The Death of a Weekly Newspaper, through a Cadet Journalist’s Fingers. Part 4

I woke about 5.30am, and the car was surrounded by police.  We’d done something horrible, somewhere in the memory gaps of last night’s bender.  But what?  We weren’t animals, we were good men, if reckless.  There was no way we’d done what they were here to haul us into the merciless maw of the judicial system over.  I was ready to give myself up, so looked through the foggy windows upon the outside world.  There was no-one, except some fellow creature of the morning walking past.  I relaxed, then thought we’d been given a ticket.  But no, not that either.  No consequences?  I thought.  Amazing.  I was convinced they were forthcoming in the form of Byron’s famously pin-headed and uncompassionate parking fascists, however.  So I set about exiting the car, which wasn’t easy as my compadre had slept all 6-feet of himself across the two front seats, with his legs on the right-hand-side.  He’d lowered the hand brake for extra limited comfort.  I had to move the driver’s seat forward and open the door to escape.  This elicited while still sleeping moans from him, but I couldn’t give less of a shit under the circumstances.  Neither of us wanted a ticket, and he could least afford it.  I still, thank the good Lord, had some water left in a bottle in the rear of the car, and swilled it greedily.  ‘What’re ya doin’ man?’ he mumbled from the front of the car.

I explained my fear of the parking cop and his pecuniary punishments.

‘You’re paranoid.’

Perhaps, but we’d stretched our luck too far, not that we got very lucky the previous night.  He pointed that out too.  So what to do?  I had not massively overindulged in lady liquor but there was every chance some of her still lingered in my veins.  She’s a clingy vixen.  Not leaving in a hurry was the answer, so we got a feed and returned to Byron’s top pub beach break where we spotted the lone longboarder (see Part 1) cruising impossibly quick waves.  There was nothing for it: I had to start work at 9am, and we had no way of knowing I’d be putting in some hours on the way (see below photo).  I bit the bullet, and it did not thank Christ bite back. Except I did drive off with the cheap camping chair still underneath the car.

Talk about stumbling over a story. . . .

Triple j was reporting, not even during the hourly news, some bozo was driving down from the Gold Coast to Byron and had told them there was a truck fire in progress.  Jesus!  I thought. A truck fire.  I’m working today and this could be a big story.  Then I relaxed, lit a cigarette, and realised it was probably in Coomera, or Nerang, where dickheads doing dumb shit like shooting people and setting fire to things was a common occurrence and, regardless, of no relevance to the Daily News (which covers the Tweed-southern Gold Coast areas). So I continued listening to the music, and threaded the car through green, forested hills straddling what had just become the Tweed Shire.  Which was about the time we saw smoke, and I tensed up again.  Some guy, possibly the truck driver, was flagging down traffic in the middle of the two-lane, 110km per hour zone, so I stopped the car.  ‘There’s a truck on fire up ahead,’ he said, ‘and we’re closing the highway.  Just cut across the median strip and head back south to the coast road.’

I couldn’t let it slip away.  ‘Man, I work for the Daily News.  Can we get photos?’

‘Not at this stage,’ and he waved us to his left.

Fuck!  I thought, took one last look at the northbound lanes’ emergency lane, considered parking there and walking up with my smart phone, then thought better of it and took off rather recklessly across the median strip and headed back south.  There was a trump card: if we could get to the vantage point of an overpass I knew was up ahead we’d be golden.  Lo, and behold, the Tweed Valley Way we’d been detoured on to crossed over the Pacific Hwy right where the northbound truck had parked, burst into fucking flames, burned to a husk and now lay smouldering.  We pulled over on the western-side.  It was time to think, as smoke caressed around the overpass bridge and even sifted through it in some areas, as a highway cop had parked in front of us, on the other side of the road.  I took one photo of the smoke heading for the sky with my phone (see Part 3).  I thought about crossing the bridge and approaching the photo from the east;  I thought about leaning over the edge of the road and approaching the photo from the west;  I thought about how toxic the smoke around the bridge was; I thought about a lot of things.  While I was busy thinking, he had run with my second thought, and got the shot.  Oh yes!  We got back into the car and continued on down the coast road into the shire, feeling like heroes.  Well, I did, because now I had the painful yet privileged task of telling people if their gift from Aunt Flo had not arrived yet, the above image may have been the reason why.  It had once been an Australia Post truck, on a trip north the week before Christmas, no less.

