Funding a Culture For Roadside Prophets

September 2016

I had to escape, after a hefty university bill for studying Media I came through the degree with a fresh perspective, unbridled optimism and a thirst to dedicate myself to creating something unique. The sobering bell toll comes when the realisation hits— in the real world, the budget doesn’t have as much room for imagination or creativity as it used to. 

Screen Australia suffering $50,000,000 AUD in budget cuts in 18 months to offset taxes for big budget hollywood films is just one example of a rusty nail in the coffin. Movies such as Thor: Ragnarok, Alien: Covenant and the new Pirates of the Caribbean have taken advantage of these offsets already. While its fantastic to see Australia getting some business from the land of celluloid, and people from my cohort getting work in the field they honed their craft in is something to be celebrated. However I cannot deny it’s saddening to consider the sharp hypocrisy that stems from it. 

Over the past year I’m sure people from all over the world have noticed the surge in nationalist pride that’s been eating away at our collective sense of calm. Australia is no different— we’re a nation that’s undeniably dedicated to conserving our precious and consistently indescribable ‘Culture’. For a country that is seemingly under threat of being taken over from every angle, no one seems to bat an eye when money comes with the foreigners. Funny old world isn’t it, is money the root of it all I ask myself sometimes. We’ll lose our collective shit every time a boat is spotted off the coast trying to find refuge, and if there’s a welfare cheat somewhere you can guarantee it’ll get round-the-clock coverage. Yet, as million of dollars goes out of Australian culture, no one thinks twice.

The Book Council dedicated to advise the Government on how to improve literacy in Australia was completely shut down or ‘defunded’ after only 6 months of existence. Yet another example of Australian stories slowly being strangled out of existence for the sake of profiteering, or submarines in our case, no I’m not kidding, fucking submarines got funding. Not to worry though, our borders are safe and Pauline Hanson can sleep easy knowing our culture is secure, after all, if there’s no Australian art, then there’s going to be no culture to defend. The strongest defence against tyranny and fear is the expression of what makes us strong, films, music, art, makes us strong, it gives us a voice, an identity. Maybe the extreme nationalism is a symptom of simply not knowing who we are, and screaming to the heavens about what we’re not.    

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I’ll be honest with you dear reader, before I flew out of Sydney I was near the end of my rope. It seemed that I came a little too late into the media game and would have to resign myself to writing click-bait articles about whatever the hell was going on with the Bachelor finale in order to eat and have a roof over my head. That was before I met a few true blue roadside prophets who seemed to slip through the cracks of reality and expectations that the world enforces, people like Julius for instance. 

Julius was a night worker at the Hostel in Berlin where so many moments of profound reinvention occurred, Amsterdam was too much of a haze to even remember what meal I had on a certain day let alone re-evaluating my role in the universe. His firm German heritage was singed into his demeanour that fooled me when I first met him, preconceived notions are more dangerous than previously thought.

One particular night when I was busy editing a photo from Amsterdam and Lady Stardust was napping on the couch nearby. The whole lobby was empty, the soft top 40 radio tones echoed against the alcohol soaked tables, still sticky and dripping from the pre-drinks from hours before. As I worked away, downing Czech Krusovice after Krusovice (cheap, yet effective beer), I began to strike up a conversation with the man, and as it turned out, we had a bit more in common than an affinity for the night hours. As with any hostel conversation, you begin with the small things and build up towards the existential questions of existence. Maybe it was the carbonation talking but I somehow had begun a tirade against selling out and relating it back to questioning my newly acquired degree. Before I had even finished my first point on the subject he came through with the chilling revelation. Before he had returned to Berlin he was working in the job he thought would come through for him, an advertising job that may allow him to creatively explore his limits and create something genuinely new and exciting for each situation. When it ended up becoming a churning of the same style for the same products at the same rate, it almost felt like being a metal arm in a factory, assemble and move on. 

