Days M134-137: Taking Over The Asylum

Wed 08.02.12 – Sat 11.02.12:

The bus arrived in Melbourne at 6.30am, so I got to surprise Mandy before work with my presence. For Mandy’s sake I tried not to go on too much about how awesome the cruise was, but it was pretty goddamn awesome. What’s even more awesome is that as a surprise for my birthday at the end of the month, Mand has bought us both tickets to go see Tim Minchin vs. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra tonight. My timing couldn’t have been better.

After watching the show I was inspired to write to Tim asking him to write me a song. I (typically) got no response, but here’s the gist of what I wrote…

Dear Tim,

How’s it going? I’m Graham Hughes, professional adventurer, TV presenter, Guinness World Record holder and general pain in the arse. I’m this fella >>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hughes and, as we all know to our eternal shame, you can’t argue with Wikipedia.

I’m still travelling and I still have 7 nations left to visit before I’m crowned king of the known universe. Luckily for me, I happened to be in Melbourne last week when your good self was in town and so I went to see your quite spectacular gig at the Palais in St. Kilda. You see my long-suffering girlfriend is an Aussie (but she’s a nice girl, don’t hold it against her). I just wanted to say f—ing awesome job mate, something akin to Tom Lehrer meets Gilbert & Sullivan by way of Viz magazine.

I’m writing to you because I want you to write a song for me. I guess you get loads of random tossers asking you to write a song for them, and I’m sure it must be more irritating than lice infested shampoo. I mean, who the hell is this ginger travelling monkey asking you to write a song? Am I going to pay you? Of course not, who do you think I am? Richard Branson? Some demented patron of the arts? Lord frikkin’ Saatchi?

Nah, I’m one of those painful pains in the arse who thinks things like “well, my musical ability is pitched somewhere between a howler monkey and last week’s chips, so in order for me to spread my demented yet wonderfully satirical messages to the world through the medium of song, I’ll turn to the Red-Headed League for assistance.”

Ah yes, the Red-Headed League, that warm glow one feels when watching the Eleventh Doctor’s hot little Scottish assistant doing her pouty face and thinking “she’s one of ours, she is, when the aliens put us all in a big zoo, she’ll be in OUR enclosure. Woohahaha”.

Anyway, as somebody who has spent FAR too long in Oz over the last ten years (girlfriends eh?) and has come to fondly think of the place as some novel form of torture where everything that moves is trying to kill you INCLUDING THE TREES and everyone falls over themselves to tell me how racist they are, I would like you to write a song based on a bumper sticker I saw yesterday that made me so angry I wanted to ram the car in front and beat the driver to death with their own legs – and that wasn’t even the car with the bumper sticker on it.

The sticker? “Australia’s Full! Go Home!”

Ah yes, here’s me thinking that 4 people per square kilometre is somewhat of enough room to swing a proverbial cat, but HOW WRONG I AM! F— me! Australia’s full! They might have to start building TWO STOREY houses. Or, even worse, sticking the houses together to form semi-detached or (horror of horrors!) terrace housing. You’ll have homes in which it takes less than half an hour to reach the front gate from the front door – and that’s driving really slow! Could you imagine??!! Ygads! T’would be the fall of Western Civilisation!

I’m not going to dictate the lyrics, as you are a muchly more betterer wordsmith than I, but here’s the not-particularly-rhyming gist:

#’Tralia’s full, piss off back where you came from
#With your narcotics and your guns and your gangsters
#With your f—ed up food and f—ed up faces
#Stealing all our precious car parking spaces
#You scummy boat people
#With your boat people diseases
#Why don’t you f— off
#And leave us alone?
#What’s wrong with your own f—ed-up home?

The punchline…? As revealed in the last verse, the person saying all these things is, you guessed it, an Aboriginal in 1788 shouting from the clifftop at the First Fleet.

Ahahahahaha! Oh well, it was funny in my head. The Aussies will love it. By that I mean they’ll hate it, but that’ll just make it funnier to me.

If you like the idea, have it, use it, make it better, make it a masterpiece. I relinquish all credit, claims and responsibilities to this concept, both moral and financial – DO WITH IT WHAT YOU WILL! I’m one of those annoying gits who have more than one original idea in their lifetime. Much more than one, as it happens…

So, pip-pip Timmy boy, keep up the good work putting the world to rights through the medium of song, and for heaven’s sake get your fingers insured.

#Onwaaaaaaaaard!

Yelp! Unsolicited idea-mongering. I could get into trouble for that. Still, it would be a good song. The next day I took some time to adjust my wellies, hang out with Mand’s lovely new house-mates, Ross and Pricilla. Mand and I invited Rocco the Cameraman over for curry (which I made and was rather excellent, I must say!). Our mate Stringer (the man responsible for my Japan Times article in 2010) was back from doing a 5-year stint in Tokyo and dropped in unexpectedly. We all ended up getting a little tipsy on beer and wine on the front lawn. One of Mandy’s neighbours even came and joined us for a bit, although she was even drunker than us: it took her three attempts to stand up.

Friday was spent rather panicking about getting some footage from The Pacific uploaded to the Channel 9 servers for an interview I was scheduled to shoot on Saturday morning. That night I met up with my old British chums Si and Adam, and we slogged our way around Melbourne city centre looking for a pub that was open past eleven. Not the easiest thing in the world, and something that made me miss Auckland all the more.

Saturday morning at 7am I was picked up by a rather posh Audi in order to be driven to the Channel 9 studio. The driver, Tom, was Iraqi – I must have been the first person he’s ever driven who went to Iraq on holiday. He got out ten years ago, which in hindsight was damn good timing.

After the interview, Mand and I left for Ballarat, Mandy’s hometown. Partly to see her mum and partly because Mand, being totally on my wavelength about such matters, had purchased a couple of tickets for the Ararat Lunatic Asylum midnight ghost tour.

Now, being a sensible boy, I don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good old fashioned horror movie, or a tour of the spooky old loony bin. Of course, our understanding of mental health issues have come on in leaps and bounds (it wasn’t so long ago that you could be committed for being a lesbian, getting pregnant outside marriage or indulging in masturbation: that’s me and all my friends f—ed then isn’t it?) and ‘asylums’ such as this one were shut down in the early 90s pretty much all over the western world.

Teaming up with Mandy’s great mates Sonia and Damian, we joined the tour at 11pm and it didn’t end until way after 1. Fascinating stuff, but I have to admit, I found it more sad than scary: it seems that most of the people kept in this massive sanatorium were not actually insane, and here in Ararat, far from the watchful eyes of a city such as Melbourne, human rights abuses were a lot easier to get away with.

Stories of forced lobotomies, electro-shock treatments, blood-letting, babies being taken from their mothers and wasted years of wretched isolation were rife.

Possibly the creepiest bit was the peppercorn tree outside the morgue – it was there to disguise the smell of the rotting corpses contained within – of all the people given lobotomies, a third got better, a third got worse and a third died. Opened in the 1860s, Ararat Lunatic Asylum must have been the closest one could get to hell on Earth. Our guided tour through the estate was conducted by an actor who knew his lines well, as well as the best places to leap out and go RAR! at the unsuspecting ladyfolk.

And now the asylum lies quiet. It’s been twenty years since the last inmate was set free. Fingers crossed that this place stays as it is: a memorial to the dark days of quack medicine; something best left in the past, along with the belief that the world is flat, that we’ll magically survive our own deaths and the fashion, politics and music of the frikkin’ 1980s.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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