And I could go through the events of the day, but I don’t like dribbling on about work to people no matter how entertaining it may have been, so here in order of achievement (the first was actually mostly done on Saturday, slave that I am) are the stories I did while quite hungover and sleep deprived.  Yet contented in the fact the fruit of productivity can sometimes be borne from the soil of irresponsibility:

http://www.mydailynews.com.au/story/2011/12/18/residents-rally-against-police-hq/

http://www.mydailynews.com.au/story/2011/12/18/love-still-strong-after-50-years/

http://www.mydailynews.com.au/story/2011/12/18/paddle-out-honours-sam/

http://www.mydailynews.com.au/photos/galleries/paddle-out-for-sam/#id=paddle-out-for-sam&num=1

http://www.mydailynews.com.au/story/2011/12/18/truck-fire-pacific-hwy/

http://www.mydailynews.com.au/photos/galleries/christmas-gifts-destroyed-truck-fire/#id=christmas-gifts-destroyed-truck-fire&num=4

And please note I know it seems strange I put the truck fire last, in order of achievement, but sometimes even the smallest stories can take the longest to achieve depending on their seriousness and who needs to be spoken with.  In closing, do not fear journalists; we’re like the Reaper: maligned, but necessary, empathetic and not going anywhere despite the freedom of speech stifling conservatism this country seems to be developing.

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The Death of a Weekly Newspaper, through a Cadet Journalist’s Fingers. Part 3

The alarm sent painful shudders through my cold afflicted limbs at 7am Thursday morning.  I’d noticed a tickle in that spot where my nasal passage and throat join up, the afternoon before.  And after a terrible night’s sleep which went like this: doonah on the bed with the windows open (too hot); naked under a sheet with the windows closed (too cold); oh shit I’m definitely starting to feel sick (about 3am); damn it I need to go to the toilet (about 5am); and shit no I’m not going surfing because I feel like shit and have barely slept (6am alarm).  I dragged myself out of bed, chatted with my housemate who had returned from good waves – just my luck – and went through the routine of the morning.  The news meeting was a chore, least of all because I’d come close to completely losing my employment relevance through the jettison of the Mail, and most of all because I felt close to death.  But my task for the day was to submit three entertainment stories, write up a ‘Six things to do this weekend’ section, and put a couple of stories through for online.  If anything it would distract me from my sickness.

This 19 year old Swiss young lady’s short, red dress had come about because of conversation.  Let me think how, while fighting away the image of those beautiful legs. . . .  Oh, yes, her friend, and her no less, had recently agreed it was morally reprehensible to wear skimpy clothing.  Hypocrisy: it’s a turn-on.  In the interests of avoiding placing a hand on one of her legs – because I suspected it would attract a drink in my face from her, her friend, or both – I decided to go outside for a cigarette.  ‘Do either of you smoke?’ I asked, hoping for some alone time with the late-teen hopefully smoker.

‘No,’ they replied in unison.

‘I thought all Europeans smoked.’

This attracted no response from them so I forced my way outside, through the criminally-negligently overcrowded bar.  It was well timed, because when we’d got there we didn’t have to pay, but when I walked outside for a smoke it was time to pay, and the door-dude gave me an ‘I’ve paid’ stamp before I exited.  The luck wasn’t dished out to my partner in crime.  Plus, a little drunk, I was checking out Facebook on my mobile while standing on the road when one of the door-dudes suggested I get back on the footpath because cars tended to take the corner pretty fast.  Which they certainly were.  Also, when I re-entered, some drunken fool was pleading with a door-dude to permit him entry.  Which was not forthcoming.  I sauntered past him while displaying the stamp on my wrist, and a contented smirk on my face.

Another taste of what's to come, because I don't have any other relevant photos which aren't too revelatory, and this is my photo which I reckon is awesome.

