Cyclone Marcus

Jayden O'Neil Surfing Writer Writing Western Australia Blogger Journalist

 

After seven long years, Boreas, god of the north wind, returned. The unsuspecting low pressure system developed at the top of Western Australia and intensified to cyclone strength—warranting the accolade of a name: Marcus—across the Kimberly. The winds then ripped down the coast, causing power shortages and mild flooding in Broome and desirable swell for Perth and the South West. As the anticipated waves neared, every surfer suddenly became vigilant, tracking the bureau of meteorology’s every update. 

The rumours were manifold. Some speculated the swell of the decade. Whispers spread via a swarm of adrenalised messages and surfers, caught in the hype on their screens, became transfixed on the imagined wave of a lifetime.

The hype had a lot to do with Cyclone Bianca, a similar swell in 2011 that turned a couple of south-facing beach breaks—the main one being Wyadup, which is usually dismal—into heaving point breaks. It was a first. Never had such rare and unforeseen conditions blessed the coast in such a documented age. 

The surfing populace who rely on videos and write-ups on the internet to know what breaks will be good with certain forecasts consequently had no precedent. The few, mostly local pros, that spent the duration of the eight hour swell pulling into picture-perfect, cavern-like barrels, did so on inside knowledge, while the unbeknown majority settled for waves deemed on the surf report as ‘above average’. 

The footage of the pros who scored quickly followed.  The YouTube video eventually went viral and left an indelible print in the conscience of everyone who watched it.  So when Marcus hit, seven years later, hordes flocked south, turning the quiet carpark of Wyadup into a frenzy. 

At 7am on the cold Autumn morning of the swell, cars lined from the edge of the headland 500m back to a T-junction. A local swore he’d never seen the wider area so busy. A few friends and I walked to the edge of the promenade to watch the show. The faint tracks carved through coastal shrubbery, which hadn’t seen feet in seven years, were re-trampled. The rocks were dotted with spectators and already two jet skis and around 30 surfers crowded the lineup. 

A set loomed on the horizon. A local pro got towed into the first wave. He weaved under the lip, becoming neatly ensconced in the barrel before the wave sped down the line. The second broke further out and was double the size and was one of the best waves I’ve ever seen. We all stood gawking as the mechanically perfect, heaving mountain reeled down the beach unridden.

While waves rifled down the point like freight trains, our Instagram feeds similarly became swamped with photos of picture-perfect setups up and down the coast. We knew that the surfers in the carpark, who were also on phones, were seeing the same. We left, along with a raft of others, eager to find our own ideal wave with which we could post. 

Despite the crowds and cluster of photos of almost the entire coast on social media, we managed to find a break that know one had yet investigated. We stood in a  line—hawk-eyes to the horizon—at the look out as a set rolled in. We telepathically imagined the same thing as the second wave of the set pounded down the beach: effortlessly paddling into the wave, causally standing up, arching tall in the womb of it before stylishly crouching down, our hand tickling the lip, and getting spat out into the channel. The wave, much like Wyadup’s, was picture-perfect.  

We all got waves, less got barrelled and more had sand stuck in every possible crevice of the body. Also, the session was cut short. The winds were volatile and the mighty volume of water being funnelled into the bay caused highly turbulent currents. The waves never broke in the same spot and some jacked up and broke on the bank before we could blink. The session was memorable, but we all agreed the conditions were difficult and no one got a wave that lived up to the hype like the one we mind-surfed from the lookout. 

At home, we searched the edits that had continued to flood Instagram and the write-ups that praised Marcus. The waves were undoubtedly amazing but, like the prelude to the swell, no one talked or posted about the kinks or faults. No one shared a photo that showed the fierce winds, the grey clouds, or the uncharacteristically dark, ominous waters. No one reported that the perfect, unridden wave at Wyadup was an anomaly, that most of the time the ocean was beset with lulls. No one included an edit that showed the pro, who was comfortably standing in a barrel, eventually get clipped by the lip of the liquid monster and swallowed by a cacophony of foam, or even the majority who were victims of closeouts that slammed hundreds of tonnes of water into the shallow sandbank.

Not that we told our friends about it. The photos said it all. 

Our summer hiatus 

Huey finally rose from his summer slump, providing big enough swell for a surf break two hours north of the city. Perth had been copping measly shore breakers all summer, so we decided to take the punt, committing to a mercurial day trip. 

Swimmers may covet tranquil waters but surfers—who believe low pressure systems and pounding swell is the grail—dread it. I’d only surfed once in Perth during the summer months. The weekend weather report promised to bring a long-period swell from the south. I sped to the one break in the metro area that sometimes has summer banks called Trigg Point, affectionately termed Trigg Mound among those familiar with point set-ups. After a month of not surfing, I merely hoped for a few head height mushy reelers, but the waves were smaller than ripples in a lap pool. After 20 minutes of wading, one decent set came through. The youngster who was lucky enough to scrabble onto it pulled into the barrel. The wave broke fast down the line, mimicking more of a closeout. The grom nosedived and his board drove into the sand, eventually snapping, like Huey was punishing him for even trying. 

The idea of a day trip sparked enthusiasm, amassing enough people to need four cars. But hastily convened Day trips have high drop-out rates, so naturally a few reneged. Some had legitimate excuses: work they couldn’t get out of, family get-togethers they’d forgotten about. Others, however, who’d been drunkenly ebullient at the pub the night before had simply slept through the alarm. 

