Putting the Last 5 Years to Rest – On the Run Across Planet Earth


This is a work of creative writing. While most things are based in reality as I perceived it at the time, certain things have been greatly exaggerated one way or the other for the sake of telling the story. As they say,

“Never Let the Truth (whatever that may be) Get In The Way of a Good Yarn”


Im sitting writing in a luxury hotel room, having just had my first shower in 2 weeks, and looking forward to my first proper sleep in the same.

How did I end up here? This is going to be messy, I haven’t really written in years, and want to play catch up. I feel like I need to play catch up to be able to write a blog again. This is more for me than anyone else. And a warning: there are many ways to look at things, and I usually prefer to look at things in a positive light, but:

This is a forced examination of the negative aspects of the last 5 years,

So be warned: it is essentially an admission of my shortcomings, to myself, so please do not judge me too harshly. I need to do this to move on and write positively again without feeling like Im being falsely rosy!

Things were not working out for me in Australia. I had left Perth at the end of 2012, about 5 years ago, I wasn’t happy there. I was frustrated with every job I had, even though some were dream jobs by anyone’s standard. I kept moving from house to house, hoping that my unhappiness wouldn’t follow me. It did. I built a campervan, and experimented with living in it while working full time, thinking to have more time to spend on self improvement and music whilst still working. I still wasnt happy. Looking for something, me and my partner at the time, a real catch, took off around Australia. I left a good job at a university, and fucked off into the unknown, searching for happiness.

We traveled a bit for about 4 months, across the south of Australia, as far north as Sydney, around Tasmania, and along the great ocean road. It really was a great trip, but something wasn’t right – things weren’t perfect.

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A great trip really, but I was struggling with imperfection

I flew back to Western Australia to do some work as we were going broke, and while I was over there we mutually broke up, over the phone, abruptly ending a 3 year relationship. I went on some adventures overseas, climbed a mountain, mastered my fear of heights rockclimbing, did some scuba diving, chased women a bit. Lots of ways to look for a buzz.

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Heading down from Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain on the tropical island of Borneo.

Facing my fear of heights and Rock Climbing in Thailand

Traveling done, and not having a duo van trip mission to go back to, 2013 found me quite spontaneously enrolled in an Electronic Music course in Byron Bay. I was in Byron for a year, entertaining a dream of being a full time musician, but being very cruisy about it. I lived in a backpackers for 4 months, partying, experimenting with yoga and meditation and the good life. I ‘got out of the rat race’.

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Living long term in a tent – My home for a few months at the ‘Arts Factory’ backpackers hostel in Byron Bay

I only had one or two very short archaeology jobs, one of which was a paid trip to America where after the work was over I had an intense love affair, followed by a mad Hunter S. Thompson-like adventure, tearing up Vegas, Portland, and New York City, leaving me seriously worried about being a bit too buckwild and in love with a woman on the other side of the world.

Back in Byron, with the low wages paid to bands that dont really work hard enough, and unwilling to find part time work or brave the fear of instrumental teaching, I eventually went completely broke, and became angry and resentful at society. There were good things about that time: I had made SOME progress on my social anxiety, had times where I was really in my element, and made modest progress on playing in bands, I sure played a lot of gigs. I had made some very close friends, and found some joy in life, and alot more free time. I wasnt chained to a job, but I wasnt really using my free time to any good effect either. Something wasnt working.

Photos of Musical Adventures in Byron Bay, and I dont even have photos from most of the gigs, as I was playing! I hope you can see the contrast between my photos and what Im writing now. Isn’t it funny, when we SHOULD be satisfied and happy, that sometimes we aren’t! This to me, a person who has all their basic survival needs met, is the essence of human suffering.

I wasnt happy again, something in me drove me to be successful, to work REALLY HARD at something. I felt like I was not reaching my potential. I felt craving for more. Every day, craving for more, but too resentful and angry, afraid to pull my finger out and make it work. Why the fuck couldnt I make it work! Why was happiness and balance so difficult? A lot of things pissed me off. I was angry! Angry that I wasnt making enough money to live properly. I ended up sleeping in my van again, going from rehearsal to rehearsal, gig to gig, not eating properly. I got sick and kind of lost the plot when I spent 3 days in my van with a fever in a national park.

A job came up in the Kimberley, and the grass seemed greener. I could make some money, get a routine, get healthy, and set myself up better to live cheaply outside of society and the boredom of full time wage slavery. I could try to find satisfaction in temporary hard work to buy some freedom later. So after much agonising about the decision, with a very cranky month, I minimised my possessions, and left Byron, to very little fanfare. I had made some friends, alot of acquaintances, and had had quite a few short romances, but I didn’t really have a big send off or anything. I wasn’t very nice to be around I guess.

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Sun Sets on my time in Byron Bay, but Ill keep coming back.

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An Epic Journey

I had an OK trip across the country, and did some legs with other people as passengers. But the best time was probably the long stretch between Cairns and Darwin that I did solo, simply because I didnt make anyone else unhappy to be around. On the way for this solo leg I made sure I interacted with people along the way, so as not to drop into a depressive loneliness, and recorded some notes a I drove: Here are some funny observations from around the Gulf of Carpentaria.

For those who watched the video, heres the old cowboys I was talking about:

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The old cowboys at Normanton

Often what I would do would be to walk into a bar with my map book in my hand, sit at the bar, and order the smallest glass of beer they served. Someone would ALWAYS see that map book and say “where you headed?” or something similar. Gotta love the Australian outback! This would be my opening: I would drag a story out of them, or at least, try to get a conversation going that went beyond the superficial. And I did it at least once a day. When I pulled into Daly Waters pub, these three fellas wouldnt have a bar of it: they demanded to hear my story, and they just couldnt believe the adventure I was on, they reckoned that I was living the dream.

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These boys demanded my story, and couldn’t believe it! Why cant we see when we are lucky as fuck?

But its like that isnt it? When things look perfect from an outsiders point of view, you often arent getting the full picture. While I was having an interesting time, I was also suffering. Why the suffering? Why when we are doing awesome shit cant we just love it to death? Well, I guess my problem was perfectionism. It just didnt seem like a carefree trip that you imagine a backpacking trip to be, so I decided that it wasnt perfect. The leg from Darwin to Broome I was joined by a good mate Dave Sands, and we had a good adventure, but I know that I just wasn’t as carefree as I should be, I was simultaneously angry inside, and nervous about the future. I know I wasnt the best company, why couldnt it just be CAREFREE FUN?

I mean, it was an epic trip, but I felt as though something was wrong inside me. There were things I didnt like, and I wanted perfection: I thought “maybe if I change THIS about myself things will be how I want them to be”

In Broome I had a few days of freaking out, then I got into determined mode and I hit the town hard. I can be super functional when i need to get shit done, and I find quick progress VERY satisfying. Within 2 weeks I had made a lot of friends, found cool accommodation in an old Bedford camper in the driveway of a famous artist, was seeing a popular musician girl in town, and had played quite a few big gigs myself! People were surprised to find out that I had only been in town such a short time, I was relying on my wits, and I really ‘conquered’ that town. I even made the local society pages in the paper!

Then progress slowed down, things plateaued, and I lost my buzz. This was the start of 2014. I spent the next two years mostly in Broome, working a job that alternated between awesome field trips, and long stints pushing against a bureaucratic nightmare in the office. I was saving money to buy and build a housetruck/mobile music room/stage. I was very heavily invested in this idea, saving super hard, drawing up plans, doing welding courses, doing heaps of research, and in general being very distracted from the present in favour of this idealised goal. I was craving this vision of the future where I could live ‘free of the bullshit’ of fulltime work for imperfect organisations. I guess I wanted to be free of anything that pissed me off. Free of anything that I didn’t like. Free of aversion.

I was terrible at dealing with imperfection, so many things pissed me off and I was almost addicted to the feeling! It would send me off on a rage and Id often go get buckwild and party to escape the anger and aversion.

But to illustrate the point, heres how good things actually were, no matter how much I was caught in a ‘Grass is Greener’ mentality!

In the summers I would come back to Byron Bay and the east coast of Australia to see my friends there, to play gigs, do tours, and to escape the brutal tropical ‘wet season’ in Broome. It was great, the first few times, coming back to my friends in the east and having a rockstar summer but knowing I could go back to the security of earning money. Thats not to say I felt refreshed when I got back to the west. One year, after a summer of playing big festival shows and having a fun rockstar party carefree time, I came back to the brutal heat of Broome, and fulltime work in the office, I got my heckles up, angry at the imperfections of working life, and went a bit troppo (northern Australia speak for going a bit crazy in the tropical heat). I was so sad and mad I remember one night drinking myself stupid until I had to sleep outside to avoid that spinning sensation when I would lie down to sleep. And one night after a gig, I drove the short distance home and god busted by the cops pulling into my driveway.

That was the 22nd of February, 2015. I lost my license for 2 and a half years, and suddenly, my dream of this idealised house trucking gypsy musician future was pulled out from under me.

My idealised escape plan was gone, everything I had been using to help me ignore the present. It was the biggest blow I can remember ever feeling. I felt completely at a loss, everything I had been working towards was gone. I was so low, that in a way it became a positive. Well, the only way I saw out of my hole was to be determined to try to turn the experience into something positive. I gave up drinking for a year, and again sought happiness. I managed to keep my job, saw a counselor, mounted the best defense I could in court. I decided no-one was going to stop me, and bought a truck anyway. I had a few friends with truck licenses, and my partner at the time even got her truck license to help with my dreams.

How amazing is that, and how grateful should I have been.

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Suzy Sugartits – bringing her from Darwin to Broome after purchase

I did another TAFE course, riding my bike to the welding workshop at nights. I got so much help from people in this period, mostly my partner at the time. People were so willing to help. But I was still stuck in this duality of wanting to achieve professional success, and also devote enough time to music to become ‘successful’ at that. Basically, I craved to spend my time meaningfully, but to also earn good money.

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Learning to Weld in the Wet Season- nothing like welding in 40 degree heat!

But perhaps the ‘meaninglessness’ I felt at my life during these times was due to being focused on future goals. Was I always working towards escape, and consequently felt what I was doing was meaningless?

I quit the job, with nothing else to go to. Reasons for leaving are often not clear, we just pick one of the many interweaved reasons that actually led to the decision. Eventually my whole department resigned due to various frustrations, so I wasnt the only one, just the first! I then entered a happy period, going to the beach every morning, working on whatever projects I wanted to in the afternoons. I made a conscious decision to do whatever I wanted to each day, and found myself getting back into some of the things that defined me when I was younger, nerdy things. I started teaching myself how to solder and build electronics again for example. And I started working on the truck, planning a summer tour with my partner. I was doing whatever I wanted to do, and seeking happiness in that. I figured that if I just got better at the things I loved doing, then eventually I would be able to survive financially off doing them!

