The security guard motioned towards my suspicious looking black bag and bade me approach her, indicating that I should place the luggage on the table provided and step aside. "This is a routine check for explosive residue," she informed me, before describing an arc around me with an unfamiliar electronic probe. My heart raced. Why only yesterday I'd been dynamiting an oversized boulder that was obstructing our celebrity landscape makeover on a hostel for terminally sick children. What about the fertiliser with which I'd nourished the ailing rose bed from which blind, orphaned refugees would pluck long stemmed roses for their foster parents on Mothers Day? My fingernails were black with its stubborn reminder. The woman switched focus to the bag. I thought of its contents and reflected blackly that I'd picked the wrong flight on which to martyr myself with 5 pounds of Semtex plastic explosive.
Back at the airport for our first interstate trip in nearly 2 years, there were old routines to re-establish, new priorities to set and friendships to repair. 6 months of near inactivity had presided over a serious deterioration in our relations and we re-united as virtual strangers. Hostility was evident in the way each man demurred during the whip around to secure loose change for the trolleys. the debate over who should park the car - and thus miss the stress of baggage check-in - was rancourous and divisive. In the spirit of détente I stood my colleagues a coffee in the airport canteen, making a mental note to reclaim my money during the financial reconciliation at trip's end while skimming a little extra off the top for my trouble.
There is nothing like landing at Hobart International airport to rouse the languid from his torpor and deposit him without pause back into the high-pressure world of interstate rock touring. The low slung, rough-hewn terminal rises from the surrounding paddocks like a neon billboard on the Las Vegas strip. Welcome back to the Big Time it says. Kill or be killed.
Later, as you fish around for your luggage on one of several trailers dragged by a ride-on mower into the draughty work shed that serves as a baggage carousel, the adrenaline courses your veins like a ball round a roulette wheel. Take your chances when you get them because here they may only come once.
The lady at the AVIS counter had heard of us as, it became apparent after that night's show, had at least several others. Her colleague provided reconnaissance as to the most efficacious route to Launceston, highlighting on the map a thick red line marked 'Highway 1'. It is difficult to imagine ourselves ever arriving without the benefit of this invaluable local knowledge
Several kilometres from the airport it began to rain. Overcome by the sudden deluge, our windscreen wipers locked together in a tragic death embrace. We sat motionless for several minutes, shocked at the gruesome scene before us. After a short impasse, Doug stepped from the car and set about the grisly task of disentangling the twisted metallic corpses. Though handling the task with the years of sensitivity borne from hitting drums, his touch was altogether too vigorous for the delicate machinery and the left wiper hung like a useless polio-withered limb for the remainder of the journey.
Things picked up upon arrival in Launceston. This was truly the 'big smoke'; a fact that Doug gave detailed description to on the outward trip. Apparently the homes of Tasmania's second city are almost exclusively wood heated, leaving the resultant air heavy with pollutants. After we woke up he thoughtfully ran through the major points of his lecture again.
The Hotel Tasmania beckoned from the kerb like the Statue of Liberty welcoming a weary immigrant. The large entertainment area had been made over by a troupe of gay cowboys, mincing around the premises with their moose heads, 50 gallon barrels and designer wagon wheels. What perspicacity the venue lacked in interior design, it compensated for with a progressive policy that offered the bands in-house back line. Many of us know the back line only as those doughty stalwarts whose job it is to punch from behind and head for the boundary line when in trouble. We industry types also encounter it as the heavy, unwieldy speaker boxes and drum kits that provide the budget-conscious traveller with so many transportational dilemmas. By obviating the need for us to try cajoling cut price airlines into allowing us 35 pieces of over-sized baggage, the gig had engendered a good will that was worth more than any amount of positive feng shui.
After soundcheck we changed into our winter rock clothes - down-filled leather pants and polar fleece body shirts - and prepared to walk the chill Launceston night in search of a meal. The Western theme of the band room was replicated out on the deserted streets where tumbleweeds hurtled down empty boulevards like atoms through a particle accelerator. Valour quickly sought refuge in Discretion's thick fur coat and we completed the search in the warmth of an automobile.
Providence set forth a Mexican cantina on the edge of the central business district and we quickly parked the car. We four hungry gringos chattered excitedly as we made our way towards the neon cactus sign. The generic predictability of Oz-Mexican cuisine has always afforded us great comfort when travelling and we returned to it like a new born infant to the foetal position. "I'm going to have something with beans in it", I announced, stepping into the welcome warmth of the restaurant. "Yeah. And cheese", said Doctor. "Don't forget that rust-coloured rice they always serve", added Doug. "I bet the plates will be hot", Ted noted sagely.
