(I wrote most of this the night before I left Sydney to go back and live in England for another year in late April, 1999. The story is based around real events of the previous summer, living in a crumbling apartment near the cliffs of South Bondi. I only recently found the notebook and typed it up. Hope you enjoy it)
By Darryl Mason
It's a November dawn on Bondi Beach. The first official day of Summer, and the cream sands are dotted with more than three dozen sleepers. Not drunk locals, or the homeless. Backpackers. A new breed, doing it on the super cheap. They avoid the usually overcrowded hostels whenever possible, instead they bed down outdoors, on beaches, at bus stops, train stations, parks, caves, the backyards of obviously vacant houses. They network each other over the internet and in local bars as to the best, the safest, places to sleep for free.
Feena is a 19 year old Swedish backpacker. She seems unbothered to be approached at dawn by a complete stranger, asking questions.
She arrived in Australia the night before, late, with her two friends 'Wendy' (Venda, maybe?) and Tanjetta, who now still sleep, dressed in t-shirts and shorts, curled up on blankets, their backpacks as pillows.
"We like to sleep outside," Feena says, unlacing her boots to change her socks, emptying out the sand. "When it's hot like this it's better. We save many money, so we can keep travelling."
It's a bright blue sunny day, the fresh clean light makes everything seem crystal clear. It should be too hot, too bright, this kind of heat should be uncomfortable, painful. But it isn't. You sweat sitting still, and your skin prickles like it's trying to crawl away from the intense burn of the sun, but it feels....utterly fantastic.
I suggest a coffee, Feena nods enthusiastically. Her stomach growls so loud we both laugh.
"Breakfast," Feena coos to Wendy and Tanji, but they are sleeping too deeply to do anything but grunt and wave us away.
"We'll be here," Wendy mumbles through what is probably a German accent and folds her arms over her eyes. We leave them to nuke their flesh under this dangerous sun.
Thick almost cloying smells of rich strong brew...freshly heated croissants, molten jam and syrupy butter mixing together, rising wonderful sugar/salty fumes, catching the breeze, tiny twirls of air currents from the push of the thick passage of people along the Bondi Beach cappuccino strip of Campbell Street...steaming waft of hot milk, the powdered chocolate for anointing the coffee froth blowing out, finer than dust, riding, mixing with the other scents....focaccia toasting deliciously....swirling with the bitter fumes of the already heavy, crawling road traffic only a few feet away.
"I'll have breakfast if you will buy," Feena says, no shame, no guilt, straight-up, as we sit down at an outside table. She's too hungry to wait too be asked.
She will take anything she can get that is free, she says. It bothered her when started traveling, living off complete strangers, shoplifting, haggling with takeaway food shops for double servings for the same price. But not now. Feena has adapted well to backpacker poverty, and it's carried her far on a minimal amount of money. What Japanese tourists spend for one night's accommodation in a swank Sydney hotel will carry Feena through weeks of backpacking.
"My meaning of true backpacking is to eat for free, travel for free, get clothes for free and sleep for free," Feena announces after we order coffee. She explains how she and Tanjetta and Wendy (she met both girls in England) mooched and grifted their way through Europe, for two months, on less than fifteen Australian dollars a day. Food, travel, accom, booze, even clothes, clubs, drugs all gifted from the men they met.
"But we never have to sleep with anybody to get everything for free," Feena adds, almost as an afterthought.
In most of the cities they've visited so far they'd tell the local guys they met ("chose to meet" as Feena says) their terrible tales of the cockroach-dictatorship state of the hostels and how so many horrible men wanted to take advantage of them. The girls would then quickly find themselves being offered lounges, beds and floors to sleep on.
After she chain-sips her freshly-delivered coffee and reads off her breakfast order to a sickly-willow, amphetamine-eyed waitress, Feena explains how it is easier to make sure the one or two guys who live in the house you're crashing over at are okay, and not mutant perverts, than it is to suss five guys, from as many countries, in a unisex backpacker dormitory. She's seen girls younger than her raped in unisex dorms, had had a knife pulled on her once when she tried to intervene.
"Sometimes sleep is safer if you're outside somewhere you can run away," Feena looks down sadly at her coffee, keeps talking.
Feena, Wendy, 19, and Tanjetta, 20, all fresh out of university, have travelled through Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, England and one beach of Fiji together so far.
Sydney and Australia is a three month Summer stay and while she's here Feena plans to learn skydiving, mountain climbing and scuba-diving. She wants to see Byron Bay, Cairns, the Whitsundays, Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef. Lots of big plans, like most of the young backpackers who flow endlessly through the Bondi Summer turnstiles, so many plans, so many things to do and places they simply just have to see.
