John M. Edwards finds a six-month circumnavigation of Australia offers much more than empty Outback vistas of red dust and rock formations. but what better way to end you stay than plopping down at a hostel in Perth where everybody knows your name, one-legged pub crawls are the game, and where the Yanks take home the “Americas’s Cup” trophy once again!
Writing about New Year’s Eve the day after is an annual letdown, unpublishable, an egregious hangover, so I’ll step into my nuclear time machine and root out the most memorable one.
Years ago we travelers were here in “Freo” (Freemantle), a nice nautical nowhere land outside Perth, not to see the America’s Cup Yacht Race (we didn’t even bother getting a glimpse of the yachts in the harbor–yet), but to celebrate a “Freo” tradition: “The Drinking of Beer Out of an Akubra Hat.”
And when that was over all we could do was prepare ourselves in the days ahead for the big event: A New Year’s Eve Party in Perth, one of the best places to celebrate the turning of the calendar page on the planet!
* * *
“Penny for your thoughts?” wised up my girlfriend of the moment, Susan, with a wicked gecko grin of mirth and merriment.
Hey now, here now in Perth, the most remote city on the planet, meaning farther away from any major hub and minor hive where people populated, I pretended to be impressed, then razzed her with a fake laugh evidencing some force majeure, “Bwahahahaha!” Mixing wit with brevity, I held my belly and groaned ironically with manic glee as if suffering from a serious peptic ulcer.
Taking the copper coin gently between thumb and forefinger, I closely examined the Australian equivalent of a point one-hundredth percent of a dollar (check). I noticed upfront and personal that its weird engraved image looked nothing like our dear old honest Abe, who resembled Gregory Peck sporting a “Captain Ahab” beard, and who certainly took his own sweet time ending our bloody Civil War for us. With this in mind, I casually tossed the deflated coin into the drink, vowing never to return to America.
But this was no wishing well or fountain of youth, but instead an immense expanse of choice ocean blue lapping gently at the shores of an immense white sand beach—like Australian shiraz dripping down the chin of an aggro dolebludger. What’s more, it was right smack dab within walking distance of the center of the city of Perth, Australia—which I must reiterate is the most remote city in the world.
Welcome to Western Australia!
* * *
At the backpacker’s hostel, we met Andy Richardson, who had come all the way from London to cheer on the English entry in the “America’s Cup” yacht racing tournament. A shoe-in for last place, the British boat was called simply enough “The White Crusader.”
Andy handed me a Penguin paperback, which was not the usual book-exchange “special” by Steven King or Robert Ludlum. It was a maverick subversive tome by a young novelist named Martin Amis, whom I had not yet ever heard of, called Money. Which when I eventually got to it was a cracking good read. The main character was called “John Self” and I found myself really identifying with him, in that strange self-referential made-up story of a universe sometimes created by good living Young English Novelists who are regularly featured in such closed-market literary journals as Granta.
“Any relation to Kingsley Amis?” I queried. “Lucky Jim is one of my favorite books. It has one of the best descriptions of a hangover ever– something about ‘It felt like a fly had made his mouth its mausoleum.’”
“That is good! He’s his son!” Andy enthused. “But Martin is much better than his dad, who is a little too formal for me.”
Though Andy talked like a good writer, his diary was admittedly filled with only banal and boring entries, which he let me read, such as “It’s eight o’clock and I just finished a bowl of muesli before stepping out for a little sightseeing.” [No monuments mentioned, nor people!]
I couldn’t help thinking that Andy might have something to hide. . . .
* * *
Later that week at a pre-production party leading up to cinematic New Year’s Eve, we met “Savage,” a blond Londoner who looked like a cross between Billy Idol and Sting. He seemed a bit rough around the edges, but no matter: he was friendly enough. “It’s magic,” was his favorite comment.
(Much later, after returning from Australia, Andy bumped into Savage in London only to discover that his real name was “Rupert,” the public schoolboy. I, too, couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed.)
Another noteworthy party favor was Simon, also from London, who paraded around in Bali pants and thongs, and insisted on walking around the cement city bare-chested, yet when we were on the beach he went pantless, wildly flashing his private parts at the visiting American servicemen on shore leave.
