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My Mate Went FERAL!

feral.gifAre you stuck in a job you detest but can’t leave because you have the mortgage to pay plus the car payments, the gym fees, the dentist bills, the daycare centre, the vet’s bill, the overdraft, the marriage counselling... yada yada yada? Not all of us are caught in this rat-trap.

I’ve got this old mate who went feral in his early twenties. I’ll call him “Gumbie” to protect his privacy. He comes from a leftie, hippieish kind of family so it wasn’t such a radical move sideways. But still. He pissed off out of Sydney before getting sucked into the bullshit like the rest of us and bought a share in a 250 acre “alternative” community out the back of Nimbin – the so-called rainbow region. I think it cost him a grand back then to be a fully paid-up member of a co-operative. It gave him the right to build a dwelling and to use the rest of the land-in-common.

In the very beginning he did it tough. He didn’t have much money. He lived the simple life in an old corrugated-iron chook shed with an earthen floor, a cold-water tap and a hole-in-the-ground outside for a dunny. He couldn’t even afford toilet-paper - well not without giving up the beer and ciggies. But a bloke’s gotta have some vices and ya gotta get your priorities right, right? So he just used the leaves off the nearest wild tobacco plant to wipe his date. Works for me. But not a good look when you invite a sheila home for the night, eh?

Over time he built himself a one-roomed shack, with the luxury of a hot-water system running off a wood-fired fuelstove. The shower was on the exposed timber landing outside but it worked. Well, most of the time anyway - when he wasn’t too out-of-it to remember to chop the wood to feed the furnace.

The shack had no electricity and fuck-all furniture and the dunny was still a hole in the ground outside, albeit with a bamboo screen around it. And toilet-paper was still a luxury although he progressed to using cut-up pages of the “Nimbin News” rather than tobacco-plant leaves. He went up-market - all nouveau riche, you might say. Maybe he was looking to attract a better class of girlfriend.

In the early days he drew the Dole but being a self-confessed Anarchist he hated having anything to do with “the bloody government” and just threw the benefit cheques in a drawer out of contempt for the system. Never did cash them. These days he spurns all forms of assistance – government or otherwise – and struggles to make a living with a small herd of dairy cows, a bit of firewood-collecting and various entrepreneurial ventures like drying fruit and paralysis-tick-collecting.

Seven years ago Gumbie got a $20,000 cheque from his old man before he died. Probably the most amount of money he’d ever seen in his life. He put it in the bank and some time after he got a “please explain” letter from the Tax Department. It must have looked a bit “sus” this relatively large amount of money going into a long-dormant bank account in a notorious marihuana-growing town.

His sister got twenty grand also. She cashed her cheque and took a holiday to Bali. But before leaving she gave Gumbie a $5000 wad of notes for him to safekeep for her just in case she went tropical and spent the lot. He stashed it behind the wall-panelling in the kitchen of his shack. When the sister returned from Bali asking for it some months later they found the rats had been at it and they had to take the remains to the bank to sort out what they had. (“This goes with this...and that’s a corner of that”...)

Gumbie just ignored the letter from the Tax Department and hoped they’d drop off. He’d never put in a real return in his life. Years ago, when working as a brickie’s labourer, he’d filed a return under a bodgie name to avoid tax. A rebate cheque came back written out to the fictional “Larry Pot” - being the name given to the water bucket that brickies use. “Fuck tax” is part of his manifesto.

Gumbie has always been a somewhat “original thinker”. When we were both in our late teens he told me that he was going to have all his teeth pulled out. That way he wouldn’t have to pay the “fucking dentist” any more. It took him another twenty years but sure enough, he had every tooth in his head, or what was left of them, pulled out and eventually got a set of dentures. But he can’t be bothered wearing them and they don’t fit so well anymore. So mostly they just lay amongst the rubbish on the floor of his old handpainted Holden. He only puts them in for special occasions – like when he has to go to the bank or get the $2 counter lunch from the pub in town. He picks them up off the dirty old car-floor, gives them a wipe on his work-shirt and whacks them in his mouth. “No worries!” But mostly he gets around without any teeth and it puts a good twenty years on him. And it’s sometimes hard to understand what he’s saying. It’s not until he takes his shirt off and you see his lean hard frame that you realise he’s a relatively young man still.