I didn’t know who this guy was.  I did know his name and his profession, but suffice to say, here, he was a famous Australian entertainer who specialised in arrogance, basically.  I had some information about all the amazing things he’d done that frankly didn’t get so much as a tingle downstairs from me.  I really didn’t want to call him, but the information wasn’t in the form of quotes from him, and looked more like a biography copied and pasted from his website.  So ‘fuck it’ I thought, picked up the phone and dialled his mobile.  Keep in mind I was both sick and sleep-deprived at the time.  I began after he answered – I really wanted voicemail – by saying something like ‘I’ve got plenty of information about you but I’m wary of quoting you on it because it would sound a little . . . (searching for an appropriate word) . . . wanky’.  First mistake.  It was about this point he started calling me – with not the slightest attempt to hide his contempt – ‘Coleeeeeeeeeen’ in a feigned English accent.  This was because he seemed offended by the fact I’d not done any research on him.  Which I must admit is a journalistic faux pas.  I tried to tell him, diplomatically, I didn’t really give a shit about all the incredible things he’d done in his 30 year career, and was more interested in his upcoming local performance.  But I simply wasn’t articulate enough, and in any event couldn’t get the relevant things he was saying on to my notepad fast enough because my illness was keeping my brain from communicating with my fingers.  This further annoyed him, and after about five minutes of this madness he said ‘I’ve got to go’.  I hung up the phone and thought, sweet, now I’ll just quote him on the information I’ve already got, and what I managed to glean from our conversation.  No, that was a sub-conscious thought.  What I was really fantasising about doing was crawling under my desk with a pillow and passing out.

Just like with the original Cute and Cute and Plump, conversation with their sequels degenerated into awkward silence and looking out the window, hoping something interesting would happen out there.  He, as a last-ditch attempt at stimulating good humour in these girls, showed Cute and Plump 2 the video of him being interviewed by Channel 10 news: http://ten.com.au/news.htm?movideo_m=148785.  She responded ‘Why do you do drugs?’  That’s not the bloody point!  I thought.  From this point on he’d decided these girls needed to scurry back to their boring, perfect arsehole of Germany wonderland (Switzerland for those with memory problems).  And after hearing about the last-ditch attempt later – I didn’t notice at the time because I was busy using my own methods to try and get a rise out of Cute 2 – I agreed.  We both walked outside for a cigarette this time, and the girls walked past us and across the road to their hostel, I assumed.  Presently, he started lecturing me from the ‘I’m the last word on chatting up girls’ point-of-view he occasionally adopts while drunk.  And in an effort to avoid an argument I quickly announced I was going back in for one last drink.  We both had one then left.  In a fitting climax to the night, a brawl started up while we were leaning against the support-beams of a kebab shop’s verandah, while munching on the shop’s slop.  It was awesome.  Not that I encourage violence, mind you, I just think if idiots want to punch more already lacking brain cells out of each others’ heads for my incidental enjoyment, so be it.  It started when a group of guys walked into another group of guys down the road a bit.  Inaudible shouting resulted, then a few wildly thrown punches, and then the whole damn group of them spilled on to the road in an orgy of C words and missed head shots.  Every, single, time the punch-on threatened to die down this skinny little bastard would fire it up again by throwing a random punch at some guy.  It ended about the time I gulped down the last of my processed lamb, and the cops showed up five minutes later, after everyone’d gone, of course.

‘NEWSPAPERS are known as society’s mirrors.  Through them one and all can witness everything pleasant, horrifying, delightful and depressing about their community, as recorded by a member of their community, through voices from their community.  The Gold Coast Mail’s final edition could then be viewed as a positive: its readers no longer feel a need to reflect through it.  Or it could be viewed as a negative: its readers no longer feel an obligation to reflect through it.  Nevertheless, its readers whether loyal or casual should be reassured their community is vibrant, complex, and sometimes troubled, yes, but equally capable of capturing silver linings and supporting those within it.  Not to mention celebrating things for which it is, and should be, proud.’  This, probably not verbatim, was my obituary on page 5 of the Mail’s final edition.  And the boss did his, plus the six different front pages scanned in.  And it was filled as usual but not again – for now – with news about the southern Gold Coast.  So besides slapping together ‘last minute Christmas shopping stores’ opening hours’ and ‘Cooly cop shop understaffed’ stories for online, I had one last task for the day.  The week before was my one year anniversary with the Tweed Newspaper Company, and on the Friday I in the boss’s office said I would like to speak to him about the ‘G’ word.  Grading (becoming a proper journalist, as if I wasn’t basically but not officially one already, for God’s sake).  He wouldn’t be able to get to it until January, he said, and I asked him if there was anything I could do in the meantime.  He said what I knew he’d say: a dot point proposal as to why I should be graded.  So I spent Thursday afternoon printing out stories for which I’d taken my own photos (multi-skilling is sought after in this world of corporations wanting people to be good at everything, and do everything, for minimal pay), one of the front page Daily stories I was proud of, and tightening up the dot points I’d started a month ago.  I was momentarily a little horrified by how many photos I’d had to take for my own bloody stories, when considering the amount of driving and brain power required to do so.  But then I stapled it together.  Five o’clock rolled around, I went into the boss’s office, handed him the proposal, suggested he’d be able to fill in any gaps in it, wished him a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year which he returned with a hand-shake, and left the building.  Christmas’s penultimate (look it up) day was, for me, a day off, thanks to what you’ll read about in the next blog post.  Merry Christmas, in the meantime. . . .

