City Slickers Go Bush
Tales from small town Australia
Has anyone out there ever been forced to sit through the film Gummo? I swear to God that I am the only one in the world who has had to watch this hideous excuse for a movie. It’s basically a movie by some art house director about how scary life can be in small town America. It stars the equally strange Chloe Sevigny and is about a town of freaks who kill cats, have sex with relatives and live in squalor. Thankfully it is a fairly short film. The tape ground to a halt and all I could think was what a waste of $6. I was so disgruntled by this movie that I did an incredibly naughty thing and returned it to Blockbusters without rewinding!
I didn’t think of this film again until we were living in Melbourne, Australia when myself and TB (tortured boyfriend) were invited ’round a work colleague’s house for the evening. He and his wife lived in a sprawling property in a place called Riddles Creek. Although it sounds very much like the outback the scary thing was this place was only an hour out of Melbourne. Our work colleague was very normal looking; your average IT geek with bad facial hair and sweat stains under his arms.
“What are youse Pommies up to this weekend?” said our colleague one slow Friday afternoon.
It’s the kind of out of the blue question I hate as you do not have time to think of a plausible excuse to get out of an afternoon of BBQ’ing and Pommie jokes with your smelly work mate. I had also met his wife before at a function and she had managed to annoy the crap out of me then and I had only been in her company for a couple of hours, a whole evening would be deadly.
“Aahhhh, don’t know,” I said, glancing at TB hoping he would be quick enough to think of something.
“Oh, not much,” said TB, a look of impending doom on his face.
“How do you fancy coming up to my place tomorrow, I’ve just built a new barbie in the yard and I’m dying to try it out…show you Pommies how it’s done down this way,” said our enthusiastic work mate.
Just say no, kept circling in my brain, you don’t owe these people anything, they’ll understand, tell ‘em the car’s playing up! Of course, none of this came out of my mouth.
“Excellent,” I said trying my best to look thrilled at the prospect. TB went silent and just turned in to a nodding dog, shaking his head in begrudged agreement.
“Tell you what, bring your toothbrush, we’ll make a whole weekend of it!” he said before rushing out of the office.
As quick as that my relaxing weekend of shopping and drinking latte’s on Chapel Street had been hijacked by Beavis and Butthead. In fact, I would have preferred to spend an evening with Beavis and Butthead, at least they were partially funny.
We set off the next morning armed with overnight bags and a map and tried to find our way to Riddles Creek. An argument ensued between TB (the driver) and myself (the navigator). I wasn’t very good at reading maps when I was trying to find a place I actually wanted to go to let alone trying to find somewhere I didn’t. I remember going on an activity week in Wales when I was at school. One of activities during the week was orienteering. We were split to pairs and had to find about 20 yellow flags that were strewn around the Welsh countryside using a very vague map and a compass. My partner and I got hopelessly lost in the forest and had to be rescued by the guides after we failed to turn up for dinner that night. I think the whole point was to encourage teamwork in a hostile environment.
The mood in the car had turned distinctly hostile as TB tried to read the map and steer at the same time.
We finally figured out where we were and proceeded on our way. As we got further and further away from civilisation the landscape got more and more barren. I am a city girl through and through and cannot understand people who want to live in the middle of no-where.
After about an hour or so we saw a housing development up ahead and then a small sign that said “Riddles Creek”. We turned up the road and all of a sudden, like a bad dream, there was our work mate, truck parked in the driveway, hosing down the lawn. It was a weird site as before this I had never seen aforementioned work mate without his crusty work shirt on. His out of work fashion sense left a lot to be desired. Bum hugger shorts, flannelette shirt and Jesus sandals with white socks. He waved frantically as we drove up the road.
“Trace, they’re here!” he screeched.
His wife came running out of the house, a vision in polyester carrying a cucumber that she was obviously chopping for the salad we were about to consume.
We were given the full guided tour of their new house that had only been built a few months previously. The house itself was very nice and I was pleasantly surprised by the tasteful decor considering the outfits they were both wearing. It was huge, as is every Australian house as soon as you get out of the city. Our work mate’s excitement level rose as the unveiling of the new BBQ got closer.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” he said admiring this beast of BBQ. It was so long that you could have BBQ’d an entire horse on there and still have breathing room.
Upon seeing that his wife had only just started preparing the salad, and therefore dinner was way off, he came up with the idea of taking us for a tour of the town. I was quite up for this as I did not want to be stuck with his wife any longer than need be and you might as well have a proper look if you’ve come all this way.
He piled us in to his truck that had the biggest wheels I’ve ever seen and sped off down the road. Apparently he was taking us “out bush” so we could see how he normally spends his Saturday afternoons when the wife is busy cooking.
We roared into some bushland, which got denser and denser the further in we went. It started to get very, very hilly; so much so that my head kept hitting the roof every time we went over even the slightest bump. It turned out to be a kind of obstacle course for rev-heads with big bumper trucks like the one we were in, to test their mean machines against the rugged land. He sped around the course and into big craters like there was no tomorrow and the more scared we looked the faster he went. At one point the truck teetered on the edge of a huge drop for a while before surging head first down the hill at break neck speed, a circle of dust in its wake.
