“Of course it is, there’s a large mustard-mine near here. And the moral
of that is– The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours.” ~ The Duchess
Surprisingly Mt Isa was as hot as Uluru. Probably more. Maybe it just felt like that because the name was so misleading!
Hearing we were going to Mt Isa, we thought we were headed for the mountains, for cooler climes.
And why were we there? Joe had a task at hand- finding a top-class bogan.
The day didn’t start too well. We had a somewhat eventful night, and Amer & I had an early mike-up the next day. Mahi & G-man would go bogan hunting at noon and were thrilled to sleep in late. The early riser of the group, I was often given the KRA of an alarm clock- that morning I was to knock on Amer’s door to wake him up.
This seems fairly easy, but was actually a bit tricky- Amer would say he was up so you thought your work was over, but then he would go right back to sleep.
( On a very crucial morning when we had yet another early morning flight to board and I had already woken him up once, Jon had to be rushed up to his room to see if he was actually awake. When he finally joined our nervous group of people sure to have missed the flight, he looked at me with sleepy eyes and said – “Tussi mainu utthaya kyun nahin?” Why didn’t you wake me up? )
On that particular Mt Isa morning I opened my eyes, put the kettle on and slapped some really horrific looking ( but ‘eternal-beauty’ promising ) ancient Bhutanese concoction on my face and remembered I had to knock on Amer’s door right next to mine.
First knock- Grunting sound from within.
KNOCK- KNOCK 2nd time.
Thoughts in my head:
Wake up Amer, I really don’t wish to scare Aaron and Joe and the others looking like this.. especially Aaron, who had to deal with some Indian drama until past 1 am the night before.
This damn elixir of beauty is not supposed to dry out- or it turns the face into hell, and I can feel it start to dry.
The tea is turning cold.
Still nothing. No sound.
KNNOCCKK- with the key outside Amer’s door.
Suddenly the door opened- Stranger, white male, almost completely naked. We looked at each other in absolute shock. His jaw dropped, not an unexpected reaction to my face which had by now assumed a lovely shade of dried- moss green. A few confused seconds later I mumbled an incoherent “I’m so sorry” and beat a hasty retreat.
Who was that in Amer’s room ?????
Half an hour later I stepped out ready to face the immersive world of DDR camera and action.
A smiling Amer was already outside. His bag was outside the door next to the one I had knocked on an embarrassing half hour back.
Me (not giving anything away): Slept well handsome?
Amer: Ya, what were you guys doing up so late. I heard you and Aaron say bye to Mahi.
Me: Nothing. Mahi was a bit unwell.
Amer: I changed my room. It was booked for a mining businessman who was to arrive from overseas in the early hours.
Not only did I wake the man up just as he must have gone to sleep, but I also gave him the fright of his life!
This was my introduction to the mining town of Mt Isa.
Amer and I joined Joe on radio, calling out to all Bogans in Mt Isa. Actually, we were looking for a self proclaimed “bogan” or two, to show us the ‘real’ Mount Isa. In Joe’s words, “We want bogans, we want them fast, we want them now, we want them loud, we want them proud and we’re here in Mount Isa to find them!”
The problem seemed to be that everytime Joe would go up and ask a bogan if they were a bogan – they’d say “no”.
At the start of filming we were all asked if we knew what ‘Bogan’ meant. I thought it may be close to ‘red-neck’, but wasn’t sure. Was it very different from labels like nerd, geek, emo, etc… which aren’t necessarily derogatory. The dictionary hadn’t officially recognized it yet.
We have many words like that in India- basically to describe ‘uncouth/ uncultured’- gawaar, ghaatti, tapori, dehaati, gaautti… Although they are thrown around jokingly, many times they are derogatory, or can be perceived like that.
We have a few million bogans in our country. Easily that many if not more. It’s a way of life and depends on the opportunities that you’ve been afforded, or not. I’m still not sure if it’s the same in Australia.
I think Australians are more comfortable with the label than Indians are- to be called one, or to call someone a bogan too.
Maybe we’re just overly fastidious and sensitive.
I wondered if you could call someone a bogan to his face. Was it derogatory or rude? Wouldn’t you be a bogan to do so?