I've long held dream to open a Mexican restaurant where the crockery is stored in liquid nitrogen. Then, after carefully carrying my rime-encrusted plates to the table, I can set them delicately down and counsel caution as the eager diners reach hungrily for their first enchilada. "Careful", I warn. "Those plates are cold".
At this juncture I would beg the reader's indulgence in allowing me the luxury of a brief culinary sidetrack. Many tours ago Doug began an occasional diary in which he meticulously documented Ted's food, drink and cigarette intake over the course of a given day. On Thursday the 24th Of July, 2004 Doug once more took up his pencil and paper in the name of scientific inquiry. The results are printed below.
1. ˝ a jam doughnut and a coffee at Melbourne airport. (Ted, obviously hoping for one of Tullamarine's famous savoury jam doughnuts declared the plump delicacy too sweet and set the remainder aside)
2. A pasty and a party pie at Banjo's Bakery somewhere between Hobart and Launceston. (An ebullient Ted crowned the ostensibly modest pasty 'Best I've ever eaten')
3. 3 pots of ale at soundcheck
4. Between soundcheck and dinner Ted repaired to a nearby bottle shop, procuring 2 more cans of ale, both of which he drank as an aperitif.
5. At dinner Ted nibbled at a shared plate of nachos like a sickly hen. He later picked at a plate of fajitas that sizzled and spat like an angry cobra, consuming several of the most tender morsels of meat while leaving salad, rice, guacamole and most of the tortillas in pristine condition. ('I fucking hate guacamole'-Tim Cleaver)
6. A glass of white wine and 2 Crown Lagers at dinner.
7. Between the cessation of dinner and his head dropping unconscious to the pillow, Ted drank 11 cans of beer and partook in the sharing of 2 joints. His cigarette intake, always reduced when on the road due to the onerous restrictions placed on him by his band mates, was reckoned at 20. We calculated that Ted had 22.2 standard drinks for the evening. Ted declared himself ' Not even pissed'.
Stuffed moose heads outnumbered human patrons back at the gig and they proved a more responsive audience. The vibrations from several thudding bass lines gave life to the taxidermist's handiwork and several of the trophies began nodding their heads enthusiastically. I invited them to the front of stage to mosh, which they were disinclined to do owing to a pronounced lack of bodies and legs. Nevertheless, they let us know in their understated way that our efforts were not unappreciated. In truth, some of the deer seemed pretty out of it. Their eyes were noticeably glassy and their bodies were off their faces.
Next day Doctor ignored all obvious signage and took the scenic route to Hobart. With the peripheral vision of a nervous filly in blinkers, Doctor considers his driving duties fulfilled so long as all four tyres remain in contact with the ground beneath them. Without once breaching the sanctity of his imperative, Doctor soon had the Tarago negotiating a series of muddy country lanes and Drover's trails. We stopped briefly to sign the woolly coats of a mob of errant sheep, mistaking them for Jet fans, before our Fender Global Positioning System helped navigate us back to civilization.
The untimely detour meant that a return visit to Banjo's bakery was out of the question. Having found the morning menu entirely at odds with his gastronomic principles, Ted skipped breakfast and his energy levels had now fallen dangerously low. Still, the intrepid foot soldier marched on undaunted, firing an unbroken stream of witty one-liners and well-trodden tales from the front seat. Despite having not eaten, he was in fact well provisioned, having stolen a motel breakfast pack from a cleaning lady's trolley when doubling back to reclaim the beers he'd left behind in the motel fridge.
1. 1 Flat White (Ted smoked uneasily on the footpath outside as we ate breakfast, disgusted that even in Tasmania there are cafes that will knowingly despoil their scrambled eggs with truffle oil. There remains no anathema to Ted greater than the mushroom, regardless of the manner of its serving.)
2. 1 carton of Iced coffee flavoured milk
3. Another flat white at soundcheck. (By it was now 4pm and Ted was running on inspiration alone)
4. 3 pots of ale, a handful of nuts and some Burger Rings at a pub in the Salamanca district of Hobart.
5. 2 more cans of beer back at the hotel. Several Pringles from the mini bar.
6. 1/3 of a bottle of white wine at dinner. 2 sausages and 4 mouthfuls of the risotto on which the bangers rested. ('Shit, grossly over-priced'. The wine too failed to meet Ted's exacting standards. 'I've never drunk a decent wine from the Mornington Peninsula'.)
7. 2 more cans back at the room before the gig.
