Thursday, 24 September 2015

Just "kidding" around?

Turon Gates would indisputably have to be one of my favorite places on earth. It is located in the northern end of the Blue Mountains, just near a town called Capertee. This remote, beautiful and extremely rugged landscape has hosted many of my adventures.

Before I indulge in a classic "Josh-ism" episode, allow me to provide some context as to how extreme this place really is. Turon Gates reaches staggering temperatures throughout the year. In summer, a dry, scorching heat is capable of boiling the water in your camel pack. It would send Saharan desert civilians cowering for mercy, and Chuck Norris would even consider putting on sunscreen. On top of the temperature, the landscape is steep, rocky and rippling with attitude. 

Littered with cliffs, stinging nettles, thistles at waist height, snakes, rabbit holes, and fallen trees; everything wanted to roll your ankle and then stab you (in that order).

Fortunately, throughout the majority of the year, creeks and rivers flowed with water at the base of valleys to provide a refreshing swimming hole in the shade, or a swig of water guaranteed to result in a loose stool.

The diversity of this place is quite amazing, one moment you will be scrambling from an exposed rocky outcrop, and another you will be strolling by a tranquil river.

"Aside from the local flora and fauna, there are also lots of plants and animals." - Russell Coight

 Turon is home to more kangaroos than you could poke a stick at, and even more sticks. The local creeks are rippling with turtles, platypus, yabbies, trout, and the occasional bogan on an inflatable pool toy. On land, birds (when not flying), wallabies, wombats, ants, more ants, spiders, snakes, kangawallacrocafoxes, and drop-bears are always in sight. One animal that I forgot to mention happens to be the protagonist of this story: 

That's right, goats. There are literally hundreds of goats roaming the countryside of Turon Gates. Goats are an introduced species to Australia, and hence, are insensitively given the title: "feral". It seemed almost instinctive that I would try and catch one. 

I ran the plan by my family that night at the dinner table. The reaction was somewhat surprised, and somewhat dismissive. I think they were fully aware that I would indeed try and catch a goat, they just didn't think I was capable of doing it. I honestly prefer it when people doubt your goals, it provides more of an incentive to achieve them.

I woke up at sparrow's fart the next morning. Everyone in the house appeared to be asleep. I tiptoe from my bedroom, careful not to make a sound. Armed with a light backpack, hiking boots, and a can-do attitude, I felt that I could conquer the world. 

I quietly sneak into the kitchen to pillage the fridge, but am interrupted by a booming "GOODMORNING! WHERE ARE YOU OFF TO?!". It was my grandpa Frank. He was jovially perched on the couch, devouring his 43rd Sudoku for the morning, and munching on a bowl of muesli. Now let me clarify; I am not a morning person. There are 3 things that I can't stand in this world: Loud eating, loud/depthy morning conversations, and people who are intolerant of my loud eating and poor verbal communication skills. I eventually explain myself, surrender to a lingering offer of muesli cereal, and walk out the front door.

I am greeted by 4 lovely pooches, all desperate for an adventure. Who should I take?

Here are my options:
A. Dora (Border Collie) - Has a keen eye, is very obedient, loves exploring, rounds up anything, frequently blamed for household flatulence.
B. Ruby (Mutt??) - Will chase a ball all day, toilet trained, cute as a button, thinks she's a cat.
C. Bluey (Polar Bear/ wolf?) - Incredibly dopey, excellent fetcher (never returns), bites everything, only responds to excessive amounts of food, has poor control of her limbs.
D. Ralph (Wombat) - Is the cause of household flatulence, zones out frequently (see picture), isn't quite at his peak fitness levels, has more of an interest in food and snuggling.

I'm sure it seemed like a tough decision...A! So, off Dora and I marched!

We were making good ground, several hours had passed and we could make out a large flock across the valley. The terrain suddenly turned extremely rugged as we prepared for a descent into the valley. Goats are extremely flighty animals, and tended to hang out in herds of up to 20 animals. Within this posse, there was a diverse range of characters. There were the female does, hornless, medium sized stocky things. They typically protected the kids, who were smaller and more playful than the rest. Perched higher up on the hill, keen eyed and ferocious, were the billy goats (usually 2). They were effectively small bulls, brandishing large skeletal horns and rippling muscle. If there was ever a dispute between the herd, the billy goat was usually the instigator, and boy could they fight.

