them.
"But I told them to rack off! Stealing's no good, I told them" I thanked him, still half asleep and returning from my dreaming. He introduced himself as Ray and I told him my name.
I rubbed my eyes, still lying down and took a moment to watch the leaves dancing in the wind above me.
"You OK Tim?" asked Ray.
"Yeah I'm just watching those leaves up there." I told him.
He asked me what the book was that he protected. I offered it to him to have a look, but he explained to me that he couldn't read, although he proudly spelt out in the sand the word 'knife' to show that he was learning. We discussed the concept of words and the alphabet, books and different kinds of knowledge.
I told him the book I was reading was a collection of works by Rumi, the sufi mystic poet.
"What is this word; mystic?" he asked,
I thought, good question. I hate having to define words like that.
"er.. I guess it's kind of like someone who can sense the nature of the universe, and see through underlying energy and consciousness hidden behind the material world.." as short an explanation as I could muster.
He nodded and took off his big black sunglasses, to show delicate brown eyes peering out from tired and wrinkled eyelids.
"I once saw a UFO you know." he said "When I was working down on a cattle farm in the centre. We were sitting there and some of the younger boys came up and said 'Hey Rae have a look at that light in the sky.' and I said 'What are you talking about?' and I got up form my tree and had a look and there they were. Four lights, white and blue and yellow, all different colours, and they were circling each other.. and the cattle was getting scared and running away, and we didn't know what was going on. And then, they just disappeared over the horizon" and he motioned with his hands how fast they went "just like that!"
"Wow.." i said, not knowing what to say.
I never know how to take people's UFO experiences. It's one of those subjects that just dance aorund on the periphery of all of our consciousness.. Sometimes I think people could be just testing to see how gullible you are, other times you can tell by the hushed sound of their voice that they are trying to tell you about something amazing they've seen, but don't quite know how to make sense of. I like to keep an open mind, but until I have an actual experience of my own Im wary to make any kind of wild claims or theorise too much. I ask Ray what he thinks.
"I dunno Tim. It's just one of those things that happens you know? I can't pretend to understand, I just saw it thats all."

So today I've come back to the beach to film the clouds again. Im getting to know their movements better so I've come earlier this time, and for a good three hours I've watched them rise from the horizon one after the other in all manner of incredible shapes and sizes. I get all excited when a big mumma cloud expands above me. They are oceans hanging up there. White fractal patterns dancing across the sky. They are rorschach tests, mirroring my own imagination and psyche.
(I am such an aquarius)
One thing i cant figure out is the fact that even though the breeze is blowing in a southerly direction, they are most definitely travelling north.. I watch them make their pilgrimage across the blue expanse, separating into smaller and smaller islands, then dissolving into nothingness once they reach the edge of the land...

The kites keep circling in front of my camera, are they wondering what I'm doing with my strange tools pointed toward their habitat or are they seeking my attention? Well they get it, I end up filming their ethereal acrobatics for ten minutes, as they dive swoop and twirl about in the sky, surfing in perfect circles, shifting their wings in only the most subtle of ways to produce dramatic directional change.. It's so much fun I decide they will have to be in the video clip as well.
"You guys are gonna be famous!" I tell them, jokingly.

hmmm... someone told me it's supposed to be good luck when a bird shit's on you. I don't think it has anything to do with luck -there is only good and bad aim.. How else can you explain the fact that one of these tricky buggers just landed a perfect large liquidy white droplet onto my knee as i wrote this. - only ten centimetres away from this keyboard.. i know he was aiming for the laptop too.. i just know it.
Perhaps it's a sign of affection in birdland?
All i can do is laugh.
Cheeky bastard.
 
Landscapes of Flesh


Today i want to talk about the great secret behind the planets rapt longing for the sun. I want to talk about the universal law of desire which holds the universe together, yet which we so rarely admit to even amongst our closest friends. The gravity that propels us inward whenever you and i are in the same proximity..

I want to talk about the dangerous ballet of souls entwined and the loss of limbs so familiar they feel cleft from your own body.

i want to talk about longing and absence and homesickness for bodies we have come to rest upon and call home. About how it feels to live in exile. To become homeless. To find bliss and follow it blindly, how sometimes we can hold onto an idea of place so much it disappears, and then we must rest with that knowledge in our hearts forevermore.

I want to talk about how memory cannot do justice to the height of passion or the depths of despair.. and how this is a good thing, else we would live too easily in it's scarred past or ecstatic orgasms.

I want to talk about letting go. moving on. About healing and growing.
How travelling can be like endless searching for someone or somewhere else to call home ..About the new adventures and journeys we make to cross the hemisphere of our two, regardless.



Exploring a new country is like meeting a new lover.
At first when we see each other amidst the crowds of faces our eyes collapse together, as simple as magnetic attraction. Falling inward to the source of our connection. Sometimes we might just let it out in a wave form, as we travel past each other. Other times we stop and share tales. We begin a conversation.

In that dialogue we learn of each others mythologies, we exchange tales of love and adventure, personal philosophies we carry in small invisible napsacks on our shoulders. Our relationship sails over the oceans of consciousness that separate us, following estuaries of imagination, drinking in the fresh thoughts in your mountain stream, following the river to its source as we get to know each others local habitat.

As we get to know each other, we might slowly welcome each other into the geography of our homes, we meet each other's housemates who grin conspiratorially. In your room, I see your interior world.On the walls your paintings and photographs hint at the mystery of your history. Your bookshelf are secret knowledges you contain.

Slowly we open borders between our states of being, gate by gate, we show our souls at the checkpoint, Declare our fears and still healing wounds to the insecurity guard. we edge closer in like wild animals distrusting domestication. We travel deeper into the inner sanctums where finally we let each other in to the fragile throne room of our hearts where delicate jewels of life beat softly.



Falling in Love is a spell, an enchantment, a trance which taps you in to the universal reservoir of energy called Eros. Each of us is a key, made of chemistry and consciousness and each of us is a lock too. All it takes is the right alchemy of moments, lifepaths connecting at the right place and time to spark the flame of passion. A sense of romance lets us suspend our disbelief and open ourselves to our potential to experience the sublime..

if the spark becomes a flame, we explore each others landscapes of flesh too.. dancing in the private shelters of our bedrooms.
away from all the witnesses we are safe to open ourselves..
we become weather, ignoring all borders between the elements, we share massage and our fingertips tickle like rain across mountainous ridges of muscle and flat deserts of skin, the rolling curve of thighs, forests of pubic hair, caverns of vagina and mouth, sublime summits of curvaceous breast and all the glorious topography inbetween.
we become water, kissing and licking, cumming. nipples are temples where we go to worship flesh. your lips which feeds me as we speak in silent languages of kiss. we share invisible novels in those silent bated moments when mouths speak more divinity than words could ever echo.



Today Im carving my name in your bark with my fingertips. cupping your breasts in my hands like ceramic jewels glazed in salt, sweat and saliva. Outside the window the rain taps to the metronome of sustenance. The tree branches dance in the wind through the window. Inside we are dancing our own private rituals of desire. I listen to your heartbeat and hum along. My own heart is still racing. Our rhythms move in and out of time in perfect circular cycles.

Tantrikas say that the erotic is an altered state of consciousness.
I have begun to realise my lover's body is a temple of sensuality. Her smell intoxicates me - an aphrodisiac. Her voice resonates through my entire being. Enchanting me.
She read out words that clothe my desires in perfect syllables.
Dressing them with poetic license.
My fingers become brushes, i wish to paint you.
tickling your empty page..
you hold me back from letting our lips touch and hover centimetres away.
Face to face.. kissing the air.
We share oxygen
Lightning meets halfway.



It is the passion of the heaven for the earth, and the earth for the heaven.
As above so below makes sense in every context.
Electricity is the sexual energy of the planet, it runs through our veins, welling up inside us until it bursts out in either laughter or tears, those ecstatic twins of passion. Tempting orgasm is close to crying with joy, when you are overcome with smiles to the point where they dance out of you at a higher frequency and mutate into sound. Passion envelops us.
It becomes a flood.
We drown in it willingly.
I imagine around us in the astral sexy spirits are drawn like moths to a flame..
You are the earth below. i am a stormcloud above you, grounded in rain. i breathe your forests perfume.
There is electricity in the air.
Everything is immanent.
we peel away clothes like orange peels
revel in our nakedness.
arched backs, hips pressed between thighs.
outside the rain drops gentle applause at the dance, tapping at the window.
even the night peers in to see the fireworks display.


Ah sweet sweet yoni, you feel like home.. the loving warm embrace of an old friend. You envelop me, gently sliding onto my cock, wet, ready like hot earth. my hands cupped your sculpted breasts as you roll on top, the goddess pose. i melt into you the earth, melt into gravity, melt into the moment. And you just rock back and forth up there.. ever deeper, swallowing me into you with gentle breaths from swollen lips kissing me, engulfing me. You arch your back in small ecstasies, and i grip your hips, move them around, hold them in place when the orgasm angels push me too close to that blissful precipice.. i whisper 'shhhh' and hold you tightly to my heart, let the waves of passion leave me through my arms not my cock, i feel it in the base of my penis, moving back and up my spine. I let that joyful ache spread out to my whole being. It shivers up my spinal cord. Sweat on your chest now, our bodies dance in cool motion.. kissing the ground of this beautiful body. i grasp for your breast with my mouth, greedy for flesh. Your juices are dripping down my leg.
Above us the moon is always full.
I feel the earth below me, spinning.
Alive.



We play this game over and over, rising waves of ecstasy, silent moments inwhich our eyes connect and smiles cross our lips, you sing like a bird.
We both laugh.
i rise again.
breathe.
fall.
we hold each other like lifeboats about to be swept out to sea by this awesome passionate ocean. Or surfboards which we are paddling out to face the waves..
we find shore.. play in the shallows for a minute.. then push out once again..
You and i dancing on the edge of a world..
Somewhere outside the window there's a kundalini dawn rising in the sky. The sun and the moon flirting endless in solar and lunar eclipses.. There are tectonic plates shifting under the surface. Earthquakes shuddering in muscular honesty. Rippling oceans of longing caressing the coastline. . Supernovas and tidal waves.
But we dont even notice.
all that exists is Desire.
A nation called Eros.
Lovebirds in flight.
Harvesting passionfruit.
You and I.
Now,



Im watching your breath in the soft light of the lamp, frozen into bonsai clouds in the cool atmosphere of this autumn night.
and i cant think of a more beautiful arrangement of atoms. My muscles are sore, i stretch them in various yogic contortions.. ahh the bliss of pain and aching muscle, reminding me of body realities, the beauty of this flesh.. we share massages. Rehabilitating each other like landcare volunteers..
yum
It is at this kind of moment there is no doubt in my mind that we are indeed at the centre of the universe.
here.
kissing now.
forgetting before and later.
there is nowhere else i want to be.
 
same lifestyle, different scenery..
multinational tourism part 2.

