I lucked out finally
while on a much-needed ‘smoko’ at the Alice Springs
Abattoirs, where I worked for only one day in the Boning Room,
with its inevitable jokes among the disgruntled illegals about
animal husbandry and rooting cattle.
course, the worst thing about the back-breaking labour, plopping
sacrificial offal on a conveyer belt leading to eventual reincarnation
as mince-meat pies, was studiously avoiding making eye-contact
with the menacing master-meat-cutter Italian wog (Australian
slang for foreigner) expertly brandishing a long sharp knife
meaningfully around me.
of the abattoir grunts cashed their paychecks at Alice’s
segregated Animal Bar -- black abbos in one half, white cobbers
in the other.
now safely on break, I sucked on smoke, greedily turning the
stick into ash in the vampiric sunlight (Australia has the highest
skin cancer rate in the world), when bounding toward me out
of nowhere trotted Trevor, a ginger-haired dolebludger costing
the capital of Canberra a heap and living precariously in cheap
hostels, who proudly alerted me that tomorrow he would be in
a commercial for the upcoming Australian Bicentennial filmed
at Uluru (Ayers Rock), which I conveniently hadn’t yet
sounded too good to be true; I wanted in.
mooched a Winfield Blue and scribbled the phone number on my
suddenly empty cigarette pack -- and I was off to the sexy manager’s
office to cheat destiny.
I hear you are hiring extras . . .”
I showed up early the next morning for the yellow bus anyway.
old biddy with a clipboard and a bluish-gray Marge Simpson doo
barred my path.
she asked. “Edwards.”
let’s see, there is no Edwards on the list.”
yobbos were getting restless and began pushing and shoving in
dropped her clipboard. “Okay, okay, get in.”
into a seat in the back as the other tattooed road warriors,
a sorry lot indeed, cracked open a bevy of beers for breakfast
-- Foster’s, Emu, Cooper’s, XXXX (pronounced Fourex).
down the empty highway through the sere outback, relieved only
by the occasional clump of spiny spinifex grass resembling the
balding pate of a leukemia victim, we finally arrived at our
destination, with the Rock rising up from the desert and hovering
in the atmosphere like the Hindenburg.
Old Pussy, let us off the bus already,” yelled a dickhead
I dubbed Mad Max, a muscle-bound Ironman whom I discovered later
had a tattoo on his tongue which read -- no joke -- “f
. . . off.”
just polished off Richard Hugh’s The Fatal Shore, about
Australia’s origins as a British penal colony -- and judging
by Mad Max and the other flotsam and jetsam crammed like canned
albacore on the autobus, there still was no shortage of unemployable
criminals to employ.
no time we were moved past the movie trailers and in position
in front of the Rock, with Trevor pointing out some of the stars:
no Gibson, no Kidman, no Newton-John, but plenty of familiar
faces from the downunder soaps.
there was not a single blackfella (Aborigine) in attendance.
my temporary dreamtime, Trevor crowed, “Hey, there’s
John English.” “Who?”
English, the crooner.” Mr. English, Australia’s
answer to Frank Sinatra or Tom Jones, swaggered over to introduce
himself, perhaps wondering if we were famous, too, but he became
a little agro when I alluded to the fact that, yes, as an American,
I had never really ever heard of him.
worries, good on ya, mate,” he slagged me off with a cartoon
bubble containing a bold exclamation point above his head, before
hurrying off to mingle.
so down to business.
a few practice takes, we prepared our smiling faces to sing
(no: lip-sync) the banal but memorable ditty already canned
and blasting out of loudspeakers.
of a nation.
–Come take my hand.
of a nation.
–Let’s take our stand . . .
on and give us a hand.
that’s a take,” snapped the maverick director in
a lame Akubra hat, aping Hollywood.
the shoot and before the cast party, I noticed a pear-shaped
man waddling over to me through the red dust, eyes as bloodshot
as a cute cuddly koala blotto on gum-tree leaves.
wait a sec, you sound sort of American?”
intonation can turn any declarative sentence into a sing-songy
yes, I’m from New York: I think I’m the only American
in your celebration.”
not get caught.”
Fruit of the Looms like pear claimed to be a writer.
that I, too, was a writer (mostly letters).
really, what sort of things do you write then?”
for an answer, I settled on, “Uh, I guess I write mostly
in the short’ form . . .”
vaguely from on high that I might have unintentionally insulted
short stories: I just love short stories.” He recovered
I couldn’t tell if the merry little fellow was making
fun of me, with my obviously nonexistent literary pretensions
and no publications, save for one poem.
when we ambled over together to the cast party, I ended up eating
neither kangaroo stew nor wichety grubs, but humble pie (worse
than the abattoir offerings, I imagined); my new acquaintance
turned out to be one of Australia’s most acclaimed writers:
Thomas Kenneally, author of, among other bestsellers, Schindler’s
the party lasted into the night, when a deep purplish bruise
spread across the sky like the product of a bushwhackers’’
punch-out over the last jar of Vegemite, and so under the melodramatic
Southern Cross (a constellation visible only in the southern
hemisphere), all of the Outback extras piled back into the school
bus and began whooping it up: “We all live in a yellow
autobus, a yellow autobus, we all hate your guts.”
later, after returning to New York and somehow securing a job
as an editor at Pocket Books (obviously not through sheer luck,
but bold misrepresentation), I called up, on the company phone
no less, some of my knuckleheaded Aussie buddies, who all said
they had spotted me in the bicentennial commercial.
enjoyed my Ozzywood one-minute of fame: I indeed felt lucky
(no: privileged) to have so cleverly coerced and conjoined chance
and coincidence into my first big showbiz break -- even if I
had broken in on an auspicious ruse, by, of course, crashing
I hadn’t yet seen my own smiling face on celluloid. So
I penned a regal request to the Mojo Advertising Company for
a VHS copy (remember: this was in the eighties before the advent
of DVDs), but the stupid dickheads never wrote back.