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DAY 247: Writing a murder ballad about Hamilton, then being nice to Nhill

5 May

I thought you'd prefer a picture of Victoria Hamilton than Hamilton, Victoria.

IF YOU can’t say anything nice you shouldn’t say anything at all… but there’s a town way out on the Glenelg Highway that just prompts an astonished outburst or two.

At first glance all the Colorbond fences in Hamilton lead you to believe it’s a sprawling green and orange home for the elderly, but then I go into the McDonald’s for a wash and there they all are, the real natives: hemmed in like the apocalypse has hit. Nobody walks – they shuffle. And everyone has a murderous look.

Struggling to find us some camping gear so early in the morning, the bush pirate and I circle the town and its infernal roundabout system for a good hour, taking in the disused wool sheds and careworn shop fronts with violent puns for names. Graffiti on the door of one of the public toilets says: “Fuck you I am going to kill you” in six-inch high letters, without even discriminating.

For many kays now, the bush pirate has been urging me to join him in the construction of a new Nick Cave murder ballad with a biblical bent. I’d been struck dumb by the need for coffee, but now my imagination is fired, and out comes the lurching tale of a bad son of Hamilton who slaughters people in their beds and then can’t escape himself because of woeful local signposting.

Many verses later I leave Hamilton invigorated, but the bush pirate is disquieted by my character assassination of the little town. I forget sometimes that such behaviour is considered unsporting in Australia.

In an effort to redress the balance, when we later pull into the western Victoria town of Nhill the bush pirate suggests we only say nice things.

He demonstrates by going into Coles and having a good ol’ chinwag with the checkout woman about the ridiculous price of avocados in Grampians compared to a sensible town like this. Soon enough, the elasticity returns to her face and she recounts the rigours and routines of her weekend.

Nhill is already famous.

Next it’s a stop at the bottle shop, and having overheard how lovely the bush pirate’s last conversation was, the woman behind the till is eager to have one too. Both women dig out some bargain beery buys for us, and when we leave it’s waves all round.

There are two pubs in town, and we choose the no-nonsense joint that refuses to bow and scrape to progress. The landlord seems surprised to see us – and not best pleased, as he’s watching Goodbye Mr Chips – but he rouses himself from his chair and pours us some drinks.

This pub was a snark-free zone.

Within minutes, the bush pirate’s honeyed his ear with talk of our journey and our good fortune for pulling into an honest knockabout like Nhill. Brightening, the landlord sticks money in the jukebox and picks out some Garth Brooks favourites, leaving the rest of the selection for us. The beers keep coming and the pool games are free.

We leave Nhill feeling proper restored. There’s no chance of feeling nhillistic in a town whose main employer is called Luv-a-Duck, anyway.

Keeper? Strictly speaking I was only nice-by-proxy, but now I know how it’s done I’ll give it a whirl.

DAY 232: Learning Indian Head Massage

20 Apr

THERE are few things as whimper-worthy as an Indian head massage (not to be confused with a Chinese head massage, as I found out to my cost), so I buy a book that’ll coach me on the matter.

After a good peruse, I dim the lights, warm some towels in front of the fire, whip Old Dog’s shirt off and settle down to give his lymphatic drainage system what for (a nice treat before Day 233: Hogtying Someone).

  1. Cradle crown with hands.
  2. Cup palms over eyes.
  3. Rotate head on its stalk.
  4. Smooth almond oil onto hair, then stroke for ages.
  5. And ages.
  6. Tap your fingers around a bit to get those lymphs going crazy.
  7. ‘Iron’ the arms. (NB: Not with actual iron.)
  8. I made some stuff up with the ears – you can just go with the flow really.

Keeper? Yes. Every time a bloke offers to massage me it turns out to be a trick, but this just shows it can be a lovely experience.

DAY 210: Inventing a phrase and getting it in the public vernacular

29 Mar

MATT Zurbo enjoys making up new vocab and dropping it insidiously into the kids’ books he writes (get ’em while they’re young). He suggests I have a whirl. “Stop trying to sell me a fart in a bottle,” he demonstrates.

We’re leaning towards the ocker end of the spectrum, because Matt laments the lost art of Aussie slang and detests Americanisms. He reserves particular ire for the use of “dude” over “cobber”, “gum” above “chewie”… “And if you’re going to root for me it better be something to do with sex,” he thunders.