There are many different ways of travelling. There are package holidays where hotels are booked in advance and guides are paid to conduct 'tours'. There are backpackers who follow guidebooks and live in their own microcosm of hostels, full of bunk beds and accents, who work fruitpicking or hospitality.. There are gypsies who move around the country slowly following the seasons and festivals. Those who sell their craft at the temporary markets stalls of mindil, st andrews and the channon. There are travelling musicians and circus tricksters playing with fire and gravity games, busking or performing with the festival circuits. And the travellers who rest for months and lay down nests as they go, making new friends and settling into the local culture. Renting houses, working freelance. Shifting with their own inner tides.

There's a form of fast food tourism, where you go somewhere just long enough to tick it off on your itinerary. And then there's what I call the multinational tourism, when no matter where you go you eat the same franchise foods, drink the same soft or alcoholic drinks, listen to the same music, watch the same movies, and if you can't find these things you think this place is somehow backward, and not a great 'tourist destination,' The local council or government know it so well they even section off parts of their town to become 'tourist precincts', which I reckon are the spin doctors version of what used to be called 'tourist traps', not in the way that they rip you off, more that they seduce you in with all the comforts of home, are designed to make your stay in our country so very easy.. The entire 'hospitality industry' accomodating your expectations of how to travel.
but ive got to ask, when we travel like this are we becoming international or just globalised?
im being cynical now.
it's my chance to act the local.. asking why people aren't interested in the local culture.
Darwin's Mitchell St is a perfect case in point. Along the street, tourists fill the irish and English themed pubs where the cover band is king. Local musicians can only make a living if they agree to perform live versions of Oasis and other classic rock hits. When they put on a local originals band in one of these venues no one comes.. I'm sure its the same all over the world, tourists arrive to explore a new landscape but all they find to do is the same thing they can do everywhere, get drunk at trashy nightclubs that play the multinational hits. One night we watch a group of cleancut US sailors just off the ship thats docked at the wharf, hanging out in large groups, competing with the english and other teuros (european tourists) trying to pick up local and international lasses in the city nightclub scene. We see a gang of English guys stumble down the street blind drunk and slurring their way home.. throwing up in the street. waking up the next day hungover and start again.

same lifestyle. different scenery.

 
three degrees of separation
Paying rent for the first time in months has brought me to meditate on the phenomenon of shared houses, that vast webwork of social threads that connect us across this landmass. They are the temporary nests of the many tribes of wandering young Australians not yet settled into a mortgage or family, free to roam the landscape around them. Now we can travel from city to city, connecting easily through community nexus points of Universities, Food co-ops, alternative bookshops, environment centre's and of course, word of mouth. The only thing that holds us back is our own willingness to explore. We settle wherever we find kindred minds and bodies along the way.



I heard someone call it the three degrees of separation.. and everytime we make another random connection we prove it, laughing at how close our friendship groups all are, how small the world is. This is a new kind of community that transcends place and connects through shared philosophy. The trybe.



Imagine the daunting nature of travel a generation ago, with no contacts in all the cities, no friends of friends, no email, no mobiles, all these threads which connect us to each other wherever we may be.. My new housemate Kate tells me of her journey up here knowing nobody, and the concerned words of her grandmother wondering if she would be able to make friends and find a place to stay in a city where she had no relatives or prior friends. But what Kate knew that her grandmother didn't was that she would have things in common with people here, instinctively.

Im wondering about the generation gap between parents who never experienced communal living and their children who have adopted it as the norm. My folks tell me that even up until the 1970's shared houses were very rare and radical affairs - famous for their wild parties and free love radicalismo. And what of all those grandparents whose first experience of shared living space is at the retirement village?


My new shared house in Darwin is one of those long running affairs passed from friends to friend over the course of five years with many infamous parties in the inbetween. It's a brilliant example of how buildings should be designed in the tropics, created in the seventies by Phil Harris of the now famous Troppo Architects. It's open designed sprawling rooms invite the outside in, with walls of open glass louvres on all sides that let you know you are sitting in the middle of the garden even while inside. On one side a whole wall section is missing with stairs that lead down to the backyard and small pool.. Sometimes birds fly in and flutter about suprised as we watch sitting around the the low lying table. Other times we have to sweep the leaves after a windy day.


Outside bush turkeys mill about in the gardens undergrowth. I find a green tree frog in the kitchen which sits silent and motionless like a little green buddha as Im doing the dishes. I carefully take him outside and with his long spangly legs he jumps onto my shoulder, and just sits their, meditating, Geckos hang out on the ceiling waiting to catch blinded insects drunk on the sight of electricity. They are so part of the environment that we forget they are even there, and there ca ca ca ca calls just become another part of the sonic environment, until they fall dramatically onto the table in front of you. Look around with their huge eyes for a moment, and then scurry off outside. And then there are the possums that run through the bare rafters of my room at night.


Out the back there is a creek which winds through mangrove ecology to a large mudflat beach where we walk at sunset sometimes to firetwirl or have mudfights. When the tide is high it is still only as deep as your knees, but one day we decide to dip in anyway, lying flat like crocodiles in order to get fully submerged. A few hundred metres away local aboriginals from the Kulaluk community nearby are spearfishing and hunting mudcrab.

Sadly the house is coming to an end in a month and so we are preparing one last farewell bash this weekend to send it off to a dry season grave. A few weeks ago we had a large dinner party for all of the people that have stayed here and are still in town. Two long tables were prepared in the living room with no wall, everyone bought a plate of food and we feasted on old tales that were worthy of a john birmingham novel, if he had lived in darwin..

While Sean recorded the anecdotes on a video camera, we heard tales from Danni of how the owners initially were adamant that the house not become a shared house - at which point the room burst into laughter.. Fortunately, they couldnt find a family large enough to fill all the rooms, but were persuaded by a group of four very respectable young doctors working at the hospital to open their doors to the world of multple occupancy. From there Danny and a friend moved in, and through her Dave, a teacher and Sean an actor, who opened up the floodgates to the wide ranging kids and crews arriving from all over the country in the post jabiluka wave of arrivals. From that point there was a procession of different people, from teachers to students, actors, musicians, green politicians, scientists, artists, more doctors, firetwirlers, engineers, solar eletricians, journalists, abc news presenters..



Some only stayed for a month while they were looking for a place of their own, others like Dave stayed for four years in the detached room which afforded the most privacy in the open tropical architecture which lets sounds of music and lovemaking drift through everyones space. (thats the room i inherited). Everyone left a part of themselves, and the walls are covered still with interesting decorations, balinese frog masks, aboriginal paintings, portraits of ganesh, a jembe and a table sitting on either side of the mantelpiece, small unassuming television set which ive covered with one of my own paintings, a guitar lazily reclining on a cushion. louvres open a breezy, paintings of the banyan in the back yard, a large spiralling mosquito coil, wind chimes.

This is another kind of family.
The family of friends.
The wealth of community and creativity.
I love youse all.
xx

 
migrating north for the winter
Today I'm sitting on the wooden balcony in front of my new room in the suburb called Coconut Grove, balancing on the northern edge of the continent.
Im in Darwin, my birth home.

Above me the canopy of shady palm trees create a natural protection from the sun's heat. They periodically drop branches and coconuts onto the corrugated iron roof which hit with a loud metal clang. I'm listening to the abundant birdlife in this tropical cul de sac, filled with palms and frangipanis, a banyan right next to my room. Possums in my roof. Lizards darting in the undergrowth. The serenity is punctured with regular airforce jet engine sounds which cut through the sky like an airquake, but somehow they just seem to recede into the background sound, immersed as they are in this calm atmosphere.

I've been living in Melbourne for the last few years where I'd come to feel as comfortable as anyone can in the busy human ecology of a concrete jungle.
Now here I am again, in another home, remembering another me, and watching how it fits with the me that Ive grown into, that Im still getting to know. This feels like an endless process. World discovery is self discovery - there is no getting one without the other. And returning is always fascinating because you discover new dimensions of the places you thought you already knew back to front. The outer world is just a reflection of your inner world. The outward journey follows the same rule.

One night at an outdoor dinner party underneath a mango tree, my friend Will tells me his theory of how we can leave parts of ourselves in different places, and then when we return we pick up that life again, and continue on..

My old friend Jane is staying in the spare room at our share house. She's has just arrive back from travelling around Italy for the past two months. We discuss the feeling of arriving home and she says, 'I feel like Im only half here...' I ask her where the other half is. she says 'scattered all over the world... I think I left a big part of me in Sardinia.' looking off into the middle distance to a place I can only imagine.

Darwin is one of those outposts filled with transient populations attracted by employment and weather where people seem to just end up staying. It happens to so many it's makes those who go home almost seem the exception to the rule. They are the southern expats, young refugees from the metropolisses of Australia.

One night my housemate Nikki arrives back from a road trip around Australia and tells me that one of the things shes noticed about Darwin is that everyone asks you how long you've been here and where you come from, as opposed to what you do, or what school you went to like they might in southern cities.

Here I am an anomaly because I was actually born here - amongst the community I am surrounded by it is a very rare thing.

But ah, can I tell you how it feels to be back in a place where being barefoot is normal, where I can swim everyday by the sea (at least in the dry season), and everyone is in constant awe of the awesome sunsets over the arafura ocean, constantly organising to meet on the beach which is only minutes away from the communities of share houses of Nightcliff. One night Jess and I rode to watch the Venus transit with a local astronomy group and on the way home she tells me that Darwin just feels like an endless holiday camp to her. Even though she's studying education full time, the slower pace of life means shes also been doing a circus workshop which she'll perform at the Darwin Festival, work at the Deckchair cinema and gets a chance to swim two or three times a week. It's true, even though I've been working I still feel like I'm on holiday somehow.. Life is so much easier up here, even the hard parts just seem a breeze.

On the flipside, Ive noticed Ive stopped carrying my camera around.. because Im so used to the landscape here I don't get that same twinge of excitement that inspires me to take photos.

Does this mean Ive stopped travelling?