After Australia the three girls will turn back and head up through South East Asia and into China, down into and across India and finally back home again via the bits of Europe they missed on the first leg of their trips. It's like an annual backpacker migratory route.
I offer her and her friends the use of my living room floor. There is a pile of old futon mattresses in one corner for the never-ending stream of 'guests' who turn up on my doorstep. You never realise how many old friends you really have until word spreads that you're living in an apartment overlooking Bondi Beach.
Feena smiles at my offer, but shakes her head.
"You don't look like you can afford to feed and house yourself," Feena laughs. "We'll find places to stay."
Can't deny the truth. Feena is right.
My flatmate Grover and I can't afford any of the three major life priorities anymore. 1) Food. 2) Shelter. 3) Something to cover the nakedness.
He's a musician. I write. He's writing an album. I'm writing a screenplay. Neither of us have a deal, but I did pick up a few grand last month from a wannabe British movie producer who liked a story I told him about growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney. Teenagers and cars and loud Australian rock, he's thinking a Down Under American Graffiti. I'm not sure if what I've already written is anything much, but the pages I fax through to him seem to keep him happy enough. For now.
Me and Grover share a crumbling apartment in Nott's Avenue, Bondi Beach. A few weeks ago I saw a story in the paper claiming Nott's Avenue is one of the top five most expensive streets for real estate in all of Australia. So what the hell are unemployed writers and unsigned musicians doing living there? Lucking it out. Somehow, some way, we are managing to hold onto this last pocket of abject poverty amongst the mega-wealthy. The real estate agent comes by every now and then to remind us that the owner will want to start renovating soon and we should start looking for somewhere else to live.
They'll have to drag us out of this place.
There are no cupboard doors in the kitchen, the toilet has to be flushed with a bucket, the stove was already broken when Grover totally lucked into the place two years ago, the phone's only good for incoming calls, the carpets are abstract artworks of multi-coloured smears, ancient pizza grease and grey-black smudges and the walls seem to cracking wider and wider every day, paint peels like old onion skin when the heat hits extreme.
But, oh God, the view from the windows up here, four stories high. The views from every window, including the bathroom and the laundry, even the toilet, looking down over the IceBergs club to the sparkling glowing blue bay, out across the one kilometre long, soft cream-coloured curl of Bondi beach. A perfect postcard suspended outside every window and from the balcony the whole sky open and huge all the way out to sea.
I'm managing to stretch the screenplay payment out for longer than I imagined was possible, not worrying too much about food or fashion makes this easier. Grover, being an unsigned musician, collects the dole. One week's rent equals about one of his fornightly dole payments. I pay a week, he pays the next. He also sells a bit of hydro-pot to friends who visit, who visit to buy pot from him. Not a lot, not enough to bother any local cops at least, but the sales give him free gear and a few bucks left over for food.
The bonus of living in Bondi, as local restaurants and cafes try to keep the backpackers coming back, is that there are plenty of cheap eats to be found. A free sausage sizzle at a local pub on Sundays; huge yet inexpensive lunches at the North Bondi RSL on weekdays; humongous servings of rice and curry at Terrific Thai. And there's always two minute noodles, rice, pasta, and Vitabrits at home.
After a while of living on such a meagre budget, you don't even notice anymore what you're missing out. You go shopping, but you don't stop to look at the things you can't afford. They no longer exist in your limited cash reality. You do without.
The landlord refuses to fix anything in the apartment, even the toilet, and we can't fix it ourselves without replacing the whole cistren. It's grim, but you learn to time the harder-to-bucket-flush toilet trips into visits to the Bondi Icebergs.
There's still a few months left on Grover's lease, but it's clear now the landlord and estate agent just want us to get the fuck out. They're practically daring us to stay. But I've shared a house with a rock band, and Grover lived in some rainforest up north for six months. We can live without the luxuries like a fridge, a stove, a working toilet. Every other apartment in the building has been 'renovated' and the rent doubled or tripled accordingly. One day soon the notice of eviction will come and we will have to leave this place.
But not right now.
For now we're safe.
Just to last the Summer out...that's the plan.
Three more months, one final Summer of freedom here in this beautiful paradise on the edge of the Olympic 2000 city....The 2000s are going to be fucked up. You can feel something bad on its way, beyond YK2. Maybe a tsunami will claim this beach. Maybe there will be a nuclear war. Maybe a chunk of old planet will find its way through the galaxy to slam us all into another ice age.
Grover and I seem to talk about these things a lot.
Well, he talks, and I stare out the window, at the point where the sky meets the sea, where the dark blue of the water melts up into the blinding blue of the nearly always cloudless sky.