I achieved heaps in this period: In fact a Facebook post at the time sounds very positive, and I was REALLY feeling this way, it wasn’t a public outcry to convince myself like so many social media posts can be:


“Current Plan: to spend my time doing the things I want to do, work hard at them, learn, and see where i end up. I figure that by doing what I want to do, i will learn how to be awesome at those things, and not awesome at bat shit boring beaurocratic work for somebody else!

In 12 weeks since leaving my job I have played 30 paid gigs in 6 different bands, started playing my own tunes live, bought a truck and road tripped it interstate, learned fibreglassing, autoelectrics, stereo installation, solar power, learned how to convert a diesel truck to run on waste veggie oil, assembled a centrifuge, learned how to program microcontrollers and build things with them, learned how to angle grind and use a circular saw, learned about pumps, and nailed the process of recycling pallets into great looking furniture. Oh yeah and made a kayak trailer to tow behind my pushbike. And quit drinking alcohol.

Im making enough to subsist and my outgoings are really just materials for projects. I guess ill just have to get more and more into recycling and i can keep learning forever!

Im tired, but im tired from doing things important to me. Winning.”


Heres some photos of some of the self motivated learning I was doing at that period:

Things were better I think (as in Im pretty sure I was happy in those times). I had a lovely birthday, the best in years. My partner organised a house concert for me, and I hosted quite a few people without the usual intense social anxiety and consequent overuse of alcohol. It was a lovely evening, and gave me a lot of hope.

Then we went on tour. Again shit fell apart, I was so easily annoyed. I wanted so much to be FREE to do all these things in my head. In short, I was fighting against reality, and craving some fictional alternative that existed only in my head. But once again, there really was so much good stuff.

What exactly did I want to be free to do? I was pretty damn free already!

Towards the end of the trip I finished my year of no drinking. I really did it, just like that, and was proud of myself. Id played heaps of big gigs, been very social, gone to bars and clubs with no problem, gone on tours with bands for god sake, and if thats not a challenge, nothing is! I started just having one or two drinks, and felt strongly affected, I had no tolerance, so I made sure to take it easy. I was staying with my brother in Margaret River, and was going trough a super frustrating period. I had been on a rockstar tour circuit again, flying around the country, and had gone back to meet up with my partner again and we had got cranky at each other. Or me at her. Again, I was fighting against the present I think.

I got psycho Gastro and spent weeks recovering at Aidan’s (my brother’s) house, again I was shit company, and felt like a fucking loser, I hadnt seen him in years and this was all I could muster. Anyway, we had a few gigs and on top of my poor health I got frustrated that I was just accompanying my partner, and not doing my own stuff. So much so that I became a fucking asshole to play with. I wanted to do high level stuff, but didnt have the courage to actually do it, so I blamed the musicians that I DID play with!!!!!


IT SEEMED THAT EVERYTHING I DID, I FOUND SOME PROBLEM WITH.

NOTHING WAS PERFECT.

PERHAPS I WAS addicted TO AVERSION.


Luckily enough, I picked up 10 weeks work at my old job in Broome, to finish off the reporting for the project I had been working on previously, and was grateful for the opportunity to earn some money – that had been another stress, I was living on credit by this point. We headed north, on the long stretch from Margaret River to Broome. I remember avoiding meeting all the people I knew along the way. I stopped very briefly in Perth, and I didn’t even tell people from my home town I was passing through. I didn’t want to catch up with anyone, because I was feeling shit about myself and unhappy, and didn’t want people to know that that was where I was at. I regretted seeing my brother when I was in such a bad place.

I was far from the positive inspirational ‘outside the system and loving it’ facebook posts I had been putting up, that was the reality.

We had a hard drive up, lots of fighting. We stopped in Coral Bay and Exmouth and played a few more gigs. I was demoralized at the gigs, even though they were good, for the same reasons of feeling pathetic for just accompanying my girlfriend. I spent a fair bit of time away from her, went diving and swam with whale sharks, its a great part of the world. I got pretty drunk a few times: frustration always seems like such a good excuse for that, and who knows…


Maybe we Manufacture our Frustrations just to give ourselves excuses for loose behaviour!


I started sleeping outside the truck on the rest of the trip up. Getting back up to Broome I decided to move to the Caravan park for 2 weeks in a test separation. Things seemed great: I had a simple life, minimal possessions, a great spot on the ocean, time to do ‘my shit’ which was really just dabble in a bit of music practise and read books and have space to myself. I was living pretty healthy, and going to work, playing a few gigs, exercising etc. I have fond memories of this time, I was living this alternative fantasy I had dreamed of: but it lasted all of 2 weeks before shit got fucked up again.

Then me and Tan finally decided to split. It was fucking sad. So fucking sad. I had felt this temporary reactionary happiness for two weeks and was rolling with that. So I went and got all my stuff from our house, and cried in my friends car on the way back.

Then next thing you know I had to move my truck to a really shit site in the caravan park to save money: the tourist season had started and the oceanside sites had gone up to $300 a week. In addition to this, I needed a bigger site where I could store all the shit I had picked up from my old place. Piles of stuff, mostly half finished projects, that stared at me every day trapping me and reminding me of all these futile efforts and plans that never worked out.

I was unhappy, and out of control. I cant believe the pain and withdrawl at the end of a long relationship. Once I had a gig on a big barge in the north Kimberley, and passed out mid gig on the edge of the barge, with a huge saltwater crocodiles literally circling underneath me.

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Playing the barge gig in crocodile country. Gotta thank these boys for putting up with me in that tough time.

I started to think it might be best to get out of Broome and give my ex some space and try to find my happiness. God, by this point I started to think I might be on the run,

that I might have been on the run for the last 5 years at least, maybe longer.

My relationship had ended, which meant I lost the place I was living, most of my routine. Then the funding ran out for my job. I was offered a similar position with another organisation, a bloody good job really, but I felt like I couldnt take it, I had to find my happiness again. And Id lost my drivers license too of course, which meant that my options for finding other work in my field were severely limited. I was bloody ashamed of that to be honest. Basically I was scared of losing the will to live if I got any unhappier.

I stayed in the caravan park in Broome while I finished out my contract, and attempted to get rid of all my accumulated stuff from 2 years in Broome. I was living in this ‘tipshop’ camp, with my truck in pieces, my van full of boxes and building materials, and a big pile of assorted possessions under (and not under) a tarpaulin. I was mostly sleeping outside in my swag. While I was kicking ass in a way, playing lots of gigs, some really satisfying ones, and doing a good job of finishing off a high level work contract. I was earning good money, trying to save, but I was surrounded by the pieces of my broken life and faced with a seemingly insurmountable task of minimisation.

HOW DO THINGS GET TO THIS POINT AGAIN EVERY FEW YEARS?

Despite this desperation, of course if I could just look on from outside myself and see the awesomeness. For example, this is one of the super fun gigs I was having:

The  full recording of that epic set is also up on Youtube. I love it!

But the ability to see our blessings is not one that comes naturally for some reason. I felt broken with the end of my relationship and the loss of my best friend, unsure of my decision, and lost as to what to do with my life. I was very unhappy with reality as it was. A friend from the east coast had suggested a plan: he would come over and drive my truck for me, to a festival in central Australia. As I had converted the truck to run on waste vegetable oil, we would have a relatively cheap adventure, crossing some country unknown to him.

I finished work, then had literally 6 days to sell all my shit and go to the tip and get the truck ready. My friend helped a lot especially replacing the king pin bearings in the hub of the truck. It was a rushed departure, very messy, and I sold for too cheap/gave away/threw away alot of things I could have made some money off (which would really come in handy now!). One of the positive things was provisioning the trip: I had a plan to do heaps of fishing, and fill my grandfathers’ ancient vehicle freezer with fish to sustain us across the desert. I had quite a bit of luck, and then my friend pulled in a couple of big ones too when he arrived.

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Provisioning the Desert Trip: we fit 3 of these Mackerel and a bunch of other fish in a small freezer in the truck, and ate fish right across the desert.

Anyway, we left, and crossed Australia! It was a successful trip, but imperfect, like all things. My friend did not have a good time, and blamed me for a lot of things. I kept trying to tell myself it was a successful trip, but it really hurt me and made me deeply wonder at the state of my self, that my friend had not had a good time, and ended up hating me by the time we crossed the country. To be fair, a lot of this was out of my control, but I cant help thinking that maybe there was something corrupt in me, that I couldn’t help him with his problems, that I couldn’t see how to make him happy on the trip.

But we did cross some epic country, and ran on free fuel most of the way in an epic experiment, attended a crazy festival.

The festival was another one of those big plans that dont really work out how you think: We had been talking about it for years, but it didnt turn out to be the roving convoy of vehicles through the desert bringing joy to remote communities and living off grid. Instead, it was a fun time, camped at a sculpture park in remote south Australia, having loose jams and getting fucked up and listening to hippies banging on and on outside my truck. I mean, it was great fun, but

IT WAS NOT ANYTHING LIKE WE HAD PLANNED IT TO BE – PERHAPS DREAMING OF THESE BIG PLANS IS USELESS AND JUST AN ESCAPE FROM THE PRESENT.

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Our Camp at the festival. My truck is the one at the lower right with all the people and stuff outside it haha!

We finally got over to Byron in time for my birthday, and I started the season with a bit of a party. I got fucked up and arrogant and ended up playing keyboards with my face in a wildly annoying experimental jam – I guess I was getting cheeky because I thought I was quite good, and seeing if they could keep up with me. It was mortifyingly embarrassing for the next few weeks, once I realised that my behaviour was just a pathetic reaction to my not having enough courage to really go for it with music and play my own stuff live, take the lead of a band or something. So I ran from there, to the Caravan Park in Byron and tried to get a healthy routine going.

This is definitely a component of my behaviour: that I overcompensate for weaknesses. I can be super shy, but try hard to be confident, and you cant fake confidence- instead it manifests as arrogance!

The main thing I had been looking forward to for the season in Byron was to finally get my own music project together – not totally mine, but at least composing some of the songs and doing some of my own shit. Id put a lot of work and thought into it, and had become quite attached to the idea.

GUESS WHAT, THAT DIDNT WORK OUT EITHER!

I wont describe why, but I will say that I suffered badly from that not working out. I didnt know what I was doing anymore. I had become attached to the idea and felt fucked up when it didnt work out. I was stuck in this truck that I couldnt drive (the manifestation of another plan that didnt work out), living in a caravan park with mostly other lost people on the outskirts of town. I was playing all these gigs not really feeling it. Feeling like a nerd playing cheesy keyboard parts, getting paid poorly, and being too unconfident and usually feeling embarrassed after gigs so I couldnt even talk to people in the crowd, girls included. My mojo was fucked. I was sick of it. I felt like a fool.

I REALLY REMEMBER FEELING LIKE A FOOL, A SUCKER.

Lugging all this expensive music equipment around to play other peoples’ music, and putting no work towards what I wanted, or my own projects, because I didnt know what they were anymore. (I should say here, that in reflection, I am incredibly grateful for all the people that gave me gigs, and believed in me enough to invite me play with them in their bands. God, 5 years ago I would have given my left testicle to play some of those sick gigs! I was just caught up in perfectionism and addicted to aversion).

