Wednesday, April 22, 2009


If you love the internet and hate privacy, and wish to wallow in the mixture of tragedy and farce that is humanity at its worst, check out this sleek and user-friendly database of police arrests in Florida's Tampa Bay area.

There's the farcical, like the chipper 50 year old drunk who seems to have been replacing his missing teeth one by one with gold imitations but ran out of money about a quarter of the way into the project. Then there's the tragic, like the clean-cut 19 year old who just killed someone in a drink-driving accident.

I can't quite believe that this sort of internet exposure meshes with the spirit of "innocent until proven guilty", but then the Americans do have a tendency to season the upholding of the law with a little celebrity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


As I resume the normal swing of life following my week away on the road trip, I'm finding it difficult to get back into my diet groove. I've stabilised at roughly 76kg, which is four kilograms shy of my target.

There are a number of reasons for this. The week away was not condusive to diets. The change of seasons is taking key fruits and vegetables off the menu. Self-denial is getting boring. But by far the most dangerous factor now is a certain book which has come into my possession.

'Antipasti', or as I call it, 'The Devil's Gastronecronomicon'.

I've always loved true Italian antipasto. Most local restaurants interpret antipasto rather coarsely as 'deli platter': tossing salamis, cheeses, olives, sundried tomatoes and a few token pieces of marinated mushroom or artichoke heart onto a plate and then charging $20 for it. Authentic antipasto is a subtler beast: it's about preparing simple appetisers rather than just raiding an epicure's refrigerator. It's almost impossible to find in this country, so when I saw a recipe book that might allow me to prepare a proper antipasto myself, I bought it.

So far I've made two things: involtini di melanzane and insalata di fave. The former is little baked rolls of grilled aubergine, mozzarella, pesto and fresh basil. The latter is a salad of broad beans, tomato, parmesan and basil in a garlic dressing. Both were wonderful. Both were about as diet-friendly as a Sizzler all-you-can-eat dessert bar that's been deep-fried.

I tried to ameliorate the caloric density. I halved the amount of parmesan in the insalata di fave. I didn't drizzle olive oil over it as instructed. I used the thinnest possible slices of mozzarella in the involtini di melanzane. They still turned out glistening with oil and bursting with fat... and blazing with deliciousness.

The book continues to taunt me with its high quality ingredients and artful scatterings of fresh herbs. Let us not even consider the sgonfiotti al formaggio (fried cheese pastries) or the mozzarella in carrozza (blitzkrieg on your arteries). It has no shame.

On the plus side, my next dinner party should be a moderate success.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Trip (Epilogue)

Having spent six days on the road, and covering more than two and a half thousand kilometres, it was time for me to end my roadtrip. The rest of my party were continuing on to hotter and even more remote towns, but I’d always planned to end on a high note and leave them at Broome.

That’s why I went home like this:

Somewhere below was heat and flies and red dust that gets into everything. Up here there was coolness and peace and a rather nice tuna and melon salad. It took two and a half hours to cover the same distance we’d taken six days to travel, and cost considerably less. There's a lesson in that.

To me the great thing about camping is that it allows one to achieve two contradictory ends. First, it offers a connection with the natural world - the dawn chorus of birds, swimming in rock pools, and standing under the blaze of stars unblurred by artifical light. Then, it engenders an appreciation for the modern world - comfortable beds, plentiful water supplies and consistently functioning refrigeration.

Looking out the window of my Boeing 737, I thought of how much I love technology and the glory of the 21st century, but also how much I love my country, for all its sun-blasted deserts, biting ants and aggressively annoying flies. The beauty of modern life is that we can swing between domesticity and camping - the advanced and the primitive - more or less at will. We get the best of both worlds.

So despite not being considered hard core enough for camping, I'd welcome the opportunity to do it again.

