Australia by Blakey – 4.7

Australia by Blakey

The Big Misconception?Yobs, seppos, crocs, binge drinking, and endless expanses of empty coastline-Australia is possibly the most stereotyped surf nation on Earth. TWS contributing writer Adam Blakey wonders if the home of Vegemite isn’t more dynamic than people imagine.

Scratch The Surface

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Dude, and I’m not just saying that in an effort to reach you on a more intimate level or anything (you know, with me being Australian and all), but dude, there’s probably not much I can tell you about Australia that you don’t already know. Like, if you’ve flicked through and scoped the photos in this issue, then you know the place pumps. If you’ve examined how many Aussies stack the ‘CT ratings, you’d be on to the fact we’re churning out some talent. And as far as the landscape and the people are concerned, well, I’m pretty sure you’re aware by now that it’s a pretty nice place with a pretty solid crew. So what more do you need? I mean, I could tell you that we creatively bend the radio aerials of our cars into little maps of Australia, that we eat this repugnant black vegetable extract on our morning toast called Vegemite, that 31 Australians have died since 1996 because they watered their Christmas trees while the fairy lights were still plugged in, but what difference will it make? It’s not like a couple of useless facts are going to change any preconceived ideas you have about the place anyway. You’ve seen Crocodile Dundee, watched Survivor In The Outback, bought yourself a Steve Irwin doll, and read enough of these special Down Under Issue surf mags to know exactly what Australia is like, right? Whoar, crikey, dude! You haven’t even scratched the surface!

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The … Whatever

“Americans who haven’t been here don’t have a clue about Australia. The image they get is that Aussies are nothing more than beer drinking, yobbo convicts who don’t believe in God.”-Koby Abberton. Australian pro surfer, who drinks beer, has a police record, and wields a tattoo of Satan’s head on his right kneecap.

The saltwater crocodile is a merciless, flesh-eating reptile whose anatomy, like that of the shark, has barely changed since prehistoric times. This terrifying creature can grow the size and weight of a small truck and rarely inflicts an instant kill, meaning you’ve got plenty of time to regret all the moments in your life you missed out on getting laid between being snatched off an innocent-looking river bank and death-rolled six feet under some poo-colored water.

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The good news is the possibility of being attacked by one of these monsters is as likely as Shane Dorian scoring an Oscar for In God’s Hands 2. Crocs live in the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland (in surfing terms, the Australian equivalent of say, Texas or Alabama). This means the closest most traveling surfers will ever come to a croc in Oz is when they pass the duty-free leather store on their way through the airport. I mention crocodiles here for two reasons: one, I like them; and two, if I asked the average American to list five things that came to mind when I said the word “Australia,” I’d bet my grandma’s prosthetic leg, crocs would rate every time. It’s no great surprise when you consider the hype they generate in the American media. Thanks to the success of things like The Crocodile Hunter, you’d damn near think it impossible to walk to the corner store down under without risk of losing a limb to an oversized lizard hiding in the shrubs. However, the truth of the matter is, most Australians will live their entire lives without ever having seen a croc in the wild.Which brings us to Koby Abberton’s quote on America’s perception of Australia. Despite the initial contradictions, he does raise an interesting point-how accurate can an opinion be if it’s continually distorted by sensationalism? While you could hardly accuse the Aussie-themed surf mags infesting the newsstands of dishi out the kind of hysterical codswallop seen on television or in the movies, they do have a seedy, underlying infatuation with stereotypes. They love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains. But God help me, do they really love the long-winded poetry we’re subjected to year after year after year? If I have to read another flowery description of Australia in a surf mag ever again, I swear I’ll rip out my eyeballs and feed them to the nearest kangaroo. Same goes for East Coast road trips in rusty old Holdens, backyard cricket when the surf goes flat, and the happy-go-lucky Aussie yobs who love nothing more than a cold beer and a quick root.”There are those kind people the stereotypical Aussie here, for sure,” admits Koby. “But there’s a whole mob of other crew, too, ya know? There’s more to Australia than the white sand and the blue water, and empty reefs, and beaches, and red dirt, and the bush, and all that. There’re cities, crowds, and flat spells. Where I live, there’s a lot of trouble. I mean it’s not like the ghettos in America, but it can get pretty heavy. Ya never read about any of that in the magazines, though, do ya?”WCT rookie Mick Fanning agrees. “Yeah, Australia has its maniacs who love the piss, but it’s also got its fair share of mellow cruisers who’d rather chill out,” he says.” It’s just like anywhere in the world, I reckon. It’s got all sorts.”