I had a few good periods though, like one period of 10 days when I went to the gym and yoga and practised simple piano every day, and read book and ate well. It was lovely, and I felt like I was cutting out shit that didnt matter and being kind to myself and the things that are important to me. I was also not partying and really taking care of myself, but it made me a bit of a recluse. Byron is a party town really, and Im cooped up keeping to myself in the back of a truck. Weird. So I tried the other extreme and had some wild binges dressing up like a pimp and partying to all extremes of rockstardom. That just left me feeling terrible for about a week afterwards.

A friend in Perth killed himself while I was in Byron. That freaked me out because I was so unhappy myself and got freaked that if I got any unhappier I could end up dead. So I decided to go to India and hang out with my friend and play a season of gigs there. I thought I could throw myself into hard work in music with a few bands, hard work in something that I cared about. Something that I thought if I could take it to the next level I could be happy and move out of my shame, shyness, and isolation, and feeling of stagnance and failure.

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Flying in to Goa

Well that didnt work out the way I thought either!

My friend is a legend and it seemed like a good plan, but due to a lot of factors (primarily the Indian governments overnight decision to withdraw 60% of the national currency and a consequent fucking up of the economy) gigs just werent happening in Goa. The only times I got on stage was with great musos, who mostly had unfortunate Cocaine habits, which was just fucking loose and not the direction I saw myself heading – towards being a washed up husk of a middle aged musician.

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Loose musicians rig in Goa

Plans like getting up and exercising every morning never happened – My housemate was having a rough time of his health and would sleep in till midday. Practising never happened – our musicial styles had diverged. And I was not making any money to live off. What the fuck. All the nightlife centered around DJ gigs, Psytrance drug scene bullshit that I am just over.

Once again I was disappointed – I had run away from something that wasnt working, to this IDEA of an alternative, that didnt turn out the way I had thought. It seemed that this was becoming the story of my life.

I was confused about this main idea: wasn’t it logical to try to structure your life to get what you needed, wasnt it logical to try something new if things weren’t working out in your current situation? I was trying to figure out how to get what I need, how to deal with my issues and grow into the person I wanted to be, how to be happy. But also conscious that my strategies were not working out and hadnt been working out for YEARS.

Around this time a friend contacted me, sending a late night message from a commune in the jungle in Mexico. He invited me to come and be part of the music department. It seemed as though I might be able to make some progress, that this place might provide a base for me to make some progress on my happiness, give me time to develop a solo act, and to be able to live for free while I had no money. Basically I built up another picture of an alternative that would be better. Just one more! But luckily, there was some time to kill though before going to Mexico…

So I went traveling in India. I had rough plans, but one morning waiting for my mate to wake up, I just packed up all my shit – I wasnt coming back.

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Off to go Sightseeing

Traveling was great. I love thinking on my feet, not getting bogged down, seeing new sights, living in the moment. And Im GOOD at it, Im good at hustling, and thinking on my feet, at difficult and dangerous situations. Im great at that shit! And aside from the hustling in the cities and towns, we also got out to the desert where dangerous was replaced with heartwarming, different and interesting 🙂

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In a Rajasthani Village, Grandad and his mob

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Exploring the north by Camel, with Kodi

I had a great time, hanging out with a friend from Australia who is like a little sister that I love very much. When she left I was kind of over the stress of India traveling – its exhausting. I had 12 days to kill before I reasonably priced flight came available. And guess what – I found a 10 day meditation retreat where you got free accommodation and food!

This was Vipassana.

And it was bloody awesome. Here is how I described it to a friend soon after the experience.


Vipsy was cool. Heres my rundown: Its all about being what they call ‘Equanimous’, so not judging things as good or bad, as not craving things or wishing bad things would stop, basically to be less affected by the material and sensory world.

Their terminology is ‘Craving’ and ‘Aversion’. Basically it is a technique to help you to be less affected by our natural (and exaggerated by society) cravings and aversions to things. This was what Buddha was all about, and the Buddhist teachings of compassion and peace actually stem from these core things. The idea is that when you have less craving and aversion, or are less reactive to it, you are naturally more compassionate and peaceful.

The trick that they reckon that Buddha figured out was this: Imaging that you crave something real bad, you can probably intellectually rationalise that ‘well, why bother craving it, because once I have it Ill probably only get a buzz for a little bit and then Ill crave a better one anyway’. This is a thing I have rationally thought for awhile. But it doesnt mean that the craving stops does it! How do you actually become less reactive to the craving? Also, I have been really easily pissed off lately, what boils down to ‘aversion’ to a lot of things, from big things like corruption in politics down to frequent itchy tickles on my skin.

Now the idea is that you cant change these pattern rationally or intellectually, youve got to work at the root. And the trick they have is just a specific way of scanning your body in waves, noticing all the sensations, good and bad, and refusing to react to either. Like learning to not take too much pleasure in nice sensations (with the knowledge that they will just pass anyway so why get attached) and to not be too pissed off with bad sensations (again, keeping in mind that they will just pass anyway so why make them worse by worrying about them and developing aversion). The bad sensations usually took the form of pain from sitting in the same position for 10 hours a day, and I definitely managed to get a handle on not being affected by the pain too much.

Personally I really like the rationale behind it as Ive just explained, but I still find the technique difficult. i am working on it still and imagine it is a long process. What I like about the rationale, is that I have suffered a lot over the last 5 years in particular with being very reactive to things I didnt like, and suffering big time from grass is greener syndrome. Ive felt like nothings ever good enough, and that Ive been on the run big time. Also too easily swayed by pleasure and temptations of the flesh. And I reckon that this is something that can help me with that. Certainly, I am in a good place right now.

Oh yeah, at the end of each meditation they suggest you practice an intentional thing where you focus on wishing for peace for all beings, ‘May all beings share my peace” kind of thing. Its good.


How perfectly does all that apply to what Ive been writing about?

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Walking through the mist to the Dhamma Hall, where we would sit in silence for 10 hours a day

Well I wrote all this story while I was still in India, just a few days after Vipassana. Now Im 3 months down the road still trying to finish the story.

edit: make that 6 months, now doing final edits back in Broome! Will finish this TODAY

So many more stories have happened – I lived in a cult in the Mexican jungle, I spent a month in a totalitarian Caribbean state learning piano from a guy who couldnt speak English, and I spent a week by myself on a small island learning how to rescue scuba divers from an insane American with the best jokes in the world and a tendency to get blacked out on cheap (but pretty good!) beer. Oh yeah, and I spent a week living in a tent on the beach meditating 🙂

And theres new stories to come: While I was a guest at the Mexican Jungle Cult an advertisement for a cool PhD scholarship floated its way to me over the internet sea, and I managed to put together an application for it. Its based back in Perth, the town I left 5 years ago, with fieldwork in the Kimberley. How the hell am I going to get through that with a ‘grass is greener’ mentality? On low pay living in a city I hate, and then tents and shit for almost half the year? Well, that mentality: its just gotta go! Its just not real. Now at least I know, that when I dream of doing something different, it will just be doing something different, not the answer to anything! The answer can be found in whatever you are doing right now, changing to another thing doesnt change whats inside. All Id like to do is give thanks for the chance do do all these weird and diverse things, experience many lives, where really, one is enough.

Today I was really anxious. Id had an intense week of scuba diving, riding round in trucks, drinking and being a rockstar in karaoke bars and I was fucking anxious and worn out. And Just sitting there doing the meditation on the beach in my black jeans I kinda realised, at the same time two things:

1) That you just CANT be in the moment if you are constantly worrying or lusting after the future or the past, or living in craving and aversion.
2) And that, if the things you look forward to never turn out like how you think (after all, you cant tell the future), and if dwelling on the past is equally invalid, then being in the moment is the only place that makes sense. So the only thing that makes sense is to throw craving, aversion, lusting and hating, greed and dissatisfaction, worry and excitement, past and future, out the fucking window! Or at least to realise that they do not need to be powerful over you. You dont need to react to them.

Im done with dwelling on the past. I hope Ive exorcised some demons here, and Im ready to be up to date, in the moment, aware of the folly in being easily swayed by discomfort or even pleasure.

Heck, Im just looking from outside myself these days watching a comical but beautiful fool worry his head on a tropical beach. And that fool is Stafford, on his own human journey, that aint nothing special.

Thanks for reading!

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Its Time!

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An Idealist Dilemma

A friend asked me tonight why do so many rich people do nothing inspiring with their money? Like they worked for something, but then forgot what that something was?

I think it is that because in most cases they were working for freedom, and to get there via money is incredibly expensive.

When you are young, maybe you think $5000 can buy you a round the world trip, and then you will be free! But whats next? $10,000 dollars to invest in something that will make you enough to live off? Unlikely: the investing game is weighted towards the big players. If not that, then at least $500,000 for a house. But the process of acquiring that much gets you so used to slavery, gets you to hate it at the same time, that by the time you have the $500k you are in an extreme state of paranoia that you must keep on earning, after all, your recipe for the last 40 years has been to earn and save to get your freedom in the future. So you keep your strategy up.

Unfortunately I reckon many people never get to that future.

I am in the process of saving money for a house truck. it will not buy me freedom. it will push me to the outskirts of society, as there is nothing like living in a vehicle to open your eyes to the status quo that the earth we walk is not ours to walk: someone owns every patch. And police and fines will come my way, despite not harming anyone except perhaps vested financial interests of those who have much more than most. Everything is owned, and you cannot simply exist unless you pay somebody with your labour or rent and usually both, or will be turned upon by your fellow slaves, all to influenced by what they themselves have been foolish enough to believe, with no option but to capitulate or live in the desert constantly on the run. All land is owned, and even to own some is not enough: you must pay rates and all kinds of tribute and MUST KEEP WORKING TO PAY FOR THIS.

The only true freedom, is to not give a fuck and live under the radar, factoring in a certain amount of prison time and fines paid. Or perhaps to find it within.

I feel that it is possible that the more money you have, the more possessions, the less free you are. There appears to be no other way except the base comfort and poor substitute for freedom gained from feeling power over others through oppressing them. This IS an option. Perhaps the motives for small tyrants are contained within these words.

But generosity is at the same time liberating and helpful.
Minimalism is not respected but may make a man free.
Love, indeed, may be the answer.

Or perhaps it is struggle and suffering that is our fate, our due, and our liberation all in one.

After all, there is beauty in the strangest things.

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Byron to Cairns with a Random French – And The Return of Underwater Fear

At the risk of sounding like a total cheeseball I’ve been wondering lately about the meaning of life. That may be because I’ve been driving solo for hundreds of kilometers in scorching heat with no aircon, and my eyeballs are starting to melt.

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I ended my last post on such a positive note. I felt like Id finally found my calling, stability, and place in this world, to be a musician in a beautiful place, the land of milk and honey.

But there is something inside me that drives me onwards, and I don’t know what it is, or where it comes from. And I’m on the road again.