The Death of a Weekly Newspaper, through a Cadet Journalist’s Fingers. Part 2

I’d forgotten to mention on the news list I would start sending my stories through imminently, as I usually would with the exception of briefs, to be allocated downpagers (small, non-pic stories I’d do when I felt like it) and pic stories I’d not tightened up yet.  So I sent an email to all concerned in production saying ‘Please note I will begin sending stories to the copy desk now’.  I’d put it off long enough.  However much free, weekly, community newspapers may be scorned, driven over, or simply ignored, it was neither enjoyable nor a relief to be contributing to the final edition of the Gold Coast Mail which, under various name changes over more than 20 years, had once stretched as far as the central Gold Coast.  And I could never accept any responsibility for the demise of something I’d worked so hard, and made so many sacrifices,  for.  Until 6pm I agonised over each submission of copy, yet felt each story was dribble along electronic circuits.  Then said goodbye to the boss, colleagues and limped from the office.

What do you get when you cross two tall, long, aluminium picnic tables (extremely dangerous dancing platforms), darkness pierced only by lasers and people rebelling from whatever conditions they grew from in their home country by getting spastically drunk in Byron Bay’s western CBD?  Cheeky Monkeys.  Oh, and madness.  I’ve become immune, after nine years’ legal drinking, to seeing gorgeous women hanging with men I on face value perceive as absolute morons, in these places.  That of course is because I have and will continue to seek women with both brains and bodies.  Unfortunately, that’s rarely convenient nor expedient at a night club.  So we avoided the question of which lucky ladies we’d approach by playing a Buck Hunter video game.  I was kicking arse during the first game, and he blamed his gun.  So I in a moment of weakness swapped, found the gun was indeed dog shit, and lost.  Still got off a few awesome shots though.  The game overed (hell yes I just invented a word) and our eyes became lighthouses, searching for the lucky ships (females) that would wash up on our rocky shores (conversational ability, and, if we were lucky, genitals).

Tuesday – dreaded deadline day – went pretty quickly in hindsight.  I sent through most of my remaining stories, some of which can be found here: http://www.mydailynews.com.au/.  Took a break with the colleagues to enjoy an office Christmas lunch of ham, salmon, avocado, bread rolls and mince pies.  Then sent through every single last piece of the final paper and went out for a cigarette, probably.  Most deadline days I’d eat an entire supreme pizza from the Eagle Boys across Minjungbal Dr.  Was a nice change of pace.  From a professional point-of-view I felt as if I’d been dumped from a sinking ship (the Mail) onto a deserted island and begun waiting for another ship (the Daily News) to come along while lazing among the palm trees.  The boss informed me I’d be taking over the Saturday Daily News entertainment section, along with contributing to mydailynews.com.au, of course – which I had done before.  I boarded, and stowed my belongings in the third class reserved for cadets.  Then got off said figurative ship and went home for a wave and a beer.

A taste of what's coming up. . . .

One was cute, the other was cute and plump, again.  What’s with that?  But this time they were from Switzerland.  I’d never met any Swiss before to my knowledge.  And I may have before, but forgotten, because I assure you being neutral does involve being very boring.  Don’t anyone dare make any quips about fence-sitting journos at that comment, because I assure you we are not neutral, but do our best to strive for it or at least conceal any bias.  I can’t remember much of the conversation we had with these girls, because they were boring – just not self-described.  And again some may be tempted to comment on my lack of general animation, but I assure you it’s because I generally don’t feel like saying much, not that I don’t have anything interesting to say.  Goddamnit.  Anyway, I do remember them being offended by the hunting game we’d just played.  Sigh, neutrals.  It’s just a game!  Also, he commented on how perfect Switzerland seems, because he’d been there.  I, looking for some interesting banter and because I’m a sceptical journo, asked if there was anything wrong with Switzerland.  They basically replied occasional occurrence of rape.  Awkward.