Only if I let myself become static.
 
drinking in the multitude

I've returned again to the citysphere.
This loud, hard, glittering, angled multitude..
i could not imagine a more extreme contrast to the gentle solitude of the mountains i have been resting my bones within for the last two weeks, but somehow i make the transition with ease. I slide back into my city clothes - these urban skins - like a chameleon conscious of his shapeshifting abilities..



Everywhere I walk today I see the workers cleansing her streets, fitting, paving, building, rebuilding it's skin and bones, offering me glimpses of the nervous system of telephone wires, the skeleton of crossbeams and pylons inside buildings, the new skin of concrete being set and smoothed, squares of instant lawn rolled out onto parklands, graffiti cleansed by high pressure water sprays, all in the endless up keep of the city organism shedding and growing just like any body replaces it's cells day by day by day. I feel like this city wants to show me its naked soul, its veins of cable and optic fibre coursing with humanity underneath the smooth concrete veneer of slick corporate professionalism that dominates the landscape. It wants me to recognise the honest warts and all mechanics of the metropolis beyond the dazzling jewel of the harbour and the superficial image of the postcard cliche.



Inside the heart of the city there's all the same uniforms, white collar, neck ties, large multi-ethnic populations. more punks here, less goths there, more tourists here, less suits over there, more brand names here, less gypsies there.. the vast tribes of the global mind mixing and intermixing through the stone of architecture. The buildings seem higher than any other city in Australia, you have to search harder for the sky. I find myself in many avenues where there isn't a single tree in sight in any direction, meaning there isn't any non-human lifeform, or un-constructed environment anywhere in this vicinity, and I wonder about the psychological effect on the people who use this space daily.. wether they even notice?



How interesting that we have created these landscapes of flat mechanical architectures. Us. Round fleshy bodies crawling between the hard boulders of commerce, the honeycomb pillars of the city which comb the wind. Cloaked with invisible carbon. Burning with the carnage of brakes and metal. Oceans of roaring engines, rattles and aerodynamic ships cutting the air. I imagine the walls and roads and paths as rocks and valleys, mountains broken into pebbles (cut it down with the edge of my hand) and reassembled in one hundred thousand lego combinations. Sandcastles set in concrete, many of which will live longer than us. All this rock, all these bricks, all this stone comes from somewhere. The landscape is all around us and we are tenuous mortal shadows gliding through the cooridoors of civilisation, honking horns in the robot aquarium, making ripples called speech and pasting posters that we call resumes. The same process happens all over the world in slightly different clothes.



I wander to Newtown set upon by the the sonic landscape of growling engines, feet on pavement rhythms, trains in stations, music everywhere overflowing from shopfronts and radio tuned cafes running on caffeine and conversation. People sit consumed in books, drinking in the newspaper flavoured coffee. Post pop art canvasses fill the wallspace. Hip hop runs through the speakers - a local MC called Earthboy has so much to say he runs rings around the drum machine spitting intelligent syllables styled into rhymes, punctuated by samples of live instrumentation. The next song could be rock'n'roll or folk or death metal for all the difference it makes to the atmosphere soaking it all up in the endless mix of genre, style and tempo, traversing political spectrums, instruments, and even time periods - delving into the recorded past and placing it right next to the latest songs.
Coupled with the ambience of the street traffic, hurtling bus, flickers of dialogue and kitchen sounds, all that is left is the electricity of the culture in motion. Electric, digital, deisel, organic, acoustic, creative energies dancing intertwined in the vast intricate noise of this everyday scene..

Here I sit, scribbling in my notebook tiny fragments that catch my eye as the world passes by.

The girl in front of me flicks thoughtfully through lecture notes wearing startling
green eyes framed by eyeliner. Next to her in another dimension a man delves into his laptop screen, his ears plugged in, hands dancing over the keyboard. I remember a couple from England who stayed at my house last year telling me that they found it odd that in Australia it is quite common for people to go to cafes and restaurants alone. They told me where they came from it was seen as strange - a sign of loneliness - but it could also seem a sign of independence, individuality..

On the street ultra punk teenage girls wear their fashion heart on their sleeves; ripped stockings, fluro mini backpack, shaved head save for a pink and black fringe and knot top. One of them sits proudly on a mess of musical instruments - electric guitar zipped into its hard case, bass drum, marshall amp,. Next to her a group of muslim teenagers pass in headscarves smiling. A boy on BMX weaves through the footpath traffic in his Nike hat. There's not much left to cause a stir in these quarters. All these tribes interweave without blinking. They are like different cultural species sharing the concrete ecology. Whether your dress is goth or feral or just bland multinationalism, the streets eyes pass over you all the same. Each of us like small novelty waves flowing through the currency of the crowd.



Did you know you can buy pre-packaged sexy pheromones in the men's toilets at some oxford street bars? Sex spices every corner of the city's bleak surfaces, barely hidden behind cotton blouses and denim zippers. I feel the unspoken magnetism of strangers on busses and trains propelled through suburbs and under termite towers. Randy tomcats catching eyes of young flowers blossoming. Lots of people avoiding eye contact for the same reason, shielded by sunglasses. In the art museum there are sculpted rock sculptures evoking the spirit of eros - many armed tantric goddesses ripe with plump breasts promoting a fertile humanity hundreds of years ago. Outside, there are bus shelters lit with erotic temptations employing the same sensuous vocabulary to sell chocolates. i walk across town past a smiling girl collecting money for a sexually transmitted plague. Her chest bears the slogan 'one person infected every minute', but it's a beautiful sunny day right here right now, so why shouldn't she smile? A city is a world unto itself..

The proud face of sydney is it's harbour, pretty as a picture, stunning as a supermodel, crowded with it's millionaires. It's opera house stands a dramatic finely carved broach. The bridge a necklace adorning the neck of the bay. All the jewels of glamour that punctuate her natural beauty. I catch a ferry to Manly just to see her from the ocean, just another tourist now drinking in the famous views, happily kissing the salty wind on the bow of the boat. I watch clever seagulls riding our slipstream and overhear the chatter of two young girls eating french fries behind me. One, who I gather is from melbourne decries her jealousy of the harbour "when all we've got is the disgusting brown yarra" she says. But underneath the oceanic blue of the water's surface we all know this body is just as poisoned. No one would dare jump in the harbour no matter how much it sparkled on a clear sunny day. I think one of the greatest indictments of our civilisation lies in the casual loss of clear fresh waterways which we cant drink or even swim within. It seems no one has figured this technology into being yet, because it would require social change more complex than any quickfix gizmo. Sydney's jewelled harbour is toxic as melbourne's yarra, and in adelaide the river torrens which runs through the city is a swamp where green algae blooms as soon as there is a warm day, filling the entire water surface with green moss like lawn that ducks and swans must struggle through. Anything that doesn't follow this pattern is the exception to the rule, and somehow that is normal, and no one even notices.

On the return trip we are treated to a postcard perfect sunset and everyone holds up their phonecameras in silent expressions of awe. The low resolution photographs seem like marks of respect for a worthy sight to capture on the memory stick. All the Flashes go off like offerings to the city-god who just sits proud and busy.

Today all Ive done is walk with open eyes, hair curled by the wilderness, bearded, mind clear from meditation.

Drinking it all in.
 
finding treasure


The path we follow has been drawn with a thousand steps.
It winds through the the bush like a conversation.
Descends the hill in zigzag dialogues.
Reaches the cliff at the end of a sentence.
Curls around the rockface, following million year old sidewalks.
We hug it's curved architecture of sedimentary layers.
Duck through arches carved by ancient seas and past temples consecrated by recent new age pilgrims with crystals and incense, following a hand drawn treasure map.
Tiny birds observe our progress from the canopies above. They fly effortlessly through the tangled maze of branches. Dive, swoop, glide, flutter from tree to tree at the speed of thought, moving as though gravity were some myth conceived by clumsy apes below.



We cross a stream called Monkey Creek following a path of Orange Tags which guide us when the subtle marks of human soles that part the undergrowth seem to all but disappear. The ecology has moved from dry bushland to rich, wet rainforest species full of ferns and mossy carpets smothering stones and the air is cool and temperate.
Finally we arrive at the Goddess site on our map. She is a large voluptuous boulder that sits patiently in the centre of this valley. Below me the ground is covered in thick root systems covered in green fur everywhere like a seething mass of snakes curled into one another. You can almost see the fallen logs being consumed by fungus, breaking them down cell by cell, endlessly. Life everywhere, even in death. Goddess watches it all happening, serene.



My companion is guy called Brad who I met on the last day of the Vipassana meditation retreat in the Blue Mountains. After ten days of silence we were overflowing with thoughts to communicate everyone spent many hours talking. During the conversation Brad has been studying social ecology at the university of west sydney and just got back from india. He told me that rather than go back to the city straight away he was going to go further into the mountains and visit a large property where you could explore valleys and camp in caverns.

The next day after a short train ride we were being picked up by Peter and Carol the caretakers of Glastonbelle who both gave us big hugs and welcomed us wholeheartedly. Peter told us we definitely had the look of two kids who just got out of Vipassana - wide eyed and beaming with energy. As we drove to the property, Peter described how Glastonbelle was set up thirty years ago as a spiritual sanctuary by an old Geomancer who was particularly tuned into earth energies and bought this block of land aware of its powerful sacred sites and determined to somehow protect it and turn it into a space which many could enjoy and find peace within. Nowadays he has passed on, but Glastonbelle continues on in trust, with a number of small cabins, a few caravans and campsites established all across the 400 acres of land.



A few minutes past Goddess we reach a deep serene grotto crowded with ancient oldgrowth grandfathers and grandmothers. As with the Goddess rock I am immediately struck by the beauty of this place and stop to marvel at the natural beauty before I actually spot the orange tag that tells us this is the location we had sought on our map called 'The Trees of Life'. Although the names have been eloquently choosen, each landmark speaks for itself. The titles can only hint at the magical nature of these geographies. You should know all these words Im weaving can't capture them adequately either - they are just signposts too you see. Rumours of the enchanted lifewebs which exists within that huge, majestic all encompassing title we put to 'the natural world'. This is but one valley in a whole mountain range which bears no official status of 'wildllife reserve' or 'national park' to denote it's speciality in human eyes and political boundaries.



Brad decides to sit and meditate at the trees of life for a while. Before I walk on I look at him sitting crosslegged, beatific under the canopy of trees. Billabong is printed across his chest, Quiksilver on his shorts. Behind him Monkey Creek chortles away and I laugh at the scene, a young sufi dressed in clothes named after the ocean sitting in a forest. Brand names I had never appreciated as much as this at pagan moment.

