Photos: Chris Swainston
It was Wednesday, December 5, 2007 when I stood dazed and confused, staring wide-eyed like a newborn child at a whole new world. I couldn’t believe that after thousands of hours pinching pennies and serving pompous idiots at fancy Salt Lake restaurants, I had finally made it to Melbourne, Australia. However, getting there was all that I had planned. I knew a couple people there, Rick Baker and Mark Catsburg. Rick was supposed to pick me up from the airport and I was supposed to be staying at Catsburg’s house for a few days, but I hadn’t talked to either of them in over a week nor did I think to get contact info from them. All I had was an address in a pocket book that read “11 Mount St. Prahran”––as if I had any idea where that was. With everything I owned strapped to my back, a box of skateboards tucked under my arm and a camera slung around my neck, I had no other choice but to post up outside the airport and play the waiting game. Thirty minutes went by, then an hour, and I started to get a little nervous. Fuck, did my plane land late and I missed my ride? Did something happen and Rick couldn’t pick me up? Should I take a cab, jump on a bus or try and hitch a ride? My mind was racing as I paced between pick up zones; perhaps I was in the wrong spot, where do I go? What should I do? I gave it 15 more minutes before making any rash decisions and to my relief Rick pulled up in his blue Volvo wagon, driving on the right-hand side of the car. I tossed my shit in the back and plopped down in the front. For the time being I had everything I could possibly need.
The first month in Melbourne was one crazy party after another. What was winter in Utah was summer in Aus; the sun was shining and spirits were high. During the day we went to the beach for a swim and then to the streets for a skate. At night there were house parties and there were video premieres every other week, always stocked with free beer. Vice Magazine threw a massive Christmas party headlining the Black Lips with even more free beer. I’m not even sure how I made it into that party, because I clearly wasn’t on the guest list. My friends knew all the good shows and they played in a band themselves, the Last Gypsies. On Fridays at the Prahran Skate Park, all the local skateboarders came down for the unofficial International Good Dude Day (or IGDD for short). Basically everyone comes to the park for a skate, some frosty beers and BBQ. It was crazy chaotic and most of the time I didn’t even skate. I would just kick it with my mates, watching everyone rip up the park and vert-ramp. Big guns like Lewis Marnell, Dustin Dollin, Andrew Brophy and Renton Miller would regularly be in the mix. I loved it; never before had I experienced such a good family vibe at a skate park. Once it got too dark to see, everyone moved on to the Yellow Bird Café to continue sipping down the grog. From there it was into the city for late-nightsturned- early-mornings.
Before I found a place to live I spent my first week sleeping in the front hallway of Catsburg, Theo and Tim’s house on 21A Chapel Street, AKA Chaps or the Tight Pants Mansion. That house quickly became my main stomping ground. It was the heart of everything; my first home before finding an apartment, the connection to all my friends, the daytime hangout, pre-party and after-party spot, as well as the hangover spot. Everyone spent countless hours there––lounging in the backyard, sipping cold beer and listening to rock n’ roll bellow from the speakers inside. We cooked up massive feasts on a dime, kissed girls … we even shut the power off one night and threw a party entirely by candlelight. That house was as much a part of the crew as any one single person. There were always new people coming and going and friends from other countries crashing in the hallway. Everything we did revolved around that house in some way. Even though there were three primary residences, in a sense everyone in our crew was a resident: Chris, Bryan, Kelly, Sam, Will, Jessie, Jon and me. We all ate, drank and slept there; our days more or less started there and ended there.
The apartment I lived in, nicknamed the Crack Den, wasn’t even an apartment; it was a house with a bunch of add-ons converted into a shared living space. The place was... well dicey and nothing worked right. There was one washing machine and one dry line that everyone shared, along with one kitchen and bathroom that about five people shared. I lived out back apart from the main house with my friend Will, who I met one night at Yellow Bird after IGDD. He was looking for a place to live and I told him he could live with me. He took me up on the offer and from then on we shared that shit-ass one-bedroom studio apartment with a deteriorating concrete floor and newspaper on the walls for decoration.
Our next-door neighbor was a crazy hooker named Kim who called the cops regularly thinking someone was trying to break in and kill her through the skylight above her shower. My good friends Sam and Jessie lived inside the main house with the shared bathroom and kitchen. Their next-door neighbors were a crack-head couple, Rachael and Ben, who constantly stole food from the fridge.
Eventually Ben and Rachael got evicted, but like a bad case of herpes you really can’t get rid of a crack head. Even when the landlord boarded up all the doors and windows, it wasn’t enough to keep Ben out. A few days would go by with no sign of him, but as soon as you let your guard down you would hear him scurry past in the shadows or pop up to tend his pathetic little marijuana plant hidden amongst some tall weeds. He even kicked in the boards to his old room and started squatting there. We eventually bolted up the back door to keep him out, but Ben just took the boards off the window and started climbing in and out. Crafty little bastards, those crack heads.
