Category Archives: Animals

“Hundid” by Anne Türn

Engogirl and I have just spent a few days in Tallinn, Estonia. Whilst Tallinn is a beautiful medieval city, it is a complete tourist trap complete with a plethora of shops selling all the same tourist tat as each other. Babushka dolls, amber jewellery, felt knick-knacks and knit wear of the type that the locals probably haven’t worn for generations.

We were beginning to lose any hope of finding something to take back home that spoke to us of contemporary Estonia, in an original way. That is, until Engogirl said, ” Let’s check this place out (Galerii Kaks)”, and we went in and found some exciting examples of modern Estonian creativity.

A lot of what was on display in Galerii Kaks would be considered decorative items, albeit of a high standard, but Anne Türn’s “Hundid” were very different and they called to us. Actually, her figures howled at us and we knew that we’d found what we were looking for.

esl

Wild, humorous and exuberant figures performing what looked like some sort of corybantic dithyramb (look those up in your Funk and Wagnalls). There were about 6 statues of different sizes on display, and we saw two that stood out, but the problem was, which to get?

esb

Stuff it! We bought both of them.

Now all that remains to be seen, is if Finland’s postal system can get our crazy little ceramic wolf women back to Australia intact.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2011

Whilst wandering around Copenhagen last week we came across this very picturesque part of town that looked as if it had been lifted from the lid of a box of assorted chocolates. The canal was spannned by a small bridge that had a little alcove poking out from the sidewalk where people were almost lining up to take photos from. One after the other we took our shots from exactly the same spot, to produce almost the same image in a Hockney-esque meditation into how time can divided up into little slices like a speciman being prepared for a microscope slide.

dccb

As I took in the scene I found myself thinking how we as humans like to congregate with other humans. Nyhavn’s picturesque nature attracts many visitors, and I noticed there were quite a few restaurants along the base of the colourful buildings that were full of people eating and drinking. I found it ironic that people wanted to eat in the middle of a “view” because so many people were milling around it, but the diners couldn’t take in the view because they were in the middle of it. Strangely enough, the other side of the canal, where the buildings weren’t so colourful wasn’t crowded at all although it offered a much better veiw of the part of Nyhavn (New Harbour) that was attracting the crowds. Surely it would be better to have the restaurants on the second floor of the buildings on the less crowded street so one could take in the full unobstructed scene.

Copenhagen is quite a small city and it’s mercifully flat which makes it an ideal place to go cycling. Fortunately the civilised and sensible Danes have built cycle lanes on most of the roads, so cycling around town is a real joy. The fact that cycling is encouraged in Copenhagen is lost on many of the tourists who choose to go on guided bus and canal boat tours to places that can be easily reached by bicycle or on foot. They can’t have all been infirm, could they?

One of the problems with traveling is that it is very easy to get into the well worn rut that has is used to help separate people from their money and to keep them unfit in the name of comfort and convenience.

Our comfort zones are a death trap.

My great shark hunt. Queensland, Australia. 1971

This is another episode in the “All the dumb things” series

When I was about 15 in 1971 I got interested in going to Queensland. At the time, I had a friend called Karl and I talked him into going up (we lived in Sydney) there with me during our school holidays in the summer. Back then airfares to Brisbane were very cheap so we caught a plane. From Brisbane we decided to take a train up to Cairns, stopping off at Proserpine on the way. I wanted to go Proserpine because from there we could go to Airlie Beach, which was near a few well-known resorts and the Great Barrier Reef.

The resorts had names like Daydream Island and South Molle Island. As a small child, growing up in the city, places with exotic names, evoked in me, visions of “Adventures in Paradise” a show that I used to love. Also as a kid I was fascinated with the idea of small islands and I used to fantasize about living a subsistent life on one.

It never occurred to me that the tropics were, about the last place on earth that a pasty, freckled, red haired, white boy should try and make a home. It was only years later when I lived in Vancouver, Canada did I understand what habitat my genes were suited to. Long periods of rain and overcast skies made me feel “right”. I suspect my gene sequence was evolved as a good survival strategy in the last ice age by one of my mammoth hunting ancestors. As a teen, such realities never intruded into my thoughts.