That night we camped in the shadow of a cavern called 'Cathedral' that once housed an ocean and i could see in it's waves of architecture the waters patient sculpture. The ferns and bracken that crowded the floor at the centre of the rock look so clearly to be the deep descendants of underwater reefs, corals and seeweed, hardened with strong spines to handle the challenge of gravity above the surface.

As the smoke from our campfire curled up to hug the arched stone roof i imagined these logs we had randomly gather might have contained matter which had rested in this tiny cave ecology for many thousands of years. Growing, decaying, recycled through countless trees and plants and fungi. Now, here we were, the human factor. Chaotic monkeys setting them free into the air with our fire magic. Embers escaping the log spinning off in excited glee are free radicals joinging the cosmos at large. Setting off on another journey in the ocean of this biosphere.



As we ate dinner we composed humble haikus to this and many other subtle wonders around us. The stars peered in between the rock and the the canopies.
Earth beneath us cool, slumbering. And I with flute, sculpted breath into celtic inspired melodies that bounced playfully through the caverns lungs, amplifying my volume and broadcasting it out to the the patient audience of congregated trees. The insects they house. The birds they feed. The night sky.

Then finally echoed back to me.

I realised that we are like treasure hunters now, following maps that lead us to new adventures, uncovering hidden jewels in the landscape everywhere we go. But Im also realising that this earth is so abundant with treasures that all you need do to find these jewels is take the time to look for them.

The difference between us and previous treasure hunters and tomb raiders of the past, is that we don't seek to steal these jewels for material gain. It's not something you can own. And even if you were to hold a deed to the land, it would only be a symbolic title. The land never really belongs to us, but if we connect with it deeply we can belong to it. It's a relationship offered by every landscape.
We can gain a sense of belonging.

Everywhere has the potential to be a sacred site. As soon as we open ourselves to them, they reveal themselves to us.

The more I seek the more I find.

 
journeys inward

eight weeks ago i spent ten days in silence.

ive had a number of amazing journeys since that time - but haven't posted any of them - trying to figure out a way to put words to the wordless space i found..

how would a bird describe swimming in oceans of oxygen to a fish?
i am still a fish, but i have memories of being a bird.
does that make sense?

let me tell you where im coming from.
all year ive been travelling, exploring this landscapes layers of political journeys, activist songlines, gypsy festivals, alternative cultural geographies, urban ecologies, rural agricultures full of international fruitpickers, art scenes hiding between the cracks of the corporate pavement..

in my last entry i began to wonder what it was all in aid of. When do you stop learning new things and start travelling just for the sake of it, because its complicated staying anywhere too long? It's so much easier to pack up and keep going.

so i decided to jump off the merri-go-round to see what else there is to see. i stopped talking so that i could listen for a while. I decided to do something different.
To stretch myself in a new way.

I'd heard of the vipassana meditation technique many times from friends over the years who recommended it as a profoundly affecting experience, especialy for someone like myself who survives on communication. When I was 22 I thought it sounded like the craziest thing Id ever heard. Now, four and a half years later, on the other end of a bachelor of media arts, I feel ready to get a bit of perspective on the way my mind has come to think. I've been slowly getting more and more distanced from the realms of information overload and spectacle fast foods for a while now. Suddenly silence and meditation makes a lot more sense.

So I logged on to the vipassana website and entered my details. A week later I received confirmation, I had been expected for the May retreat. Two weeks later I was on a bus back to NSW after a fortnight of decidedly unmeditative play in Melbourne (see last entry).
The Blackheath Vipassana Meditation Centre is perched elegantly on a hill overlooking the spectacular blue mountains, a valley rolls out beneath the dining hall where we congregate silently at rostered times, signalled by a simple bell chime one of the managers rings walking slowly around the property. From the balcony outside of the dining space you have a perfect view of the west winds, where the sun descended over the horizon each night in endless patterns of solar beauty as the landscape shifted into blue silhouettes, like huge rippled waves caught in one motion for this short eon of time. On the far side two white wind turbines diligently harvest the valleys breathe. synchronised steel flowers in endless motion.

I was a little apprehensive about what it was I was putting myself in for, but excited knowing it would be something new. A challenge.

A chance to breathe.
We did a lot of breathing.
Breath is the key to focussing your mind. It's the first thing you learn in any meditation. Vispassana is particularly dedicated to this concept, eschewing mantra (sound trance) and visualisation techniques to encourage you to focus on the direct sensory perception of the here and now.

Easier said than done.

At first all i found was my monkey mind.
there it was (i am?) swinging from neural branch to branch, chattering endlessly.
i found that the more i tried to remain silent, the more my mind wanted to talk. i had novels of ideas to talk about with myself. enough memories to fill libraries with stories retold. enough project plans to fill entire museums with creations.
enough daydreams to cloud an entire mind.
after two days of this i began to observe my minds habits like a scientist of consciousness. Thoughts are like tides rising and falling, in constant motion - but are they me? -coz if that's me, then how come I can observe it like im doing now?

again, i have to ask - is it possible for a fish to understand the ocean?

and then i wonder, how did the first lifeforms learn how to breathe oxygen?

i began to realise that past those gates there is an infinite journey to rediscover.. I began to feel ever increasing subtle sensations throughout my body. I felt the weight of gravity on my bones like it was the earth within me. I felt the heat of body, a fire burning through my every being. worlds to be explored through the freeways of nervous system, swimming the rivers of my veins, the branched avenues of my capilleries.. The tree structure of my brain, linked to the spinal column. Shivers up and down. My crown tingling.
My consciousness began to focus like a microscope onto every smaller energies, until I began to feel a beautiful shimmering effect through my body. The atomic powerplay in everything, within me.
It was incredible and trancendental, but it wasn't a separate reality. It was just a deeper insight into the nature of this reality. it's just another layer in the onion skin. a place to find perspective. to see it all a little clearer.

the clearmind.
there is nothing to say.
only everything to feel.

At the end of the 10 days, I felt like I was only learning how sense the tip of this iceberg, and I began to understand that there was an ocean beyond it that I didn't even realise existed, or at least had pigheonholed into the realms of 'religion' or 'new age spirituality' or something equally rationalistic and closeminded.

Essentially, I was amazed that I had never made this journey before in my entire life, through the very body which housed me for every second I have been alive. Why don't more of us make this journey?

Ther answers are obvious of course, there is an endless smorgasboard of distractions from this journey. the social ecology to explore. the fences of cultural normality. the smogasboard of art and music to taste. the entire sensual reality to play within. not to mention the entire supermarket of consumer culture which we ust work to afford a place within.
all in all there is enough spectacle to blind ourselves with for many many lifetimes.


this doesn't really satisfy me as a description of this experience - but i had to put something down here, otherwise I would have missed the most profound journey ive been on all year. One that didn't require me to go anywhere at all - actually the complete opposite. But what I found in there was in some way more eye-opening, exotic and expansive than any trip over seas i could think of..

Im glad Ive wrtten something about this here although I know I will have to add more to later. At least now I canb get on to the journeys that have taken place since then.
 
exploring the playground


inbetween places, cities melt into each other like faces, beds folding into couches, cafes which become meeting points, music like conversations, conversations like instruments jamming. im back in melbourne, third time returned for this year, and my last for a while im guessing, i feel more and more uprooted here. anywhere could be my home depending on where i lay my head come nightfall. although im staying with a friend, every day i leave the house with a shoulderbag contents of notebook, jumper for the cold night, pens and sketchbook, powerbook and powercord, mobile phone and its recharger and i can disappear into the city for days, meeting random kids, new friends and old, linked through sms and social networks, disappear into the folds of the city urban wildflower ecology.

Familiar faces surface at random locations. We're all characters in same urban theatre - the social scenery of this playground. Drops in the ocean. Fleeting rendezvous.
'What are you doing back in town?' some ask. Others don't even notice that I've left. People must be sick of saying gooodbye to me, i just say 'dont say goodbye then, lets just play now and ill see you when im looking at you next time.' The trick is to make each encounter a rich meeting coz you may not see each other again for a while. The day rolls on, the night burns away, we connect briefly. laugh. kiss. dream. swimming from one inspiring conversation to another. dancing everywhere. so many travellers whether nested or not, we're all sharing tales of our journeys through the days and weeks and months and years..

In one night i'm hearing tales of East Timor arts projects and Blue Mountain bushwalks, of alternative communities and wwoofing circuits throughout the country's alternative geography. Tales of Lake Eyre barren landscape listening to the sound of no life meditation. Plans to go to india, to thailand, to england, france, uluru. Broken lovers teaching english in Japan's Kobe city. All the tales we are weaving with our footsteps. The constant desire to escape the citysphere even if just for a weekend, healing in the wilderness, wandering through the oldgrowth forests and discovering clearfells, and knowing this is going on always but the shock of discovering the leftovers of bulldozers and chainsaws, as if a bomb had been dropped..



one night as I'm redesigning the undergrowth website at Rak's place Nick arrives and tells me how a guitarist had broke down the barriers of strangers on the train at peak hour. All it took was one single musician jamming freely (and illegally) on the commuting snake to ease the tension of facelessness, inspiring conversations and a festive atmosphere, anything to break through the tyranny of everyday alienation. He gleefully shows me his new trick of drawing on fifty cent coins to make the queen black and the commonwealth emblem to be holding an aboriginal flag. naughty naughty.

At another gathering Franny tell's me she just got back from antarctica on an arts grant, recording sounds and light and thoughts in the landscapes of ice, awe inspired by the aurora borealis stretching across the heavens like a cosmic rip in the fabric of the sky. shimmering unstable molecules caused by the magnetic fields rotating the earth, all up there, hovering like spirit shadows. beatific. transcendental.
Another night and another backyard as activists I know from forest, nuclear and aboriginal rights campaigns relax under the full moon. Combat Wombat's new album plays on the stereo softly as Aunty Sue of the Jaara Camp places eucalypt leaves on the fire reminding us how important it is for us to come together, not just to work, and struggle, but to celebrate and enjoy. She invokes the spirits of the ancestors - Aboriginal, European, from Everywhere, reminding us that our ways are to give them all peace. We go round the circle sharing thanks for our humble blessings, day to day beauties, love and friendship, community and consciousness. We sing to let go of our fears, let screams and songs and music flow through us and into the sky, rising with the smoke clouds.. i give thanks to feeling welcome everywhere. All this community and our three degrees of separation, all over this country, like minded kids, kindred creatives, artists, activists and friends i haven't met yet.