Two cars set off early the next morning. The stacks of logs and mid-lengths on top of the Land Cruiser rattled like a sail. When we arrived, the waves were small but clean and perfect. Peaks broke one after the other down the soft sand beach. We stopped at a number of potential peaks before finally settling on a deserted stretch with triangular shaped shallow sand banks , creating picturesque waist high reelers. We took the mid-lengths and logs off the roof and carefully lined them up. The quiver ranged from 7’6 mid lengths with funky hull bottoms to 9’6 longboards with experimental squared off tails, shaped locally and from around the world. The difference between logging and shortboarding, is like Yin and Yang. In Chinese Philosophy, Yin is characterised as slow, soft and poised; Yang by contrast is hard, fast and focused. It’s probably the reason why the culture of shortboarding is concerned with high performance, technology and science, and is boxed as a sport, and why logging is more concerned with artistry, craftsmanship and experimentation. A line-up full of boards over 7 feet is consequently more relaxed. 

On the peak further up, a pod of dolphins rode the underwater surge of a set wave, twisting and righting. We took turns catching the set waves, bottom turning into the pocket and stepping to the nose of the board as it glided onto the open face. We surfed for hours, the sun out, the winds calm, beach deserted. Then, the wind swung to a biting southerly and a few scudding clouds dropped a mist of rain, turning the idyllic conditions into slop, right when the third car rocked up with the photographer in it.  It’s still super fun, don’t you think?” one said, trying to convince himself, because to spend two hours in a hot car and arrive at onshore closeouts, denial is all you have. “Super fun,” we lied. 

We prayed for the miracle late afternoon glass-off despite knowing that Wedge is one of the windiest destinations on the planet, famous among kite and wind surfers. The longer we waited, however, the more the winds abated, reviving the halcyon morning. The sun began to set behind a reef of clouds on the horizon. The waves began to once again reel down the perfect sandbanks to the shoreline. We sat on our boards amid the kind of contented silence that comes from being surfed out, of having sunburnt skin, sore joints and a parched mouth. We surfed till late. Huey was finally rewarding us for trying.

Classic Bros for Classic Prose

January's book: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

 
Classic Bros for Classic Prose Jayden O'Neil Writing Book Club
 

 

After “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was published in 1967, The New York Times declared it as ‘the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”Although that sounds pretty uncompromising, the novel does deftly touch on the woes of a fallen world.

At the beginning of the novel, Jose Arcadio Buendia wants to move from the isolated and undisturbed town of Macondo, which he founded, to a more accessible location. Jose embodies humanity’s inexplicable curiosity to leave what is safe and secure for the unknown, like Eve in the Garden. But the patriarch's choice to leave the Eden-like setting of Macondo creates a discord—also like the Creation story in Gensis—for the Buendia dynasty.

As the Buendia family emerge from isolation into a grim society, the characters begin a steep descent into a world much like the right panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The sons of Jose especially succumb to the temptations of power in a war-stricken, lewd world.

Marquez’s unbridled imagination, coupled with a detached journalistic style, provides a very matter-of-fact portrait of the obscene. The magic-realism gives normalcy to characters like Rebeca, an earth-eating orphan who infects the town with an insomnia that causes memory loss, or Colonel Aureliano Buendía, a rebel commander who has 17 sons, all called Aureliano, to 17 women, or Remedios the Beauty, the most beautiful woman in the world, who spontaneously floats to heaven, abruptly leaving the novel. By the time I read of the banana plantation massacre and Aureliano seducing his aunt, I barely flinched. By a process of desensitisation, the unbearable realities  become increasingly plausible, providing a confronting  insight into what a town in Columbia during the 19th century may have looked like.

The characters and the town come full circle, beginning in a state of solitude, bound by tradition to a state of hostility, bound by modernity, then, at the end of the 100 years, back to isolation and age-old custom. Marquez comments on humanity's predictable knack for moving from one ideology to the next, like a pendulum-swing, searching for some equilibrium in a tumultuous world. The search for the Eden-state in worldly ideologies is likened to a dog chasing its tail: circular, tiring and futile. I’ve often prescribed to one set of ideals, only to be left unfulfilled and overcorrected with its opposite. My friend once dated a younger self-titled gypsy who didn’t believe in working. Then, he dated an older business woman who managed three businesses.

I don’t think it’s ‘the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race,” but the novel is darn raunchy and shouts countless truths of the human condition, of which this short synopsis has only skimmed.

 

Denmark Diaries: An ode to the Great Southern

 
Jayden Oneil Writer freelance
 

At the shore of the Denmark Estuary, a man threw a line. The strong south westerly had abated and the blinding sun set. The light dimmed and the spectrum of hues saturated the river. He stood still, pensively staring onto the horizon like a supplicant of the southwest. I noticed he didn’t have a bucket for the fish.

I felt beckoned to return to Denmark, my childhood home, an old milling town, which still holds a few old growths, towering as guardians of the Great Southern. I remember marveling at their majestic size, imagining the trunks as repositories of ancient knowledge now forgot. On arrival, I drove past the town, the old familiar streets, to the coast where the limestone escarpments line the untamed, turgid Indian. I paddled out, watching the waves crack ferociously on the shallow bank, and wished for once that another surfer would paddle out, too. I took big breaths to try and relax in nature’s unsettling dominion, the choppy surface, the fierce winds. The comfort of land and the solace of a hot drink coaxed. I stopped off at a farmhouse café. The 19th century limestone building with earthen floors and jarrah decking looked out to the rolling foothills. I observed a man with an old rotary tend to a small veggie patch on the prairie, a shout out to the lives of our forebears, a stripped back simplicity. He hoed to the rhythms of the countryside. I bumped into the parents of a childhood friend and learnt he was married with a child on the way. He’d settled down after completing an apprenticeship and built a house with the help of his family on the in-law’s property. From all accounts, he was happy. An elemental man content with life’s humble offerings.

