‘Ello gawjus. So I’m back in Australia now, at the little hostel/commune/cult just outside Tabulam, which is an hour away from Casino, which is two hours from Byron Bay, which is the first place of any real interest for hundreds of kilometres. After Bangkok, which stressed me out and ruined my liver, it’s pleasant to be back in the wilderness, thrashing my vital organs in a more calming environment.Bangkok fucking rinsed me of funds. I have fifteen English pounds left to my name now. It wasn’t even my fault – a cock up by the Australian government means that I’m not down by almost a thousand pounds from where I was two weeks ago. But ugh, whatever. No point moaning about it now. I am due to start work on the blueberry farm any day now – my official start date is the 27th of August due to bad weather meaning a slow start to the season, but it’s just a case of ringing them every day to double check in case a spot frees up. People quit all the time to head for greener pastures, or they get sick of the countryside, or get bored to death of fondling berries for eight hours a day.
I don’t really have a choice at this point – bugger all money means I’m stuck here for a few weeks, at least until I can scrape together enough cash for a bus ticket elsewhere. I’ve got a mate up in Cairns who is heading out to work on a banana farm in Tully, which is apparently backbreaking work but decent pay and a good laugh with the community. I might head that way too. I don’t actually need to do the farm work, because I couldn’t give a toss about getting my second year visa. I could just as easily get a job in an office or a bar or labouring on a building site, which is great pay. But I want to spend a month or two working outdoors and getting calloused palms and green fingers. At this point in my life, I’m learning that my two favourite things are fresh air and an absence of people.
It’s funny hearing how everybody talks about where the good jobs are – at a rumoured cherry farm four hours north from here, Jeremy from Paris swears blind he earned twenty grand in three months. And apparently if you head down to Tasmania, you can earn a fortune picking apples in the summer. It reminds me a little bit of books and films about the Old West; everybody is roaming the country looking for work, and rumours of rivers rich with gold abound. But I’m not so bothered. I don’t have any money right now but I won’t die. Money comes and goes. Something always comes up.
I’ve made great progress with my book. See, I’m skint and bored and have fuck all to do to fill my days, but my god – what a blessing. I fill each day with little happy activities, simple, quiet, one at a time. I wake up in the morning and I make myself a milky coffee with honey, a tea with a dash of milk for Ben, black coffee with honey for Hattie and Seth. They all head off for work around 7.30am, and depending on how hungover I am I either snooze a little longer or read in bed.
I usually pace around the property for ten minutes to see who’s about, but in recent days it’s been just me and Leo, from Italy, who is working at the hostel for free accommodation. He quit the blueberry farm a few weeks back, because he got sick of it. There’s also Greg and Tracy, a 50-something biker couple who live a couple of hundred metres up the road, in a tiny little house they’ve built from scratch, and power with solar and wind-collected energy. Greg rides around on an enormous golden-sprayed motorbike covered in skulls, and is perpetually clad in camo pants and thrash metal hoodies. Tracy has a streak of purple in her hair and cleans the house during the day, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way – but she’s a massive cutie, deep down.
I’ll sit and chat with Tracy and Greg in the morning, and usually make them a coffee. The owner of the property, Malcolm, is sometimes about too, unless he’s out working on some new save-the-world project, which he very often is. There’s also the dog, Shaka, a border collie who adorable yet as mad as a box of frogs, and spends his days chasing shadows and barking at falling leaves. Finally, there is Put Put the cat, who has black fur and green eyes with huge pupils. Put Put hops up onto my bunk every morning and snoozes with me. He attacks everybody else, but he’s never taken a swipe at me. I think it’s because I’m just about the only person here who doesn’t think it’s great fun to pick the cat up and launch it at each other as a practical joke.
I exercise most days, alternating between jogging around the forests (you meet a few oddballs if you go too far or stray onto another property). Then I write for a couple of hours, until my day’s inspiration tank is running on empty. Of course, you could easily sit and write all day, but no good would come of it. I prefer aiming for five or six hundred words a day and leaving just enough inspiration juice in my mind’s fuel tank to keep me giddy and tide me over until the next morning.
As the afternoon wears on, I’ll occupy myself with odd jobs – cooking, washing up, hanging clothes out to dry, playing with Shaka, reading in the sun (currently reading Sapians by Yuval Noah Harari, it’s a bit of a mind-shag), carrying shit around for Greg and Tracy and Malcolm. Tracy has now dubbed me as her go-to person for all her coffee-making, wood-chopping and pig-chasing needs. Every few days the pigs escape and we have to herd them back into their pen, tapping their fat bellies with sticks to usher them along. They fight sometimes, nibble each other’s ears, and the noises they make echo across all one hundred acres. Their little chubby grunts are quite adorable, but when a pig screams, it sounds like a dragon’s roar.
