Kings of the Wild World Tour: Australia

John Tyrrell is one half of nouveau breaksmiths Kings of the Wild Frontier. In November 1999 he set out on a world tour and this is his neo-Kerouac on the road diary, a kind of continuation of the Kings' "Trans Am" ep which journeyed across the U.S.A from East to West appropriating local musical styles as it went.

Below are the emissives he and travelling companion Jo have been beaming back to base.

 

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2000

Hello again folks. Sorry we haven't spoken since Bali, but what with this Oz gaff being a little pricier than we were used to in Asia we decided to dash round the island as quick as possible to try to keep a lid on our wallets. Unfortunately, what with doing loads of stuff an' all this e-missive's a bit of a whopper. Soz.

And so this is Australia' The plane from Bali touched down in Darwin at 5am and our first mission was to work out what the hell to do about Jo's work visa since we discovered as we were leaving Bali that it was in fact already out of date. Oops. (John)

You can imagine the panic which ensued on finding out my working holiday visa had expired before I'd even set foot in the country. The airline issued me with a tourist visa and said I'd have to work it out with Immigration in Australia. Thankfully when we arrived in Darwin a friendly, efficient lady sorted it all out for me in a matter of minutes. She said administration errors like that happen all the time and promptly issued me with a new one. Phew. (Jo)

It was low season in Darwin - bit of a ghost town all round. After some kip we tootled into the town centre on Saturday afternoon expecting to find a throbbing metropolis, but everything shuts at 1 so everyone can go to the pub. At least the Red Rooster fried chicken joint was open, so I made friends with a man-size portion of Oz junk-food and went back to bed.

Australia's big. Even the sky seems bigger. There's tons of space everywhere so they spread everything out - which along with all the American style road signs and malls reminded me a lot of my little jaunt to North Carolina last August - Oz feels a bit like America's dippy 2nd cousin. But Darwin is a proper tropical hot spot with belting sun one minute, then thrashing rain and thunder the next - which made our walk back from the supermarket interesting. (John)

Funny that the first tune we should hear on arriving in Oz was Men At Work's 'Down Under''Needless to say the sound of Dijeridu music has now become as irritating as Bob Marley became when we were in Asia. Every other shop in Darwin sold Dijeridus, so it was rather disappointing that we didn't actually see any Aborigines playing the damn things. Our first encounter with Australia's native population was in the local shopping centre. Loads of overweight Abo's with freaky blond hair were sat on shop steps boozed up to their eyeballs listening to Eddie Grant's 'Electric Avenue' on a portable tape recorder. Weird.

On the plus side for Darwin was the Crocodile Research Centre, where we witnessed five meter crocs leaping out of the water to snatch hunks of raw meat that were dangled above them. John held a baby one (it's jaws were taped shut) and I stroked it's soft, smooth tummy. At which point the informative guide told us 'that's the bit they make handbags out of'. And what do you know, in the research centre gift shop crocodile skin handbags were indeed flaunted for sale. Nice. They eat Kangaroos here too. (Jo)

Ansett, the official Olympic airline, were kind enough to drop us over to Cairns after our brief days in Darwin. Cairns was much more fun. We stayed in a gaff that one of the stewardesses on the plane told us about - a beautifully restored 'Old Queenslander' wooden house on stilts which had only been open as a hostel for 3 months and boasted a particularly smart little swimming pool in the back garden. Nice spot. (John)

I couldn't believe it. A brand new bed, with matching linen, polished wooden floors and stylish paint work. Sweet. (Jo)

And we got a free dinner down the Woolshed pub every night to boot, along with the hordes of other hungry backpackers.

We hit the tourist trail in earnest in Cairns taking the scenic railway up through the rainforest, past huge gushing waterfalls to the little tourist town of Kuranda in the hills. Numb from staring at endless racks of dijeridus we found ourselves in the colonial dining room of the Kuranda Hotel for lunch, accompanied by the soothing sounds of Glenn Miller and the strange cries of a bunch of pissed Aborigines in the bar next door. The journey back to town was a stately one by cablecar, which took us swooping over the rainforest canopy - definitely the best way to see trees.

