An outraged Ken Duncan prepares to wage war on a growing threat to the pristine nature of our precious outback icons: idiots with spray cans, textas and – sometimes – chainsaws. Dipsticks of the Outback, you have been warned . . .

There’s no better feeling than getting in your car and heading off into the bush for an adventure. When you hit the road it doesn’t matter what you’ve left behind or forgotten to do; you’ll deal with it. The cries of life’s urgency dwindle with the kilometres travelled and you begin to unwind as the view ahead opens to endless horizons. Yes! Going bush is like a magic formula – as the odometer goes up, the stress comes down.

So what is it about the outback that helps us unwind? I believe it’s the space, and in Australia we have plenty of it. That vastness helps you put your life into perspective. It gives you a chance to empty your in-tray. It’s an opportunity to clear your head, breathe fresh air and relax.

We’re blessed to live in such a diverse country and I believe our outback is one of our greatest medicinal treasures. It’s far more than red dirt and desert. It’s hard for me to imagine how travelling through Australia’s open country could not positively change any person. Lately, though, I’ve started to realise that there’s a strange breed of yobbo that feels the outback is there for them to trash and leave their branding on. They don’t allow the bush to wash over them – they want to leave their mark on it instead.

These people feel a need to leave their names emblazoned on anything they can, as though they’re some big explorer whose name will ring out for posterity. They’re like dogs, leaving their scent to mark their territory without realising what dipsticks they are. I call them “dipsticks”, as a dipstick is used to check the level of something – and these sorts of people must have very low levels of brain activity. They need to have the paddles of life turned up to full power and applied to their heads.

As you can probably tell, this kind of graffiti is really starting to get under my skin. People (and I use the word loosely) have spray-painted their names on The Devil’s Marbles and all sorts of outback icons. We as Australian travellers need to take a stand, as it’s getting out of hand. This is our backyard. We need to start facing up to the vandals who do these things and tell them they’re dipsticks who need to get a life and show some respect. As a photographer, I’m at a loss as to why people feel the need to deface things. Some recent examples have finally tipped me over the edge. It’s time to really try and bring this epidemic to light and deal with it. We need to turn the tide of this disease.

Near Cameron’s Corner, where the NSW, Qld and SA borders meet, there’s an old yellow double-decker bus that was used as an out-camp for cattle workers, called Jack Camp. Talk about the last bus stop. When I first saw it, there was no graffiti – but over the years dipsticks have felt the need to add their names. While standing there recently, ready to take a new photo of the bus, I was pondering the worst of the fresh graffiti, a scrawled name: “Wishbone”. I was thinking, “What would possess someone to do that?” And guess what? I got my answer. At that very moment, a guy pulled up in his Ute with the big aerials, driving lights, bull bar and fluffy dice on the rear-view mirror, and jumped out with his girlfriend. He headed over to the bus and said proudly, “Look, darling, there’s my name. Wishbone. I did that – isn’t it great?” His girlfriend just giggled nervously, not really knowing what to say. They were both right near me and I overheard this profound dialogue. I couldn’t believe I had actually now met the owner of the graffiti.

Wishbone looked over at me, clearly so proud of his ability to spell his name, and announced once more, “That’s me,” awaiting my approval.
I like to be as friendly as I can, but I just looked at him and said: “If you did that, then you are a dipstick. Why did you do it?” The poor fellow just looked at me with a vacant stare – obviously not the sharpest tool in the shed.

My latest run-in with graffiti is courtesy of a guy called Gaz, in Victoria’s High Country in Alpine National Park. This is the land of legends, the High Country cattlemen and the Man from Snowy River. It’s part of our history. I was looking for new High Country huts and found Howitt Hut – and there, on the door, a person by the name of Gaz had spray-painted his name. I put Gaz up there as the King of the Dipsticks. What was he thinking with this effort?

Hundreds of visitors have written their names on the walls of the hut over the years. They have no right to (unless they were a real part of its history) and it has gotten out of hand. In some places the walls are so crammed with writing that there’s not a spare space to be seen!

I then went to look at another place in the same area called Miller Hut. When I got there, again Gaz had beaten me. This time he really outdid himself. He’d used a chainsaw to write his name in letters 30cm high on the old log walls of the hut. I could not believe anyone could be so insensitive. How could he think this was normal behaviour? How many beers did Gaz have to come up with this dumb idea? Where were his friends, who should’ve told him what a dipstick he’d be if he did something as stupid as defacing a part of our Australian history? People like Gaz don’t travel alone; they usually like an audience.

Would you want to invite this guy to your place for dinner? Imagine it: while you’re in the kitchen preparing the meal, Gaz gets out his chainsaw and carves his name in your walls, because he wants to be part of your history. Maybe he could even do it as a parting gesture on your fence. I’d be less than impressed if Gaz left his calling card in my home – and he would certainly be history.

The saddest part is that Gaz is not alone. When I started looking closer, I saw that others had used their chainsaws on the old wood of the High Country huts. There was Max, and Alan, and the list goes on. Shame on you all. I hope someone who knows you sees this article and lets you know you are now in the Dipsticks Hall of Fame. You are dumb enough to add your own names to it. But be real brave next time, dipsticks, and try writing it on a park ranger. That will probably put you on the road to healing.

We all want to enjoy our outback adventure and the great space and freedom we have. We do not want to be reminded of the self-indulgence of humanity. It’s not meant to be “look at me”; it’s meant to be look at the scenery. Yes, it’s my space, it’s yours, it’s our children’s – but it’s not an advertising space for dipsticks.

On a positive note, thank God it’s not too late and the world has so many beautiful people who do the right thing. We all just need to make sure we stand up to the Gazzes and give them a hand to see themselves – even if they do have a chainsaw.

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