“I fucking hated it man…it was destroying my soul” I recall him snapping at one point, even in his thick german brogue there was still a hint of regret of the life he was once living. I leaned heavily against the chipped wooden panelling of the bar area of the reception desk as he regaled his tale of thinking that the right path was the one in front of him. Sure it was littered with small financial rewards and a nice retirement package in 40 years, but was it really worth it if there was nothing else except for the end of the road… He suddenly had a profound moment of clarity. Mind you, he’s 30, an age that is usually reserved for people who have had the concrete dried around their feet for years in the path they’ve chosen. The roadside prophets of the journey so far here have proven me completely wrong, it’s not just people coming out of university that have no fucking clue what’s going on, it’s all of us. 

As he joined me in a pint he started talking about his passion for music, his wild dream to be a true creator. The spark in his eyes as he talked about his influences was blinding, he suddenly began pacing as he talked about his dream to create music. So one day, like a true rebel from days gone by he simply turned around and left his job. Turns out his cousin owned a hostel in Berlin so he asked for a job, and here he was. He was working whatever shifts were needed and in his off time, was creating something that the world had never seen. Leaving it all to chance is a ballsy move, not many want to take the plunge into the unknown without an itinerary of how long the drop will be. I do wonder what will happen with Julius, I guess that’s the exciting part, seeing what’s on the other side.

The best moment of that night (that I can recall) came as he decided to play some of his music in the empty lobby. As the German beats bounced happily across the walls, echoing off into the night I felt like Red from The Shawshank Redemption. That scene where everyone in the yard stops to listen to a song that they couldn’t understand a word of, yet felt free. In the briefest instant of translation loss, I felt the undeniable truth that pursuing something insanely at odds was the only brave thing to do when faced with an existential crisis. There was no guarantee of a raise, or even an income. There was no demographic that had to be appealed to, no focus groups to edit, it was a liberation of the highest order, a perfect moment sealed in time. We sat there for a while and silently nodded our heads with the music, although it could’ve been the Czech beer doing most of the nodding, you couldn’t help but notice the immovable proud smile that was across his face as his lyrics vibrated into the stratosphere. 

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This leather-tramp approach to living was seen repeated time and time again as Lady Stardust and I found in Prague with Thiago, the tattoo artist with the soul of a silk sewer. As he worked tirelessly on making Lady Stardust’s bowie tattoo pitch perfect he regaled the journey he had undertaken all across the diverse continent. He was currently living in Prague with his wife and throughout the 3 hour epic of designing, fine-tuning and executing the Ziggy portrait, he talked all about life on the road. He had been to cities I couldn’t even pronounce and found the best moments in his life simply having a new backdrop to live in. There’s no danger of being unemployed as a tattoo artist, where there’s ink—there’s work.

The dangerous pre-conceived notions were setting in once again merely hours earlier when we first met him we were taken aback by the spider web inked above his eyebrow as he came out to greet us. I’ve seen too many movies perhaps, but I was almost certain we were going to end up being stuffed next to the fireplace in an old apartment in Prague. Yet the more he spoke about using his passions as direction, the more insane my own life sounded. He talked about his education in practice, the solidifying moments that each city was bursting with life. He had a particular passion for the renaissance and kept urging us to see a live demonstration that afternoon. I spent years trying to figure out where I fit in this cosmic puzzle, maybe the university degree was simply a new distraction—If I knew the HECs debt was going to follow me across the world, I might have just taken up knitting. 

They both had something in common that was undeniably absent for me in my brief existence. Coming from a family of people who have jobs that are stable and quite applicable across the globe, purpose is really only defined by the truths we allow ourselves to believe. True purpose comes from being brave enough to step into the spotlight and hope to christ you can muster up enough blood to generate something of value for yourself. A moment of clarity was all it took for me to realise the ineptitude that’s required to surrender to the void and become another anonymous contributor to the status quo.

Jesus, somehow we’ve gone from Art budget cuts in Australia to a tattoo parlour in Prague, maybe this travelling thing could be just the therapy I need. Or maybe another tattoo…

Until next time,

To the birds, Hallelujah.

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