He talks, he ramble-babbles, and I stare, or write, or sleep. It doesn't matter, Grover keeps on punching back those billies, keeps on talking.
Back at the cafe. Feena takes her last bite of scrambled eggs, drains her juice, gets up, thanks me, leaves me with the bill. But that's cool. She'll buy me food maybe one day when I'm hungry, that's the way it works. Or seems too. We don't need to make plans to catch up. We'll run into each other, in the street, at the Regis Hotel, the North Bondi RSL, or on the beach, at the IceBergs...somewhere.
Feena will be around for the Summer, and so will I.
The IceBergs Club has perched on the ragged rocks and jagged cliffs of South Bondi since the late 1920s. A building so old has become a rarity around here, but soon the Icebergs too will close its doors for the final time. Someone has decided, for good reason, that the numbingly gorgeous views the building hogs across Bondi Beach will be the perfect place for a five star restaurant, one of those bars with a glowing wall, a new place for those who can access enough credit to claim they are wealthy to hang out and eyeball each other.
The Regulars of the Icebergs Club, some of whom have been coming here since the club's first decade, know their days of ultra-cheap beers and beautiful views are numbered. They have been promised a place in the New Club to continue their daily vigil of drinking and talking and staring out the windows, but nobody really believes it will be even remotely the same as it is right now.
Through the windows, glorious bodies gleam along the sand, showing more and more flesh each year, as one of the oldest regulars explains. He remembers when Bondi bathers were bloomers to the knees and long sleeves. From these windows, he's watched the fashions of generations come and go. He's seen the tides climb higher and higher up the beach, higher every year he reckons, eroding the sands away.
Out there, across that beach, that fucking beautiful beach, everything changes.
But in here, inside the main bar of the Icebergs, nothing much changes at all. People get older, some die, some of his oldest mates disappear into nursing homes, the little kids of locals are one day asking the old timers about the day a sandbar collapsed and killed and injured dozens, and before they know it, those kids are standing alongside the old timers, drinking a beer, talking about marriage, and surfing of course.
Nothing really changes here in the IceBergs. Not until the renovations begin. Then everything changes. It will never be the same again.
Borrowed time - it ticks away at twice the normal speed.
"This beer is going down like Mother's Milk," he says, still shining from the surf. He is young, a semi-legendary wave rider, and the other Icebergs Regulars nod to his choice of words.
"It always has", says another elderly Regular, his face baked to tan-leather by decades of Bondi summer sun.
For a moment, this old man finds himself in one of the old club photos hanging on the walls. He proudly points himself out to me in the sun-faded pre-World War 2 image.
He's standing in a line with his friends on the edge of the IceBergs ocean pool; they are teenagers, grinning, young and fit. Friends who are mostly gone now, dead, moved away, he says, then sadly adds "or in those bloody time-to-die old bugger homes. They won't get me in one of them. I'll bloody die right here with a beer in my hand."
The other Regulars agree that right here would indeed be a very fine place to keel over and stop breathing; that to go like that, draining the last of an ice-cold schooner on a hot day in the cool shadows of the Bergs, would be the ideal way to die.
Most of the thirty or so surfers out here this morning are 20-something males and terminally unemployed. But they aren't dejected by this reality, they accepted it a long time ago. And they manage to make the most of it.
They do not wake every morning with a sudden jerk and heart palpitation to the electric shriek of an alarm clock. They rise when they choose, or when the waves call most invitingly. They slum around, smoke their pot, eat their big bowls of Weetbix and bananas and bowls of fresh mango, they slurp their sickly-sweet coffee and take their time getting out into the new day. The real surfers are long gone by the time these guys reach the waves, or what's left of them.
They have no money, but still they can exist here. They find a way to get by. Some of them tell me, yeah, they eat, just not everyday. They drink, sometimes, they surf most of the time, they fuck backpackers, and they sit around a bucket bong when the skies are grey and the waves are shit.
There are few waves today. But that doesn't matter.
Crash and his two mates are too stoned to stand up on their surfboards anyway. They come out here not always to surf. Just to bob around sometimes, lie back on their boards or stare down into the water, sometimes watching for sharks, and they talk. Stoned talk. About the surf, about other surfers, about the easy English backpacker chicks, about drugs they've had, about drugs they're going to get. Hours of talk like this, between the occasional set of something surfable. The sun is even brighter out here than it is on the beach, and occasionally it reflects off a ripple and blinds you good and solid.
"Wanna go another scud?"
Paul is asking Crash this question. Paul is the singer/guitarist in the band Crash plays bass for, the band that has been together for a few years, but never seems to actually gig, or record, or even write songs. Crash does wanna go another scud.
"Scuddly-duddly," he says. "Fire that fucker up."
