That Gum You Like

In which Dave gets to Melbourne

Posted in Melbourne by Dave on September 26, 2009

Hola Amigos,

I know that it’s been a while, but forgive me, it’s been kinda chaotic. Also I keep screwing myself over with this thing, because if I let it go for a few days, I’m always daunted by the amount of time it’ll take to write and upload an update, so I put it off, which obviously makes it even harder the next time. But whatever. Here we go.

So after my day at the races I spent three more days with the Body’s out in the QLD, where Simon finally really put me to work at Tarrawonga. Sunday was a flashback to my landscaping past, as I spent most of the day destroying a massive hedge that had taken over one of the fences in the Body’s yard. Then, during the week, I helped Simon with “mustering”. Mustering involved me driving an ATV around the ranch, driving about 300 cattle from one fenced off chunk of field (AKA a “paddock”) to another. Apparently the cattle had devoured most of the edible scrub in their existing paddock and we were driving them into one of fresh oats. It was actually a pretty fun job, driving an ATV was pretty sweet, and the cattle were stupid and hilarious. I thought that driving these massive crowds of huge animals would be difficult and perhaps a little intimidating, but cows are real dumb and responded pretty well to me driving the ATV nearly into them over and over and over. So it took two days to finally get all the cows into the new paddock, as many of them were resistant to moving or got separated from their calves, and jumped the fence back into the original field.

On Wednesday we moved another herd of cattle, this time into the cattle yards, as they were being sold that day. This time, instead of the ATV I was driving the Ute, which gave me access to the radio, which in turn gave me access to the jewel of information that it was Bruce Springsteen’s 60th birthday. I know, holy shit. In a fortuitous coincidence, the only tape in the Ute was Born to Run, and even though I’m no fan of the Boss, I couldn’t fight against fate. Besides, my only other option was 106 Hot Country. So, for me, the definitive moment of my visit to the Body ranch was driving cattle while blasting Born to Run with the windows down. Seemed appropriate, somehow. (For the record, Born to Run pretty much sucks, but Thunder Road is impossible not to sing along to with all the heart you got.)

After driving the cattle into the yards, I got to see the beginning of the process of sorting them into varying grades before I had to go. The yards were a complex maze of fences and gates, and sorting them was a nutty process that’s I can’t possibly describe in any sort of convincing detail. Let’s just say it involved hitting the cattle with plastic pipes to keep them from ramming into you. Pretty much all I got. But I had to leave shortly after the process began, to begin what would turn into a hilariously drawn out bummer of a travel experience. Before I get into that though, I feel like I should wrap up the whole cattling experience somehow.

Although I obviously didn’t really get a feel for the ranching life in the five days I was there, the time I spent there left somewhat of a weird taste in my mouth (although that easily could have been the dust storm that came up on the day I left). As far as my feelings about eating steak, they remain essentially unchanged. At this point, I remain unconvinced that raising cattle like this is particularly inhumane. They basically are on vacation from the day they’re born until the day they die, and the people who own them are entirely focused on keeping them fat and happy. And at this point in the evolution of cows, they’re as helpless as zoo animals, and an existence in the wild would be a complete disaster. Is it sad that they’ve been domesticated to that extent? Maybe. But probably not. As far as the life they’re living in this situation, it seems pretty ideal. Okay, sure, they’re not “free” but honestly, I don’t think that distinction really means anything to cows. I’m still gonna eat steak, even having seen the face behind the plate, or whatever the hell those PETA ads were on about. I could easily see myself being a vegetarian someday, but certainly not for moral reasons.

The thing that stuck with me the most, and left me the most confused about my whole experience though, is the life that these ranchers live. It seems like a touch-and-go business, one that is left largely up to unpredictable factors like rainfall and the ever variable grain and steak prices. Many of the people I encountered, though, seemed to fall into the category of “gentleman farmers”, people who farmed because they liked it, and had money to back them up in case everything fell apart. Simon didn’t really fall into this category, I don’t think, but the general cultural feel I got out there was one of land=wealth=entitlement. And everyone out there has buttloads of land. It just seemed that I had dropped into a very weird world of intense isolation from the general populace, where everyone was preoccupied with the things that affected them directly, and not much concerned with society at large. It’s a life that left me confused, with my only certainty that it’s not for me. It’s not even that I have a problem with insulating yourself from the wider world, which is something that I see the romance in quite clearly, but more the combination of that isolation with a community of wealth and entitlement.

Having said all that, everyone I encountered was incredibly nice and gracious, and couldn’t have been more welcoming to this snobby jerk who’s left them to criticize the life they life. I don’t want to give the impression that these people were anything but fantastic in person, but I also can’t deny the culture shock that I experienced.