Another reason why I wanted to go to Airlie Beach, was that at the time I used to do a lot of skin diving. I even learnt how to scuba when I was 14. The scuba course cost me $11 and was taught at a Y.M.C.A. indoors pool over a couple of nights. FAUI? PADI? Decompression tables? Never heard of them! We were told; ” just don’t come up faster than your bubbles and you’ll be O.K”. Every one knows that the Great Barrier Reef is a Mecca for divers and I considered myself one, so I just had to go.

When I look back, I’m amazed that my parents let me go, at that age, with only another teenager as a companion. Come to think of it, what was Karl’s family thinking? Letting him anywhere near me, never mind traveling up the coast thousands of kilometers away, with me.

The plan was that when we got to Airlie beach we’d hire a boat and live in it for a week and when we got there, that’s exactly what we did. We hired an open fourteen-foot aluminium dinghy equipped with a small outboard motor for eight dollars a day. After 5 minutes of instruction we were in the water and heading out to sea for the nearest island. Lifejackets? Never heard of them!

Enough of all this intermediate stuff and onto “all the dumb things”!

One day, while out in the boat, Karl and I saw some bad weather closing in so we headed for shelter in a fairly protected bay about 10kms north of Airlie Beach. We anchored in about 2 metres of water and swam ashore. We did this because the tides in that area are quite high and when the tide goes out you can be stranded on a tidal flat until the next tide comes in. The looming weather wasn’t as bad as we expected and we spent the next couple of hours ashore exploring the nearby bush.

Yep! You guessed it, when we came back to the boat the tide had started to go out and the dinghy was sitting in about 30cm (about 1′) of water which was too shallow to use the motor or row, so we started pushing the boat as fast as we could, towards the receding water. The problem was, was that the seafloor in that area has an incredibly level surface with not much of a slope for kilometers. This all meant that no matter how fast we pushed the boat, the water quickly went down to a level where we couldn’t push it any more. So there we were, stuck out in the middle of nowhere on a tidal flat for the next 8 hours which meant that we wouldn’t be able to leave until after dark. Food? Water? Didn’t have much of that. Contingency? Never heard of it!

The good thing was, that after the squall had blown over there were millions of butterflies migrating out to sea. It was sublimely beautiful and calm. Karl thought it would be a interesting thing to see how far out to sea we could walk. We walked for what seemed like an age, following the butterflies straight out to sea. When the water was only half way up to my knees the dinghy was nothing more that a speck the size of a piece of dust. On we walked following the butterflies straight out to sea until the water was up to our knees, further and further we went.

Not looking at where I was treading, staring at the horizon and the butterflies, I stepped on what I think was a Giant Reef Ray (Taeniura meyeni). The ray was huge, about 1.8 metres (about 6ft) across and about 3 metres long (about 9ft). As I stepped on the stingray, I barely had time to feel the ground move from away from under my feet, all I saw was an enormous mottled disc shape fly up out of the water with a tremendous splash, landing back in the water about 3 or 4 metres away with another big splash and then off it flew away under water. It frightened me so much that I just about rin over the top of the water all the way back to the boat without stopping or gasping for breath. It was a real son of mammoth hunter meets monster of the deep, adrenaline moment.

Back safely in boat we waited for night to fall and the tide to come in. As soon as the water got deep enough to put the propeller in the water we tried to start the motor.

Yep! You guessed it. The motor wouldn’t start and in our continued efforts to get the engine going we succeeded in flooding it. By this time we were both hungry and thirsty so we decided to take turns rowing back to Airlie Beach, which was quite a way off. On we rowed into the night, occasionally trying out the motor. This went on for what seemed to be hours and hours. During my turn at rowing we hit a large soft floating object, which jumped up out of the water creating a gigantic splash, drenching us and almost tipping over the boat. Needless to say it scared the heck out of both of us. We didn’t know what is was but we assumed it was either a dolphin or a dugong.

By this time I was a shattered nervous wreck and Karl wasn’t a happy camper either, but probability snapped back like an overworked waitress and we finally had some good luck, the motor started. Within about an hour we were back in Airlie beach dining on fast food.