I don’t want to dwell on the reasons. In a way I felt like things went pear-shaped. I was going broke. Gigs weren’t paying enough. I was shuffling from place to place. Tourist season was on and Byron was full of dickheads. Or maybe I had just finished a chapter. I wound up my last few gigs, got the van ready (finally fixed that rust, fuck), ended on a high note having heaps of fun and busking my ass off, and said goodbye to some people I’ll miss like crazy. I might be back, I might not. Who can tell the future? Suffice it to say, that something inside me grabbed a hold of me and told me it was time. Do you have that inside you too?

From here on you will note that, just as the sombre and lost tone of my writing changes to excited and positive, as did my general attitude.

IMG_0032I put an ad up on a rideshare website, and took a totally random chance, I didn’t have time to meet the girl, but picked her up from the Arts Factory, where I had started my time in Byron almost a year ago. I literally had no idea what she would be like, I hadn’t even spoken to her Id been so busy wrapping everything up in Byron. Her name was Kristell, and as it turned out, was a beautiful young French woman who could drive a van at top speed and roll me the occasional perfect cigarette when passenger!

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We rolled outta town. First up to Brisbane to farewell my uncle with dinner at their house. God knows what my little cousin thinks of me, I had only been at their house 2 weeks ago for dinner with a beautiful American girl! I think they assumed more than the truth on this occasion though 🙂 After a delicious dinner we went out with my mate Pat, and crashed at his house. He refreshed my haircut in the morning with his clippers, and later that day, after much delay, we were off, to the North!

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Now Kristell was a good travel companion for another reason, she was a broke ass backpacker who had no money, so she stopped me from spending too much by hanging around aimlessly. We smashed it up the coast, generally stopping for an afternoon swim and a couple of ciders before doing another drive into the night. Then we would find some place to park up and sleep for free!

Swim in these bizarra mangrove tidal waters. Pretty fun, but possibly getting into Croc territory?

Swim in these bizarra mangrove tidal waters. Pretty fun, but possibly getting into Croc territory?

Unfortunately, Rainbow Beach had no rainbows. And Airlie beach was raining cats and dogs! We bought a bottle of Mount Gay Barbados Rum, and drank it with some other travellers. The next day, despite the rain, I wanted to do something, so dragged Kristell on a hike through these muddy tracks up to the top of a mountain, to drink champagne at the top. So warm in those parts, felt very adventurous with all the croc signs too. Was super fun and I am sure that Kristell’s face was put on… She wanted to see a ‘crocodeeeeel’ but we had no luck, despite leading her very close to the water and trying to lure one in. No one would miss just another French tourist anyway, there’s thousands of them.

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So we headed up the coast, had a debacle in Townsville, decided to push on in the bucketing rain, and almost made it to Cairns that night. You could tell we were getting into far north Queensland redneck country from the kind of bumper stickers…

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We went to sleep in the rain, and woke up in the rain. But by the time we got up to Cairns around midday, the rain had stopped! I got Kristell to navigate us direct to ‘The Lagoon’. These tropical towns often have a lagoon, or big man-made pool right next to the shore, similar to how you would have in a 5 star hotel. It’s because if you swim in the actual ocean, chances are good that you will get taken by a saltwater crocodile, or stung by an Irukandji jellyfish, which will most likely kill you too or at least ruin your will to live.

Now whenever I look for accommodation, like if I am going to stay in a hotel for a few days for a break from roughing it, a pool is on the top of my list. If I can sit by a nice pool, read my book, do some writing, and jump in the water every 20 minutes to refresh and get back to my pre-mammalian roots, Im happy as fuck.

So given that the pool was sorted, and paid for by tax dollars (a good use for once!), we found the cheapest hostel in Cairns, which happened to be right across the esplanade from the lagoon! $15 a night got you a squeaky bed in a  smelly room with 10 drunks from all over the world, speaking in tongues at all hours of the night like a bad episode from the Old Testament, broken powerpoints, a WASHING MACHINE, and the coolest staff to hang out with of pretty much any hostel ever! So basically, I had everything I needed from a 5 star hotel, for $15 a night!

I neglect to mention, that I had hoped to do some diving on the Barrier Reef, so first thing I went to one of those fake “Information Stations” that are actually commercially run businesses who hustle tourists to join the various bullshit tours around town. I asked her if it was possible to book just one dive to finish my Advanced Open Water certificate, and she did all this ringing around of the dive centres for me. In the end it was easier for her to do that than me, and hell, I might have just gone out partying and not got around to it myself, so I haggled down the price about 75%, and booked a day of diving on the reef. So while I waited for diving day for a couple of days, I sat by the lagoon, reading my book, taking notes in a moleskin and trying to look like Hunter S Thomson, swimming, and going out at night with the hostel staff and guests.

One night I took my Mandolin and ended up busking, and even playing a set in a French restaurant with an accordion player. What the hell! I was drunk on goon like all good backpackers (only I’m getting a little old for that…). But look at the adventures that goon gives you! A festival of Dionysus in Cairns mate. What I like about the Greek pantheon, they had a god for every part of human nature, including that primal liberation of a wild festival, sometimes derived from letting loose on cheap wine. Is it not a part of human nature? Why should we feel guilty, feel as though that behaviour should somehow be excluded from the totality of being human? Is it not part and parcel of the whole package, good and bad, noble and wretched, of being human? Dionysus is not only the god of goon, but the god of all the crazy shit that happens after you drink 2 litres of it!

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That being said, the only thing is that some people’s problems rise to the surface after they drink too much. It gives an outlet for their demons. I wonder if there is anything in ancient Greek that could make that excusable too? To this end, we have laws to stop too much festivities in public. In an excellent piece of investigative journalism, I managed to snap some police fining some fellows for drinking a few beers by the lagoon. I guess the idea is to stop all festivities, lest a portal opens in the collective Cairns Lagoon psyche and everyone’s demons come flooding through at once!

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In fact, in Cairns I witnessed another example of this phenomenon. I had to get the hell out of the backpackers one night and get some solo observation time. So I snuck out past my new friends, and found my way, making sure to walk as though on a wind and meditate as I did so, letting my eyes go where they pleased, to an interesting scene. There was this public mall, and one part of it was fenced off with a low barricade about 40cm high. A symbolic barrier is all. On one side of this barricade were a shitload of drunk white Queenslanders and tourists, shouting smoking and drinking. On the other side of the symbolic barrier was a group of Aboriginal people, drinking smoking, and shouting at almost exactly the same decibel level as those inside the symbolic barrier (I measured it with my portable decibel meter).

Now the police arrived, and I thought the whole party was going to get shut down. But turns out, if you were within the “Drinking Yes” area, attached to a pub, you were OK. If you were outside of the line, you got your drinks poured out on the ground, and got fined. It just seemed crazy to me! Basically, drinks inside the pub cost 5 times as much as if you buy your drinks at a bottle shop. And most of that is taxes, in one form or another: liquor licences being the main one. Its like a protection racket if you look at it from the outside.

Many of the drunk dickheads inside the pub were being very negative towards the Aboriginal people outside the barricade, saying they were behaving like animals, just because they didn’t care to pay inflated prices for drinks? Otherwise they were identical in their behaviour. The whole thing was ludicrous. And I must say, the faces of those poor police, they looked like they wished they could have chosen a different profession but for one where they water plants with goon every night to protect government licencing fees. But they are really doing an important job, trying to keep that Dionysian portal closed so that the demons of the collective subconscious of Cairns don’t come flooding out at once! I really wished they would have kicked the ass of some of the racist bastards inside the pub with their hate speech though. But they had already paid their bribes.

Anyway, moving on. I had to sober up myself to go on a specialist deep dive the next day. One more dive to go to finish my Advanced Open Water certification, a small step towards becoming a certified dive instructor.

The Advanced Crew, looking tough as fuck...

The Advanced Crew, looking tough as fuck…

As you can see, there were quite a few sharks out there. Id never seen a shark underwater before, and Id always wondered how I would react. Getting nervous underwater is not a good thing. You use air more quickly. And if your nerves escalate into panic, you can fuck yourself up. In fact, worrying about getting nervous is enough to make things unpleasant. So how do you tackle this? You learn how to deal with nerves or panic as they arise, and know that you CAN deal with them.

The sharks as it turned out, were white-tipped reef sharks. They were beautiful, or perhaps incredibly graceful is the better words. One was big, 2.5 – 3m. And one was close too. When one started to swim towards me, it soon changed direction. They really do not want to be bothered, and like me and the authorities, just want to be left alone. I respected that and observed from afar. What a privilege! So, diving with sharks, done. I kept my cool, and I know I can do it next time too.

But something else got me. When I first started diving years back in the Caribbean, I was shitscared. During my first lesson I breathed in a lot of water trying to complete one of the skills, clearing your mask when its full of water (read about that here). And my body learned the sensation of drowning. It took me a long time to finish that course. I did one lesson a week, and had to psyche myself up every time. But since then I have done another 10 dives of so when I have been completely comfortable. Not reckless, but completely comfortable and confident. This day I got a taste of the old feeling. Its fucked.

So I finished my one dive to get my Advanced cert, but I was getting along with the team so well, and loving to diving, that I stayed for another 5 dives. Haha I know, another 5. What the hell its the Great Barrier Reef! So on the second day, we were qualified and did not need an instructor. Different kettle of fish so to speak. I was chosen to lead the first one. We made a plan, to descend to 16m, find the reef wall and a landmark to remember as being near the dive boat, swim northwards along the wall, check our air as we went, then double back when it was time to return, and find that landmark. Also, saving time for a decompression stop at 5m for 3 minutes.

Well I tell ya what, it’s a different thing leading a group. We got down, checked everyone was OK, found a landmark and I pointed it out to everyone. Then we cruised off. There was some really great stuff, and it was hard to resist following sharks and stuff as they swam into deeper water. I tried to communicate to the others to watch their depth gauges, but as we were all quite inexperienced, it was hard to maintain above 16m. One of the crew went heading down… Now the problem is, the deeper you go, the longer you have to spend coming up. Also, you use air quicker. And we were along way from the boat. I had to follow them and get their attention but they had by this point descended to 18.5m, technically a deep dive which we had just been qualified for, but placing limits on our time to get back. You would not believe how hard it is to communicate underwater! Checking everyone’s air with hand signals, turned out a few of us were running low, so it was time to return. I started to feel nervous here. We had gone too deep, and we didn’t have much air. I signaled to start a slow ascent and tried to remember where the fuck the boat was. I felt that trade-off, to swim fast to get there, or swim slow to conserve air. I had to slow down because I was starting to panic and the air was getting harder to suck out of my tank as it ran lower. But by focusing on my breathing and on the environment around me, coming back into the moment and forgetting about this and that possibility flooding my brain, I got control of my breathing. There was a moment when I thought I would give anything to just be back on the surface again, but there was no option to ascend. I HAD to stay in control, or fuck myself up and possibly the others too.

Anyway, I got control of it, and led everyone back to the landmark, slowly ascending. We cruised along at roughly 5m depth for a few minutes to decompress, and found the landmark, bang! Relief. We ascended a little more and stopped for a few more minutes at 5m, to emerge at the surface all safe and sound, having had a great dive. No one had seen my stress, and I had got through it and got us back to the boat, within safe limits of decompression.

