The age of 13 is one of the most memorable for me.
I was being bullied by my neighbours.
My brother began his descent into drugs.
Heavy Metal music filled my head with fear.
I enjoyed alcohol.
I lost my virginity.
This was a year that fractured my soul and pushed me head first into the devil’s breast.
As a 46 year -old woman, I am now often asked why I don’t drink. Many people think it’s strange to have not touched alcohol since I was 13 years old. The usual questions are ‘Are you religious?’ or ‘Are you an alcoholic? I am none of those. I am a woman whose young life was disturbed and distorted by the effects of Jack Daniels in a mind that had not yet fully formed.
We lived in a suburban area of Melbourne at the time. It was an average Aussie neighbourhood but perhaps a little rough around the edges. There was the usual bbq’s on weekends, trips to the shopping centres on hot days to get inside the air conditioning, days at the local pool and evenings spent at the local Roller skating rink.
But Mooroolbark had a dark side in the 80’s. My brother Tallon (who was 15 at the time) managed to find that dark side and it didn’t take long for me to follow.
While Tallon found drugs, criminals and petty crime, I was surrounded by older girls chasing me around the neighbourhood on their BMX’s threatening to beat me up. It sounds so funny now thinking about having the crappers beaten out of me by BMX bandits, but at the time it was terrifying. At one point, I was so scared that I vomited all over my friend’s carpet when I realised the bandits were waiting for me outside and I had to roller skate home.
Thankfully most of it was talk. Then the day came when Tallon decided to choose one of them as his girlfriend ‘Oh, the horror”. Her name was Tracy and she was one of the ring leaders. I remember them having a ‘wedding’ on my street and they would use all of the flowers in the tress around our area as confetti. I wasn’t invited of course. I was nowhere near cool enough.
They were all older than me but went to the same school. I was so terrified of being bullied by them, that I turned into a bully to try to prove myself (more on that later) It seemed to work and the older bullies started to respect me. One day they even invited me to hang out with them on the street. I was elated.
It was during this time that Heavy Metal became really popular, as did green army jackets filled with studs and patches. Nowadays known as bogans lol. But all of my older, new found friends had begun painstakingly sewing the patches to the sleeves and pushing the studs through any place they’d fit. My band / patch of choice was Judas Priest (I have no idea why, it just happened) I didn’t even particularly like their music. I certainly wasn’t going to tempt fate and go against the grain, so my metal jacket and personality began to change.
During this time, our local gang met a character called Roxy. Roxy was a formidable woman. She was over 6 feet tall and built like a ‘brick shit-house’ (as was the term around those parts) She was also very much in to heavy metal, much older and far more experienced and worldly than any of us could have dreamed. She accepted us all into her fold.
Here we were, the BMX Bandits and the vomiting roller-skater, all ready to grow up into a world that was dark, twisted and very sick.
She lived around the corner in a house with her mum, their home became my house of horrors. Roxy’s mum was a huge, odd woman who was also one of Australia’s most notorious cat hoarders. She had been on ‘A Current Affair’ on three occasions when neighbours couldn’t stand the smell of cat piss any longer.
When you walked in to their house, the smell would hit your nose and almost knock you off your feet. Now I’ve always been an animal lover, but this was insane. There were cats EVERYWHERE. Skanky looking kittens covered in fleas, the occasional dead cat, pregnant cats, cats eating, cat shit everywhere and fur … Oh the fur!!! Sometimes you’d even have cats shitting on the toilet floor while you were taking a pee.
Being head bangers, as well as army jackets, black clothing was the only wardrobe allowed. Now, with hundreds and hundreds of cats in a small house and yard, you can imagine what your clothes would look like after a few minutes inside (I still feel sorry for my parents having to wash those horrid things)
The worst part of going to this house was being offered food. I’ve always had vomiting phobias and eating at this house meant heaving at the thought. I used every excuse under the sun as to why I NEVER ate when it was offered food by her mum.
Many years later, I worked for the RSPCA. This job set off a whole trail of trauma and memories for me. Especially being surrounded by so many cats and dealing with hoarder cases. I lasted a few months and I felt like throwing up every day I went to work. Not a great option as a career.
We would spend days and nights in this hell hole listening to music, gossiping and playing drinking games. I was only 13 and had never had an inkling to drink or smoke but here I was with the cool kids, drinking almost straight Jack Daniels and smoking ciggies.
Most nights would end with all of us being drunk and me throwing up everywhere (not surprising)
I was still very much a child. I behaved like a 19-year-old, but of course, I wasn’t. I was a scared little girl just reaching her teenage years and puberty. I didn’t understand in my young brain; just how much these times would affect the rest of my life.
Tongue was an attractive, cool and worldly 19-year-old. His nickname should have sent me packing but was my first crush so I didn’t care. (He was name after Gene Simmons in Kiss with his tongue out)
He was already going to pubs and gigs to see Metal bands and he was a heavy drinker. He instantly took a liking to me. I was in love that second.
VIRGINITY IS A LAUGHING MATTER
Meeting Tongue was my first foray into boys and relationships. It was the worst kind any young girl could find.
We were all at Roxy’s place one night, drinking heavily as we always did. My young brain couldn’t cope with the effects of alcohol and I was always the first to get drunk, vomit or pass out. I remember talking to one of the BMX Bandits about sex and we both said ‘No rooties’ (Slang word for sex in Australia) We giggled about it, but underneath we really meant we didn’t want to do it. Not yet.
I do not remember anything from that moment.
The next morning, I woke up. I had no idea where I was (until I could smell cat piss) I remember being pushed to the side of the cramped single bed and there looking down at me, smiling, was Tongue. He looked over the moon. I could barely move. It took me minutes to get my bearings.
I don’t remember saying anything. Just looking at his smirk.
I got out of the bed and stood up. I was covered in blood. I cried and cried until Tongue came and put his arm around me laughing ‘don’t worry, you just lost your virginity that’s all’
I remember trying to seem pleased. Trying to smile. I was still very drunk.
As I walked out of that bedroom, there were around 10 people (all 19 or 20 years old) They all stared at me. They smiled. The began to clap. They clapped at me. A 13-year-old. They cheered as I walked to the bathroom.
Once inside closed doors, I thought about the clapping and cheering. I thought it must be fantastic that I’d lost my virginity. This must be normal. This shock and disbelief must be how it feels for everyone.
I smiled and walked out. I was proud of myself. They’d made me feel like I was the coolest person in the room that day. The accepted me. They welcomed me.
I would never be sweet, young Amber ever again. I was gone.
I’ve NEVER touched a drop of alcohol again.
Whenever I hit a nightclub dance floor back in my early 20’s, I would completely shut off from the rest of the world.
Paired with my ego and arrogance, I would take every club by storm. I believed I was the BEST dancer in every room even though at that point I hadn’t had a single dance class in my life. I’d learnt from the very best … Drag Queens and gay men. I loved it!
Having never had any classes, I would always rely on my natural body movement and then copy whatever the latest fad was (Vogue was a favourite) I would hold back at nightclubs until one of my favourite songs came on. I’d then push through the crowd and take centre stage. I was so free from fear of judgement at that point. Something I still wish I could do.
I always knew women were making snide remarks about me and trying to shove me out of the way when I danced. I knew that there would be sniggers and comments like ‘Who is this idiot?’ But I also knew that I could dance. I never believed in dimming your light if you were good at something (years later, that’s exactly what I did) Australia is very much a culture of Tall Poppy syndrome, so being confident in my abilities was grounds for bullying.
There was a particular group of girls who would always snarl and laugh hysterically at me, and they were the ballerinas. They were also incredible dancers in a nightclub environment and I also love to watch and steal things from them. The appreciation was never returned.
I was still very much a country girl at that time. I thrived on living on our farm with our horses, dogs, chickens and my mum and dad. Our farm was situated a huge two hours from Sydney so I didn’t really go very often as It was considered a weekend trip away.
One day I was sitting at home watching a TV show (I have no idea which one) and it was announced that Janet Jacksons Choreographer, Anthony Thomas was coming to Australia and was looking for Australia’s best nightclub dancers for a competition. Only 20 dancers would be hand-picked by Anthony himself and there would eventually be one male and one female dancer that would win the ultimate prize of a workshop with Anthony and a coveted position in one of his new music videos.
The day of the auditions, I was on the first train to Sydney with the funkiest outfit I could find and that never-ending confidence and attitude.
Anthony Thomas was going to travel around the entire country in search of his top 20. I was at the Sydney auditions in a nightclub called Kinselas (Which later on I’d become very familiar with) It was packed to the rafters. There were uber cool people everywhere. For the first time, it made me feel totally out of my element. There were dancers doing warm up’s and people with far more attitude than me. It made it even worse that I was there by myself and had no friends to push me through the process.
Everyone was told that they were going to turn off the lights to create the nightclub feel (it was daytime) and they would be playing all of the new release music of the time. We would then be dancing freestyle while Anthony walked around and assessed the talent. Quite simply, if he thought you were in, he would tap you on the shoulder.
I had no idea how many dancers had already been chosen from the other states so it was even more important that I tried to stand out. The music came on and I was like a bull at a gate. I danced so hard and so fast that I ran out of steam really quickly. As I was resting, I saw a few girls making a beeline for me. I recognised one of them and I was happy as I thought I was now not alone. That was not to be.