Since the night was warm and the water was calm we decided, for a change to sleep in the boat while it was in the water. We usually dragged the boat up onto the beach (which is made up of finger sized pieces of coral in that part of the world). It was a beautiful balmy night, I felt safe, fed and comfortable. As I was lying in the boat enjoying the night, it came to me that a spot of night fishing would go down well. We rowed out a little further into deeper water and baited up our hand lines.

Both of us weren’t having any luck until I felt a weight on my line. Usually when you get a bite you feel the fish through the line take the bait. This felt like I’d snagged on old boot or something like it, so I reeled it in. As I got it close to the surface I could dimly see that it was a fish, a decent sized one at that, but it wasn’t fighting the way that fish usually fought and we didn’t have light so I couldn’t see what it was clearly. The only option was to lift it into the boat. As soon I lifted the fish out of the water I could see it was a small shark (cool!) about 50cm (about 20″) long, but it wasn’t moving around much like hooked fish usually do. So I lifted the shark with the line into the boat and as soon as I did, it bit through the line and all pandemonium broke loose.

It was dark, and we had this small shark that had suddenly sprung into action snapping at us from the bilge. Both Karl and I fell over our benches backwards; Karl into the bow and me into the stern and the shark had the middle. The shark was going berserk, jumping and snapping all over the place. It took me awhile, but I finally located my diving knife and stabbed the shark. That only annoyed it and the jumping and snapping were getting much more frantic. The situation quickly degenerated into a jumping, snapping, stabbing frenzy. The shark just didn’t seem to want to die (strangely enough), so I eventually ended up pinning the shark down with the knife and we waited for what felt like an eternity for it to stop moving.

The middle of the boat was now covered in shark blood and guts so we ended up dragging the boat onto shore and having an unpleasant sleep on the beach. In the morning when it was light we got a good look at the shark that was still in the boat. There, in the bloody bilge, lay a poor little shark that had been rendered inedible by my panicky ministrations. One side of the fish looked fine, the other side was a mixture of bilge, fish mince and guts.

I didn’t go into the water again for the rest of the trip.

pasty, freckled, red haired descendent of mammoth hunters with monster of the deep

 

This post was first posted on the 19th of April 2007

Seeing and regarding. Acinipo, Spain. 2009

Whilst visiting the Roman ruins at Acinipo a donkey came up to my wife and I as we stood near an old carved block of stone.

Over the years I found that the equine species are a curious lot, and if you stand or sit still in a field for a while, they will, unbidden, come up to you. Which is something that those of you who wish to bridle a horse, that has been left alone in a paddock for a while, would do well to take note of.

The donkey was probably looking to be fed but we had no oats or grass to give it so it contented itself with a few pats, strokes and scratches. The old stone block we were standing by, had a few lines carved in its side and had perhaps at some time been the corner of a structure.

As I looked at the donkey and the stone I was reminded of something that I read once, “both monkeys and humans see the stars but only humans regard them”.

Looking into the donkey’s eyes I wondered what ideas, if any, rattled around in its head.

Eat,
sleep,
mate,
piss and shit.

Perhaps?

Of course the donkey didn’t know it grazed over an old Roman settlement that was created for retired soldiers who fought for Julius Caesar against the army of Pompeis’  sons or that the stone it stood next to was shaped by human hands two thousand years ago.

About 30 years ago I read “Fatu Hiva back to nature” by Thor Heyerdahl and I was struck by how he was a thinker who didn’t just look at things and walk on by.

In the early eighties I saw Thor Heyerdahl give a talk about his books and theories. Although some of Thor’s ideas have been shown to be wrong, I have an overwhelming respect for the man as a thinker and human being. I love the way how he spent his life and the way how he looked at things.

After the great man gave his talk I went to a bar with a friend and I can still remember all these years later, how I was struck by the scene that I was presented with as I walked in. In the darkened boozer I could see various guys with arms folded, beer in one hand leaning against the walls with a uniform countenance that seemed to bespeak, “come, let me fuck you”.

Eat,
sleep,
mate,
piss and shit.

As my step father Manfred would say, “sex and alcohol are a small man’s sunshine”.

Some people are like the monkeys that see the stars but don’t regard them. Monkeys skip over the ruins of great civilizations without giving the slightest thought about what they are passing over. It’s not that the stones of the ruins are human fashioned, it’s that to a monkey, all stones are more or less the same.