Dora had spotted the pack, and her sheepdog instinct kicked in. She instantly dropped to the ground and began stalking the animals. They were oblivious to our presence. I followed closely behind her (a lot less gracefully). We made it to the bottom of the valley, and could identify the herd about 50 meters above us, lounging on the side of the hill amidst a cluster of trees. 
Dora was remarkably obedient. With no prior training, she followed MOST orders. When I told her to drop, she dropped. When I pointed left, she skulked left. When I told her to come...she bolted straight at the herd!

Uh oh, better follow suit! We were still about 20 meters from the animals at this point, and I struggled to keep up with this lunatic of a dog that had a sudden change of heart. When she was about 10 meters from the herd, one of the goats noticed her, and let off a startled shriek. The entire heard simultaneously jumped to attention, and began fleeing via a remarkably well planned out escape route. One of the billy goats led the retreat, whereas the other stayed and waited for his squad to clear the area. 

By the time the goats had entirely assembled and almost fled the scene I was just arriving to the party. Dora was running laps around them with minimal effort, overwhelmed with euphoria. I quickly scanned the crowd in front of me, oh lord. Between me and the pack stood a billy goat, bleating threateningly, eyes locked. It seemed a lot bigger this close...

Without warning, the big daddy lowered its head and brandished a hefty arsenal of horns, it began to charge. I jumped behind a gum tree and ran round the trunk in the opposite direction. I felt like a B-grade matador, busking for a couple of pesos. The path between me and the other animals was now clear, and I began making some ground. I feel that if this endeavor was filmed it would be best suited with a Benny Hill themed audio track.

The herd was now within 5 meters in front of me. I noticed a critical flaw in their escape plan; they ran in single file. This meant that the goat at the end could only run as fast as the goat in front of it, and so on. In summary, I casually strolled over and picked up the last goat in the congested cue. 

I began to let off a triumphant "WOOOOHO-!" but was rudely interrupted by an impact to my rear end, knocking me to the ground. It was Billy. He had to have the last say, and let off a triumphant bleat, then skipped off after his gang cheerfully. I sat among a forest of thistles, Dora next to me. She was fascinated by the wriggling kid that was clutched in my arms. We all sat there for a few minutes, exhausted, probably looking like the 3 stooges after a physical skit. Now what?...I thought to myself. Well I still had to prove my catch! I wasn't going to be one of those story telling fisherman.

We began the return trip home, it was still early morning. The kid seemed especially pissed off. It wriggled, bit and kicked the whole way. Not to mention the foul stench emanating from it's matted fur. After a real struggle, we eventually made it back to the house. I burst in the front door, goat and all. Just as I opened the front door, the kid released an ear piercing scream. It was almost a perfect mimic of a distressed young girl, everyone came running to the front door in alarm. Alarm turned to hysteria almost instantly, and was replaced shortly after with concern. 

"What the hell are you going to do with it?!" everyone asked. As we stand there bickering, I subconsciously begin to pick at a small growth on the side of the animal. I notice that everyone's eyes begin to drift to my nervous hands, still scratching at the lump. Their faces were scrunched up in disgust. Suddenly, without warning, the lump exploded! Puss shot across the living room and dribbled down my shirt. "EWWWWW!" everyone droned in synchronization.

Yeah, the goat wasn't allowed to stay...

My little sister Isabella and I nurse a rescued Peewee that was caught in a fence (2008). 

Bushwalk with Ruby dooby-doo (2011)

Amazing camping trip with my second family, the Lumleys (2014)


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Unexpected irony.

Something quite comical and unforeseen has happened to me this week. The origin of this circumstance trails back to 2011 during high-school years.

I certainly wouldn't describe myself as a disobedient teenager, however I was far from "normal". When something unusual or unexpected happened in the playground and teachers were trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, people would typically turn accusing faces in my direction during morning assemblies. My "knack" was the ability to get involved in something stupid with a group of people and then spur a dangerous or shortsighted twist on what we were doing at the time (turning mild into hot).