The girls were the nightclub bullies from my local area. They scowled at me and one of them said “what on earth are YOU doing here? You’re not a dancer’. It was horrifying and I honestly thought about walking right then and there but a storm came over me. I was angry and hurt and I was going to prove them wrong.
I started dancing in between the hundreds of other people. I saw Anthony pick an amazing hip hop dancer who blew my mind. It was very hypnotic surrounded by incredible talent all sweating and puffing but giving it everything they had. I relaxed a little and slowly got into my comfort zone when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. I initially thought I’d imagined it, then I believed it was the ballerinas trying to play a joke on me. As I turned around to look them in the eye, there standing in front of me was a giant of a man and all eyes were on me.
I’d been picked. It was me. I’d done it. I was now in the top 20. It was one of the best feelings of my life.
Five of us had won places from Sydney and now it was our chance to shine. We now had to dance on stage, in front of the crowd that we had only just been competing against. I think I danced the best I ever have during that one song. And as I looked down, standing there were the ballerinas in complete shock and awe that I was on the stage and they were not.
I tried not to be a cow, but under the circumstances they deserved it. I had a huge grin on my face and I pranced to the other side of the stage in all of my glory. I secretly wanted to spit on them. Or walk past them at the end and say ‘THAT’S what I’m doing here bitches’ It really was like something out of a movie.
As the song finished, we were surrounded by media for interviews. Reality TV was not around during this time but this was exactly what it was. It was a reality dance show at its finest.
I found out all of the others dancers in the competition were trained. I was the only pleb, non-leotard, spandex wearing outsider. Never someone to waste a moment, when I was interview by SBS I constantly mentioned this fact so that NO ONE would forget.
On the night of the grand finale, I boarded my train back to Sydney in clothes that my mum had helped me pick out (she had a great deal of style) After we had been chosen, we were given a tape (Yes, I’m old) to go home and practise our routine to. My song was “Promise of a new day; by Paula Abdul (Who he’d also worked with) herself. I really struggled with my style of dance to get a great routine down and my nerves started to kick in. I spent every waking hour of the next few days rewinding this damn tape!
I was the last one to perform and luckily, I’d been able to watch all of the other dancers perform. I was in awe. These dancers were seriously going to whip my ass. It looked as though most of them were already dancing in music videos.
Once my music started, I did everything I could to wow the judges but I knew with very little technical dance experience or choreography, I didn’t really stand a chance. I was happy with what I did, but I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to LA. I didn’t care. I was so honoured and excited to have even come this far.
The winners were announced. They were inspiring to say the least. One of the girls went on to become a Reality TV star with the band Bardot and I’m 100% sure, most of them went on to become stars in their own right.
This was one of my proudest moments. Whenever I dance these days, I remember the pure joy it brings. It boosted my confidence no end and many years after this, I became a ballroom teacher, professional Salsa dancer and a back-up dancer in drag shows.
Puberty sucks for chimps too
One of the things I learned very quickly working with chimpanzees is that some of them will love you and some will despise you. There’s very little you can do to change it.
I have lived my entire life as a people pleaser and I soon realised I was also a chimp pleaser to boot. I couldn’t stand it if one of them didn’t like me and looked at me with utter distain.
There were a few bad cookies in the crew and thankfully they didn’t like anyone. These were the chimps who would spit in your eyeballs with incredible aim (you often wouldn’t even see it coming, and you definitely couldn’t see with all that spit in your eyes)
In my regular life, I have an aversion to teenage boys (sorry) They smell bad, are cheeky little buggers and are often brutal in their approach to older women.
Turns out teenage male chimps have the same sort of respect back at me. These were the guys who would try to make my life misery on a daily basis. It was like they knew my entire reason for remaining child free was to avoid having these back chatting human trolls (Sorry again!) These little turds would torture me daily with dirt in the face, aggression displays and putting the fear of god into me.
One of these boys was called Gamba. He lived in Paddy’s group. Paddy was the dominant male who was roughly the same size and similar attitude to King Kong. Everyone respected Paddy as their leader. He was firm but also kind, he had an aura of authority and leadership but I never really saw him become brutal with any of his group. I also respected him and under no circumstances did I want to piss him off. EVER.
Gamba was a typical teenage boy. He was often up to mischief and it usually involved anyone else who was up for an adventure. But him and I did not see eye to eye.He was one I could never seem to win over.
During the winter months, we would often feed the chimps piping hot, baked potatoes. The chimps loved these days and you’d often sense the overwhelming joy of jacket potato day. There was only one problem. These potatoes had literally just come out of the oven and the best way to feed them was to throw them down to the chimps from a feed station above their enclose. For most keepers this wasn’t a problem, but I’d never played ball sports and was about as good an aim as a blind person playing pin the tail on the donkey.
As I picked up the potato, I scorched my hand and had to throw it without really paying attention to where it landed (it really wouldn’t have been a good aim regardless)
It landed with a thump right on Paddy’s rump!!! ‘Oh shit’ was my first reaction. Panic was my second. Paddy began looking around searching for the dirty scoundrel who would DARE hit him on the ass with a VERY hot baked potato. I dropped every piece of evidence I had in his view but fortunately for me, Gamba was standing right next to paddy.
Paddy took one look at the guilty chimp (oops) and gave him the biggest slap I’ve ever seen. Gamba ran off screaming and Paddy walked off in a big huff, potato in hand.
The Wiggles – Hot Potato – This seems very fitting right now 😉
I also scuttled off with a spring in my step, a guilty conscience and a vow to NEVER touch a potato again.
Chimp life is complicated. Thank god I didn’t have children.
Paddy’s group For more information on Monkey World and Paddy, please click on link.
My first day at Monkey World was probably one of the most bizarre (and scary) days of my life. Having worked with so many different animals, I was well aware of the dangers that could be present even with the cutest, cuddliest of species. I was not aware of just how dangerous this new position was going to be.
Chimpanzees are one of the most dangerous species on planet earth to work with. More keepers are killed by tigers because they often work in the enclosures and have direct contact with them. You would NEVER do this with a group of chimpanzees.
Basically, when you work with chimps, you cannot make mistakes and you have to be on the ball every second of the day. More about this later.
I met with one of my managers who was going to take me on an introductory tour of the chimp exhibits I was going to be working on. There were 60 rescued chimps from all over the world and I was about to be introduced to around 20 of them.
I was given VERY clear instructions (my first test) before entering the chimp area. I remember those words so vividly.
“Do NOT touch the chimps”
“Do not look at them”
“Just keep walking”
“Don’t do any talking”
“Be careful not to trip”
“Listen to everything I say”
I will admit, at that point I thought I was being led to Hannibal Lecter himself.
The chimp’s enclosures were a complicated web of bedrooms, outdoor areas, slides, gates and overhead tunnels. All of which I would soon have to know with my eyes closed (but NEVER close your eyes)
As I followed my boss inside, I took a deep breath like it may possibly be my last. I was warned that it would take a while for the chimps to get used to me and that it may cause a few disturbances with me walking through for the first time.
The first thing that struck me was the smell. It was very musty like an old man but much, much stronger. The noise was also intense.
As I made my way slowly inside, I could hear the chimps becoming aroused at this new activity happening. There were chirps and squeals, barking to almost a scream.
Every part of my body was on fire from nerves, excitement and probably sheer terror. I tried not to look at them in the eyes but I couldn’t help but notice the muscles and size of these very intimidating animals.
With each step I took, more chimps came inside to see what the commotion was about. Some were overhead looking straight down at me while others clung onto the bars of the enclosures. I was suddenly surrounded from each angle and all I could think was “don’t fall over”
I weirdly felt something wet on my head. I looked up and a chimp was pissing all over me. To make matters worse, he was holding on to his penis and following me while he pissed. Still, I did as I was told and kept moving forward and trying not to flinch.
I did notice my pace fasten when a rather large chimp looked directly at me and spat right in my eyeballs (this became my most hated part of working with them over the next few months) It was absolutely raw aggravation from them and I was now starting to see exactly why my instructions had been so carefully detailed.
Next up, the boss pointed out a chimp called Freddy as we passed another bedroom. I was so inquisitive that I just HAD to ask a question and as I opened my mouth, Freddy reached around to his bum, shit in his hand and proceeded in throwing it all over me, including in my mouth. Yup, I swallowed chimp poo on my first day. Not quite the initiation I was expecting. And if you’re wondering what it tastes like (I’m often asked) It was a mixture of poo and garlic! Yummmmmmm
Everyone around laughed hysterically and my boss said “Welcome to Monkey World” As we left the building, he did tell me that Freddy is prone to this sort of behaviour and they usually provide new staff with a plastic shield on their first day. Apparently on this occasion, he’d forgotten.
I was then told to go and have lunch and get myself cleaned up. Ummm ‘thanks but I’m not exactly hungry after that feast’
I was scared shitless (or shit FULL), my ears hurt from the noise, my instinct told me to run for the hills but I loved every second of it.
Welcome to the wild world of world of chimpanzees.
Everyone always asks me “Why on earth would you leave a job working with dolphins and Seals?”
My response was always the same. “To go and try to work with chimpanzees of course’ Sheesh… Doesn’t everyone just leave a dream job to go and do another dream job??
So, here I was working with some of the most incredible animals on planet earth, but I knew I had to take life one step further.
