Hitch + Protest, WA

Living in Melbourne then hitching from Perth to Broome for the blockade of the anti-liquified natural gas hub (the Kimberleys), across to Eclipse festival (Cairns). My bulk film roller broke the night before so thanks to Kmart for the film.

Photos in: Stein III: let's not worry about conciousness. it is what it is, but what is it? and Stein V: If you want to fight the power get the power to fight.

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Jack Kerouac's On The Road opened the door of alternative possibilities and convinced me to hitchhike most of the 2300km journey from Broome to Perth, after selling Wilderness Society subscriptions based on a campaign against a destructive gas plant in the Kimberleys. This is the largest whale breeding area in the world, with 40,000 of them passing through each year. That always blows me out, thinking about the size of one whale, let alone that many ancient giants.

I bought two bulk rolls of black and film, which give you about 30 rolls each, and tried at 11pm the night before to roll them onto their cannisters. The contraption you use to manually roll your own film into canisters was broken, so I left them behind, and caught the plane with two empty cameras. Kmart and the occasional chemist provided the colour Kodak film you see here.

A week in Perth seeing a friend and too many goon sacks, I sussed an ad on Gumtree that matched my itinerary through Broome and over to Cairns for the Eclipse Festival. What I got from the girl on the scratchy line was sorry, they'd already left. One number later, and I found myself in a car of four Hong Kongians**. I joined the girls in the back seat, heading eight or so hours north to Carnarvon. They were going fruit picking for their second year visa. We stopped a few of hours in, it was already getting dark, and I asked one of the girls how the driver was doing. She said he's sometimes like this, eyes lulling; I bought him some V's and we hit the road again. Arriving in a hostel where they planned on sleeping on the floor, I gathered there wasn't room for me, and set up camp beside the laundry in the rear of their accommodation. I was warned to get up early before the workers and hostel staff get going, so five thirty saw me optimistically striding up the highway with my camera bag, backpack, and green bag of camping gear. 

Many cars passed, one seemed to pull over, sped up, and finally stopped. I quickly bustled like an toy soldier over to the car. A tall, dark, heavily tattooed woman stepped out, popped the boot, apologised for the mess and told me to jump in the back. Her partner, smaller and shrunk low beneath the newspaper was introduced as Big T; I clocked a teardrop face tatt as he barely looked over to shake my hand. I jumped in the back, she flicked a switch locking the doors, turned her rear view mirror away from her face, and I wondered what the fuck I'd got myself into. My first hitch. I had a comfy bed, food, had half a brain and could get a job.

Don't judge a book by it's cover. How did I end up here.

They were Kiwis going north to work in the mines; I reluctantly revealed I was going to protest against a gas plant. They wouldn't do that work in their country, it's too beautiful, she said. With not enough room in the back seat for me and the white elephant, "nice tatts", I croaked. They glanced at each other as if out of a movie. There was a mumble. Eyes on the road, your hands behind the wheel.
Sparse conversation matched the landscape, occasional large rock formations and shrubbery, she told me there's a pillow and to sleep. I was still sketchy on the doors being locked, but sleep deprivation sent me snoozing until we stopped a road house old enough to look permanently closed. I ducked inside, bought us all an green apple each. They jokingly told me that they didn't have enough teeth to eat apples. Grins revealed the truth of the statement, so I bagged the fruit. We continued up the highway, with no idea where I'd pitch my yellow one-man coffin that night. They asked me about where I was going, if I needed anything else, and detoured their journey to drop me at Coles. Book by it's cover. Thanking them greatly, I returned alone to the highway.

We drove for an hour or so, with an hour to his house. Don't camp out in Roebuck, he said, too many koons. That's why there's no roadkill, koons take 'em. I could stay at his house if I wanted. I refused and got out just before Roebuck, with the hope of getting a lift. out of there. The sun was setting. I looked around at the nothingness. Red dirt, couple of shrubs, but nothing my yellow beacon could hide behind. I'd read articles about photographers spending time in remote communities, and relatively little monetary worth of my camera gear was less worry than my personal safety. I looked over at the Indigenous fellas playing basketball, wondered about their living conditions out here, if I'd sleep sharing a lounge room, and if I'd have the balls to photograph his family and friends openly.
One last van arrived on the horizon line, the letters forming 'Wild and Free' gaffa taped to the side. I danced and waved my hands as though flagging down a seven four seven, my last resort out of this nil and fearful and potentially opportunistic land.

Barbie girl blared as we roared down the highway into the night; the Italian backpacker finished months of work yesterday, and was beginning her outback travels. Pulling up at a rest stop for the night, we drank cheap rum she'd stashed, smoked some weed substitute which sent me spiralling into something like a trip for ten minutes, wearing off with a chemical aftertaste and a seedy twang in the body, wondering if the authorities had smoked this in a drug law review and if it was the reason that marijuana was still prohibited. 

We shared her van's bed, she dropped me in Port Hedland, which the friend I was going to visit had described to me as the hottest place on earth. Two girls wearing senior school uniforms returned and picked me up from where they'd seen me in a shadow slice provided by a roadside telegraph pole. They said I was on the wrong side of the road, told me I didn't stink and was a surprisingly normal guy, asked why the hell I was hitching round Australia, and took me to their place to charge my phone. I showered leaving the door ajar. Phone charged, called my mate, the cats drove me back to the highway, and I waited roadside for my longest-standing friend to arrive. He's been standing twelve years now.


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