“Travel Writers Wanted for New Pacific Rim Magazine. Opportunity for immediate all-expenses paid assignment”.
I didn’t know what a “Pacific Rim” was. Thought maybe it was something to do with gay travel. But the “all-expenses paid” part rang my bells. It sounded too good to be true.
I dialled the phone number and had a long conversation with a basketweaver in Balmain. Called himself Mike Aussie. This has to be a joke I thought. ”Mike Aussie - My Cossie”. But no, this bloke said it was no joke. He really was Mike Aussie. I found out later that he had in fact changed his name by Deed Poll.
Anyway, I was intrigued, so after work one day I went out to this geezer’s gaff. He lived in a strange-looking pad by the harbour. He called it a “sustainable tourism lodge”. I’d call it a backpackers. Several nubile young women in sarongs were making cups of tea and toast in the communal kitchen. Mike Aussie seemed to be the Head Honcho or the Big Kahuna or something by the way they were flirting with him. I got the impression there was some sort of swingers club going down. But whatever rings your bells.
We went into his “office” (a spare bedroom) and he ear-bashed me for an hour or so about his project. Most of what he said was gobbledegook but the keywords were “Press Card”, “All-Expenses Paid”, “Free”, “ Trip”, “Fiji”. I’ll believe it when I see it, I thought.
Some weeks went by and I’d all but forgotten this bloke. Then he rings. Wants me to come over and help him stuff envelopes. Rambles on about “Fiji looking good...Need to get these magazines off to the international members of the Worldwide World of Wallys...Waiting on accreditation...Zambia also a possibility...Kenneth Kauanda’s a good mate...Feasted on chicken-claws and goats balls with him...Drank his toast with vampire blood...Everything is really good...Great things are happening”...Yada yada yada .......
Seems Mike Aussie had attended some dodgey Tourism conference in the Subcontinent and had managed to get on the piss with a bunch of Third World representatives all riding the gravy-train. Now I don’t know how he managed this. He didn’t seem to have any credentials aside from a loud mouth, a big set of cojones and a bad Seventies haircut. Perhaps that’s all you need. But his fellow seminarians seemed to think he was some kind of “Tourism King” and they were falling all over themselves with offers. So the Aussie came home from Deepest Darkest Africa with a swag of open-ended invitations to go to various two-bob countries and advise them on “Eco-Tourism Opportunities”. The first cab off the rank was poor bloody Fiji – pre Coup days.
We were a mixed bag of nuts that assembled at the Air-Pacific Check-In the morning of departure but only two of us had any real credentials – my Art Director and I. The rest of them were ring-ins and chancers - wannabe travel writers along for the free ride.
There were two women - a hairy under-armed Canadian backpacker who was writing “What I Did On My Holidays” and a middle-aged Aussie sheila - a tired old leftie tart that was still burning the bra and keeping the dream alive. I think she’d written an unpublished vegetarian cookbook and a tract on the healing power of crystals or some shite like that.
The other men were an alcoholic short-story writer and a short-arsed Froggie guy with an Inspector Clouseau accent who was “World President” of a nebulous travel-writing group supposedly affiliated with UNESCO that no-one had ever heard of and the head perpetrator himself, Mike Aussie in all his Hawaiian-shirt-wearing glory.
This had to be the junket of all junkets. A Ten Day Cook’s Tour of Fiji all-expenses paid – airfare, accommodation, meals – all the Fiji Bitter you could drink. And pass the Kava brother.
First stop was the Five Star Regent Hotel in Lautoka where we were given luxurious double rooms all to ourselves and our double chins. Complete with complimentary tropical fruit basket, complimentary chocolate on the pillow and complimentary turned-down sheets at night. No complimentary hula girl but maybe I had the wrong island.
We feasted that night on suckling pig, barbequed chicken, sweet potato, jackfruit, Captain Cook’s Penis and Golden Circle pineapple rings while a fierce-looking bunch of out-of-work cannibals cavorted in grass-skirts in front of us. The smoke from the oil-burning barbeque flares stung my eyes and the drums were rattling my crowns but apart from that it was alright as far as your native dancing goes. But I was a bit disappointed that the pole-dancing part of the show wasn’t topless. And what do they wear under the grass-skirts anyway?
Before setting off for The Friendly Isles we’d all been made card-carrying members of something called (and I kid you not) F.I.J.E.T. – “Federation Internationale Journalistes Ecrivains and That” or whatever it was in French. This was the group that the Froggie Guy was representing. The “World President”. I think they must have been big fans of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and frigged around for days trying to work the initials “J.E.T.” into their travel-writers group acronym.
Froggie had done some deal with Mike Aussie. Maybe he said “I’ll give you seven F.I.J.E.T. Presscards for ten days in Fiji”. Who knows? But we were each issued a snappy-looking Press Card in a plastic wallet with our photo in it and a blurb explaining what-the-fuck FIJET was and would the reader please render all assistance, be kind to us and let us in free to Museums, Art Galleries and other cultural exhibitions.
Also on the card was “name of affliated organisation”. And Mike Aussie had written in black pen “F.A.S.T.W.O.R.D.S. Australia”. This was the acronym he’d come up with for his travel scam. Wait for it – “Foreign AssociationS (of) Travel Writers Organising Regional Distribution (of) Stories” . And what did this magnificent title mean? Bugger-all from what I could work out. Aussie had the delusion that he was going to co-ordinate all these travel-writers into some kind of press group like a Reuters-on-Wheels or something. And somewhere along the line do a bit of freelance eco-tourism consulting on the side. In other words he was looking for places he could whack up native-style backpackers hostels. At next-to-no-cost. This from a guy who could barely write or express himself, who’d never worked in Publishing or Journalism and as far as I could tell from all the beers I had to buy him, didn’t have two clams to rub together. In fact I didn’t know what his background was. He was very cagey about it. Maybe he’d written the Travel Section of a prison newspaper? With articles like “See the Sunny Outside”...”Where to Go When You Get Out”.....”On the Run in the South Pacific” Who knows?
