Our crass older brother country, Australia perches above New Zealand, unwittingly protecting us from the world and enabling us to live in our geopolitical la-la land. This post covers a wee trip over Easter hanging out with my old friends and Kiwi-to-Sydney expats, K & B, 13.04.2017 – 18.04.2017.
Boarding the plane for the 2.5 hr flight from Wellington to Sydney, a charming young woman sits beside me, her eyes alive with adventure. She notices my accent – ‘heading home?’
‘No’ I say with revulsion. ‘Just visiting friends. This Australian accent is my cross to bear’.
She was heading home. My visceral horror at being thought Australian was something the conversation didn’t recover from.
Enroute I watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary. I’m smugly glad I paid $10 into Air New Zealand’s carbon offset programme to cover the 600kg of carbon propelling me across the Tasman. I doubt $10 will cover it, but it’s a fiction I’m happy to buy in to.
I come through the arrivals gate, excited to embarrass B by running into his not-open arms waiting for me at the airport. Unfortunately I don’t notice him among the expectant throng, despite the ‘Welcome to Australia!’ helium balloon bobbing above his head.
The balloon features a man-size Koala high-fiving a Kangaroo in a T-shirt. They’re in front of the Sydney Opera House, surrounded by boomerangs. The Kangaroo’s feet are like seal flippers. It’s so marvelously, unashamedly shit, I love it. It’s an example of the Australian psyche I experienced – a shameless enjoyment. ‘It’s a bit dumb but let’s make the most of it and have fun’.
Arriving at K&B’s place in Sydney’s West, we have a couple of beers together. It’s wonderful to see them again.
We call an uber and they take me to Dooleys Catholic Club in nearby Lidcombe. My mind conjures old women knitting and kids being brainwashed with jigsaws in colourful side rooms. I am quite wrong.
It’s a sparkling new, deep edifice that stretches across half a block of Lidcombe town. A suited bouncer with coiled earpiece greets us at the door, requesting membership passes. My Kiwi drivers licence is scanned for my guest pass. The computer spits out a receipt with all my details transcribed from my ID, including my signature. We are ushered in.
The knitting has been replaced by pokie machines. They mindlessly beep and flash and automate the process of removing money from the elderly, desperate and stupid. B blows $5 in 5 seconds – ‘I do this every time I come here’. Doors lead out to a pond; it’s a half-meter wide ring, surrounding an island of pokie machines. Semi-comatose koi nibble at discarded coins; their ‘open air’ enclosed as far as regulations will allow. It’s the smokers lounge with holes in the roof. The tacky Chinese theme doesn’t improve the enjoyment of the Chinese gamblers.
The other end of the club is more familiar; like a workingmen’s club in NZ, but used, not tired. Some bloke watches me, grabbing at the back of his head, commenting to his partner about my hipster man bun.
The food is good club fare, though they have a cavalier attitude toward deathly peanut allergies.
In the morning B cooks us up a big bacon and egg feed – a real treat, as I don’t do bacon alone.
We slip into togs and jump in the car, heading to Wet’n’Wild; a waterslide park just outside Sydney. Mindful of having the body of an emaciated halloween decoration, I am a bit nervous of getting it out there amongst the fit, tanned Australians of Bondi beach. Fortunately they are elsewhere, or my eyesight really is that bad without glasses. At any rate, my shirt came off, nobody cared, and I find with relief that neither do I. There are some benefits to growing older.
B & K have season passes; they get me in free. We don wristbands with proximity IDs in them, coat ourselves with park-supplied sunscreen and hit the slides. It is so much fun.
We climb towers housing various slides. Three is the perfect number; we do the four person slides without any randos. We climb into four-way inflatable rafts and are shunted into rides of surprising variation. We’re pumped with adrenaline, giddy for more, and we do more; we do it all.
Eventually our neck muscles fail, we damage ourselves and retire to the ‘beach’. I enjoy the feel of warm golden sand between my toes; then I’m on concrete, made of the same sand. The fresh water laps gently into a filter ringing the beach, circulating back into the wave machine. The ocean is cement painted blue; the huge pumps powering the waves cut out every ten minutes. Lifeguards in multicoloured livery survey the pool from baywatchesque raised seats. It is so gaudy, I am blown away – it’s like visiting the Truman Show. B’s smile beams. “I love this stuff” he exclaims, jumping through waves powered by diesel rather than the moon. His Americanness is showing. But he’s right, it is something else, and I’m blown away too. It’s such a fuck you to nature – but here are waves without crabs. I enjoy them too. What else can you do? The experience stays with me; a tacky example of just how much power we have over our environment. And I loved those slides.
