I can’t think of one thing in the history of my career that has changed me as a person or a craftsman more than traveling and meeting new people. I just got here to Five Star in Fremantle, Australia. Man, I was in South East Asia, surrounded by all of this beautiful shit but losing my fucking mind because I wasn’t tattooing, but now after two months of work, I’m feeling fine…
Rick Luder. Trevor McStay. Freddy Ampuero. Shane “Spud” Wilcox. Daniel Albrigo. Rob Abel. Stacey Ann. Dan Power. Mariano Castiglioni. These are some of the people I’ve gotten to surround myself with over the past couple of months. Meeting this many talented people and working in this many different shops has an impact. (All of this does, this traveling, this homelessness.) Nevermind that I feel like a tree, drifting off, attached to a hot air balloon floating away with its roots dangling in the air reaching for something –attached to nothing.
Out here in Perth/Fremantle, it’s the most isolated capitol city in the Western world. It’s said that you can fit seven Texas’ into the immensity of Western Australia. Fremantle is a port town –drunk Aborigines roam the streets screaming and flailing…
I’m staying with Dan Power whom I never met before coming out here. Dan has a huge curled mustache and drives an old car from the 60s an Australian car called a Holden. We drive to work, some days on the way we pick up Spud. We get to the shop, drop the stuff off and go get coffee and breakfast wraps. The weather is cool, it rains off and on. When the sun is out it’s comfortable and pretty.
The locals here call their rednecks bogins. They’re the same as in the states, with a different accent; they’re missing teeth, with leather wind-burnt skin. One tells me that Spanish is derived from English, I tell him it’s not, and he’s convinced it is.
I have tattooed words, and words, and words since I got here to the Land Down Under. Good thing my script is up to snuff because that’s what the kids want tattooed nowadays. Names and paragraphs. Reminders.
I left Dynamic and Melbourne with a fine farewell from Trevor and the crew. Trevor runs a tight ship. Five Star is a pirate ship. Rick Luder is the captain. He’s got red skin and red hair and a thick Aussie accent. He says the best way to run a shop is as a captain, you have to treat the shop as a ship or a freighter or a tank, and whatever it is, it needs a captain.
“If you’re doing it right mate, you start mopping floors and you end mopping floors,” Rick said.
When you walk into the shop there is a ships’ wheel on the wall, Rick said this symbolizes catching the wind in the sails and leaving everyone else in the wake. He is a walking encyclopedia of Australia’s tattoo and war history. He figures that tattooing in Fremantle dates back to the late 1800s –the earliest recorded history is 1890.
He shows me photo albums of him when he first started, a long-haired scruffy 15-year-old. He said he was the person that traveled to the States and brought mags and grey-wash back to Australia. Everyone looked at him like he was crazy because they were all using rounds.
He has photos of him and Pinky Yun in Hong Kong. He has his official membership card from The Australia Tattoo Club from back in the day –he was one of four founding members. He told me something about WWII and the tunnels that the US had in Fremantle where they held submarines that were prepared at any moment to shoot out and attack, he told me this as he leaned in towards me with a wink and a pirates laugh.
One of my favorite things about this craft is the bridge it forms between generations. That a 33-year-old and a 53-year-old can connect over the love of something as simple as this craft. Rick barbecues on Sundays, I went with him to buy the meat and the beer. I went along for the conversation and I had to buy socks because I could smell my feet.
As we walked along he estimated that he’s tattooed around 3,000 servicemen (remember this is a port town) some of whom were blown to smithereens and others who died from age. He said sometimes he looks up into the stars and wonders where all those tattoos are?
“What other things are there in the world that holds peoples interest like tattooing?” he asked me. “There aren’t many jobs where people write about their predecessors and their heroes; not doctors, shrinks or dentists. Tattooing is a part of peoples’ lives. We (as tattooers) become a permanent part of peoples’ lives.” I felt the warmth of the sun peaking through the clouds and a feeling of gratitude for what this life is…
Wait awhile… That’s what Western Australia stands for. Where tattooing is alive and well and always has been.
Thanks for reading –
JTG Fremantle, Aus. 2011