Gagaju Bush Camp
COOROIBAH, Shire of Noosa, QLD, Australia
26.35° S, 152.99° E
- A damned fool
- A person hired to terrorize or eliminate opposition
- A box of cheap wine
Slap the Goon, verb: to drink an entire box of cheap wine like a damned fool
Gagaju is the bushcamp sanctuary for the fair-to-middlingly-deranged winos of Southern Queensland.
To get here, take the Bruce south out of Gympie, hang a right at Ringtail Creek, ignore the sign “Gagaju turn around” then veer left at the sign saying “Gagaju turn right” and follow the trail to the Noosa River. Or perhaps don’t go quite so far. In your approach, watch that you don’t run-over any day-drunks passed-out in the bush. Welcome to Gagaju. Find Auld Edna to pay for a campsite or a bed in the bunkhouse. If you don’t find her, keep looking. You do not want Auld Edna looking for you.
No matter how many times I bathe in the Noosa with dish soap, I can’t get the dirt out from under my finger and toe nails, probably because the river is as full of grit as the bunk I rent. There’s a strategy in locating the proper bathing spot. Go downriver and you’re in the latrine stream. Upriver and you’ve freshwater crocodiles lurking. My first day, I was warned of traveling upriver for a swim when a local mentioned the increased risk of getting my donger snapped-up by a freshie. No shit? Snapped-up like you were selling snags at the bushman’s carnival, he confirmed. Thanks for the context, bud. Safety in numbers, mate, was the collective advice. And so I bathe on the public edge of the bushcamp where onlookers gather to whistle and catcall at the new bloke blown-in from Yankee Doodle Disneyland. Modesty, if not shame, arrives quickly for the traveler in Australia.
I’ve learned when sharing a river with crocs to only bathe when necessary; even then just a quick tidying of the essential bits: nooks, crannies, sticks, berries and mustaches. I was due for a rinse when Bobby Dooker arrived from distant civilization with tucker to barter. I had cash and outbid the competition for two frozen meat-pies and a boxed ice-coffee. After a dingo’s breakfast and nothing but breathed-in gnats for lunch, I was quite starved and under-caffeinated. I drained the cartoon of coffee quick and am now trying my best poor-man’s boy scout attempt at lighting the campfire to heat my savory meat-pies. So concentrated on pyromancy am I, I do not notice the footsteps of Mosby until I hear his words. Dear on him to bring us supper, Mosby says. He’s geeking my frozen meat-pies. I shoo away his gaze, back-off dick-knuckle!, I hiss at him. These meat-pies are mine. Mosby pouts his busted pugilist lip, no need gettin’ jumpy m’dear. He fucks off, but I am still fireless with my twin ice-pucks of savory pie. Fortunately, Bex arrives with proper kindling and some hootch to get the fire going. Bex is short for Rebecca and she does have a surname, but it is complicatedly Welch, made-up entirely of consonants. Ergo Bex it is and shall remain. She fancies me. This I know because she said, I fancy you, as she held my towel away from me after my river bath yesterday morning. I am honored, really, but I am also intimidated. Bex has the shoulders of a water buffalo and, call me old-fashioned, but I find intimacy challenging with someone clearly better at rugby than me. I offer her my chicken & peas pie, as much out of appreciation as apprehension. She insists its a date and, declining the chook pie, takes my beef & mushroom pie instead. I acquiesce, but warn Bex I am saving my virginity* for marriage. This backfires as she mistakes my pledge as a bartering arrangement: my virginity* for her hand in marriage. Fair deal, she says before spitting in her hand, which she offers to me as either a handshake or a hand-job, it is unclear which. I put the second meat-pie in her hand and run for my life. It’ll be another night cold & hungry, eating the jerky of the tail of the kangaroo Mosby busted on the Bruce Highway, but a proper fate.
*I misplaced my virginity in a salty bucket eons ago, but Bex needn’t know that
How did Mosby and I, in our Queensland cruising, find ourselves in Gagaju? It started with a young misfit priest everyone cleverly calls “Priest”. I met him in a Northern Territory hellhole hideaway north of Darwin, along “the Golden Shores of Mandorah”. Real boondock woop-woop up there. At some point, I must have given Priest my email address to wind-up on the receiving end of his daily divination posts, along with a hundred other asshole backpackers he met along his pilgrim’s journey. My tendency was to ignore these divine inspirational messages, “God is forever, Jesus is now” or “faith not meant be obvi” or “last night’s sin can be today’s forgiveness” and it wasn’t until I saw the subject line of “South Queensland Edenic Paradisiacal Bushcamp” before I actually clicked to learn more. This is when I became aware of this place, Gagaju. At the time, I was in Airlie Beach, Gateway to the Whitsundays, with no interest of traveling south. At least I had no interest in heading south until Beth Swinglow, the proverbial “one who got away… three times”, offered me another chance at redemption, inviting me to meet her and her parents in Brisbane. Fire-up the shag-wagon, Mosby!, I told my dive-buddy. Mosby, Cornish romantic he is, and equally infatuated with “Crystal Beth”, grabbed the keys to his campervan and the two of us began our journey south, but with no intention of passing through Gagaju. Not yet.