Only next time maybe we can go somewhere a tiny bit cooler. Like a blast furnace. In Death Valley.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Trip (Day 6)

On the sixth day of our roadtrip, we hit Broome. Broome is what would happen if a consortium of reiki masseurs, interior decorators and personal trainers decided to start their own outback town. It gives every impression of being an upmarket Perth suburb that's somehow been teleported two and a half thousand kilometres north into the middle of nowhere. There are fancy restaurants, chic boutiques and lashings of expensive designer architecture, all in a tiny remote town which, by rights, should be nothing but a few hundred run-down houses, a couple of general stores and lashings of alcohol-fuelled domestic violence.

The weather is lovely, if you are someone who isn't me. It's hotter and more humid than ever, giving spectacular life to plants and insects, and a heavy torpor to Blandwagons. I can raise no more activity than a constant low level stream of moaning and complaint about the heat.

The only relief lies either in airconditioning, of which I have none, or in drinking, which fortunately was more accessible. One of my party introduced me to Matso's boutique brewery, something for which I will be eternally grateful.

I tried three of their beers and loved at least two of them. The first was a mango beer, which combines the fresh mellow flavour of mango with beer, with surprisingly wonderful results. The second was their Monsoonal Blonde, a beer flavoured with a few spices, chief of which being cardamom. It was subtle and completely unexpected, and yet still staying true to the flavour base of the beer.

Then I had the chili beer. Saying that it contained chili is like saying that Vatican City contains the odd Catholic. After two small sips my lips were tingling. After half a dozen sips my whole mouth was on fire. Each subsequent swallow burst into flame somewhere around my adam's apple and grew into a spreading tree of fire throughout my mouth. To quote Ralph Wiggum, “It tastes like burning”... spoken in the same high-pitched, pathetic voice, I might add.

And yet, by the time I'd reached the bottom of my glass, the inferno had simply become a roar of background pain, and I could begin to taste other aspects and undertones of the flavour. I'm not saying I'd necessarily order another glass, but I can appreciate why people with stronger mouths than mine might develop a taste for it.

Like 80 Mile Beach, Broome comes into its own as the sun goes down. Without the savage blast of the sun beating down, it's possible to do things like walk around or speak or blink without risking heat exhaustion and death. The night stays warm, encouraging socialising and activity. It's a shame it doesn't encourage sleep, if you're unlucky enough to be in a tent without a fan or a small iceberg. I got maybe two hours, only managing to drift off in the last hours before the dawn when the temperatures were at their lowest ebb.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Trip (Day 5)

After the ubiquitous red dust of the interior, the grey-white sands of 80 Mile Beach come as a welcome relief. It's perhaps a little sad that the beach is actually the fragmented remains of a trillion trillion little sea creatures – mollusks, coral and cuttlefish. They gave their diminutive lives so that we might have a break from the red dirt, and then drive our 4x4s back and forth over their shattered little carcasses.

Their still living and 4x4-dodging descendents are everywhere. Miniscule lilac and white crabs, delicate and perfect and smaller than a baked bean. Tiny hermit crabs that bury themselves in the sand as you approach. And of course there's the sharks and blue ringed octopuses just offshore, the threat of which keeps holidaymakers out of the water.

Even so, we are tempted. It is ferociously hot, in a heavy savage way that is simply not seen in the south. The problem with camping is that there is no escape from the heat, short of finding shade and trying not to move. The tent becomes a portable oven, and it would be quite literally suicide to hide in there.

Fortunately once the sun goes down it becomes a whole different proposition. People gather on the beach to watch it sink into the ocean, possibly with the intention of making sure that it's actually gone and not just playing a cruel trick on them. Then out come the moon and the stars. The heat dissipates into a mellow, balmy atmosphere. The flies clock off and there are no mosquitoes to replace them. It's a time for some quiet drinks and a reflection upon life, and discussion with one's companions about the day that has been and the day which is to come.

Unless you are a Eurotrash backpacker. Then, apparently, the time for discussion is several hours around midnight, in loud voices, right outside my tent.