He took up surfing again a few years ago and when he’s got the petrol money he’ll chuck his old single-finner in the back of the wagon and make the hour’s drive to the beach. He looks like the “Wild Man of Borneo” or something as he’s nearly two metres tall with long hair down to his waist, hard-muscled and toothless. The grommets don’t know what to make of him when he drops in on their waves. They prone out quick smart, I can tell you. (“Jesus! What the fuck was that!”)

For awhile now Gumbie has been dossing in another of the shacks on the co-operative or “M.O.” (“multiple occupancy”) as these arrangements are more commonly called now. It’s a bigger place than his at the top of the hill they call “Heaven”. Some bikies had been squatting there so Gumbie took it on himself to act as unofficial caretaker. It’s in a worse state than his own shack. But not by much. There are carpet snakes in the ceiling and rodents in the cupboards. The floor is strewn with empty beercans and the fireplace is full of long-cold ashes from the furniture the bikies burnt to keep warm. Gumbie is crashing on a rotten old slab of foam and the bed-sheets are literally black and scattered with snake-shit. Five–Star it’s not. It’s more “Ratz” than “Ritz”.

Most nights you’ll find Gumbie sitting at the kitchen table next to the fuel-stove in the Community House. He’ll be smoking laced “Log Cabin” rollie tobacco and drinking “Chateau Cardboard” out of a screwtop peanut-butter jar, ear-bashing whoever’s silly enough to hang around and loving it.

In the Spring months he spreads an old blanket over the table at night and empties his tick-jar over it to count the days pickings. The Paralysis Ticks (Ioxodes Holocyclus) are bought by the local Vet. They’re put on laboratory dogs that have built up immunity to the poison and after a few days blood is extracted to make anti-venine. The Vet pays an average of a dollar a tick over the season and on a good day Gumbie can collect several hundred by dragging a blanket through the lantana thickets and camphor laurel stands. It’s hot, nasty, unhealthy work that attracts mostly junkies, gamblers and other desperates who need daily cash injections. But this money keeps him going for a few months of frugal living.

The Community House is furnished with everyone’s cast-offs. There’s a couple of ratty sofas, some mouldy rugs and an old television in the corner with an all-green picture that keeps rolling and rolling. Gumbie doesn’t mind.

“At least the fuckin’ junkies won’t steal it” he says.

In another room there’s a thirty year old refrigerator humming away and stuggling to keep a few bottles of Gumbie’s cows milk cold. Some of the milk has gone off but Gumbie says there’s nothing wrong with it and still drinks it – mould and all.

“It’s unpasteurised and unhomogenised so it’s just curds and whey – like yoghurt”.

When the fridge is too full Gumbie puts his milk bottles in the creek that flows past the house.

If the Co-operative ever gets into eco-tourism I can see the brochure copy:

“Get hand-pressed pure unadulterated organic Milk fresh from contented cows and cooled by a mountain stream high in the Nimbin Ranges”

Second thoughts...maybe its too long. How about just:

“High in the Nimbin Ranges”

Sometimes Gumbie will have some extra dough and he’ll splash out on a leg of lamb and maybe some pumpkin and spuds that he’ll bake in the ancient fuelstove. Afterwards he’ll have “pot and pot” for dessert - a pot of tea and a pure-bud joint. Then an old slack-stringed acoustic guitar will come out and he’ll play some Leadbelly and sing to himself.

“Oh the rockiron line is a mighty good line...oh the rockiron line is the road to ride...oh the rockiron line is a mighty good line...walkin’ and a’talkin’ down the rockiron line”.

Last time I saw him, my old mate, I believe most of the $20,000 was still sitting in the bank. While Gumbie often has days when he can’t afford to eat. But one thing’s for sure – he aint going back to the city and the Government can whistle Dixie for a tax return. 

Reader Comments (1)

Hey! I recognise 'Gumbie' but who on earth or elsewhere are you?
November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

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