The man at the Estuary, after the moon all elliptical and luminous had risen, rolled up the hand line. I watched him walked past. He held the reel, his fingers counting the jigs like prayer beads, an emblem to nature’s cathedral, and he left, slowly walking along the road, a vagrant pilgrim of the country, and he was gone.

Classic bros for classic prose

Decembers book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jayden oneil freelance writer bookclub classic bros for classic prose

For a novel written in the early 19th century, Pride and Prejudice is still confrontingly pertinent. The satire is almost the 19th century TV drama, Desperate Housewives, even.  

 Jane Austen’s witty romance follows the Bennet family’s unsuspected push into the centre of melodramatic court life in Meryton. Austen delves into ideas to do with pride and prejudice—surprised?—that can come from adherence to the traditions and customs of noble family lineage. The characters anxiously attempt to retain or pursue social connections with the elite, believing that the lower class will blemish reputation.

Growing up in a Catholic all boys school, I learnt a thing or two about elitism and the importance of appearances. I’ve even come in contact with a number of parents who’ve openly admitted to choosing private schools, because a prestigious school looks good in the eyes of other parents, and will allow their children to be part of a well-to-do alumni, which will help them get good jobs in the future. Isn’t it unnerving that Austen is still so relevant?

Austen uses some hefty elevated diction to, presumably, poke fun of high society, revealing that court ‘tradition’—like cousins marrying to perpetuate noble lineage—isn’t in place to preserve any worthy lore or to purposely make funny looking children, but to ensure the rich stay rich, a mere reflection of arrogance and entitlement:

My daughter and my nephew are formed to each other. They are descended on the maternal side, from the same noble line; and, on the father’s, from respectable, honourable, and ancient...families…and what it to divide them? The upstart pretensions of a young woman without a family, connections, or fortune.

Like any love story, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy have to overcome personal and societal shortcomings to unite. Darcy is ‘discovered to be proud, to be in above his company, and above being pleased’ by Meryton, especially Mrs Bennet. Despite the unflattering first impressions, Austen shows us that the people of Meryton, with all their preconceived judgements, are incapable of discerning another’s true nature from superficial appearances, and what turns out to be below Darcy’s snobbish indifference is a kind, generous heart.  

Elizabeth is articulate, independent minded and  ‘as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print’ Austen said. The heroines outspokeness and ‘liveliness of mind’ stimulates Darcy’s judgemental reserve. Lizzy was a far cry from the passive, vulnerable female characters of the time and ultimately carved a new identity for  modern feminism. She, in pride but also strength, refused to be swept by the nonsense of court society and her family, and instead followed her heart, creating one of the most well-known pieces of popular romantic fiction, ever.

The ghost of the pretentious milieu of the late modern period that continues to haunt our leafy green suburbs is probably the reason why I sometimes like to escape to places like the Men’s Shed, a place for gruff exteriors and the politically incorrect who, like Darcy, tend to easily rub people with delicate sensibilities the wrong way, but almost always underneath is a big and down-to-earth heart.

We could all take a leaf out of Darcy's book, as far as bad first impression go, because, from the bottom, you can only go up, only impress. We can be free from the burden of having to uphold expectations of being 'propitious', as Austen said. As a man that's certainly no saint, I don't need the reputation of being one hanging over the head, and will gladly leave it to the charming and charismatic. 

Jan book: One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Tales from the life of a barista

 

Got Milk?

 Snap by Lajos Varga

Snap by Lajos Varga

 

 

In a South Bondi beachfront cafe, I overheard a man ask for camel’s milk. The french waitress leant closer.

“Carmille?”

“Camel,” he clarified.

“Sorry, what is this?”

And that should’ve been that. But the man, ignoring the waitress, gestured with his index finger for the manager to come over.

I worked as a barista on Bondi road and would quiver when the weekend forecast read ‘sunny’. The locals and the masses from greater western Sydney would flock to the sand like pilgrims. Behind the coffee machine I watched the sunrise, illuminating the bay, the promised land of the east, as the car bays quickly filled and each bus at five-minute intervals dropped off another raft. The line for coffee then extended out the door, wrapping around the corner, and the inundation began, which would’ve been fine had everyone ordered a cap with one.

The coffee menu had seven types or styles of coffee: flat white, latte, and so on. A trite for an experienced barista to wrap her head around. The complications only started, and for the most part ended, with the modifications, the slight and very annoying changes from the original. A customer may want to specify the strength of the coffee, from a quarter of a shot of decaf to three and a half of the single origin, or to any one, or sometimes a mix, of 5 types of milk. On top of that, we offered different sweeteners and sized cups and 9 blends of tea from a boutique in Byron, as well as matcha and chai lattes. Coffee alone, we were threatened with upwards of 1680 combinations of coffees, and that’s not including whether a customer asks for the cup to be filled to a specific fraction, like three quarters, or seven eighths (it’s happened).

 

Paper spilt out of the docket machine, a trail of orders to the floor. Every now and then I’d look up to see someone at the till and hear the machine whir out a new docket. The length of the whir sound would let me know how elaborate the order was, the number of modifications. The sound that accompanied a tradie ordering a flat white was heavenly brief, but the whir that once went with a group of young women in activewear and push-up bras felt perennial. The psychology of Chinese torture is that victims are driven frantic to the point of insanity because of prolonged restraint under galling conditions, the constant drops of water or, in a baristas case, the unrelenting sound of a docket feeder. The women’s order was so long the docket had to be folded to keep the paper that drooped off the bench on the table, so it wouldn’t keep falling to the ground.

