I sit in a converted caravan near the top end of Byron Bay Market. A woman is drawing a stylised henna owl on my left thigh. I wanted an owl, because, in a few days, my Murwillumbah best friend and I will be performing a Dark Moon ritual to the Goddess Athena.
The caravan is warm, but then, everywhere is warm. It's 28 degrees Celsius at 10am, and humidity is around 90%. I have drunk a litre of water, a large cup of home made lemonade, and a glass bottle of Byron Ginger Beer. I am still thirsty.
I have made myself at home. I will be here for a good forty minutes while the henna dries. I sit on a flat silk cushion. The cushion covers are also for sale, and hang from the walls as a colourful gypsy display. The two henna artists are working non-stop. There are always waiting customers for henna. Most of them are girls under fifteen, and they want pretty flowers with trailing and spiralling stems and leaves. Curlicue work. All very feminine. Meanwhile, my owl looks fierce, as Athena is fierce in her warrior aspect. She did spring from the head of Zeus, fully grown, and wearing armours, after all.
Some of the girls wave woven bamboo fans over their henna to dry it faster. I can see a little of the market through the window.
Outside, a busking family are readying to give a performance. The father wears a microphone headset. His daughter sits, limp on the speaker. She is slumped over, wilted in the humidity. The father is trying to drum up business, promising the few people who've stopped that the show is only ten minutes away. He kids with the punters. He tells one young mother that she looks abusive. He jokes with a man that he's here with his two wives. They are his sisters. The performer tells the man he is a pervert. He suggests to another woman that she's here to admire his hot bod. People drift away again.
The man's mother wanders over. She finds her son hilarious, and laughs loud enough for the microphone to pick it up whenever he cracks another joke.
"Geez, you people can't take a joke down here," he says.
My henna tattooist catches my eye. "Gold Coast," she says, and shakes her head.
The man throws out more jokes. His daughter has slunk back behind the makeshift curtain of sarongs behind the man. He has the stage to himself, except for Mum, who keeps close. The man tells his audience that they are bogans, and he knows what bogans like, they like daredevils stunts, and that he has some of them for them today.
The show begins. His wife runs out from behind the sarongs. She too has a microphone headset, and two long braids that look like floppy dog ears. They perform a number of back flips, and lifts, and balances. The audience claps mildly. The stunts get more difficult. The man tells the growing audience that they're hard to please. He talks about his wife. He says not many people bother with marriage today.
I think about my husband back in Melbourne. My henna tattooist has a husband at home.
The man lifts his wife again, one handed, and makes a crack about her gaining weight.
They introduce flaming torches. She juggles them while standing on his shoulders, and then, one-footed, on his head. The man jokes that this is a picture of their marriage.
My henna is dry. I am free to go, after a squirt of lemon juice on the tattoo to darken it. Some of the dried henna is already starting to lift. I am not to rub it off, or pick it. The longer the design stays on, the longer the tattoo will last.
I pick my way through the crowd. The man his invited his daughter out to do some basic tumbles, and dancing. A man in the crowd calls: "Child labour." Another shouts: "Give the kid a break!" A third yells: "Rubbish!"
The girl has a smile plastered to her face as she does a back flip off her father's bent knees and lands, solid-footed, on the hard ground. She's already been taught to ignore the idiot punters, and get on with what she's doing. It's a family affair.
The man announces that they can be hired for parties and other events, and points out the open guitar case in front of their performance space. There is a desultory collection of coins in it.
I walk beyond their voices.
"Gold Coasters," I hear a woman say, with a sigh.
When the buskers finish, the market closes around them, and the normalcy of eating, drinking, shopping, and socialising resumes, with nary a hiccough. At least until 1pm when they'll do it all again. And then again, the next day, back on the Gold Coast, where they are appreciated. Then again, at other markets, next weekend. No matter what his job during the week, on weekends, the man lives his dream, and his family come along for the wordy ride.
Photo: fire jugglers _ Heather