One of the United States marines said to me in a brief aside, as a fellow American, in a dull monotone voice, “I think Ronald Reagan is the greatest president we’ve ever had!” From the strange asterix gleam in his eyes, I thought the serviceman resembled my college friend Keir. I could tell that he not only spoke with conviction but was also very much more than a mere brainwashed victim.
Then there was Conor, a taxidermist from Ireland, who said, “There is only one Ireland,” and insisted on having an “English breakfast” with eggs, bacon, toast, beans, sausages, potatoes, and tomatoes every single day, since he was used to it at his family’s bed-and-breakfast back home. He taught me the Irish greeting “How’s the Crack?”(actually spelled “Craik”)—which, I hoped, had nothing to do with drugs.
Especially since I used it frequently and often after homecoming in Celtic drinkeries in Manhattan. (You know, the ones which serve Guinness, and only Guinness, on tap.) Still, Conor’s best moment for Susan and I was when we were visiting a local “wildlife conservation park” (zoo), and he said, like a character resembling a cheery sunnysideup Norman Bates, “Oh, look at those cute little Koalas. They would look great stuffed!”
* * *
Later, I ended up traveling around the Outback with Conor, who was a big fan of the Ozzie house band “Big Pig,” which he carried around a cassette tape of across what we jokingly jested was “The Null or Boring Plain” ( Nullarbar Plain) and ultimately to the Great Australian Bite, which looked like the sheer and cliffy contoured dentures of an elderly god doing dreamtime.
Ah, the view was so beautiful it hurt!
We all slept on an expansive army-fatigue-green undone tent in the red desert sand and feared being bitten by poisonous redback spiders, but, oh, nothing beat the ethereal silence and unreality of seeing all the stars at night!
Yes, including the famous Southern Cross, only visible in the bottom hemisphere.
* * *
Now on to one of my favorite traveling friends: “Cassandra” fromTubingen, Germany. Her real name was Elke, but no matter: she preferred her alter ego. We had met in Broome, where Susan and I had joined her and a girl named Irene to drive down the coast. Elke called me “a
master of the absurd” in response to my pointed rejoinders and overt flirting behind the back of my galpal.
First we hit 90 Mile Beach, which is, as one would already guess by its name, probably the easiest place in the world to find space to lay down your beach towel.
Second, we touched Monkey Mia, where you can swim with dolphins who inexplicably naturally come to the shore.
Third, we ogled the Pinnacles, a desertscape of karst topography
sticking up like needles.
Fourth, we raced on down to Perth in time to celebrate Christmas and check our forwarded mail at the “Poste Restante” for gifts from Santa. Then we prepared ourselves, with surfy anticipation for the main event: New Year’s Eve.
How coolio was that? Celebrating New Years Eve not back home with our friends and family watching the ball drop on Times Square with Welk or McMahon or Regis or Gaga or whomever was the MC, but with a silent but deadly pop!
Um, I’m afraid the “natives” here might not really know how to do a proper New Year’s party, in the same way that they ruin hamburgers by plopping on a fried egg and sickly sweet slab of beetroot, which, as we all know, belongs in soupy red borscht, not on our compressed cow patties of gorgeous ground Angus.
* * *
On the train ride to where the big freebie New Year’s Eve bonanza bash was going to be held, an Irish guy named Brandon entertained us by prancing around like a freaking leprechaun and singing a Beatles song:
“Now listen, do you want to know a secret, do you promise not to tell, ohoho-oh, listen, do you want to know a secret, do you promise not to tell, ohoho-oh. . . .”
I know you’ll be trés disappoint, but it would be a little kindergarten to criticize the fun quotient we captured at the stroke of midnight, when, all we did was pop the corks of our Aussie Sparkling Wines and jump up and down with wild abandon on a series of metal Dumpsters ™, trying to remember the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne.” We ended up with spontaneous bad rap instead of wow, what fun!
Imagine that: spending New Year’s on top of a trademarked dumpster!
* * *
That’s it, I’m afraid.
I really wish I hadn’t written this essay.
Years later now, facing New Year’s far away in New York here with no plans, I almost feel like chucking it all in and booking a plane ticket with Continental to “Kingdom Come.”