I’d always been fascinated with Apes. As a kid, I had the most awesome Orangutan that had Velcro on his arms that you wrapped around your neck. I carried him everywhere. I don’t like to hoard things from my past but I really wish I still had him.
One day as I was playing ball with one of the dolphins (as you do), I had an epiphany that I was going to move to Africa and work with chimpanzees. I loved my job at Dolphin marine Magic in a little coastal town called Coffs Harbour but primates were calling me.
A friend of mine had been working for The United Nations as an Ambassador for endangered primates worldwide (I strangely met her at an audition for a television commercial) Alesha was a huge inspiration to me. I remember at the audition, she pulled out photos of her working with baby gorillas. I was gobsmacked. She’d travelled the world working to save these incredible animals and I wanted to be her (as well as Jane Goodall)
I called her straight after my epiphany and asked her if she knew of anywhere that would take me on. I had years of experience working with different species but never with primates but I hoped she could find me somewhere with a suitable volunteer position to begin with.
A few days later Alesha called me back. She’d found a volunteer position for me in Africa and they needed someone in a few weeks! The position was assisting with the care of chimps at a rescue centre. It was remote and dangerous. There would be no other Westerners around and I would have to rely on the small African community for all of my needs.
I must admit, this didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.The thought of being in a remote part of Africa and not being able to speak the language was incredibly daunting.
The next thing I knew, I was booking myself into the Dr’s for a yellow fever vaccine and I was off… To AFRICA!
I decided on the way I would stop in the UK and visit my family who I hadn’t seen in many years. They lived in an area south of London called Portsmouth. Dotted throughout this are were various Zoo’s and wildlife parks that I really wanted to check out.
This stop-over proved to be life changing.
One morning my family decided to take me on a long drive out to country England. Because of my love of animals, the wanted to show me a few wildlife parks around the area.We were driving around a tiny town called Wool (yes, I did see a man walking with his sheep)It was here that we pulled into a place called Monkey World Ape Rescue centre.
I’d never heard of it but apparently, the whole country was well aware of this monkey & ape sanctuary through it’s very popular TV series ‘It’s a monkey’s life’I was absolutely ecstatic to be learning more about chimpanzees before I jetted off to Africa to work with them
Once inside, I fell in love with the place. There were chimpanzees, orangutans and all kinds of monkeys. It was such an unusual place to see all of these amazing animals.I could see how popular the park was as once inside, you would hear members of public talking about each chimpanzee as if they knew them personally.It turns out, through the TV series, you would learn about each primate in great detail.
I couldn’t stop thinking about everything I’d seen that day. I decided to email the managers and ask them if they had any positions available. To my surprise, I received an email back the next day asking if I’d like to come in for an interview.
I knew at that moment that this was going to be my new life. I wasn’t going to make it to Africa. Instead, I was going to be paid to live in a small English country town to look after primates.
I’ve been to some unusual interviews in my time but this one took the cake. Sitting in front of me were two of the world’s leading experts in Chimpanzees. Jim and Allison Cronin. Together, they had left the USA to start a primate rescue centre and educate the world about primate causes.
I had never been so nervous in my life. These were two people I desperately wanted to impress.
As I collected myself and took a deep breath, Alison pulled out a brightly coloured blanket. She reached inside and held in her hand a baby Woolly monkey. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This beautiful (and very endangered) monkey was being hand raised by Allison and was due for a feed.
I was interviewed for the next hour while this beautiful baby looked at this stranger quizzically. It was almost impossible to concentrate but I managed to get through the interview with flying colours.
I got the job. I was going to be working with the Chimpanzees. Allison then said to me “Please don’t think you’ll be walking around with baby primates as part of your position here’
I had NO idea what was about to happen ….
This part of my story is incredibly difficult to write. No one EVER expects to shout out proudly, ‘Hey, I’ve been admitted into a psychiatric hospital’. No one ever wants to feel like they’re crazy, weird, losing grip on reality and could be filmed for a scene in One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But it happened. It happens to MANY people. It even happens to those of us that think we’re sane.
If you’d have asked me when I was 24 and going through exactly this, if I was glad it happened or if I’d be shouting it from the rooftops, I would have crawled into the nearest camel’s butt crevice and never come out to face the world. But I am, and I do.
Mental illness has affected my life profoundly. It stopped my life completely, it showed me how much courage I had, how much pain I could take and how many incredible ‘crazy’ people there are in this world. But most of all, it taught me to embrace the weird, wild and unique part of the brain that so often gets left behind in those tiny primary school desks and chairs (that you now wish you could fit one leg in, let alone your entire ass), it taught me about impermanence, acceptance and vulnerability.
Without this short period of my life, I would not have experienced half of the things I have. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of every aspect of my life. But most of all, I’m proud of those that are much worse off than me and face incredibly frightening experiences like these on a daily basis. It is these people who inspire me to be honest, truthful and brutal about my experiences. I wish with every fibre of my being that somehow, we could take away your suffering.
I am often asked why I smile all of the time. I smile because I made it, I smile because I’ve been to the pits of hell in my mind, I smile because life is amazing, I smile because I have incredible people in my life who helped me understand and care for myself, but most of all, I smile because I AM ALIVE.
Throughout my blog, I’d really like to talk a lot about mental health, creating awareness and talking together about how we can help each other as a species rather than judge and mock those that are suffering.
And this is how it began ……
The sound most little boys love to hear. The sound of Dinosaurs, the sound of a hungry, forty-foot-long T-rex coming towards you with its mouth wide open in anticipation of eating your shiny, little ass and using your spine as a toothpick as he swallows.
The sound of a thousand kids stepping over the top of each other with tears running out of their eyes and snot pouring out of their noses as they come face to face with one of the most feared of the dinosaur species, the Allosaurus.
Some kids think of dinosaurs like Barney (see previous post), the giant, purple, fluff ball that sings to your kids with wonderful tunes such as ‘I love you, you love me’, ‘Me and my teddy’ and ‘What makes a flower so pretty?’ Not exactly the stuff of nightmares right?
ERTH VISUAL AND PHYSICAL INC.
The only way to describe Erth, is a company that provides some of the most eye popping, creative giant puppetry, the world has ever seen. Erth is an awe-inspiring company who constantly delight our visual senses and take us into worlds you’ve never believe existed.
I had the pleasure of working with Erth as a Presenter and puppeteer for their dinosaur shows. These shows are a mixture of fantasy, comedy, education and entertainment.
The shows take you on a vivid, and often scary ride through the life of various dinosaurs (with a focus on Aussies)
With giant, inflatable sets of Jurassic plants and trees, the eerily dark lighting and straw bales set up as the stage, you know something special is about to happen.
Coming from a background in traditional children’s shows with all the coloured fur, smiling suit characters and cheesy presenters who encourage the kids to love one another after flashing those pearly white teeth and HUGE smiles (I’ve never been able to get rid of mine), Erth was a whole new ball game.
It is made up of some of the most unique, interesting and creative geniuses I have ever met. This was a world of circus performers, travelling freak show stars, the pierced/tattooed from head to toe, the displaced, the outcasts and the talented misfits from around Australia. I loved it.
On first glance, I probably didn’t fit in. I was the blonde, blue eyed more ordinary looking of the crew, but I hadn’t felt more at home in a long time. I loved it.
The shows always started by getting the kids up to tell a dinosaur joke. This would usually end up with kids standing in the spotlight, saying nothing, while their parents looked on and shouted and clapped with pride.
Most of the time there would be a few kids come up and just say ‘poo’ or ‘bum’ or ‘fart’ which NEVER got old (I know, Miss maturity right here)
The shows always started with baby dinosaurs ‘Awwwwwww’
It was incredible how many of the parents would ask after the show ‘Are they real’ and actually mean it. ‘Hey, adults are allowed to lose their shit around dinosaurs too’ !
The baby Dryosaurs were adorable with their big eyes that moved and little chirps that came from their beaks. As a puppeteer, you have to be great at moving the mouth while the chirping was played through an Ipod (sorry if you believed they were real too)They also had a metal rod which each puppeteer used to move the head and eyes.
Each time a new dinosaur entered the stage, you would be taken into a whole new world.
I loved that the shows were based on real dinosaurs and every effort was taken by the designers to replicate what scientists believe they would have looked like.Many months of research and preparation goes in to learning about each dinosaur and how it walked, moved, made noise, reacted to noise.
Scott Wright (Artistic Director) ensured every care was taken in recreating something incredibly life like. Sometimes during the shows, I’d almost forget they were only puppets as performers gave them all characters and also spent a great deal of time in workshops, learning how to manoeuvre each one.
Some of the larger dinosaurs required two performers to operate. The puppeteers were often not hidden from view but you would always forget they were there as the puppets were brought to life.
Each dinosaur would have their own little segment, some of them would be flying dinosaurs that would fly out over the audience, others would come out in herds.
When it came time for audience participation, there was always wild applause and laughing at some poor bugger’s embarrassment and misery. As the presenter, it was important to embarrass the most unlikely of audience of members and ensure the kids could point and laugh at adult silliness.
The finale was always the largest of the dinosaurs … The Allosaur or the T-Rex. This was the moment kids lived for. They lived and loved to be absolutely scared senseless.
As the Allosaur entered the stage, you could hear the roar’s, you could feel the thump of each step he made.
