Before moving to Bali I spent a few years kicking shit on offshore oil rigs. Mostly in the north west of W.A. Last year I had gone to work only a week before Australia Day and since I was supposed to be there for at least 3 weeks I had given up on having a beer and singing Johnny Williamson’s ‘true blue’ with the rest of Oz.
Off the coast of Australia’s northwest, from Exmouth to Port Hedland is a stretch of ocean that has become notorious for its cyclone season. ‘Cyclone Alley’ as it is called fires up for about 3 months at the start of December and in 2009, it saved me from missing out on my favourite day of the year to party, as the oil rig I was on was located right in the middle of it.
Custard Guns McInnis and I had spoken about it on the plane to work in fact, hoping for a cyclone to come tearing down the alley forcing our slave driving employers to call an evacuation and send us into town, on full pay, with food and accommodation paid for. Cyclone Evacuations when you work offshore are some of the best times of your career and for many rig pigs, best times of their lives. Imagine getting 120 colleagues, almost exclusively men, that all have cash to burn and paying them to go on holiday together. That’s effectively what a cyclone evacuation is.
Custard Guns McInnis is a funny little fucker I met on the rigs and quickly became friends with. Full of beans and just a mouth on legs he got the name because he doesn’t have guns big enough to pull the skin off of custard. He’s quite a small fella obviously. But he is hilarious and a good kid that I have a lot of fun with when we manage to get together.
So, three days before Australia Day we are sweating our tits off on deck, when disturbed by someone on the p.a. system “Cyclone’s coming boys!!!!” I couldn’t of wiped the smile off of Custard’s face with a cricket bat and I was just as happy. Sure enough a cyclone popped up and the morning before Australia Day me and Custard Guns are on the chopper into Karratha. Yeeeew!
We got in, followed the rest of the crew in picking up our bags and headed for the resort that we were going to be lodged in for the next few days. We arrived to a scene! Our positions on the oil rig meant that we were some of the last to be sent into town. Second last chopper to leave I think it had been this time. And the other hundred evacuated rig pigs were already well and truly on the sip. Sensing trouble I made for the door of my room to at least get my shit in their before joining the festivities, I didn’t make it. One of the roughnecks, nicknamed Bowling Ball because that’s how sharp he is (note: no roughnecks are very bright) handed me a bottle of Jose Cuervo and a straw. “Here ya go soldier, now drink bitch!” I dropped my gear and followed the tequila bottle outside, there’s something hypnotic about drinking tequila straight from the bottle. I looked across the road and a few of the boys already had Custard Guns on the piss as well. I crossed the road to investigate and found out we were all headed into the pub for a drink, a few of the boys had already left and taxi’s had already been summonsed.
Once we got into the pub the scene was even worse. Karratha is a dive at the best of times but it seems this was something else altogether. No more than a shithole mining town in the middle of nowhere Karratha has about two pubs and one nightclub that you only go to if you want a fight anyway. The windows on the pubs are boarded up because the publicans are sick of replacing them after fights and almost the only girls that go anywhere close to the pubs up there are hookers or strippers. So it’s all men when we get there. Still everyone seems to be in good spirits and me and Custard Guns make our way to the bar and a shocking discovery- there’s no tequila!!!! Motherfuckers! They didn’t stock it anymore because they wrongly blamed it for getting the lads too fired up and, well I guess they figured they’d be better off without it.
Fuck it! Custard Guns and I jumped straight back in the taxi and bailed back to the accommodation with a plan. We got back found some water bottles, and replaced the contents, which I don’t think was water anyway, with tequila.
The rain had set in a few hours before and when it rains up here in monsoon season, it fuckin pours. Custard and I were running between roofs on the way back to the taxi in an attempt to not get drowned. We were half way there and just covered under the roof of the shower block, McInnis behind me all of a sudden cracks a fat and starts tappin’ me on the shoulder like an epileptic trying to crawl up my back. I turn around and he’s laughing his head off and pointing to the mode of transport of choice for the resort workers – the trusty golf cart!
Guns had drivers seat for only a moment until I pushed him over to the passengers side, so he jumped out and fired up the buggy in front of me and we took off. Absolutely flying at about 10 km’s an hour we were cruising with the intention, or at least I thought, of making it to the front of the resort and our waiting taxi. Half way there though and a man pulls out onto the road behind us. I recognise him from the reception desk when we checked in and he starts yelling at us to stop. What the fuck is this, a high speed chase at 10 km’s an hour? Dickhead.
