Searching for Mike

As far as we knew nobody had seen Mike Macduff for decades. I’d heard wild stories about him in my childhood because he went to school with my dad. Nobody knew if he was alive or dead, (but it wouldn’t surprise anybody if he was.) I decided to track him down.

Mike was apparently very clever. His classmates were a bit wary of him because they knew he could make the people around him do what he wanted like a skilled chess player.

Mike was the type of kid who’s so clever they get bored by school. By All accounts Mike’s school did not cater for smart people; rather it was intended to train young men to take over the British Empire. It has been described as a place designed to make a young man capable of going out to east Africa and taking over a patch of land from the last guy. The graduate would then keep watch over her majesty’s interests and make sure the natives behaved until the next guy came along.

Legend had it that Mike had been on an international school trip. He had a packet of cigarettes he knew would be found at airport customs- where they’d be confiscated as he was a minor. Mike’s plan had been to get caught smoking in front of the teacher on purpose. The teacher confiscated the cigarettes, put them in his pocket and walked them through customs. All Mike had to do was lift the cigarettes out of the teacher’s pocket once they were through security.

Supposedly there was a teacher at Mike’s school who would walk up to boys in class and touch their legs while they sat working in silence. Mike’s solution was to position a ping pong ball in his shorts. When they teacher came in for a feel, the ping pong ball was dislodged. It fell to the floor with a clatter, breaking the silence of the classroom. The other students turned in their seats to investigate the noise only to find the teacher in a compromising position.

How was I going to find this guy? His friends hadn’t seen him, but they did know his family came from an area of Scotland called Black Isle. (Black Isle is extremely remote and its local dialect died out in 2012.) The nearest civilisation to Mike’s family home is a village called Munlochy. I did some digging. Munlochy has a village Facebook page. I posted an ad on the Facebook page asking, “Do the MacDuff family still live in these parts? Has anybody kept in touch with them?” 

Some time later I got an email from a local who’d seen my ad. No, the Macduff’s had moved out years ago, but there was a lady who had lived in the area for decades. She might know something.

The lady had kept in touch with Mike’s brother who me in touch with Mike. As it turned out he was in France “working with fruit” (whatever the hell means.)

All aboard: A trip on the Leeuwin

I just spent a week on the Leeuwin, a three-masted sailing ship that travels up and down the WA coast, building character in young people by teaching them about sailing, leadership, and teamwork.

I was on board with about 38 other university kids. We were divided into four groups of about 8-10 people. Each group was led by an experienced volunteer in about their early 20s. The volunteers showed an amazing level of leadership tragically lacking in many politicians and teachers. Each group would take turns doing watch, which could involve sitting on the deck for four hours at night, steering the ship or watching the horizon for danger.

On that second day, we sailed about 80 miles out past Rottnest. The island had been sheltering us from rougher waters and the effects were noticeable as we got further into the ocean. Sea sickness hit well over half of us. To get from the front of the ship to the back, you’d have to step over horizontal bodies lined up on the deck. It looked like that scene in Gone with the Wind where Vivien Leigh walks through a sea of wounded soldiers.

A typical day on the Leeuwin would start with morning exercises at 6.30. That might involve yoga or calisthenics. After that, we’d have breakfast and start ship chores: Deck scrubbing, bathroom cleaning etc.

In the afternoon, our groups would rotate to take lessons in knot tying, ropes, navigation and such.

On about the third day, lessons went out the window when the crew caught a Wahoo off the back of the boat. Everyone crowded around to get a look. The beast was over a meter weighed over 20 kilograms. Eventually, it was bled, hacked into slabs about the size of a man’s forearm and taken to the galley. It was made into a curry type thing. I think we had it for lunch the next day. It tasted pretty good.

The day after that we dropped anchor off Rottnest and spent the afternoon on pinkies.

On the last night, we had a talent show. I saw a girl reciting pi to four hundred while her friend juggled rope balls and a third man danced around their heels with his legs crossed.

I had one of the best weeks of my life on the Leeuwin and I seriously recommend everybody applying for it. My highlight was climbing the main mast. At the top is a small plaque with a message. The only people who know what it says are the people who’ve climbed up and read it.

The Demons of Barry’s practice

1

By Conrad Charles MacLean

An abridged version of my interview with local exorcist Barry May.

Father Barry May is a local Perth exorcist. He held Anglican ministry for 45 years, retiring in 2007. He worked as an army chaplain for 14 years and spent another 14 in the police force. I sat down with Barry to talk to him about his exorcism work.

“They all think the only church that can do this is the Catholic Church” Barry laughs “Well I’ve got news for them. It’s not that way, and honestly I deal with 98% Roman Catholics…Muslims do it…I’ve had Hindus. There are in various faiths exorcists, because in the major faiths there are evil.”

