Saturday, June 22, 2013

35) Castaway on a Penal Island.




He was having that dream again and he knew he was dreaming. He’d been hurtled into the deep, unmapped terrain of the Unconscious, and found himself by the side of a dark road, lost in a vast, unknown continent. He was not sure of how he came to be there and felt fearful that he wouldn’t find his way out, towards the Light, civilisation and safety. Always this dark, lonely spot beside an unknown highway, at a loss as to what he was doing there; yet in the midst of his desolation, he also experienced a sense of freedom, the unfettering of his bonds, for there in the dark of nowhere, nothing was expected of him, he was nobody, he could go where he willed, all the world’s potential was open to him, he just didn’t know which way to go. 

Chaos swirled at the edges, he could be annihilated, he better get a move-on, though he need not worry overly much, he knew he’d be taken somewhere, inexorably, even if his will failed him. A car would appear out of the infinite dark and, though packed with suffering humanity, the kind strangers would soon find room for him, they’d take him to some bright site from where he could find his way more easily. The dark swallowing him, he breathed a sigh of relief as the car cruised down the highway, he was on his way again.

Arthur was rudely awakened by the cacophony of a radio which had switched on automatically before dawn to get his father up for work. He was lying on a makeshift bed on the floor of his father’s apartment in Melbourne, the radio tuned to the corniest of yokel stations, his weary soul seared by two disc jockeys shouting crass commentary, on politics, sport, celebrity gossip, interspersed with inane commercials for crap products, all of it like fingernails scraping down the black-board of his spine.Then the vapid pop-slops of some hit tune, “Single bed, single bed, nobody wants me in my single bed” and he moaned aloud, “Ooooooooohhhhhh!!!” for it hit him hard, he was back in the real world, one which he thought he’d escaped, after all those wondrous travels in mythic lands.

He pondered on his situation, penniless, careerless, dependent on his father in the dreary suburb of Collingwood, lost in the Dreamtime of Australia, with no direction, except maybe fleeing back to India if he could dredge up the money. Yet he was all fired up from his international adventures and possessed of the idea that he’d won the talent to achieve his most cherished ambition, to become a movie star and add lustre to his homeland’s burgeoning art scene.

His father Frank looked in on him before he went off to work. He had  a sad, resigned look on his face, Arthur was his changeling child, a strange breed, as if he’d arrived from another planet. They were strangers and family at the same time, blood supported blood even though there would be no grandchildren from this freak child. While Artie wanted to call out, “Oh Papa, forgive my deviant ways!” Frank also needed to plead, “Son, forgive those mistakes I made in trying to beat it out of you.” Stoical, working-class men, they swallowed their emotions and simply bid each other a “Good morning”, Frank thankful his son had survived, Artie somewhat chagrined that he was no social success, he’d even failed at being a layabout, sainthood-seeking monk.

It was mid 1976 and the Whitlamb Labour government’s socialist utopia had collapsed under the weight of its own munificence and the ire of the tight-arsed conservatives. Lost in the land of lotus eaters, it had all gone over Arthur’s head: free education for all classes, free medical care, women’s rights improved, land rights for Kooris initiated, a social security net bolstered, the arts funded, mining companies bought back from the multi-nationals, Australia connecting with China and directing its future within Asia, everything an idealistic Arthur had dreamed of. His paranoid pondering blamed Whitlamb’s dismissal on powerful interests like military/industrial multinationals and, though he thought the prime minister had wimped out, he knew nobody wanted a civil war. Whatever, Whitlamb had done his best, he knew he only had a short time to push through his reforms and bring Australia into the twentieth century before THEY got rid of him. The conservatives brought on an election and under Mal Grazier they had won so who was Arthur, a sissy hippie prole, to go against the grain. Yet such was his natural bent, he was angry about everything, especially his status as gutter trash.

Anyway, not much changed under the usurping Prime Minister, Mal: wages remained steady, education and medicine remained free, easy access to Social Security for the unemployed and disabled continued, and Arts grants were thrown liberally upon the deserving, friends of the Establishment though they were. But it was the beginning of a slow erosion of all the rights won by the working class over a hundred years, and in all this two steps forward, one step back political tango, there was nothing for gays, they remained outlaws, mentally ill deviants.