So here we are, Custard Guns McInnis in one accosted golf buggy and my good self foot to the floor in the other with what looks like Ren from Ren and Stimpy giving chase in a golf cart behind us. We still cant work out why he didn’t just run up beside us and turn the buggy off but, well he chose to give chase so who are we to stop?
Ren chased us around the resort for a little while and finally had us cornered, or so he thought, in the car park. He didn’t think we would venture out onto the road and to be honest, we knew it wasn’t a good idea. I looked at Guns who hadn’t stopped laughing since he first saw the buggy’s and gave him a nod in the direction of the open road out front which only seemed to get him more excited. “Yes!” He put his foot down and followed me and just like that we were out onto the highway in Karratha, in the pouring monsoonal rains on stolen golf buggies.
We saw Ren poke the nose of his buggy onto the road but already knew he didn’t have the balls to follow. We were hoping he would, but he didn’t. Bitch. Custard and I got a few hundred metres away and started teasing Ren. Doing what doughnuts the buggy’s would allow and just throwing the buggy’s all over the road, almost tipping many times. I’m pushing my buggy as hard as I can, non stop doughnuts, leaning out of the door to stop from tipping over and not really keeping an eye on the road. I pushed a little too hard! The front wheels of the buggy hit the gravel first and were fine, but when the back wheels hit it was all over.
The roads up here all have massive ditches running down both sides that collect the water from these rains in an effort to not let the roads get flooded. And being up hear in the middle of fucking nowhere the drains aren’t concrete but just dug into the red dirt that turns to clay with the rain. In the wet season and especially with a cyclone approaching, the ditches turn to small rivers.
So when my back wheels slid out in the gravel they hit the red clay which is as slippery as a k.y. covered condom and I soon found myself going down backwards into the storm water drain. The current was so strong that as soon as the back wheels of the buggy hit the water it was gone. I jumped out and made it to the bank of this small man made river. I’ll never forget the ‘we are so fucked but that was so awesome’ look on Custards face. He asked if I was ok as I climbed into his vehicle, I checked my pocket and still had me full bottle of straight tequila so he knew I was good and hit the gas again. “Should we stop in at Macca’s on the way?” “Nah, lets just hit the pub”.
I reckon we made it about 15 km’s. The resort we were staying at was obviously a little out of town and we were only a few streets from the rest of the lads when a cop car put its silly fricken sirens on and pulled along side of us. While trying to be serious it was obvious they found the situation pretty amusing as well and we were having a good chat with them while continuing to head towards the pub. After a few minutes though the battery running the electric buggy went flat and ruined our dreams of reaching the pub before being arrested.
The police pulled over in front of us and not wanting to get wet just shouted out the window for us to get the key and let ourselves into the cage on the back of the patty wagon. We politely obliged and it was off to the Karratha lock up.
Again, being in the middle of nowhere the local constabulary was desperately undermanned and I guess since we had built up a good repour with our captors they didn’t feel the need to be too harsh on us so they just put us into a cell and said they would be back a bit later to do the paper work. There was a lady at reception we could buzz if we felt the need. Guns and I were still pretty amused by the situation when the coppers slinked off and we started to settle in our cell. Guns checking out the toilet/hole in the corner we were supposed to use if we need a shit, I walked over to the opposite corner and sat down. Ya know when you have a heap of shit in your pocket and cant sit properly? Well when I sat I realised something! Something fucking awesome!
“Oi McInnis, you still got your tequila?!” I asked, waiving mine at him, smiling like a child with an ice cream. He reached into his pocket and victoriously pulled out his own plastic bottle of fun. I jumped up and ran over to bang bottles together “Cheers to mates McInnis” “Cheers to mates brother!”
The next few hours were what I imagine to be the most fun two straight blokes could have in a jail cell on their own. Getting shilackered off of straight Jose Cuervo, improvising drinking games, singing songs and generally just having a blast me and Custard were pretty happy with our situation and completely blown away by the absurdness of it. We were supposed to be working our arses off. Instead we were getting paid over $600 (our daily rate) to get drunk in a jail cell. Get the fuck out of here!
As blasted as I was I remember the police coming back and their reactions. I also remember our company man showing up to get our arses out of the shit and how he explained that because the police hadn’t followed the book with us and could get in a lot of shit themselves they were pretty keen to just wipe the situation under the rug. Which of course meant they were going to be on our side when it came to dealing with the resort management about the golf buggies!
In the end we paid a small amount of insurance excess and compensation to the resort and that was it, other than that Custard Guns McInnis and I lived to fight again another day, which was lucky because it was Australia Day the next day!
And even though some might argue there is nothing more patriotic in a nation of convicts than to spend the day in a lock up, we definitely weren’t keen on it.
Twisted Agave ~ jail house drinker