Well we have been in Melbourne for six weeks and the weather has become rather familiar, wet and cold! So we are heading up to Sydney with a few stop offs and even have time to pay homage to an Australian legend...
As we leave a rainy Melbourne behind our first stop is Hanging Rock, the location that shares its name with this article. A slight detour from Melbourne, Hanging Rock is situated in a national park an hour north of the city, it’s an eerie place alright and the fact that it’s hazy and raining does nothing but add to the strange feeling and atmosphere when scaling the rocks and navigating the holes. The story (and film) say that a group of school girls went missing here in the early 1900’s, and whatever the truth is, it’s certainly not a place I want to hang around in for too long, so there was no time for a picnic but we did stop in the café for cream tea! (That’s close enough! Ed.)
Escaping the humidity we drive a further few hours to our next stop Shepparton, which amazingly is very warm and sunny - a world away from Melbourne. Shepparton is a small town between Melbourne and Sydney where I am doing a short guest spot at High St Tattoo. The town has a population of just 28,000 and there are five tattoo shops, so it’s pretty clear the people here love their tattoos! These smaller towns are always fun to visit as you get a much better sense of the country you’re visiting. Apparently I am the first international guest artist to ever work in town and artists from the other studios pop by to say hello as well as the local newspaper.
High St Tattoo is a family run business that has been open for a little over a year although Dean and Brian have been piercing in this spot for over twenty years. We arrive at 10am and the shop is already busy with customers browsing the flash racks and preparing for their appointments. After a few days I think it’s safe to say that this is the busiest shop I have worked in so far. They have three resident artists Tim, Mick and Kye, as well as apprentice Barry to get through the heavy workload.
The studio is bright, clean, modern and with smiley Narelle behind the counter, very welcoming! The studio has booths similar to other shops we have visited in Australia and each has a window so the whole place feels very open yet there is privacy for customers when required with pull down blinds. It’s a great environment for artists and customers with plenty of home comforts and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Chinese symbol or a backpiece, they will make sure you’re happy before it goes on to your skin. “We’re not interested in ego or attitudes, this is a customer led business and we try to cater for that” owner Dean tells me. “We’re trying to move away from the biker run intimidating shops of old and are catering for the mainstream.” Indeed they seem to be hitting the mark, the sheer open-ness of the shop means there is nothing to be hidden, everyone can see how clean and sterile an environment it truly is. With a large percentage of the clientele being female, taking the tattoo shop from the back streets right onto the high street - although not revolutionary, - has changed perceptions in this town for the better and long may their success continue.
Dean and Narelle were so determined that we left happy, they cooked us a barbeque and took us to an Ozzie rules footy match with plenty of grog before we left. It’s a shame I couldn’t work longer at High St Tattoo as everyone was very friendly and made India and I feel very welcome but we have a schedule to keep to and need to
arrive in Sydney for the Tattoo expo next week!
On the way through to Sydney we make one last stop at the town of Glenrowan, which is of historical significance as it was where peoples hero and rebel Ned Kelly made his last stand. He is now more famous in death than in his own lifetime. I didn’t actually know who Ned Kelly was until I arrived in Australia and opened a tattoo magazine.
As I looked though the various back issues in the studios between appointments, I kept seeing portraits of a bearded man or the quote “Such Is Life” and a cowboy wearing a metal helmet and chest plate. This man of course was Ned Kelly - an outlaw of the late 1800’s who rebelled against the corrupt police in the state of Victoria and was infamous for wearing his homemade bulletproof armour to avoid injury. The most tattooed images in Australia are probably the Southern Cross (yes, I have done my share) and Ned Kelly related designs.
As we drive through Glenrowan, it’s a bit of a let down to find that none of the historical buildings are still standing today. The small town looks like the set of a western and is littered with statues of their favourite bushranger. Australians are pretty patriotic people and have turned the Ned Kelly legend into their own Robin Hood or Che Guevara. I guess what people really like about him is he stood for the people and anti-establishment imagery has always been a popular choice for a tattoo. It is a symbol which shows their inner rebel permanently on their skin regardless of suit, uniform or corporate company - whether it’s a portrait, quote or armour wearing gunslinger, a Ned Kelly tattoo is exactly that, a symbol of rebellion for the Australian nation.