Cut to the night before as we spill out of the crowded fitzroy backstreet alleyway pad armed with a bucket of chalk and let loose on the virgin peach walls, sharing around the colours, creating spontaneous and temporary murals to colour the cobble stones as the stereo and were jamming everywhere too, out in vegie garden backyards, inside these cozy interiors, away from the meetmarkets of clubland, overpriced drinks and dancing strangers there are gypsy violins singing, eukelales dancing, jembe's beating, girls dressed in 1950's dresses fresh from the friends of the earth ball doing conga lines to african drums and chants, discussing aliens, illegal and cosmic in the fluro kitchen, tales of psychics hearing echoes of of futurelives, all the hints of sci-fi magickal reality just outside this mundane egg.

And i can see these same chaotic rituals played out all over the city, in backyards, in parks, in living rooms fuelled by alcohol and the scent of joints, fuelled by pheromones and sex, inspired by the warm night, the full moon, lunatics driving the party, debates, dancing, drawing, flirting.

But now that im back in this city i can see the business of winter approaching too and how it affects the culture.. The days get colder and people move inside. work and university intensifies. The year is well and truly kicked into a productive gear, but im dancing around the edges, dropped out of this game for a little while. im observing myself, my ambitions which rise like the undulating ocean, my social flights, my need to keep moving.. back in the city, onto the next, back in the forest, back at the beach in the ocean, to the desert, into the sky.. the ease to cross all these landscapes in the blink of an eye, and every now and then amidst all this chaos i have moments to breathe and reflect, and notice a suspicion dawning, a sense of rootlessness, a feeling of inbetweenness. inbetween cities, houses, inbetween beds, missing the comfort of a home, a long term lover, a nest where i can lay down roots and cultivate a garden of my own self.
where is my homeland? where is my home now?
now that you've left my life and i've left you behind?
where is my homeland?
 
art crawling through the cracks


A steel snake winds it's way into the hill under me while lovebirds frolic skyways above to the backdrop of sleeping giants. Cumulus oceans smiling benevolent and placid toward the sun's farewell motions. All around Grevilleas mandala outward in scent and colour. Below me leaves collage the instant lawn like litter to be picked up before it rots into the soil and enriches the earth. they are tongues shed in the autumn celebrations of desiduous life. They speak to me of winter's supposed arrival, and of foreign lands where these seeds originated, where all of their DNA makes more sense.
Im in Sydney.

I always feel like a tourist in this city, unsure of my place amongst the high rise, wealth oriented cutlure of our nations corporate capital. This time I've travelled here to show the Undergrowth DVD at The Screening Room, a new alternative venue for independent media in Chippendale run by Bec Conroy who used to work with Actively Radical TV here. With no house to rush back to in Melbourne I decided to stay and explore the landscape a bit, sharing time between my sisters flat in Bondi and the Wedding Circle Gallery where Bec lives. During the days I walk the streets following maps which lead me from one rumour of art to another. Drinking it all in like a cultural pilgrim in another one of these things called cities, fenced in by walls and bitumen, overflowing with human culture.

In Chippendale, a revolutionary stones throw from the infamous Redfern block I find an artists quarter crammed with DIY galleries. It's a bohemian sesame street where everyone knows the people in the neighbourhood and friends studio lofts are around every corner overflowing with paintings and photographic archived walls of kids dancing in the painted rain, splashing pigment onto concrete streets. Artist studios like cubbyholes above and behind every temporary wall dangle with loose flotsam of as yet uncollaged scraps of paper, flyers, napkins drawn upon, dyslexic alphabetics adrift, numbers in flux. the whole game drawn in the sand of passing faces. Sketchbooks overflow with quotes from anonymous philosophers, shuffled poets, the resume of jesters, unwritten artists statements of this bold jewel harbour.

Outside i see canvasses of broken windows, diligently painted brown by council workers to maintain a sense of order, while inside the frame everything is falling inward, in motion, pasted shapes in freefall, like the journey of random autumn leaves fallen onto scattered canvas earth.

One day i caught a ferry across the harbour where villas crowd the view at every millionaire hills infested with suburbia, mansions in full view of ghetto lives. Bec tells me the line between the struggling artist and the wealthy collector is ricepaper thin here, all it takes is enough talent to crack the system and connect the splintered cultures of rich and poor, left and white. I hear tales of rich/poor city border crossings while hanging a sold painting in a harbour view penthouse suite worth more than the arftist will ever earn in his lifetime. Everyone knows there are fortunes living right next door, passing them on the street every minute, if only they can figure out how to tap into the currents of that currency.



At the art gallery of NSW high colonial marble roofs, I feel like Im roaming through a castle of art. High throne rooms of framed jewels hang from the walls. I disappear for twenty minutes delving into the blue threads of Olsen's 'Five Bells' knotted tapestry, as it unweaves itself in front of me. Im hanging onto the gravity of the canvas as river veins loose threads frayed over the face of culture cloaked across the organs of farms and the unshaven forests. Treebeards with the long thin necks peer from the circular horizon surrounding me from every angle in an open field. Rain and clouds fall like sky rivers. Showers of bird dreaming. Roads spine away across the hills, through lakes, underneath patchworks of green. Tectonic layers of paint lounge over one another in stitches of knotted colour. Woven tracks of insect and man cover the fingerprints of mountains. It all curls around pulling me in long limbs of circus ecology enveloping the world and me within in it.
Im inside the jewelled interiors of everything, dancing. Breathing underwater.
it breathes me into its cycloptic storm,
i breathe out along the edges of negative space,falling through this torn open fabric of reality swimming pools.

downstairs we sneak into the final day of Bill Henson retrospective; a room crowded with crowded faces, a room full of pale male torsos, delicate mortality, pubescent apertures, las vegas showlights,, vast carravagio operas of wild eyed wolf-children sprawled upon the wreckage of industrial culture naked in the forest tempting eros back into the world, remembering the future.



that night i stumble upon the performance artist mike parr electrocuting himself in front of a crowd of confused onlookers. He is dressed in an orange dinner jacket, like some ritzy guantanomo bay master of ceremonies.. As he jolts in his sleep I feel somehow implicated by merely being here, and watching, so I leave.



The next day at Circular Quay Im inside the lucky real estate of the museum of contemporary art and im confronted with stark landscape of the Woomera Detention Centre photographed by Margeret Laing. For a long moment im transported back to the red dirt, steel cage that cuts the bleeding desert dry where we travelled in Easter 2002 to bear witness en masse to the political football field scratched into the faces of middle eastern refugees. Where i came face to face with grown men crying oceanns they had crossed and 10 year old girls screaming 'azadi' (freedom) held behind razor wire bleeding tears, waiting to be broken out. Screaming for humanity, for peace in their lives finally.
And im thinking of thetragedy outside of this photograph in the rows of suburban housing that sat empty all the while collecting cobwebs in the ghost town of Woomera. ANd Im thinking of how this single, tastefully hung photo in this prestigious national location can only hint at the struggle of this contemporary history and all it's cultural shame.

Later that day Im showing some more of my films at the TAP Gallery nestled in the Darlinghurst hills behind Oxford st. One of the other films on that night is a video by Palestinian Australians, just back from their homeland. The video is all rough hand held footage they shot hanging out with international peace activists in Hebron where Jewish settlers have occupied the centre of the town. The graffiti 'muslims to the gas chambers' burns into my memory a stinging evidence of all that i fear of that zionist extremism. They show and tell us of conscripted soldiers wielding sonic boom weaponry against children armed with only rocks and how none of this made the news because it was a peaceful protest and no one died.. it happens everyday, but the Palestinians are at a loss as to who to tell anymore, perhaps this is why it is being shown in an art gallery and not on the news? Or maybe it's just being shown in a more personal way than the television ever could hope to do.

I learn that if you catch a train to bondi junction you still need to catch a connecting bus to find the beach - a fact which local residents dont mind, fearing that its the only thing holding back even more hordes from filling their famous beach where every second accent is a foreign tourists anyway. I didn't find much art here, everyone's a bit too busy looking supercool, but maybe that's too easy. The art of this beach is in the ocean, on the tattooed torsos of surfers catching waves and dancing with the ocean who rises to the occasions curl. It's in streets where splattered typographic car crashes screenprint across trendy chests of twenty first century twenty somethings who strut like smiles behind j-lo superstar sunglasses.
But the most beautiful thing to see beside the ocean herself is the open nudity of sun kissed babes, even in the midst of the cities alienation. It's sad to hear that the proliferation of digital cameras has begun to endanger this custom in the last year or so.



Back in the belly, i wander innercity backstreets of Newtown prospecting secondhand bookshops and drinking in the hints of street art hiding behind the rothco-esque oblongs of council painting commisioned from the school of subconscious artists of graffiti removal. THere is not much street art left to speak of anywhere in this city.. All the blank walls inspire me to rummage through my shoulderbag for the posca pen i have carried all over this land decorating prime canvasses with poetic questions and visual answers. How much money must be spent employing painters not to create something but to greywash the outcroppings of imagination? just to test the waters i write a line of poetry 'the city shatters me' upon the thickly brown coated broken window of an abandoned corner block just down the road from central station. i am not suprised, but still shocked to find that within two days it has already been painted over, not just those words, but the entire window.



On my last day Im sitting at jasper's cafe on abercrombie enjoying the sunglass bright sky above. Skateboards and dog sprawl on the concrete front lawn. tom waits grumbles murky jazz lyrics over double bass to the open kitchen clatter swallowed up in the hum of conversations and silent theatre of my pencil scribbling white paper threads. marks paintings on the wall tell me 'we reward you if you consume' and 'i need 2 SUV's' in hip urban cynical brushstrokes. i sit underneath their bold royal red gaze drafting these words and hear coffee neighbours discuss making doco's and asian TVC's and corporates for banks.

now rodriguez croons 'maybe today... ill slip away..."

(and i did)
 
multinational dreaming
in every city i see these same bright multinational advertising campaigns. are they following me, or am i following them?



there are some cultures i'm content to be a tourist within. happy to be observing from the outside. i realise this walking around a 5 floor megamall at bondi-junction. it's been a while since i've submitted myself to this kind of white-walled slick consumer opulence. in front of me a 10 foot high american express ad encourages 'Retail Therapy Rewards' whatever the fuck that means. eveything is designer this, gourmet that. the cafes are starbucks. the bookshop is borders. the cinema is a multiplex of hollywood million dollar illusions. models drape the walls, looking professionally indifferent. cool.
this is the 21st century promised land. the free market dream of 1st world babylonians. a palace built out of credit cards.
i gotta get outta here.