It quickly became apparent that you could. Or at least Joe could. (It was funny when Joe asked a woman in Mt Isa to describe a bogan and she looked at Joe’s black jeans and said- “Wearing black jeans.”)
We stopped at a store to buy bogan clothes. Every one except Gurmeet knew what was coming. It took a bit of coaxing before Gurmeet agreed to give up his own style statement for the bogan look. Stubbies and wife-beater in place, he looked transformed- from boring journo- fashion collared shirts to, umm, Mt Isa bogan.
But that was after we went to a bar to sample Mt Isa’s drinking culture.
Some things about Mt Isa that we had read about in press reports were :
Drinking in excess and drinking binges between shifts.
Organized “wet messes” at the camps, and a kind of organized drunkenness.
The large disposable income of the fly-in-fly-out workers.
The heavy population of of men, lack of women and the fighting and rivalry over them.
And a first for me,
Mayor John Molony’s appeal for “ugly ducklings” to move to Mt Isa- “Ship in the ugly ones, we’ll take ’em”- to help address the woman shortage.
I was given a task in the bar- collecting empty glasses and learning to stack them up on one hand- and I was such a champ at it! I think we counted 25.
It’s a bit unfortunate they cut out all the interesting things I did, I was so proud of myself !
It’s not easy- first you walk up to strangers and convince them to gulp down their drinks so you can collect their empty glasses, and then you pile them up like that, the glasses I mean.
Not easy- When they’re 25 of them together, they weigh a lot!
While the boys exchanged small talk and Mahi discovered a love for purple pom-poms post a vodka and a beer, I sat away from the camera and chatted with a group of people who had spent many years in Mt Isa.
They told me that all that we had read about Isa was true. These were some experiences they were happy to share:
“We both have been coming here for the past many years. We work 7 days a week, save a lot of money, go back to England until the money runs out, and then come back to work again. There’s so much money to be made, we don’t need to work for 3 to 4 years between. It’s not an easy place to live, but the money makes up for it.”
” True, drinking is a big part of our life here. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is our only recreation. What else can you do in a town like this anyway… Of course fights break out all the time. This is Australia’s testosterone capital. “
” My girl-friend moved here to be with me but she moved back quickly. There’s not much to do if you are culturally inclined. It makes more sense for me to fly back to be with her. That happens with a lot of us here.”
” Kids tend to get neglected. Parents work round the clock. The purpose of being here is making a lot of money. I have 3 kids, and I see their class-mates drinking under- age, doing dope, joining gangs and running wild. There’s very little parental supervision.”
” Maloney is just a big-mouth. He hasn’t done s*** for this town.” ( That’s about all politicians all over the world, right?)
I would have loved to sit and listen to more stories, but they couldn’t wait to introduce G-man to the best of the bogan species that Joe had conjured up for us.
I wondered if it was necessary to come all the way- was this like a bogan headquarter or something, where they gathered at? It came to Joe later- The flight to and back from Isa was packed with them- we needn’t have stayed there at all. Just flying in and out would’ve been sufficient.”
We went to meet John Maloney in his shop. It was the 1st of its kind I had seen. We tried out man-cowboy boots and hats and saw him crack the whip and heard him talk about the town. He talked direct. Or something…
” You need to have b**** as big as apples to be the mayor of this town,” was one of the first things he said.
Apples… strange analogy, I thought. Maybe that’s just uncommon to my Indian turn of English phrase.
At night we all sat together at the hotel and ordered in. The pizzas in Australia are far better than in India; it would be the quality of meat perhaps. Amer and I enjoyed sampling just about everything. Since I’ve eaten snakes and many other such creatures in Bhutan and China, I think I’ve just exhausted my quota of meat to a large extent. Veggies seem more tempting.
It felt like family until we were joined by Amer’s new bogan friend. One look at him and I froze. It was the man whose sleep I had ruined. I wondered if he would recognize me without The Mask style statement I made that morning. Should I apologize anyway?
To my surprise he said it wasn’t him. ” How could I not recognize you ?”
Maybe he was so tired then that he hadn’t registered it happened.
Or maybe he was a really chivalrous bogan.
Oxymoron? Honestly, I don’t think so.