What a feeling! Diving was a challenge again. On the next dive Soph had a problem with her ears, and looked like she was going to panic. I looked her in the eyes and started a dialog with her, held her hand and managed to calm her down until the problem had subsided, and felt very proud. I had come so far, is it possible that I, who thought I wouldn’t be able to finish my basic course, could now look after others in the water? As of today, I’ve booked to do a certified rescue diver course in Zanzibar in July, with some fucking dodgy-ass company that takes you out on a leaking wooden boat. Ive learned just in the last few years that whatever scares you is worth doing.

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So that was it for Cairns, although I could have stayed. Went out with the dive crew that night. Went to the lagoon one more time with Kristell the next day. Then headed outta town. It was time for a solo leg. Thinking time across the wide open spaces.

I went and picked up my van from its shady parking spot under a beautiful fig tree that had been strangely vacant when I was looking for a park. But before I followed that inner desire and headed once more into the great unknown there was one more thing to do…

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Clean the Fruit Bat shit off my van.

Giving Thanks – A Year on the Road – PART 2

Followed on from https://staffordcreative.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/giving-thanks-a-year-on-the-road/

BYRON BAY?

Just before I hit Byron I freaked out. I called my good friend Dave Sands (the international DJ) and, I guess, asked him to console me. I was feeling lonely and was totally nervous that I would find it difficult to make friends in this new place where I knew no-one at all. I was moving to a town where I knew absolutely nobody! Is that a rational fear?

As I had effectively asked him to, Dave assured me that it would be OK. That was what I needed to hear. I have long suffered from social anxiety, something I write about occasionally in these stories, and to be honest, there have been times when it has been so isolating and confusing that it has almost been the death of me. Over the years I have gradually come to understand it more. Some years ago I found a name for it, and called my social anxiety “The Octopus”, as it gets its tentacles in and can really fuck things up for me in terms of what I want from life. But having named that son of a bitch, I can keep him at a distance more often than not.

Byron Bay was going to be a big challenge to The Occy, and that motherfucker was gonna fight back. All car trip from Melbourne, already feeling fragile, he was trying to convince me that I was not the sort of person that could rock up alone and make friends.

Realisation: It was time to face a fear again…

Are YOU afraid of the unknown?

Are YOU afraid of the unknown?

When I got into town it was 8PM the night before my course commenced. I hadn’t sorted out a place to live or anything, all I had was the address of the College where I would be studying, knew not a soul, nothing about the town. So I went to the beach, and found the backpackers to get the lie of the land. To all travelers, you already know this, local knowledge from the people in your same situation is priceless and can save you from reinventing the wheel. So these French dudes and gals were sitting at the picnic table making noodles for dinner and drinking cheap wine, so I joined them. What was it like for free camping in the area? Was there much harassment and oppression from the police or rangers? Turns out there was: they had been woken up rudely when sleeping in their cars and fined hundreds of dollars a number of times. I was tired, too tired to deal with that kind of immoral bullshit without absolutely flying off the handle and getting myself locked up. You know that caravan parks associations actively lobby for these By-Laws to be put in place that have a purely commercial intention? So people are forced to stay in shitty caravan parks (see https://www.facebook.com/Freechoicecamping)? Don’t you think that things should only be prohibited if they cause harm to others? This is the foundation of our legal system that seems to have gotten out of control.

The French crew then suggested a backpackers just out of town where you could park for $10 a night and avoid harassment. It was called the Arts Factory.

I stayed at the Factory for about 2 months. At first, staying in the carpark and using the facilities inside, it proved cheaper for me to buy a double room palatial tent with a queen size bed that was set up in the jungle out the back.

Every morning Id make a big bacon sandwich and coffee. Days were spent going to the beach, going to Bikram yoga every day, chilling out. Nights were spent doing a million different things, going out a lot, seeing lots of music, dancing, drinking and getting stoned. Oh yeah, and going to class twice a week for that electronic music course. It was mostly standard hostel life I guess! People were friendly, and I made a point to never eat alone. Id just walk up and ask to join someone!

A funny think, but I didn’t play music for about 2 weeks when I first got to Byron, not even pick up a guitar. Then one night, everyone was partying at the hostel got booted out to the carpark coz we were too noisy and it was late, and a ‘carpark party’ began. At some point I got handed an acoustic bass and played along a bit. Nothing spectacular, but this is the point where everything changed.

This is the point where everything changed, in my life.

The next day, Joe walked past me and said they were going into the studio. Did I want to come? Sure thing. I guess they thought I was a bass player. So I rocked up with my keyboard and some wicked effects pedals. Next thing you know, we are really killing it. Bass, Keys, Drums, Guitar, Singing and Rapping. The studio engineer offered us a gig on the Arts Factory stage then and there. My first gig in Byron, bang it was happening!

JJ-Inc - Staf Smith's first gig in Byron Bay. Would there be more?

JJ-Inc – Staf Smith’s first gig in Byron Bay. Would there be more?

I had done the electronic music course to meet musicians and get  a band together, but the course had proved useless for this. While I was learning some useful stuff, and the teacher was a great inspiration, the people in the class were mostly into Psy-Trance, a style of music that is just too far removed from anything I do. But after playing on stage at the factory with Joe and crew (we were called JJ-Inc) I started getting asked to play with more and more people. Ended up playing bass in a metal band too, accompanying jazz singers on piano, and playing with a great singer-songwriter called Jessie Rose. No paying gigs yet but it would happen. I have just a few pics:

I met many good friends at the Factory. It really felt like a family. Id like to give thanks for the friends and companionship, and the generosity with which I was treated. What a great crew. People were always jamming, the jungle hut was a cacophony of both well and badly played instruments all joining in together, and many a joint was shared between family. Too much cheap wine too haha! A few guys actually had a black market goon racket going, where they would drive south to the next town and buy a hundred or so 4 litre goon bags of cheap wine at a time, them come to Byron (where the 4 litreries were banned) and sell them for $20 a pop.

Things were going great in Byron. I had friends to hang out with, a healthy lifestyle, every day was a new adventure in a beautiful place, and most importantly I was starting to get out there and play music live. Sorry but walking around with a camera just didnt seem appropriate.

By this point I had also got my social anxiety so under control that now, I feel like its conquered. I fully expect it to raise its octopus head every now and then, but the point is, I can see that bastard coming now. For example, I just got a beer at the bar here where Im staying while I write this, and the bartender was rude to me. She acted as if it was strange that I was staying in a place like this and talked down to me. Instead of feeling like there was something wrong with me, I manned to remain impartial, and when I went back for another beer, engaged her in a conversation to find out. I think that actually she was the one who was responsible for the way she spoke to me, it was nothing to do with me. She had left a troubled time in England, and actually opened up to me about it when I showed I was not there to judge her and just interested in a non-superficial exchange.

The Kimberly

About a month after being in Byron I took a 10 day work stint back west to top up the coffers. This was a deadly serious project to do with some court proceedings and I can’t really talk about it, but suffice it to say that we were privileged enough to be looking at fantastic old Aboriginal rock paintings and engravings in some spectacular country. The first night we were put up in 5 star accommodation, but much to our disappointment we ended up camping the rest of the time in the bush. I still remember the moment, we had woken up and had a 5 star breakfast and a quick swim in one of the pools, and had driven to the office of the people who had contracted us (in our plush hire car). We were going over plans for the survey when one of them said, “So you guys can just follow Jim out in convoy to the site this afternoon, they have all the tents and swags”… What? Tents and swags? No POOL!?

It was still very nice, mostly Aboriginal people and just a few of us Whitefellas. Lots of meat, which got pretty heavy, but thankfully including goannas and delicious native Bush Turkeys! I feel deeply privileged to have been offered to share traditional bush foods with Aboriginal people. It feels very ceremonial each time something is caught and cooked, and the sense of reverence actually really makes you focus on the delicious flavours and give thanks. A delicious taste in your mouth, satisfied belly, learning, and grateful!

High Protein Diet for a Skinny Whitefella

High Protein Diet for a Skinny Whitefella

Another deep priviledge came my way by politeness, recognising my place, and quiet observance. I was working with some well respected elders, people wth experience of life that I may never reach even. These two men could not be called by their real names. It is an important thing across many of the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, that the names of the recently deceased must not be spoken. Consequently, people with the same name as someone who has passed away, must be called by another name.  One man I had to remember to call ‘Dadiga’, the other man, the white man, I had to call ‘Nabiru’ whenever we were around Aboriginal people (which was all the time mind you). By getting this right, speaking only when it was my turn, and listening to the old peoples rough english, I picked out the gems hidden in a reluctance to be fancy with words, and earnt myself enough respect to have my words listened to when it was my time.

Learning from Dadiga and Nabiru

Learning from Dadiga and Nabiru

On the final night I caught up with a mate in Broome and went out on the town, had a fricken wild night ended up on the beach with a bonfire and guitars until the sun up! Don’t tell my boss 🙂 Oh yeah, and the best thing is I was getting paid $1000 a day. A few for highlights:

Again, coffers topped up!

When I got back most of the family in the backpackers were confused at why I had been so far away for just a short time. It really is crazy to fly 5000kms or whatever to work for 10 days. Im really grateful to have had these awesome work experiences, really incredibly lucky to have these crazy adventures and get paid so well for it. I feel that these may be fewer and fewer in the years to come, as our democratic government strips away the legislation protecting heritage and environment in favour of facilitating big business. So its a good time for me to give thanks, perhaps the end of an era!

http://blakandblack.com/2012/06/27/amendments-to-was-aboriginal-heritage-act-a-mining-industry-friendly-high-jacking/

On my return I quickly became busy with music again. One of my Facebook posts at the time read:

“3 shows in 3 days. Actually, 4 shows in 5 days! To think that a couple of years ago I was scared of playing in front of people. Starting to think the best things in life are things that are hard. Heres to growing!”

It was also around this time that I started to feel cramped in the backpackers. I had awesome friends there, and it was very comfortable and fun, but very hard to get anything done. I had stuff to work on now, and needed a quiet place to do it. I was on a mission, to get in some gigging bands, and to get paid for it!

The Factory was on a road called Skinners Shoot, which led out of town. Id never ventured that way that didn’t lead into town, but one day, searching for some peace and quiet, I took a drive in that direction. Very quickly I found myself in the forest. Interesting houses popped up along the road at distant intervals, and ramshackle cabins with prayer flags could be seen amongst the trees. A roadside stand offered bags of organic ginger for a coin donation.

I got to the end of the road, parked my van, and breathed in the smell of the trees. Fantastic, fresh, spacious, and so peaceful! I decided that I would move to Skinners Shoot. Looking at the classifieds that day, the top listing on the Byron Bay houseshare section was a house in the forest at the end of that same road. They say that ‘things happen’ in Byron, truly the whole region is a land of strange coincidences. So much so that sometimes Im suspicious that I might be dreaming.