While labouring over the six involved coffees, one of the women in the group poked her head over the coffee machine, prying.

“Just wondering how far away our coffees are? We’ve been waiting 10 minutes,” she said anxiously.

I looked down at the 20 dockets with the 40 coffees and then to the 40 people in the cafe. One thing that’s drummed into a barista is ‘the customer is always right,’ even though that maxim is almost always wrong. So, as a conscientious worker, I swallowed the itch to defy.

“So sorry for the wait,” I said, twitching. “We’re making it now.” She waited in front of the pass, the table where all the made coffees were placed for the floor staff to carry them out.

“Sorry, do you mind just waiting here,” I pointed behind the coffee machine. “We wouldn’t want to spill any coffee on you.” She obliged but didn’t return my smile. The tension built. “So, what you up to today?”

“Probably just the beach,” she said. Explains why she’s in such a hurry, I thought.

Finally, the waiter took the made coffees to the woman and her friends only to return with one of the drinks. “Sorry,” the waitor said. “She reckons she ordered the decaf long black with rice milk foam on top and one equal three quarters topped up.”

“Three quarters?”

“Yeah.”

“Doesn’t say on the docket,” I said. The woman returned to the coffee machine.

“I think I forgot to ask for it not fully topped up,” she said. “I like it a little stronger.”

“You want me to make it again?”

“Is that okay?”

Do you know how hard and wasteful it is to steam rice milk foam? I thought. To get nicely steamed milk, the steam wand has to force air into the milk. As the milk heats, the proteins attach to the air particles. The proteins are attracted to fat, allowing a stable mixture in foam, which is why full cream milk steams to delicious silk and why rice milk steams to gurgled water. The scoopable foam from rice milk is merely a bunch of fleeting bubbles. Once I tipped the bubbles onto her four fifths topped up coffee,  I upended the rest of the five-dollars-a-litre milk down the sink, then put a vengeful dash of lactose filled full cream milk and a caffeine rich espresso in with the rice milk decaf. I’m not proud of it, now, but a barista learns to take small wins. She sipped.

“That’s perfect. Delicious,” she said.

A friend once told me that, in Argentina, he reached a small community where he was welcomed by a local family after hiking for days in the cold, subsisting on only rice. In the shanty the family sat cross-legged on an earthen floor and dished out an equal amount of food to each member, then poured boiled water into a large pot of mate tea, a traditional caffeine-rich South American drink, which tastes like water sifted through nutrient deficient dirt. They blessed the dinner and passed the tea which had to be drunk through a metal straw. He hated the taste, but in the bitter wilderness a hot drink is irresistible and because he didn't have choice and saw that the tea was just an extra to the company, he sipped with gratitude.  After eating the children fed the leftovers to the cow, which they would milk the next morning, the milk my friend would deem the tastiest of his life.

The manager, who was trying to clear a table, rushed over to the French waitress and man who impatiently blurted.

“Excuse me, I was just asking your worker whether you served camel’s milk?”

“We only serve what comes out of a cow, sir. And soy. Bonsoy,” the manager said.

The man sighed slicking back a fallen hair strand. “Well, just a long black then,” he sneered and looked back down to the paper like the manager was the one who should’ve been embarrassed.   

Classic Bros for Classic Prose

November's Book: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 

 
Jayden ONeil writer book club classic bros for classic prose
 

 

 

During WWII, Yossarian is stationed with his Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa near the Italian coast in the Mediterranean Sea. Yossarian is under the thumb of superiors who promise that after flying a certain number of missions—initially, I think it’s around 30—he'll be released from his duties and finally able to go home. But every time he gets close to completing the required missions, the Colonials raise the number. (By the end the number is 80). Yossarian, after searching for any excuse to leave, discovers that people who are diagnosed as crazy aren’t obliged to fly missions.

Now, this is sort of difficult to explain. Yossarian declares he’s insane but the Colonials don’t let him stop flying missions. They say that anyone who would want to fly is insane, and anyone who says they’re insane in an attempt to stop flying is showing a rational concern for his safety and is, therefore, deemed sane to fly. Confusing, right? He becomes trapped by the one catch—Catch-22—a law of paradoxical, circular reasoning and is left to rot in a world beset with death, illness and bureaucratic corruption.

The novel is told in a number of tangential-like chapters which steer from the action of the front line to the ‘everyday relationships within bureaucratic authority’ said Heller. The postwar masterpiece, like other works in the peace-not-war movement of the 60s, illustrates a very unflattering image of war by stripping all romantic pretenses away from battle and shining a light on the manipulative rhetoric of the colonials who used patriotic platitudes like ‘Die for the love of your country’ to justify exploiting soldiers’ services for self-serving gambits.

Yossarian is both the most luny and paradoxically the sanest. He believes a dead man haunts his room, suffers severe panic attacks in threatening situations—unlike the other soldiers who can maintain a certain calm in the face of death—and is afflicted by a mighty sex addiction.   But he also has an acute discernment. Yossarian critiques the power-driven political rhetoric of wartime which becomes the satirical driving force of this nightmarish comedy.   

From the outset, Heller’s prose is circular and repetitive—much like a catch-22—a style which allows him to paradoxically delve into the grotesque and hilarity of human nature, touching on the vulnerability of men with a finessed sensitivity, humour and insight.

A few people in the book club said it was a hard book to follow. Given the logical irrationality of the book, maybe we're not supposed to get it, and by not getting it, we’re actually getting it, and to say that we get it, is not getting it? Or is that a catch-22?