ANYWAY, I left the Body’s on wednesday and began my travel adventure to Melbourne. I started with a crowded, double-layover Greyhound trip to the Brisbane airport. Greyhounds out here are classier than in the states, but still draw the kind of people who are looking for cheap transportation, i.e. young people and grungy old boozehounds. But the Greyhound was pretty painless, I spent most of the time listening to Dirty Mind on repeat and reading As I Lay Dying.

I arrived at the Brisbane airport around 7pm, and went to check in for my flight that left at 6am the next morning. Of course, as soon I went up to the desk, I was informed that I couldn’t check in overnight and would have to wait until about 430 the next morning. I wasn’t about to take a cab into the city and pay for a hotel, so I cozied up in the ludicrously uncomfortable baggage claim waiting area and watched something like 7 episodes of the X-files. I didn’t particularly trust my neighbors and had too much stuff strewn about me to get some proper sleep, so I relied on the escapades of Mulder and Scully to keep me awake (not a difficult proposition (Question: Is X-files the theme of this blog so far? I seem to find a way to mention my obsession with it in every post. Still, I stand by its greatness.))

So around 430, I went to check my baggage, only to be told I was about 4kg overweight and that it was going to cost me 40 dollars. I suppose that’s what I get for bringing a box of books, but c’mon. My next encounter with the delightful Qantas people was when they confiscated my deodorant, toothpaste, and shaving cream at the security check. I’m still not really sure why, I didn’t have any problem bringing that on the plane on my flight over here, but I guess there was the danger that I was planning on not smelling and looking like a hobo on my flight to Melbourne. Oh well.

But I do have to say that once up in the air, Qantas was a great airline to fly on. They fed me breakfast and lunch, gave me unlimited coffee and free newspapers (which unfortunately follow the general trend over here of having totally bullshit crosswords) and were generally pretty nice. I landed in Melbourne to find it rainy and about 30 degrees colder than it had been in Queensland. After a bus into the city and a cab ride where the cabbie and I had to pore over a map for 10 minutes to find the apartment I’m staying in, only to discover it was a 3 minute walk from the bus station, I arrived at my apartment at about noon on thursday.

After meeting the fiancee and girlfriend of the two dudes who work at the plant where I start on monday I went off into the city. Didn’t do a whole hell of a lot aside from drink coffee and get lost, but already I really like Melbourne. It’s a little bit expensive, but it has everything you could ever want in a city, as well as a seemingly limitless number of weird neighborhoods to explore. At this point I hadn’t slept in about 24 hours, so I went back to the apartment and napped before meeting the two dudes, and had dinner with everyone, including two other Americans employed by the plant. Everybody is really really nice and it’s been great to hear American accents and to live with people who are equally confused by the difference between Rugby League, Rugby Union, and the AFL. Also, my apartment is killer, with an incredible view of the main downtown area. My internet is a little sketchy do properly do photos, but I’ll do a photo post later, where you can see the incredible view from my 15th floor balcony. When I do that I’ll also show you my hilarious closet/room where I’m living, which although small and windowless, it’s perfect for what I need (i.e. it has a bed).

Friday I slept in, had a delicious breakfast at a cafe nearby (hint to future travelers: all bacon is canadian bacon, and these people do not believe in homefries.) and went off to the ACMI (Australian Center for the Moving Image) which kept my record of free museums at 100%. The museum was really really awesome, with two aggressively experimental exhibits, Remixing Hollywood and a survey of the work of Len Lye, a New Zealand filmmaker. Len Lye apparently pioneered the technique of painting directly onto film, and although that work hasn’t aged particularly well in the 80 or so years since it was made, it was still really cool to see. Lye also apparently worked a lot with scratching onto film, and the three I saw in the exhibit were incredible. Particularly “Free Radicals” which I could watch for days. Remixing Hollywood was also fantastic, with films by Martin Arnold, Virgil Widrich, and Peter Tscherkassy, none of whom I’d heard of or seen anything by, but it was all really good. So yeah, the ACMI was definitely my best museum visit since getting to Australia, and if you’re ever in Melbourne, it’s definitely worth a visit. After my stop there, I just went back to the apartment and enjoyed my view and passed out early.

Today all I’ve done is travel over to Richmond, one of the dozens of Melbourne suburbs that are basically in the city and go to the awesome Picture Search Video, where I opened an account and got some flix. It’s currently about 130 here, and the AFL (more rugby) Grand Final starts in a half hour, so I think I’ll join the rest of the Melbourne population in watching that. Seriously, people here are going insane, I had to walk through a parade yesterday to get to the ACMI, and nearly everyone has either a red and white (Saint Kilda Saints) or blue and white (Geelong(I think) Cats) striped scarf. I expect nearly the entire city plans on getting tanked and screaming like idiots, so it should be a great day to get a feel for the place.