It’s interesting observing how a band of 25 or so people can function as a community, way out in the woods alone. Malcolm, the owner and founder of the place, of course enjoys a more prominent role, issuing orders and taking rent money and cooking large family meals and pinching cigarettes from all and sundry. He’s a born-again Christian with a troubled past, and though I think he tries hard to be a good Christian, sometimes he stumbles and his temper flares. He blasts this one Christian rock song on repeat at around 9am every morning and I have to put headphones in and play white noise to block it out. He’s rubbed a few people up the wrong way with his gruff nature, but any rifts within the little community are inevitably healed before long.
The rest of the backpackers here are all pretty close; you can’t really help that after one month of living and working and sleeping within a few metres of each other. A dozen or so people are camping, rather than staying in the dorms, because it’s cheaper. I don’t know how they do it – two of the French guys, Matteo and Tristan, have spent almost one straight year in Australia, camping every night. It’s hot during the days here, a balmy 25 degrees, but as soon as the sun is down, the temperature drops to 4 or 5.
On an evening everybody cooks together, and perhaps four nights a week we booze and play music. When it gets cold outside, we gather in the living room, share duvets, light the fire, and ten or twelve of us will get cosy and watch a couple of films. The French guys built a ping pong table from scratch a couple of weeks ago, and somebody found a darts board that we’ve pinned up. I’m working on a bowling alley myself, with ten pins made of 1.25 litre water bottles packed tight with mud and painted white. We’ve got a couple of bowling balls kicking about on site already, and I’ve spotted a few nice looking pieces of wood that I’m hoping to turn into the actual alley.
There’s so much to learn here. Hattie, Seth and I went over to Greg’s the other day for a lesson in car maintenance. As we sipped coffees and stared down into the engine like gangsters peering down on a trunk-packed body in a Tarentino film, Greg taught us how to change the oil, how to drain and refill the cooling system, how to change spark plugs, and more (that I have since forgotten). Tracy taught me how to split logs with a tomahawk, and Ben taught me how to carve a new axe handle, after I snapped the last one. Erika and Jerry, the resident earthchild couple, taught me about permaculture and planting seeds. I’ve been giving out guitar lessons here and there, which is pretty fun.
There was a bit of a palaver the other day when Nicole, the waviest member of the hostel, decided to hold a scared ceremony for the red moon that popped up last weekend. I like Nicole a lot, but I’m not a fan of her ceremonies. A couple of weeks back she held a truth circle or an honesty circle or friendship fire or some bollocks and about 20 people from the hostel pootled down to the bottom of the property where she had built a scared fire and decorated the area with leaves and twigs and plant pots and fairy lights. I wandered over a bit steaming carrying a pint glass full of wine and sat down to see what all the fuss was about. Nicole told me the circle was alcohol-free, and that I had to pour out my drink. I asked if I could just chuck it over my shoulder, but she made me walk fifteen metres away and empty my drink on the ground, lest the alcohol in the soil taint the holy circle. I felt my cheeks flush as twenty people silently watched. I was humiliated, and pissed off.
I sat back down at the damned hippy circle and watched with sulky eyes as everyone else daubed red clay on each other’s faces and played the bloody bongos and held hands and swayed around like seaweed. I felt like such a fraud – I don’t believe in ‘sacred’ anything. Sitting still and pretending I was interested made me feel like a gigantic fat cuckoo in a nest of daft sparrows. There was no way in hell anybody was smearing mud on my forehead. Nicole began her speech:
“Welcome, everybody, to the sacred circle of [fucking whatever]. This is a place for sharing, for kindness, for bravery, for honesty, for nudity, for bonding together. We will pass around the scared marijuana and consume a holy opiate lettuce, which will enable us to find our truth and to share our songs.”
Fucking WHAT? So booze is sinful, but drugs are fine as long as you assure everybody they’re holy. Humbug. I don’t need to put mud on my face and feathers in my hair in order to be honest with people. I waited until there was a lull in the truth-sharing and took my leave. I picked up my empty pint glass and stalked over to the back shed, where a fire was burning in an oil drum. I found Tristan there, smoking a cigarette and nursing a box of wine. I asked him why he wasn’t down with everybody else at the bullshit circle.
“Alcohol free, Tristan free,” he shrugged. I clinked his glass. Sometime later that evening I swear to god I heard them all howling at the moon.
Anyway a week later Seth was drunk as hell and staggered down to Nicole’s next ceremony – celebrating the red moon and the age of Aquarius or something , which I chose to stay well away from. Seth set about gathering wood in the gloom, and in his stupor accidentally picked up Nicole’s sacred ceremony-conducting stick, which she had been diligently imbuing with holy energies for the past four months, and had woven feathers and beads and shit into until it was some ornate, voodoo-looking trident thing. Anyway, in the dark Seth thought it was just any other stick, snapped it in half and launched it onto the bonfire.
Nicole sobbed for about thirty minutes, while an English guy called Ed tried in vain to console her with the sincerely uttered but unintentionally hilarious platitude, “That must have been a really important stick”. Christ. I can almost see why she wanted the fire booze-free now.
So all in all, it’s been good fun, out here in the middle of nowhere. There’s not much money around, but there’s a lot of laughter here, and a lot to learn. The sun shines across a clear blue sky every day. I have found a good place.