Stu, the drummer in their band, is disinterested, staring out at the horizon. Other riders hear the talk of 'scuds' (long fat joints) and paddle themselves closer to our circle.
From within the left sleeve of his wetsuit, Paul slips out a long, thin plastic container. It was once an airline toothbrush holder, now it's a waterproofed joint storage unit. Paul fishes the joint out and into his mouth without touching it, attaches a crocodile clip so our fingers won't get it wet, then strikes one of the matches also stored in that little case. He sparks the scud into life.
Crash, Stu and Paul not only play together in a band that never seems to rehearse much either, and they also share an apartment back off the beach that is so....gritty that it makes the one I'm sharing with Grover look like a fucking palace.
Their conversations out on the waves, as the scud is carefully passed around, have a well-worn ring to them. Lots of big statements, few questions.
- "Don't take any shit from grommits Stu, they get on your wave, you spear 'em with your board. Only way the little fuckers learn to respect your ride."
- "She's like, 'you gotta wear a dommie', I'm like 'fuck that, my dick don't wear raincoats for nobody'. So she gets all peaked out, says she's goin' home. I'm like 'well fucking go then!' but she changes her mind, right? Like that. Starts in with the 'please let me stay pleaseletmestay', I'm like 'well get your gear off and I'll throw one in ya', right?"
- "They build that railway station down here and these waves are gonna be packed with hundreds of losers. The whole beach will be chockers, everyday. And all those models and actresses back there who get their tits out for the sun, right? they'll stop doing it, or go to another beach, 'cause then there'll be thousands of pervy dudes hanging round, freaking out over the all day titty show."
It's Guy Time out here on the waves. Serious Bloke Talk. Do they believe each other's stories?
Does it matter?
The joint goes from Paul to Crash then to me. There's a moment of stark terror when I almost drop it into the water. You can't fuck up much more than that, and I'm relieved to take a few hits and get it out of my hands again. Nobody wants to be the fucking arsehole who drops a joint out here. Bummer time.
New Year's Eve is long gone, a blur of faint memory. Late January now, and the summer heat is breaking weather records. But the sun becomes addictive, the searing of skin feels good, we are told the Sun Is Death now, but nobody really listens. The attitude is, 'Who gives a fuck if you get skin cancer when you're an old cunt'?
The sun is shining, the sun is for now, to be soaked up, absorbed. It feels like this Summer will never end.
Crash, like a few dozen other local guys in their 20s, haunts the backpacker-ridden Bondi bars on and around Campbell Avenue. Shitholes like the Bloodbath (a local hotel renowned for its brawls), the Regis, the Beechwood cafe. They are guys on the hunt, and the Bondi Savannah is crowded with game.
"I try to bang the continental Euro-babes mostly," says Crash. "For the challenge. It's harder to wrangle a Swedish babe back to your place, than to nail some pommy scrubber."
Paul and Stu nod.
"It's weird," Crash continues. "You can always find some English chick at closing time, pissed out of her mind, hanging round, like she's waiting for some Australian guy to pick her up and give her one. You don't even have to try much with the English chicks. They're always up for it. They leave their boyfriends back there in that grim shithole and come over here and bang their way around Australia."
What's the attraction of Australian guys for the English girls? I ask Crash, and he is ready with his Theory, one upon which he seems to have spent much time speculating.
"It's the Neighbours/Home And Away fantasy thing of Australian men. It's a teenie-girl fantasy thing to them to come halfway round the world and fuck one of us... I don't understand it, but I dig it. You see dudes like automatically checking their pocket for condom-machine change as soon as they hear that the chick they've just eyeballed is pissed up and English. They know they're gonna get a root, definitely!" Crash laughs.
When the joint is gone, and the paranoia is in full-force, we regularly check the water beneath us to make sure sharks are not cruising, readying to take a chomp out of our boards, or out of us.
It never happens.
There hasn't been a shark attack on Bondi Beach for almost sixty years, but the possibility never truly leaves your mind.
Stu says he's heading back in. He wants to grab a shower and get down the North Bondi RSL for a $3 weekday lunch. The best feed bargain in the city, but few Sydneysiders seem to know it's even there. You will, however, always find backpackers in the line, plate in hand. They somehow, always, seem to know where the good, cheap food is to be found.
Vegetarian Lasagne, or T-bone, or veal/chicken schnitzel, with a steaming mound of mashed potatoes and gravy, a bowl of salad with sweet chilli sauce, and schooners of beer for two dollars.
This day that had started so hot and bright is now greying under dark silver clouds that none of us noticed had quickly moved in. The water melts from inviting-tropical blue to a threatening icy black beneath us. Steel blue waves crash down hard on inexperienced surfers, rolling and washing them in a wall of foam and churning sand back towards the beach.