(^Bring a friend to school day.)

There are a myriad of absurd and enigmatic stories that I could squeeze into this post but I will focus on the golden egg, a classic example of irony:

Mater Maria Catholic College was a spectacular high school. This memorable place provided daytime accommodation and a uniquely comforting atmosphere for 6 years of my life (biggest understatement ever). 

The school bordered a dense bushland valley, and I would seize any opportunity during lunch or recess to wander off and go exploring. After several weeks I pretty much knew the area like the back of a popular idiom. 

There were various tracks, trails, ramps and jumps that intertwined throughout the valley created by mountain-bikers. One day, during a bushwalk, I stumbled across some treasure. Off to the side of the track, next to a jump presumably made by bikers were an assortment of tools: Shovels, picks, bush-saws etc. Without hesitation I snatched up the weapons of mass construction and began shuffling back towards the school to present my trophies to the gang. 

I dumped the assortment of tools at my friends feet. My only explanation to them was a manic expression, accompanied with a beaming grin. Their reaction would be more accurately described as anxious rather than impressed. "Look what I found!" I announced. The dominant response was hysterical laughter. After the amusement subsided it was time to talk business. The group was clearly apprehensive towards my aspirations; but regardless, the quivering anticipation was obvious among them. I licked my lips then confidently asked: "Who wants to dig a hole?".

55% of the group walked away, 40% said something facetious, then walked away, and 5% sat down and watched. 100% of me knew that it was the right thing to do.

Day 1
Back into the bush I went, with my moderately loyal disciples 10 meters behind me in the safe zone. I marked out the perimeter of the hole, roughly 3 meters in diameter, and began scratching around at the thick top-layer of leaf matter. I wasn't able to make much progress before the end of lunch time alarm resonated throughout the "yard". Everyone marched back to class. I trailed behind, looking even grubbier than usual, but covered in the normal amount of dirt.

Day 2
Prior to leaving the house this morning I grabbed a change of clothes and some more garden tools. I was watching the clock all day until lunch time, itching to get back into the bush and keep digging. At 1:00 pm the lunch bell sounded, and I was down in the bush by 1:02 pm, rippling with adrenaline fueled energy. I quickly changed into my work clothes and got digging.

The most worrying aspect to this whole operation is that not once did I have a questioning or doubtful thought in my mind asking why I was doing this. I think this is something that only males entirely understand. Maybe I was just bored with sitting around at lunch time, and felt like a bit of a rush.

Today marked a milestone in my scheme. My enthusiasm and passion was clearly breeding among my peers, and I noticed that the 5% of moderately loyal observers, had become moderately loyal diggers. With the extra man power we were really making some ground (or removing it more-so)!

Day 3
By 1:01 pm there were 15 of us in the bush. We had enough tools to allow 4 diggers to contribute to the hole at a time. At regular intervals we would rotate shifts. There was a substantial production line now, and we were remarkably efficient. 3 people would remain as permanent scout patrols, warning the gang against teachers encroaching upon our proximity.

We were overflowing with excitement, the hole could now accommodate 5 of us. It was at a depth that required a helping hand to climb out from. At dinner that night, I couldn't help but be reminded of the scene from "The castle"... "I dug a hole".

Day 4
Catastrophe. It was going so well, we were making great progress. But it had rained all night and today was sabotaged.

Day 5
I notified the boys to bring gumboots. We weren't your average sissy hole diggers, and we were not about to be subverted by crappy weather. At 1:00 pm our fears were confirmed when we established that the hole had indeed filled to the brim with water.

We initiated a series of covert operations to collect garbage bins strategically from around the school. They made tremendous bailing buckets, and we were able empty the "pool" and get back to shoveling sloppy mud.

20 of us returned to class that afternoon drenched, filthy, and emanating an earthy aroma. Our teacher appeared to be suspicious, but everyone seems suspicious when you are paranoid.

