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Friday, July 26, 2013
'Rounding the bend it’s Apple Martini. Apple Martini coming up on the inside. Apple Martini by a head! It’s Apple Martini! Looks like Apple Martini’s gonna take it! Yes, Apple Martini wins by a nose!'
Day 1 – Where’s the Roos?
Hay, population 3574 - New Crown Hotel Public Bar, 5 pm.
Maree and I leant against the public bar at the New Crown Hotel in Hay (a country town in New South Wales). We pondered what to drink as the room of leathery old farmers wondered what to stare at i.e., the two Aboriginal women, or the horse race. ‘Shit sis look at that. If we were earlier I woulda backed Apple Martini. It came first. What a coincidence, the last time we saw each other we were drinking apple martini’s in New York’. Maree reminds me of the Happy Hour session we had with our sister Yhonnie in New York City. I lived in New York City for nearly two years and met Maree Clarke and Yhonnie Scarce at an exhibition of their amazing works of art at MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts) in Brooklyn. The $6 Happy Hour lip smacking Appeltini’s had us ordering ‘one for the road’ too many, and initiated a pretty funny night out (bottom lip hangin’, I miss New York L). We giggled over the full circle moment as we tried to get the 20 year old barman to make us one. Unfortunately he had no idea how to make them, so it was a lemonade, and lemon, lime and bitters for us. From the New Yorker Hotel, to a public bar in Hay apple martini’s followed us and my reverse culture shock experience began.
Maree Clarke is a Mutti Mutti/Yorta Yorta and Boon Wurrung/Wemba Wemba woman from north-east Victoria. She is an authentic and diversely talented artist. There is one unique practice amongst her repertoire of creations that is my favourite, and that’s the art of making jewellery out of Kangaroo teeth. Yes, you heard right…Kangaroo teeth! On a recent trip to Melbourne (where Maree lives), I got talking to her about the process involved in creating these works. It was totally fascinating and amusing to me, because this champion practitioner of cultural maintenance is a road kill teeth collecting vegan. Lol! Yes, you heard right…Vegan. Vegetarianism is deemed weird enough within the Indigenous community let alone veganism. So when this vegan Aboriginal artist invited me to tag along on a road trip, to video her collecting Kangaroo teeth from road kill for her art…..how could I refuse?
Hay’s New Crown Hotel Dinning Room – 6 pm.
The road trip from Melbourne to Hay passed quickly, and was clean. We weren’t really in road kill country just yet. I was entertained by Marees’ yarns of past road trips and the history of her traditional lands. Hungry and thirsty we arrived in Hay right on dinner time. Trying to conjure up a decent vegan and/or vegetarian feed in remote, carnivore-dominated environments’ is always challenging. After ordering the closest thing we could get to our dietary requirements, Maree and I noticed the ‘Specials Board’. A large chalked message stated ’No Wedgies’. Hey look out! Maree just ordered some (Wedges that is). As we contemplated what might end up on our table a middle-aged women donning an erratically dyed blond hair do approached the counter. Her oversized cheesecloth blouse outed her as a Pokies addict, by wedging itself right up the crack of her denim shorts. Aunties been sittin’ on that stool waaay too long. ‘No Wedgies’…hmmm maybe that’s what they meant. Then just as we had our fill of wedges and wedgies, a DeLorean blasting itself ‘Back from the Future’ pulled up outside the pub. With it’s not so futuristic mullet encrusted driver, I assumed it might be heading for the infamous Deniliquin Ute Muster. In any case it created a moment of excitement for the locals as we wandered across the road to our accommodation.
Day 2 – Somewhere between Hay, Hell and Booligal.
‘Where did you break down? Oh somewhere between Hay, Hell and Booligal’, a quote from an old truckie. I imagine a conversation between a couple of kangaroo mates….’Where’d he get hit? Oh somewhere between Hay, Hell and Booligal’. Awww poor Coorangs (Kangaroos) trying to cross the outback roads of Victoria and New South Wales. Surprisingly fresh road kill in that part of the country was turning out to be quite sparse.
Maree…..‘Right there sis’.
This Murri couldn’t see a thing. Maree giggled as her well-trained eagle eyes had no problem identifying the perfectly camouflaged sun bleached bones along the roadside. She made her bone spotting technique sound like that of a ‘Battle Star Galactican Cyborg’ (for those who grew up in the 80s, or the Sci-Fi geeks). Her eyes rapidly scanned the road from side to side. Once spotted, like a formula one driver she hit the brakes, put the car in reverse and pulled up right alongside the dead roo. Then before I was able to grab the video camera, jump out of the car and start shooting, she had searched the remains, picked up any the teeth, packaged them up and packed them away. To quote my mum and elders back home I had to ‘pull my finger out’, i.e. get my act together and move quicker. No mucking around here. We were on a mission.