As a weird destiny would have it, two females who had great influence on his formative teenage years showed up on his first day back in his motherland. While wandering up Smith Street in Fitzroy he ran into Anne, his high-school sweetheart, standing with babe in arms and doctor husband by her side, Arthur outlandish in his woolly Afghan hat, with scraggy beard and spaced-out eyes. He told her of his Indian adventures in seventy seconds and she replied that he had always been a far-out dude, ahead of his times, precocious as a kid, reading existential poetry to her when walking her home from school. She had once promised heterosexual normalcy, now only a childhood fantasy long past. He had since been under the hammer a thousand times and, tempered, honed to cutting sharpness and of a different mettle altogether, he looked at her as if from the ‘Twilight Zone’, bid her a fond farewell and went on his own lonesome, irresponsible way.

And like something out of a mystic astral-travel book, on that first night’s homecoming he dreamed he met his old guru-ma, Margaret Sayesman of Gita School of Yoga fame, and in the dream she welcomed him back to Melbourne with hugs and kisses. Next day, there she was on the street in person, as if waiting for him, reality truly having its magic edges. She asked him what he thought of the Indian ashram scene and he commented how Yoga was being over-commercialised. Like a cranky old school-mistress she squawked,
“There’s nothing wrong with making money, it’s the freeloading bums who expect everything for nothing that are the problem. What do you think ashrams operate on, thin air?”
“But my guruji Compassion didn’t ask for money, he died owning only a few books. He was the real thing, a true yogi.”
“Your guruji? Compassion was a fake, he took drugs and led a lot of young men astray. He gave yoga a bad name. He was a drug addict!”
“That’s news to me. I knew him well for many years and he never took any drugs, he was a purist and lived naturally, he wouldn’t even eat processed food. And he never led me astray.”

 Arthur was dumbstruck, realising after all these years of idolising her that she was like everyone else, a mixture of personalities, wise and endearing, jealous and avaricious and, like himself, possibly a lapsed yogi, living in luxury in her bourgeois terrace-house in the inner-city. Perhaps she’d never gotten over her wartime experiences in Paris when she’d lost her family and all they owned to the Nazis, for in her old age it seemed all she relished was money and security. A terribly sad frown settled upon his face that none of her saccharine blandishments could remove, he knocked back her offer of a job teaching Yoga in her school, she’d lost him with her distorted gossip about Compassion and he couldn’t wait to take his leave, never to see her again.

As for his mother Elaine, heart in mouth he visited her with her de facto husband, the fat oaf she'd teamed up with at the shoe factory. They tried to make small talk in front of the television, but the AFL football was playing and conversation was constantly interrupted by them both cheering, moaning, yelling directives at the sportsmen flying through the air, the deluded pretense that suburban cheer squads could determine the outcome patently ridiculous to Arthur's intellect and he grew mighty restless. At fatso Jack's behest Elaine spent most of the time toddling back and forth with snacks and cans of beer for him to guzzle, rarely asking anything of Arthur's life, his experiences, his hopes. He knew women of her generation and class had never been given a break, she'd been conditioned to slavery, and queers were beyond the pale. Sadly he kissed her forehead, she hardly noticed such was her rapt attention on the football, and he quietly took his leave. As a kid he dreamed he'd one day buy her a mink coat, now he couldn't even give her an Aussie rules sweater.

For Arthur, the circle of Hell had come round again, dossing at his father’s small flat, stuck within a crass, materialistic culture like a fly in shit and with a raging personality disorder cum sex mania to help him sink further. Lucky for him he still had some friends left; Serenity took note of his Melbourne blues and invited him to sojourn at his home in the quaint little city of Adelaide, South Australia and Arthur packed his old kit bag with relief, raising the dust with his departure. This was before the City of Churches suffered the spate of serial killers and zoo rapists and was a sleepy, little town with barely a rock band to call its own. Arthur had a pleasant time socialising with the few available freaks and wandering the hills that ringed Adelaide and rolled down to the very edge of the ocean.

He discovered that the previous Whitlamb government had left behind them a Social Security net that gave the dole for the unemployed and this wonder of the Welfare State kept him alive for a few weeks while he searched for a job, determined to get the money that would allow his escape from this giant ‘prison island’. He heard on the bush telegraph that an exploration company was looking for labourers, they were doing surveys in the interior of Australia for a giant mining company and welcomed all applicants, of whatever manner of renegade. He signed up at the company’s city office for a six-month stint and without much fuss was flown in a six-seater plane deep into the hinterland, to an all-male camp in the heart of the Simpson’s Desert.