Day 6 
Word had spread. I can't imagine how... Maybe it had something to do with half of our grade disappearing from the lunch area, and strange cannibalistic noises radiating from the bushland. But regardless, the teachers knew that something was up.

In hindsight, it has come to my attention that the teachers severely outsmarted us. They were aware of this operation earlier than we presumed, but were merely waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

We knew that the end was rapidly approaching. Consumed with passion and ferocity, we dug until the end of lunch alarm went off. Spectators began frantically fleeing the crime scene. There was an unspoken mutual agreement between a handful of us that we were going to die here if we had to, so we kept digging.

It was now 20 minutes into 5th period, and one of the boys had lost his nerves. We couldn't criticize, but as he walked off to class we all looked at each other and hissed "pussy!".

Another 10 minutes passed. Footsteps were approaching, and I prayed that it was a student, or at worst a pushover of a teacher.

The jig was up.

Emerging from the undergrowth was the epitome of discipline, the vice-principal stood there, jaw-dropped. If Stalin had emerged from the shrubbery I would have been less fearful. Here I was, covered head to toe in mud, wearing a blue wife-beater singlet, mid shovel swing, and staring eye to eye with our school's undertaker. If looks could cremate, i'd be ash. I tried to calm myself down by reciting advice in the back of mind "it's more scared of you, than you are of it". I contemplated growling to scare her away.

(Okay, maybe i'm being a bit harsh. But you have to understand how frightening this woman was. I had no idea at this time, but she turns out to be a wonderful lady, with one hell of a sense of humor).

Before I could react, a torrent of yelling bowled us all over. For those that weren't experiencing cardiac arrest, we were required to follow her to the office for solitary confinement and interrogation.

Day 7 - Sunday detention
Day 6's relentless interrogation inevitably resulted in some form of punishment. The same teacher met us early Sunday morning, grinning ear to ear. We were very uneasy, and expecting the worst, but the penalty was fair. "Who wants to fill in a hole?!" she asked jovially. We all stared back at her, perplexed. "What the heck inspired you lot to do this?!" she burst out. We all looked at each other, speechless; then erupted with laughter.

Unfortunately I didn't get a before picture, but here is us on the Sunday detention sitting above a filled hole. 

Where's the irony?
Well, last week I got passed on a message from a close friend. Mrs Shawcross (ex Mater Maria assistant principal) is now working at St Pauls Catholic College.

She needed an extra employee over the holidays and has been looking for a "hard worker", I am most proud to say that she thought of me first. I find it comical that if I hadn't have broken the rules, been petrified of an ex-teacher, and had such unusual motives, then I wouldn't have been employed currently.

I thought i'd also place a link here for future reference:

That's the end of year graduation video that Alex Gastrell and I put together for the year group (2012). :)

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Snowballin' - Feat. Seth Sentry

During July this year I went away to Thredbo with an awesome group of mates on a snow trip. We left Sydney in two medium sized cars amongst the 7 of us, our luggage, ski gear and enough alcohol to convince ourselves that we were competent skiers. Nothing beats the buzz of energy shared between a group of people leaving for a holiday (except maybe being confined to a 5+ hour car trip tainted with my dad jokes, and Jordy's fuel efficiency challenges). 

Upon arrival, we quickly adjusted our previous living habits (well, most of us except the sleeping beauties). We got into the rhythm of waking up at 7am, and hobbling down to the chairlift draped in ski gear by 8am. We would explore the resort until lunchtime (this includes keeping ski patrol busy!), then spend unethical amounts of money on really ordinary food. 

*Insert priceless, 10 minute, philosophical chairlift conversations with random tourists here*.

We would hit the slopes at a cracking pace until the chairlifts closed (4 or 5pm) and head back home. Then it was game-on for the first shower.

At 6pm, if we weren't passed out, exhausted on the couch, we were getting very involved in a complicated drinking game at the house. One night was an exception. There was talk around town of an Aussie hip hop artist - Seth Sentry performing at the pub. Most of us were only vaguely familiar with "The bacon song", and so there wasn't a huge amount of enthusiasm to check him out (Weak, Sheridan!). However I managed to convince my right hand man, Max Power, to come for a stroll. 