Wednesday was interesting, but don’t trust me; read on.  I’d made brief note of the fact the funeral for a Kenyan boy who’d drowned on a Tweed Shire beach was on that day, on Tuesday afternoon.  An international incident we’d followed closely that, that day, would attract no less than the Kenyan High Commissioner and more than 1000 locals.  Not that it was anyone’s fault; simply a tragic . . . tragedy.  I made a note because it was mentioned to me by a colleague who felt she was too close to the story, being neighbours with the family he’d billeted with.  And the journo who’d followed it most closely thus far was not working Wednesday.  I’d covered the “paddle out” memorial for him, also available on My Daily News Dot Com.  The shit flew quite near the fan after the news meeting within which I mentioned said note, because we’d not booked a photo and one of our two photographers was in Lismore speaking with the Northern Star about details of changed employment due to the restructure the Daily News had recently gone through.  Through the beauty of communication, it worked out though.  There was a little worry because we might’ve missed a cute story/photo opportunity at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary to do with a puggle (baby echidna).  But through the beauty of communication we got there too :D.  Amazing what a group of people united through adversity can do.  I won’t take you through the events of the funeral, as you can read about it here: http://www.mydailynews.com.au/story/2011/12/21/friends-and-family-honour-sam/.  Excellent photography, quality yet inexperienced journalism; a day finished much better than it started.  I even got this awesome story done (http://www.mydailynews.com.au/story/2011/12/22/tate-launches-mayoral-campaign/) in spite of the more than two hours spent at the funeral.  Did I say ‘awesome’?  I meant one-sided.  But if you think there’s anything wrong with that, in the context of the mentioned story, you can, with all due respect, bite me.

I noticed the cute Swiss chick sitting next to me was wearing a short dress complimented by awesome legs.  Sorry, I’m going to have to stop there while indulging in reverie.

The Death of a Weekly Newspaper, through a Cadet Journalist’s Fingers. Part 1

‘So,’ he said, gulping down his second drink as I nursed mine.  ‘Are we staying or are we going?’

There was so much to his simple question: going meant driving back north to Fingal Head, my home, having a couple of quiet beers and perhaps surfing in the early morning, before I had to work my first Sunday alone at a newspaper which had recently gone almost entirely digital.  We’d had ok waves that afternoon so I was pretty keen for more.  Staying meant bad food, many drinks, slurred conversation with weirdos and sleeping in my car.  Then leaving before Byron Bay’s parking cop fascists gave us a ticket, banged on the car and said ‘This isn’t a caravan park!’  It’d happened before.  Of course I decided to stay.

I walked into work on Monday feeling ok.  I’d just spoken to and had a photo taken of a beautiful young woman who’d just returned from bringing awareness of Japan’s annual dolphin slaughter.  The last piece of the puzzle that was the last Gold Coast Mail – a free weekly newspaper which had stood for more than 20 years.  Pity she was from Tweed Heads, but it was somehow appropriate to have her on page three regardless.  The Boss came from his office and asked me: ‘May I see you for a moment Colin?’  I sensed disaster.  He pointed to an email I’d sent him on Sunday afternoon.  It outlined what I had planned for Monday.  It also, lastly, stated I’d done little to prepare for the Mail’s final edition beyond gathering news as usual, and felt I had neither the experience nor ability necessary to do what was required.  More accurately I was not sure what was required.  ‘Did you have any idea what my reaction to this would be?’

The reason he wanted to stay was he was ‘to be honest terrified of the idea of heading back to Fingal tonight’.  Don’t get him wrong, Fingal’s a lovely place.  Albeit sometimes boring, to him.  I’d call it quiet and relaxing.  But Byron’s beach hotel had many beautiful women at most, and many people at least.  It’s what swayed me.  We noticed a cute girl and her equally cute yet plump friend at a table in the non-smoking area.  We did need to work on my timidity with the fairer sex, which I for once had good arguments against.  ‘You just need to play it cool,’ he said.  ‘And let them come to you.’

‘But I’ve also had advice to the effect I should “put the hard word on them”,’ I said.  ‘So which is it?’

He was for once stumped.  But we had bigger problems in the form of a dinner not as expensive as a beach pub would offer.  Plus I needed pants; I was wearing fisherman pants which not only looked ridiculous while wearing the shoes I’d need to enter late-night establishments, but had only one pocket which was to contain my wallet, keys, phone and cigarettes.  So of course I bought a pair of $99 chinos for one night out.  Thank God none of the $200 jeans were in my size, and I was able to get the stains out of the chinos the next day for acceptable use at work.  Which khaki chinos are suitable for, only.