I moved in a few days later.

The house was cool and ramshackle from the outside, neat and peaceful inside, and surrounded by a kind of rainforest canopy with trees of all kinds, and multitudes of strange birds. There was a chaotic workshop, space for a veggie garden, and a chicken coop home to 3 cheeky hens. Peaceful woolly belted something cows wandered around the property, as well as a few not so peaceful bulls and one weird shaved alpaca with huge eyes. Occasionally a peacock would come in to the yard and walk about noisily on top of the workshop. And I was to be sharing with a chilled out philosophical plumber and a warm and vibrant acupuncture student. Amazing!

Ive said many times about this house that nothing is perfect, and thats how it was. It wasn’t perfect, but I was willing to compromise for the overall package, no doubt about it, it was awesome! Here is the sound of the forest at night:

https://soundcloud.com/freeway-studios/skinners-shoot-forest

I got along fine with the other 2 housemates, but we walked quite different lives. I was out most nights playing music or rehearsing or going out, and they were in bed by 9PM at the latest. There was not a single night that I came home and anyone was awake. But I didn’t mind too much to be respectful and quiet when I got home, after all, it meant that I always came back to a peaceful pad! SO peaceful! I had people come to stay every now and then, and everyone loved to come and  relax.

Friends love lording it up at Skinners Shoot...

Friends love lording it up at Skinners Shoot…

We would drag ourselves away and head into town, go and see amazing music at the bars for free, go to festivals full of beautiful people and positivity, or go to some of the most seriously cranking parties Ive ever been to. Paradise One was a notable place for rocking parties, a resort owned by a young guy in his 20s, where he would put on amazing free parties with multiple stages, hundreds if not a thousand people, dancing all night, and nude swimming in their own creek. Bodies would be littered across the grounds by about 4AM, lovers and chillers sleeping peacefully in the grass.

About 5 weeks after being in this peaceful weird pocket I had a big decision to make: I had been invited to America to be part of an archaeological expedition. Deal was they would fly me and give me about $50 a day. But I had so much good stuff going on in Byron, and I was working on things. I had got in another good band, Hunter and Smoke, and was getting paid gigs finally. I was in a conundrum: I was achieving my aims with music and facing my fears, and had a chance to build on those things. Each day I spent in Byron I was growing, and building. But I had an offer to have a free trip to America. It was a very tough choice, and I wanted to be true to myself.

I messed with a few options: stay in Byron and continue on the good path I was on, or go to America for just 2 weeks so I wouldn’t miss too many gigs or other opportunities. Or go to America, do the full 3 weeks of field work, and then make the most of my free ticket and have an American adventure, but thereby risk everything I was working towards.

I decided that if I didn’t grab this opportunity, I might end up resenting my new musical life (if I let it restrict me from grabbing opportunities that came my way). So I let everyone know I was off, but I would be back and keen to pick up where we left off when I got back. I took the risk, and headed up to Brisbane to fly to Las Vegas.

America!

Theres literally not enough time in the world to write about everything that happened, so let us tell pictures tell a thousand words each:

Back ‘Home’ finally!

So I came back to Aus, absolutely exhausted. I had just been dreaming of simmering down for a while, planting a veggie garden, finally setting up my studio, and building a few things in the workshop. But the day after I got back, Harley my housemate kicked me out. He had a new girlfriend and they wanted the house to themselves. He also kicked out Candace, one of his oldest friends, with just a few words. I said that I didn’t think that was fair, especially after the effort I put in to find someone to housesit the room for so long. I have been the leaseholder on a number of share houses, and it is not your right to just boot people out for your own reasons. But he had to go to the shops, and true to the rest of our relationship, it was left unresolved. I moved out a few weeks later when they started moving my things out of the lounge room and arguing with each other loud into the night. But December in Byron Bay is so fanatically popular that it is literally impossible to find a place to live for anything less than a fortune. So now Im living in my van, from place to place. I guess Im technically homeless.

But Im homeless and famous, motherfuckers! Since I had got back, Id hit music with renewed vigour. Only going out to play shows (not chase skirt like usual), abstaining from alcohol, and playing every single day, often with multiple bands. Most things were small, just getting started, playing with friends, helping out people with free recording. Particularly busy days would involve rehearsing in the morning, recording at lunch, and busking at night! All kinds of combinations. Its real work being a musician, and you give a lot of energy and consequently become tired easily. Anyone who thinks that sitting at a computer 9-5 is harder or more honourable probably has not tried it. I have done both. The only difference is in the monetary reward.

Just to backtrack quickly, it was a pity to leave the house like that, and very stressful, so much so that I got really run down and sick and had to sleep all day for a week in the national park. Felt like I was going to die. Regardless, Im incredibly grateful to the universe for those few months on the farm. A truly magical place, that so strangely landed in my lap on the very day I decided I would like to live there. I really needed a place to have some peace and build up my music, and much success came my way when I lived there. Another one of the bizarre things that happen in Byron. Im sure I said before, sometimes I think that I might have died and that the things that happen are part of some post mortem chemical reaction in my dying brain, they are so strange and coincidental. Alternatively, I might have lost it and in reality am in a straight jacket singing accordion music and ranting about upcoming gigs with my gypsy band, to a bunch of head shaking orderlies armed with tranquillisers. Who knows the truth.

But the gypsy band felt so real to me. That was something I looked forward to returning to, what a crew of vagabonds! I had played a few gigs, and mostly busked with these guys. Really fun, Cyprien the Frenchman on accordion, Bobby Dazzla, the highly educated and imperviously charming australian vagrant on violin, myself on homemade stick bass made for $80, and Danidoo, one of the most famous and beautiful women in Byron Bay on melodica and piano and vocals etc! We had such chemistry all of us, that I felt like we were a family. When we busked we would regularly get a crowd of people dancing in ridiculous styles, kicking their legs up in the air, and raining down coins (and even beers and cigarettes) into our waiting guitar case.

But dear Cyprien had to leave the Bay to go and do farm work in Tasmania to obtain a second year visa, and get some money. I can’t believe, this super talented man, working so hard, has to go and pick cherries like a mindless automaton because society does not believe musicians are worth paying properly. Im not angry though, I am grateful for the chance to learn how to live in poverty. It may be a useful skill in the future! I am just pissed off Cyprien had to leave and spell the end of Zingarra, our band.

The Legend of Cyprien!

The Legend of Cyprien!

When Cyp left I almost cried, but he did leave me a parting gift: He named me as his replacement in one of his other bands, a 12 piece reggae outfit called Fyah Walk. I had wanted to play in this band since before I even heard them. Hell, I left Perth and told my friend Craig Waller that I wanted to play in a reggae band and would look for one on the east coast. To work on my rhythm, and because reggae keyboard parts are all about, rhythm, and groove. Its like being a drummer but on keyboards. And secondly, reggae keyboards is all about old vintage sounds, REAL sounds, organs, pianos, clavinets. The stuff I like! I am incredibly grateful to Cyprien for suggesting me, I know the band was a great opportunity for him also and he did not want to leave it. I always felt competitive with Cyp in the friendliest of ways, but I feel like him suggesting me for his prize band was an unbeatable act of gracious human generosity. Bless, Cyprien my brother. And damn you for decidedly ending our competition with that beautiful act!

http://www.reverbnation.com/fyahwalk

Things were cooking along now: it was December in the Byron Shire, one of the most popular destinations in Australia for people to come and get drunk and entertained. I had lots of gigs with various bands and parties. I had about 30 songs to learn of Fyah Walk, and after a lot of procrastination I sat down and put in the work. God, how I feared failure at this one! So I let time pass. But one day, I chance to be in a car at the same time at Simon, the lead singer and musical genius of the band. He was speaking of their December gigs and said that they would probably get an old keyboard player (a real session musician 100% pro) to cover those gigs. I knew that I needed to grab this opportunity before it passed, even if I wasn’t ready, so I opened my shy mouth: Hey Simon, how about I have a go at the Brewery gig on the 21st? When I got a ‘yes’, it made such a stressful impression on me that I still remember the exact date a month later! (thats unusual for me BTW)

So I had a week to learn the parts. I worked on them, like I had a deadline for a conference or something. I went to rehearsal feeling OK. I had had a few all night jam sessions at parties that weekend, and had pulled out some really good stuff, leading the bands in parts and playing at a level that I was, for once, happy with. So I hit it with confidence. If they didn’t like my playing, then at least I was happy with it.

We played 4 songs, and no-one said anything about my playing… I started to feel nervous. These guys were pros… Maybe they operated at a different level and my confidence was embarrassingly inappropriate…

But right when I started feeling awkward, they spoke up: “sorry, the reason we haven’t said anything is because it just sounds right. Welcome to the band.”

I was elated. In almost exactly a year, I had become the luckiest man alive. I had left my birthplace, family and friends, a high status job that should have made me feel great but left me empty, and hit the road into the unknown. I had driven across one of the largest nations on earth. I had lost the longest love of my life, even though she was such an amazing catch. I had basically, left behind everything that I felt I SHOULD be.

From this, to this!

And I had tried, for once in my life, to be who I wanted to be.

And now, Im broke, living in a car, playing in the best reggae band in Australia, have friends who love me, courage drive and purpose, and feel so excited for the coming year that I can hardly contain myself.

New years was great. I played at Falls Festival in Byron, on a big stage. And on two smaller stages. And the night after the festival at a country hall. And the night after that at the brewery. And the whole time it just felt right.

I won’t bore you any more with my story. Go for it, my friends, make yours.

Giving Thanks – A Year on the Road

Its been a year since I left Perth in an unmarked white van.

IMG_1291

Right now Im in that same van, over 4 thousand kilometers away, on a dirt track in a dusty and rugged National Park. Im feeling very ill, have had bad headaches for days, can’t sleep, and even the smallest of cuts are bleeding out great cups of blood. Im not sure whats wrong, but Im a little worried, and have got to reflecting.

Its been an amazing year, and Im so grateful for my rare and common experiences, for the friends I have made, for the love I have felt, and for the opportunities I have had to grow and to face my most crippling fears. There have also been very sad times, very hard times, and a few close calls with death and the law. But Im still here, and while Im not feeling strong, I know I will again.

It was November of last year that Erin and I left Perth on an epic adventure. I had been working at a University in the most prestigious job I have ever had, or perhaps ever will in a standard career sense, as an Assistant Professor in the Archaeology Department. I had a big office, funds at my disposal, almost total autonomy, and a six figure income. I had worked super hard to get to this point aswell, done lots of volunteering, worked long hours often alone, taken hard and low paying strategic positions, and played the game like a cunning chess player. But I was frustrated, and angry, and confronted every day with inefficiency, futility, and meaninglessness.  I spent hours stuck in traffic, to get to work and sit there battling bureaucracy. For example, it took almost 2 weeks for me to be able to get internet access at my own work. All the while I was surrounded by people who were either far too busy and stressed  to inspire me about my own future prospects, or self important wankers parading around wasting money that could be better spent on people who need it. Not to mention how careful you have to be  to protect your reputation from rumours and bitching. My bank account was stacking up, but I was getting more and more frustrated. And I would go home at the end of the day angry, my only solace was to get out of there, spend some money on some bullshit, and drink a glass of straight Caribbean rum out of the freezer. Then get up and do the same thing again. One day I was so frustrated that I suddenly stood up and walked out of my office leaving the door wide open, walked down to the river, took off all my clothes and dived in and started swimming out. I came back, but I knew from that point I knew something needed to change. During the day Id get these flashes of inspiration for inventions and creative projects, Id quickly jot them down, and then try and not let them distract me from the work that I was was supposed to be doing. I had an idea at the back of my head that following these things might be the answer.