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Despite both being born in Oz, Mick and Koby grew up worlds apart. Fanning is a child of the surf-enriched Eden that is the far North Coast of New South Wales, while Koby spent his youth in the dirty underground backstreets of Sydney’s notorious southern beaches. Despite the varying backgrounds, the sentiments of these two are equally spot-on: At the end of the day Australia is a bloody big chunk of rock with a whole bunch of different geographic sub-cultures. And that means the average Aussie might not be the person you were expecting.

Yobs Versus Artists?Did you know, for example, that Top 44 surfer Nathan Webster is a world-class photographer? Yeah, he’s been doing it for a few years now, lured by the artistic side of the medium rather than the sporting angle. With the exception of friends, he doesn’t shoot anything related to surfing. He’s more into capturing a moment, or mood, or shape. A while back, he was really digging taking photos of his girlfriend’s breasts.Aside from photography, Nath has a bunch of other interests as well. He digs the odd bit of writing. He collects art. He spends hundreds of dollars styling his hair in Sydney’s best salons. Hardly the beer-swilling, sausage-eating, knockabout you’ve read so much about. I decided to contact Nath, and we got to talking about what characteristics make up the modern Aussie. It went as follows:

Phone ringing.Nathan: Yo.

TWS: Nath, Blako from TransWorld here. What up, dawg?N: Yeah, Blako. What up, bitch?

Shit dude, that whole greeting was pretty un-Australian. Shouldn’t we have said “G’day” or “mate” or something?I dunno. I don’t think I’ve ever examined the psyche of why I talk the way I do. Maybe I’m taking the piss or something. F-k, who cares?

Well, I’m doing this story on Australia, and I thought if anyone didn’t fit the mold of your average Aussie yobbo, it’d probably be you.Yeah, I guess so.

Do you get a bit of shit from “the boys” on tour for not being Aussie enough?Yeah, some of them, but that’s probably my biggest motivation to not be like that. Laughs They can have their cheap beer, and their HSV Holden Commodores, and their silky HSC graduation commemorative boxer shorts, and talk out the side of their mouths if they want. I’m not into that scene too much. It’s cool, but I find it mostly amusing … as amusing as they probably find me.

What’s their beef?I think it mostly boils down to being a product of your environment. A lot of guys on tour these days come from small country towns, I come from the city. In the city you have the opportunity to see and experience a lot more than you do in an isolated little corner of the country. You’re exposed to a wider range of scenes and attitudes. Country towns are pretty insular, so they breed certain ideas of what it means to be Australian, and they’re pretty much set in stone. It doesn’t make anybody better or worse. There are classic Aussie characters from all over the place. Coming from the city, I can accept that. Laughs Different strokes for different blokes.

Who, if anyone, on tour fits the mold of a “classic Aussie”?It starts and stops with Nathan Hedge. Hog is an absolute platinum-coated legend, no matter where in Australia you’re from. He’s got time for all things Australian. He lives it, loves it, breathes it, eats it, surfs it, and sleeps it. He’s a mate to everyone on tour and would do anything for his Australian counterparts. He’s more Australian than anyone I know. Nathan Hedge for PM Prime Minister, I reckon.

Who are some of the cats breaking the mold?Definitely Oscar. Luke Stedman gets pretty wiggy with it. Nick Wallace, Jarrad Howse. Even guys like Heath Walker and Taj, too. These guys are as Australian as anyone, they all carry the core elements of what being Australian is all about-mateship, an easy-going lifestyle, good sense of humor, but they simply have their own things going on as well. We’d still be heavily outweighed by the yobbo pack, but I don’t want to turn it into an us-versus-them thing. They’d enjoy it too much laughs. Nah, at the end of the day we can all sit around and give each other shit no matter what someone’s image is. You don’t get more Australian than that.

What about the surf industry in Australia-who are they sellin’? The common Aussie or the bohemian artist types?Depends who they sponsor, I guess. Mambo Nath’s new sponsor have been really encouraging me to just cut loose artistically. My first ad with them will be a layout of some photos I’ve taken. Works well for both of us, so I’m stoked.