Good waves the afternoon before the photo of this longboarder was taken may have fed the recklessness.

The Boss would take care of the Mail’s farewell.  Which ended up occupying only one page because of an 11th hour added, erm, ad.  In the meantime I had to sort out the final layout which I was meant to put together with The Boss.  But hey, we’re all busy.  The layout lady laid it on my desk and said something like ‘Sad, 24 (pages)’.  I then appreciated the small sadness for each person who’d once been involved in the paper’s creation, from the sources, to the journalist (me), to the layout lady, advertisers, ad sales people, printers, distributors, everyone else and, last but not least, the readers.  I had little time for this appreciation.  I laid out for the last time, typed up a news list, sent it to the boss and went outside for a cigarette.  It was cloudy, windy; morose.

I put my secret Santa gift (a $9.50 camping chair) under the car because I knew I’d not be able to sleep beside it, in addition to my board, and all the other surfing related crap in its back. Naturally, when we inevitably left I forgot the chair was under there.  Fifteen dollars for all you can eat Chinese at the Byron Bowlo seemed a good idea, until we waddled out with stomach cramps.  And ended up back at the top pub, with brown liquor and coke in front of us, cigarettes dangling from our lips and stolen glances at Cute and Cute and Plump who were still miraculously there.  “So we going over there?” he asked.

‘Yep,’ I replied.  And over there we went.

‘We’re boring,’ Cute said.  They were right: accountants from Lismore, the both of them.

‘Feel free to prove us wrong,’ I said, meaning them, and from there it only got more awkward.  They got up for more drinks, which was our cue to leave.  But we didn’t.  So when they sat back down Cute mentioned the boyfriend, and he mentioned his girlfriend.  They left, and we debriefed each other.  I think I performed well; didn’t speak much but that’s just me, plus that was part of his pep talk.  That you don’t need to fill awkward silences, because what feels awkward to you isn’t necessarily awkward to her.  We finished our drinks and headed west down Byron’s main, toward Cheeky Monkeys bar.  Naive backpackers beckoned.

FOTSun 3

I didn’t hear a peep in reply from my comrades who, in my Red Bull testosterone heightened state, I in reference to thought “Bastards!”.  Because I was convinced they were still sleeping.  Of course they weren’t but ignorance is . . . irrational aggression?  Anyway, I made one last attempt at rousing them by sending one a photo of the conditions, which I’d later learn didn’t work, and strapped on the boardies.  While wandering tentatively down the beach, board in hand, I couldn’t help thinking the fact I was completely alone, except for the occasional beach walker, and the waves were powerful rendered my choice a mistake.  I threw myself among the shifting seaweed and disconcerting underwater shadows regardless.  The first two waves which came through as I paddled out were the best, albeit the biggest, yet I dodged them.  Remember, I’d not slept in 24 hours by this point.  The old senses were a little rubbed raw.  For all I knew it wasn’t actually that huge, and a great white hadn’t just brushed my leg.  When I saw a fin my brain said ‘dolphin’ but my gut said ‘shark’ so that was it: I paddled straight for the nearest wave, stood up, rode it as far as I could standing then laid down and paddled my arse off with my legs in the air.  Then emerged casually from the water and walked back up the beach as an elderly couple watched me with interest.

Just when you never thought it was safe to go back in the water, at all, but did anyway.

The camp site was confusing when I returned.  It was empty.  It became more confusing when three surfers returned with pleased looks on their faces, compared to the experience I’d just suffered mostly on my own account.  They’d got good waves, the bastards, and I was incredulous.  Time for breakfast.  And the only problem with that, especially for me because the only thing keeping me going after more than 24 hours without sleep was a constant intake of energy in any form, was two of the ‘bastards’ had brought girlfriends with them.  Which, even at a festival in which things like manners and personal hygiene can go by the wayside a little, meant toe-tapping while waiting for these girls to do whatever it is that takes them 30 to 45 minutes in the bathroom.  If anyone can explain this timeless conundrum please comment below.  She had a curly bob of blonde hair, freckle speckled nose, yellow yet straight teeth and was wearing dark, large sunglasses.  This was indoors, mind you, outside Port Macquarie’s IGA supermarket while I waited with a fresh pack of cigarettes for my compadres and their senoritas to stock up on snacks.  Either she was hungover and the fluorescent lights were too much for fragile pupils, or she was stoned (which would have explained the yellow teeth) and self-conscious about her red eyes.  Her name was Bridie.  I never saw her again.  One of the girls wanted to get her nose pierced and the other with her beau went shopping for $15 chairs.  It was a good outing.  I inherited a fat man hat.  Not gonna bother explaining that one.

