The Quest for a Mt Isa Bogan

“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.
Me: Oh!
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?
I did.
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.


8 thoughts on “The Quest for a Mt Isa Bogan

  1. Hello Radhika,
    Perhaps if they had footage of your doorknocking incident it would not have ended up on the cutting room floor.

    Your description of Mt Isa is much more informative than the footage included in the aired episode. It sounds very similar to Kalgoorlie, a town in Western Australia. It was definitely a ‘testosterone” town, which left me feeling rather grubby. One day there was more than enough for me.

    I have no idea what a bogan is today. Perhaps a generation ago it meant someone who was comfortable at home wearing old tracksuit pants and lambswool moccasin slippers – and saw no point in changing their clothes to go out shopping or visiting people.

    1. Jane, Hahaha, true. That’s one thing I’m happy there’s no footage of. I was quite a sight!
      I think I’m a latent bogan of the kind you describe from a gen ago- there are days when I don’t see the point too 🙂 -Of course, a lot of our veg & fruit shopping is from these carts-on-wheels which are all over the city. Every area has plenty of them around through the day, and we all have our own fav’s.
      Thanks for stopping by and for writing in.

  2. Hi Radhika ,
    Glad you ended up loving this country ..Welcome back anytime .Now if you interested in the concept of the Aussie “Bogan” check out the website
    They are more complex than you think,and I seriously think reading this site most Aussies would fit at least one “criteria” . I actually love the Aussie trait of being able to laugh at themselves .
    You mentioned that India has it’s share of “bogans” .Would love to see a reciprical site.
    Our family travelled to Northern India in Dec/Jan 2011/2012 and loved it.It was a very worthwhile and valuable culture shock for our teenage girls …as you said most Australians don’t know just how lucky they are …my girls(aged 17 and 19) do now are I think are better for it ….Oh and i agree about the Pizzas .Had Pizza Hut in Delhi on our last night as a treat but ended up giving it to the local street kids …Should have had one last Tandoori instead ..because they just aren’t as good in Aus !

    1. Hi Michelle, I am glad you enjoyed traveling through N.India and can see the culture shock for your daughters 🙂 It helps to get this perspective early in life.
      I’ll look out for some sites that would be apt to describe Indian Bogan, and post them here. I am looking forward to visiting the one you have suggested, and I thank you for that. It’ll be interesting reading.
      Tandoori chicken would be the best bet in Delhi- I stay close to Mumbai, the West part of India, and we miss Delhi’s Tandoori chicken!
      Thanks a lot for reading my blog, and taking the time to write in.

  3. Thank you Radhika – as well as to Gurmeet, Amer and Mahima for your open and honest look at Australia. Australia and Australians are better for it. Well done to the ABC for funding the program and for Joe Hildebrand’s role in it.

    I really agree with your final reflection about how many Australians do not realise how lucky they are. So many people in Australia squander their wealth in the pursuit of limited pleasures. Although this is not something limited to Australia.

    For another interesting series. See ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’. It is the story of 6 Australians who live like refugees for 25 days, going back to the source country via the means refugees who arrive to Australia by boat might often come.

    Thanks again for your honest and frank appraisal of Australian culture, in its many facets.

    1. Hi Stewart, Australia is truly a lucky country.
      Thank you for recommending the Go back series. I’ll order it online, sounds very interesting.
      Many thanks for your kind words, for watching the show, reading the blog and for writing in.

  4. That’s hilarious about knocking on the wrong man’s door. I wonder if it was the guy you saw later. Or maybe he has a twin.

    OR maybe he was so traumatized by your face mask that he blocked it out of his memory ; ).

    As for the bogan name. I think there are some words that start off as derogatory, but certain people see the good in the descriptions. They don’t mind being that way. So while some people might be ashamed to be a bogan, other people might be proud. They’re fine with it.

    Another examples in is nerd and geek. As you mentioned, they’re not seen as insults. But I think years ago…they were negative. Now a lot of people see it as a positive. It’s almost a compliment.

    I call myself weird, and I’m happy to be weird. But other people see it as very negative. Being “normal” is very important to them.

    1. Dina, He was just trying to not embarrass me I think. Quite sweet of him!
      Normal is just a setting on the washing machine, hahah

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