Personal Essay

Hot Chips

Chips.jpg

I watched a man attempt to eat a hot chip in a cafe. He’d slicked back hair and wore a suit and, after collecting the bowl at the counter, sauntered to a corner table where he picked up one of the chips, unaware of the steam billowing, and bit down. They say there’s a one-tenth of a second delay between the accident and consciousness actually registering pain but the lapse dragged to a few seconds as if the gravity required extra processing. When the brunt befell, he jolted, causing his arm to knock the chips to the floor and the chair to screech against the linoleum floor as he covered mouth with hand following with heavy out-breaths and muffled high pitched yelps. Once the initial pain abated, his dilated pupils scanned the dining room, presumably, to see if the sudden movements had attracted an audience. Maybe that was the reason he abstained from spitting the fry back out. His respectable table manners couldn’t let a well-bred man expectorate sloppy potato mash in a café full of onlookers.

A few perturbed by the disrupted ambience deadpanned the victim and returned to their affairs. The rest of us stopped eating and conversations and anxiously waited, for we, the more compassionate audience, knew by the exposed veins in the man’s neck that the chip at some point would have to come out.

As a child I’d visit my grandparents in Claremont from Denmark, the town on the coastal fringe of the Great Southern, not the Nordic country. The town was a haven for the nonconformists who’d lived their formative years in the conservative, urban gentry and decided to finally grow out their hair—everywhere—and get in touch with their inner earth child, unrestrained and free from Victorian sensibilities.

I remember one busy Saturday in the township my little brother sitting on the tiles in the middle of my parents’ cafe, naked, fondling his erection. Amazed and proud at the growth, he proceeded to parade from table to table, flaunting his member.

“Look. Look how big my penis is,” he’d say, pulling on their shirt, to which I’d shrink behind the nearest pot plant. But, to my amazement, the local diners would put down their forkful of eggs, toast and side of sausage and laugh.

“Wow, Zak,” they said, ruffling his hair, like that was a perfectly normal thing for a child of 4—my brother says he gets older by the month each time I recount—to do in a cafe.

So when my brother and I sat at the Claremont dinner table with carefully arranged cloths, placemats and napkins, and adorned with candles and flowers, a clash of eating styles ensued.

“Tuck your arms in, fork with the left, don’t talk when you chew, no elbows on the table, stop poking your brother with the fork,” my nana would instruct.

“Why?” I summoned the courage to ask, looking up at my towering papa.

He looked down with utmost jurisdiction. “Because that’s just the way it is.”

Those words followed me through childhood, Catholic high school and to this day. I learnt the importance of those words, of acknowledging tradition, of meeting unspoken expectations, to blend into workplaces and hordes, effortlessly, without a sound. Now at 24, I’ve accumulated a backlog of thousands of instructions of how to study, work, honour thy mother and father and thy friends, properly clean the toilet, pour a glass of wine, and act when I’ve abandoned dinner plans with the girlfriend to drink with mates and she says “it’s fine.” But when I find myself at a new dinner table, or in an unfamiliar situation, a flood of decrees emerge. Back straight, arms back, act more relaxed, ask more questions, stop looking at the dog licking his crutch, stop saying ‘like’, swirl the wine before sipping, fork in the left, fork in the left! The inundation feels like an army of filters censoring impulses, editing and dictating for sensibility. Thankfully, I’m known to have a drawn out, monotonal voice accompanied by subtle and sedated body movements, which gives the air of being relaxed.

“You’re so chilled out,” they say while my brain is quietly in overdrive, performing a meticulous audit.

In my first 10 minutes at a news office as a cadet journalist—as the routine inundation peaked—I heard the editor slam the computer and bawl.  

“You fucking stupid machine. Bloody piece of worthless bloody shit.” A number of expletives followed. The editor’s top button was undone and hair messed and he continued to thump the keypad in an attempt to fix the frozen screen. I watched in awe. He was so unapologetically angry and because no one was in the crossfire, I saw how harmless the tantrum was and wondered how many people, like myself, would’ve squashed that impulse into a jar and tried to cap a lid on. Hold it in and get a tumour, a peer once said.

The man, after a long while, regurgitated the chip into a napkin. We pretended to look the other way as he turned around with rosy cheeks to see if he’d been lucky enough to be spared an audience. The man slouched, defeated, as a number of diners laughed and whispered looking in his direction. He’d failed his dining duties. Although an honest and small mistake, I empathised with his rosy cheeks and, on my way to the door, thought to pass and reassure the man. “Hot chips, ey? Bloody things. Don’t worry. Happens to the best of us.”  

But before I got to him, the man bent down, scooped the chips off the floor into the bowl and, to the amazement of all of us in the café, picked up a chip and took another bite.  

Shop profile for the Herald

FOR years I walked the length of High St in the West End unbeknown to the closet-sized paragon of design curation.

Nestled between a waxing salon and gallery, Compendium Design Store is a tardis of fine accessories, stationery, jewellery and homewares.

After a few years working in graphic design, owner Jayden Weston wanted to create a design store for the Freo community, so he opened Compendium in 2010, bucking the trend for online retail, believing that true retail will always rest in brick and mortar.

Jayden oneil freelance writing

“We really focus on providing a great in store experience, be it through in store customer service, helping with gift ideas, gift wrapping, window display, and pleasant ambience with music and candles,” Westone says.

The shop’s eclectic layout is inspired by the design of contemporary art galleries and brands like Muji, Mr Porter and Warby Parker, rather than other retail outlets, incorporating a mix of muted colours, light timber and clean lines.