Photo: (the one and (thank God) only) Greg Pilling

Wandering through a crowd of drinking gorgeous women and pasty, skinny muso dudes with a board under my arm was my trump card.  Unfortunately there were both skinny musos and well muscled tradies with extroverted yet idiotic personalities there, and I fit into neither category.  So like misfits did 40 years ago, I went surfing.  It was all right; big, a little full but I had the right board for the job – a 6ft, thick cruiser known as a fish.  Kind of like a longboard with none of the length but all of the thickness.   Makes for ease of paddling and speed without effort.  It’s third from the right, above.  Jimmy had regaled us with tales of FOTSun 2010, during which he’d surfed while still listening to the concert just over the dunes.  So we did just that, taking off on enjoyably large peaks and throwing our boards out across the face then turning back into the foam-ball as the wave died off, and repeating the process, as sweet tunes washed over us.  It was really awesome when I walked back through the camp grounds: three guys and zero girls chatted me up about how the surf was.  I felt like throwing my board on the ground, jumping on it and saying ‘That’s how fucking good it was!’  But I just kept walking  instead and got ready to enter the festival site.  The music was good, they had those excellent $11 vegetarian feasts and a member of our group hilariously injured himself but seemed none the worse off for it.  A good night, worthy but not requiring of explanation.

FOTSun 2

So I’m lying there with two inches of foam beneath my arse, not nearly drunk enough on the Thursday night before a day off and weekend of musical madness, trying not to think about women.  The three cans of Red Bull I’d drunk during the six hour drive to Port Macquarie started to play on my mind while their stimulants rushed around my veins.  And I couldn’t help but notice the bastards next door – as in one metre away from my tent – were probably planning less on sleeping that night than playing bad music at extreme volumes till dawn.  Plus I needed a drink.  Plus I wanted to check out the local freaks in the isolated coastal town’s unlikely to still be open pub.  It was open, thank God, and feeding time was at a crescendo.  Two conversations were overheard while occupying that den of depravity: one was about carpentry, and the other was about a joint-car-detailing venture.  Not that I consider there to be anything wrong with either of those pursuits, but they were discussed in such an inarticulate fashion I couldn’t help but sense disaster in their foundations.  I drank my two scotches, checked out an awesome jazz band visiting from Brisbane, smoked a cigarette, then left, bought a pie and got some money out of the ATM.  And returned to the camp grounds.

I reassured myself this thing looked more awesome, and less scary, during the day, on my way to the pub.

Perhaps it was just sleep deprived delirium, but I became convinced at 2.30am there was a group of large animals engaged very loudly in the process of mating and battling for superiority around my tent.  I gave up on sleep again, and emerged from the tent pretending to clutch a knife I could plunge into the closest woodland beast.  I’d lost my lighter, my car needed petrol, my phone needed charging and I was hungry.  So I figured, why not?  A Maccas and servo trip seemed reasonable even at that ungodly hour.  Maccas went well.  I cruised past the manager and his three subjects on an extended break and they watched me like I was about to leap from the car with a blood-filled syringe.  Then I circled back, parked, wandered into the restaurant and they all jumped to attention like my own personal kitchen.  The servo went worse, as in it failed.  I drove around for an hour before realising late night McDonalds was much more of a priority to the town than was petrol.  So at about 3.30am I gave up and devoured my McChicken and large chocolate thickshake under the intermittent sweep of Port Macquarie’s cute-as-a-button little lighthouse.  Well it probably was during the day.  At this point in time it made me feel like I was the opening death of a bad horror movie.  Like my door-window was going to smash open at any moment and I’d be dragged, howling, through the broken glass to be tortured, killed and dumped off the front of Tacking Point.

Thought the sun would never rise on that night, but I was rewarded for my reckless intake of stimulants, anyway.