It's time to get out of the water.
It's early February now, hotter than ever, Jesus, like holidaying on the fucking sun.
Mind drifts off and I watch the flow of people side-stepping the tiny footpath cafe table I share with Wendy, the (German? I never did ask) backpacker. She never has much to say, and when the heat hits like this, my mind shuts down. We've got nothing to say to each other. We're just hanging out.
A parade of maybe-one-day-they-will-be-famous actors and models patrol the strip, some in bikinis, some wrapped in towels, shoes and thongs are always optional.
Wendy watches me watching the girls for a moment then goes back to writing her postcards. When we're walking back to the beach later, to meet up with Feena and Tanji, and their eight other Eurobabe friends who daily gather to try and sun themselves darker than the indigenous who lived on this beach for tens of thousands of years, Wendy she shows me the postcards. I flick through them, catch lines here and there, noticing how excellent her written English has become in barely a few weeks : ...'but you never want to sleep when everyday and everynight is best party in the world....we are so alive....everyday perfect, everyday filled with sunshine and laughter and friends....but you stay here too long and you get caught up in this tiny, tiny world....I'm sorry I didn't ring you at Christmas, I'm sorry I forgot you while I've been living my dream....'
The screenplay I've been working on is almost done, and the producer is waiting for the last five pages. If he likes those as much as he liked the rest, he says he will option it and pay me to do another draft, then he wants to get it out to agents. This isn't the first time I've heard this kind of thing, so I let him live out his movie-making fantasy through a screenplay that will probably never get made, I'm getting paid something, as tiny as it is, to write, to keep writing, and that's enough for now.
Wendy waves goodbye as she runs across the hot sand to her friends. Feena waves at me, and motions for me to come and join them for another afternoon roasting in the sun.
But I've spent too many days already lying around this beach in the middle of a gaggle of jaw-droppingly beautiful Eurobabes, coping dirty looks from suburban boys who can't fathom what the hell I'm doing there with all those girls. That's fun in itself, for a while, but today I've got places to go, people to see, more time that urgently needs to be wasted, so the writing that is due will take on a sense of dire urgency that always sparks the true inspiration.
Fucking hope so, anyway.
In his sand-strewn apartment, in his clothes-and-damp-towels draped bedroom, the air stinging with mildew and sweat, Crash has a world map on his wall, with little flags pinned to eighteen different countries; thirty-seven different cities. I ask what the flags signify. He grins stupidly, then explains that every pin on the map marks the home locale of a backpacker chick he's picked up in Bondi. He has a pin laid out on the table, ready to go up on the map...Tonight, maybe a new country, or so he hopes.
Crash, like so many other young people in Bondi, particularly the musicians, writers and actors, seem to live in an existence composed almost solely of hope.
Crash hopes to get laid more, hopes to get a record deal, hopes to make millions, hopes to get out of Australia, hopes to tour the world, hopes to pay his rent tomorrow, hopes to be able to score some decent green. Hope, hope, hope.
Almost anywhere else, it would be gutting to live in such desperate hope after five or more years, but here in Bondi it seems to be much easier. How can you feel like your life is crap and going nowhere when you are living in such a beautiful, world-famous and now increasingly expensive beach community?
But Stu, Crash's flatmate, confesses that all the good points, and there are many, to wasting through another Bondi Summer, still dreaming, doesn't keep up the blinds forever. Stu wants to leave Bondi, soon. He knows the good times will not, cannot, last forever.
The afternoon slinks by outside the musicians ground floor, back-of-the-building, apartment. No view from here. Just trees, a fence, a glimpse of the sky between houses. More billies. More silence, then bursts of conversation that fade as quickly as they arise.
Crash and Paul and Stu have funny-sad arguments about the band and their own drug intake, their futures, their demo tape, the talent and potential of other musos in the area versus their own, if they should record their unwritten album in a studio or on home-recording equipment in the apartment. Or even do it acoustically on the beach at night, with twenty friends as the audience.
I ask them how their first gigs together went down. They look at me blankly. Besides a busking session at Circular Quay and a few rough jams at local talent nights, the trio have yet to actually, officially, perform together as a band. Anywhere. This is almost five years into the band's existence.
But aren't live gigs the most important kind of groundwork for a rock band?
Stu nods, but Crash and Paul shrug.
"You can break out real quick now," says Crash. "Don't even need to gig. Just gotta get the songs recorded. A few people from round here have sold songs to American movie soundtracks, for like $20,000 a song, plus royalties."
"Spice Girls," Paul says admiringly, from a strictly business point of view. "More than twenty million albums and a hundred million pounds in two years. Good marketing, man. The sweetest. An all round top marketing package ramming mediocre product to the top of the charts."
