As the months are thundering by I stop to look at my diary and realise we are now halfway through our trip; it has gone scarily quick...
We are already booking flights to New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand; however, for the next few months we are settling down in Brisbane.
Brisbane or ‘Brisvegas’, as the locals like to call it, is a city that feels strangely homely with a wheel very similar to the London Eye sat upon the city’s south bank. However with fabulous beaches and rainforests within an hour’s drive of the city and a vast array of wildlife such as bats, lizards and possums at your doorstep, it’s an overwhelming reminder that we are in fact on the other side of the world! The city was hit by a severe flood in January making world news, but has been rapidly fixed up and is almost back to its former glory. One of of the coolest things is seeing the man made ‘streets beach’ sat alongside the river in the heart of the city, come back to life.
There are a lot of tattoo studios in the city and surrounding suburbs, and I am starting out my time here working at The Inker, which opened early last year. The shop is still very much in its infancy; trying to make a name and prove itself against all the other studios that have opened in the city over the last few years. Owner, Dean, started tattooing in Melbourne in 1993, and over the years became sick with the attitudes of a lot of shops he worked in; so he saved up and chased the dream of opening his own studio, which finally came to fruition with The Inker. The shop is very modern, clean, open and bright – different to the ‘typical dingy door leading to an upstairs shop’ that can still be found in a lot of places across Australia. Alex is the shining upstart of the shop – tattooing in his own comic book style, he is now working full time building up a client base after apprenticing under Dean. And so I continue my journey from a fledgling shop to a well-established organisation.
The PTAA hold a convention in a different state in Australia every year, this year it is in Tweed Heads – an hours drive south of Brisbane. Good or bad, almost every artist I have met during my trip has had an opinion on The Professional Tattoo Association of Australia, so I felt I needed to find out more, and their annual convention seemed to be the perfect chance. The show is a lot smaller and friendlier than the bigger conventions with fewer international and more home-grown artists. One of the nice things is that the Saturday night is a sit down dinner and presentation for PTAA members and artists. It’s a great excuse for everyone to put down their tattoo machines have a drink, some good tucker and just socialise.
During the weekend I managed to sit down and have a chat with a couple of the organisations founding members. Patsy has been tattooing 40 years and kicks off with a bit of background: “It started out as a group of us getting together, wanting to give a voice for artists and have a uniting body. You’d often see bad press and negativity towards tattooing and we wanted to be able to speak up.” That was almost twenty-six years ago. What started with a handful of members in tattoo shops in Melbourne, Victoria, quickly spread all over Australia. Convention organiser Peter Davidson was the first Queensland member joining in 1985 just two weeks after its inception: “Back then there were only about a dozen shops in Melbourne and when we formed we pretty much had a member in each of those studios and from there it grew.”
The PTAA was created with the idea of every member working to a certain standard so the public knew a shop that was PTAA certified, meant a high quality of hygiene and work. Being a member was like a trade stamp that could be trusted and if the studio wasn’t up to scratch then there was somewhere higher to go. To become a member you must be recommended by two current members and work to the guidelines that the PTAA sets out; in fact not only guidelines but also a constitution that has now been made legal by a lawyer working for them.
Pete started tattooing in 1973 and has been very active within the organisation becoming president for 11 years and Queensland rep for eight. Getting actively involved with the councils has been something the PTAA are passionate about, and they help the council better understand the tattoo industry’s procedures and how to regulate health and hygiene within tattoo studios. “When the councils want to bring in new regulations, we are usually the first people they call and talk through procedures with,” explains Pete. The studios maintain high standards, which in turn keeps the industry as a whole moving forward and changes not only public perceptions but also authorities. Organising conventions is part of the same aim: “Tattooing is not a backstreet practice and promoting Australian tattoo artists is very important to us, but of course, international artists are always welcome at our shows too,” Pete tells me. “We don’t advertise our shows overseas as they are mainly aimed at Australian artists and our own industry,” which I can only see as a positive, the industry over here feels more like a community. Being a strong community and helping each other out will in turn help our industry grow and develop as Patsy puts it: “A little friendship goes a long way.”
The industry has changed a lot over the years and as it grows, more shops open and inevitably the industry becomes less personal, a feeling Patsy shares with me: “You used to know everyone. Now I look through magazines and see some fantastic tattoos from artists I never heard of; I have to Google their names to find out where they are from.” With the increase in mainstream popularity and the industry on the surface becoming easier to get in to, a lot of respect has gone and ego has taken its place.
“We used to work hard making needles, mixing inks and building machines – we respected our tools. Now everything turns up ready to go out of a box, you don’t have to work for it. As the old school are disappearing a lot of the old school charm is going with it”