There had been some serious snowing going on, and the entire village was covered in a thick blanket of powder. We arrived at the pub; it was incredibly flat and reeking of apathy. I've seen more enthusiasm from Amish people in JB HI-FI. It was hardly worth the effort of even convincing the pretentious bouncer that we hadn't had any drinks. After leaving the pub shortly after arrival, I initiated an epic snow fight in the courtyard outside. We confirmed the myth that civilians aren't always as frivolous after being hit in the face with a snowball as one might expect. Maybe it was better to stop throwing hefty slabs of snow at head height... 

We had another incredible idea. Something that I've always wanted to try and replicate is the way that snowballs behave on cartoon shows. They always seem to exponentially increase in size, becoming a monstrous epidemic, absorbing everything they touch. I packed together a basketball sized snowball and began rolling it around the courtyard. Max was somewhat apprehensive at first, but after 10 minutes, and countless patronising comments from "unsober" spectators; the snowball was the size of an exercise ball. It was becoming surprisingly heavy and tricky to maneuver. With two of us now manning the snowball we were really making some ground, it began really picking up snow.

I noticed that the ball wasn't the only thing "snowballing", our audience base was growing rapidly. After 20 minutes, it seemed that we had more of a congregation watching us roll or ludicrously sized snowball around the pub exterior, than Seth Sentry did on the inside. Everybody was watching us with boisterous amusement (sorry for stealing the show Seth!). What were originally snarky comments had evolved into drunken cheers of encouragement! The snowball was now a large boulder, and a potential cameo for the Indiana Jones movie - Raiders of the Lost Ark.

After Max was almost crushed to death by our carcinogenic ball of death, the pub bouncers finally put a stop to this madness.

Here is the beast, with a hefty 1.6 meter diameter and estimated 250+ kg weight the only thing more substantial was our confidence. I can assure you that there was quite a large assembly of  rambunctious pub-leavers behind the camera, wielding inebriated remarks of praise. The disapproving stares of the bouncers was almost as chilling as our frostbitten, lifeless hands. Just before leaving, we precariously left the snowball positioned at the top of a staircase. How's that for entrapment?!

On an unrelated note, I'd personally not recommend trying the local swimming pool. Yeah it's indoor and heated, but entry is expensive and swimming costs extra. Not to mention, that place has more rules than a guide book to dating. Since when was cursing, cannon-balling or skinny dipping barred?

Thanks for a freaking awesome trip everyone, definitely keen for another! Next time keep me away from the microwave, Jordan away from the fridge, Sheridan from the Cointreau, Jackie and Lewis from the TV, Abbey away from my relentless teasing, and Max closer to the green runs!

The weathered face of a man who has been denied the exchange of 74 free small fries coupons.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Re-inventing the wheel.

Over the last few weeks I've subscribed to a new YouTube channel: "CaseyNeistat". It's just about this cool guy living in New York that uploads daily 10 minute "Vlogs". (Basically a video diary/diarrhoea showing his day to day life). He makes some really interesting content and does some unreal things. One of the quirky aspects of the channel are his modes of transportation. He always travels to different places via unusual methods, whether it be an electric skateboard, self balancing electric scooter or motorised unicycle. It makes sense, walking is pretty boring...

Kinda inspired, I went to the shopping center yesterday with the intention of buying something to get around the place with (Who needs a car anyway?!). I started at K-mart, and store jumped my way around the mall, my womanly bargain hunting instinct kicked in. Rebel sport delivered the goods.

The picture above reveals the dilemma I was faced with "Which board do I want to break my bones on?" I pondered. Yep, I went with the super cute, rainbow "Penny-board" for $40. (Named so because of it's gargantuan size).

I wasn't happy with the width of the trucks that came with the Penny so I also grabbed a cruiser board from K-Mart for $20 purely to salvage its trucks, wheels and bearings.

That's me swapping the trucks and wheels over.

As I planned on taking this thing around with me, I had a foolproof idea to make it robber resistant. By cutting out a hole in the end of the board I could chain it up if required. Not that any normal person would steal a vivacious looking skateboard; but there are probably some real sickos out there that would want to own stuff like this.