8. 10 cans and 1 pot both during and after the show.
9. At 3.30 am Ted finally broke the seal on his breakfast pack, greedily wolfing a small ration of cereal, a breakfast bar and some orange juice. 10. 3 joints. We once again calculated that Ted had smoked roughly 20 cigarettes - as good as quitting for a smoker of his standing. 23-24 standard drinks for the day.
Across 2 nights in Hobart we pulled more people combined than we'd played to in the entire previous 12 months. Ecstatic audience members prostrated themselves before us in humble devotion, hardly able to believe the extent of our generosity. A small delegation from the Tasmanian Government begged that we might start new lives as court musicians to Gunn's Timber Company, roving minstrels to cheer the poisoned animals and clearfelled forests out of whose rotting corpses our superannuation policies grow.
Back on the mainland, however, life progressed apace. Our triumphant trip across Bass Strait notwithstanding, Fauves shows were getting spaced out further than the direction signs on an outback road. My short-lived writing career - for a time a promising source of extra income - now sat like last nights dishes: washed up. A meagre bank balance spelt out the exigencies with a clipped finality. The great cycle of life was once more set upon its inexorable course. It was time to return to the dole office.
When I last sought alms at the mercy of the taxpayer my employment prospects bloomed like a well-tended bougainvillea. As a fresh-faced kid with a monstrously high Anderson score, a uni degree and a high school yearbook that saw me voted most likely to secure a diplomatic resolution to ethnic tensions in the Caucasus I should have had my pick of the top jobs. Inexplicably, work was not forthcoming. I languished and, at length, gave up.
Strictly speaking the above account is not entirely true. Although it remains correct that I did not find work, the sequence of events leading to this disappointing outcome was, I think, perhaps reversed. Accordingly then, the revised sequence should read; I gave up, languished and did not find work.
Now back at Centrelink 12 years later I found myself in altogether more desperate circumstances. The unemployment rate had dropped in the intervening period for a start, affording me only limited opportunities to blame the economy. Moreover, there seemed to be far greater imperative on behalf of Social Security to find me a job. I quickly realised that collecting my fortnightly payments was going to be some of the hardest work I had ever done.
It started straight away in a small anteroom where a cutting edge PowerPoint presentation outlined my rights and obligations as a jobseeker. The creative atmosphere was inspiring and employment ideas began filtering through almost immediately. After only five minutes of the lecture, for example, I realised that there were huge opportunities in the English tutouring field. As our host stumbled awkwardly over the plain sentences of the information session I looked out at the Centrelink staff beavering away beyond the confines of the room. There must have been scores more of these barely literate worker ants out there.
The gripping narrative surged on, sweeping each of us up with its irresistible momentum. Ten minutes in and I had completed all of the Across clues in the daily cryptic and was making serious headway into the Downs. At this point the speaker gave way to a video presentation, heavy with a Sophoclean air of tragedy. A cast of robotic actors played out a series of unlikely 'real life' scenarios in which recalcitrant dole cheats realised the error of their ways and made full and frank confessions to the authorities before finding forgiveness, a job in armed forces and the evangelic joy of supporting the Liberal Party. This was mutual obligation honed to its finest point. Working for the dole is no longer enough; now the government makes you act in their fucking videos too.
I came back later for my interview. Re-entering the building I was struck by the sea of beaten down, depressed faces around me - and that was just the Centerlink staff. While being interviewed I resisted the urge to discuss how long we'd been together, who my influences were and whether I come up with the music or the lyrics first and stuck instead to the script. This involved acting appropriately contrite, emitting just enough of an air that I understood that it was my fault that I was here, unemployed, on my knees, defeated and at the whim of my liege lords. Thankfully my interrogator seemed ambivalent to the point of seriously weighing up whether it was worth bothering to inhale that next breath, and I was processed with the efficiency of a doomed sheep bound for slaughter in a stinking Middle Eastern butchery.
I had a good run. A decade spent supporting yourself in the creative arts in Australia is no small achievement - doing it in a rock band is not bad either. I admit I'm a card-carrying job snob, guilty of the heinous sin of trying to spend one's working life in a job that earns one not only financial recompense but satisfaction and self-esteem. All this in defiance of the cold factory floors and cheap office carpets that have fruitlessly awaited my leaden footfall. I know now, as I return once more to the picks and shovels of serfdom on John Howard's manor that I have erred. I promise, therefore, to devote the remainder of my life in sterling service to the shareholders of multinational corporations, eagerly awaiting the day I can sacrifice myself in the name of investor profits by being laid off so that their stock price can go up.