Barry tells me about some of his adventures. “Oh, one of my very first actually, girl was about 25, 30 years of age. She had at least a dozen nasties in her, and it took me hours and hours and hours to deliver her, and I was wearing a crucifix and all of a sudden this hand came out and grabbed it…she was a big kid, fairly heavy girl, and she just grabbed at this and tried to rip it off my throat.”

“I said “you leave that alone!”

… “And she said “Jesus is my brother.””

(Barry says those last four words in a harsh gravelly voice.)

“That’s what she said, that’s what she sounded like. I said “Jesus is no brother of yours, go get the hell out of here.”

Barry has Hindu customers as well. Photo by: Madura McCormack// Ubud, Bali

Barry has Hindu customers as well.
Photo by: Madura McCormack// Ubud, Bali

“So that was that, after 10-12 (demons)-I’m guessing it was 12-she was free.” He explains.”

“I don’t charge anything” he informs me “I’ve never charged a thing…it’s not ethical, not for me. I know some do. The Catholics want to pay because they always pay their priests. I’ve never done that, never accepted that. I want them to know that this is a ministry that we don’t charge for.”

“We always have a very long interview session” he explains “because it would be arrogant to say to somebody “I can fix you up, give us ten minutes…it might take several hours to find out where their coming from, what is their faith value, what’s been happening to them, what have they been playing around with? Because once you start delving you will find almost without doubt that they have had some occult involvement, whether it be recent or whether they were perhaps teenagers…boys who play around on a full moon with a Ouija board.”

Barry told me he believes practicing witchcraft can cause a person to be possessed by demons.

“There are witches covens in Perth” he tells me “there are people who on outward appearance are respectable, might be a doctor, or a lawyer or your next door neighbour, or teacher. And they practice witch craft by night time, at a full moon and dance around in the nuddy, and (in) the next day they put on their clothes and go to work and become your GP.

It’s not common but it does happen unfortunately, and to say “oh, look, I’m really a white witch, and their OK.” Crap. Their not. White or black witches, they still pray to Satan to give them guidance. I mean, a white witch will say “I belong to Satan, for good things to happen, so I can prosper.””

Barry had this warning for amateurs thinking of taking up exorcism.

“I’d be very, very careful. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t do it (exorcism) but do a lot of study on it. And if you had for the right reasons, not for your own reasons, I don’t do it for my reasons.

“In fact it scares the pants off you because it’s pretty hairy stuff, by the time I’ve finished, and I’ve done an exorcism, I’m absolutely walloped. Honestly walloped, and people say “god you’re sweaty.”

“And I am sweaty because it just takes so much out of you. So it depends how much you’re prepared to give…if you do it for the good of the person, and for their salvation and their enlightenment and all that sort of stuff, fine, go for it.”

Remembering the legend

1

by Conrad Maclean

The man was nearly seven feet tall and skinny as a joint, with dark hair and a smile on his weather beaten face. His accent was the child of the many countries he’s lived in. He reminded me of Struwwelpeter, that boy you get told about as a kid who never washes or cuts his nails and hair.

If the local cricket team was playing near his house, he’d sit at home and shoot potatoes onto the playing field with his homemade cannon. It was his way of showing team support. He’d been known to sit on an aeroplane with a bag of fruit, and if the airhostess told him ‘you can’t take that through customs,’ he’d go from seat to seat offering his fellow passengers a piece of fruit so it didn’t go to waste.

Planet Earth never produced a nicer guy.

When we met him he had swum the darkest swamps of the human psyche, lost most his family and danced with some pretty awful demons. Though personal horrors had left scars, he had amazing positivity, wisdom and a never ending stream of bawdy jokes.

“Hey Conrad, why didn’t Snow white go to the ball?”

“I don’t know,” I’d say. “Why?”

“Because she’s fucking Dopey.”

**********************************************************************************

The year was nineteen eighty-something.

What had started as a protest over municipal housing had collapsed into street fighting between the police and protesters, whose demonstration had been hijacked by local anarchists.

The anarchists were brilliantly strategic. This was an era before mobile phones and the anarchists realised that the police were communicating with vans with satellite dishes attached to them. All the anarchists had to do was take out the vans and dozens of police officers would be immobilised.

My friend’s job was to walk up to one of these vans wearing a trench coat. He’s have a chain wrapped around his waist, under the coat. He’d clip one end of the chain to the door of the van, walk a lap around the vehicle and clip the other end of the chain to that same door. My friend would yell “NOW!” protesters would charge at the van and push it on to its side. The chain would stop anybody in the van escaping. Police communication was quickly crippled.