Booligal, Population 221 – Rest stop, 12 noon.
The road trip quickly became hot, dry and void of road kill. Wondering what happened to it all, we literally rolled into town alongside tumbling tumbleweed. It wasn’t a good sign for Maree’s project. Numb legged from sitting in the car too long I enter the local pub impersonating John Wayne’s crooked swagger….‘Out here a man settles his own problems’.....an apt film quote (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962). We were greeted by the rural migaloo version of a traditional knowledge holder i.e. the local barmaid. The lovely Lisa-Marie had answers to all our questions and the dilemma of a lack of road kill. She proceeded to inform us that because of too many road accidents, the councils regularly cleared the highways of the road kill. What felt like a Homer Simpson ‘Doh’ moment, she suggested getting in contact with the local roo shooters. So with an offer to supply 40 frozen kangaroo heads with teeth intact, Jeff (quickly doned Rooman by Maree) came to the rescue. All Maree had to do was come back and collect them…Sweet!
Ivanhoe, population 265 – Lunch stop, 1 pm.
‘Where’s all the Roos? I am all for safe driving but this is ridiculous!’. Clearly Maree needed a break and so did I. We pulled into Ivanhoe to make lunch out of the back of the SUV. With a friendly wave to the locals i.e. four of them, we munched on our vegemite and tomato sandwiches (made separately of course, but note to self, try vegemite and tomato sandwich when I get home).
Menindee, population 633 – Burke and Wills Hotel/Motel, Dinner 6:30 pm.
The road from Ivanhoe to Menindee provided even less road kill, so we decided to stop for the night. Now!....just incase you think Maree and I were actually on an outback pub crawl disguised as a visual arts expedition, you’re wrong. As most well worn travelers know you can count on two things being open when rocking up in a country town i.e., the local pub and Chinese takeaway. Go figure. We saddled up to the Burke and Wills bar for a feed and just in time to join in the event of the week. Yeah mate, it was Bingo night. So we thought. I haven’t played Bingo since I was a kid with my Grandma at the infamous ‘Valley Bingo Hall’ in Brisbane (that’s a whole other story). With a minute to spare we filled out the cards. We sipped on Aussie vin rouge bustin’ to yell bingo and win that $1000 when we realised, we weren’t actually playing Bingo. Lol Shame! I think it was Keno. I know nothing about pub games. Oh well it was fun anyway and the barmaid knowledge holder provided Maree with yet another helpful solution for her project.
Maree’s an old hat at her practice, but regardless and being armed with her CSI bone collecting kit there was a line in the sand to be drawn i.e., ’Fresh Road Kill’. Comically bemused by the contrast between veganism and collecting dead animal remains, this vegetarian wasn’t much help either. Talk about gross man. ‘Too Fresh!’, rang simultaneously in the car on approach of anything that had only been hit in the last day or two. Enter Uncle Rex…‘Are you the ladies looking for Roo teeth?’ Local elder and tour guide Uncle Rex Marlo was referred to us via the barmaid. Turns out Uncle needed a lift to Broken Hill and in return he’d deal with the fresh road kill for us on the way…..Solid!
Day 3 – Road Kill!
We hit the road early and with Uncles’ tour guide commentary the filming of the trip resembled a wildlife doco. He entertained non-stop with tales of mountains, rivers, animals, and my favourite the emu story. ‘Aww he been dumped’. Uncle spotted a lone emu standing on the side of the road as two others ran off together. He explained that once a female has laid her egg/s, she leaves the male to look after them and runs off with another male. Uncle…’See there she goes, she got another man’. Sista goes bush with her new man as we feel too sorry for the brotha left behind.
‘There she goes, she got another man’
I giggled inside and amused Maree and Uncle with the totally viable theory of my past life existence as a female emu when…..’There’s one!’. Uncle spotted a roo. He was spotting road kill with eagle eye precision kilometers away. A freshly hit adult male kangaroo lay right in the middle of the road. Once again before I knew it he had jumped out of the car and dragged it to the side of the road. The stench made videoing nearly impossible.
Uncle…’You right there girl?’
Me…’Yeah Uncle, this one stinks’.
Uncle frowned, bent down, puts his hands on his knees and took a long big whiff.…‘Huh, I can’t smell othing’’. Can Murri gag, hold her breath and giggle at the same time? Uncle laughed as I suffocated. Maree stood by with gloves, pliers and tin snips in hand. Nothing sufficed, Uncle tried to yank, twist and wrestle the teeth out of that carcass. They just wouldn’t budge. He takes a break as Maree interjects with her usual fail safe stomp on it’s head with your leather boot technique. Nothing was working.
Maree…’I’ll get the axe!’.