Will there be any photos of your girlfriends boobies in there?Nah, they’ve gone undercover for a little while.

Sounds cool. So just finally, what does being an Australian mean to you?Everything. Australia really is the lucky country, and I love it. I love being Australian.

Sweet, Nath, well, thanks for the chat, dude … er … I mean, mate.No worries.

Live Like I DoYep, like Nudes says, the average Aussie isn’t always a slow-talking, alcoholic freak, shoveling hot meat pies into his cakehole. As long as he values his mates, has a good sense of humor, and doesn’t take life too seriously, he can pretty much take on whatever form suits him.California’s Pascal Stansfield made a similar discovery when he first came to Aus at the tender age of fifteen. “I think Aussies are more purists than yobbos,” he says sincerely. “They live in a world that is closer to reality than anyone in America. In L.A., we’re backward. Australians are so much more in touch with the Earth and what’s really important. I remember this one time, I went to Byron Bay and there was a guy driving down the main street in a brand-new top-of-the-line Range Rover, and people in the street were writing him off. They were like, ‘You could have bought a house, idiot.’ I’d never seen people living like that before. I didn’t know it was possible to keep life so real and simple.”

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Keep it real, keep it simple, and where possible, keep it really simple-a pretty accurate summary of the way Aussies like to live. Any inclination to show off (like our friend in the Range Rover) or complicate matters will do little but make you an instant target for a serious ego bashing. It brings to mind a little anecdote that you may find completely boring and unrelated, but it’s my story, so I’m going to tell it anyway:A couple of years ago, I visited Taj Burrow at his pad in Western Australia and was surprised to find his 1999 ASP World Title runner-up trophy sitting in a dusty cy. In the city you have the opportunity to see and experience a lot more than you do in an isolated little corner of the country. You’re exposed to a wider range of scenes and attitudes. Country towns are pretty insular, so they breed certain ideas of what it means to be Australian, and they’re pretty much set in stone. It doesn’t make anybody better or worse. There are classic Aussie characters from all over the place. Coming from the city, I can accept that. Laughs Different strokes for different blokes.

Who, if anyone, on tour fits the mold of a “classic Aussie”?It starts and stops with Nathan Hedge. Hog is an absolute platinum-coated legend, no matter where in Australia you’re from. He’s got time for all things Australian. He lives it, loves it, breathes it, eats it, surfs it, and sleeps it. He’s a mate to everyone on tour and would do anything for his Australian counterparts. He’s more Australian than anyone I know. Nathan Hedge for PM Prime Minister, I reckon.

Who are some of the cats breaking the mold?Definitely Oscar. Luke Stedman gets pretty wiggy with it. Nick Wallace, Jarrad Howse. Even guys like Heath Walker and Taj, too. These guys are as Australian as anyone, they all carry the core elements of what being Australian is all about-mateship, an easy-going lifestyle, good sense of humor, but they simply have their own things going on as well. We’d still be heavily outweighed by the yobbo pack, but I don’t want to turn it into an us-versus-them thing. They’d enjoy it too much laughs. Nah, at the end of the day we can all sit around and give each other shit no matter what someone’s image is. You don’t get more Australian than that.

What about the surf industry in Australia-who are they sellin’? The common Aussie or the bohemian artist types?Depends who they sponsor, I guess. Mambo Nath’s new sponsor have been really encouraging me to just cut loose artistically. My first ad with them will be a layout of some photos I’ve taken. Works well for both of us, so I’m stoked.

Will there be any photos of your girlfriends boobies in there?Nah, they’ve gone undercover for a little while.

Sounds cool. So just finally, what does being an Australian mean to you?Everything. Australia really is the lucky country, and I love it. I love being Australian.

Sweet, Nath, well, thanks for the chat, dude … er … I mean, mate.No worries.

Live Like I DoYep, like Nudes says, the average Aussie isn’t always a slow-talking, alcoholic freak, shoveling hot meat pies into his cakehole. As long as he values his mates, has a good sense of humor, and doesn’t take life too seriously, he can pretty much take on whatever form suits him.California’s Pascal Stansfield made a similar discovery when he first came to Aus at the tender age of fifteen. “I think Aussies are more purists than yobbos,” he says sincerely. “They live in a world that is closer to reality than anyone in America. In L.A., we’re backward. Australians are so much more in touch with the Earth and what’s really important. I remember this one time, I went to Byron Bay and there was a guy driving down the main street in a brand-new top-of-the-line Range Rover, and people in the street were writing him off. They were like, ‘You could have bought a house, idiot.’ I’d never seen people living like that before. I didn’t know it was possible to keep life so real and simple.”