Nothing was NEW anymore. For me spontaneity IS life. My efforts to be spontaneous in Perth were often met with insults, like the time we busked jazz music at a beachside park using my DIY portable power supply only to have middle aged conservative women hurl abuse at us for parking on the grass and actually try to get the police to arrest us (how is that right?!?). Conversations with new people at pubs would more often than not revolve around who do you work for, how much do you earn, how many houses do you own, and when are you renovating your kitchen.

While Erin finished her honours thesis (with incredible results) I got the van ready to hit the road. True to my style I obsessed over small details, the result being a pretty good setup with a few  major flaws! We were ready for an epic trip, and I couldn’t wait to get out of such a conservative place and have open eyes again.

We had an incredible trip, apart from our usual fighting. It was pretty good really. (Do I sound like Im trying to convince myself? I feel guilt about dragging her along on my effort to find myself, drinking too much, lost, unbalanced.) But really we had some great times and some beautiful camp spots. Ive written many posts on this epic trip, but just to recap, a few highlights:

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It was really beautiful, a really great adventure, and Im so grateful to have had the time to do this. So many people feel they have to work work work, for a measly 2 weeks off a year, and never get the chance to have an extended adventure. And what a gorgeous and intelligent girl I was sharing it with! Unfortunately, for one reason or another, we were fighting a lot, and felt that we were beginning to resent each other more and more rather than grow in love, and decided to have a break. Erin went to her graduation, and then to Sydney for her grandfathers birthday.  I flew back to Perth to do some work in the goldfields, a quick cash grab working on a mine. Not too bad an adventure itself if you don’t have to do it all the time. We searched for artefacts, found artefacts, shot slingshots, and ate Goanna meat cooked on coals and covered in flies. Delicious!

I stayed with my Dad at this time, which was really nice. I have never stayed with my parents for more than one night since leaving home at 18, and it has been a long time since I lived with my Dad. It was really nice, I was offered such great hospitality, shared meals, watched TV and the football, drank red wine. I want to give thanks for having parents who will help me when I need it. I did get totally pissed on the night I wanted to take them out to dinner to say thanks though, which was quite a pivotal point and a reminder to watch my drinking.

So I gave up the booze for awhile, took up daily Bikram Yoga, and began training to climb a mountain. My van was still parked in Melbourne at this point, and I didn’t know what would become of Erin and I, so I was in a delicious limbo. My writing around the time really reflects this: I didn’t know what the hell i was doing, and was lapping it up. I finished the mining job, and then did a bunch of office work for 2 different companies. Actually, I was getting offered so much work I couldn’t do it all. So I worked for 6 weeks or so, stacked up the bank account. I did a lot of thinking at this time, with my clear non-alcoholic head, and when Erin and I finally spoke again we decided that it was probably over between us. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, and Im still not sure whether it was the right one. I suspect that is a question with no answer.

En route back to Melbourne, I flew to Malaysia.

Insert: when I arrived in KL I found my climbing companion who had preceded me by a mere 24 hours had already befriended a local homosexual meth head who was sharing his hotel room unofficially and acting as tour guide. Neither had had any sleep.

Reuben and his 'tour guide'

Reuben and his ‘tour guide’

Reuben and I had a great time in Malaysia, he proved to be a great traveling companion. We had a hectic few days in Chinatown in KL, then flew to Borneo, which was fricken amazing. Its one of those places Id go back to in a heartbeat if I get the chance and regain my strength. We chased girls, dined on fresh seafood, rode on jerry-rigged speedboats, snorkeled in truly amazing warm water with the most beautiful sea life, drank cheap beer, and ate a myriad of different foods. But in preparation for climbing the mountain, Mount Kinabalu, I sought out the cheapest room in a nice hotel, to have a good rest before our trial. Well, there was a mixup and they ended up giving me the penthouse suite, an amazing room for two nights. Gifts like this cannot be squandered so a decision was made to make the most of it and after a pleasant dinner on the docks completely destroyed it with a lovely Danish girl.

The mountain was amazing, it took us a couple of days to climb up, and one to run down, and I would love to do more climbing (I have just booked a one way ticket to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro).

Reuben and I had a good carouse after the mountain, and had a good time in Penang as well, unsuccessfully pursuing a myriad of women. This is where we said our goodbyes. Reuben returned to Australia to be a music teacher which he loves, and myself, who didn’t know what the fuck he was doing, flew to Thailand. I am really grateful for the companionship showed to me by Reuben, at such a difficult time after splitting with Erin it was just the solidarity I needed. It has solidified our friendship into one that will last forever.

Brothers!

Brothers! and a brother from another mother…

My time in Thailand took on a completely different feel without the dynamic of Reuben and I. I met up with a good friend though, one of my best, Mr Craig Waller. He played tour guide and showed us the hedonistic delights of Koh Phangan. It was a bit hectic, fast paced, and unhealthy for me though. I had wanted to go on retreat at this point, but ended up going to raves and drinking mushroom shakes and riding a motorbike around like a bat out of hell. Fun as fuck, but I have a tendency to exhaust myself. But what a tour guide! Craig knew all the best spots, one of which was the best nightclub I have ever experienced, called Eden. To get there we took a rickety long boat over high seas around to an isolated cove on the island, where we ascended from the beach on rocks, and followed the headland around on a rickety scaffold made of driftwood. This was pretty hectic, and Craig fell through only to catch himself at the waist, sharks likely waiting below. We made it to the club, similarly cobbled together out of driftwood, to find it full of the most magical characters, beautiful women dressed as cosmic princesses kissing each other and writhing in front of industrial sized fans as silks billowed, amazing music and a great dance floor, cheap drinks and drugs if you were so inclined, and comfortable places to sleep until the sun came up. It was simply beautiful, a place of profound magic.

Magical

Magical

After Koh Phangan, we crossed the ocean on a ferry, and crossed the peninsula of Thailand on a bus, to get to a place called Krabi, where we stayed a night before taking a long boat to a place called Railay Beach. This was also beautiful, but too fancy and showy. The kind of place where movie stars go to compare themselves to each other. Thank god for Intrepid Craig, who I followed once again, heavy pack on back and small pack on front, around a rocky headland at low tide. This is the only time this route is traversable, when the water is sucked right out. You climb through blowholes, and over a lattice of knife sharp rocks (in thongs or flip-flops) until you emerge at another beach. What was this place?

This was Tonsai.

From high up, Tonsai is on the far left

From high up, Railay on the right, Tonsai on the far left sheltered by the green promontory

Emerging to Tonsai beach

Climbing through the rockfall to emerge at Tonsai beach

Tonsai is pretty much a pirate village, a village of lost souls, happy in their isolation. There are no police. There are few rules. There is reggae, ganja, delicious food, fire twirling, good swimming, and talented people with all kinds of skills from tightrope walking to base jumping. And there are the precipitous limestone cliffs that hide the village away: famous the world over for rock climbing.

My friends stayed for 2 days at Tonsai, on the eve of the second I pointed out that we had not climbed yet, and maybe we should stay another day? I held my position regardless of their departure, and stayed for almost 2 weeks. To rock climb was to face an old fear, something I would (along with frogs) often cite as my biggest fear. What a thing to do! It is so powerful to face a strong fear, that I am tempted to say that that is what life is, nothing else is as powerful, (except for love perhaps). So facing fear and love? That could be a good tattoo…so much more strong in myself since Tonsai.

Now I know that if we really want to, we can do anything.

The craziest moment was on the first day of climbing. It was quite a strange day: now that the fellas had left, I didn’t know anyone there,  and consequently felt strangely free. To to be whoever I wanted to be I guess! None of the negative personality traits that I felt had taken a hold over me over the previous few years, not cautious or nervous or anxiety ridden, or unfit or drunk. I think this let me let go of my ego, realise that they may just be perceptions of myself, and instead turn my energy towards the task at hand. On the third climb we climbed a limestone wall up to the height of a big descending stalactite. At this point, I was stoked have made it that far. But turns out it wasn’t over. Dee Narupon, the instructor, shouted up to hang loose from the ropes, put my back against the cliff, and stick my legs out from the cliff to brace against the stalactite. This thing was about 30cm thick. And he wanted me to shimmy up the sheer wall by pushing my entire body weight into it with my legs. I hesitated for minutes, self doubt rising in me like a seemingly unstoppable tide. But I tried something that I learned when I was hurt very badly as a child – if you can observe pain and other emotions from an outside perspective, you can master them. So I saw the fear for what is was – a bodily response for self preservation in an unfamiliar situation, decided that I didn’t care to live if it was to be a life of fear anyway, kicked the stalagatite hard to make sure it would hold, and started pushing myself up centimetre by centimetre. There was at least 30 meters of free fall below me. I shimmied up about a body length , then swung out from the wall suspended by the rope and hugged onto that doubtful solidified drip of lime, my pulse blasting and audible beat inside my head, I climbed up the stalactite itself, and got to the very top where the rope was anchored, shaking and ecstatic and bleeding from the knees.

Scared as fuck!

Scared as fuck!

I want to give thanks for the chance to face that fear, and thanks to those once upon a time strangers for having faith in me.

IMG_5575I stayed in a thatch hut for the rest of my time in the pirate village, started playing in a reggae band at Sunset Bar with some Thai dudes who spoke none of my language, and had a million other adventures including a solo kayak of 16ks over the open ocean out to another island. I just made it back to be honest, probably far more dangerous than climbing a rock.

Tonsai! I will return to you, the giver of my refound courage.

Meanwhile, my friends had gone to Koh Phi Phi, another party island and among other things the location of the movie “The Beach”. By the time I got there the fellas were long gone, and I was not up for partying with a bunch of newly worldly teenagers drinking buckets of cheap whiskey. So I enrolled to do an advanced PADI diving course. I would have finished it too if I hadn’t missed the dive boat on the last day by staying out all night drinking buckets of cheap whiskey.

Dangerous bars...

Dangerous bars…

The course was another series of terrifying challenges – most notably a deep dive, where you will fuck yourself up and likely die if you panic because you’re too deep to ascend quickly without popping your lungs and getting serious nitrogen bubbles in your blood. And a night dive; there is something quite scary about jumping off the back of a rocking boat in a storm into pitch black water with just a little battery powered torch to protect you from sharks.

