Working for the Devil

In the Australian outback of Far North Queensland, I sat cross legged in the scrubby grass on a patch of coarse carpet. The ground was alive, thick with ants building their towers of dirt. The air was filled with bugs buzzing, and a myriad of birds calling out their cryptic songs. Wallabies hopped across the landscape before me. The sky was bright blue and spotted with neat piles of clouds drifting along aimlessly, indolently, in the midday heat. And skirting the horizon, a wretched forest of twisted trees clawed up through the ground.

I sat in a clearing in awe of the sheer density of life that existed in the bush. I’d imagined the outback as vast expanses of orange-red sand.  I was wrong.  Life is abundant.

Even the cows, obvious artificial additions to the fray, assumed a placid role. They stood and stared blankly and chewed and swatted flies with their tails. A full autobiography in a single sentence.

Then, from across the clearing, came the clanging, growling din of a diesel generator. Bill Krieg had succeeded in his mechanical effort.

Bill had towed in an obtuse, spavined caravan behind his flatbed truck. He also hauled, into the middle of fucking nowhere, a refrigerator and washing machine: two white bricks that stood in ugly contrast to the surrounding nature. His diesel generator powered these conspicuous luxuries. A putrid, yellow, thousand liter tank held fuel for weeks of continual use.

Bill brought a quad bike and trailer. He trucked in his enormous blue tractor: a steel monstrosity that portended doom with its very presence. These metal artifacts were strewn haphazardly across the grounds.

Bill was an intruder. He was there for murder. He came to rip wild sandalwood trees out of the ground, and convert their chopped limbs to personal profit. And I was there assisting him.

***

I applied for a farmhand job under Bill with the motivation to work hard and earn cash. What I found was a poisonous human being that no amount of grit, or stoicism, or hard drugs, could make tolerable. Bill is a machine man, with a machine heart, and a machine mind. His spirit animal is a rusted tractor axle.

He lives alone in a big house on the edge of a vast, gorgeous landscape in the Tablelands of Queensland. A heroic vista for a sinister villain. When delayed 30 minutes finding his unmarked driveway in deep rural country, Bill berated me for not listening to his instructions. The first comment I made to this man was an apology.

Then he took me to his house. A sweet black and blonde border collie trotted out to greet us; tail tucked, head down, cowering submissively for no apparent reason.

Bill was occupied with fixing some technical error involving his email. He was on the phone angrily insisting that the poor soul on the other end should simply make his email work again. So convinced he was that every second of delay was a personal attack.

The futile tantrum revealed his abusive temperament. And it revealed his stubborn, archaic mindset. Why the hell do you have an email provider? Why the hell don’t you open a Gmail account and import your contacts? Backward, abusive, and oblivious to his own effect: this was my first impression of Bill. But I know everyone has a horrible boss story, so I sat in silence, petted the dog, listened impassively to his insults, and counted seconds.

For four days he had me doing odd farm chores around his house. It wasn’t bad work. It wasn’t debasing work. But I was being paid $150 a day, for 11 hours of work…minimum wage was $21.69 at that time. The worst of him, though, was his demented standards.

Perfect mental synchronicity was apparently his par for the course. Anything that didn’t exactly match his expectations was rubbish. Anytime I finished a task without immediately divining the next was met with, ‘FUCK ME DEAD, Charlie! ANTICIPATE! You’ve got to anticipate.’

So only if I was working like a perfect little machine, all day, every day, was I able to avoid his defamations and collect 63% minimum wage.

‘You’re not worth $150 to me yet!’ he’d say. ‘I could tell any kid from town to weld this, and build that, and he’d know exactly how to do it. You can’t! And don’t talk to me about hourly rate!’

He’d complain later how lazy Australians (read: kids from town) are. His hypocrisy was that he wanted the skills of a local country bumpkin, with the work ethic of a traveling backpacker, and for the price of an illegal immigrant. But ok… Fuck it. Work fucking hard. Get fucking paid. Harden the fuck up right?

On day five, we packed up his massive flat bed truck, with an equally long trailer attached to it. Fully loaded, and on our way. 750 kilometers of road-trip with big old racist Bill!

Into the wild outback we drove. We stopped only for watery coffee and thin sausage sandwiches. Only the best from bigot Bill. It was no wonder I was alone out there with him; just a backpacker who didn’t know any better.

Long silences eventually outweigh even the greatest personal differences, so Bill asked about my travels. I tossed out a brief mention of South East Asia. Bill took up the opportunity to expose more of his deranged, small-minded perspective. Unable to cope with a moral code outside his own Christian one, the lifestyles of ‘those Asians are vile and everything that’s wrong with the world today.’ Ok Bill. Thank you for your insight. Silence mercifully consumed us again.