As he ran out to the audience, you could see a wave of kids running backwards, not looking where they were going… screaming in fear, clambering over the top of each other to get to the safety of their parent’s arms. You could see kids shaking violently and almost vomiting with fear. What made it even funnier was that the parents were usually in the foetal position, with tears rolling down their faces from laughter. It was the BEST sight to see.
If I’m completely honest, doing these shows was the only time I’ve ever felt like a rock star ! It was, of course, all about the dinosaurs but it felt fantastic to be part of shows that kids would remember forever (even if it mean night sweats and bed wetting memories)
Erth is now doing shows all over the world, including The West End, NYC and London. The Dinosaur Petting Zoo is performed at some of the world’s most prestigious Museums and Theatres.
If your kids love dinosaurs, this is the best show you’ll ever see.
If you don’t want the kiddies to shit their pants ….. Take nappies !
You have been warned.
Here are some useful links to some great performers and companies that I met through Erth. They are shows well worth going to see !
The day I left acting school, I was 21 and ready for a serious career in film and Television. To be fair, everyone who goes to acting school thinks they’re the next Anthony Hopkins or Meryl Streep.
Looking back, I was probably much less talented than I thought I was. At the time, it didn’t stop me trying to get the best agent, go to as many castings, auditions and go-see’s as possible.
I was going to be one of the 1% who made it. I was going to prove myself and be the best actress around …
YAAWWWWWWNNNNNN …. Yup, heard it all before right ?!?!
Nothing original here. Just one of the many thousands of aspiring actors with too much time (waiting for the phone to ring) and an ego larger than a blue whales penis (seriously, check them out !! They range between 8 to 10 foot long)
Anyway, on another regular day where I was enjoying my pot noodles (gag), waiting for my phone to ring and spending the day in complete panic about not being able to pay rent, a friend mentioned I should look at doing kids shows.
‘HOW DARE HE??’
‘SON OF A BITCH’
‘WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS??’
‘I DIDN’T PAY FOR YEARS OF ACTING SCHOOL TUITION’ (my parents paid it)
‘TO BE TOLD I SHOULD DO CRAPPY OLD KIDS SHOWS’
‘WAY BENEATH ME’ (even though I went to a pretty crappy acting school to begin with)
The thought of chasing around furry critters, singing crappy kids songs did NOT sound appealing.But the thought of being homeless appealed even less.
And so it began. A 20 year career doing something I was horrified about to one of the best decisions of my life.
I called my agent. She called a few people. BAM ! My first audition.
As is usual with kid’s performers, I was asked to prepare a song, a monologue and there would be a dance routine to learn and perform if I got through.
The first thing I remember is walking into that room and being astounded at all the professional dancers warming up and stretching, the singers warming up their vocal chords, and me having absolutely no idea what I was doing. It felt like something out of Fame, the movie.
My first experience of learning a full choreography in 5 minutes didn’t really go as planned. Although I was a natural dancer, I hadn’t had much professional training at this point. I forgot every single move and felt like an absolute dickhead. I still struggle to learn choreographies as fast as anyone else.
Singing was pretty much the same. Actually, it was worse … MUCH worse!
But somehow, I got through. I believe it was more my bubbly personality and confidence than anything else. Actors are terribly cocky.
I had no idea what type of work I’d get, if any. But I was secretly excited that I was embarking on a new adventure. Maybe this kids show business wouldn’t be as bad as I thought and maybe, just maybe I would make enough money to make my own roast dinners and pay my own rent.
I will point out here that I’m now 44 and still struggle to pay my rent. I do live in Sydney after all 😉
Pretty soon I wasn’t just waiting for my phone to ring because it was actually ringing. This was before we all had mobiles so in those days, it was really important to have an answering machine or never leave the house in case your agent calls.
My first call would be for Suit character work. I was going to be performing in an Alvin and The Chipmunks show throughout major shopping centres in Sydney.
Many years ago, it was very common to have elaborate setups in shopping centres for kids shows. Over the years it has become far too expensive and sadly, this type of work is now becoming extinct.
My character was Alvin. This was a brave decision for the entertainment company considering it was my first gig. I was surround by dancers who had been training since the age of 5 but I was determined to give this my best shot.
I absolutely loved it! The atmosphere was vibrant and full of quirky performers who I adored. Rehearsals were learning the routines without the actual suits on.
As I’d only ever worn one before (a purple fish which had my face showing and I was required to run around, handing out flyers for a Fish & Chip shop), I was secretly pleased I’d get to learn the choreography first and tackle a very heavy suit once I’d mastered the dancing.
Our main routine was a Michael Jackson number which was full on kicks and moon walks. Somehow I managed to get it all down pat before my first paid gig.
Next up was trying on the costume. Now if you’ve never worn a suit, here’s a description…
IT’S FUCKING HOT, SWEATY, FUR GETS ON YOUR MOUTH AND DOWN THE BACK OF YOUR THROAT, YOU WANT TO DIE OF SUFFOCATION, YOU CAN’T BREATHE, YOU WONDER WHAT IN THE HELL POSSESSED YOU TO GET IN THIS RIDICULOUS FURRY ANIMAL IN THE FIRST PLACE.
And that, my friends, pretty much sums it up.
The great part was the money. At that time, it was a few hundred $$ for three half an hour shows. I was going to be rich. Well, I was going to have dinner anyway.
Something that you may not realise is that kid’s entertainment is very serious business. It’s certainly not all silliness and fun. Entertainment companies need to make money as they have huge costs with licensing, costumes, paying performers and a tonne of other stuff.
For a performer, work is competitive, sporadic, and incredibly physically taxing work. You DEFINITELY can’t be claustrophobic, lazy, conservative or boring. If you’ve ever seen those suit characters that stand and wave at you on the street, this is NOT what suit performing is all about. You have to be able to bring a character to life.The face you’re wearing doesn’t move so you need to be able to convey emotions through your body movement. This is not as easy as it looks and as I was about to find out, it took me years to master it. You also have to be very careful not to scare kids (which happens anyway) as well as be very strong to haul these suits around on your back.
Once you start dancing in them, you will soon discover what it’s like to swallow your own sweat and almost faint from sheer exhaustion.
So back to my first gig as Alvin. My first appearance in a suit character did not go as planned.
During my first show I had NO idea where I was on the stage (It’s very difficult to get your bearings when you first start) and I was actually facing the BACK of the stage.
I think at the time, the audience just thought Alvin may have been a bit ditzy so went along with it. But it did make it very difficult for the other performers on stage who kept trying to shove me in the right direction …. Facing the audience!!! On one of these particularly hard shoves, I almost fell off the front of the stage as I broke into a Moon walk.
Needless to say, it was a complete disaster and although it was fun, I thought I’d never be booked again.
The poor company had no choice but to keep me on as it was too short notice to book another performer.
This particular show ran for two weeks with three shows per day. As the days went on, I became more and more comfortable and confident. I was never going to be as great as the professional dancers in the show but apart from almost moon walking off the stage, everything else went well.
My very last performance was when I was 41. I suffered a really bad panic attack after a few minutes in the suit and couldn’t get back in. Nature’s way of saying ‘time to move on Amber’
During the 20 years of performing, I travelled all over Australia and internationally, I have met the most incredible people and had some of the most amazing experiences.
Although today, these types of shows have sadly vanished, I think it’s a great way to earn a living as well as perfect some of your performing skills.
This foray into Kids shows also gave me the opportunity to become a Presenter which was always my passion. I still pinch myself that I was getting paid to travel and perform to kids every day.
Next up ….
BARNEY THE DINOSAUR
This was my biggest show and Barney was recognised all over the world. I was so excited and honoured to be chosen as the Presenter (Nerida no friends was my character’s name) and to go on a national tour of Australia.
We were booked into some huge theatres as well as some tiny venues in the middle of nowhere in WA.
One of the most memorable was a mining town in the outback that was populated by miners and a street full of pretty little houses with pink flowers hung over the white picket fences. These were the prostitutes ‘houses’. It was an interesting place to be performing Barney shows that’s for sure.
It was the first time in my life I actually felt like a rock star! The kids went NUTS for Barney.
Another interesting part of this tour was that Barney was played by an incredibly talented drag queen! There were only three people in the world allowed to get into the Barney costume and perform at the time.
As Barney was so well known, anyone who was tall enough and talented enough to play him, had to go through a rigorous audition process with the senior executives from America before even being allowed to try on the suit.
Huey was the perfect Barney. He bought that dinosaur to life and I was mesmerised. This was the first time I’d seen a suit character become something real and alive.
Huey also liked to keep me on my toes when performing and I remember on our last show of the season, he walked over to Nerida (me) on the stage a whispered ‘I just farted’ and blew the fart out of Barney’s mouth !!!!!!!!!!
We were clearly very mature in those days. It didn’t take long to get the full effect and I struggled to get through the rest of the show without laughing.
Barney and Friends during an Australian Tour
You never quite know what was going to happen during a kid’s show and some of the behind the scenes shenanigans were very R rated and not kid friendly at all.
Although we did get up to mischief, we all took our career very seriously and worked hard to ensure kids were taken to another world even if it was only for an hour of their lives.
Ironically, I was also one of the only people in my circle of performing friends during that time that was getting regular, paid work. It was brilliant.
I was pleasantly surprised a few years later to discover that I didn’t actually suck at suit performing. I spent many months of hard work doing meet and greets in suits so I could improve.