Along the way, we double-dated a pair of local ladies in Rockhampton, the fairer of the two being a girl Mosby previously met, Mindy Mims, when she was working the register at her father’s petrol station. Long story short, we left Rockhampton with Mindy in-tow and her father, Emmet “Tire Iron Tony” Mims, in hot pursuit. We kept to the backroads, but in Australia, everything is a backroad. Now, this Mindy Mims is a sweet girl, but three’s company in a campervan and I can only pretend to sleep for so long during their carnal explorations (especially with someone’s knee jamming into my back) before screaming, for fuck’s sake!, sliding open the van door to head outside less disruptive sleep. After addressing the seedy roadside landscape of dingoes, let alone spiders who will eat your foot off in the middle of the night, I climbed to the roof of the campervan to sleep beneath the stars. The rocking motion from beneath acted like a cradle and I was fast asleep despite Mosby’s banshee cries of ecstasy. Of course, after sleeping three minutes past dawn, I was sunburnt toast. Most notably: we three were under-slept when we rolled into Brisbane.
In Brisbane, Mosby and I were seeking true love with the American missionary, Beth Swinglow. Back in the shag-wagon, Mindy Mims was satisfied with the role of Miss Congeniality, waiting for whomever of Mosby or me returned to the campervan without Beth. And, to be honest, Mindy Mims and her freckled thighs, in my mind, had become increasingly worthy of more than a consolation prize. Yet, the Ancient Ones had given me this fourth chance at making a first impression with Beth Swinglow. Destiny, surely, was on my side. Mosby was similarly confident, practicing his approach to Beth’s father in the mirror, Howdy Mister Shortrib, he’d say. He’d change his smile and lift a different eyebrow, Howdy Mister Swaytit. You should know, I told Mosby, not all Americans say “howdy”. Issuh?, he asked before shaking his head, nah, a rich bird like Crystal Beth, Pa Swaytit must be proper Yank who says “howdy”. Sure, dude, I shrugged, there was no point in reasoning with the man. Mosby is a boxer-by-trade and his brain-meat is overly-massaged and susceptible to delusions of grandeur.
Brisbane was big city for us after weeks of anything but. Mosby and I didn’t have a pair of shoes between us. We left Mindy with the campervan and set out on foot; barefoot. Unfortunately, the Swinglow family were no-shows. My cell phone was dead and I didn’t know they were held-up elsewhere in Gold Coast. Mosby and I decided rather than return to the campervan empty-handed or pay the expense for a hotel, we’d become inebriated enough to sleep on the beach (a common solution for the backpacker in Australia). It might’ve worked-out had Mosby not nearly killed a bouncer, a Neanderthal named Bogan Todd, who had opinions about shoelessness. We hid overnight in a botanical garden where Mosby insists a koala attempted to rape his ear. Bleddy drop-bear, likely, he insists. By dawn we crept back to the campervan illegally parked and heavily ticketed. Mindy Mims was asleep within. We left town, southbound again, trying to get as far away as we could before Bogan Todd, the scourge of Brisbane, could track us down, let alone Emmet Mims. We had a head-start, what with Bogan Todd’s nose being senselessly devastated by a proper Cornish jab and Emmet only having one leg because diabetes, but we needed a good place to hide, which is when I recalled the mass email from Priest. Where the fuck is Gagaju?, I cried over my atlas in the back of the campervan as Mindy drove us out of Brisbane. It took time and intense phone-charging, but we got here, to Gagaju, Priest’s promised land, the sanctuary of the wino, the bushcamp sanctuary of the fair-to-middlingly deranged wino.
