The Steampunk World

Being the continued explorations of a living steampunk.

The steampunk world is all around us, lying just out of sight, in a continuous thread of steampunk builders and culture that extends from the Victorian era to the present. You'll find no science fiction here: This is real life steampunk.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

My weekly schedule goes like this: During the week, I
wake up and ride over to the Rat's Nest (someone's
garage). I chop bikes, usually working on three
projects at once, until dark. Usually someone calls
and says they're cooking dinner for everybody. About
once a week there's an excuse to go out to the pub.

On Friday we drive up into the mountains to work on
the site. More bridge and table building, milling
timber, and the occasional welding job. I found a guy
with a blacksmith's forge and made a brand for the
festival. We're making so much stuff out of wood from
the fire. Some of the treetrunks have been left at
bar height and we'll cut slabs of raw pine and make
bartops out of them.

The animals have a regular cycle, too. Early in the
morning the Cockatoos get up, scream a lot, and fly
around all day screaming and running errands. Around
dusk they come close and pick a spot to do the
evening's socializing. Usually it's the picnic area
(lots of fruit rinds and dropped treats to find) or a
big dead tree. Then they hang out, argue, neck, and
squawk. At night they fly off to whereever they

The kangaroos are diurnal, so they're up around dawn
and dusk, sleeping in the bushes during the heat of
the day. They don't have natural predators so they're
only vaguely cautious of us. They can always run away
faster than anything else, anyway. This makes them
very indifferent to humans. So they graze everywhere.

In the morning the magpies sing their morning song,
which is very beautiful. At night the kookaburras
start their oo-oo-oo-AHHHH-AHHHH calls (as you've
heard sampled at the beginning of Morris Day and the
Time's "Jungle Love"). There's also a duck pair that
stays in the pond at night and wanders the grass
foraging during the day.

I'm beginning to know the particular animals. Two
females have very young joeys, they all live up on the
mountain and come down to graze. The joeys are more
chicken, at the first sight of danger they leap into
the pouch and let mom handle it. There's an old,
grey-nosed female that leads a family around. She's
grouchy and doesn't like people. If she decides to
move somewhere else, the others listen. Kangaroos can
also practice suspended gestation, so they can have up
to four offspring (one in each stage of pregnancy)
that they can freeze until conditions are good. The
7-year drought has just broken so there are young roos

One of the Cockies comes down and hangs out by the
porch each night. I named him Rocky the Cocky. I'm
trying to get him to say "Rat Patrol!" I think I need
more bribes. They're incredibly intelligent- one
night we squawked at them with the megaphone, and they
sent two big males over to yell at us and flash their
rills, then they all scarpered.

It's amazing how much this festival is green-crazy.
They plant a tree for every ticket sold. There's all
kinds of priveleges for biking to the festival. You
can purchase a carbon offset for your impact from
attending. The toilets are composting. All the
contractors are local, and they've even gotten a
generator rental company to invalidate their
warranties by running biodiesel in the gennies- as it
happens it makes them run better.

Australia is already suffering from global warming.
The hole in the ozone layer is strongly apparent. You
can't be unprotected in the sun for more than a few
minutes. As a result Australians have a national
vitamin D deficiency because everyone's afraid of the
cancerous rays of the sun. Also, the rise in ocean
temperature is causing the Great Barrier Reef to die.
Whole stretches of it are bone white and devoid of

Back in Canberra, things are quiet. They planned the
city so that you feel like you're in the bush all the
time. It's all federal money coming to support this
tiny city so there's an excess of infrastructure. The
streets and blocks look like they were plopped down in
raw bush, you don't see any other cars or people (just
the occasional public bus), the water pressure is
great, everything is overgrown with vegetation because
the drought has broken. Commercial shops are hidden
inside complexes behind trees so you never see, say, a
gas station or a quickie mart. It's actually very
sterile: Each neighborhood has a series of shops at
the center, where the bank and post and Woolworth's is
along with a few pubs and chinese restaurants. The
result is, no matter what neighborhood you're in,
everything's in the same place. The people ride their
bikes with their little helmets and give each other
hugs for hello and nobody has tattoos or speeds and
everybody uses the green-friendly dish detergent and
they looooove folksy singer-songwriters. This is
perfect paradise: Very creepy. I miss the piss in
the streets, crazy people, bums, gunshots, traffic
noise, sirens. I saw a guy with a scab the other day
and I was so happy! Turns out he was a skater.

Of course, that's just Canberra. A public servant
town. I got a taste of another type of Australian,
the Bogan, when the Summer Naturals car show came to
town (motto: "Burnouts, Beer, and Boobs"). These are
your equivalent of the American, mulleted, doofwad
trailer trash and/or suburban X-box Jock: Drunk,
oafish, monosyllabic, and hostile. We had a blast
riding around and getting yelled at. Most of them
yelled "Guhhhhhh-aaaaahhh-yaaaaa-maaaaaayyyy" which is
the drunken contraction of "Good on ya, mate!" (a
compliment). But we also got a bunch of comments as
cheerful and supportive as "Why don't you cunts go
catch AIDS!". Classy.

Nancy Porker's dad is a true Australian, though: What
they call a Cocky. Can fix anything, is tough as
nails, cusses a lot. The first night I arrived up on
the mountain he was shooting at a "that damn cormorant
who's after my trout!" with his shotgun. I met a
couple of other of these types- think Mick Dundee with
too much sun, the Aussie hat, a vest, no shoes, at the
pub- and finally felt at home. They actually came up
to me and said, "Are you a metalworker?" and the
ensuing conversation lasted all night. One of them is
a retired Vietnam Colonel, they play bluegrass, and
they're really into the U.S. Civil war. Real good ole

And you should see the Utes! (Utility trucks). Huge
roo bars like bulldozer blades, some hacked on
homemade bed, and snorkels so you can drive
underwater. Of course there's a few of what they call
"Urban Assault Mums" with their SUVs but most of these
guys NEED that stuff on their car. I'm seriously
thinking that a great vacation would be to load a
welder and a few spare parts onto a Land Rover and
just set out into the bush for a few months.

One thing that's really struck me here is the invasive
species. Australia is such an old continent, that's
been evolving separately for so long, that everything
looks different. The Eukalyps look different than
regular deciduous trees. The mammals are all
marsupial, not placental. Everything we have, they
have a marsupial version of: Rats, foxes, bats,
flying squirrels. So when you see an invasive
species, like a rabbit, they really stick out. They
have a big problem with rabbits and foxes. Not to
mention feral cats. There's a guy going around buying
up huge tracks of bush, fencing them off, and killing
all the invasive species inside. His philosophy is
that the environment of Australia, with its droughts
and forest fires, will eventually kill off the
invaders and so the natural genetic bank needs to be
preserved. It's true, too: The place seems like
paradise but you've got to picture a continent the
size of the U.S. with the combined freshwater of the
Missouri- not the Mississippi- river. We're just
getting into "fire season", and bushfires are
essential to Eukalyp germination. The kangaroos have
evolved to survive fires: They instinctively run AT
the fireline, and jump through it to where it's burnt

I went with some guys on a bamboo harvesting trip. We
drove out into the bush and camped overnight. There
was a big patch of bamboo there that had been planted
by settlers and was now bigger than a football field.
It was hard, hot work. The guy who is going to use
the bamboo for structures at the festival would select
his pole and cut it with a chainsaw, then we'd knock
all the branches off and drag it back to a pile. When
it got too much we'd jump in the river. No crocs this
far south, they say. I'm far enough south that there
aren't any koalas, playtpuses, or crocs, but there are
plenty of kangaroos, wallabys, wombats, and endless


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