With this in mind, I come up with:

yank-off (n) An Australian who insists on talking in Americanisms, i.e. “I know, riiiight?” instead of “Oath!” and “Who knew?” instead of “Fucked if I know.”
Usage: “Did you hear those yank-offs talking about Jersey Shore on the tram?”

bon scotts (n, pl) Weighty testicles visible through tight jeans.
Usage: “Shit, mate, put on some undies – your bon scotts are scaring the tackers.”

That sorted, I send them off to Urban Dictionary and add them to the Wikipedia entries for ‘Yankee’ and ‘Bon Scott’. Now it’s official.

Great slang-merchants in history

  • Linguist Anthony Burgess invented teenage language “nadsat” in his cult novel A Clockwork Orange, drawing from Russian, German, Cockney rhyming slang and the King James Bible. His “humble narrator”, Alex, detested “droogs”, thought ultraviolence was “horrorshow” and would ejaculate “yarbles!” or even “great bolshy yarblocks!” when provoked. I’ve regularly thieved bits throughout my writing career.
  • Chaucer’s a fag to read indeed, but as any school kid will tell you, you’ll come across quaint words like “cunt” in curriculum text Canterbury Tales, written in the 1300s. He was fond of bawdy, regional dialects, and liberally peppered sexual slang in among his olde English prose.
  • Roger’s Profanisaurus is a “compendium of profanity” courtesy of Viz character Roger Mellie, and boasts over 8000 inventive ways of saying “bum”, “fart”, “wank”, “vagina” and “fuck”.
  • Barry Humphries character, Barry “Bazza” McKenzie, made his debut in Private Eye and went on to be portrayed in films by singer Barry Crocker. The boorish Aussie-overseas coined phrases like “point Percy at the porcelain bus” and “technicolour yawn” – inspiring Men at Work’s ‘Down Under’. Quick! Someone take them to court!

Keeper? Yes. If you can think of other ways I can infiltrate the public psyche with my ripper new phrases, please let me know.

DAY 203: Forcing berets down people’s throats

22 Mar

TODAY I’m on a campaign to make berets fashionable. It’s a lonely crusade all right, but one I’ve been forging since primary school, when I published my daring debut, Girl’s Mag.

I count four berets and a disturbingly phallic post box.

And then there was the editor’s pic in my sophomore magazine aimed at sort-of adults, which earned me derision from the art editor and posturo-rockers Grinspoon alike – the latter after I simply remarked on the fact that one of their number was wearing socks and thongs in a national photo shoot.

Grinspoon "aren't about to take fashion advice from someone wearing a beret". But you would, wouldn't you?


Enough with the subtle leading-by-example – it’s time to step up my game and start forcing my rhetoric down throats. Haughty women in berets (it’s pronounced “be-rrr-AY”) are sexy, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it. What’s more, I’m sticking them up all over Melbourne’s lampposts and dunny doors in an insidious attempt to influence locals. Naturally I’m wearing a beret as I do so.

The propaganda.

Viva la resistance beret.

Keeper? Indeed. Winter approacheth, and with it, fashionable head gear.

DAY 193: Piggybacking an adventurer

12 Mar

AT Lavers Hill Roadhouse in the Otway Ranges, I meet Andy Cadigan, for whom the local copper is buying drinks. Which immediately piques my interest.

Andy set off on Boxing Day to walk around Australia to raise money for the The Cancer Council after losing his mate Simo.

He sold his house and car to fund this trip, and all he’s got with him is a pram with solar panels that charge his laptop so he can keep people updated with his blog, Oz On Foot.

Obviously Andy’s looking for donations – the monetary kind – but hearing him talk about bone marrow donations  gets everyone in the pub thinking about that, too.

Andy will be walking till April next year, he reckons, so I help him on his way by piggybacking him off from the roadhouse.

Andy’s got a tent, a tiny cooker, water, clothes, mobile phone, laptop, sleeping-bag, wet wipes, Penguin classic… hey, that’s about it.

In Tasmania, Andy got so cold he chopped the sleeves off his jumper and turned them into mittens, held on by cable ties.

Keeper? We’re all knocked sideways by this bloke. Will definitely keep track of what he’s doing.

Addendum: In June 2012 Andrew Cadigan completed his epic journey of walking alone for 15,000km and raised $65,000 for charity. A month later, while recuperating  in Thailand, he suffered severe head injuries in a motorcycle accident. He died in October 2012, aged 31.