We scan our Wet’n’Wild bracelets on the way out, to see photos of ourselves on the rides. A staff member hovers nearby to make sure we don’t take photos of the photos rather than pay for them. ‘Where do I drop the wristband?’ I ask.
‘Just keep it’ he replies. The final ‘fuck you’ to the environment from Wet’n’Wild, I bring the wristband home and throw it in the bin.
Arriving home, K and I go off to get changed. B throws together a three-course lunch then apologies for its quality.
We have another few bevvies then wander off to the nearby Olypmic stadium for the Royal Easter Agricultural Show. Garbage litters the sidewalks and frontages; maybe the risk of death-by-critter puts Australians off picking up trash infront of their homes. At any rate, the government are enthusiastically running an anti-littering campaign, called ‘Hey Tosser’. Australians are responding well to the name.
To get to the Royal Easter Show we first have to navigate the carnival outside. It’s the same old food, bright colours, desperate salespeople and mass-produced plastic as you’d expect at any gala event; but bigger, because it’s Sydney. Packs of riot police wander the peaceful scene. Occasionally llamas or sheep break the crowds as they are led to their next event. Everyone seems to be having fun, eating shit and wasting money on garbage. In a side-tent, B & K test out a vibrating platform designed to make you lose weight. Going for a walk would do it, but I get a nice video of B’s butt jiggling. Morally I cannot do anything with it.
We visit the chicken shed. It smells fowl and the prize offerings are poultry. Some fancy chickens have scrotum faces.
We visit the pigs and people shed. We shuffle by pens ripe with the stench of stressed mammal. It’s hard to differentiate the shuffling herd of humanity blindly following the group from the livestock behind the fences they’re shuffling to see.
We stop at a bar for a beer. We hope for live music; we get live children. One showed me all his batman crap before asking ‘What’s my name?’
‘Bruce?’ I guess.
He does not react to my batman knowledge. When I next turn around, he is spiderman. I hate his fickle attention.
We enter the stadium, stopping to admire a sunset uniquely Australian; there’s something orange about the air.
Finding our seats, the show starts with the Australian anthem. All I think of is Waltzing Matilda, and who bloody killed-a.
K and I slip out to get some beers; we wander around until we find a suspiciously VIP-looking clubroom. Approaching the grizzled security lady we ask ‘where can we get beers?’
‘How did you get in here?’
‘We aren’t VIPs, we just want to buy beers’
‘You shouldn’t be here’ she says.
‘We’re not coming in, we just want to find a place to buy beers’
It goes on like this. She may have seen too much sun. We leave her, find a bar and buy some beers.
We return to see the end of a parade of mounted Police. The turf is brown with a week of hooves and water. Next, some peaceful calves wander around before cowboys jump from horses onto them; I don’t understand what’s going on. The city folk have no idea what to cheer for either, and nobody does. But the cowboys look the part, with leather tassels and brimmed hats (sans corks).
They release a bull. His horns have been removed, and mine deflates. The bull throws the cowboys in under five seconds, but again; we don’t know what we’re seeing, we don’t know what’s good, we don’t react. It’s fun though, this strange view into a bygone era.
Admitting the waning relevance of their pass time to the masses, the next bit is an agri-opera; a dramatised enactment of The Man from Snowy River. Classical music reverberates around the stadium, morphing into a cacophony with the band blasting it in the tent in the stadium outside. I don’t know the poem, and we just saw dudes being thrown from bucking broncos; a dance-by-spotlight wasn’t hitting the mark.
To pass the time while they set up the finale of the evening, a big red ute drives out with a country singer in the back. An Australian flag adorns the roof; the patriotism is redneck America.
The finale begins with the roar of a mufflerless hog motorcycle. ‘Just a minute folks! This jackass is ruining our fun!’ plugs the announcer. A ‘booooo’ rolls around the arena. The passion is palpably stronger than any seen so far. We’re in the Olypmic stadium, but yep – they’re going to use it as a speedway. I am taken back to visiting the course in Trentham.
The dirtbikes scream around the course, throwing mud and doing jumps in a faux-competition that predictably ends in a nailbiter. It’s just wonderful, I love it. I look to B, his face is alight too, grinning ear to ear – it’s the trashiness! You can pretend you’re cultured all you want, but snowy river ain’t got nothing on some Holden’s spraying mud, drifting around an Olympic stadium while dirtbikes jump over a semi-trailer.
Just when I think it couldn’t get better, the fireworks start – and they’re spectacular. At such proximity, using the stadium spotlights and sound system, it’s an extravaganza you can’t experience at the Wellington waterfront. And they do it every night for three weeks!
On our way home, locals are enjoying a dusk walk at more reasonable temperatures. Two guys shine a light into a nearby tree; a possum sits there, dazzled.
In the morning we head off to go camping. I’ll write about that later.