“I bet they don’t have tracks like this in England,” he shouted. Not as many closet psychos either, I thought to myself.
We would have been up there for hours if his pager hadn’t gone off. In rural areas in Australia they have a volunteer fire brigade service called the CFA. Members of the CFA are just local volunteers who offer their services if there is a fire and are trained accordingly. It just so happened that our work colleague was a member of the CFA and was on call that day. The thought that somebody else’s disaster had been my saviour was a sobering thought.
“Aahhh, probably just a grass fire,” he said looking at his pager, “Better check it out anyway. You guys can come to the station with me.”
Wooohooo. NOT! The local fire station was more like a barn. It did however have a big shiny red truck with all the gear on it. I wanted to jump in and whirl the siren but I was told I was not allowed. Our work mate made a phone call and it seems the fire was a false alarm. He showed us around the station, explaining all the inner workings of the fire department – it was like being on one of those very dull school trips minus the matching tie and slacks.
When we arrived back at his house, the salad was all laid out on the table and the BBQ was all heated up. It seems that the process of actually throwing the meat on the barbie can only be done by a man, a kind of modern day symbol of masculinity it seems. I am man, must handle meat. We went on to the patio and were met by two smiling faces.
“Wayne and Lucy decided to pop over,” said his wife.
Wayne and Lucy looked typically like what you would expect a Wayne and Lucy to look like. Both had bleached blonde hair with dark roots, broad accents and bad dress sense. They had never come across anyone from England before and so were a little nervous of us. That nervousness seems to disappear after a few beers when they cracked what was obviously an “in joke” between the four of them about group sex. I laughed at first but then I realised the connotations. Did they…could they…surely not! Good God I hope that’s not what they’ve invited us up here for. I could tell TB was thinking exactly the same.
The BBQ was all very nice, a few snags, a few steaks and a heap of salad and bread rolls. Post dinner conversation revolved around the CFA, where Wayne was also a member and the advantages of solar heating panels, topics which TB and I knew nothing about.
It began to get dark and I started to relax as the evening was drawing to a close and I would soon be saying bye to these people and heading back to civilisation. My bubble was soon burst.
“Let’s go down the pub,” exclaimed Wayne rather loudly.
We really did not want to go but our Englishness took over and we gave a polite nod of the head. By this time it was pitch black outside. The pub was about a 2km walk away through a forest. There were no streetlights in Riddles Creek so as soon as you got away from the houses you could not see a thing. Apparently this is what makes the trip to the pub fun according to our work colleague. Staggering through bushland, stepping in all manner of crap in complete darkness was not really my idea of fun. We played along anyway and after what seemed like forever we emerged from the forest, dishevelled with scratches up our legs.
The pub was more like a shed. We walked through the door and 15 heads all turned in our direction. Hostile looks turned to smiles and lots of back slapping as the four people we were with were recognised as locals and therefore allowed to enter. TB and I were just stared at.
The pub was just a room with small bar that stocked beer or rum. There was a jukebox in the corner and an old TV hanging from the rafters. I observed my fellow drinkers and it was at that moment I thought of the day I watched “Gummo”. It was a sea of big beards and rodeo fashion; I actually spotted some spurs in there. TB and I did so not fit in and for once I was quite glad. After a while one of the men in the bar got brave and came over.
“Where are youse from?” he slurred through VB breath.
“England,” I said.
“How did you find your way here?” he enquired again.
We were a bit confused as to what he meant. How did we get to Australia or Riddles Creek? I decided to be smart.
“We used a map,” I said. It didn’t make any difference, as he wasn’t listening anyway.
All night long the music was appalling. It was in an 80’s time warp. TB and I decided to have a little fun with the locals. We went to the jukebox and had a look at their selections – Soft rock, soft rock, ooh and look, some more soft rock. Came across a doozy though – The Chemical Brothers. I wandered how that managed to slip its way in to the playlist, a brief flash of decent music. We selected it and after Bon Jovi were all sung out, The Chemical Brothers techno beats and pumping bass echoed round the bar.
“What’s this shit?” yelled one of them.
“You bloody Pommies put that on didn’tchya!” yelled someone else.
The song got cut off half way through and replaced with the old Aussie favourite Cold Chisel singing Khe Sanh. The pub erupted in raucous singing and jumping around. Cold Chisel, for the unacquainted, are an old Aussie pub band that no one outside of Australia has ever heard of. The lead singer has a really annoying, screechy voice and all of their songs are really, really crap. Most Aussies grew up listening to them and while they don’t go down very well in the cool hangouts in Melbourne, they are still a class act in the outback.
We finally left after about three hours and stumbled through the forest back home which is a hell of a lot harder to do when you’re drunk. We got back to the house and scuttled in to our room as fast as possible before the subject of group sex came up again.
We left early the next morning and I could not wait to get going. I wanted to shout from the car window as we drove down the highway, “I am a city slicker and proud. I love pollution, traffic and noise. I like not knowing every single person I bump in to and paying three times as much for beer but most of all I love 24 hour shopping malls…..woooohooooo!”, but I didn’t. Instead I just thought it to myself and when I looked across at TB I knew he was thinking exactly the same thing.