*A meet and greet is where you walk around hugging the kids and having opportunities to interact and play as well as for the kids to get photos. Shows were choreographed performances.
I must have done something right because my next job was one of the best I’ve ever had.
HUMPHREY B BEAR
Humphrey B Bear is one of Australia’s most well known and loved kid’s characters. He has had his own TV show since 1965. Humphrey is an Aussie icon. He’s jolly, friendly and doesn’t wear any pants!
I was going to be doing live shows across Australia (Not the TV series)
I was pretty terrified to be honest and had to do hours and hours of research into how Humphrey actually moved. Everything down to his hands / feet / walk and head movements. I had to move EXACTLY like the Humphrey the kids saw on television each day (there were quite a few performers who played him)
I was not quite tall enough to make him look real, so each time I got into the suit, I had to add padding to the shoulders to give me some height.
We found this out as during my first Meet & Greet, a kid yelled out ‘that’s not Humphrey’ They had noticed how Humphrey looked like he’d been on a diet and shrunk. Hmmmm I also learnt over the years that kids can, and WILL be brutally honest.
I ended up doing Humphrey live shows for a few years. Including Presenting the shows as well.
The thing I absolutely loved about playing Humphrey was that everyone loved and respected him. I know it sounds ridiculous as he’s a bear … a SUIT … A Character. But people treated him as if he was real (including adults)
Humphrey, like most characters didn’t talk, so it was very important when playing him that you conveyed love.
Because everyone loved and respected him, you NEVER got hit, punched, kicked, pinched, pushed, shoved, poked, slapped. And this was the only character I’ve ever played where this didn’t happen.
This kept Humphrey a Jolly old fellow 😉
THE BRUTAL SIDE OF SUIT PERFORMING (Yes, there is one)
TG MAN (Toyota Genuine)
TG Man was a full metal suit that was actually made out of the metal used in the manufacture of Toyota cars. It weighed about 70 kilograms which was more than me at the time. It was, by far, the most difficult suit I’d ever worn.
It took about 20 minutes just to get inside. Each piece of the suit was attached separately by massive hooks and it was incredibly difficult even for the dressers to help you in and out. It was a complicated thing to put on and it was definitely one you had to be comfortable wearing. If you panicked in this costume, there was no quick escape. I had to mentally prepare myself for this one.
TG Man started as a promotional campaign for Toyota Genuine Parts and services. I used to go to huge events like fishing, camping and car shows and do appearances where people could get their pictures taken with him.
I’d play all sorts of tricks like standing as a statue and suddenly leaping out at people standing in front of me or walking past. I soon realised I had to stop this cheekiness when I almost gave an old lady a heart attack!
I once went to a golf show as TG Man and a very drunk golfer decided to hit me over the head with a golf club. Yup, you heard that right. These sort of thing’s happened regulary.
As a suit performer, you cannot take off any part of the costume at ANY time.
I once heard a story about a performer who was knocked out by a man. She was in a male character and this guy thought ‘he’ was flirting with his girlfriend. The poor girl copped a punch to the head, was knocked out cold and had to be taken away on a stretcher, with the head STILL ON!
I’m happy to say, this one wasn’t me but it’s a true story.
No matter the circumstances, you must never take off your head in front of kids.
After I was hit on the head, I heard them all yelling ‘Shit, that must have hurt’ Generally metal on metal then pounding your head generally hurts like hell, you dickhead.
It’s never ceased to amaze me the amount of ADULTS who hit and punch suit performers or encourage their children to do so.
The best thing about this job was doing photo shoots for advertising agencies. We would often have 12 hour days and I was making $200 per hour.
By law, you are only allowed to stay in a suit for half an hour, with half an hour’s rest in between, so this was a great money earner and it would mean I’d often only be in the suit for a total of 3 hours out of a 12 hour day. This sounds easy but try holding a 70 kilogram suit perfectly still for even 10 minutes and you’ll understand.
The gig eventually finished when they changed their Marketing strategy and decided to use the late Steve Irwin to promote Toyota Genuine instead (RIP Steve)
In 1996 a new craze was about to start.
Pokemon began in Japan started as a Nintendo Game Boy system and soon became a world hit with television shows, trading card games, movies, comic books and toys.
To say that it became one of biggest kids crazes in the world, is an understatement.
I didn’t really understand the creepy looking characters but pretty soon I’d have too as I was booked to play a character called Meowth.Meowth !
The Costumes for the live shows were bought over from Japan. They were the sort of suits that were not particulary user friendly but looked like something out of a fairy tale. They were incredible to look at and to touch and had clearly been made by some of the best companies in the world.
The fur was plush and everything down to the teeth looked very real. I spent hours patting the costume. Weird, I know.
Our first appearance was for TV. We were doing a local current affair’s show to talk about this new craze taking over the world. As part of the filming, we went out on the Mission Impossible II boat and sped around Sydney Harbour like superstars. Being around water in a suit can be quite unnerving. If you fall into water with a costume on, you can pretty much start saying your goodbyes. The crew held onto me as tightly as they could and I lapped up the attention (even though you couldn’t see my face) I still felt like a star.
We returned to theatre in the city where we were going to perform our first show. The audience was made up of around 2000 eager media, kids and parents.
As I started to get ready, I noticed that the suits just weren’t made to dance, jump, skip and generally perform shows in. I was sure this was a bad omen. And it was.
During the first show, I was doing a crazy dance routine and I began to feel my head wobble. I tried to slow down and not move as much but before you know it … My head had fallen off and is rolling onto the stage.
My first response was to mouth the words ‘oh shit’ which I didn’t even realise I was mouthing ! It took a split second to realise I was standing there completely naked. Well, it felt like it anyway.
I could see all the adults in fits of laughter but at the same time trying to soothe their kids, who by now were standing in shock with their mouths open like someone had just disembowelled a giraffe in front of them.
The media were taking photos (they weren’t allowed to show any)
Those were the weirdest few seconds of my entire career.
Thankfully the presenter of the show was very witty and quick. She turned to me and said ‘Meowth, when we get home, heads are gonna roll’ with that, she then kicked my head to the back of the stage, I ran off behind the head and hung it in shame.
M&M’s – SOMEONE DOESN’T LIKE CHOCOLATE
Picture this … A beautiful sunny day at the world famous Bondi Beach. It’s summer, which usually means about 20,000 or more people enjoying the soft sand, surf and sun.
Bondi is buzzing and we are getting ready to go out onto the boardwalk dressed as oversized M&M Characters (red and green in case you’re wondering) These costumes are quite different in that they are not made out of fur, but more parachute material which is blown up by an air pump behind you and just sits on your lower back.
It’s quite funny to get into these suits and get blown up with air. The air helps to keep you cool which is great on a boiling hot day.
As we are walking through the crowded streets we notice a group of young guys coming towards us. Suit characters always have chaperones to guide them around and ensure their safety so you don’t have to worry too much. Seeing young men is nothing unusual but generally these are the types that will try to be ‘playful’ with suits so you have to be on guard at all times.
Sadly, our chaperones for the day were quite young and inexperienced and not even capable of telling a two year old to stop poking the M&M let alone save us from a mob.
My gut instinct was telling me we needed to walk in the other direction. I tried to let the chaperone know but as you can’t speak, it’s difficult to convey. Just as I was tugging on her arm frantically, I see six of the young guys running at full pace straight for us. Their faces looked determined and they were running like they were about to do a rugby tackle.
There was absolutely nothing we could do. They bowled us over at full pelt and the next thing you know we are lying on our backs with our legs kicking in the air.
This must have looked hilarious to any bystanders and I’m sure they probably still tell this story to their kids today. M&M’s get beaten up at Bondi and looked like turtles on their backs with their legs flapping in the wind.
What wasn’t so funny was being inside the costume at the time. As we were pushed onto the concrete, the air pumps were lodged into our backs and our heads hit the concrete with a shudder.
The guys ran off into the surf, laughing their heads off and we were left with slight concussion and bruised backs. Clearly these guys just thought it was a bit of fun for the day and let’s face it, M&M’s are pretty easy targets! But it was incredibly stupid and could have caused someone a serious head injury.
We decided to call the police to make a complaint. It was more to scare them into never doing something like that again.
Our Chaperones had watched the guys run off and knew what they looked like. When the Police turned up we had to tell them the entire story. I’m sure they were trying not to laugh and look at us like we were absolutely nuts. Until they saw the bruises on our backs.
Things got pretty serious, pretty fast and within a few minutes there were Police down by the edge of the water with a megaphone shouting ‘To those boys who attacked the M&M’s, get out of the water now’ As we stood and watched the drama unfold, we could see hundreds of people on the beach looking around very confused or laughing.
The Police did not let up and kept making the announcement over and over again. Finally, the guys came out of the water and were ordered up to the Life Savers hut to fill out a report.
There we were … The Police, M&M’s and the Surf Lifesavers all in one spot.
They were not officially charged and they did apologise to the M&M’s and I’m pretty sure the embarrassment was enough to stop them from ever doing it again.
Wearing suits can also be fantastic payback.
I once lived with a flatmate who persisted in coming home late at night, off his chops on alcohol or god knows what else, and would proceed in waking everyone up by vomiting loudly or turning up his awful music at 4am.