The battle raged for days. Rioters blockaded the areas of the city they controlled by stockading the streets with junk. They created walls with any crap they could find. By the light of bonfires they sat and guarded this fortress into the night, smoking reefer and playing music.

What happened next came out of nowhere. My friend would later say, ‘They must have been kept hidden under the city.’ His theory was that they had been hidden underground, after the Nazis had been pushed out at the end of World War 2; a secret weapon to defend the city in case of another invasion. Nobody really knows where they came from but it sure wasn’t from outside the city.

What were ‘they’?

Leopard Tanks. They smashed through the barricades as if they were butter, ending the protest for good.

My friend skipped his native country after that, he said they were onto him and his phone was being bugged. He needed to lay low.

Eventually he drifted into Australia.

I never met somebody who had so many adventures, so much joy and so much pain. It’s been nearly two years since he passed on. We’re sorry to have lost him but even luckier to have known such a great guy.

R.I.P mate

Who wants to be a legionnaire?

2

Tony Abbott was going to win the 2013 election. It made my skin crawl. I knew the French army offered foreigners a minimum of five years’ service. I figured Abbott would only be in power for four years at most. Spending five years in the French army seemed like a good alternative to living in Abbott’s Australia.

The Foreign Legion is the division of the French army that employs non-French nationals. The legion was born out of a migrant crisis in the 19th century. As the newest republic in Europe, France was attracting waves of liberal minded foreigners from the neighbouring monarchies. To control this influx, the migrants were offered French citizenship if they served 5 years in the foreign legion.

That was how I found myself standing outside the gates of Fort de Nogent, 18 years old and waiting for my future.

From inside the fortress a voice called “Nationalité?”

“Australian,” I replied.

The gates swung open. A soldier with dark chocolate skin and a steel grey moustache strode out and examined my passport.

“Australie?” He stared at me, and said something like “Je suis de Nouveau Caladonia.”

“New Caledonia? We’re practically neighbours!” I laughed. I stopped. There was no humour on his face.

The soldier went to find somebody who could speak English. He returned with a surely South African who demanded to know where my “sports clothing” was. I had turned up in the suit I’d worn to my school ball the year before. I thought I’d have to book an interview at some recruitment centre. That’s not how the legion works: you show up at the military base and do your fitness testing straight away.

“Can I come back with my sports gear?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he scowled “Can you?”

I was given a list of stuff to go buy (toothbrush, socks etc.)

Upon returning days later I was brought into a waiting room. I was joined by another applicant, an ex-lumberjack from Canada’s remote north.

We were both marched into an eating hall by an Italian officer. In broken English he asked us why we wanted to join the Legion. You could tell from his facial expressions to what we said that he knew more English than he was letting on. As I talked an almost kindly concern flashed across his roman features, as if saying “you’re too young kid, you don’t know what the hell you’re yourself getting into.”

The Canadian and I were given some Pâté as a kind of breakfast.

The hall was filled with recruits about 16-19 years old, each in a blue or green top.

The boys were led by someone who looked like he had stepped out of a Mardi Gras: A Latin beast, seemingly incapable of communicating without shouting, he was dressed in green short shorts and a matching singlet. He sported perfectly groomed hair and a moustache. This man’s eyes were dotted with fire. There was something quite feminine about his aggression and his hips seemed to swing to a samba.

French Foreign Legion at an army parade, Rome, 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons by Utente: Jollyroger

French Foreign Legion at an army parade, Rome, 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons by Utente: Jollyroger

Mr Mardi Gras was flanked by two deputies; each about 19 years old whose job involved translating his yelling into broken English.

Mardi Gras started yelling at me in French. EAT THE FOOD! FINISH THE FOOD! THROW THE WATER BOTTLE IN THE BIN! I couldn’t stop laughing, it made him more furious.

The deputies were very supportive, smiling as if to say “you’ll come through.” Actually all the young recruits seemed really friendly.

Mardi Gras and his deputies led the Canadian and me up a flight of stairs to a narrow hallway. A chin up bar hung about three meters off the ground across the passage.

He indicated that we had to perform 7 full extension chin-ups as a fitness test. I’d been practicing my chin ups from 90 degrees so I failed this test.

He was about to fail me right there and then but the deputies begged for him to give me another chance. He conceded, on condition I do 10 pull-ups when he returned from his office while he assessed the Canadian.

Mardi Gras gave me very specific instructions of how to stand while he was gone. When I slouched against the wall a passing recruit gestured to me as if to say “don’t stand like that, mate! You’ll get in trouble. We’re all in this together.”

I failed the pull up test. They told me I could reapply in three months. By then the attraction of the legion was dead.

by Conrad MacLean