Another day, another drama.

life vests

I’ll float your boat

I was stationed on the small boat, waiting patiently on the wharf for passers by to be persuaded to become passengers when the unthinkable happened.  Our larger boat broke down!  To give you a sense of scale it is the largest boat on the Yarra, admittedly not a spectacular bragging right, but in comparison to the river itself, it is a lumbering juggernaut.  It’s roughly the size of a tennis court and the height of a goal post from the water.  And there it was, in front of all the other ferry cruise stalls, floating aimlessly like the feather in Forrest Gump, other boats maneuvering around it like the inconvenience it was.  My captain on the smaller boat knew we’d be required imminently, but knowing this would mean dealing with ‘The Captain’ on the bigger boat in crisis mode was an awful sensation.  Like waiting for the whistle to blow in the trenches.

Sure enough, The Captain somehow squeezed his upper half out the improbably small engine room hatch and waved at us frantically for help, dozens of passengers flanking him with varying degrees of anxiety.   Now our boat is much, much smaller than his.  It’s about 15% of the size.  Yet here we were, sidling up to the behemoth (while The Captain screamed at us to move faster like we were concealing a jet engine to spite him) and attaching lines to her starboard bow as if planning an attack.  My captain then expertly shepherded the Titanic to a safe berth as people from the riverside bars and restaurants laughed and jeered at The Captain’s frenzied verbal assaults.  It wasn’t over though.  We now had to fix the engine and fix it fast because 48 passengers would be shortly demanding refunds, which on a public holiday (Good Friday) was not an option.  The Captain and the captain seconded themselves in the tiny cave of the engine room.  They would yell orders from the abyss at me and I’d relay them to the other deckhand, who with as much boat handling experience as me – zero – was now sitting at the wheel.  Orders like, “Keep trying!!!” and “Oh!  Turn ignition off NOW!”  The passengers were having a royal time of it.  Some of them started singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.’

Needless to say it took almost an hour to get the engine running again, flooded thingy and a jammed whatchacallit apparently, but in that time we only lost 7 passengers.  By lost I mean they demanded to get off the boat and get their money back.  Our rivals watched this unfold with unbridled joy.  As the newly fixed juggernaut sailed blissfully upriver towards the untold delights of Herring Island and the Parks Victoria Depot, The Captain’s screams still ringing in my ears, I took a moment to reflect upon how I had reached this point.  Then a group of 11 Indian tourists boarded my boat and their kid did not stop screaming for 45 minutes.  It was like a tiny air raid siren.  Happy Easter.

Tiger Tiger

I was describing the exhilarating landmarks of the upper reaches of the Yarra River when a large brown snake swam into my purview.  Its head was popped above the surface like a snorkel with eyes, while it’s lithe body did the gymnastic ribbon routine below.  About 1.5 metres long it seemed pretty intent on getting to the nearby bank, probably to kill a duck or a jogger.  With Google activated I determined that we had just witnessed a Tiger Snake, native of Tasmania but often spotted in the wetter reaches of South Eastern Australia.  And it’s venomous!  My first brush with actual dangerous Aussie wildlife, what a rush!

With all the European architecture and Manhattan sky scrapers, it’s easy to forget where in the world you are in Melbourne.  Just cockatoos, occasional snakes and the organised chaos of AFL to remind you.  Another good indicator is the non-stop parade of festivals and events that are held every other day.  Construction teams spend so much time assembling and disassembling temporary stages and stands it’s a miracle anything made of brick has actually been erected.

Last weekend we had the Moomba Festival, which involves water skiing and extortionate carnival rides.  I’m instructed to tell tourists that Moomba is Aboriginal for ‘let’s get together and have fun.’ According to my colleague who looked it up it actually means, ‘up your bum.’  So every March you are cordially invited to the River Yarra for the annual Up Your Bum Festival.

Before this we had White Night, whereby the city’s museums stay open all night and various buildings of note are illuminated by elaborate light displays.  The Exhibition Centre in Carlton Gardens hosted an Aboriginal interpretation of the seasons, complete with massive crocodiles and flocks of birds cascading across it’s façade.  It was jaw-dropping.  We took the opportunity to hit up the NGV and pay half price for the Ai Wei Wei and Andy Warhol retrospective.  Poor Andy didn’t weigh up too well to his Chinese contemporary.  Ai Wei Wei’s pieces were more intricate, more striking and had a lot more to say.   His art comes from a more angry place, I suppose because he has a lot more to be angry about.  By the end of the exhibition, Warhol seemed indulgent and unnecessary.  However, the overlying impression was that without Andy we wouldn’t have gotten Ai Wei Wei, and in fact the art world, for better or worse, wouldn’t be the same either.  Even at 3am it was a welcome dunk into modern art.

andy warhol montage

Warhol portrait – auctioned for $4.50

But enough of the culture, the single best thing about Melbourne is Messina Ice Cream and I am still working out ways to extend my visa so I can keep stuffing my fat, red face for eternity with it.  We took our Argentinian mate Jo there recently and his face was a picture, like a war-stricken child tasting chocolate for the first time.  Incidentally he had chocolate ice cream and made a noise that can only be typed as, “oooooooohhhhhhhhhwahhhhhyjaaaaaajaaawaooooo.”

The Tiger Snake is an easy trade-off.

The $100 Question

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At the end of a quiet shift selling tickets from the booth, I returned to the office next to the wharf to cash up.  Despite a dearth of customers over the day I was somehow $100 short.  Exactly $100.  A very convenient figure, so I returned to the booth to check for any missing $100 notes, possibly a couple of $50s down the back of the desk perhaps?  But nothing.  Recounting the money, going through receipts and adding the ticket sales up repeatedly I returned to the same specific figure of $100.  My colleagues were loving this.  The Captain had been in a foul mood all week and this would surely be the sour cherry on the Croats cake.  He was due to return any minute from his last cruise of the day and I was told in no uncertain terms by those who’d worked for him longer than I, that to be missing $100 was quite possibly a sackable offence.  Would I risk his wrath, ride the storm of his anger and hope I’d have a job by the end of it?  I had mere minutes to play with, so I frantically recounted everything again, praying this $100 would appear from the ether and magically solve by insolvency.  But no luck.  The great boat lumbered into view, slowly approaching the dock like a giant P45.  “It’s now or never,” my work-mate urged, “he’ll be here any minute.”  Realising I couldn’t risk unemployment at this late stage of my working visa, I bowed my head, reached into my wallet and begrudgingly took $100 from my own wallet.  I had worked in the booth for six hours.  I was now only going to be paid for one.

Cycling home, still deducing whether my stable job status was worth an essentially free shift, a baby bird flew out from behind a parked car and straight into the spinning vortex of my front wheel.  There was a swish of spokes on feathers, a muted shriek and a lump of semi-conscious animal slumped on the tarmac.  I couldn’t stop as there was so much traffic behind me.  That baby bird was about to find this out the hard way.

I’m not sure but if I’d stayed and explained to the Captain about my loss of funds he would have yelled at me for a while, maybe sacking me in the process.  This would have probably taken long enough to ensure that helpless chick would have flown unobstructed across the road.  As it happened, I lost $100 and I killed a bird with my bike.