Monkeys, or donkeys for that matter, through no fault of their own, don’t know or even care where they are in the world or where they fit in. They just are, and from a Buddhist perspective that’s pretty close to being materially unattached and very much in the moment.

Those of you who have read this blog for a while will have probably realized that I’m very pro, “be here now”, but I’d like to clarify my stance and say that a life lived without regarding what is around us, is a life that’s half lived. It’s almost a waste of being human.

The boys bag a boar. Compludo, North Western Castile and León, Spain. 2009

Engogirl and I went to a medieval iron works, Herrería de Compludo, yesterday.  The road was so narrow, that we couldn’t turn the car around to go back to Ponferrada, so we drove on down the dirt road to the tiny village of Compludo. As we entered the village we had to come to a halt because the road was blocked by a large group of men, dogs and 4WDs.

We stopped the car and got out to see what was going on and this is part of what we saw.

A group of hunters had killed a wild boar and were weighing it (94kg2 or 207lbs) while the villagers appeared from all directions to take photos, admire and congratulate.

Danny and Angus at the Newcastle Ocean Baths Canoe Pool. NSW, Australia. 2009

My wife (Engogirl) and I went to Newcastle for the long weekend holiday (Queen’s birthday). Although Newcastle is only about 150kms north of Sydney, it was until this weekend, terra incognita to both Engogirl and I, so we thought we’d make ourselves familiar with the city over the holiday period.

Newcastle is the sixth largest city in Australia with a population of just under 290,000 and it is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. The fact that Newcastle is a mining town had put me off going there for so long and I suspect that many other people in Sydney have shared my misgivings about going there. As it turns out, Newcastle is a real gem of a city as it’s very cycle friendly, has excellent beaches that are walking distance from downtown and the people are very friendly.

The funny thing about everyone I met in Newcastle, who I told that I thought they lived in a beautiful place, is that they all said the same thing; “shhh! Don’t tell anyone”.

As the sun was going down while we were walking around the city, we came across the old Newcastle Oceans Baths Pool and this is where we met Danny and Angus.

Danny and Angus

Danny was out walking Angus, a friendly English Staffordshire terrier (not to be confused with American Stafforshire terriers also known as pitbulls). Like the rest of the people in Newcastle we met, Danny was very affable and easy to talk to and he told us about how the pool had a mosaic of the world under the sand that had filled the pool during a large storm years ago.

The light was turning that magic gold that advertisers love to use to sell cars, life insurance or superanuation plans, so I asked to take a few shots. Afterwards, Danny said that if I liked this pool, I should check the next one nearby as it was a beauty. So I did and I’ll put my shot of it in my next post.

Peter helps me feel normal. Wingello, NSW, Australia

When I was in my early 20s I read the book, “On the Road”by Jack Kerouac and when I finished it I thought to myself, “what was all the fuss about?” So the guy did a bit of hitchhiking and hung out with a few other young guys.  It didn’t sound like a big deal to me and by the time I had read the book, I’d already travelled extensively; hitch hiked tens of thousands of kilometres; come under mortar fire in a war zone and worked in the carnival as a laser light show operator. 

“On the road” just seemed very tame to me. 

I had a similar feeling when I saw the much hyped movie “The Motorcycle Diaries”about Che Guevara travelling around South America with his friend by motorcycle. Some of my friends had raved about the movie and I can remember when I watched it, thinking to myself, “hrumph! So what! A couple of guys from well-off families go on a motorcycle trip, big deal!” To top it all off, nothing really happened.

Sometimes I feel so disconnected with most of the people that I share society with by the differences in our life experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel superior, just different. It always amazes me when I talk to people and they tell me about how they lived in the one place, went to the same school and have only had a few jobs all their lives.  I almost envy people who can say that they have a hometown or they refer to, “my” high school.

Every time I see a TV show with that old trope about the high school reunion it’s like I’m watching some strange ritual being performed by an exotic tribe from a strange faraway land. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to still have friends from high school. I went to six primary schools (I was expelled from one), three high schools, two colleges and one university.  Because I’ve moved around so much as a kid, it hasn’t been a big deal for me to just walk away from friendships that I have made and begin new ones very easily.