OMG! I shiver and feel too sorry for that roo. Uncle suggested we invest in some chicken scissors...’You know like the ones in that ad. They cut anything’. Waving the axe in the air Uncle amused us with his brief Demtel ad impersonation…’You also get!’, before chopping the teeth out of the roo. My urban Murri queasiness gradually subsided with the plethora of remains scattered along the road from Menindee to Broken Hill. I was spotting blood splatter with Dexter like expertise (minus the serial killer tendency of course). I knew exactly where those poor kangaroos got flung. Uncle was like a coronor identifying cause of death and dissecting the corpse. Maree, a coronor’s assistant tagged and bagged the remains. We were like a deadly black fulla forensics team scanning the landscape, looking for clues, identifying crime scenes, collecting material and clearing the area.
Uncle Rex and Maree
Broken Hill, population 18,430 – Uncle Drop Off 10 am.
Uncle cracked us up one last time before we dropped him off. The irony of patients trafficking themselves between the local medical centre, and Hungry Jacks directly across the road made us all giggle. Uncle…‘Ha ha ha look at these fullas’.
Coombah, population 3 soon to be 4, - hungry and thirsty 1 pm.
Roadtrip weary and hungry we were assured of a rest stop about half way between Broken Hill and Mildura. Little did we know what was in store for us as we pull in to the so-called roadhouse. It was a hot dusty ride to Coombah and we were thirsty. I enter the store to a couple of plastic tables and chairs, two drink fridges with no drinks, and a freezer with two Golden Gaytimes and a Magnum ice cream in it. A weird hillbilly type accent greeted us. ‘Howdy there. We don’t have much here we just took over the place’.
WTF! We turn around to see Elly-May, Elly-Sue, Betty-Lou, Mary-Jo, (Maree and I could decide what to call her), a real life hillbilly caricature standing behind the counter. She scared the **** outta me. Approximately 7 months pregnant, she twirled one unruly dreadlock that stuck out of her pig tale. Flicking her loose front buck tooth (one of only a few remaining, I am NOT exaggerating) with her tongue she continued. ‘My husband just took my mother-in-law out. She used to run the place but now we do. He’ll be back soon. I can make you a sandwich if you like’.
To my disbelief Maree ordered a sandwich. ‘He won’t be long’….she yells from the kitchen. I whispered to Maree...That’s because he’s actually out the back burying the mother-in-law in a shallow grave. Either that or she’s gonna be served up in your sandwich!’. Maree slowly munched on her sandwich as a 3 year old little boy in desperate need of a bath sat strapped into a pram giggling and clapping. A bigger picture of Coombah was building in my mind. An uneasy essence of ‘Deliverance (1972)’ stated to set in. Sista hurry up and eat that bloody sandwich before Billy-Jo the serial killing hillbilly comes back for us. I didn’t say that out loud, but I was happy to get outta there. We were also informed that the loos were out of action. Hmmm, didn’t care though, Murri was gonna hold it in no matter how far the next town was. We hooked it outta there.
Mildura, population 30,016 – An oasis.
We arrived in Mildura on a beautiful full moon night. We were surrounded by Maree’s family, yummy food, funny yarns and had a good night sleep before hitting the road again. Thank god for mob.
Maree and Ange on the Mad Max Highway
Day 4 – Four days on the road and we’re gonna make it home tonight.
Melbourne, population 4,246,345 – Calder Hwy.
The sun seemed to set early that evening, it got dark quick. The trees lining the highway swayed violently as strong winds howled trough them. The back of lorries shook as they overtook us. The atmosphere evoked a session of scary yarn telling. You know how we go, us mob, when we get started we can’t stop. Maree and I started swapping ghost spotting, missing floating people, hairy men and min min light stories. We were gettin’ real goolie (scared) too when…..Yukai! (aarrrggghhh!) Maree and I both let out the biggest scream.
Me…’OMG what was that?!’
Maree….’I don’t know’.
Me…..’Nah sis. True god, what was it?’
Maree (Laughing)…..‘I don’t know’.
Something rolled in front of the car. I scanned the side of the road and into the darkness to spot a big bit of tumbleweed making its way across a field. Don’t laugh, you know how jammy (jumpy and scared) mob get when tellin’ scary yarns. We made a pact to quit and focused on the project outcome. It turned out to be quit a productive trip. Maree now had enough Kangaroo teeth to create yet another beautiful necklace. We smiled as the beauty of Melbourne by night appeared on the horizon. Just as the last little country town bid us hooroo, we bid country Victoria and NSW adieu.
Kangaroo Tooth Necklace by Maree Clarke, Photo by Simon Anderson
Maree is currently working on a major installation for the redevelopment of Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum. Her work is currently in the ‘New Iconic’ exhibition at Vivien Anderson Gallery, Melbourne. Also both Maree and Yhonnie Scare will be exhibiting their work in the ‘Melbourne Now’ exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, opening in November 2013. To view more of Maree’s work check out the website below i.e.