(oh yeah i just joined this technorati blog thing Technorati Profile
 
no ticket to ride

31/03/05


the milky way peers through the windows of my tent, a curious cosmos. ive set up camp in a dry creek bed a few hundred meters from the road on the only flat ground i could find in a paddock of high grass. there was a perfect undamaged meter long snakeskin lying on this patch of earth as i wandered torch in hand so i took it as an omen and decided i would rest here for the evening (a little scared to trudge further after such a find). over the hill i can still hear the contained roars of semi-trailers, like dinosaurs rumbling along their own dreamlines, the motorway.



i've spent the day catching waves along this bitumen river. birds hang in the sky waiting for updrafts to pick them up, i wait on the ground hanging for petroleum currents to choose me. my upturned thumb a question, any car could be an answer. conversation is the outcome, a journey shared.

earlier that day im standing on the rim of a bustling metropol underneath the generous canopy of gum tree, hand out with a sign that says 'outta here' looking to catch the wind of some outward bound traffic, a world of strangers going about their business flying down this road.

as i wait, i watch all manner of robots on wheels pass by;
dinosaurs trucks spewing carbon clouds, road train megafauna, bugs and beetles, sleek shiny reptiles in mirrorshades, cosy gentle mammals that smile and wave as they pass, flat utes like ants carrying more than their body weight on their backs.. im observing all the cargo they carry; satellite dishes, water tanks, ceramic pipes, old growth turned into packets of square white reflex forests, other cars, armoured personnel carriers, horses, cows, tourists..

for a while i play hopscotch with a czech backpacker who i met under that same gum where the upfield trainline meets the hume highway and we share a first lift before deciding it might be easier to find rides alone. i see him get a lift straight away, then pass him half an hour later in my own, an hour later i see him in the passenger seat again, waving as i wait.


that first lift was with wayne, a 57 year old self proclaimed drifter. as my czech friend dozes in the back of the van, wayne tells me nostalgically of better times when people trusted each other more and he could hitch from tassie to darwin in three days. now, after all the murders and rapes over the years people are scared of hitching and hitchhikers. barechested, unshaven and rough around the edges, he laments an australia which was more wild but somehow safer.
'it's the few bad ones that ruin it for the many' he tells me. i must be one of the good ones because he offers me a bud from his marijuana stash soon after that. i roll a joint and tuck it into my copy of jack kerouacs dharma bums for later.

at sheppardon wayne has to turn off and it takes me half an hour to get another lift. i'm kept company by the glorious clouds that roll in slow motion ballet above and spellbound by the rare moments of silence between the passing of cars and trucks when the sounds of birdsong, wind kissing leaves and crickets crawl out of their hiding places, filling the air with life. a sweet text messages from a friend in melbourne wishes me well on my journey. i laugh that even here she can find me to blow kisses from afar. somewhere off the road a cookaburra laughs back.


an hour or two later i'm listening to eminem's 'white america' as i pass through Wadonga with Mick, a 23 year old maori-spanish truck driver. we've just been discussing oil peak and alternative energies and i am remembering that everyone is thinking about this, not just young inner city activists who think they have a finger on the pulse.. For Mick, the hiking crude oil prices are a day to day reality because his truck is his livelihood. he knows as well as anyone that things must change, but can only watch from his driver's cockpit to see how fast it happens. he lets me out at a service station just over the border and i carry my bags back to the road.


on the edge of town i get a lift with Rob, who tells me he's been a professional fruitpicker for the last thirty years. I believe him too, his skin is dark brown and sun scarred with deep creases dividing his cheeks. He looks over sixty and wears those big black goggles which are popular with pensioners on the road and he laughs as he answers my questions high on a brown paper bag of chocolate and ginger he keeps next to his seat. i share some nougat i have found in my bag as he tells me about some of his travels, sailing around the northeast coast with his wife in his yacht until he broke his hip and his marriage and had to let go of both. About gold and gem mining in WA. About running his own farm for ten years before deciding he preffered the stress free (and better paying he reckons) lifestyle of the picker. At the moment he's picking apples in the snowy mountains at a place called 'williegobung' at the moment, gives me anumber if im interested in joining them. I just may.. Over the horizon we can see smoke pillow out above the grazing dawbs of brown cattle scattered on the bald hills. Rob says they're doing burn offs to create firebreaks. I watch glued to the window as the smoke looms up into the air like a tower stretching to the moon. We drive pass workers laying down bitumen. It's just another day on the hume.

After he drops me off i try for one more lift to canberra unsuccesfully as it get's darker and i start to get impatient. Suddenly there's an explosion of rainbow lorrikeets from a tree next to me, they escape like leaves blown in the silhouette of the day. i also find long green tongues of a gum tree, the longest leaves i have perhaps ever seen. there is no need to get uptight out here i decide - not when there is so much beauty to drink in.

so i sit in the middle of a field still an hour from gundagai, noting the communication totems that sit atop hills like altars every fifteen or twenty k's which link invisible strings that stretches across the land, connecting every part of the hume highway to the network. i let dan() know by sms that i wont be making it to his gig in canberra tonight as the sun god retreats. ive been warned that drivers will not want to pick someone up after it has become dark.. it appears to be true.

not long after he replies;
{ah! well, call anytime. and may the moon goddess smile on your outstretched thumb.}

although i am disappointed i will not make it im also excited to be stranded out here in the country, far from any town, alone under the waning moon (how quickly she retreats from her glory of the weekend!) with no cars, no friends, no ticket to ride. just me and my thumb and the patient love i have for this landscape, where i can happily sit and wait and sleep, inspired by the rediscovery of discovery, stretching my self. bewildered. alone.
i just ate my last green apple for dinner.
i have plenty of water and a bottle of orange juice left.
tomorrow i will make sydney.
sorry canberra, ill have to come back for you later.



 
another civilisation


we were racing the sun's descent across the outback, crossing a border once again, this time it was that winding line between victoria and nsw which hugs the murray all the way to south australia. the sky was a gorgeous case of arson as we flew through echuca the border town until eventually we decide we've lost the race and may as well enjoy the dawn of the night, stopping the car to breathe a minute. i open the red wine ive brought, my friends Lif and Ali dance in the roadside scrub, jousting in cartwheels and laughter against the deep red horizon. Dervla gives me the keys, i can drive the rest of the way..

half an hour later after a brief overshoot to Deniliquin we arrive at the Easter Confest, the only sign from the road we could see said 'forest wedding this way', turns out that was the turn off.. we come to a campfire were an old man with long white hair approaches with a smile. weve been told that after dark cars aren't allowed to enter but he ushers us on anyway..



The moon rises just as we arrive, lighting up the dry forest enough for us to raise our tent without too much trouble. as soon as we wander we realise we've set up right next to the 'pagan village' fire area, where drumming is encouraged all night long. No problem, i think, i just go into the drumming, let it trance me out and fall asleep. At the market place the chai tent was in full swing, full of beautiful smiling playful kids from all over. Dylan welcomes us over and soon enough has fitted us into the massage circle he is choreographing. Soon there are ten people involved, massaging three on the ground simulateously like a ford production line. its nice way to ennter the festival, loosen you up. around the space random musics are being jammed, clarinet and guitars, flutes,, violins, just outside the drummers are going off inspiring dancing under the moon



the drums are an endless random heartbeat to the whole event, hands and fingers landing on skin like scattered rain all over the landscape. its as ubiquitous as the sound of cars in the city, which is to say that after a while it just recedes into background noise and you dont notice it, except you know in the back of your mind there is a party going on all the time. this is an important part of the atmosphere.

at dawn i wander down to the no car area and discover a yoga workshop which i join. my friend Ben joins five minutes later and we welcome the day and ourselves back into waking life with new stretches that make you remember what a glorious machine the body really is. afterward there is a tantric workshop on, although ive been warned that it's advisable to go with a partner, rather than expect that some beautiful babe will just materialise and offer to share breathing excercises with you. My lover is not around, so we wander down to the river and dive in to the cold brisk eye opening freshwater, meeting Di and Rochellle who have camped in front of us. As we get to know each other we discover the plentiful and welcoming mud, just lying there but looking so welcoming we decide to cover our bodies with it and dance around for the next half hour under the warm sun.
it was a great way to make new friends.




when i was in adelaide, my grandmother asked me what people did at all these festivals, and why i kept going to so many. i thought for a minute; we listen to music, dance, meet interesting people, make art, show films..
this is the fourth festival ive been to in this illustrious year of 2005, and im beginnning to see the patterns of the australian cultural style,
funky kids, lots of art, music, dance,
confest is unique in that very little is actually planned by the organisers. there is no headlining act to draw the punters, no international guest stars, no touring artists. instead, everyone brings their own music, instruments, art, healing, massage, dance endless free workshops.



the blackboards are made up of over fifteen different areas in which anyone can chalk up an event the previous day and anyone else can go. confest policies require that besides in the carefully defined marketplace everything must be free. there is also a sign when you pass into the main camping ground which informs you that it is a 'clothing optional' festival. besides all the new age hippy vibes, this is what freaks out most city kids i reckon. nudity is a pretty basic thing to be able to get in touch with, and not feeling scared to be nude with other people, friends and strangers is not something explored much in city culture, so somehow the idea of a hundred or so men, women and children lounging around the beautiful shores of a river jumping into mud pits, sharing steam tents and hot baths, dipping into the cool water of the river, being serenaded by random wandering minstrels, sharing massages, drinking chai, playing drums, seems threatening, when in fact what it seems to me is the height of civilisation.





over three days i dissolved into the atmosphere, realising there is basically no pressure to do anything except whatever the hell you want. all you can do is be who you are, play with other beings, explore the sideshows and playgrounds which have been set up, learn or leave the self professed gurus, enjoy much music, make music, make art, do whatever you want. no pressure. just a lot of lovely kids, old and young having a chilled out time, laughing and dancing in the bush, next to a river, surrounded by gums and eucalypts, watched over by the passing full moon and the big hearted sun. and thats about it. it's an open space. go nude. dont go nude. dress up in robes and pixie costume. run around wearing fairy rings blessing peoples noses with glitter. hobgoblins, fairies. cover yourself in mud and run through the marketplace singing to the hare krishnas. dance with fire. dance with water. dance to spontaneous gypsy music uprisings in the chai tent whose insistent violins inspired everyone to their feet, clapping and calling like birds for more and more. play music by the river, to the river, to the sleeping birds, to the village of tents. cross the river and escape the world of people. make love on a sarong underneath an oceanic blue sky, falling asleep in the warm suns gaze. dance everywhere.
you are free..