A couple of days later, and with my tidy new haircut in tow (courtesy of a really bad Greek barber - I had to go back for repairs) we jumped on Noah's Ark for an encounter with the Great Barrier Reef. Lots of choking and spluttering into my snorkel revealed some charming fish and other assorted coral bits and bobs. (John)

After dive bombing off the top of the boat into the clear blue sea we strapped our masks on and slipped into our flippers. We saw a huge royal blue starfish, some three-tone purple / blue / green parrot fish, several giant clams (that looked like big cornish pasties), and loads of colourful, swaying live coral. We were taken to two locations on the Outer Barrier Reef. The first boasted a top little island idyll called Michaelmas Cay; white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and a nature reserve full of birds. Speaking of birds did John forget to mention the Baywatch Babe who was a member of the crew on board the boat' His jaw dropped to the floor when she put her wetsuit on. I got tanked up and donned some rather less sexy scuba gear for my freebie introductory scuba diving lesson. The tanks weighed a ton, but once in the water were light as air. Breathing the compressed air wasn't as claustrophobic as I thought it might be, and soon enough I was pootling around the shallows getting close up to these weird transparent fishy things. You had to front up some extra dosh if you wanted them to take you out further to where the reef was deeper. But I reckon you could see just as much by snorkeling. Unfortunately John couldn't have a go at the scuba diving because of his asthma, apparently if you're asthmatic your lungs can explode. Yikes.

The second location was Hastings Reef out in the open seas. We struggled with our snorkel masks because the waves were so high that sea water kept sloshing down our tubes. But the visibility was excellent, the water was so clear. On the way back the crew decided to have some laughs and made some of us hang on to a fishing net at the back of the boat while they sped ahead, dragging us behind, suffocating in the bubbles thrown up. I found it hard to hold on to my bikini bottoms we were being dragged along so fast. I had to cross my legs in case they flew off. A 'smorgasbord' lunch (popular phrase here) and a few glasses of wine later John showed off his sea legs at the bow of the ship. Clinging on to the rail with one arm and waving the other arm around rodeo style, he rode those waves like a lunatic pirate, laughing his head off. Bollox to that 'hands free' a la Titanic pose, these waves were pretty choppy and it could easily have been a case of man overboard. As the high seas crashed against the front of the ship John got totally soaked, but he stayed there for the entire duration of the four hour trip back. He looked like he was in an Old Spice ad. I guess it must have been a refreshing experience. Nutter. (Jo)

And on that note we did one from Cairns and hopped over to A Town Like Alice for the essential Ayers Rock outback tour experience. Wasting no time on the meagre pleasures Alice Springs had to offer we immediately booked ourselves on a budget three dayer taking in Uluru (the rock), Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Kings Canyon (how could a King miss it'). Six hour drives along endless sunbaked roads became the norm as our bus load of hopefuls chugged around the Red Centre in search of adventure. Our small party included 2 fresh & feisty girls from Zurich, a cute couple from near Tokyo, 2 vigorous young chaps from Cincinatti (duly christened the Hardy Boys) and a solid Scots bloke from Stranrar, who was excellent company in the face of the rampant tour parties crawling all over the terrain like bloated red ants. Under the wing of our guide Matt (perversely from Ipswich, but with scant desire to return) we hiked, we climbed, we sweated, ate round the campfire and slept under the stars in swag bags. I got an 'orrible cold, but nothing ate us which was a bonus. (John)

The landscape of the Red Centre was pretty awesome, Ayres Rock looked stunning at sunset, but we didn't fall into the tourist trap and actually climb it because it's a sacred aboriginal site and they don't want people trampling all over it. We also saw some fairly primitive aboriginal art, loads of bushes and gum trees, red sand and dirt, and plenty of blue skies and cute kangaroos. Unfortunately we saw a few dead roos by the road side too - they're as common as squished hedgehogs are in England. Our tour guide-come-camp chef kept threatening to feed us kangaroo meat at meal times but he never came up with the goods. Apparently he once ran over a cow whilst driving a tour bus full of trekkers, he had to put it out of it's misery and guess what the happy campers ate for dinner' You got it. Prime steak.

Anyway we learnt loads of stuff on our outback adventure. These days aborigines don't lead such a primitive outback life as they used to, many of them have become alcoholics having been treated like second class citizens for so long, although now that they've had some of their land returned to them some have started to move back into aboriginal communities which are trying to remain dry of alcohol. However, you're just as likely to find TVs, telephones and fast food in these communities as you are boomerangs and dijeridus. The aborigines in the Red Centre don't even know how to play dijeridus, they make music with little sticks. It's only some aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory that really play dijeridus. And they don't really use boomerangs for hunting anymore either, not when they can use shot guns. I guess that's progress for you.