He flew into the site with much trepidation for he figured they’d pick him for a poof and either beat him up after the evening meals or beat a trail to his tent late at night and rend him stupid in a gang-bang. The crew of Aussie labourers and British seismologists turned out to be a jolly bunch of larrikins and misfits, hard working but always ready for a bludge and a laugh, with whom Arthur got on famously. He was especially drawn to one hut where the more hip young men met and approximated freakdom, smoking ganjha and blasting the camp with rock’n’roll from their tape-machines, discussing world philosophy into the star-filled night.

The days were spent charging through the sand dunes, leaping from jeeps to plant sensor-cables into the ground, then wait an hour or two while the Brits set off dynamite and read seismographs in the cool of their high-tech caravans. Arthur was enthralled by the desert; camels drifting out of mirages, eagles nesting in gnarled dead trees, dingoes at play or scavenging in the trash, hurricanes that hurtled in from the emptiness and swept tents and caravans away, and at night the Milky Way, so close you could drink inspiration from it.

Every man acted the macho part, Arthur as much as the rest, for he didn’t want to make waves in this very tight all-male community. If some of the men were visiting each other in their tents at night, Arthur didn’t want to know about it. There were one or two gorgeous fellows who seemed over-enthusiastic for his company and touched him in friendliness a bit too often, and in other circumstances Arthur would have devoured them, but his big goal was to stick out the six months and earn good money to continue his travels and he didn’t want to endanger his chances with a homosex scandal.

He ignored his fellows’ accidental caresses and, more masculine than the next yob, pretended he had a girlfriend back in Adelaide. At the three-month holiday-break, on being flown back to the city, he cracked onto a dumb, frumpy woman, fat with frizzy hair and fish-face, who was visiting Serenity’s house. He even managed to fuck her to make good the ruse, they were the image of passionate lovers and at the airport, when going back to the desert, he paraded the poor lovesick femme in front of his workmates as living proof of his normalcy. Careless and carefree, he might've even impregnated her and have a kid wandering the wilds of Auz who'd never know what kind of fuck-up his father was, stranger things have happened, human sexuality being perverse as it is.
 On this same work-break he snuck away into the city to prowl the beat of Adelaide’s central park where he met a man who took him to a motel where they had genuine sex, delicious and free at last. The sexual outlaw remained one of his schitzo selves cut off from daylight society, rarely finding fulfillment and festering accordingly, making him as uptight as a frustrated nun. He might've been more reluctant to express his secret libido if he'd known there had been serial murders of homos on those very beats in recent years, possibly perpetrated by fascistic police.

He also attended a talk in the public square given by Dr. Helen Caldicott, the articulate anit-nuclear campaigner, on the evils of the nuclear industry and the selling of Australian uranium. Her forceful speech fired up his terror of nuclear war and the police state needed to protect the nuclear facilities, he was fearful for the future and wished he could do something about it. He had never forgotten the tension evident over the Cuban missile crisis when he was twelve years old and certain movies which had freaked him out as he grew up, "On the Beach", "The Time Machine", "Planet of the Apes", "Fail-safe" and Peter Watkins' "War Games." Ever the airhead, he didn’t quite realise the exploration company he was working for was hired by Western Mining and possibly searching for uranium among other minerals in the Simpsons’ Desert.

The six months of easy labouring in the desert flew by like a rollicking good jaunt in a safari-jeep and Arthur earned enough cash to pay his father back all the money he owed him and then travel back to India if he so wished. Still there was one last stopover in Australia, a hippie festival about to be launched south of Sydney, a ‘must attend’ party for serious freaks and Arthur hankered to be part of it.

The “Up the Earth” Con-fest was held at Cotter River outside Canberra and was exactly as purported, a con-man’s festival of cosmic proportions, organised by Dr. Jim Cairns, sacked Labour Party treasurer because a Pakistani trickster had bamboozled him over a phantom loan of billions. Ostensibly a pow-wow of like-minded new-age warriors, peaceniks and dirt-mothers gathering in wig-wams and Fuller domes in a patch of bush by the river, in reality the ‘Con-fest’ was an empire building venture on the part of Dr. Jim’s Phillipino mistress, Joani Moroni, who must have marked the gullible army of spirit-dwellers as easy to milk of their earnestness. Crowds rushed to every self-help workshop, parting with their dollars to help save the earth, the dolphins, the trees and themselves. Every religious creed and self-improvement practice had a tent, as if Osho/Rajneesh’s brainwave of an eclectic circus had been taken up with a vengeance and given a new-age chintzy gloss, a cosmic supermarket cum eco-freak side-show alley, sample-bags and all.

