On waking to a crushing headache, my initial worry is where I’d put the cash ($400) I withdrew last night. It wasn’t in the trousers, shirt or jacket I’d been wearing. Turns out I’d stashed it safely in my wallet. Sensible drunk. (Sensible enough to put things away in the right place, drunk enough to not remember doing it.) It doesn’t occur to me to look there for a while, so I stumble about sheepishly first.
We have to vacate the place by 12. Mrs M calls E-girl at 7.30 or some ridiculous hour, so that’s us awake. Plans are made to meet our lift and we (eventally – about two hours later, after a snooze) start the slow, painful process of Getting Our Shit Together.
We make it to a caff by 11.30 and enjoy a long brunch. It’s a good way to live; food and coffee are, as ever in this city, excellent.
We meet Mat & Al, friends of Mr & Mrs M, who will take us on the 4-ish-hour drive to Bawley Bush Retreat. (They confirm that the Sydney lock-out laws – and related licensing restrictions – are killing live music in Sydney. Al is from Melbourne, and thinks people there would not put up with it. Mat is a musician, so is finding the bullshit laws difficult.)
On the road, we stop at a viewing point and look out over the coast leading down to Woollongong. We get a couple of pics and are back on the road. It’s a pretty epic view. En route, we get a crash course in Australian Spiders from Al, who says he’s never even seen some of the most dangerous ones, but all the Brits who visit tend to see them…the most common are the Huntsman spiders, which are big and ugly and fast. But mostly harmless. Everything else can kill. Well, not really, but we will be in the countryside, so snakes, spiders and various other exotic wildlife could be seen. (Hopefully before we stand on them and get bitten.) Both think we will be unlikely to see anything really deadly, and we all think it would be ironic now that we’ve spent ages discussing it.
We arrive at our wedding digs, and the first thing we see inside is A Fucking Big Huntsman Spider. Obviously, these big ugly bastards are fans of irony. So, there it is on the wall, halfway up the stairs, looking all ugly. And big. The bastard.
Al grabs a broom. He reckons we need to kill it – they’re too fast to catch. I’m not one to kill insects (or arachnids, or anything else) if they’re no threat and not even in my way. The consensus in the room, however, erred on the “attack is the best form of defense” side, expressed in terms such as “I’m not coming in before you get rid of that”; “OHMYGODGETTHATTHINGTOFUCKIMMEDIATELY”, and “Aaaauuuuugh!”
E-girl, for example, a strong woman who is scared of little else in the world, is not comfortable being near spiders. Particularly if they are massive and alive. She, like the others, is pretty calm about it, everyone is just matter-of-factly resolute about not sharing a house with this thing.
As is the way of these things, those most scared are those who want the wee fella dead and also those least willing to take on the task. Al seemed pro-active initially, finding and wielding an old-fashioned broom, the kind witches ride in confused religious mythology. Or Halloween costumes based on an even more confused reading of that mythology. But contemplating the wall, the spider (the size of my hand, I shit you not), he pauses. He hands me the broom. “I can’t go near it”, he says calmly.
I take the broom from him. Everyone else is back outside the door, the more likely place to find genuinely dangerous wildlife. Still, fear is not often a rational response to a credible threat, is it?
(On the way into the retreat, I think I saw a wallaby, but as it was racing away at top speed, I can’t be sure. Also, I’ve never seen a wallaby before. It could’ve been a possum. It was probably more of a threat to me than this particular spider. Although I am a far bigger threat to either than they to I.)
So, I whack the spider with the broom and it just wiggles a leg and someone shouts behind me and I hit it again and it still seems to be moving slightly, so I do it again (these are all direct hits, by the way, I’m trying to be quick about it, but it’s a broom, so, y’know). The third blow causes the blighter to fall onto to the stairs (one of the more scary scenarios for the arachnophobes, who are right behind me….miles behind me), and I quickly shank it with the end of the bristles. As I draw my mighty dusting weapon back, it seems the fucker has disappeared…! Until it turns out it’s actually writhing on the stiff bristles of the broom. I take it outside and a few taps shake it off. The battle is over, and I have killed a poor defenceless animal. (Well, not entirely defenceless. But no match for a witch's broom.)