Back in Alice the scenery had changed some. Before we went outback the so called 'river' running through Alice Springs was dry as a bone, and there were groups of aboriginies sat in the middle of the dry river bed getting pissed . Apparently the river only flows two or three times a year, but by the time we returned from our trip it was in full flow and the road which ran through it was closed due to flooding. However, the abos would not be moved. There they were, still sat in the middle of the river but now perched on little islands, surrounded by muddy waters. Freaky. (Jo)

Apparently, because so many of the Aboriginal communities are 'dry' (i.e. no booze) loads of them go on holiday to Alice and just sit in the Todd river bed drinking for a week or two. And the lushes who get booted out of their communities seem to end up there too - they're certainly a prominent feature of the town, along with the dijeridu shops of course.

Went to Perth next. Bonza town mate - the sunniest in Oz and the most remote in the world. There's one road with 3 skyscrapers on it and the rest of the place is bungalows. Its all clean and spanking new and you can cross it on foot in an hour. Aside from the delights of Perth we went to the harbour town of Fremantle for dinner, took a car up the coast, had fish & chips on the sea front at Scarborough beach, watched the sun come up in the Pinnacles desert, went to York town hall and spotted a dolphin at Bunbury. Good work. Loved it all. On the road we saw loads of wild kangaroos which was pretty bonkers - some of them are huge (about 1.5m tall or more) and they're famous for going head to head with car bumpers. I managed to side-step any scuffles in my little Hyundai though.

Back in Perth we slipped along to a Dot Allison gig in an open air venue on our last night and an acquaintance of mine Pete Wiggs from St Etienne was DJing which was fun (although Dot was rubbish). Saying that, it was weird seeing a slice of London life pop up in Perth - chatting to Wiggsy reminded me of some of the London-ness that I've gladly left behind. For all that though, Perth made a lasting and lovely impression on both us two hobo folk - I think we may find our way back there somehow. (John)

Perth was pretty perfect. Apart from boasting the clearest blue skies I've ever seen (not one cloud for 3 full days), it had a good laid back vibe, lacked the over the top tourist orientated crap we've found elsewhere, and was clean, bright, sparkly and fresh. Although it looked like a city (what with the odd skyscraper on the skyline), it felt cosy enough to feel at home there. But it was the nearby beaches that really took my breath away and made me wish I lived there for a moment. We've enjoyed quite a lot of picturesque beaches on our travels but none we've seen before have come close to competing with the vast white sands we saw here. We even had a whole bay all to ourselves when we visited the Pinnacles Desert further up the coast early one morning. Imagine a horizon crammed full of thousands of jagged, pointy rocks jutting out of a desert landscape, then just beyond it the perfect deserted beach. Incredible. We'd slept in the car the night before and hadn't showered (pooh) so seeing as there was no one around we took the opportunity to get fresh and go skinny dipping. And all that before 8.00 o'clock in the morning. Wow. (Jo)

The day before we left Perth we spent the afternoon in the again aptly named Kings Park which has views over the city, right down the enormous Swan river, and all the way down the Indian Ocean coastline towards Fremantle. It was the end of the day and loads of families pitched up on the grassy slopes tucking into picnics and bottles of wine. We found a natural grass bowl in the park, lay down, watched the unbelievably colourful birds do their thing, and fell asleep in the company of a couple of friendly ducks. Bliss.

But what the hell would Sydney have waiting for us' It certainly had a lot to live up to after Perth, and so far its been a shock to our soft systems, but its early days and we're back in the company of three good friends, Anna, Nick & Kim. Actually, four if you add Nick and Kim's new family member, little baby Samui. She tried to puke on me twice this morning , but I skillfully dodged the assault. Aah, what fun. (John)

I took it as a sign of acceptance that the little one felt comfortable enough to yak up on me, it was kind of like being christened. Samui (yep she's named after a beautiful Thai island) is a lovely little gal who makes great squealing noises, smiles a lot and apparently likes Barry White (according to her mum). Anyway, at the moment we're taking it easy on the sight-seeing and we're spending our days pounding pavements in search of accommodation so we can get out of their flat and give the happy family some space again. (Jo)

