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Dare to stray from the Surfer’s path?

My bus pulled away, a thick layer of Ochre coloured dust hissed upward from the ground, my mucus membranes had turned a deep reddy-orange, the sun was low above the desert, the dusky scrub’s shadows where long, clinging to the lone road that cut through the tiny western Australian town off into the distant, darkening horizon.

 

Mount Magnet, a Spaghetti western of a town, bloomed in the gold rush of the 1890’s, 300 km’s from the coast, pan flat in every direction, a population of 420, now largely a truck stop for thunderous road trains and the broken hearted.

The shop was closed, I made way to the nearest pub- one of four- inside there where six stools round a corner bar- five seats taken- my arrival caused no reaction from the occupants, hunched backs and sinewy arms clutching ice cold ‘Scooners’ muttering in an unrecognisable antipodean dialect.

 

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I tentatively skulked over to the sixth seat, put my pack between my legs, ordered a glass of ice cold lager. Where I was sat, loving etched deep, really deep into the bar in four inch high letters where the words: ‘dickhead’s seat’ . It must of taken it’s witty artisan the best part of half an hour to whittle . Suddenly the from beneath a greasy blue baseball cap two black obsidian eyes looked over, old skin like deep fried seventies beige lino.

[pullquote]‘Women maaate, if they didn’t ‘ave c***ts you’d throw rock ad ‘em’[/pullquote]

‘Women maaate, if they didn’t ‘ave c***ts you’d throw rock ad ‘em’

I froze. What are you supposed to say to that?! There was a horrible, harsh silence while I earnestly waited for him to follow up with something, anything, so I could circumnavigate the statement…. But he didn’t…. it seemed horribly like I was going have to retort in order to make peace with otherwise hostile natives….

‘Err…. Yeah… but some of them throw the rocks back’…. I quipped.

There was a mild, muffled grunt, a passing of air from somewhere beneath the grey beard, an eruption of tar stained teeth and callused gum. A smile- I might just survive this beer……

 

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If the powers that be had their way it would be easy to mistake the life of the travelling surfer as one that should be all turquoise sea, trade winds and late afternoon tropical sun light cast upon toned, tanned supple skin cracking coconuts with friendly locals- the ocean is your master- to lose sight of that is lose focus of your dream, our dream…join us…come play in the ocean…..come buy our stuff….
[pullquote]
I urge you to stray from the surfer’s path, to turn to face the off-shore- to walk away from the sea- as unnatural as it feels-the rewards are bountiful[/pullquote]
I beg to differ. I urge you to stray from the surfer’s path, to turn to face the off-shore- to walk away from the sea- as unnatural as it feels-the rewards are bountiful.

I spent the next three months in Mount Magnet, working at the Jolly Swagman road house, a well kept utilitarian establishment, I lived in a sparsely furnished shipping container out the back- which was like an oven in the day and a freezer at night, the owner was a hard working, brash unapologetic racist, who also perhaps not entirely by accident, was the local magistrate.

My neck-less supervisor claimed to have given birth to her daughter sideways in 50 degree heat in a caravan and at weekends could have been a hooker ( for a rugby team), food was only fried except on Sundays, when it was boiled into a pale anaemic mush. I was hundreds of miles from the sea with no transport, I knew no-one and no one wanted to know me. The desert, I was convinced, was riddled with snakes and truck driving perverts.

 

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But over time I began to get the place- the desert was utterly spectacular – Very quickly the boredom drove me further and further into the wilds-I started to brave the wide open spaces, 360 degree horizons big, big sky – some aboriginals showed me the lye of the land and explained the significance a slightly larger rock amongst patches of large rocks as if they where neon street signs, as much of magical cultural exchange as it was, to be honest all I could see where heat waves, rocks and sweat.

One Sunday afternoon I ended up miles and miles out in desolate flat scrub at a mad max-esque place called the Elk mine owned by a shifty collection gold prospectors.
It looked like the scene of an oil rig explosion, rusting heavy industry lay strewn amongst sooty, brittle vegetation, peppered with caravans, motor bikes and tents. I unwittingly became an accessory to an attempted theft of a large completely battered motor home who my co-conspirator assured me he lent to the current occupant- a year ago.

It had been there a lot longer than a year and the only evidence of occupation was a piece of heavily stained foam, an eclectic but perfectly reputable collection of sun bleached pornography and tub of Vaseline with some stray pubic hair clinging to the rim. Thankfully the piece of shit didn’t start and the sex crazed lunatic who was living there didn’t come back to find an easily overpowered Englishmen flicking through his pride and joys.

 

keybord-in-desert

 

Over that three months I learnt so much, I simply wouldn’t of if just I’d stayed surfing on the gold coast or Byron Bay I met all kinds of rough and ready characters, self proclaimed red necks, Aboriginals and immigrants from Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Straight up good, hard working people that loved it out there- always staunch and brash at first, but as I got to know them they opened up into some of the warmest funniest people I’ve met, they gave me great insights into a way of life very different from my own- the ongoing tensions between Aboriginal and Europeans settlers, how the hard working back bone of Australia saw the world, the fiscal pros and environmental cons of the mining industry that was driving a booming economy, the way that certain landscapes demanded a certain kind of person- all things I hadn’t really considered prior to stepping off the bus.
My boss summed it up in a very, very rare philosophical moment:

‘This is the back country son, once that old red dust gets into your blood- it’s hard to leave’

Finally it was time for me make my way back to Indian Ocean, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it had. I had weaselled my way back to mother ocean- I surfed, swam and snorkelled every day for weeks, it was like being a grom again. I could see it all with clearer, eager eyes, I was hungry again.
That was the first of many non-surfing excursion I would, and indeed continue to take- they aren’t always as pleasant as the surf but most of the time they are just as rewarding and if nothing else an education.

It’s easy to go to get a skewed perspective of a place when your only looking from the beach- once in a while throw your surf board down and go wandering I say.

Words and images by Dan Kerins www.dankerinsphotography.com

 

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