In short, I’m what my wife (Engogirl) describes as an over stimulated jaded piece of meat.

The whole idea of having a career is such an alien concept to me that it’s almost unimaginable.  The reason why I find it so hard to get my brain around the concept of a career is that I find it difficult to understand how somebody’s attention can be held for so many years doing the same thing.  I usually do things (with the exception of photography) for about five years before I move on to something else.  Most jobs I’ve had, with one exception, have only lasted about a year or two.

I suppose, “recalcitrant dilettantism” would be a suitable description of my chosen career path.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs I’ve done, starting with part-time jobs I had at night in high school.

Newspaper boy.  Bus boy.  Waiter.  Kitchen hand.  Door-to-door salesman. English (as a second language) teacher in Cambodia and Japan.  Worker in a tractor factory (only did that for about two months because it just sucked so badly).  Pizza maker.  Ceramics slip caster. Mouse racer (a carnival job). Laser light show operator. Set builder in the theatre. Camera salesman. Photographic assistant in a large studio. Photographic lab manager. Outdoor equipment store manager.  I now fake it as a designer (sets, websites, graphics) in my own little business. 

Now that I’m married, live in the suburbs and own a house, my life is so totally different to what it used to be.  If you were to ask some of my older friends what I was like before I met Engogirl 13 years ago you would hear adjectives like, party animal, lunatic, dangerous, trouble. I’ve even had some friends tell me that they thought I was going to be the first person in our social circle to die because I was so reckless. All my friends feel that Engogirl has civilised and calmed me down.

Before I met my wife I used to rock climb quite a bit and most of my friends were people like myself. Rootless drifters living on the fringes of decent society working only because they were saving enough money to go on their next trip.

Two weeks ago Engogirl and I went to her parent’s holiday home down in Tallong and when we were down in that area (the Southern Highlands) we dropped in on an old friend of mine, Peter, and his wife Simona.

Simona and Peter

In the picture above of Peter and his wife you will notice that there is a framed advertisement (for Bonds clothing) behind them that has a red shirted young man sitting on a chopper. The young blond haired dude is Peter in his early 20s. He was quite the chick magnet in his day and when I used to work with him I noticed that quite a few women still found him attractive.

I first met Peter about 15 years ago when I was the manager of an outdoor equipment store and he was a customer. At that time Peter used to live in a tent for about 4 or 5 months of the year down in the snow country so he could spend his time with his girlfriend (at the time) skiing.  When Peter wasn’t skiing he used to install television cable systems in hotels and live aboard other people’s boats minding them for them.  After spending a couple of seasons skiing, Peter moved back up into Sydney and started to work in the store I managed.  It was during this time that we worked together that I heard about Peter’s life.  He had travelled extensively and he used to have a yacht charter company in Sydney Harbour with several yachts and he owned a block of apartments until he lost it all in a divorce.  Although Peter wasn’t too keen about the idea of losing so many assets, he was quite philosophical about it all, telling me that he felt that his life was getting far too complicated and stressful and that it was all probably for the best. Every now and again Peter would supplement his income by delivering yachts up the coast to Queensland.

Peter stayed on in the outdoor equipment industry for another couple of years and in his spare time he built a catamaran and lived on it in Sydney Harbour. About five years ago Peter met Simona and they were married within about a year.  It was always really obvious to me that life in the city working in a normal job never really suited Peter. A couple of years ago Peter and Simona moved down to the Southern Highlands to a town called Wingello.

Friends of mine had told me that Peter had moved into a yurt and because I had known Peter so long I assumed that he built himself a large round circular tent in the style of the Mongols, like what I’d seen at the Kyrgystan pavilion at the 2005 Expo in Aichi Japan.

Yurt at 2005 Expo in Japan

It certainly wouldn’t have surprised me.

I didn’t have an address for Peter but I knew that if I asked the people in the only store in Wingello where he lived they would know because he is such a sociable character they would be bound to know him. Sure enough they did and they gave us directions to his place, finally saying, “he lives in the yurt and you can’t miss it”.

I have to be honest and admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that Peter was actually living in a solid house. Aparently, such octagonal houses are known locally as yurts.

Peter and Simonas yurt

Peter now makes a living as a local handyman and Simona owns and runs a little junk shop.