Fortunately it turns out that the time to loudly rebound an aluminium pot off the side of a Landcruiser parked next to their camper is 6am the next morning. And thus the karmic balance is restored.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Trip (Day 4)

We began the day with more gorging. These ones, a few dozen kilometers from yesterday’s, were populated by delicate ferns, dragonflies of blue and silver, and the sort of doughy, silent, grim-faced tourists whom one can pick as senior Germans before they even open their mouths. Which they won't do, since they communicate entirely via stolid glares.

I’ve decided that the thing that gives Karijini its marvelous quality is its incongruity. Having abundant water, delicate ferns, and even fish in the middle of an arid semi-desert is as rare as finding a decent macchiato there. Indeed, from the floor of a gorge one need only look up to see the scorched scrub peeking over the top of the rocky walls, as if waiting to swallow up these fragile oases. Transport these gorges 1500kms south and they'd be beautiful, but lacking the almost magical quality they have in the Pilbara.

But one can only gorge for so long, so after lunch we packed up the camp, threw a few leftover babies to the dingoes, and continued on our roadtrip up to Port Hedland.

Port Hedland is widely reviled as the worst of the large towns in the Pilbara. The satellite suburb of South Hedland is considered the worst part of Port Hedland. And right now we're in a caravan park in South Hedland sandwiched between the airport, a railway line, and an arterial road down which huge roadtrains roar and wail. That is, when they're not pulling up with screech of air brakes at the trucker's tavern next door.

This is no place for a Blandwagon. I'm hiding in my tent, listening to Amy Winehouse on my iPod and trying to pretend that it isn't there. Or that I'm not. Either or.

We are only here for the night, around 15 hours in total. Even the hardiest of bogans in our party balk at having to spend more than the bare minimum of time here. However it's a necessary evil for us to replenish our supplies and break up the 650+km distance between Karijini and 80 Mile Beach.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Trip (Day 3)

Karijini National Park is huge, covering over six thousand square kilometers, but its principal attractions are clustered together in one convenient corner. It’s famous for its gorges, a series of interconnected scars in the earth through which natural springs send cascades of water. The rock is sedimentary, with each layer more or less horizontal, and while hard it erodes fairly easily. Over the millennia this has produced formations of bizarre regularity – natural amphitheatres, paved walkways, and canals lined with neat ledges. The gorges look like a cunningly subtle constructions, or ancient cities that have had their formal edges blurred by the passage of centuries.

The gorges are protected from the ravages of the wider environment, and have a steady and permanent water supply, so as you’d expect they are filled with life. In the ones we visited today there were tiny bronze coloured frogs the size of houseflies, and darting dragonflies in acidic shades of orange and red, as if God had designed them with a particularly vivid set of highlighters. Cheerful looking lizards dyed red by the dust, with tails twice as long as the rest of their bodies that coiled and undulated as if they were a separate creature, constantly darted across our paths.

Back at the campsite there are always wild dingoes sniffing around, mainly at night, looking like small ghostly dogs in the moonlight. We set out a baby to distract them from our food supply and our luggage, as is the custom among my people, but even so I just saw one sniffing thoughtfully at one of my party's tents, as if considering whether there was anything tasty within.

Speaking of moonlight, the light from the three quarters full moon tonight is astonishing. Bright enough to see colours, bright enough to see your way around, bright enough even for me to write things in my notepad. Don't ask me to read it back to you, but it's still pretty neat.

It’s now late in the evening, and I’m lying on my back in my tent with my head just resting on the threshold. I’m looking up at the moon sailing silently through the cloudscape. I’m listening to Billie Holiday on my iPod. I’m feeling wonderfully contented in a way which has eluded me for a very long time. Something about my current environment encourages me to grab hold of these tiny but perfect moments and appreciate their simple beauty.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Trip (Day 2)

As we head further north and further inland, the landscape gradually becomes more severe. The earth changes from a fresh salmon pink to a dark rusty red. The tall gum trees give way to stringy, desiccated shrubs. And the fat cattle and sheep are replaced by skinny feral goats and roadkill.