Monday, March 13th, 2000

When we first arrived in Sydney we actually had to don our rucksacks on our backs as we made our way into the city. Up until then we'd managed to avoid looking like backpackers in our travels around OZ thanks to our groovy transformer style rucksacks that conveniently convert into suitcase style luggage, and courtesy of the airport buses which drop you on the doorstep of your chosen accommodation. However, Nick N' Kim's place was apparently not on the airport bus route, so we shuffled snail style through the city to the CBD (central business district) and the offices of 'Metropolis' to reunite with our friend Nick, the computer whiz kid who'd recently generated a future whiz kid of his own with his clever missus Kim. I searched Nick's desk for the obligatory photos of the wife and kid, but I should have known the pics would all be stashed on the computer.

Our friends had kindly offered to put us up for a while until we sorted ourselves out and it felt good to be heading for a home base rather than a hostel. They had chosen the scenic coastal district of Manly in which to make their family nest and the ferry journey there was equally picturesque allowing us a prime view of the infamous Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. They looked pretty impressive against the evening sky with the brightly lit backdrop of city scrapers. The QE2 cruise liner was docked in the harbour, yet another reminder of the British presence here.

Nick and Kim had found themselves the perfect nesting place, a lovely, spacious pad with a balcony overlooking a garden with a pond, and access to an outdoor swimming pool. Kim was in fine form for a new mum and she rustled us up some top nosh as we started to catch up on each others news. When they'd been in Thailand they'd actually gone on a cookery course, so we were treated to a great green curry. The little one was asleep, so we had to wait until she woke to meet Samui (named after a beautiful Thai island they visited). We looked at the family album instead and admired one particular photo of Samui being sick on Nick's head whilst she was sat on his shoulders. Excellent stuff.

Kim had proudly informed us that most of the furniture in the flat was second hand stuff they got from garage sales and she'd personally done up the dining table and chairs herself with a bit of paint and varnish. A few glasses of wine later disaster struck. I fell off my chair and broke the leg, the chairs that is, not mine. We'd only been in their house five minutes and already I'd trashed what was probably one of her most prized possessions. Oh dear. I was so embarrassed, I couldn't believe it. Of course everyone else seemed to think it was hilarious. The evening continued along the 'trashed' theme as the wine kept us talking late into the night.

Samui is a truly a joy to behold and a tribute to her parents. She's not at all phased by new faces, is easy to entertain and always has a smile ready in waiting. I think she likes the cuddly Pikachu toy we brought her too. Top kid. The next day while Nick was at work Kim took us for a stroll into Manly. John had a go at driving the pushchair, and Kim remained remarkably calm when he tried to pull a wheelie with Samui inside. Manly has a great beach which is popular with surfers, holiday makers and seagulls, (bloody loads of the squawkers), but it's a really nice, big, beach. Actually come to think about it I don't think I've seen one beach here in Oz that hasn't been pretty spectacular.

The following week really brought us down to earth with a bump as we started the tedious task of flat hunting. We must have walked miles across the city checking out flat shares and studios in all sorts of places; a cupboard share at Bondi Beach, a mouldy cellar near Centennial Park, an ex hotel room in Darlinghurst. I guess this was one way to get to know the city. It's kind of weird how so many areas have English names; there's King's Cross, Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Paddington etc. Couldn't they have thought of some more original ones? I quite like the sound of Woolloomooloo though.

Anyway we were getting pretty weary of trudging around every day when we finally struck lucky with a posh pad in Paddington which we now share with a friendly high flying Ozzie guy called Stuart. It's only 10 minutes away from our friend Anna's place in nearby Darlinghurst. She got to Sydney ahead of us after she left Thailand and was also put up by Nick and Kim before she found herself a house share. Now all we had to do was find ourselves some work, so we could improve our bank balances. Temping agencies unfortunately seemed like the best option, so we decked ourselves out in cheap but smart work clothes and went round the agencies with our CV's. I wish you could see John in his shirt and tie. It's quite something. Anyway we've got ourselves a couple of weeks boring office work lined up, so I guess this is where the holiday stops for a while, until we increase our travel funds?Mind you, we did have the spectacle of the famous Mardi Gras celebrations to look forward to? (Jo)