Arthur met up with his old Clayton’s boyfriend from long ago, Moxie, who was cutting a saintly figure flogging Muktananda shakti-meditations out of his open marquee. He had to sit quietly with him for half an hour, legs crossed in lotus position, back stiff as a rod, nose in the air, pretending the peace of samadhi. He got bored, left Moxie to his coma and drifted off to the Gay Liberation tent where he confessed to two avante-guard homo-lovers that, shock horror, he too was homosexual. For all the evident bliss of heterosexual conjugation in hippie wonderland, Arthur’s guts were only stirred by the presence of the male and, surrounded by naked masculine angels, his eyes couldn’t help but look in admiration in their direction. In this atmosphere of cosmic live and let live, he decided to live honestly and come out as a queer, tired of the continuous subterfuges.

Naive as to the gang of red-necked perverts from the city gawking at them from the sidelines, the whole crowd ran around bare-butt naked, except for Joani and Dr. Jim, who kept their swimming togs firmly in place, no matter what set of swinging genitals got in their face. It was supposed to be a free-wheeling, progressive, brave new world they were celebrating, the dawning of an age of liberty, equality, fraternity, and all hang-ups could be sorted out in a select workshop. Even the bugaboo, taboo subject of sex was collectively raked over in the Confest's central Fuller-dome, an eager Joani Moroni encouraging confessions so the crowd could hand out patronising platitudes to each other and everyone could salaciously feel good. One punter admitted,
“I’m obsessed by women with big tits, I can’t get enough of them, the bigger the better, hanging down to the earth if possible.”

To this there was a murmur of approval, most of the crowd being Het breeders. Another guy stood up and blushingly confessed,
“I feel guilty but I have bisexual urges, sometimes I like to do it with a bloke, you know, spread the love around.”

The crowd replied with sympathy, “It’s only reasonable that some of us would be attracted to our own sex, after all, it’s a brave, new world.”
Then a scrawny, rustic fellow with a red beard and Akubra hat stood up and announced to a hushed throng of alternative- lifestyle heads,
“I’ve got a thing for horses. Yes, it’s true, I work as a cow-cockey and like to fuck horses. Those big firm rumps turn me on so bad, there’s nothing like it!” 
Joani and fans were speechless, this was taking friendship towards nature too far, surely even fairyland had its limits, the crowd muttered discontent and the zealous equestrian slunk back into the deep bush from whence he came. 
Artie was the eternal lonely loner, up to this point never having had a real, long-lasting lover, thus he was ripe for a fall, deep into the chasm of amorous obsession. It was in the Con-fester’s communal showers that he first espied his own personal sexual fetish, a young man’s water-melon bubble butt. This perfect butt was attached to the Michelangelo-designed body of a guy who would become the fourth phantom love of his life, Zac, all soaped up and returning his interested gaze. He was nineteen and only a year out of high school in Melbourne, a cross-country skiing champion, he had the dream-boy’s athletic build that Arthur doted upon. And he was enthusiastically curious about Arthur’s personality and his tales of a greater world, befriending him with sweet smiles and following him about till they became ardent companions throughout the “Up the Earth” shenanigans. Zac pretended to be an innocent waif from the big, bad city, uninitiated in the sordid ways of the flesh and unwittingly placing himself in the path of a lecherous older homosexual. He never admitted that he was gay, thus there was no sex in bush-paradise for Arthur, just sweet company and a voyeur’s frustrated excitation.

The festivities reached a crescendo with the whole tribe naked in the river splashing up a tidal wave in their orgiastic enthrallment, and Joani Moroni throwing the nice people’s money away by flying overhead in a helicopter and attempting to dump a thousand roses upon their heads, only she missed and the expensive flowers all landed upon the backs of mystified cattle in a neighbouring paddock. Only the cow worshiping Hare Krishnas were pleased, though some dopes prattled on about how it was the thought that counts.