And as extra insurance...

If that isn't the most sensual looking skateboard you have ever seen, then we have things to discuss.

Let's see if all those teenage years playing Tony Hawk's Pro - Skater 3 have payed off. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

For Nuggy.

(The two lovebirds: Dora (left), Ralph (right))

Another casualty has unexpectedly occurred. Today my family's much loved pet Staffy, "Ralph" passed away. The rest of this eulogy is dedicated to some of my cute, funny, and mischievous memories of him.

1. Ralph, or "Nuggy" as he was more commonly known, possessed a knack for escaping. He had a history of scrambling over 6 foot tall fences (which is remarkably impressive considering his bulbous body with twiggy leg supports). It became clear relatively early in our ownership of "the wombat" that he was destined to escape the dreaded backyard at any cost. He became quite receptive, and began using his crocodile-like jaw muscles to tear 4 mm gauge wire mesh to shreds and frequently breakout.

Dad was the least bit troubled, openly sanctioning this dilemma as a challenge, and not a problem. Having said this, countless late evenings at the local hardware store evoked some pretty interesting conversations. The way we described the situation to Bunnings employees must have given them the impression that we were hippopotamus breeders.

Yes, in the end Houdini was finally contained. He looks as relieved as we did!

2. Ralph had an inconceivable food obsession. He could chew through the thigh knuckle of a cow leg effortlessly, and would do anything for an apple core. One day while dad and I were in the backyard gardening, we dug up the largest, juiciest, pulsating Witchetty grub imaginable. We both looked at each other questioningly, then took a look at Ralph who was staring at us expectantly. We threw the grub to him, but he wasn't interested...until we smothered it in barbecue sauce! *GULP* Haha.

3. For a while we had a suspicion that one of the dogs was eating poo from the cat litter tray... well, either that, or the cat had some serious bowel problems. The myth was quickly confirmed when Ralph returned to the living room one night. His tail was tucked between his bony legs in shame, whilst the sound of him crunching on white cat litter crystals resonated throughout the room. We couldn't help but laugh.

4. Ralph was the team mascot for dad's soccer team. He established a dangerous reputation when he became labelled the notorious "ball destroyer". He had a frightening initiative to deflate any ball within range. Once he was accidentally let off his lead. He sprinted across half the soccer field and snatched up the game ball in one rapid motion, popping it with his incredible jaw. Dad and I stood on the sideline sheepishly, "that wasn't our ball was it?!".

5. He really was quite affectionate. A few years ago, I bent over to give him a back scratch. In the most heartwarming way possible he jumped up playfully; his front canine collided with my central incisor, chipping it. Damn dog!

6. He did inflict his fair share of destruction on the local fauna also. Prior to our residence at Wahroonga, there was an abundance of brushtail possums and blue tongue lizards. But Ralph made short work of that... Several mornings we emerged to the backyard to find a gruesome crime scene of entrails; and enough fur to knit a dog blanket.

7. Here's where I drop a bombshell. There are reasons to believe that Ralph may have been homosexually orientated. His evocative nature with the other male dogs at the local dog park presents remarkably subtle evidence. It's not as if he didn't try female dogs, it's just that his... "physique" didn't really allow for it. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course!

This video shows how much he loved to be pampered, compared to Dora (Need sound!).

Dora seems to be handling all this pretty well, I wonder what she's thinking..."Two beds all to myself?!". Or in dog language: "Rhoo reds rhall to rhyself?!".

Thanks for awesome memories buddy. <3 "Nom, Nom".

Sad news :(

The last two days have entailed some pretty unfortunate events. The image above was taken from my 2012 high school year book. Just next to me, on the right, is Luke Shanahan, a fellow schoolmate.

While Luke would likely classify himself as more of an acquaintance to me than a close friend, his premature death has undeniably impacted my mind. This is a brutally harsh reminder of how terminable and unpredictable our lives truly are. The amount of support and overwhelming number of responses on social media to Luke and his friends has been inspiring. I wish to send my deepest condolences to his family, friends and associates.