I though it would be better to let Jo write about Sydney cos she's been nicer about it than I would have. After falling in love a little with Perth, Sydney felt like a bit of a dump with little to recommend it over London. As soon as we stepped out of the airport it could easily have been the grey shadowed streets of the homeland. This is the coldest place we've been in 4 months. Not that its cold exactly, but we've gone soft and having to sleep under more than one sheet of a night is quite frankly a burden. Then there was the hassle of finding a house and job, which although its all fine now, while we were pacing the streets of the city's 'burbs it was all we could do to figure out why we were subjecting ourselves to this masochism. We toyed with the idea of heading back to Perth (too pricey) and even just saying to hell with Sydney and heading off on the rest of the grand tour. But I suppose there was no way we would have let it get the better of us that easily. Now we've got a prime swanky abode and a mindless temping job apiece. Marvellous.

The other Saturday was Mardi Gras, a gay & lesbian street festival firmly on the global calendar. Nick, Kim and little Samui headed out to join me Jo & Anna, living as we do only a stones throw from the route. As it goes the oracles who predicted a complete inability to see anything unless you bagged a viewing spot at lunch time or had a big ladder were proven correct. Armed with a load of milk crates (de rigeur for MG2K dahling) and Samui in a sling round my neck like a pink squidgy rucksack, we traipsed off to bag ourselves a spot some 20 yards back from the side of the road, which was about as close as we could get. Some pissed freak nearly capped Kim & Samui as he fell off the side of the ice cream van he was perching on. Then in the short-lived confusion someone else displaying breath-taking sleight of hand made off with one of our precious crates. We stacked the rest 2-high against the ice cream van and took turns to watch the procession snake its way spasmodically down Flinders Street towards its final party destination. I suppose it was good fun an' all, but for some reason I couldn't get my memories of the Leeds Lord Mayors Parade out of my head. I'm sure the floats were better. Most of the vans here were just sparsely decorated flatbeds with a few scantily clad androgynes gyrating to the barely audible housey-housey thump. There was a lot of politics going down too with the tampons marching against the GST (a new tax on just about everything) making the queasiest impact.

Since then we've been working and watching TV. I'm deeply committed to the new series of the Sopranos. Had a bit of 'culcha' yesterday down the Art Gallery of NSW and the Botanic Gardens. We also sidled up to the Opera House for a closer look. Did you know its surface is covered in nicotine coloured ceramic tiles? Bit of a rude shock that. We're starting to enjoy ourselves here more now. Stuart's great company at home and his girlfriend Lee appeared on Oz's top rated TV show 'Popstars' last night which was very entertaining. The show traces the progress of a bunch of teeny girl hopefuls as a clique of puppetmasters grooms them for the top 40. Sounds familiar. On top of everything though, I get to work with a bloke called Hugo Agudo who not only has a superlative name but also displays uncanny good taste his favourite tipple being a Black Russian. How could things improve? (John)

Tuesday, May 9th, 2000

We were supposed to be permanently tanned, skinny and healthy looking by now, but alas we are no longer bronzed beach babes, our tans have faded, the pounds are piling back on, our clothes are dropping to bits and the thin cotton sheets on our bed just can't keep out the cool night air anymore. It's time to buy a duvet. Or a 'dooner' as our flat mate calls it. I thought it was meant to be year round sunshine over here? Doh!

I'm afraid the travelogue has not been going very well. Remember my video camera (which stopped working when we were in Thailand)? Well, after months of negotiations with the shop where I bought it they eventually agreed to fix it for me at their expense. So I had to send it over to the shop in New York to get it fixed and what do you know, they didn't send it back here to me, oh no, that would have been far too straightforward. Instead, for some unknown reason, it went on a pointless little trip back to London by mistake. They stupidly sent it back to the UK, despite the fact that I asked for it to be sent back here to Sydney. Anyway after yet more frustrated calls and emails it then was re directed to Sydney. So you'd think that would be where the saga ended. But oh no, on it's arrival in Australia it was then impounded at customs. The customs office told us that I'd have to pay $700 in sales tax in order to collect it from them! We couldn't believe it. I was absolutely gob smacked, and was on the verge of just giving up and letting them keep the damn piece of junk, but then I thought no, I will not let it lie! Why should I have to pay sales tax in Australia on a camera I bought in the States and that I haven't even used in this country because it was broken. The mind boggles. Anyhow, I rang up and complained and they sent me a form to fill in to declare it as ‘personal effects’. After I returned the form I received a note to say they’d tried to deliver the camera to me at home and there was no one in. Finally John went to collect it from the Fedex office. We got it home and guess what, surprise surprise the damn thing still doesn’t work. It hasn’t been mended at all. In fact there seems to be even more things wrong with it than there was when I sent it to be repaired. I can’t believe they’ve sent it back to me like that with no explanation, no report of any repairs attempted, nothing but a bill. The saga continues, the swearing increases...AAAaaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