If it wasn’t me or women or Asians, aboriginals would be the focus of his derision. Bill was a man incapable of respecting anything, or anyone, outside his little world. He failed to understand the nuance of people, preferring to lump groups together as his trivial experience saw fit.

He is the quintessential racist bigot. The worst kind that lives in a beautiful house on a hill, and sits smugly in his caustic sense of superiority.

Bill seemed incapable of human empathy. He had no awareness of, and no concern over, the effects his words and actions had on other people. Nature, then, didn’t stand a chance. All forms of life are mere objects to him, available for his own rapacious consumption. That manner disgusts me.

I would be stained by my complicit actions, but fortunately Bill and I had it out before I even had the chance to take part in his odious harvest.

We spent seven hours setting up camp under the blazing austral sun in the middle of a sand pit covered in cow shit. I set up his discordant amenities; wrestling washing machine and fridge off the flat bed and dragging them through the sand. And I was left alone to prop up an antique tent for my own accommodation.

With its broken zipper it became a sweltering mosquito cave at night. All the while I was berated for every minor delay, even when most were caused by his own ambiguous phrasing.

“Get the thing from the black box Charlie!” *the one so caked in mud that no square centimeter of black showed. He could have said any damn color in the rainbow and been equally clear. All this I swallowed with an interminable stoicism. I hardened myself to his meanness.

And I was ready to work hard, all day, every day. I was willing to be stranded alone with this asshole in the middle of nowhere to do it. I accepted isolation from social ties; new friends I could make, old friends, and family too.

But then, after that 7 hours, I asked for some food and a lunch hour and was met with… “We don’t take lunch while there’s work to do Charlie.” That was it.

Every torment came bubbling to the surface and spewed out. A flood of white hot anger came gushing. I lashed out against his severe manner. I pointed out all his mistakes that cost more time, and more money, than all of mine combined. I drilled into him that I was not there to ‘anticipate’ his every whim; that he was insane to expect such from a backpacker.

I condemned his abusive treatment of everyone around him. I reflected every bit of hate he’d so blithely dispensed. And I watched him absorb it all, boiling his blood, pushing him to the edge. He lunged at me as if to fight, and I stared him in his angry, grey eyes, daring him to strike me.

The Earth was scorched.

I walked off to find peace far, far away near my tent where the sputter of his foul generator was muffled. And there I mined humor out of the absurd situation I found myself. In the deep Outback. The middle of nowhere. In the beautiful bosom of mother nature. Yet paired with this cruel, uncaring, ignorant dickhead.

I returned for dinner: a slab of gristly red meat pinched unceremoniously between two buttered slices of white bread. After eating in silence he retreated to his hovel and turned out the light.

And as soon as he did the most brilliant star streaked sky appeared. More stars than I have ever seen in my life twinkled silently above. Swathes of blue dust swirled around bright clusters of unfamiliar constellations. It was a magnificence that erased all care and concern, that pulled the mind to sharp attention.

I dragged my cot to the middle of the clearing and gazed up in astonishment, willing myself to remember every refulgent speck. I let the mosquitoes devour my flesh for hours because I knew that that night would be my only under those stars. When I’d had my fill, I fell into a sweaty sleep inside that terrible canvas cell.

I awoke at dawn, as accustomed. Bill was still sour, but he drove me to the shit-stain town of Normanton and left me at the ATM where he paid me my due. I was relieved to the point of joy, and after watching his rusty truck rumble out of sight I humped my pack and walked out of town. Straight into the long, hot, barren stretch of highway.  Straight into the outback.

Sweat was streaming from me, and cars were scarce. The sun was so hot it created a surreal mentality of detachment. It was as if I were playing the role of this doomed, dehydrated walker.

The smell of rotten, sun-dried Roo carcasses stung my nostrils every hundred meters. My water bottles clanged emptily within an hour. I might have been worried was I not consumed by the strange concoction of hatred for old Bill, and relief from his tyranny.

But walking alone into the expanse of Australia is ill-advised. A foolish thing. I could have died, dried, and shriveled to vulture meat before the sun had set. But I was saved by a pair of Melbournites. They were traveling to Cairns and brought me the 702 clicks to the Tablelands.

I picked up my van, and disappeared to a pretty little nook to sleep the night. The next day I showered in a waterfall and returned to Cairns. So went my first week of employment in the great nation of Australia.

Bill Krieg is the devil. He is a snaggle-tooth on the craw of this rapacious society. On the front lines against nature, literally bulldozing trees into the dirt.

The ideas that form the cogs of Bill’s persona are everything that must be eradicated if humans are to survive this century. No more can we strip the Earth of its resources for blind economic gain. No more can we deny the brotherhood of all humans. No more can we see nature as distinct from us, and thus ours to dominate. These are not bleeding heart ideals anymore. They are truths necessary for survival.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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