The store stocks a concise but weighty selection of creative and progressive local and international vendors such as Hellolulu, Kaweco, Royal Republiq, and Sole Ceramics. Compendium recently collaborated with Apolis, a brand collaborates and supports artisans in developing countries, to create a customised Fremantle Market tote bag.

 Photos supplied

Photos supplied

True to its name, the shelves are adorned with eminent books and periodicals on design, fashion, lifestyle and culture. The store is also the official english TinTin stockists, shelving a generous selection of both hard and paperback copies as well as collectable figurines of the loved comic-book hero.

As an enthusiast for nice looking magazines, I’ve often halted on the street to peruse the latest editions of Monocle, Kinfolk and Fantastic Man only to exit with enough printed text to entertain a voracious bookwork for a lifetime.

Jayden oneil freelance writing

For folk that want to splurge, Weston has a carefully picked selection of popular, but expensive, design watches, but, with the store being close to hordes of uni students, the shelves also hold a number of more affordable products and gift ideas to cater for all budgets.

Compendium turned seven on October 11 and Weston attributes their long standing to the store’s close relationship with locals and the ever-changing and growing product range that continues to reflect and cater for the mixed demographic of Fremantle.

“We find we get great support from locals who love Fremantle and the Fremantle brand and we love being apart of the local fabric and community.”

Local business profile for the Herald

NEW EDITION owner Alan Sheardown is the living embodiment of the Belle and Sebastian song, Wrapped up in books.

Like a lot of the best merchants his job was once his passionate hobby, and he used to religiously browse in bookshops and read in cafes after work.

 
jayden oneil freelance writing
 

Eventually he took the literary plunge and managed a second-hand bookstore in Sydney and then Planet Books in Mount Lawley.

Sheardown bought New Edition in Fremantle in 2014, when it was in danger of going under after 27 years and the literary community pleaded with him to save it.

“New Edition is renowned around Australia; it’s an institution,” he says.

“I used to buy books from here when I was a teenager so I couldn’t let it die.”

“I own another bookstore [Crow Books] in Vic Park and I had no intention on becoming busy, but I couldn’t leave Fremantle without a bookshop.”

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In a shrinking industry dominated by digital publications and online sellers like Amazon, New Edition is the torch bearer for the lost art of book curating.

Sheardown takes inspiration from second-hand book stores, and believes half the joy is browsing and stumbling upon hidden gems.

While he still has to pay the bills and recognises that commercial fiction is an important part of the shop, Sheardown spends a lot of time browsing catalogues from the US and England to find interesting titles, authors and publishers not commonly represented in Australia.

He pulls down an almost pocket sized novella published by New Directions. The cover is a pastoral painting, reminiscent of the romantics, and is by Cesar Aira, a famed Argentinian novelist.

“I love that book,” he says.

New Edition stocks a number of genres, spanning from standard fiction to the quirky and niche, such as tattoo, philosophy, science and lowbrow art.

jayden oneil freelance writing

He says the wide selection reflects not only his personal taste, but his employees’ and the community’s.

“Punters will bring their friends here and really feel like it’s their bookshop.There’s a few philosophy lecturers at Notre Dame so when they come in and buy a book by Oxford University Press I know to buy more as there’s a good chance others in their field will be interested.

Sheardown also stocks a generous selection of local authors and books published by Fremantle Press and UWA Publishing, believing that the bookshop is an ecosystem of authors, publishes and readers, who all need support.

New Edition also hosts book launches and events in collaboration with small businesses in Freo, featuring local, national and international authors, with the most recent featuring writers Kim Scott and Rusty Young.

Classic Bros for Classic Prose

Caveat: Classic Bros For Classic Prose is a book club for all that was started by a few basic bros trying to read literature.

October’s book: Ulysses

Jayden O'Neil Book Review Classics

 

Well, if you understood all that you’re a better man than me.

Ulysses requires some superhero powers of comprehension, an arguably ambitious read for a few basic bros, but those who can tough the doorstopper are now worthy to sit on the literary adult table.

Joyce began writing the novel in 1914 as a short story for the collection ‘The Dubliners’, so God only knows how the short blew out to 265,000 words. Finally published in 1922, Ulysses is a sort of sequel to A Portrait of a Young Artist by picking up Stephen Dedalus’s life a year after where Portrait left off. The story begins by introducing Leopold and Molly Bloom and proceeds to map primarily the three main characters’ physical and mental journeys on a single day, June 16, 1904, in Dublin.

As a piece of Modernist art, Joyce sets the novel in modern metropolis and explores real issues and history, similar to ‘Wasteland’ by modernist contemporary T. S. Elliot, through characters’ trivial and significant thoughts in scattered and fragmented prose—mirroring the erratic and incoherent inner dialogue that can plague us all—to achieve a kind of hyper-realism, which had been previously unexplored. (People can’t really speak with the poise, calculation and wit of a character in a Jane Austen novel.)

Pineapple rock, lemon platt, butter scotch. A sugar-sticky girl shovelling scoopful of creams for a Christian brother. Some school treat. Bad for their tummies.

The novel also massages the intellectual slow twitch muscle fibres by touching on the mythic, drawing parallels to Homer’s Odyssey, the Greek Epic. The three main characters Stephen, Bloom, and Molly mirror Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope, respectively, and each of the 18 chapters corresponds to an adventure from the Odyssey.

The theme of the struggle for identity through paternity also ties the works together for just as Telemachus’s searches for Odysseus and vice versa, Stephen longs for an ideal father figure and Bloom for a son.