Crash nods enthusiastically. This sounds much easier than slogging their way to fame through hundreds of hard, shitty gigs like The Angels or Cold Chisel had to endure to build their audience, to secure their legend.
Paul brings up a story he heard of how US ex-record company execs are signing up young, unrecorded musicians, singers, songwriters, and are putting their careers, and future potential earning power, on the stock market. Self-funded, no record companies, each song or album then leased out to smaller labels, or sold direct to the audience over the internet.
Yeah, maybe in a decade, but who is doing this right now? Paul heard about it all from another Bondi muso, so that's as good as truth to him.
The trio nod along to each other's fantasies and loose themselves in more dreams of what life will be like when everything comes good for them, and they get the record deal they know is out there, right now, trying to find its way to them. After they write some good songs of course, after they get the live show together, play live together
Today was going to be a band rehearsal day, but....
There is always something else to do. A coffee at a cafe, a beer at the 'Bergs, a booze soaked lunch at the RSL, a surf, another long afternoon of punching billies, a jam with other local musos "happening somewhere, but we have to find this guy and then get him to get this other guy to give us a lift there, with him, cause he's got awesome amps."
There's no left time for things like writing songs, recording, rehearsing, gigging and promoting their band.
It's after dawn now, and there should be stunning, gorgeous early morning views of Bondi from the living room and kitchen windows, but the curtains are drawn tight, the rooms dark.
There are four backpackers sleeping in the living room, another on the floor in Grover's bedroom. We charge them $10 each night to stay here, but they have to be gone for the day by 9am and not come back until early evening. Suits them all fine. We undercut the hostels by $10-$15, and Grover has said he might start sleeping in the living room, too, so he can put six bunk beds in his bedroom and rent them all out. He's already done the maths. With six in his room, everynight, we'd be free-living here and making another $120 or a week to split between us. The broken toilet was fixed by one of the backpackers, a German guy who turned up late, slept five hours, found a way to bodgy up a solution to the toilet problem in the early morning, before departing.
Feena is here, for a few days. So are Tanji and Wendy. They spend all their days now lying in the sun on the beach. It's already the beginning of March, and none of their travel plans have come to fruition. Whole weeks have disappeared at lightning speed. Most of their money gone over night-club bars and into local E dealers' pockets. They sleep until the day is warm, then lie as still as corpses in the baking sun for two or three hours, a dip in the ocean, then yet another afternoon back on the sand, then they hit the local clubs and bars until midnight or later, playing pool, meeting guys, getting toxic-drunk on whatever whoever is willing to buy them. They always seem to find some guy with the cash to get them hammered. This goes on, and on, day in, night out. Time, dates, soon lose all meaning.
We have a barbecue on the tiny balcony. Stu and Paul come over, Crash is up the coast at a family funeral, a few of mutual friends are also here, they got the meat, and the drugs.
There's only a few precious hot rocks for the barbecue left, so we use bound logs of newspaper, cardboard, old wood from the crumbling kitchen cupboards, and three cans of zippo lighter fuel.
Soon enough, the fire is raging, but nothing cooks properly of course. It's all flame, no heat.
Then it's all smoke.
The smoke pours heavily, twisting off in a long column, away from the building. Thank God.
But then it breaks into a wide cloud and blows back in through the open balcony doors of those who live above us, and below us. We ignore the angry yells from the neighbours, and turn up the stereo when they start knocking too loud on the front door. I keep telling myself I'm only still living here, in this shithole, because one day all these experiences might make a good book. I convince myself that this lifestyle is actually some kind of reportage for a future writing project. But I'm stringing out the hard return to reality for as long as I can.
Like Crash, like Paul, like Stu, like Grover, like the Eurobabes.
People pass by down below on Nott's Avenue, they stare up at us as we kick back on the balcony, tilting icy beers to our mouths, and they seem to be wondering just how the hell a bunch of degenerates like us can afford to stay here, right next door a multi-millionaire like James Packer, in a place with such magnificent views, so very close to the beach.
We wonder this, too.
A game of touch football on the beach at sunset in early February.
Me and Grover and Crash and Paul and Stu square off against young guys from Ireland, the US, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland.
We ignore the touch-football rules and tackle them hard and brutal. We almost remove their heads with illegal head-high tackles, then drive their faces deep into the hot sand. We hit them with running shoulder charges that knock them back five feet. They get the shits in the end, and leave. But the girls who gathered to watch, they stay.
Crash and Feena have somehow managed to not meet before the football game, or at least, if they have crossed each other's paths in post-midnight bars, they don't seem to remember.