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Keep it real, keep it simple, and where possible, keep it really simple-a pretty accurate summary of the way Aussies like to live. Any inclination to show off (like our friend in the Range Rover) or complicate matters will do little but make you an instant target for a serious ego bashing. It brings to mind a little anecdote that you may find completely boring and unrelated, but it’s my story, so I’m going to tell it anyway:A couple of years ago, I visited Taj Burrow at his pad in Western Australia and was surprised to find his 1999 ASP World Title runner-up trophy sitting in a dusty corner of the kitchen with a couple of seedy-looking, speckled old bananas in its belly. “Gee wiz, what could this mean?” I thought to myself, the journalistic brain running through some angles. Was it possible Taj’s hunger for the world title was withering like some putrid, aging, phallic tropical fruit? Did he consider his running-up to Occy in ’99 a rotten effort? Surely there was some meaning to be gained from this incredible symbolism? After a while I started to get hungry thinking about it, so I grabbed one of the bananas, peeled it, and ate it. Then I walked away and spent half an hour trying to remember the last time I’d put something so reprehensible in my mouth voluntarily.The point is, Taj had felt no need to big note his incredible achievement. He wasn’t interested in placing the trophy in a little shrine that people worshipped as they walked in the front door. He was stoked with his effort of ’99 and content to let his reward become the world’s fanciest decomposing banana dispenser. And who was I to make something else of it? Nah, bugger that, life is a lot easier when you just take it as it is. That’s the Australian way.

Who’s Tops Now? Who Cares?Way back in the mid 90s, I did an interview with Gary Elkerton shortly after he’d beaten Kelly Slater in a quarterfinal of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach. Elko told how he’d approached Kelly on the shoreline just after the hooter and offered an outstretched hand of condolence at the loss. Kelly looked at the hand, looked at Elko, and shortly replied, “Get f-ked.”In my opinion, this is the exact point where two of surfing’s biggest conflicts reached their climax. New school versus old school and Australia versus America. It had been boiling for a while. The old guard had been downright assholes to the new crew, and with the surf media on both sides of the Pacific constantly fueling the debate over “Who’s tops now?” it became a time of intense nationalism.”Australians were always big on power,” reflects Aaron “Ron” Blakey, editor of Australia’s most successful surfing website tracksmag.com. “With heroes like Carroll, Occy, and Elko, the only thing groms in this country wanted to do was bury rail and move water. Americans had Curren and Gerlach, so they aspired to be more stylish. It was no big deal until the skinny-legged Momentum parade appeared and lit up the scene. It caused everyone to look toward the future, and at that stage it was one full of slides and tricks. A backlash in Australia was inevitable. I think Presso Todd Preston was really the only Aussie mixin’ it up with the new crew back then, and he got labeled a traitor for it.”It was a spiteful changing of the guard, and it cut the proud old Australian psyche pretty deep as Kelly continued to rack up title after title. But while the debate dragged on, surfing began to change. A complete act became necessary to win the world title, and new factions such as air shows and big-wave events were created to cater to specialists.Nowadays, not even a decade on from Kelly and Elko’s heated exchange in the Bells shorey, Australia is well down the road of accepting change. In a recent poll, tracksmag.com recorded that 65 percent of Aussies would rather watch new-school-style surfing than old-school. “The average browser is between twelve and 25 years old, so while the result is no revelation, it’s a good indication of what people are into and what is inspiring the next generation,” says Ron. “It’s different now,” points out Mick Fanning of the once much-hyped arch-rivalries. “I don’t think there’s any real noticeable difference between how Australians surf compared to anyone else. The level of surfing seems consistent everywhere. If there is any rivalry with the seppos, then it’s probably a friendly one reserved for comps and that laughs.”Koby Abberton also believes the argument is no longer relevant. “I don’t think anyone gives a f-k about that shit anymore. F-k mate, I’m Aussie, and I don’t begrudge Kelly Slater w