Ms. Moroni then announced that the “Up the Earth” Con-festers would live on in perpetuity and welcomed any and all to sign up for the great new-age experiment, part with their life savings to buy a share of enlightened living and settle on the new frontier commune situated just down the road. Arthur eagerly put down a deposit for a share thinking it would be nice to have a bush-pad to return to after his world travels. But on getting a glimpse of the expanse of baked mud and desert scrub that was to accommodate the new age settlers, and the sour dispositions of the settlers themselves, he demanded and, after much hassle, received his money back. Lucky for him, as most of the other would-be bush-tamers were eventually told their shares gave them no ownership in the land and, as soon as the dump was made amenable to modern living, they found themselves evicted by the secretive Con-fester management. The disillusioned new age pioneers spent years in the courts trying to wrest back control of the commune, and way down the track, in their old age, are probably still trying.

But before this denouement, back at the Con-fest, after the orgasmic eruption of river water, a few strong personalities put on an Aussie bush tableau for the crowd’s gratification, enacting the postures of iconic animals, WASPs trying to raise some Koori spirit. Arthur chose to be a koala and he sat quietly, contemplatively, chewing on gum leaves, stoned as if in nirvana. This was quite a crowd-pleaser and garnered the attention of Dr. Jim himself, being a wannabe old hippie maestro, he took a shine to Artie’s spaced out charisma and had him sit at his feet for the closing ceremony, the king and his court jester.

And thus, after the Con-fest had deflated and decamped, Arthur was invited to Dr. Jim’s Melbourne home for Christmas dinner. There he got to hear interminable excuses and justifications for the good doctor’s calamitous political doings and for all his grumblings Arthur thought he was a wise, well-meaning, big-hearted man. Maybe he’d have thought different if he’d known the old authoritarian had been a Cop for most of his career but, having blossomed into a far-left socialist, was a likeable old mug and Arthur didn’t mind sitting at his feet as if he were another new-age guru. The avuncular Christmas proceedings were jarred somewhat by the wrathful comments of his long-suffering wife, Gwen, butting into Jim’s platitudes by slamming a dish of chicken or pudding upon the table and cursing, “That fucking slut, she’s ruined everything” and “That mole, how could you?! Running around the pool at Kirribili House, in the nude, with that bitch.” All of it in front of their grandchildren, Arthur embarrassed and bewildered, unable to decipher her fulminations until the truth dawned on him: trading in the the old model for the new, the pathetic pitfalls of frail aged flesh.

As for Arthur, he stupidly fell in love with the shallow adulation espoused by a cool, sweet, calculating Zac, delighted by his diligent company, though all Zac wanted was someone to aid his escape from an intolerable family situation in Melbourne. They agreed to travel to Sydney together for the New Year’s party and Arthur might have soon tired of Zac’s chaste, virginal dick-teasing beauty and continued on with his loner’s world voyage if it wasn’t for the fact that he let his obsessive lust cloud his judgement and determine his life path.

Devoted and desire-bound, the fatuous mates turned up in Sydney, for that one great New Year’s Eve of 1977. Arthur had found an Orange Sunshine Acid pill hidden in the pocket of an old Indian shirt, and he and Zac partook of the psychedelic nectar while AC/DC smashed them senseless at a free concert in the Haymarket. The infamous rock band was in mind-shattering full romp, Bon Scott trampling the stage and singing, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll!” All the while he looked into Arthur’s tripped-out eyes, Angus on guitar hitting the roof, the small crowd up close and rocking riotously. Arthur jumped and whirled above the heads of the rolling assembly, abandoned and ecstatic with his soul-mate Zac bouncing next to him and in future he would proudly tell anyone with an ear to listen, "I once danced with Bon Scott."

The next day they found themselves washed up like stunned mullets on the sandy shores of Sydney, lost and befuddled, their sense of direction and purpose evaporated like psychedelic bubbles from a tripper’s dream. Some rock slut at the concert had told them of Darlo squats, near Kings Cross, and they slouched on over to Stanley Street, to a row of dilapidated terraces where they hoped to flop for a few nights. Arthur still had a thousand dollars from his work in the Simpson’s Desert and imagined that soon he would continue on his way, escape back to India if he could, regardless of what Zac wanted. Little did he realise he would get stuck in Sydney for the rest of his long life, like a castaway on a penal island, surrounded by sharks, who every now and then would take a piece of him.



If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.