Energy drinks must have some weird way of boosting the intelligence to offset sleep deprivation, because I had my board in the car.  So with the knowledge dawn was only an hour or two away, and in the absence of any company, the morning was spent exploring Port Macquarie’s beaches.  Many things were learned: 1. There’s a pointish-break near the mouth of the Hastings River which was on this morning a little small and weak; 2. There’s a beach break immediately to the south of this which looks good in the half-light of the morn’, though becomes clearly rocky death the further the sun rises; 3. A quality beachie sits further south of this but was unfortunately just not good enough on this morning to balance out my conviction it was shark infested; 4. After this is a virtually inaccessible beachie which was also rock-strewn; 5. To the south of the lighthouse, after all the serial-killers had gone, there was a staggeringly powerful peak breaking in Victoria’s direction, with almost enough power to make it there.  I was out there.  But there was a problem: it was a very isolated beach and the idea of surfing it alone considering its size, power and the possibility I’d be sharing it with sharks required action.

So these were the frantic text messages I made during my search and before deciding whether to surf south of the lighthouse, to my three sleeping comrades:

“1. C’mon boys.  Waves aren’t gonna ride themselves.  That said not sure how good it is.  Can’t really see it near the estuary yet but I reckon the second beachie might be ok.  First one seems too rocky.

2. Tuppenny Lane.  The second beachie.  Good swell no-one out!  Don’t make me sit out there alone.

3. Scratch that.  It’s even better near the lighthouse.  South side.  I’m out there.”

And when I got back I realised they’d just gone out near the estuary anyway, and it was apparently pretty good, of course.

FOTSun 1

When he appeared clad ’round the head with a fresh bandage I knew it was time for bed.  I was trying to enjoy an anti-social break from the festival while smoking a cigarette, listening to The Doors and charging my phone.  I personally had seen the line to get back in after going to the bathroom during Art vs Science’s set, but decided to accept its impossibility.  Greg, on the other hand, up to his eyeballs in cheap liquor decided to vault the fence from the camp-grounds to the festival site.  His haste and inebriation combined to have him plummet head first into one of the fence’s concrete supports.  So that was it for me.  Which was pretty reasonable, really, even at 11pm on the Friday night of a music festival, because I’d been up for 39 hours.  I’ll explain that.

Not even possible brain damage can stop a party animal.

I was slumped at my desk at 4.30pm the previous day, psyching myself up for the six hour drive I was immediately to begin after leaving work.  As my editor wandered past I, with a pleading look in my eyes, asked the question: “Ron, can I have an early mark?  I’ve got a six hour drive to get started, and would like to get it over with as soon as possible.”

“Sure,” he said.  “Just make sure Mikarla (chief of staff) has everything she needs from you.”

She had.  And after some banter with colleagues about music festivals cancelled due to poor ticket sales, of which the one I was going to wasn’t, I got out of there faster than a politician dodging questions about a budget blow-out.  Then ran into completely stand-still traffic, of course.

At about 100km north of Kempsey I ceased being amazed at the fact my 2000 model red – to go faster –  Hyandai Accent could travel five hours on a half tank, and climaxed my frustration at the seemingly never-ending roadwork the Pacific Hwy south of Tweed Heads is.  It was 9pm, and a lollipop man, probably earning more in an hour than just under what I make in a day, had us parked.  Whatever, I had been told it was a six hour drive and I finally pulled up outside Festival of the Sun at about 10.30pm after leaving at 5pm.  Not bad, considering the roadworks, one bathroom break in Coffs Harbour and a second by the side of a creepy truck stop in the middle of Nowheresville, population rapists and murderers.

The FOTSun family during a saner and less intoxicated moment.

The bloke out the front asked if I was going to FOTSun.  I said yes.  He told me to follow the fence and have my ticket and ID ready.  I was never asked for either.  I quite liked the idea of lax security at a festival as I’d never experienced it before.  Received a snide remark disguised as a compliment on the way in.  A smart-arse thought my floral-print foam mattress was “pretty”.  Screw the bastard and the hottie he rode in on.  I eventually found the crew while wandering through what looked like a circus with an unrestricted bar tab.  Even for the animals.  They turned in pretty quickly, because three of them were fellow surfers and two of them had their girls with them.  A more excellent reason for going to bed I can’t think of, though I’m not exactly spoiled in that regard.  Luckily I’d drank two Highland scotch and cokes during the drive in and another during the brief moments before bed, so I was optimistic about sleeping.  Though I was a little worried at the heightened noise and energy levels surrounding us, which exhibited no signs of abatement.