"its civilisation jim, but not as we know."


 
everyday journeys..
everywhere has its stories, passed on by locals, those natives who have lived here long enough to have been woven into the lands fabric, who will pass on tales to you as naturally as the birds pass on song. Perhaps this is one of the ways we come to know a land, and become a local ourselves? -letting her stories become our own merely by the convenience of our coming to rest on her soil for a while and just listen to the tales that drift our way.



waking in the quiet oasis of my friend's north fitzroy townhouse the other morning, i was confronted with the intense hum of the living metropolis waiting on just the other side of the front door where cars cut through the air with their hard, unnatural velocity. its the same sound as blood rushing in my ear. later on i came to the realisation that no matter where you are in the city you can always hear the sound of petroleum burning, even in a parkland oasis of green lungs. the constant drone of layered white noise tears at the far corner of your consciousness. It is punctured with deep rumbles of motorbike and roadtrain diesel engine. ten by ten thousand heartbeats of the city and her stomach's endless appettite. everyone with somewhere to go, something to do. the vast splintered project of civilisation in practise. forever in motion, all around me, quietly. listening.



at the moment, inbetween destinations, i've become fascinated with meditating upon the rich landmarks of the everyday missed when we are too busied and distracted by the need to reach somewhere. When we are content to be a passenger to the spectacle of dawn to dusk which plays out every day, an endless source of entertainment and contemplation. The noise recedes. The hidden secrets of the land become clear as day. As loud as the city snoring, or wildlife waking. an ant carrying a huge crumb across the footpath. a bird making a nest in a eucalyptus. children playing as they wait at the bus stop. passengers on the train discussing the visit of an indian guru. a dandelion seed floating above lovers in a park. a propeller seed spinning to the ground. the sun disappearing behind the alien totems of television aerials. a love heart pasted into the top window of a housing development. the open linear art galleries of the train line, draped in new clothes of young imagination. a plane passing overhead, through the branches of a tree, smaller than a dragonfly. a dog running through a park in glee, trailing his lead, chased by his owner. the silent dignity of a native ghost gum amidst a forest of european trees.



i think bicycles are one of the best inventions in the world. when it comes to energy efficiency for travel they easily surpass all other transport, and when you are navigating the gridded city open to the elements, wind rushing through your hair, sun kissing your face, flying across town dodging pedestrians while cars sit in peak hour traffic, there is no comparison. the slower you travel the more you experience of the land you are travelling through. they say sitting is the first meditation. resting from transit opens up a world of rich complexity in every square inch of the planet. walking is a chance to truly understand distances. driving cuts you off from the elements, safe in the metal bubble of the automobile. you are at once transported through the world and away from it by the mere fact of glass and metal that separates you. obviously, for the long distance journey these are the kind of sacrifices we make for the convenience of speed. out in the country it is nearly impossible to get around without a car. however, inside the compacted, super dense culture of the city, where everyone lives on top of each other (but learns to ignore this fact), the bicycle offers the freedom of travel lost in public transport, the exercise lost in car travel and the delicate joy of being able to propel yourself with only the energy of the food you ate this morning, stopping whenever you want to enjoy the view, take in some new street art, smell the pollen of some exotic flower, or stop to say hi to friend riding the other way.



everyday i've been riding long the delicate curls of the merri creek (whose aboriginal name 'merri merri means 'very rocky'), avoiding the automobile habitats of freeways and main roads with all their poisoned airwaves. ducking underneath highways through high arch beams decorated by teenage aerosol and cheeky stencil exhibitionists, around remnant vegetation which hugs the river knowing she is the only reason they survive. the landscape is dotted with sculptures, some official council projects and many uncommissioned pagan inspirations like the celtic labyrinth tucked behind a turn near clifton hill where my friend raven tells me he likes to escape to play his yidaki when he needs solace from the four winds of daily life. the colour green is said to inspire serotonin to release in our bodies, and riding along this path on a gorgeous sunny day flanked by healthy rolling hills im inclined to agree. leaves scattered by early autumn winds decorate the footpaths as a treasury of fading ephemeral jewels which slow me down as i stop to appreciate, picking them up and occasionally filing them away in my sketchbook. as the seasons pass i watch their colors shift from green to red and yellow compositions of entropy as the sun leaks out of them, thin slivers of life giving away all their secrets to the passerby.
In january, torrential rains created a flood here and for a brief orgasmic moment this creek became a full blooded river. When the waters receded, all the wrappers, plastic bags and other throwaway jetsam of urban life which had found its way through the storm drains remained. They hang punctured and torn on the branches of trees which seem to hold them up to us like accusations of callous human ways saying; 'look at this!'



someone recently told me "discovery is not about looking at new landscapes but looking with new eyes." which I copied into my notebook diligently. Now that Im back in Melbourne and staying in the spare room at Rak's place in Northcote and I'm beginning to understand what it means. This house is not far from my old place in Brunswick, but it's psychologically distant enough to feel like Im experiencing the city from a fresh perspective.. Im exploring and discovering new dimensions to this maze of humanity that I never would have encountered when settled in the comfort zone of my former abode. Knowing that I will be leaving in a week or so keeps me from laying down too many roots as well, and so i am able to take each day as it comes. i am home, but i am still journeying. i am rested, but i am still in motion. it is just a state of mind which separates the sedentary and the nomadic.
we are always traveling.
-------
xx
 
crossing invisible lines

a week ago i camped on the invisible line which cuts the lands of south australia and victoria in one long rigid political border. i love that driving across the country is so much more involving than flying over her.. what could take an hour and a half turns into a full day, or as we had decided, overnight. Having flown on my way to adelaide, i appreciated this way of returning to get a sense of the land i was crossing, make it something more than abstract space between the airplane teleports, no matter how cheap fares become.

although there had been some rain over the weekend, the land was incredibly thirsty, and so was our car. drought has continued here for probably over a decade, it's so bad they say it will take more than a heavy few rains to fix it. add to that the pitifully damaged water supply of the murray, rife with blue-green algae which SA gets after passing through the ecological vandals of NSW and Victorian agribusiness. Not that SA is any better at managing their land, it being the most clearfelled state in the country due to being the only one that didn't come from convict heritage. When pure colonial attitudes prevailed, anyone who could clear the land was entitled to it. Unlike other states, there is virtually no forest activism in the state, old growth or not, because there are virtually no forests. I noticed in the paper the state Labor Government has recently embarked upon a 'million trees' program though.. All the young politicos from Adelaide seemed more involved in uranium issues - not suprising since Beverly Uranium Mine holds the biggest deposit in the world and the worlds largest mine. It all connects with the water issue too as hundreds of millions of litres of fresh water are pumped every day from underground reservoirs of the great artesian basin for the tailings dam by the mining companies. They get it all free too Im told, with virtually no compensation to the state, let alone the aboriginal people who are now protesting both the mine on their land and the fact that their waterholes are drying up.

that day i was driving with two friends, bellefin and leniece who i had met up with in adelaide during the womad music festival; two and a half full days of incredible musical performances by artists from across the planet, but who were all out of this world. there were lots of australian travellers there too. faces i recognised from all over this country.. i saw big nick the west papuan activist (and fellow, although as yet silent, nomadologist) who likes to act like an asio agent and told me about secret histories of tandunangya the aboriginal name for adelaide - sol who sells his beautiful mythical puppets at markets and festivals all over the country and is on his way up to darwin and helped sneak me in when i lost my ticket on the third day - cat, a red headed desert activist who told me an aboriginal way of thinking of land is that when someone asks you where you're born, dont say "at the royal melbourne hospital", instead you would say "where the river meets the sea", then there was rhea and quillom who ended up somehow getting backstage and meeting all the stars after the last night of the concert and who were disappointed to find out that most of them were human and just wanted to relax and get drunk and get trashy and perhaps sleazy (except zap mama who they said were goddesses all the way), or rob e hoad who'd just driven down on his motorbike from a theatrical project in coober pedy, and even claire my old lover who was with her new flame, yet who i avoided - not wanting to deal with all those difficult overhanging emotions i thought id left behind in melbourne, and many, many more whom i wandered around bumping into all weekend as though it were one huge party with lots of friends..

we'd all converged here to hear the some of the most amazing musicians in the world, as well as celebrate the possibility of one world finally at peace. it was a platitude voiced often during the festival and one which resonated through the crowd made of peoples from all the earthen hues of humanity. the newly landed african community of otherwise white anglo-adelaide was out in force, proud in their rastafarian colours and robes. indian families sat under the moreton bay figs next to hippy wildflowers next to japanese tourists next to european whiteys next to south american beauties, next to beer drinking yuppies, next to me. all of us, from so many different cultures enjoying this rather gorgeous sunlight and beautiful food in the botanical gardens, treated to finely sculpted sounds from the four corners of the earth.
you had to smile.

music, art and creativity, the performers told us again and again are the best ways to counter the ethics of war and cultural disfunction around the world. And like proud ambassadors of there craft they performed virtuosic testimonials to this philosophy over and over again. Most of it was unsaid, but there was definitely a feeling in the crowd that this was peace and love in the 21st century and how easy it could be.



two days later we were driving back through the brown bald lands of inland Australia. I remember the first time I realised that the romanticised Australian bush landscapes of this wide brown continent were actually the result of prolonged deforestation over the last two hundred years, to the point where many ofus don't even realise how much must have once been rich forest ecologies. We've made alot of money off the sheeps back in Australia, but how much will the futurekind have to pay back for all the damage those hooves have done to the land? It occurs to me that the land is so beautiful, it doesn't matter if it's covered in vegetation or dying of drought, the naked curvaceous hills and eternal autumn hues are her exposed skin, and they are seductive regardless. Perhaps that serves against her when we know she is in so much pain?

at sunset we arrived at "green swamp reserve", after taking a wrong turn and getting lost on the way to Little Desert National Park. After we discovered the distinct lack of any water, only newly sprouted trees at the bottom of what must have once been a waterhole with fine white sand that must have once been underwater, we debated whether we should stay. belle was keen to put up tents before the sun disappeared. there was no moon and it would be a dark night, so we sat on the hot bonnet of belle's car and blew a joint watching the colours of the day melt away to meditate on our next movements. at that moment, the silhouette of branches pressed flat against the orange molten sky looked to me like veins, and i could see clearly how trees were the connections between earth and sky, how the earth is the outward expression of all the processes of the body. the birds of the area began to call. magpies, cockatoos, and others i couldn't recognise. it was if they were calling to us, welcoming our presence..
"I feel like this land wants us to stay." Belle said finally. Leniece and I agreed. The harsh ecology we had been driving through all day suddenly seemed an incredibly delicate jewel, hurt by mankind with all his clumsy industrious ways of farming without care or knowledge of the lands limits. Did anyone would ever stop at such an out of the way place called 'green swamp' simply to appreciate it's gentle beauties for what they were? -a humble oasis amidst these hoof flattened earths.