I want to give thanks for the luck to be born in a rich country, and the concomitant chance to participate in what is really such a luxury pursuit. I suppose 90% of the worlds population could not afford to dive, let alone to go to a beautiful tropical island for a diving holiday, even if it was disguised as ” doing a serious course”.

So I returned to Australia, reinvigorated, but somewhat nervous of the prospect of continuing the van trip alone. Would I lonesomeness and the inevitable depression set in? How much would I miss Erin?

I flew directly to Melbourne from Thailand.

It was quite a feeling, to have all the things necessary for desert fieldwork, office work, mountain climbing, and backpacking, in one pack and to have carried it from Perth to Melbourne via a bunch of islands in south east Asia! I was feeling very minimalist, even though I had lugged an electronic drum machine the whole way without using it once… Anyway, my bank account was stocked up, and while I was in Asia I had formulated a rough plan: get to Byron Bay, what I thought to be a coastal hippy town, study electronic music production, and find some kind of employment that still allowed me time for creativity. I had applied for and been accepted into the course, and had about a week to drive up there.

I can’t really remember much of hitting Melbourne. I was tired I guess. I do remember picking up ‘Nightshift’ the van, trying in vain to erase some of the painful reminders of Erin’s absence, and then feeling and heeding a strong desire to get out of town and hit the open road. I don’t think I even saw any of my Melbourne friends. It was so difficult to come back to the van that I had shared with beautiful Erin (who was once mine!) and be alone, even if things hadn’t worked.

Beautiful Erin.

Beautiful Erin.

I hit the road out of town, with bugger all plan except to get to Byron Bay in time for the course. After a few hours I saw a sign that said The Great Alpine Road, and took it.

This was a beautiful drive, and led to Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak. I intended to climb it, but after sleeping one night on the side of the road in that high altitude, I woke up with a heinous cold and frost all over the van. I was a long way from steamy Thailand and the change had hit me hard. So me and Nightshift abandoned Kosciusko and made for Canberra where I had friends. Spent a night with them, dear friends courageous Tim and compassionate Sophie, and continued north. I am so grateful to have friends like these. We see each other rarely, but it never seems that more than a weeks has passed. They help me to remember who I am in hard times. Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, there have been times where I felt I did not deserve this kind of love. Everyone does.

Comfort in Old Friends

Comfort in the Arms of Old Friends

Alpine Australia

Alpine Australia

I stopped in to see Erin in Sydney on the way. Ostensibly to give her her things back, but really to resolve things once and for all. It had to be done, but Im sure that it reopened both of our wounds that had just started to heal. I waved goodbye with a cheerful face that day, but drove to the bottom of her street, pulled over and cried for a long time.

Then I drove north, outwardly shattered, but inside grateful to be alive, and full of the breath of the universe.

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To Be Continued…

Hangovers, Petroglyphs, Love and Drifting in North America – Chapter 1

About a year ago I was sitting at the University Club in WA having a beer with some archaeologists when one of them started talking about a field trip they had planned in the US. After a while they seemed to notice me for the first time across the table, and said, “Oh Staf, would you like to come?”

I said Sure, Why Not?

The trip was supposed to happen in last November. It got postponed. Then it was supposed to happen in April. Postponed again, and I started to feel like it was never going to actually happen. This was around the time that a few cool opportunities had come my way, and been suddenly cancelled. I wasn’t getting much work, and I was feeling pretty low about it. I was actually starting to think of getting a regular full time job.

I pretty much gave up hope that it was going to happen at all, and resolved not to keep myself on hold for something that might not eventuate. But finally it did come around, and here I am, in San Francisco, on a subway train bound for the airport to pick up my mate Owen. Ive been here for a month already, which is just crazy to think.

Its interesting to think, that the only reason Im here is that I was available. I keep my life so commitment free so that I can grab opportunities like these when they come up. This also has bad sides I guess, but more on that later.

So I packed up all my stuff (I mean everything) into my van. Not wanting to lose my place in my beautiful share house in the forest, I frantically found someone to rent my room for 7 weeks. All that was left was to catch the bus up to Brisbane, and fly off to Las Vegas Airport.

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Now that forest is in Byron Bay, this beachside hippy town in Australia where I recently moved. A lot of people rock bold styles over there, and as I have gotten more and more into playing music and performing again I have thought why the hell not myself, and acquired, among other things, a top hat. I had a moment of dread before leaving for the trip that I was going to have to step back into my old conservative self, and play a kind of safer version of myself, to be professional. This gave me such a feeling of dread, that I was going to have to put my new found joy of self expression on hold, that I resolved to not bottle myself up, but instead wear that damn top hat all the way. So landing in LAX and going through US immigration and customs, Im standing there in this bloody top hat attracting all kinds of attention.

Well Ill tell you one thing, I have never breezed through customs so fast in my life. The guy just asked politely to see what was under my hat, I tipped it with a flourish, and was out the door with both of us laughing.

At Las Vegas airport, I waited for my colleague to arrive by the baggage carousel. In their infinite wisdom the travel agent had booked us on different airlines, at different times, but due to a series of fuckups and delays, it turned out that we arrived a mere 20 minutes apart!  This was however long enough for a good looking middle-aged lady, mystified by the hat, to come up and ask for my phone number… That truly was a magic hat. Sadly, its gone now, lost somewhere in Vegas, but more on that later…

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We stayed one night in Vegas before heading out to the field, jet lagged. Pretty funny actually, for a couple of archaeologists, we stayed at the Luxor Hotel, a kitsch rendition of Egyptian opulence: this was the view from my window! We only had time for a steak dinner, a quick walk down the strip, then a well deserved sleep after 18 hours or something of travelling.

Next day we ran around Vegas, getting confused by driving on the wrong sides of streets, trying to find a way to power our electronic equipment while in the remote desert, and finally meeting up with the Whitleys, our American hosts for the first half of the field trip. Dave Whitley is something of an international rock art expert, and Tammy is an archaeologist for the BLM, on whose land we were surveying. Following Dave’s huge V12 truck, we headed out of Vegas with relief, a place of sin and ego that I felt no urge to return to…

(but of course, would…)

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Ahead of us was a gruelling 16 days of fieldwork with no break. To break the monotony though, we had a changing team, and changing accommodation scenarios. First up, we staying in the comparative opulence of the Alamo Inn, a highwayside motel in the ‘town’ of the same name.

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The first of many quintessential American experiences, the Alamo In was a good enough place to rest up after a hard days work. I did feel a bit like we were in some classic American movie, especially when I saw my room which looked like a potential murder scene. First thing I did was check under the bed…

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We spent the days in an area about 30mins drive away from the creepy Inn, walking around the landscape looking for ancient engravings on the rock. Most of these were of animals that are rare in the landscape now, most notably the Bighorn Sheep, which came to America via Siberia during the last ice age. Yep, thats how these animals came to populate North America, they walked from Siberia. And thousands of years later, became so important to Native Americans that they engraved their likeness on rocks throughout this desert. One theory goes that the sheep were important because they had an uncanny ability to predict rainfall, and so were used as prehistoric weathermen. Follow the sheep and you won’t run out of water!

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The rest of the art was more mysterious, interesting, and difficult to interpret. My favourites were the human figures with patterned bodies and bizarre headdresses. These are most probably representations of shamans with individual tunic designs that were derived from drug induced trances. Some of the human figures were holding spear throwers, technology that was replaced in North America around 1500 years ago, so we knows these engravings are at least that old. Strange geometric designs whose meanings are lost were also prevalent. Anticlockwise spirals were common. One theory is that these represent a power concentrating device, as the dust storms in the northern hemisphere also spin anticlockwise and are an important part of Native American beliefs. That being said, it is so difficult to know what things meant to people so long ago with any certainty! I found this frustrating to be honest, it is one thing to go out and photograph and measure these things, but another thing entirely to know what they mean.

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Despite my frustrations with the nature of truth itself, It was quite enjoyable work. It was also deliciously tiring. Hard slog, out in the heat, and jet lagged as hell, so that every day after lunch I would want to find a tree to sleep under. Of course I couldn’t, so I starting bringing out energy drinks to try and pick myself up – they didn’t work. It did help though when I stopped eating massive steaks of marinated tri-tip beef for lunch though… turns out you need a fair bit of your resources just to digest that stuff! Delicious though.

Some of the best parts were just driving through the landscape.

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We had a few changes of crew during the trip, and had a couple of great young archaeologists come to help us out. Also to break the routine, halfway through we moved to a different area, left the creepy comfort of the Alamo Inn, and set up a bush camp amongst the joshua trees.

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This was more my scene. I put my tent pretty far away from everyone, as I usually do, but was pleased to find my closest neighbour was a pretty girl with a deck of cards. Days again consisted of hard work, but nights were now sitting around a campfire, playing guitars and ukeleles, and drinking too much! I feel so good out in the bush. I feel so much more at home. Most importantly, the social anxiety that I often find crippling hardly ever rears its head. The first night we sat around the fire, and passed a bottle of good whiskey around. Hanging with these cool as hell American archaeologists, one guy had been to burning man for the last 12 years and had plenty of stories, another had spent 2 years in Afghanistan in the army. Another had an excellent ukelele and taught me a few chords, and my tent neighbour was a pleasure to sit close to by the fire. What a dream!

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At the end of the day it was my job to download all of the days data from our various electronic devices, build it all into a database, generate photo logs, and slowly build up a map of the art we had found. I really love the challenge of doing high tech stuff in remote environments, and Im good at it too. It’s a great thing to have to opportunity to do something you’re good at, what luck! One day I got the opportunity to stay back at camp alone and wrap up all the data stuff. Well, i got it all done pretty quickly and took a long break walking around the desert landscape completely naked, except for flip-flops.

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But all good things must come to an end, and the survey started to wrap up. Back to the city! Unfortunately, this long break from my anxiety had developed into a slight arrogance: a dangerous thing to take to Vegas… Its funny, I am coming to see that Im quite a cyclical person, I go through periods of being confident, then over confident, then feeling shit about myself. I guess the way forward is to be able to observe my moods from an external perspective and put the brakes on before things get out of control. But if I did that, then I wouldn’t have half of the stories that I have. I am glad to have survived this far though, grateful.

So we broke camp, backed up all the data and photos, and followed the portable shitter out of the desert and back to Vegas.

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All Things Change

A couple of years ago I was working in Jordan, and having a few days off, caught a taxi across the border to Syria with some locals. It was an amazing place.

One of my favourite places was the citadel in Aleppo. Heres my video of it.

The last time I was there, this team of guys were slowly carrying a grand piano up the steps. I hassled them for a while, and got into a conversation. Turns out there was a government party on the top, and the grand piano was for that.

And here it is now. Missile damage, full of nervous and weary soldiers.

A long way from Syria, we all have our own problems. I woke up today frustrated because I can’t seem to relax when I’m hanging out with people. It is a big problem for me, the biggest I have luckily.

In Syria, no-one knew things were about to change. Radically. Its terrible what has happened, and I am very confused to think that people I met and spoke to will have suffered deeply, felt pain beyond what I can comprehend.

You never know whats around the corner.

Things change, for good and bad.