DAY 160: Leaving cryptic messages

7 Feb

One of my lovely missives.

THE English love cryptic messages, from Stonehenge, to Hawkwind, to Lewis Carroll, to backwards exhortings on Judas Priest records.

Yesterday I just kept coming across them, from a nonsensical egg-based riddle on the toilet door at work, to a giant rabbit up a tree in Collingwood (where a few streets away I saw a chap tip out the contents of a wrap onto the pavement and then attempt to snort it up) and a miniature fanzine on the tram.

If I subscribed to “everything happens for a reason”, I’d be buying gift subscriptions for all my friends.

Suitably inspired, today I decide to plaster my own confounding messages around town. At first I wrack my brains to think of some, but then I remember the fortunes from my fortune cookies. Four immediately go up in the toilet stalls at work. I listen intently when someone enters the cubicle next to me, but there comes no delighted “Oh!”

An hour later when I go in to check, all four fortunes have unfortunately been removed – presumably for health and safety reasons.

Keeper? Yes, enjoyed this – but got distracted from making it a more exhaustive mission.

This was stuck to the toilet door yesterday.

This was on the tram!

This was up a tree!!

DAY 157: Putting my stamp on everything

4 Feb

IT’S now the year of the rabbit – my year – and while I don’t seem to possess any of the traditional characteristics of this noble beast, I’m still keen to celebrate appropriately.

I go to Chinatown and buy some red packets. If you’re married, you’re supposed to put money in them and give them to children or single people you feel sorry for. There’re no instructions I can find for if you’re technically married but not in any position to be encouraging others, and I’m not made of money, so I buy a packet of fortune cookies to fill the envelopes. That’s nice, isn’t it?

Then I head down to Southbank, where some celebrating is already going down, I pose awkwardly for a set of commemorative Valentish stamps… and end up looking like a jaundiced Sylvia Plath. Not a sign of things to come, one hopes.

Keeper? No, because I will be posting them out to people – and just affixing the stamps to lampposts.

DAY 124: Writing to people in the news

2 Jan

THIS might mark my card as a weirdo, but today I pick three people in the newspaper who I reckon would love a letter from me.

I write to:

* Somebody incarcerated in the local prison, in a there-but-the-grace-of-God situation.

* A couple whose mean neighbours are trying to close down their rabbit sanctuary (I’m offering assistance, violent or otherwise).

* The editor of the Herald Sun pets page, to immortalise Mr Thumpy.

Keeper? Not sure. Not if they write me weird letters back.

DAY 85: Writing thank you notelets like Mum used to make us do

24 Nov

IN my childhood home, writing a thank you note was as vital for a healthy constitution as Sun-Maid Raisins and morning ablutions, yet I haven’t cracked out a notelet since Christmas 1987.

Get this, though. Not only could writing a thank you note almost qualify as a random act of kindness (so unanticipated would it be), but Buddhists have known since the sand flats of time that gratitude for your lot is the No.1 way you can improve your quality of life. Coming late to the party, I’ve made up for lost decades by getting a Gratitude app on my iPhone, as endorsed by Oprah. That’s got me through some tough times and boring train journeys, I can tell you.

I decide to write three thank you notes to people who probably don’t even know they gave me a warm feeling recently, with fingers firmly crossed that they don’t think I’m creepy. I choose notelets with animals on, as is customary for such occasions, and send the first one to the local vet. He handled Mr Thumpy on Saturday with a tenderness unbecoming to a veterinarian, and only charged me $27. Hopefully this wasn’t a mistake, or I’ll soon be getting a note BACK.

The others recipients I’ll keep to myself.

Keeper? I’m probably not going to be one of those people who send their favourite Starbucks outlet a postcard from Greece, but heartfelt missives should be allowed to run riot, at least until the cops are called.

DAY NINETEEN: Message in a bottle

19 Sep

WHAT kind of a kid doesn’t send a message in a bottle? Even tackers should have a bucket list, but I never got round to it. Now’s the time to make amends.

Up in Point Lonsdale I take a scenic walk with my friend Anna, a conservationist, and find a good spot to lob a Schweppes bottle into the sea.

On the pier we find a great spot to launch my sickly note dedicated to friends new, and I send it forth when no one’s looking. Bye bye, bottle, race you to the shore.

On our way back we spot a gummy shark’s head, which a man picks up and makes talk for his two-year-old kid.

Keeper? Yes. This is fun.