This guy was pretty much always off his face. One night he came home and had been in the emergency ward because someone dared him to try and fly off the bar. He did. He didn’t again. He broke his arm in 4 different places.
It’s all fun and games until someone brings home Stuart Little.
On this particular weekend, I had to bring home the costume I was working in. It just happened to be the cute little mouse, Stuart Little. Only Stuart wasn’t so little in the form of a character.
As it happens, we had all been woken up, yet again by this guy and we were not having any of it. At around 7am I pulled on the suit and started walking to his door. I slowly opened it so I didn’t wake him. I walked over to his bed and stood over the top of him. I began poking at his legs and his back but he didn’t stir. Then I decided to give his feet a little tickle.
He looked up and Stuart was directly in front of his face. He screamed like a little girl and I’ve never seen anyone jump up so fast. As he jumped out of bed, he ran to the corner in a quivering mess, still screaming.
I was in the suit almost vomiting from laughing so much.
It was the best revenge and still to this day I can’t stop laughing about it. I wonder if he’s afraid of mice these days ?!?!?!
Over the years, I’ve been beaten up pretty badly but i have also been able to work in Hospitals with very sick children who just needed to smile for a few minutes.
Those smiles from kids were something I will never forget. Although I’ve never had children myself, I can only imagine the immense joy it brings to see any child laughing, smiling and full of happiness.
I’m not sure the exact count but it must have been over 60 characters that I was lucky enough to perform in. Everything from Land Before Time, Mr’s Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rugrats, The Magic Pudding and many more.
TIPS OF THE TRADE – HOW TO SUCCEED AS A SUIT PERFORMER
1 – Performance Skills. You will need to have some sort of background in performing such as acting or dancing (preferably both) Do as much training as you can from an early age. You’ll be lucky to continue past 30 as a suit performer.
2 – You must NOT be claustrophobic. If you are prone to anxiety or stress / heat exhaustion or laziness, this job is not for you.
3 – Suit performers are often quite short between 5foot and 5’6. There are a few suits which require very tall performers but as a general rule, the shorter ones are more common.
4 – Must be Physically fit. You cannot dance / perform in these costumes without a really good level of fitness
5 – Be prepared to work Weekends and Holidays. Kids shows are mostly put on through holiday seasons such as Christmas / Easter / Weekends. If you are looking for Monday to Friday work, this is not it.
6 – Must take the job seriously. Although it isn’t your standard job and is considered ‘fun’, you are still a professional performer and you must give 100% to every single show.
7 – Reliable. When you accept a gig, you need to do it. You cannot keep swapping and changing if you get better offers. Once you accept, the job is yours and unless you are VERY sick, you need to turn up.
8 – Have an ABN – In Australia you will need an ABN to get paid as a contractor.
9 – Must love kids. This one goes without saying. We all have days where the kids are naughty and obnoxious but you’ll need patience with this job.
10 – Work for a few different Entertainment Companies. Unless you are getting booked out for gigs every week, it is acceptable to do work through a few different companies.
11 – Must be likeable, easy to get along with and above all else, PROFESSIONAL.
GOOD LUCK EVERYONE 🙂
Early one Saturday morning I decided I needed some peace, and calm. I’d been going to Buddhist Meditation classes for about a year, but at that point I didn’t consider myself Buddhist, but rather someone who needed to learn the artful skills of shutting up when required, and finding a peaceful inner sanctuary.
I absolutely loved going to classes but I’d always feel better and decide not to go again for a month or so. Then I’d feel like crap and surprise, I’d toddle off to class not realizing that you really should keep up with meditation even when everything appears to be going great. Hey, I was a beginner (and probably still am)
Anyway, on this particular morning I was really, really looking forward to sitting in a crossed leg position and listening to wonderful Buddhist teachings.
As I walked up the stairs I noticed it was eerily quiet at Bondi Pavilion and then I saw the sign ‘Our apologies but there will be no class today’. To say that I was devastated was an understatement (a Buddhist teaching needed right there) I huffed my way down the stairs, put my bikini on and went for a swim in beautiful Bondi.
It was a very hot day and after I got out a just threw a tiny little see through top back on and a very mini skirt. I rushed back to the Pavilion to use the bathrooms and I noticed a stall had been set up. It looked quite hippy but interesting. The stall was FULL of Buddhist jewellery, cards, CD’s and a who mish mash of interesting Tibetan things. As I chatted to the ladies at the stall I did notice they were looking at me like I was a little out of place in my beach gear. And boy, they weren’t wrong. As they ushered me inside, I was met with what I can only describe as the most beautiful and peaceful scene I had ever scene.
There were about 6 monks in their beautiful Orange and dark red robes. Some were walking around and others looked like they were crouched over a giant table working at something. This was what I now know as a sand Mandala. These monks were absolutely amazing artists and I had never seen artwork so intricate and colorful (more on Mandalas shortly).
There were hand made paintings and wall hangings and rugs all placed out immaculately around the room. There was a shrine with a large photo of The Dalai Lama placed right in the centre of the room for everyone to see.
Even though I had been going to a few meditation classes, I had never met any real life Tibetan Monks, let alone in a place like Bondi !
As I walked around the room, there was this incredible energy I had never felt before. I think it was just PEACE and LOVE (sorry to sound corny) It was also very foreign to me. I had no idea what any of this meant or why were these monks even here ? It was like being transported to Tibet and becoming immersed into their world. At first when I watched the monks, they looked rather solemn. I thought everyone who was Buddhist should be doing happy dances around the room and smiling from ear to ear, even in their sleep. Geez, this isn’t very Buddhist like I thought. How I love this naivety.
What I was forgetting at this point, was that I was in a room full of Monks .. The Gyuto Monks of Tibet in fact… Dalai Lama Monks … CELIBATE monks … monks who have never been out of Tibet and India … Monks who do not have direct contact with women …. Monks who are given the utmost respect and love around the world … Monks who had been in Monasteries since they were 5 years old .. Monks … Monks and more Monks … And here i was parading about in the shortest skirt and pretty much flashing my boobs at anyone close enough to see through my top. Hmmmm not really my finest of moments. And probably the reason why i was being looked at as being an uneducated bimbo parading around like I was on a catwalk.
I watched these monks make intricate sand mandalas that took hours and hours of tedious work. Not a skill us Westerners would have the patience for.
It was actually quite terrifying for me being around them. I had no idea what you were supposed to say to a monk and it was even more difficult to have a chit-chat with a monk who didn’t really speak English.
I figured it would go something like this …
Me – ‘So how was your night last night ?’ ‘Get up to anything exciting’ ?
Monks – ‘We went out for dinner and then prayed’
Me – ‘Wow cool.. So how long did you pray for ?’
Monks – HUGE LAUGHTER
But instead, it went something like this..
Me – (terrified fear grin on my face) ‘hello’
Monk – ‘Tashi Dalek’ (Hello)
Me – ‘How do you say that again ?’
It wasn’t so much the conversation that changed my life that day, it was an understanding between fellow human beings that had absolutely nothing in common but a desire for happiness and love.
One of the Monks turned to me and smiled. It wasn’t just an ordinary smile. It was a HUGE, happy, loving, calm, friendly, warm and perfect smile and one that would instantly melt my heart.
I instantly fell in love with this Monk (It happens A LOT) I couldn’t quite believe that there were men so pure and loving. Now there’s a crazy idea.
I stayed around for the entire day. Each minute getting more bizarre than the one before. I soon discovered that this order of monks had been coming to Australia for many years to do Buddhist programs for the public and also to educate Westerners on the plight of Tibet.
Maureen (who had been the first lady I had met on the stall) had been bringing these monks over and managing their every move. From day to day living, housing, eating (this was a lot considering the amount of grown men involved), hospital visits, travelling and everything else involved in ensuring Tibetan Monks are well catered for. This was an incredible feat considering these monks didn’t even have a passport before they met Maureen and most had never set foot in the Western world.
Maureen’s story about her life with the Gyuto Monks can be read in her book . Its an amazing read and she’s had a wonderful life. An inspirational woman.
Maureen had set up Gyuto House Australia close to Byron Bay on the far north coast of NSW and it was here the Monks got to rest and relax after many months of touring on a coach around Australia and New Zealand.
Back at Bondi …
My excitement took hold of me and during a quiet period, I went away to do some shopping. All I wanted to do was buy the Monks gifts. I felt it was the least I could do considering how much happiness they gave to others. I searched every single store I could find. I really had no idea what Monks needed or wanted but I was determined. I ended up buying each of them a beautiful hand crafted notebook to write down their thoughts … Ok, ok I can hear you all laughing now !
When I gave them all the books one by one, they all took my hands in a prayer formation and thanked me in their wonderfully cute, broken English. Being the novice I was at the time, I’d put my foot in it again when buying gifts for monks not realizing part of being a Monk was not owning anything or collecting lots of belongings. Although they must of found it funny, I still hope they used the notebooks.
Next up came the Chanting. Well quite frankly, this chanting made me want to hang myself. It was sooooooo depressing. The type of chanting the Gyuto monks perform is very specific to them. Apparently it takes them many years to master. It’s a very deep chant which I found almost satanic at first. It hurt my ears so much that I felt like I had to leave. I couldn’t quite believe how many people were sat around the room looking relaxed and at peace. Get me outa there !