and so that night on the border of two states, inbetween those mad, busy human ecologies called cities, we made music around our campfire for only the audience of the trees, the birds, insects and soil that was hosting us our little nest. absent of any instruments we sang acapella like zap mama, beatboxed rhythms like daara j, groaned like tom waits, shrieked like dr. frankenfurter, drummed sticks together like natives, twirling the twin embers of dried branches dancing like ferals, told rude jokes like bogans, slept under the luminous ocean of stars under the dark moon like earthlings, dreaming.

the next day i woke to a flock of pink cockatoos screaming in their loud guttaral birdcall nearby, descending onto the outstretched arms of a dry leafless eucalypt. as we smothered the fireplace we'd made on our little patch of dirt, i watched them, perched gently on the limbs, chilling out. most bird's calls sound like sonnets, these guys sound like they're always squabbling. above me an abandoned nest had been made in the elbow of two branches from thin malleable twigs. it was like a squatted treehouse i thought, noting how beautiful it was to camp here in our own kind of nest, using only the fallen wood for fire, leaving no rubbish or trace of our passing except footprints and tire tracks, and perhaps a few memories of song and dance and laughter for the spirits of this dying swamp to feed upon. then with the sun in front of us, we headed east upon the princes highway, returning from our cultural migration to the city where the river yarra meets the sea. that place which we call melbourne, which i suppose i also still call home.

xx
 
Celebrate Revolution


"seven hundred thousand million miles!" announced the poet to the gathered party, a few hours into the fresh new year, "Thats the distance the earth travels around the sun every year (more or less). That's what we should be celebrating on this day, not some vague number on the christian calender!"
The assembled kids, myself included swallowed this concept from our various positions of relaxation around the living room of the tropical house in Darwin's suburb of Parap in which we were playing in on this auspicious day of days. I was lying on on the polished wooden floor staring up at the spinning ceiling fan which cooled the wet season humidity. I sat up and sipped from the experimental mango cocktail we had just concocted in the kitchen and asked;
"how many kilometres is that?"
"It doesn't matter!" snapped the poet, whose name was Steve, beatific in his moment of revalation. "The point is we are hurtling through cosmos on this spaceship we call earth. The world is in a state of permanent revolution!"
"Maybe we should be saying Celebrate Revolution instead of Happy New Year then?" I interjected. "And in a way, since we are always inmotion, it doesn't really need to be New Years for us to celebrate it? It could be any day of the year."
"I like it.." steve said, we were on the same wavelength he could tell. Orbiting the same sun. Enjoying the same games of gravity, that held us on to this lovely rock in space.

It's one of my favourite points of meditation, the revolution of the cosmos. Up there with the taoist nature of quantum physics, the energy fields we swim and breathe within - what tantrika's call the 'oceanic' nature of the world, or the fact that every seven years we replace every cell of our body. Call me a hippy, but you know what I mean. Those kind of fact which make the vast universal ballet in which we are dancers seem more like poetry in motion than just the clockwork of some mechanistic metaphor.
My old email account used to be verb@inorbit.com (you can still write to it, but it's always full which is why ive changed to verb@undergrowth.org now) - it was an address i chose when hotmail began to shit me, and also because i had just embarked upon my first pilgrimage through the couches annd spare rooms of friends around australia and the notion of being a body in orbit, a satellite of flesh and bones and ideas leaving gentle trails of carbon across this landscape as i explored it and it explored me, made alot of sense. That was four years ago, just after I had bought my first laptop (a short lived machine which was stolen only a few months into my journey from a house in footscray) and didn't yet know I was to live and study in Melbourne. Now Im on the other side of that nest, about to go into orbit again. A new laptop to accompany me, and a whole swag of newfound skills with which to test the waters of the working world with.

Today, I'm spinning around that big bold sun god which some call "Soul", the planet has spun me around to face his bright gaze, i can see the half moon nestled in the blue ocean of sky above. It's a beautiful day.

I shout: Celebrate Revolution!
 
a sort of homecoming
last night i rode the streets of brunswick east upon a bike borrowed from my local community centre, nary a star in the purple overcast heavens, always new layers of street art to catch the eye.
i cross the trainline into brunswick west, i dont get here often - they say rivers and trainlines create powerful psychogeographical borders, dividing up the villages of our city into easy to manage conceptual burroughs.. when you cross the yarra into toorak from collingwood you'll know what i mean..
the broken gears of my bike stir the calm night air -tktktktktktktktktktktk - i beatbox along to the pedal powered rythm..

i arrived home a few weeks ago to my shared house in brunswick, after travelling for six weeks north to darwin and then further north to indonesia.. im curating the film program forr the sustainable living festival in two weeks, but if i wasn't i don't knowif i would have come back for another month, or more?everywhere i go i fall in love with new alchemies of land and culture.. i find myself waking early and watching dawns bright eyed and overflowing with oxygen.. every new place is a challenge to become yourself, shedding old habits, obsolete in these new environs, a chance to reinvent the world, and how i want to live in it.
it's good to be back though,great to rest in my own bed, reconnect with all the kids that make this place my home. first week back and i went out of town to opeia's submerge festival on the edge of the ottways, rediscovering wild gypsy children frolicing in the bush, swimming in ti tree dyed swimming pools, jamming flute, drum, song, gamelan till the wee hours of the moons wane, marvfelling at psychedelic octopus lightshows that make me think of DMT elves ive never met, sculpting mandalas from stone and wood and sap in silent dawn groves before the doof of soundsystems had awoken, then climbing hills, running through the undergrowth like quoll's, hopping, growling, listening to the electric currents of mating cicadas as the sun took off her clothes and draped the valley in dark.. new day and reutrned sun lights the poems we read of whitman underneath a eucalypt, before we discuss the call of a nearby ocean... mmm, i like how these kin live.. perhaps i could be a gypsy too i voice to the ocean above.. winking ; )
melbourne summers are a time of flux - so many people moving house, moving town, travellers passing through, between festivals, myself included. I have given notice at my house and leave in two weeks. first stop i travel to adelaide for my grandfathers hundredth birthday, and then the week after womad, and then... im not sure.. right now i feel like im jetissoning a whole lot of cargo ive accumulated after three years studying in this town, or perhaps all these objects have found me and made me their home? either way, im looking forward to letting go of these weights, my computer which i plan to donate to the irene community warehouse, my books which i intend to leave with rak the co-editor of undergrowth mag, my sketchbooks which i will send back to darwin.. a suitcase of nostalgic miscellania, sygils of memory, moments past..
im excited by the idea of not having anything planned for the next three months - uncommon for me, im so used to mapping out projects months in advance its been years since ive had that kind of chronological freedom. its.. scary. and challenging, enticing.. who knows where the winds will take me? I dont know, but Im looking forward to dancing with the meteorology of my own improvised songlines.. this might be where some of the music actually gets recorded..

 
salemat jalan
Bali Retrospective Blog 1
(can i do that? ah well, ive done it now....)

We flew the ocean, technologically high, riding the wings of a bird called Garuda, landed on tarmac lined with palm trees, filed through customs, the flash of a pass-port, the search of a bag, the change of a currency and here i am, in another of these things they call nations.
This one is called Indonesia.
The isle of Bali, to be exact.

I find it intriguing that my first stop on this travelling diary might be at the Australian tourism cliche of 80's. Any island that has wound it's way onto t-shirts which read "Ive been to ___ too" must have gone way past tourist trap category and moved into cultural cringe territory. But here I am, inspired by rumours of the only hindu island in the inonesian archipelago, descended from kings which receded here to escape muslim expansion in the far distant past. So, obviously I'm going to try to look past the obvious tourist cliches. Im not trying to write for the Lonely Planet here folks. This is a serious nomadic experiment; how do I navigate through a tourist mecca and keep my nomadic dignity? What Im really interested in is how much the culture has been affected by it's embracing of the tourist dollar, and how much of it has been able to survive intact from the influence of the shutter speed...

On this journey I'm well accompanied by my father who visited this tropical island as a young man in the 1970's and fell in love with it's abundant charms. He tells me on the plane of how he and his friend had rented a motorbike and drove around the island without a license for three weeks with only a shoulderbag, sunglasses and a buddhastick of weed. Im excited at the idea of renting a motorbike, but he tells me it's not a good idea, remembering how he crashed and almost killed himself, and swore off the bike forever. Now he drives an SUV everywhere in Austalia - it must feel a lot safer, Im sure.

Our first night was in the belly of the tourism beast, Kuta Beach, just north of the Ngura Ray airport, and mecca of balinese commercialism - or at least so Im told. Im intrigued, and it's late, so we decide it's a good place to get our bearings before we leave it far behind. Dad acts astounded at how much it's changed since his first time here, when the ricefields began as soon as the beach was behind you - although I know he's come since the big tourist booms took off in the eighties. Apparently it's only kept growing. Now it seems there is no real gap between Kuta and Denpasar, the capital. This is how the Asian megacities must begin. Bali is still a small country, but it could easily go that way..

It's the kind of beautifully humid day that lets you know the the air around you may be invisible, but it's thick with moisture. Your reminded that you are breathing out every pore of your body. I wander down to the beach, to wet my face and am immediately set upon by a gaang of women offering massage, sarongs, hats, sunglasses, and billabong boardshorts. It's a long process to politely escape, but I dont want to be rude. I decide to buy a Bintang (Star) Beer, from a man with an esky underneath a palm tree to coool down. As I take my first sip I overhear the broad strokes of a loud Australian accent from a man sitting behind the esky. Looking closer I see a rather overweight and sunburnt man who is being massaged by three women at once, others are trying to sell himn trinkets. He's already had a few beers too from the looks of the empty bottles. The next palm tree shields a group of young perfectly tanned japanese surfers, who are waxing their boards. The next is a family who's kids are getting their hair platted. The palm trees and coconuts continue on all the way along the perfect white sand. I have been told that for many this is the tropical paradise that Bali has sold to the tourist imagination, and I can imagine many, stuck on incredibly cheap holiday packages with no choice of hotel would never choose to venture far past this picture postcard reality. I wander down to the tide, and stare out across the calm blue horizon, imagining what a tsunami would look like from the shore.. how far it would have come before you would see it, and how far you could run before it arrived to wash all of our tentative human cultures away..
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