Greetings From Beyond the Pale: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden
A long days journey into night finds me stranded once more. Far from home, far from civilisation, far from certain of my place amongst this motley crew of cowboys, tomboys (Carol), ferals and hippies.
The camp is primitive to say the least, but they have managed to construct a dwelling of sorts, utilising the surrounding timbers and some corrugated iron. Although lacking walls it does boast a loft with a rather novel corrugated iron floor covered in cow hides where the gang bed down for the night. l am left to share the ground with a plethora of creatures of the night including scorpions the size of tarantulas (l kid you not), and tarantulas the size of dinner plates (only kidding). l sleep like a log, a log that is temporary lodgings for said uninvited guests.
I wake to the sweet, sweet sounds of the wild. Maybe, just maybe, l have arrived at the destination of my destiny. My hosts, however, don’t seem to be grooving on the ambience. They are shifty and taciturn, tense and edgy, and guarded. The leader of this little gang struts about in Cuban heels muttering to himself, and he wears a pistol on his belt, a la The Lone Ranger, which l find a little unsettling. When I innocently enquire what in the fuck they are all doing out here squatting in the middle of nowhere, twelve hours from the nearest town, l am given some lame story about experiments with seeding pearls in fresh-water muscles and farming blubber-mouthed-sooty-grunters. This is not an entirely unheard of idea, though somehow these people don’t strike me as scientists; but l do not quibble. To tell you the truth, l don’t want to know the truth. The truth hurts. Every morning they head off to some unknown destination, leaving me and Carol behind. Carol being the only woman, though a very manly woman, she is naturally assigned the job of cook. They may be a bunch of ferals but certain aspects of civilisation must be maintained, lest we all descend into barbarism.
There is no shortage of meat. From time to time The Lone Ranger dashes off on his trusty steed, six gun at the ready, and returns with a dead calf.
l ignore the warnings of unspecified dangers lurking without and wander off to draw pictures and explore the unknown, as is my wont. I sit by a pond and draw the reflections and reflect on my drawings and draw on my conclusions.
I sit so still l am invisible. The blubber-mouthed-sooty-grunters kiss my toes with their blubbery mouths. A taipan stalks a frog sunbaking on a lotus leaf. A splash breaks the deathly silence and the snake slithers off with a mouth full of frog. Nature raw in tooth and claw. l discover aboriginal rock art under every rock. Strange images, the likes of which l have never seen. They speak to me of a rich social life, a deep culture, a powerful law. I strain my ears for the sound of corroborees echoing through the hills, but hear nothing. Those echoes faded out long ago.
Nothing but a deathly silence echoes the silence of the dead.
Upon my return the mutterings become more audible, the tension more palpable. I have breached the conditions of my conditional stay. l am told to leave. l collect my belongings and am escorted from the premises. Someone is heading back to town so I tag along. Carol apologises for bringing this upon me, and apologises to them for bringing me.
I bid a fond farewell to the fauna and flora.
Some time later, when the dust settles, the truth emerges, as truth will do. Namely, I was the scapegoat.
As harvest time approaches the mounting tension mounts even more. The Lone Ranger shoots his own dog, which seems to help somehow. Eventually the harvest is packed neatly into a Holden ute and dispatched to Perth, 2,000 nerve-racking kilometres away.
Now, a ute-load is a shit-load of gunja by anyone’s standards. My friend and acquaintances are suddenly rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Carol and a fellow gang member have become more intimate during the episode and choose to fulfil their wildest dreams together. Somehow they end up in a small aeroplane flying over a large property in North Queensland, being plied with French Champagne by a smarmy estate agent and swapping their ill-gotten gains for the seemingly magnificent property spread out below them in all its splendour. Land on which they have not yet set foot, such are the impulses of the nouveau riche.
As luck would have it, the endless plains of green, green grass, munched on by fat contented cows is but an illusion. The year is 1983 (the statute of limitations has expired), just before the worst drought in recorded history. After ten long years of struggle and heartache, her lover has flown the coop, skedaddled, scampered, buggered off at the first sign of trouble like the flakey ne’er-do-well that he always was. The cows have long since starved to death. Carol walks away with nothing but the shirt on her back. She holes up in Tasmania to lick her wounds, beaten by the ups and downs and vicissitudes of outrageous fortune, a mere shadow of her former self. As some lag once said: “Such is life.”
Ben Laycock grew up in the country on the outskirts of Melbourne, surrounded by bush. He began drawing the natural world around him from a very early age. He has travelled extensively throughout Australia, seeking to capture the essence of this vast empty land. In between journeys he lives in a hand-made house in the bush at Barkers Creek in central Victoria – benlaycock.com.au