Like I said, my internet is too slow to upload photos or tunes, but I’m on the hunt for an internet cafe, so a media post is forthcoming.

kisses.

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Automobile–>Plane–>Train–>Automobile–>Sydney (Days 1-2)

Posted in Sydney by Dave on September 13, 2009

Well guys, I made it. The journey itself was actually reasonably painless, all things considered. Left my house around 12:30 on Wednesday afternoon, got to JFK at four, flight to LAX left at six. The flight out to L.A. was pretty straightforward, sat in the window seat next to two old ladies, one of whom promptly fell asleep and only woke up once we arrived in L.A., and one who spent her whole time pretending to sleep, but apparently was just watching the X-Files with me the whole time, because I caught her gasping whenever something scary happened… Pretty hilarious actually, every time she did it I would look at her and smile, but she continued to pretend to be asleep. But yeah, I watched the X-files until my computer ran out of battery, then I just read a little bit and stared out the window. It was obviously dark by this point, but I always really like looking out at the lights on the ground. Real pretty. Got into LAX, ate some Mcdonalds, charged my computer enough for two more episodes of the X-Files and got on the plane for Sydney, which left at about 11pm.

Huge, huge plane, even had a second floor! Also generally pretty nice, the first class area looked like a freaking spaceship, and business class was only marginally worse. Gargantuan seats, loads of footroom, etc. But I wasn’t too jealous, as I had an entire row to myself. It actually totally blew my mind, I haven’t been on a plane that wasn’t almost entirely sold out in a really long time. So having the whole row was an incredibly pleasant surprise. I promptly took advantage of it, making a little nest out of the three pillow and blanket sets they gave me, and passed out for the first chunk of the flight. When I woke up, I guess a pretty considerable amount of time had gone by, because the rest of the flight really passed pretty quickly, I watched some of the inflight movies (caught about half of the new Star Trek without sound and checked in for a little bit of Monsters vs. Aliens (which was pretty terrible except for a character voiced by Will Arnett, who was obviously hilarious)), read a little, listened to some music, and yes, watched some more X-Files. You guys, the X-Files is awesome. Very consistently entertaining, and an incredibly satisfying overarching plotline that seriously tickles my inner sci-fi nerd. Also, this:

Gillian Anderson + Hilarious Outfit = Multiple Levels of Win

Gillian Anderson + Hilarious Outfit = Multiple Levels of Win

I landed in Sydney around 6am, had some pretty painless dealings with Customs and Quarantine (which included me awkwardly explaining to the Quarantine officer what a Jolly Rancher was), and hopped on the train out to Gordon, a suburb of Sydney and the home Margaret Tink, my host for my initial stay here. The Sydney public transportation system is dominated by Cityrail, a train system similar to the BART, but obviously, as this isn’t America, it’s infinitely better. It’s a very clean, cheap, quiet, and quick way to cruise around the city and the surrounding area. We suck at getting people around.
Margaret picked me up at the station and took me to her house, where I spent most of the rest of the day sitting on her porch, feeling jet-lagged and confused by the constant chattering of the local birds, a constant reminder that I’m over 11,000 miles away from home. Seriously you guys, these things just spend all day making the noises that Hollywood has taught us are the sounds of the “jungle.” It’s bizarre seeing cockatoos and kookaburras just cruising overhead like they’re seagulls or something. After a run and some dinner I went right to sleep at about 8pm, which felt fantastic.
I woke up this morning, had some breakfast and headed into the city, where Margaret’s granddaughter Sarah, a student at University of Sydney, met me, having agreed to show me around for the day. I had a fantastic day touristing around with Sarah, making the obligatory Opera House visit, checking out the Museum of Contemporary Art and cruising around the area surrounding the University. The Opera House, despite being the world’s most stereotypical tourist destination, really was pretty awesome. I’m not even sure I like the design, but there’s something pretty cool about hanging out under those shells and looking out over the water. The Museum was aggressively contemporary, some of it interesting, some of it not so much. The dominant aesthetic was a bit Oberlin-esque actually, a few of the exhibits reminded me of something I might see at a Senior show. I really like the area around the university, very college-y, we stopped in at a few used bookstores and the like, one of which enormous and unorganized where I could have spent about a year, but today I only came out with Robert Lowell’s Life Studies.
Thus far though, I’m finding Sydney to be pretty incredible. I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures, which is a shame, it’s a very photogenic city, a lot of big, old buildings mixed in with a very tropical landscape. I’m probably going to head back in tomorrow, so I’ll make sure to get some pix of it then for my next update. Until then…

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