I have absolutely learnt to love this chanting and now I am one of the many who can sit for hours in the same position getting into some sort of meditative state (geez, I really sound like a fruity spirit fingers woman now)
There was so much to learn. And as I’d ‘fallen in love with a celibate, Tibetan monk, I thought it best to keep coming back again and again and again.
I have always loved culture and this learning curve gave me some of the greatest pleasure I have ever experienced. My life changed forever the day I met all of them.
And this is how ……
To be continued …
As someone who had spent many years of my life trying to hit the big time in the acting world, I never thought I’d be happy to do a Reality TV series. To me, reality shows were like career suicide. Although in all honesty, I hadn’t exactly had a serious acting career to stress about .. Unless you call running around in an orange furry dress singing ‘I love you, you love me’ to an 8 foot purple dinosaur (Barney), a serious career move !
I’d never really had a bucket list but one day when I was trying to work out more of a ‘100 & 1 weird things to do’ list. A crappy Reality TV show was the only natural progression. Now let me set the record straight. I was in NO WAY seriously thinking I’d soon be married to the world’s most perfect man and nor was I looking to ‘revive’ my amazing Oscar worthy acting career. I just wanted to be utterly ridiculous .. Because, well, that’s the theme of my life ! And I really wanted it to be bad, tacky, awful, embarrassing TV, not just your run of the mill mind numbing television.
I had spent many years of my life trying to carve out a career as a professional actor which had been my dream for many years. I was so obsessed that when I was younger I remember thinking, if I couldn’t be an actor, then I wasn’t going to work for the rest of my life. Little did I realise that as an actor, you actually don’t work for the rest of your life.
After wasting years desperate for my phone to ring and hear my agents voice on the other end of the phone, not taking full time jobs (or any other jobs really) in case I got a casting or audition, eating beaked beans and 2 minute noodles every single day, I thought it was perhaps best that I tried something else so I’d be able to eat over the course of my life, I decided to become an agent. I stupidly believed I’d at least be around creative types and we could discuss Stanislavsky and Pinter all day. Boy was I wrong ! I had an absolute blast most days doing the job and it was certainly an interesting study on human nature.
Each day I had to interview up to 30 prospective talent to go on our books, that would then be submitted for work in film and television. My first agency was mostly for extras and bit parts which was a great introduction to the other side of the Entertainment industry. These were very much people looking at breaking in to the industry, beginners with stars in their eyes and no money in their pockets, willing to do ANYTHING for a shot at standing in the background on a beach shot in Home & Away. Surely this would get them noticed for a lead role in a feature film ? Or so they thought. One of the common things I heard extras say was ‘I’ll just doing silly things in the background so I get noticed’. The only problem with that is, an extra’s job is to blend into the background and NOT stand out !
These were the very people I was now going to be auditioning against. I was about to become one of THOSE people that I used to raise eyebrows at every day, one of those very people that used to drive me crazy with the notion that acting is the easiest job in the world (If you’ve never tried it, please give it a go ! You’ll soon find out just how difficult it is)
During that time as an agent, I was horrified on a daily basis when ‘talent’ would come in professing to be professional actors. Usually the first thing I would ask is ‘so what have you done ?’ Inevitably the answer would be ‘nothing, I just know I’m really talented’ Hmmmmm well I think I happen to be a seriously talented Irish jig dancer and that aint gonna happen ! The other thing I would mention is perhaps getting some training. The training that actually gives you some sort of inkling of what to do. This was usually met with utter disgust ‘but why do I need training ?, I already know I’m great’. Granted, there are some incredibly talented actor’s out there who have never had training and are naturally gifted or a genius. Some have even won Oscar’s. But let’s face it, they are very few and far between.
Some people would take the advice and head off ready the audition for an acting school, but many (and I mean many) would proceed in ignoring my advice and proceeding in showing me their Actors shots. This was always a moment of dread, knowing what I was about to see. My eyes are burning just thinking about it.
There were usually three options to expect…
1 ) Those vile glamour shots that try to make everyone look like a 1950’s housewife and the lady wants to give her husband the thrill of his life when he opens her portfolio, only to see her sprawled out over a weird looking, floral lounge in a pink, frilly night dress or underwear, with a tonne of make-up where they now look absolutely NOTHING like themselves. I’ve even seen some charming men’s glamour shots where they’ve stuck a toupe on the poor guy’s head and the colour doesn’t match the rest of his hair.
Now I promise I’m not trying to be mean here but these people are coming to see an AGENT, not a second or third rate home porn studio looking to hire ‘real’ looking people for an 80’s style porno.
2 ) The family shots – The shot with dog, the shot with sister, the shot with entire family where you can just make out the person you’re interviewing, the kids shot, the standing in front of my house shot.
3 ) The money shot – Full frontal, hairy (usually) Vagina shot ! Yes, it’s true. I could never quite believe it but this happened to me on numerous occasions. The photos were usually packaged quite well in a professional, black leather portfolio case. The first shots were usually the G-String. By this point I usually knew what was coming but these ladies were so proud of their shots ‘look at the next one, the next ones even better’ I became quite good at picking out who had potential to be voted ‘best new talent in a supporting role’.
And ummmmm that’s pretty much it ! A few years later I became a Kids agent. Much safer.
Now imagine years of looking at hairy vaginas and people without a modicum of talent calling me on a daily basis, demanding I send them to castings and auditions and make them the next big thing, the thought of vying for a spot on Reality TV against many of those ‘types’ would not exactly be something I’d run towards.
But here I was, standing in front of the show’s Producers telling them how much I wanted to meet the man of my dreams on Reality TV, that I was ready for marriage, babies and ‘settling down’. If any of my ex partners had watched the show, I’m pretty sure they would have been vomiting out the porridge they ate for breakfast when they heard me utter those words. I’m not exactly known for being the ‘settled’ type.
I was the oldest one there (no surprises considering I was 40) The room was full of stunning, perky and adorable women either wanting their chance at fame or love or possibly even both.
We were asked to talk about what we were looking for in a man. My usual response to anyone who asked me this was ….Intelligent, funny, confident, caring, conservationist, loves nature, wants to travel the world, adventurous, stable, warm, interesting, not boring or pretentious, no drugs, no football fanatics, someone who could ride horse, wants a French Bulldog … Ect ect
You get the picture. I was asking quite alot (Which may explain why I was still single at 40) I do remember one of the Producers saying ‘we will see what we can do’ Now that doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence.
Luck should have it and a few days later I was told I’d be one of ten women vying for one man’s affection. Welcome to Please Marry My Boy. If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is they choose three (very) lucky men who need a wife (now) and have asked for the help of their mothers to choose that woman. I told you I wanted the world’s tackiest show !!!!
Please Marry My Boy Media shot
The first time we would meet our future husbands (insert sarcasm here) was going to be on a date … In front of the cameras … with the son … and MOTHER !!!!!!!!! Now there’s something to look forward to.
As we waited in anticipation to meet our future husband (haha) we were spoilt rotten in a beautiful, big mansion in the very exclusive Eastern suburbs of Sydney. I have to admit, we did all feel like super stars on the day. I met with the other girls who were mostly wonderful. Some, as you can imagine were the vacuous, fake boobs, ‘I don’t need to work on my personality because I’m hot’ types. But seriously, there were mostly smart, beautiful and interesting ladies who were just up for a bit of fun more than anything.
The first thing I felt was OLD. But hey, I could break a record for being the oldest woman on a Reality dating show in Australia (I’ll check that out) The second thing I noticed was just how many issues all of these wonderful women had encountered finding decent men in Sydney (also another chapter) I secretly had my fingers and toes crossed that at least of few of them would find happiness, even if it was the fame type of happiness.
The next thing I noticed was a vagina (Sorry if you’re eating) Yup, you guessed it, my worst moments had come back to haunt me again. One of the girls was very fond of talking about how pretty she was and ‘look at how beautiful my vagina is’ … I did almost walk out there and then but I had to remind myself that this was going to be a social experiment and what was I expecting ? , The Royal Shakespeare Company. So, I gritted my teeth and pretended I was interested in this ladies assets that I was going to see much more of throughout the process.
As expected with any television shoots, there was LOT’S of waiting around. This wasn’t such a bad thing considering we were stuck in the HUGE mansion. Most of the other ladies were primping and preening but to be honest, I was more worried about my snake (yes, I have a pet snake) having to wait for so long. To my surprise, most of the ladies were really interested in meeting him and some even wanted to give him a snuggle ! Who wouldn’t want to snuggle a snake ? Don’t answer that !
As we waited our turn to go in, we filmed various scenes of everyone going a bit crazy and chatting with the bar guy (who ended up being our man’s dad spying on us and eventually giving sneaky info on our weird dance moves) It really was loads of fun and a good sign of things to come.
Each of the ladies had their first date and everyone came out saying ‘he’s a nice person’ and we ALL know what that means.
I was the last lady to go in.
As I waltzed in through the doors, I was very conscious of my reaction so as not to appear rude in any way if I wasn’t attracted to him (I wasn’t, but he seemed lovely) They were a traditional Italian family and I could tell our man and his mothr were very, very close. I’ve always loved large, loud and a ‘little bit crazy’ family life and this was going to be on massive, Italian mob.
They were both squeezed so tightly onto a couch and it looked incfedibly uncomfortable.