So Crash meets Feena. Crash invites Feena out for dinner and drinks, just the two of them. Crash takes her to Terrific Thai in Curlewis Street, where you can score a huge entree and rice for less than four dollars. Then once it's dark, he takes her for a walk around the cliff path to Tamarama Beach where they polish off a half bottle of cheap bourbon. Feena and Crash (he tells me later), stop in the cave under the lookout along the coast path for a joint. You can see the whole bay of Bondi from that cave. I used to sleep there sometimes, back in the early 90s, when Kings Cross was just too fucking ugly to take for another night.
So Crash fucks Feena in the cave, then she passes out. He steals $40 out of her purse and leaves without waking her.
The next time Crash sees Feena in the IceBergs he gives her this look like he maybe once knew her ten years ago, but he can't remember exactly who she is, what her name might be, or what they could have done together. He gives her a vague smile of recognition, then completely ignores her. Feena is used to this. She doesn't care.
There have been worse guys than Crash....
Feena wears the look of the utterly desperate as she comes back from the city. Her father has canceled her already maxed out emergency-use-only credit cards, and in a rage demanded she return home immediately. Her friends Tanji and Wendy went back last week.
Feena also confesses that she has been pissing painfully for more than two weeks now - for some reason she thinks I want to know such details of her private life. In the city, at the doctor's, Feena found out why it burns when she takes a piss. She thinks Crash gave her herpes, if not the first time then one of the other times, she thinks, she can't be sure if it was him. Too many guys.
In an echo I can hear Crash laughing about the backpacker chicks he says he has sent home with a "permanent Bondi souvenir".
Feena bursts into tears. She flies home the next morning, but she has to be at the airport by 6am, but she doesn't have enough money to get a taxi or even a bus, nothing for drinks on the flight home, or touristy shit for her little brother, nothing for food on the nine hour stopover in Osaka.
"Please help me," she begs, but I don't have any money to give her. The screenplay is finished, the wannabe British movie producer hasn't been heard from since he received the last draft. I'm working in a bar, but the shifts are few and far between, as the summer ends, and the tourists leave, the work dries up. The real estate has told us we have to be gone from this apartment soon, a few weeks at the most, the owner has big plans for the renovations and wants to get started as soon as the loan goes through. I tell Feena to help herself to whatever food she can find, but there's not a lot of that either, maybe some plain rice and porridge and bayleaves and cinnamon and prehistoric pasta. A bottle of soy sauce. Somewhere.
Feena goes back out to sell all the CDs that have soundtracked her Bondi Summer Dreaming to a second hand record shop. She'll probably get enough for a bus ride to the airport, a meal there, maybe an 'Australia Is Awesome' t-shirt for her little brother from one of the tourist junk shops there.
She's cleaned out.
"I sold the car my dad brought me before I left to come here," Feena says. "I quit my job, I gave up my apartment...I gave all my furniture to my friends....I don't have anything left. My father said I have to work for him to pay him back for the credit cards. I have to move back home again...."
She sags under the weight of the reality she will soon have to deal with.
"I thought I'd meet some nice guy and stay in Australia and get married."
I nod, shrug, watching the surf from the window, waiting.
She leaves with her bag full of CDs.
Feena's crying again as I lug her huge suitcase down the stairs and out to the street. She sold all her CDs and the guy in the record shop took enough pity on her and gave her an extra $20. It's enough to exchange a bus ride for a taxi.
The coming dawn is blood red, peaking through the black night, eerily beautiful.
The taxi driver stands by his car, staring at us, impatiently drumming his fingers loudly on the metal.
"I don't want to go home...." Feena mumbles, but I'm still half-asleep, so it's sort of like dreaming. "I hate it back there. I want to stay here...."
She's about to say something else, but I open the back door for her and give her a quick hug goodbye. Feena promises to write and come back to Sydney soon, but it's doubtful if she'll do either. And who really cares anyway? People drift in and out of your life, some stay longer than others, the rare few become true friends.
She slept in my bed last night, I was out on the futons. I think of her lying scungy on the sheets, riddled with Crash's super herpes, and I wonder if I should wash them or burn them.
The taxi pulls away, Feena waves frantically from the back window.
I'm about to head back to the futons, but I notice a police boat doing a lazy sweep of the bay, its spotlight flickering across the rocks, the points, the shoreline, the path of the light seems lazy, half-hearted, disinterested. Whatever they're looking for, they don't think they're going to find it.
A police car is parked on the promenade, lights flashing. I go for a closer look.
Crash and Paul are standing near the skate ramp, on the edge of the beach.
They are sullen, slumping statues, staring alternately out to sea or down at their shoes. And they don't look at each other, at all.
