Having successfully navigated the wilds of the outback, (and I quote - “Drove 1000km in two days but internet dongle still working at the moment”) - Craigy Lee continues his road trip across Australia and finds that not only is there talent in the most barren of places, but he has also invented a whole new art form using only giant insects and a vehicle…
As we leave Perth we are about to embark on a mammoth road trip in a Ford 4x4 which will take us some 8000km from the west coast of Australia to the east, the biggest drive I have undertaken in my life! Most of this journey is outback, not much to see and not many places to stop off. We have planned two weeks for the drive and I am undecided as to what is more terrifying, the thought of breaking down in the middle of nowhere or the fact that I will not be tattooing for two weeks. Sometimes I have trouble switching off.
Our first stops are Albany and Esperance - think seaside town from the Goonies. Both these towns have tattoo studios but in typical Australian fashion they are both closed by the time we arrive so I can’t have a nosey around. As we drive on, towns become further apart and insects become HUGE after a few days travelling the car looks like it has been ambushed in a paintball skirmish, bright yellow, green and red splats give the truck some body art of its own, we cross the Nullarbor Plain over the western/southern Australian border and places to stop for petrol become 300km apart in some spots. The smaller towns are quite simply a petrol station and a motel, not even a McDonalds or a Starbucks let alone a tattoo studio!
There is definitely a different attitude towards tattoos out here, you can feel peoples eyes examining and scrutinising your every ink line especially when its hot and you have more skin on show, as my girlfriend India found out in the public pool in Norseman. Some locals will come and talk to you and being tattooed is the starting point for their conversation, bare in mind some of the towns we stopped in had a population of 30 at the most so any traveller is obviously an interesting prospect for a conversation. A very chatty station cashier in Ceduna admires our tattoos and kept us talking for a while: “You don’t get work like that out here” she concludes, as I fondle a bag of crisps with “Free Tattoo” plastered down the side. My inner child instantly imagines collecting tokens to save for a tattoo, alas it was just a lick and stick similar to the ones I got in chewing gum when I was a kid. Regardless, the mainstream success of tattooing is creeping into everyday life.
A lot of the towns we stopped in could easily double up as a post apocalyptic set for a Mad Max film, you can feel the isolation and that got me thinking - there are many isolated towns across Australia, but where is the most isolated tattoo studio? After researching I was pointed in the direction of Alice Springs, a town slap bang in the middle of the country, as the locals call it the “red centre”. The population is 26,000, that means if a shop tattooed 11 people a day it would take just six years to tattoo every single person who lives here, granted a few thousand are children but you get the picture, thank goodness for tourists!
The small town syndrome may be one of the contributing factors to the increasingly popular “backyarders” tattooing from home in Australia. There is no way you could open a studio in a town with a population of 30, 60 or even 120 and have it as a sustainable source of income to live on. Most towns in the UK are a drivable distance from a studio so the opportunity to do a proper apprenticeship is far greater if you are determined enough, however the sheer distances between some towns and studios here makes it impossible unless you are willing to relocate yourself. With all this in mind, it still doesn’t make life easier when you are dealing with some of the work produced in kitchens and spare rooms across Australia, I have done a lot more fixing here than I ever have in London!
Central tattooing has been situated in Alice Springs for 5 years, Artist and owner Dwayne specialises in black and grey work and Hal enjoys colour, although customers looking for great colour pieces he admits are few and far between “black and grey work is all people want in Alice Springs”. Both are good all round tattooists to meet demand and the boys work on a lot of tourists which means they don’t create as much custom work as they would like, however there is a small group of loyal regulars they can get their needles sunk in to. The shop itself is relatively modern and sports a good range of Iron Fist clothing. Indeed after a two-day solid drive with no internet or phone signal you get the feeling it is seriously cut off, getting supplies in this day and age is no problem as long as you are prepared to wait a while for it to arrive, try 3-4 weeks even for needles! Hal informs me that the nearest shop is “about 1500km away in Port Augusta or Darwin” and he makes the 3000km trip to Brisbane to get his work done which can be a huge drawback. For me Brisbane will have to wait as Melbourne is my next stop where I will be working the Rites of Passage Tattoo Festival and getting tattooed by Steve Byrne.
Until next month…