Challenge: Indoorsy white man goes outside for the first time

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Words || Harry Fraser

When I was asked to take on the role as Regulars editor, I knew I would face adversity. I pictured late nights judging other people’s writing and compromising my uni work for an extra-curricular.

But I was not prepared for the curveballs the Grapeshot team were going to throw my way. 

If you’re new here, welcome to the challenge, the part where I do something that challenges me for your edification. This issue I was tasked with doing something Australian and also manly, both of which are problematic in nature but who cares, it’s 2020 I can be a man if I want. 

This issue, I was sent into the bush to complete various tasks. Sounded simple enough and I’ll admit I was initially unfazed by my assignment. My confidence was a little shaken when I told my mum what I was doing, and she laughed. She then asked me where the bush was and my response was “I’m pretty sure there is some bush in Castle Hill Mum”. 

So, I went to find some of this bush everyone speaks of and decided for my own benefit as well as the reader’s to not go full bush. I only have a couple of hours to go to a bush if I want to get this all done and come back in one piece.

I had heard that Fagan Park in Galston was quite nice, so I chose this location and took a friend with me in case of an emergency. I wanted to avoid a James Franco 127 Hours situation, if it came to that. I don’t even like some massages for being too rough so I’m definitely not sawing off my own arm with a pen knife. 

We got there at about ten in the morning and I decided to take the first risk of the day: not paying for parking. This is me suppressing my emotions in an act of true Australian masculinity. As I walked away from my car, I pushed away feelings of fear and anxiety for parking without paying. Dreadful stuff. What if the ranger saw my ticketless vehicle? What if I got a fine? 

Little did I know it, I started to understand what it is to be an Aussie man. To constantly live in a state of avoiding responsibility. My taste of a Ned Kelly-esque existence. 

We managed to use maps in the park to find our way out of the manicured gardens and into the bush. I felt uneasy as the gravel paths turned to dirt ones, but this is what I signed up for. Getting out of my comfort zone. 

I was an overcast day and the bush, now becoming familiar to me as I spent several minutes there, took on an eerie atmosphere. We found ourselves walking parallel to a creek and I was keen to discover the aquatic aspects of the bush.

Getting down to the banks of the creek, I recalled my editor’s quest for me to catch a fish. I saw no reason not to at least try. For some time I stared at the brackish water before me, willing a fish to come and find me. The Laws of Attraction were failing me, although when had they ever succeeded. 

I swung my gaze up into the foliage and thought of the wise words of the drag queen Tammie Brown, “I don’t see you walking children in nature”. The giggles of children drifted down to meet me and I thought that maybe this was the point of the challenge. I was one with nature. I was a child being walked by nature.

Then my friend and safety companion pointed out the group of primary age school children skipping nearby. This was worse than any predator in the bush, for these creatures had one thing a Funnel Web Spider does not, entitlement. I’ll admit I wasn’t in my most fierce attire, I needed to dress like an Australian man after all, so we quickly made our exit to an even more secluded part of the bush. 

The bush around the path became denser and I started to feel slight tickles across my skin. The voice of the ideal Australian man told me to ignore all my feelings and I did my best. I’m not sure if this approach to mental health includes physical health so I looked at my ankles only to find them being viciously attacked.

Swiping vigorously, I attempted to fight them off (inadvertently achieving one of my tasks, to get into a fight). It was too late. 

They left their mark on me. 

A streak of blood stained my shin. 

I cannot fully express the scene. We tried desperately to act as if nothing was wrong in true Aussie fashion, but neither myself nor my friend could look at the bush the same way after we were violated by its beasts. 

Trying to hide my fear, we rushed back to the open fields filled with boomers walking their something-oodles. My friend told me that I made a lot of disapproving noises, but inside I was screaming. True to form I did my best to suppress such noises, but even Aussie blokes get to grunt sometimes. At least that’s what I tell myself. 

Emerging from the wildest parts of the park, my ankle and elbow had been bitten by mosquitoes. A trophy of my time in the bush. A trophy I would be forced to wear for some time. 

Defeated, we made our way out of the bush entirely. Passing a brownish pond, something caught my eye.

Swiftly, I leapt to the edge of the pond, fingers outstretched. At last, an aquatic creature I could rip from its natural habitat, like a true Aussie. But my eyes doth deceive me. What I thought to be a fish was in reality no more than a leaf. 

Cruelly denied my goal, I finally said goodbye to the bush and exited its sweet and woody embrace. 

Back in the safety of my car, I considered what I had just done. A challenge. It was hard to combine the emotional desert that is the mental landscape of a traditional Australian man with the actual Australian landscape. 

I suppose that my own mindset embodies that of a more progressive model of Australian masculinity and so to condemn myself, even for an hour or so, to stereotypical colonial manhood was in all honesty a real challenge.

Of course, I failed abysmally. My friend and I spoke openly to each other, unable to follow the stoic and silent example. We communicated our desire to leave the bush after being bitten by mosquitoes. I could not help but run to an old-fashioned water pump and live out my colonial washerwoman fantasy. 

I found that my real challenge was understanding why people thought this was an example to follow. Is the bush a sphere reserved only for hegemonic masculinity? Can I, as a man who does not subscribe to toxic notions of manhood, still feel comfortable in the bush? 

These are good questions, but I am not a scientist, so I cannot answer them. All I know now is that leaves are liars, especially if they look like fish. 

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