One of the two cops leaning against the car flashes his torch at the police boat and it toots back, then surges out of the bay.
A few other people stand gathered, in small groups, along the promenade, maybe a dozen in all. A few more down on the waterline. The cops are talking about why someone would be stupid enough to go swimming at night after a hit of smack.
Stu, the bassist, is the missing swimmer the boat was looking for.
I mumble a hello to Paul and Crash, but they don't notice, too caught up in their own nightmare-realities for now.
""I have to tell his mother," Crash is whispering, like a mantra. " I have to tell his mother, I have to tell his mother...."
Time to get out of here. Back to bed. This scene is way too heavy.
Late April. The eviction notice, finally, slides under the door, it is followed by a court summons, for Grover, a handful of other papers and long forgotten bills that are also quickly screwed up and tossed into the bin.
Push it all away, pretend it doesn't exist.
The electricity was cut off a week ago. A mate of Grover's from Queensland who is about to join the migration of mine workers to Western Australia, is staying here in these last days. We use candles, bags of ice in an old esky to keep stuff cold, mostly beer.
The night lights of Bondi and the moon on the water are even prettier without television and electric illumination.
We sit in darkness and watch an incredible storm barrel in from far out at sea, swamping the beach with slamming waves, primal-terrifying bursts of thunder and great huge splinters of hot-pink lightning.
"It will never be this good again," Grover whispers. "You know that, don't you?"
I know what he means.
We're all leaving here within days. Grover's decided to head to WA with his old mate and find work there. The British movie producer wants me to find my way to England where he thinks he is close to setting up a deal for another movie script we came up with when he got bored with the American Graffiti in the western suburbs thing as I assumed he eventually would.
Summer is gone, again, and Bondi doesn't feel the same anymore.
Stu's death seems to have poisoned everything. Before Crash wandered back home to his parents house in Queensland, he kept saying, over and over, "We had it too fucking good for too fucking long, someone had to pay." It sounded like a line from a movie we'd watched a dozen times but barely remembered, except for the good lines.
There is still talk of a train station for Bondi, new developments, apartment blocks, high-rise office buildings towering over the beach, and a hundred renovations of shitty old apartments like this one.
A lot of wealthy people are moving into Bondi, and they want to change everything. Change Bondi, the whole face of it, but not just its appearance. More people move in, more tourists flow in, and they will change the social landscape. More locals will get jack of the tourist families crowding Campbell Parade and the soaring rents and will leave. And the sense of seaside community that only a few months ago felt so strong here, so fucking ingrained, the community of old and young people just living their lives without worrying too much about what the rest of the world is doing, or who's earning how much, it will fade away, dissolve away, it's already begun.
What was once a strictly working class village for almost a century - on the edge of Australia's biggest city - all of what made Bondi Beach feel so special, so downright majestic and rare, will be lost forever.
More trees have been removed from around the beach, replaced by slabs of concrete, a bigger carpark is coming. Dodgy but cosy little cafes are being stripped of everything old and refitted with chrome and mirrors and those stupid fucking glowing walls.
The beach is still the same, but it already looks different. More like a postcard reality.
Campbell Parade has just had its first arrests in as long as anyone can remember for hookers working the strip. The Kings Cross crowd, driven out of their old digs by soaring rents and police actually policing, are relocating here. So many familiar old faces you hoped to never see again. Someone got shot the other evening. Gun fire seems to echo in through the windows every few nights, it's nowhere near that often, but it seems like it.
Most of the backpackers are gone, for now, favourite cafes and restaurants are either closed for the best part of the day, or shut down completely for renovations, and shops that so recently hummed with life and noise now sit empty, or are down-trading, casual work is gone, the bar jobs are gone.
And everybody, it seems, is selling hydro majestic gear now.
Grover had a good thing going for a while, but it's over. The deals are shittier, but cheaper, and Grover can't compete. That's why he's bailing for WA.
The party's over.
Fucked out, blown out, wasted away. As was intended.
The weather is previewing the harsh winter to come. It grows slowly, almost reluctantly colder, like a tired old man not wanting to get up from his snug warm bed.
The sea most days seems dark, steel blue and terrifying.
It will never be this good again.
And maybe it's not supposed to be.
Life goes on, gets on, and you either catch up and jump aboard, or you get left behind. Some of the same breakfast-wasted surfers will be bobbing on those waves barely changed a decade from now. The question is whether they will care about all the things they missed out on.
The desire to stay, to find a way to never leave here, like the old blokes in the Icebergs, is still strong, a gnawing temptation.
But this dream is over now, this One Summer Bondi Dreaming is done.
The front door of the apartment clicks shut for the last time.
Wake up, reality is waiting.