In light of testing readers comprehension skills, Joyce further takes the piss by radically changing prose style as Stephen’s character develops and shifts points of view throughout the novel.  

A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters.

Versus:

From outrage (matrimony) to outrage (adultery) there arose nought but outrage (copulation) yet the matrimonial violator of the matrimonially violated had not been outraged by the adulterous violator of the adulterously violated.

For a novel that’s granted the top position on the ‘Most difficult novels’ list by Goodreads—behind Joyce’s other slog, Finnegans Wake—the plot is incredibly simple and mundane: Stephen teaches history lesson then walks in park. Bloom reads a letter then goes to newspaper office. Stephen speaks at library. Molly cheats on Bloom. Bloom masturbates. Stephen goes to brothel and gets punched. Bloom revives Stephen. Bloom finds out Molly cheated. Molly ruminates on cheating and relationship with Bloom.  

Sian Cain, a columnist for the Guardian, deems the novel as the best in the English language and the hardest to read, admitting that “For three months, I glared at its fat, lumpen form on my floor with a vague sense of personal failure”

“When James Joyce finished writing Ulysses, he was so exhausted that he didn’t write a line of prose for a year. I can believe it; I needed a nap after reading 40 pages,” Cane says.

In a world that’s already highly resistant to reading, I’d recommend this book to no one, save the pseudo-intellectuals who’d like to tick it off their list of classics. Guilty. 

November's book: Jospeh Heller's Catch-22

Arts feature for the Freo Herald

Come Together

FIVE years ago, the acclaimed exhibition We don’t need a map: a Martu experience of the Western Desert became the conduit for Aboriginal artists to come together to uninhibitedly explore and celebrate country and identity.

_Aziah Smythe_Footballer_2017_ reclaimed tin paint_Photography by Bo Wong_preview.jpeg

The event paved the way for a new creative project called In Cahoots which sees six independent artists and six rural aboriginal art centres—from the dust filled savannah of WA to the forest lain coastal escarpments of Victoria—connect to create a collaborative installation.

Facilitated by Erin Coates, each centre chose the independent artist they would work with and spend the next two years formulating and creating a body of work.

 Snap by Tony Albert

Snap by Tony Albert

“In Cahoots is about artists working together in unexpected ways, combining different skills and knowledge to create rich, unique and surprising artworks,” she says.

Coates says that although each centre and independent artist is very different, a common theme runs through each piece.

“Every team got their hands dirty by gathering materials in the area to create these bold sculptures.”

 Snap by Tony Albert

Snap by Tony Albert

Curtis Taylor, a celebrated short filmmaker from the Pilbara, collaborated with the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Arts Centre’s in the Northern Territory to create a series of pieces that explore Martu and Yolngu Country.

Taylor says the project forced him out of his comfort zone to work with new ideas, materials and techniques.

“In my experience the act of collaborative work tends to loosen up barriers and develop rich bonds between people and ways for working,” he says.

Taylor and Ishmael Marika, one of the Buku-Larrnggay Mulka artists, undertook several trips to both homelands to learn about each other’s cultures.

“We speak different languages and even though we are from different cultures we have similar ideas about the world,” Marika says.

“We want to teach our audiences about our cultures, and for our cultures to be recognised, respected and celebrated.” 

 Baku project

Baku project

The installations will showcase a haunting array of carved wooden spears, woven human hair and video components.

Perth artist and Policy Advisor for Water Corporation Neil Aldum travelled to Baluk Arts in the Mornington Peninsula. After the first visit he says he had to significantly review his practice by reconsidering “pace, dialogue, and development” to successfully collaborate with the Baluk Artists.

The Baluk Artists are an eclectic mob from all over Australia so their work reflects themes of identity through the use of kelp, clay, rubber, wood and metal which move on a strip of metal and is counterbalanced by stones.

Martumili 6_preview.jpeg

The exhibition will run from the 25–28 of November at the Fremantle Arts Centre. Coates says the opening which will be an ‘incredible celebration’ of each centre’s work. The night will include artists from around the country who will run workshops as well as special guest Gavin Wanganeen, former football star and artist, who will inaugurate the event.

Coates talks of a photograph of a Ngaanyatjarra boy standing on the rusted remains of a truck in a Captain America mask holding an Indigenous shield, an inviolable stance that is proud of aboriginal identity and Country, with all its cultural crossovers.

Arts feature for the Herald

 Photo supplied

Photo supplied

 

Emerging and established poets will unite in 22 Pillars, an experimental performance all about Fremantle.

The event is part of High Tide, where artists respond to their local environment, and all 22 poets will explore some aspect or archetype of the port city.

“To have the whole cohort focused on the Fremantle theme is really a first for the city,” says event director Jennifer Kornberger.

Over the last few years Kornberger has been experimenting with ways to bring poetry into new contexts, and her two previous spoken word projects, Forest of Poets and Oraculum, were performed in public places to create a raw exchange with the audience.

“I’ve always had a simple fascination with the way people can be moved by words, how they can be stirred or soothed or shown another way to feel,” Kornberger says.

But 22 Pillars will go further than her previous works with the addition of a choir, who will sing about the significance of limestone in Fremantle’s history and culture.

Kornberger says the choir will add another element to the live performance and develop the idea that poetry is a unifying and collective experience.

“As a writer I know that poetry can be a fairly solitary pursuit—there’s the poet with the pen and there’s the reader with the book,” she says.

“But in its roots, poetry is communal.

“It’s a shared mythos—it’s the first songs of every culture.”