Peter and Simona bought the “yurt” in an unfinished state and when we arrived they were in the middle of laying beautiful travertine marble tiles on the floor. The bottom floor has all the shared living areas and there is a circular staircase in the centre that goes up to their bedroom. I was told that they wanted their house to be like the inside of a lighthouse and that they were also seeking permission to add another story on top of their bedroom to make their house look even more like a lighthouse.  I knew it was pointless to point out the fact that they lived 100 km from the coast.

Who cares anyway?

Nothing about Peter is ordinary and he has absolutely no time for conventions of any kind. Having said that, Peter is a lesson in conviviality and capability. He is always surrounded by a tribe of friends and he seems to be capable of manifesting anything. 

One of the main reasons why I like Peter is that he makes me feel normal. Nothing that I have done in my life seems different or extraordinary when I am with Peter.

Skin diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland, Australia

My wife (Engogirl) and I went both scuba diving and snorkelling on the Great Barrier reef last month.

I learnt how to scuba dive years ago and to tell the truth, I never really thought it was any better than snorkelling. Scuba is interesting in that it’s a bit like flying. You aren’t restricted by gravity to the ground. When you want to go down, you merely swim down and when you want to go up, all you have to do is swim up. all very effortless and it’s a bit like being like a bird except the medium which you pass through is much denser and you can’t breathe it.

Engogirl wanted to try scuba diving so when we went out to the reef, we both did an introductory course (I hadn’t done any scuba diving since the mid 1980s). 

Engogirl and the razzbuffnik go scuba diving

My wife was very underwhelmed by the experience as not only did she think that there wasn’t as much to look at the bottom (the reef is mainly in about 10 metre, which is about 31 ft, deep water), she also felt that the noise of the breathing apparatus and the bubbles it made, detracted from the experience. In short she felt it wasn’t worth the hassle of dealing with all the equipment and she’d rather just jump in the water to snorkel.

Engogirl and pineapple sea cucumber

Before we left on our trip we bought a very cheap and consequently low quality underwater camera (a Vivitar 6200W). It’s fixed focus and it can make little low-res movie files. We were a bit disappointed with the lack of sharpness and poor colour rendering. The digital screen was next to useless and basically we pointed the thing and just hoped for the best. The only good thing about the camera was that it was waterproof to 10 meters (which we took it down to).

The nice thing about snorkelling is that it’s very simple and far less dangerous. No hassles with having to be careful with surfacing to avoid the bends and no time limits. Another plus is the gear is way cheaper and far more simpler.

clown fish

Scuba gear isn’t that necessary on the reef because most of it is in shallow water and the colours look better closer to the surface. 

There were some very keen scuba divers on the boat we went on and I scared one while I was snorkelling by diving down to her depth (about 8 meters or about 26 feet) and swimming under her. She sure didn’t expect to see someone without scuba gear at that depth.

surgeon fish

The only advantage of scuba, that I could see, in the area we dived in was that one could take their time taking photos. Trouble was that the further down you go, the duller the colours become. If you use a flash to bring back the colour, you’ll illuminate the particles in the water and you’ll get lots of lightly coloured, out of focus dots in your shot. Unfortunately for us the coral had spawned a few days before we arrived and there were lots of small particles in the water. The crew on the boat seemed to enjoy telling us that we’d be swimming in coral spooge.

There’s no doubt it, the Great Barrier Reef has plenty of fish to see and it’s quite easy to get fairly close to them.

surgeon fish

 We saw some quite large fish such as a 1.5 metre (about 4′ 6″) shark and a very large Maori wrasse (almost 2 metres or about 6’6″). Both fish were big enough to make me think twice about getting closer and I didn’t get any pictures of them.

By the second day Engogirl had found the perfect snorkelling combination; a stinger suit and a noodle.

Engogirl and the latest in snorkelling fashion

Stinger suits are designed to protect the wearer from stings of the irukandji jellyfish and sunburn. The noodles are a long closed cell foam cylinder that provide floatation. I stuck with my lightweight wetsuit.

Engogirl spent most of her time taking little movies with our camera while floating on the surface. I’ve cobbled a little movie together of Engogirl’s first efforts at filming. If you’d like to see the movie, click here.