I sink into a bath overlooking the River Derwent with a bottle of red and my hardbound, Bible-like copy of David Walsh’s autobiography, A Bone of Fact. Little do I know, I’ll be passing the man himself my sea urchin and hartshorn sheep whey vodka martini at dinner later that evening and I’ll watch him drink it in one gulp.
Rosie and I are typical millennials. We’re in the startup space, building careers in the gig economy and working from laptops all over the world. Just a few months ago, I was hosing down a river of human waste flowing from the burst sewerage tank under my driveway and Rosie was peeing into a Pringles can in the back of her car because it was too cold outside to squat. This is our reality.
Last month, Rosie got a call from a nice lady at Broadsheet saying that she won two tickets to Dark Mofo’s $666 Eat The Problem Grand Feast in Tasmania, along with a night at the highly regarded on-site accommodation. I received an excited call and invitation to join moments later.
Eat The Problem’s Grand Feast was a MONA-based nine-course degustation created by artist Kirsha Kaechele exploring the problem of invasive species in Australia. In an elitist fashion, participants were invited to question whether killing and eating invasive species provided a more sustainable and ethical option than current farming practices. She also published a hard-bound hypnotic volume of interviews and recipes, including a recipe made with human (we are the most invasive species after all).
Days before our arrival, we were assigned a colour (pink), and we were informed we had to dress in that colour “down to our socks” for dinner. I didn’t own a single item of pink clothing.
I had an hour to find an outfit before a volunteer shift at the local book store in town, the day before my early morning flight to Tasmania. Rosie had found a dress for $12 already. The clock was ticking and I was stressing. I ran into the local op shop, pulled an ankle-length hot pink wool skirt off a hanger, along with a baby pink top and a pair of hot pink earrings and took them to the counter. $16. It had to do. I was scared that the people at the dinner table (who could financially justify a $666 dinner ticket) would notice I was a fake, attending a dinner that amounted to more cash than Rosie and I had in our bank accounts combined.
The next morning, I flew to Tasmania. I jumped the gate at Sydney airport because I couldn’t financially justify the privatised cost of the train station. Rosie packed pizza shapes and $5 wine in her luggage, because we knew MONA wine would be off the cards. We were determined to make the most of this winning, without spending a dime while we were there.
Tasmania was the moody-romantic kind of cold that mainlanders romanticise. Rosie and I donned our coats and scarves and made our way to MONA by bus. We checked into our room, hung the “Don’t fuck with me” sign on the front door, opened the bottle of $5 wine and sat in the empty bath fully clothed with a box of pizza shapes. We promised each other that we wouldn’t do so much as check an email. Neither of us had given ourselves an entirely work-free day for over a month.
On arrival at dinner, we were addressed in operatic song, handed a vial of pepper tequila and a pair of beige socks, and invited into the dining room. Before us was a 23-metre tiered rainbow glockenspiel (the world’s largest), which also served as our dinner table. Each panel had camel fat and deer fat, wakame and tapioca congealed into the beeswax sealing the table tops. We were directed to our seats according to our assigned colour, after various musical compositions were played with large mallets.
Rosie hadn’t consumed meat in over 12 years. But she also hadn’t won anything before either. That morning, she bought chicken nuggets from McDonalds at the airport in an attempt to ease herself into it. At the beginning of the first course she looked over at me with eyebrows raised. I patted her on the shoulder and said “you can do this”.
The first course was a combination of rabbit, weed hay butter, salsify, pink flowers, pacific oyster salt, pickled cauliflower stalk, wild raddish seeds, elderflower vinegar, pink radish and lard, with a glass of Stony Vineyard Rosé. In a ceremonial dance, given by a number of performance artists in beige, we were each given long brass spoons, the handle a metre long. We were silently instructed, with a person in beige cupping our hands, to feed the person sitting opposite us. Slowly but carefully, I spooned a little bit of rabbit and some of the pink flowers into a pink man’s pink mouth. He maintained eye contact. Later I tried “here comes the aeroplane”.
At the end of each course, we were instructed to move four seats to the right by a busty singer with a commanding voice. All nine courses were served at a time, and each group of 8 were served a different course. We had the opportunity to sit across from different people throughout the night.
For the following hours, we ate possum and hare tortellini, pigeon and feral cat. We ate sea star gram and long spine sea urchin, crickets and fecal transplant. During one course, some people in beige told us to “contemplate your death while eating this meal” while others were singing “turn your shit into gold’.
We were given pink velvet bumbags from a man in beige underwear crawling under the table full of pink vibrators. We ate one course (served in a labia-shaped ceramic dish) vibrating. There were black margaritas with ice cubes with frozen sheep’s eyes. We ate with pitchforks and we ate with our hands. We gnawed on sugar cane and slurped at the juices dripping from bones. We were drunk, our eyes alive, spitting and shouting while the people in beige served us.
Before a glass of camel milk hocharta, a naked woman stepped onto the table and performed, making her way up the 23-metre glockenspiel while the busty woman sang and moaned and yelped. Rosie and I stuttered our way through conversations with businessmen, chefs and Melbourne socialites. At one point in the evening, David Walsh crawled across the table to speak with someone on the other side, and Kersha took off her bra. I heard David say to nobody in particular “I am clearly the most interesting and intelligent person in this room”, which I imagine would give you a kind of paralysing boredom in almost all situations if that was the case.
At the end of the evening, a voluptuous middle-aged lady in brown, with fake boobs spilling from her skin tight dress, mounted the table. She pranced and posed, while her friend at the end of the table took photos of her on an iPhone. She spun with her arms raised high, tilting her head to the side with pursed lips. Nobody seemed to notice except Rosie and I, in our thrifted clothes and beige socks, with our bellies full of invasive species.
Rosie’s name isn’t actually Rosie. I’m just giving her a pseudonym so I don’t tarnish her integrity as a businesswoman by telling the world she urinates inside chip containers.