The Fiji Tourist Board minder had breakfast with us the next morning - “Hard-boiled Missionary Head and fingers of toast”. No I’m kidding. There was no toast. After a few starter bowls of Kava and a Fiji Bitter chaser it was into the minibus and off to the Fiji Cultural Centre. No not the Golf Club. That came later. We transferred to dug-out canoes and were paddled upstream past thatched-roofed pavilions with happy smiling native girls weaving tapa cloth and making obscene gestures with their fingers when the official guide wasn’t looking. It was very funny. They’re nice people the Fijians - when they’re not dashing your brains out with a war-club, that is. Or barbecuing the Indian shopkeepers.
It’s all a bit of a blur now because it was awhile ago. But from what I remember we stayed in four different accommodations – from the Five Star Regent to other more downmarket joints. We had a cruise around the islands and stopped at two of them – Treasure Island and Castaway Island - both pretty tacky destinations and great favourites of the package tour set. They weren’t much more than a bunch of thatched-roofed huts arranged around a pool, restaurant and bar full of holidaying New Zealanders. Now stuck on a deserted island with a bunch of half-pissed Kiwi nurses on heat is not my idea of fun. Maybe it’s yours.
When we got to Suva, Aussie organised some publicity. He shanghaied the Frog and I into an interview with him and a staffer from the Fiji Times and we had a photo and story in the paper the next day. It showed me looking at Aussie with utter disbelief. I couldn’t believe the crap coming out of his mouth. In fact they should have drawn a cartoon bubble from my lips with “bullshit” in it. Aussie talked a complete load of bollocks to the reporter who didn’t understand any of it so consequently the story they ran was utter rubbish. Three paragraphs appeared under the photo of Larry, Curly and Mo about how the representatives of a new travel-writers group were looking for local stooges to join them. There would be a “symposium at the Suva Travelodge the next day where all writers were welcome”. The last bit being something that Aussie had thought of on the spot.
The next day two jobbing journos from the paper turned up at the so-called Symposium hoping for free grog. They sat there and were bored silly for an hour while my Art Director showed a few slides of his travel photography and talked about how to put a magazine together (“well you’ve got a page see........”). Aussie got up and waffled on about God-knows-what and then called for a few words from me. I was just getting into the part where I didn’t know what the organisation was or where it thought it was going when Aussie cut me off and we retired for drinks.
It was around about this time that the leftie tart got down and dirty with one of the locals. She disappeared for a couple of nights and we found out later she’d gone native with a Fijian Army Colonel. I reckon she must have gone back to his village and got on the Kava and beat the drums big-time. And then they played “I’m the missionary and you’re the cannibal”. Or maybe it was “Me headhunter – you planter’s daughter”. But whatever it was that happened she was wigged-out when she got back to base. She told the pisshead short-story writer later that it was the “best sex she’d ever had”. Thing is, the Fijian had this cracker of a moustache – she brought him into the hotel to show him off – which you couldn’t forget or mistake and I swear it was the very same fella that staged the later coup – Colonel Rum something.....Colonel Rumballs......Rumjungle.......no....Colonel Rambuka that was it.
The highlight of the tour was the Cocktail Party at the Governor Generals mansion on the last day of our stay. I don’t know why they had it at the end. Sort of good riddance to bad rubbish I guess...rather than a “Welcome to Fiji”. Or maybe the G.G. had been booked solid the previous ten days. Or perhaps it’s the Fijian way – to throw a party when your guests are leaving. Dunno.
The wing-ding was organised by the Fiji Tourist Board and they announced us one by one over the microphone to polite clapping. When it came to me they described me as the “Editorial Director of a large number of International Magazines” Not quite true. It wasn’t a large number of magazines at all. Try seven. But a loud “OOOOOahhhhh” came from the Fijians present. You’d think they’d been introduced to Prince Charles or something. Or maybe it was just the Kava refluxing on them. I was embarrassed but quite touched that they should be impressed by this pretty ordinary hack from Sydney. Then we hooked into the tropical punch and the cocktails and the Fijian-style finger-food “as the sun sank slowly into a scarlet sea”. And I went back to the Travelodge and threw up.
Footnote: I ran into Mike Aussie five years after this trip. Or rather I saw him first and managed to avoid him. He was delivering mineral water to the offices where I worked and was decked out in a canary-yellow uniform with a snappy white peaked-cap and was wheeling a trolley. In homage I spent the rest of the afternoon making up acronyms to suit his latest gig.
F.A.S.T.W.O.R.D.S.(Foreign Association of Travel Writers Organising Regional Distribution of Stories) was the original.
F uck A ussie! S o T his’s W hat O rganising R egional D istribution mean S
Second Prize went to:
F iji A nd S ociety islands - T o W elcome t O R eality D umb S hit
The Consolation Prize:
F air dinkum Aussie Sinks T o W heeler O f ae R ated DrinkS
And The People’s Choice:
F ly-by-nighters A nd S cammers T ravelling W orldwide
O n R ather D odgy credentialS
DISCLAIMER: All the characters in this story are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental( my arse!).
Well well well. Look what I just found - (oops - he pulled his site down) - note there is no mention of moi and I've been cropped out of the picture. Robert English died last year BTW. Note the stubbies of Fiji Bitter on the table too. Read the rest of this nut-job's site where he tells us what a brilliant man he is.