But on a more cheerful note...We have been having sporadic bits of fun. Days when the drudgery of work and the lack of funds just couldn't bring us down...

Went down to Bondi beach the other weekend just in time to catch a whole hour of sunshine. Whoopee! John had a splash around in the sea and minutes after he came out of the water a siren started sounding. Apparently it was a shark warning! Scary eh? Poor old Nick had a close encounter with a jelly fish last time he went in the sea. He got stung and his arm swelled up really badly. And if the sharks and the jellyfish don't get you - you can be sure the surfers are gonna do some damage. These dudes and their boards get flung around quite viciously by a pretty fearsome ocean and if you don't watch out you could easily get wiped out by one of them as they thrash around. I think I'll stick to surfing the net.

While the bay watch wannabes were busy strutting their stuff on the beach we checked out a Hawaiian shirt exhibition over the water in Manly where Nick and Kim live. We sneaked in for free, and all were agreed that John actually has a much finer collection of shirts than they had, in fact the one he was wearing at the time put the rest of them to shame.

Talking of fashion, you’ll be amused to hear that I’ve just got a new job working as an exhibition guide at the Gianni Versace Exhibition which recently opened here in Sydney. They’ve put together a retrospective collection of his creations to pay tribute to the dead designer. I thought it would be a nice change from the boring office jobs I’ve been doing for various Olympic Authorities, but I’ve only been there a couple of weeks and already I’m getting tired of talking about ‘the cleavage revealing black dress with the safety pin fastenings that made Elizabeth Hurley famous’ and boy am I getting tired of pointing out the ‘gold studded gown worn by Lady Diana when she had her photo taken for Harper’s Bazaar magazine’. Blah, blah, blah. I can’t believe I’ve got sucked back into the shallow world of fashion again. Damn! But it’s kind of quite a laugh. The Ozzies who are running the show don’t really have a clue about Versace, a name which is notoriously synonymous with glamour, decadence and celebrity partying. At the opening night party the biggest names on the guest list were the model Sarah O Hare, (who?) a local news reader (what?) and some spotty teenage actress from Home And Away (really). Then they went and put the Versace name on loads of tacky exhibition souvenirs like pencils and rulers and candles and scented oils in crappy minimalist designs, and Santo Versace (the dead dudes brother and business partner ) came in to check up on things and he saw the crappy merchandise and threw a hissy fit at them for taking the Versace family’s name and using it on such cheap, nasty stuff. Hilarious. But the funniest thing is the ridiculous uniform I have to wear. Think pink, black and white polka dot frills on top and painful high heels shoes to boot. You can imagine how comfortable I feel in that get up. Oh how I yearn for those halcyon days, not so very long ago, when all my wardrobe worries were centred around which pair of flip flops I should wear with which bikini. (Jo)

While Jo’s poncing around with the luvvies once again, Johnny here took it upon himself to get a proper job. Not since the days of Allerton High School in Leeds have I worn a tie daily. I bought a whole set of work clothes from a shop called Big W in Warringah Mall (just as cheap as it sounds) up near Nick & Kim’s for about thirty five quid. Needless to say the arse has dropped out of nearly all of it already, except for the polyester trews which will probably outlive me. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let conformity snatch any more of my dollars. I’ve got a 3 month contract at the Institute of Chartered Accountants doing things that I can’t possibly be arsed to tell you about. The best bit is next week we’re putting on a week long accountants gig at a racecourse near here. I hear the food’s excellent and I’m counting on a few pissed old red-nosed accountants bumbling around shouting in the corridors.