I mostly stayed in Melbourne during my six-month stay. This wasn’t your quintessential Australia adventure filled with kangaroos, koala bears, Uluru, the Twelve Apostles and Bondi Beach. I was living in Melbourne, planting my roots, paying rent, working, learning the back roads and short cuts and making a name for myself besides the traveling American. I knew where the good bars and cafes were, where to get a good deal and never stood in line at the door. I was a temporary local, so to speak. This adventure was about meeting people, making everlasting friendships and falling in love. After the first month went by things really started fitting together with greatness. My friend Fisher hooked me up with a job at the local swimming pool, selling sandwiches and flirting with babes in bikinis. I started running into acquaintances in the street. People stopped asking me where I was from and what I was doing in Australia and started asking me how I’d been and what I’d been up to. The more I thought about it, Melbourne wasn’t some place I was visiting, it was a home; my close friends were my family. It isn’t a blood relation that links people as family, but respect and enjoyment in each other’s lives. Every day was a good day in Australia; we were just stoked to be in Melbourne, living amazing lives and taking things as they came.
The few short trips I took were mostly in the state of Victoria. I stayed in Somers at Rick Baker’s parents’ house. Rick, Mike and I were on the hunt for some koala bears, kangaroos and surf. Christmas with the Catsburgs was the next adventure. The whole lot of our friends (Mark, Kelly, Sam, Theo, Tim and me) spent a week in Sorrento with the 6 Catsburg family; no worries or thoughts, just beach eats, drinks and skate.
Over Easter weekend Age, Jake, Fisher and I went camping in the Gippsland Lakes on a narrow strip of land with a surf beach to one side and a lake on the other. At night you could hear the waves crash onshore while you watched the moonlight glisten off the glassy lake. I went to New Zealand and spent four days relaxing with Theo and his family in Auckland before taking off by myself to Cape Reinga. With only three days and very little cash, jumping on a tour bus filled with sheep was the best bet to see the most in the least amount of time.
Life never slowed down and my days started blurring together. Before I knew it three months had gone by and then four; my time in Melbourne was running thin. I had the option of extending my Visa another month, but I decided against it. All signs pointed towards the exit. Summer was gone, fall was fading and winter was on the horizon. Days were cold and wet, work ran out for me at the pool and my friends were swamped with work and school. My apartment was scheduled for demolition in mid-May. As much as I didn’t want to leave it was time for me to go. By my last week I had slowed down, living quiet days and trying to hold on to and absorb everything around me.
My flight was scheduled for departure on May 7 at 11:15 A.M., so Tuesday night would be the last dance. We started off at the Coyote Café for $2.50 taco night. Sixteen of my friends came out to wolf down more than 50 tacos, numerous jugs of sangria and bottles of beer. Afterwards it was off to our local hangout, the Carlton Club, for the last round. Another four or five friends showed up to wish me off and the place was ours. We stayed there drinking and laughing until the place shut and they kicked us out. I wasn’t about to quit; a small group of us took a cab back to Chaps making a quick pit-stop at the 24-hour bottle shop. As I crossed through an intersection I once again stared at the world, dazed and confused, only this time I wasn’t lost and unsure of what to do; I was stuck in a phantasmagorical mind state. How could have 156 days flown by so quickly? Then a car swerved at me in an effort to scare me. Instinctively I yelled out “fuck you!” and tossed the ice cream I was eating at the back of his car. The guy made a u-turn, got out of his car and started swinging at me like a gorilla. He caught me three timesright in the face before my friends stepped in to break it up. There’s nothing like getting your ass kicked to snap you back into reality. With a bloody lip and swollen face we finished up the night laughing about what had just happened. Around six in the morning I said good night to my remaining friends and climbed into bed. There wasn’t any point in a long-winded, goodbye though. I knew that it was impossible to grow, change, love and live with people like this and never see them again.
1) Matto and Libby back ally boozing
2) Renton Miller, kickflip varial Praharan vertramp
3) IGDD BBQ
4) Tim, blunt fakie between the knobs
5) Last IGDD of the summer season
6) Chaps front gate
7) Backyard breakfast, from right to left; Catsburg, Mike, Chris, Tim, Theo,
8) Sammy poaching free internet at the Crack Den
9) Sunni Hart
10) Good Morning Matto
11) Digitally mastered Catsburg
12) Last Gypsies first recording session
13) Christmas cliff climb, from left to right; Theo, Tim, Sam
14) Sorrento rock pool
15) Prahran swimming pool
17) Lazy beach day, from left to right; Libby, Matto, Catsburg, Sam, Mike
19) Gippsland Lakes
20) Allan and Age, Gippsland Lakes
21) Collecting fire wood
22) New Zealand tourist
23) Fucking sheep…baaaaah
24) Push to the city, Theo
26) St. Kilda Beach
28) Tim and Sammy
29) Catsburg, fakie nose grind, St. Kilda Beach
30) Love birds Sam and Jessi