A lot of the landscape looks like an Albert Namatjira painting, which wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that I don't like Albert Namatjira paintings. It could be worse, of course - it could look like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. Or worse still, Thomas Kincaid.

I've never really cared for the ocean, but now that I'm further from the coast than I've been in a decade, I feel its absence. I feel nervous. In Australia the coast equals life. Being hundreds of kilometres from it is unnatural and more than a little disconcerting. Even disquietening.

However we've now arrived at Karijini National Park, which at least means that we can get out of the car for a couple of days. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the car is not the luxury 4x4 we originally intended to use.

It is a Toyota Landcruiser. At one point, back in the days of Ronald Reagan and 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go', it had airconditioning. Now it does not. It has faded and corroded into the colours of the landscape: beige, rust red and the occasional burst of sage green, if it has been driven over a particularly large shrub. It also has a pronounced disinclination to do more than one hundred kilometres per hour, and a terrifying dead spot in the steering which makes driving it somewhat like wrestling a large and stubborn dugong.

Still, it got us here, and that's the main thing. The main, sweaty, noisy, butt-numbing thing.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Trip (Day 1)

The first leg of the roadtrip took us more than six hundred kilometres, from the green and comfortable inner suburbs of Perth to the dry and disadvantaged towns of the outback. As we barreled up the Great Northern Highway the land became browner and more disheveled. The smart modern hubs on the outskirts of Perth gradually devolved into the marginal villages of the outer wheatbelt. With one or two exceptions I'd never even heard of these places. They were just anonymous little towns full of crumbling buildings, dust and shopfronts emblazoned with the names of banks that haven't existed in decades.

The drive has been interesting but not easy. Several sections of the road are being rebuilt, leading to delays, detours and slow progress. In addition it seems as if every man and his granny is towing oversized pieces of mining equipment up the Great Northern Highway, and we have to go through the laborious process of overtaking them every couple of kilometres. Of course why a granny would want a 100 tonne steel haulpack tray the size of a swimming pool is beyond me, but hey, I'm in no position to judge.

As the sun was setting we pulled into Cue, a hamlet which declares itself to be “The Queen of the Murchison”. The Murchison isn't much of a realm, it must be said, and as such it's not surprising that Cue is little more than a main street, lined with Victorian buildings built out of local stone. However the caravan park in which we are spending the night is peaceful and relatively well-appointed, so it feels good to be here.

We each have our own tents in which to sleep. The other members of my party have minimalist poptents – little more than a plastic mat with an overarching dome of mosquito netting. They are very easy to set up but offer little protection from the elements and absolutely no privacy.

I on the other hand have a proper tent, borrowed from The Flatmate. Compared to the others it's the Palazzo Versace of camping. One primary difference is that I have opacity.

You can't buy that sort of privilege. Unless you have thirty dollars, which is what my tent cost. In which case you can buy it.

But not from me. I love my tent.

Friday, April 03, 2009


For the next week I'm throwing off the shackles of the workaday world and going on a roadtrip. I'll be traveling over two and a half thousand kilometres from Perth to Broome, visiting local points of interest and camping out under the stars each night.

You may be wondering why I'm doing this. I am after all a creature of the city, enamored with fancy coffee, impractical sports cars and designer furniture. Indeed there has been an element of thinly-veiled astonishment in some of the reactions to my participation in this jaunt. It seems that I am not considered hard core enough to do the camping thing. Take this conversation from earlier in the week:

Other Roadtripper: You have to take your own water into some of the places we'll be going. You'll need to buy some bottles and fill them.

Me: No need. I just bought a week's supply of Italian mineral water the other day.

Other Roadtripper: (expression of equal parts amusement and scorn that can't really be translated into words).

Well pish posh, I say. It's a week of camping, not tunneling out of Dachau. I should be able to handle it.