Despite not a lot of going out, I’ve still managed to stumble in and sleep the night on the sofa a good few times since we’ve been here. I felt obliged to test out Stuart’s claim that they were in fact more comfortable than most beds. Got roaring the other Friday with Jo and a bloke from work called Jamie (another Pom). We went to this ropey old dive called St Patricks in town, which although it claims to be an Irish joint is really just a style-bar with some Guinness posters on the wall. But saying that, once the entertainment hits the stage style leaves by the nearest fire exit. We’d been merrily swilling our $2 (80p) schooners (just less than a pint) of Tooheys New for about an hour, and I was just getting going with my ‘dad’ dancing by the bar when 3 fat birds all wearing the same crap outfits hit the stage and started belting out Prince ‘1999’. What could I do? I cranked the dad dancing up a notch and took to the floor. With me half blind, we finally made it home only to realise it was a mere half past nine. Pathetic. I’m aiming to perform better on Friday. We’re having a bit of a bash round here for Stuart’s girlfriend’s birthday. She reckons she’s got one of the drag artists from the Albury up the street to come and do a turn later on. That’ll startle the cockroaches.

Had a good ‘small world’ episode. I used to mail records to this DJ in London called Simon Plastiq a few years back, then when I got here I noticed his name on a couple of flyers. So I popped in this bar where I knew he was playing and got his number off the DJ there and gave him a call one night. Turns out he lives right bang slap opposite us. We’ve got loads of mutual friends and acquaintances back home, plus he’s got a record player so I can listen to all the old records I’ve been buying (sorry mum – not many, honest). Nice.

Before I forget, we had a nice little foray up the coast over the Easter weekend. Me, Jo, Anna, Nick, Kim & Samui jumped in a couple of cars and high-tailed it up the coast to a little pimple near Byron called Ballina where we stayed in a proper US style motel gaff for 3 nights. We went to the beach and ate like kings for 2 days, although it was blowing a bit on the first day when we went to Australia’s most easterly point for a gander. Actually I had visions of Cornwall flashing before my eyes most of the time. Me & Nick had a belting night out in Ballina down at the local RSL Club (Returned Serviceman’s League – bit like the British Legion crossed with a WMC). The place was empty and huge, which could have something to do with their entry policy. If you’re from Ballina you have to be a member to get in, but if you’re an out of towner you can sign your name and walk straight in. Idiots. It also smelled quite a lot like public toilets and if Poker machines (like simplified fruit machines) don’t fry your bacon then there’s not a lot else to do. The ‘Pokies’ are a bit of a scourge over here with all the average Joes chucking hundreds of dollars into them any chance they get. Drug dealers even use them to launder money.

Well, it’s 10.15 and well past the bedtime of this working boy. See yers later sport. (John)

Saturday, June 24th, 2000

Hello again. Just a quick news flash. I've just been on Australian telly on a programme called Sydney Weekender on Channel 7! A TV crew came down to film the Gianni Versace exhibition where I'm working and they asked me for a few quotes. Ofcourse they edited everything I said right down and took out all the best bits, but never mind eh, it was funny seeing myself on telly again, especially in that dodgy frilly blouse that I have to wear as part of my uniform. I thought it was quite amusing that the presenter picked up on the fact that they're selling the most awful tacky souvenirs in the exhibition shop, they really took the mickey out of the fact that they're selling Versace erasers and rulers for schoolkids alongside the expensive perfumes. Anna recorded it for me on her video, so you can all have a laugh at my expense when I get back. But it's kind of nice to have some kind of record of my time in Sydney, seeing as my video camera is still out of action. (It's actually gone missing now whilst on it's way back to the States, which means it's probably stuck in customs at the other end this time, but hey, I won't get started on that subject now, or my blood pressure will start rising again).

We've been doing a bit of celebrity spotting. The other day Madge from Neighbours came into the exhibition but the stupid woman expected it to be free and refused to pay when she realised that there was an admission fee. Stingy old hag, she must be loaded! We just came back from a lovely afternoon stroll down to Rushcutters Bay to the nearby Marina and as we sat and watched the sun set guess who walked by us? Tom Cruise! He was out playing with his kids, they've got a house near there. Cool eh. I had to control an urge to start singing the theme to Mission Impossible really loudly. He's really quite short you know, but he's definitely still got that Top Gun smile. (Jo)

Off back Bali or New Zealand next


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