So when High Tide curator Tom Muller asked Kornberger to create a piece in response to the Pakenham Street Art Space, she decided to merge space and landscape with poetry to create a “living artwork that speaks, creates images, and makes its own world.

“It’s an orderly, evocative space, almost like a crypt,” Kornberger says.

“It has literally 22 jarrah pillars, each one crying out to be inhabited by a poet.”

There’s nothing in the performance to distract from the words: the lighting is simple and the human voice raw, and the poets’ costumes, designed by local designer Deborah McKendrick, are elegant and unadorned.

Kornberger says the performance will break down parameters and present poetry in a “completely new way”, with the hope that it will demonstrate, in one way or another, why verse is indispensable to our lives.

22 Pillars will be at PSAS, as part of the Fremantle Festival, on November 3-4.

Food Review for Herald

I’VE often wanted to learn more about Middle-Eastern cuisine, so instead of blowing the dust off my copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, I ate a surfeit of food at Propeller.

Located beside the North Freo Town Hall, the restaurant is run by Siobhan Blumann and Hamish Fleming, and adds a Levantine touch to the town centre.

 Photos provided by Propeller

Photos provided by Propeller

Converted from an old bus shed, the restaurant’s rear dining area is industrial, yet feels intimate.

A blue shipping container—an architectural nod to the port—connects to a high ceiling dining room, designed by renowned architects Michael Patroni and Tobias Busch, where louvre windows flood the area with natural light.

The alfresco area overlooks the street and some manicured grass, which is perfect for relaxing with a glass of vino and nibbles.

The seasonal menu, created by chef Kurt Sampson, is inspired by his love of Levantine cuisine.

Breakfast goers wanting a Turkish twist can have poached eggs with yoghurt sauce, chilli oil dressing and spiced flatbread ($18).

jayden oneil freelance writing

Lunch and dinner time is more street food style with share-plates, and the menu is split into nibbles, garden, sea, paddock and from the oven.

Out of curiosity my dining partner and I ordered the fried cauliflower, kale, goats cheese and spiced raisin salad ($16), and the mushroom manoushe pizza with garlic, blue cheese and pine nuts ($17), with two recommended glasses of plonk from the diverse list.

The food quickly arrived and the cauliflower—which I'd thought was the blandest of vegetables—brimmed with flavour, surpassing all expectations.

jayden oneil freelance writing

 

I’ve got quite elementary tastes in pizza and don’t really go beyond mozzarella, but the rich and unconventional manoushe style was moorish and interesting enough to convert even a penchant like me.

The more trusting can choose the ‘let us feed you’ option ($45), which is an assortment of dishes chosen by the chef.

Every time I’ve eaten at Propeller I’ve always ordered the baklava pudding with persimmon ice cream ($14) for dessert, and I can say with certitude that once you’ve tried it, you will never go back to sticky date pudding.

I Am My Own Wife

 
Freelance Writing Theatre Jayden O'Neil
 

For the Fremantle Herald

PULITZER PRIZE-winning play I Am My Own Wife examines the life of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who navigated through the Third Reich and Iron Curtain in a pair of high heels.

Not long after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, US playwright Doug Wright held a series of interviews with von Mahlsdorf, by then 65-year-old and carrying a remarkable story of survival, identity and loss.

Following a successful run on the East Coast, Black Swan Theatre Company is bringing the play to Perth on October 12-19.

I Am My Own Wife is a powerful reminder of the complexity involved in being human. It is a reflection of the lengths to which human beings will go when survival and existence are under threat,” says play director Joe Lui.

“It is, above all, a mirror. We see ourselves reflected in playwright Doug Wright, rediscovering that no human being is all angel or all demon.”

Brendan Hanson will take on the formidable task of playing 36 characters in the “beautifully crafted and evocative play.”

“It’s a unique process doing a one-person play; normally I don’t learn my lines until the rehearsals commence but obviously that’s not possible with 70-odd pages of text,” Hanson told DNA Magazine.

Set designer Cherish Marrington says the stage will evoke the gloomy styles of “German Expressionist Theatre, Brutalist architecture and Film Noir.”

The play follows Wright as he meets von Mahlsdorf and she reflects on her grim and turbulent life, including her imprisonment for killing her brutal Nazi father with a rolling pin, after he threatened to shoot her and the rest of the family.

Von Mahlsdorf also helped a second-hand goods dealer clear out the homes of deported Jews and would often keep lamps, bronze busts and recordings of banned composers, like Mendelssohn and Offenbach.

In her autobiography, Mahlsdorf says the artefacts are “embodiments that mirror the history of the men who built them, who lived in them. Senseless destruction does away with a former way of life, the foundation of our spiritual and aesthetic culture, and irretrievably impoverishes our daily lives.”

Von Mahlsdorf eventually creates a homegrown museum, preserving a slice of bourgeois German culture, and in her own idiosyncratic way, helps to keep a fractured country intact.

In the basement of her museum, von Mahlsdorf runs a bar which becomes a haunt for gays, lesbians, transvestites, and prostitutes, and even a meeting place for the Homosexual Interest Group of Berlin.

Wright told Playbill magazine that he is interested in German homosexuality during the Third Reich because archive materials and first-hand accounts are rare, as the Nazis arrested around 100,000 gay men between 1933 and 1945 and often executed them.

In the play, Wright says he admires von Mahlsdorf for her ability to be so unapologetically gay in the face the Nazis, but as the conversation develops, von Mahlsdorf’s story starts to amass a number of contradictions and inconsistencies. As Wright struggles to make sense of the material, he asks von Mahlsdorf whether she is tempted to refinish a piece in her museum, but she tells him the imperfections are all part of history.