True, things have not transpired exactly according to plan in the preparations. I was supposed to be traveling in a luxury airconditioned 4x4, but unfortunately this vehicle was involved in a car crash just a few days ago and is thus out of the picture. The trip can still go ahead, since an emergency surrogate 4x4 has been sourced, but it's an ancient model that's about as luxurious as a dead cat. This is just the most extreme example of some minor problems which are convincing me that this roadtrip will not quite fit with my original mental image of “camping”. I was thinking martinis by moonlight. The reality seems more likely to be Royal Crown cola by burning midday sun.

I am filled with trepidation, but resolute. If I am indeed forced to drink inferior beverages, I just won't tell you lot about it. Problem solved.


Amazing! I write a letter to Jane Austen, making suggestions for her next book, and hey presto: that book appears on the shelves!

Good on you, Jane! I just wish that that Seth Grahame-Smith guy hadn't fagged it up with all that romantic crap.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Over the weekend The Flatmate and I both decided that we needed some new clothes, so we drove over to Harbour Town to get some pairs of jeans and, in my case, some new shoes.

I rather like clothes. I like the fact that you can communicate different things about yourself simply by changing your jacket or wearing a different pair of pants. One of my ex-The Flatmates was a keen sartorialist, and he gave me a lot of his wardrobe whenever he got bored with (or too fat for) it. Through him I developed my taste for good suits, well-cut shirts and wearing the right socks.

For the current The Flatmate, however, any effort is too much effort when it comes to clothes. He regards fashion as some sort of vast, insidious conspiracy that has taken over the world, and his attitude to all clothing-related matters tends to be one of passive resistance: he'll wear clothes, but he won't make it easy for them. Clothes to him should be simply acquired; a mixture of hand-me-downs, free polo shirts from work with corporate logos on them, and random items that blow off the neighbour's washing line into one’s yard. The fact that he has to make a point of buying them is an imposition, to be handled with considerably less engagement than buying groceries or unpacking the dishwasher.

Suffice to say that The Flatmate and I were coming at this whole clothes lark from different angles. But once we got to Harbour Town we both agreed that it wasn't the most satisfying way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There were a number of reasons for this:

1. It was crowded, being one of the few centres in the backward city that is allowed to open on a Sunday. Some people may enjoy jostling with others over a big pile of discounted cargo pants, but none of those people are men.

2. Most men feel put upon when they shop for clothes. There's a distinct gender inequity. If a girl walks into a shop and buys a guy's shirt with the obvious intention of wearing it, it's absolutely unremarkable. If a guy walks into a shop and buys a girl's shirt with the obvious intention of wearing it, he's either a clueless idiot or some sort of freak. As such, we men are painfully afraid of turning the wrong way in the clothing shop, lest we accidentally start flicking through a rack of girls' shirts and incur the ridicule of everybody present.

Don’t laugh. It could totally happen.

3. Then there's the business of Trying Things On. We men are not great triers on of things. I suspect that this is because we don't like to think that we don't know what we want. While it may delight a girl to try on six pairs of jeans to find the best ones, it just makes a man feel indecisive. After all, if we can't immediately tell what sort of jeans we want, what hope do we have when it comes to decisions that actually mean something?

In the end I got my shoes and jeans, and The Flatmate got his jeans and a shirt, and neither of us particularly enjoyed the experience. The only good thing to come out of it was that I now know that, thanks to the last three months of strenuous dieting, I’m back to buying normal jeans... as opposed to those lesser trousers that must make tailored allowances for the shortcomings of their owners, if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, buying some new clothes has made me realise that entropy has been accelerating in my wardrobe. My daily suit is frayed around the cuffs, and there's a tear in the lining. One of my business shirts is noticeably faded on the front compared to the back. And last night I was brushing some dust off my shirt when I snagged my little finger in the breast pocket and tore a hole in the aged cotton. Pair all that with the fact that a good percentage of my clothes are now too big for me, and the wardrobe starts to look like what a real estate agent might call a “fixer upper”.

It seems that I’ll need to go to Harbour Town again. Dammit.