Anyway, the place is lush, and greener than I might’ve expected the Australian countryside to be; I imagine it’s what the British Isles looked like when it was a tropical paradise a million years ago before all the humans turned up with their Premier League football, reality TV, dour flat blocks, boiled food and all the other shite that make us all proud to be British.
The wedding begins tonight, with a traditional German Polterabend (Mrs M is from Germany). Abend means evening, so this is like Wedding Eve. It’s a ceremony which (in this modern take, at least) includes a big old barbecue, plenty of beer, wine and cider – and the couple in traditional costume. Mr M, who is not German, looks particularly delighted with his lederhosen.
The couple announce/invite us to participate in a pre-wedding German tradition: smashing plates. (I know, I thought it was a Greek thing as well. It can be both.) There’s a raised, circular concrete platform that could have been designed for this purpose (actually, why is it here, in this holiday resort/retreat setting? I’m fascinated, but nobody is able to tell me what it might be for. I cannot divine any other purpose than the one we are about to enact; such is the beauty of the occasion/modern man’s imperial arrogance.)
Traditionally, this might have been a very gendered event (google translate suggests that Polterabend means Batchelorette party. It doesn’t, mind.), but Mr & Mrs M will do a great job of going with fun and meaningful traditions, while eschewing some patriarchal bullshit. (Some would say weddings are patriarchal bullshit, but that’s another argument….also, weddings are a laugh, aren’t they? And you don’t have to do all the stuff that makes it about transferring human property from a father to a husband, do you? You take what you need, and you leave the rest.)
Mr M gives everyone a plate, and asks all the guests to stand around the edge of the platform. Then, on the signal, everyone throws the plates down to smash them, and Mr & Mrs M sweep up the resulting mess. The idea, they have explained, is that shards are good luck; the more shards, the more luck (The Boys From Marketing know what I’m talking about; #shard)). And, as they sweep up the broken crockery, so they will sweep up any troubles or broken stuff in the coming years of their imminent marriage.
It’s all jolly good fun, as you can imagine. Not least because someone falls off the platform…I later learn that the faller is Mr M’s sister, who takes it all very well, laughing off her embarrassment as family members variously help her up, shriek in horror, laugh uncontrollably or take pictures. (Why is there a raised, cylindrical concrete platform next to a wood and a pond in an idyllic rural holiday destination? Is it a fucking helipad or what? Or some kind of sacrificial altar….?)
Australia is a wonderland. So far today, I have: seen wild kangaroos (twice), seen my friends married – and sang to them – and everyone else – while they signed the register, met their crazy families (all families are crazy), and seen a night sky, like no other I have witnessed – one which really made me think. One that brought me closer to my beloved, and maybe even everyone else.
So, to begin at the beginning: We wake and have breakfast with our temporary housemates. After that, we head out for a walk to explore the vicinity. We’re unsure if the water we could see was ocean shore – we’re very close to the coast – or just lake, but we’re keen to find out. (Turns out it’s a lake.) After wandering through the woods for a while, we see some gigantic ant hills, and some interesting (ie, the kind we don’t see back home) trees. Mostly gum trees, I think. Which are mostly very tall.
As we amble back out of the woods, both E-girl and J (one of the housemates) have attracted some leech-type creatures to their ankles and feet, which are now pretty well stuck on. They were very small, but you never know in Oz….the patients seem fine, if slightly freaked. St whipped the wee suckers off his wife and comforted her. I offered to help E-girl, but she is made of sterner stuff. She’s from the North, you know (of England, not Australia).
One we’ve dealt with that, we see a couple of ‘roos about thirty feet away on the wide lawn. They’re just chillin’. It’s pretty cool to see them up close, they’re real life wild kangaroos. (Although, they are the grey ones, which are placid and used to humans being nearby (the red ones are found the Outback and are definitely not to be fucked with. They’re bigger and a whole lot badder)). They’re surprisingly graceful, not like the big bouncy things from cartoons. They’re still big and powerful, though, so I’m not getting too close. Maybe I’m just too wary because everything in this country could kill me soon as look at me.
Back at the homestead, we chill and get ready for the late afternoon ceremony. As I return to the bedroom from the shower, there are ‘roos right outside the patio doors, eating grass. They’re only about twelve feet away, and several of them pass by. I think they can see us watching – one looks right at me, as if posing for the camera, in a “what the fuck are you lookin at?” stance.
After they hop off, we dress up all smart and make the ninety second walk to the wedding venue.