If Australia is a continental escape from the dregs of Northern Hemisphere normality while maintaining the same imperial thirst for beer and leisure, Gagaju is the trailer park microcosm of this departure. Immortality does not exist, certainly not in a place where the bathing is done next to crocodiles, but there is an essence of the Lost Boys’ NeverNever here. Sixty-six year-old pensioners drink the same cheap wine as their sixteen year-old granddaughters. Some of the tribe live here year-round, others are backpackers passing through. There are rogues hiding low and stoners living high. There are artists seeking inspiration and sportsmen seeking adventure. At night, though, this community coalesces into a hungry, thirsty, cold people who huddle together by the firelight. Time is immaterial at Gagaju; no one is young, no one is old, everyone is only present. Sure, every once in a while an arm will be took by a freshie, but it is merely tithe paid to the Ancient Ones. Access to the Dreaming Time doesn’t come cheap. Life at Gagaju is simpler; by necessity as the WiFi and cell-phone coverage is shite. We bathe in public, shit, snog, shag in public, and we drink ourselves to oblivion together. Cases of beer and boxes of wine by the dozens are consumed each night, their empty cadavers littering the dirt tracks until Auld Edna comes round in the morning, jabbing her walking stick into unconscious ears, waking the dead to clean the road of the prior night’s excess.
Tonight, Priest has returned to Gagaju after days in the wilderness, where he ate locusts and drank only of the sweat of his two converts: a pair of leap-year grad students from East Anglia. He arrives at the Gagaju campfire famished, sleepy, yet emboldened by epiphanies he spends all night explaining between slurps from whichever box of goon is making its way around. There’s a low-hanging fog of marijuana smoke clam-baking us beneath the canopy of banyan trees. I’m bored and hungry. I’ve eaten this jerky before and I’ve heard Priest’s stories and my tongue is already fuzzy from goon. Those who don’t have the taste for boxed-wine often mix it with soda or juice; goon cocktails are commonplace around here. I’d rather drink from the Noosa River than slap any more goon. And I’ve drank enough XXXX beer to float downriver to the ocean on bloat alone.
You, friend, Priest leans towards the fire and turns towards me. You appear out of sort, mate. What plagues you then? What plagues me, I smile. I quietly contemplate… I feel rudderless without my departed father. I miss Beth Swinglow, having lost her thrice, but I don’t know if it is her I love or the idea of loving her. I feel quarter-drunk, half-slept and full of dirt. I know I don’t want to go home, but I don’t necessarily want to be here. These are my thoughts, but I tell Priest, I’m good, dude. You’re American, he smiles. Yeah, you know me man, I tell Priest, we met in Mandorah. He appears perplexed. I’ven’t been there in ages, mate, he says. Six weeks, I figure, I say. Priest shakes his head, no. Maybe a different man of the cloth you met then, friend, he says. Yeah, I must be mistaken.
Priest isn’t someone you confuse for others. His hair and beard is long and curly brown, like a Kenny G Jesus. He carries with him a parang, which is a knife he brought from his mission abroad in New Guinea. And he smokes cigarettes as the headhunting heathens of New Guinea do. Ratio brutorum, he uses latin for his smoking style, suggesting this is something only a savage could think-up: taking a filterless cigarette and tearing a piece of paper from the middle as the suck-hole before lighting both ends of the cigarette, breathing the tobacco in like a hammerhead shark. Divine spark, ex nihilo, he says as his eyes bounce between the twin cherries of his cigarette.
Bleddy gimmicky freak-show talent, issuh m’dear, Mosby says of Priest before leading Mindy Mims with him back to the campervan. G’ni’ Vic, Mindy kindly says before disappearing between the fig trees with Mosby. Her blue jean shorts and the legs underneath are the last I see of them before they disappear beyond the range of the fire light.
The dam against lonesomeness is weakest when reminded of the alternative… I sulk within my shoulders.
This is what ails you, mate, Priest asks, as if reading my mind as if I was thinking aloud. He hands me the silver bag of goon removed from the box, which I take… pause… slap it to gauge its volume before raising the bag of wine and suckling from the silver nipple. The whole fucking world swirls behind my closed eyes.
In Vino Veritas, Priest says. In wine, we find truth. In truth, we find deliverance. But here’s the truth, mate, he says before inhaling from the midpoint of his cigarette. We’re all alone. He belches smoke. No matter what we do with the flesh, with each other, Priest says, we can never find perfect union until we unite with the Kingdom of God. Our lonesome souls are meant to want until that union is met.
Baby, I am going to bed, one of the East Anglia girls says to Priest, kissing him on the lips. Oi, see you in a bit, love, he says before smacking her on the rear. The other East Anglia grad student snuggles closer to him for warmth. He turns towards me and the side of his head closest to the bonfire flame is emboldened with an orange aura. He appears maliciously angelic as the sparks flare in the sky above us.
Where was I, Priest asks.
Lonesome souls, I say, hungrily thinking of meat-pies.
Other Neverman Dive Bar Adventures in Australia:
Airlie Beach – Diver’s Paradise
Nimbin – Smugglers Blues in Australia’s Cannabis Capital