I sat myself down in front of them both to accept my grilling .. Why are you still single ? Do you want children ? How many ? Do you like Italian food ? How much money do you earn ? Is that a snake in your bag ?? Wait .. What ? Ohhhhhhh, inside this bag ? Yes, it’s a snake (Something I’d forgotten to mention) As with all reality TV shows, it’s always good viewing if you’re a little bit weird/odd (something I had no trouble with) So, I whipped my snake out on the first date with a mother and son !
What I didn’t realise was the poor little old lady was TERRIFIED of snakes ! ‘Please don’t get it out, if you get it out, I’ll be running’ ! Now she’s ruined my staring moment and I can’t whip my snake out .. Geez, now I’ll have to rely on my personality.
When I finished my date the girls all asked how it went. My response was ‘he’s a nice person’.
This was a VERY traditional, Italian family and I am the LEAST traditional person I know. And they wanted him to have babies. And MANY of them. Babies ?? HELLLLPPPPPPPP ! Gulp. For this reason, I knew I wouldn’t be chosen (again, stupid mother ruined my staring snake moment and that was all I was going to get) There were some lovely young (Fertile) women in the group who would have made a great match with him but i certainly didn’t think it was me.
It took another few good hours for the men and mothers to decide which of the ladies were most suitable for their sons. It was a tense few hours with all of the ladies trying to guess who would be moving in to the house in a few weeks time.
Usually in a room full of women vying for a man’s attention, they’d be the typical bitchy looks to one another, possibly some hair pulling or 5 or so women in the corner crying that there were so many other beautiful women to compete with. Perhaps that’s what happens on The Bachelor ? But for the most part, our ladies were incredibly civilized and sweet. I’m not sure if it was because we all saw our man as ‘a nice person’ or just because we were too exhausted to care ? But it was a great atmosphere and we had a brilliant crew who were also full of laughs and advice.
As the cameras came in close for the big reveal of which three women would be chosen to move into the MOTHERS HOUSE … I was having a great time working out which of these girls would be pregnant within 2 months of the show finishing.
Two of the girls were chosen and there were no surprises. Beautiful and very sweet ! Kristy also happened to become a very dear lifelong friend. As they interviewed us to ask who they thought would be the last lady to go in to the house (Apron wearing Jail), Vagina girl piped up and said ‘It has to be me, I know I’m the last one’. In typical reality TV style, she gave a good fight. You can almost predict that when someone says ‘it’s me’, that it isn’t. And it wasn’t !!!!
The announcement finally came .. The third girl will understand my son as she’s a similar age … I start looking around .. she’s 25, she’s 30’s .. Ummm OH CRAP, it’s me !!!
I’m not really sure who was more surprised, me or everyone else standing in that room. Most of all Vagina girl. She was NOT a happy camper. Sometimes having cute ‘bits’ doesn’t help you one iota.
Next thing we were whisked away to get a briefing about what happens next. It was all top secret squirrel business and we were not allowed to tell anyone what mischief we were about to get up to. We were advised to disable our Facebook / Twitter accounts and not say a word, not even to our closest friends and family .During this meeting we also spoke about dealing with media and crazy ass public who may want to kill you (kidding.. I don’t think anyone did ?? Please speak up now) I lied to everyone and told them I was going to be busy working.
And so it began. I moved into a house with a man I’d set eyes on once, while his mother glared at me with ‘if you don’t have babies soon, you will be the saddest person alive eyes’ . I’m not one to really suffer from nerves but it was so strange moving into someone else’s home. Truth be told, I was crapping myself just a little.
I was very pleased to be moving in with the two other girls he’d chosen. One was a lovely country girl, full of life and a beautiful heart (He would have been crazy not to pick her) and the other, a city girl who was independent and the one he connected with almost straight away.
Now I did think about not going into the house as I didn’t feel we were compatible and nor was I attracted to him. But most of the other girls hadn’t said that he was their dream guy so I thought it would be nice to get to know him and see if my feelings changed.
As we moved into the house, it became clear very quickly that we were going to be in very close proximity to one another (create some drama). We had two bunk beds and one small wardrobe for three grown women. One of them (I won’t mention which one) took over EVERYTHING pretty quickly so I had one drawer to put everything in and a small area in the closet, which quite frankly, I would have liked to have crawled in at this point. But I really didn’t mind. I’m not exactly a high maintenance kind of girl (I’m pretty humble after having chimp poo thrown in my mouth)
The first few days were really fun but i already knew there was going to be zero love connection between him and I (derrrrrrr) But I decided to have as much fun as possible, get to know the other girls and experience everything this show had to offer.
On the first family dinner I was already beginning to understand that I was the ‘third’ girl, particularly when he dropped an entire plate of food in my lap (thank god they didn’t air that bit) You kinda know how this is all going to pan out. And it did.
Throughout the show, we were given ‘activities’ to woo the man and make him our’s so we could start making babies ASAP (in 3 weeks) One of mine was to make up a dance routine Woooo Hoooo just my luck 🙂 I created the best damn dance I’ve ever seen (for 9 year olds) Sadly for the mother, I HAD to win this round, therefore making me the lucky lady to go on a date with said ‘perfect man’ . I wasn’t impressed when our date turned out to be a theme park ! I am terrified of rides and I haven’t been on one since I made a ride operator stop the pirate ship I was on when I was about 14. I got away with the Merry Go Round first. It was a delightful ride and especially when he tried to do a smooth move and cross horses, only to crush his nuts as he landed on the next horse (I must not laugh, I must not laugh) Next up came the Roller Coaster. I absolutely HAD to go on it .. It was national TV after all. No backing out now. The next two minutes were some of the worst of my life (ok, so not quite the worst) I proceeded in throwing out the F$%*& bomb the entire ride. This was going to be great viewing.
The date ended with us having a sad conversation about us being old and single and not having any children (gasp) It was actually a fun night and the only time I really got to know anything about him. It looked like we were forming a friendship and that was wonderful.
It wasn’t exactly taxing or strenuous filming the show but it did get a bit boring during the times when there were no set activities. It could also get very tense living with an Italian family (many of them) and three grown women in the same room. All part of the Producer’s plan to create an environment where people could bitch and complain and hopefully have bitch fights in the spa filled with mud !
I found myself crying at times, angry at times and VERY embarrassed at myself. One of those moments was when I was on the toilet and I was doing a number 2 (sorry again) It was a welcome relief as I’d been building it up for a few days from the stress of being in a new environment. I suddenly heard the sound guy talking in my earpiece and realized he could hear EVERYTHING….. Every single thing …. I was mortified but then I realized this is something they must listen to every day. Still, it’s more embarrassing when it’s your own.
After a few weeks of being stuffed like a chicken ‘you must eat’ every 2 hours, I was beginning to dream out the world outside. It was clear that I was only going to make friendships in the house (which was awesome) but I really did feel like I didn’t belong. I started to chat with the Producers to let them know I wanted out and ASAP ! They talked me into staying a little longer but only for a few days.
Each few days we held a Ceremony to rate the girls in order of favourite to ‘you suck and you will never be my daughter in law’ You can guess which pile I landed in EVERY . SINGLE . TIME . On this particular day, I was over being so degraded .. I know, I know – That’s what it’s all about right ???
We all knew the producers had something planned and I was secretly excited and hoped it was an ‘elimination’. My happiness was quickly dissolved when we were met with ‘Intruder Vagina girl’ I loved the word intruder … She was a welcome relief by this point because I knew she was my out !
I pretended I was surprised by the arrival of another lady and went upstairs to talk to our wonderful producers. Together we hatched a plan for me to get out. Sounds sooooooo dramatic !
Mother and son were told to sit in the kitchen (where else would a woman want to be right ?) I entered carrying my photo that had been placed in last position every ceremony. I have it to the lovely mamma and told her I was giving it back and replacing it with Vagina girls photo (ok, so I didn’t say that)
There were tears … Probably relief ! And I made a swift exit but a sad goodbye to the new friends in my life.
Episode 3 Season 2 Please Marry my Boy * Warning – I swear a lot in this !
A few weeks later I was asked to do a few media interviews about my shock exit. I decided to spice things up a little and tell them exactly what I thought .. The guy was dull, boring and acted like a 12-year-old. oops ! I should apologise now because there was a little poetic license going on here and even though he was noy my type at all, he was a nice enough guy most of the time. Little did I know he was watching the live appearance at home and was giving our PR lady a mouthful. He’s never spoken to me since (there’s a surprise) and I believe he now has two gorgeous kids with a young woman who was a fan of the show and knew that he was the man for her ! Lucky him. He really does deserve happiness and joy and LOT’S of babies for mamma !
The best part of media interviews above !
The show was not a big success and we didn’t even get a poster on the back of the bus ! I’ll never be famous but it was never my aim to become a reality tv star. My motive was always to experience something totally unique and unusual.But it was a wonderful experience I shall never forget.
One of the downsides of doing a show like this are the mean comments written about you. I was pretty lucky and mostly got the ‘she’s old’ card or the why did she even go into the house when all she wants to do is travel the world ? Hmmmm fair call ! I even got the ‘you’re too old to have babies’ PHEW !!!! Lucky me 😉
If you’ve ever thought about it, do it ! You probably wont find Mr right but you will find awesome friends and a new-found love of making as much noise as possible when you pee, to annoy the sound guy.
Get out there everyone. Survivor ? The Amazing Race ? Master Chef ?
You’ve got this !
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing – Helen Keller