I find myself down at Maylands foreshore, colliding with a mob of familiar and beloved faces by way of serendipity. A hot and hazy Christmas eve-eve is drawing to a pink-orange close. What I’ve stumbled into is an edition of Paddle Clubb, a new initiative pioneered by local DIY wizard MATT AITKEN; Paddle Clubb is where a bunch of mates (strangers welcome too) slow-paddle in kayaks on the Swan, encountering dolphins, swans, pelicans, soaking up the breeze. I have a gentle paddle in a long blue kayak and also on a little sporty sit-on-top surf kayak called the Thermo Turbo Shane (I promptly capsize). People mill about, sip refreshments in the mud, say hello to cygnets and the boat club’s resident cat, who’s wandering around and lazing on upturned dinghies.
When the crew departs for dinner and the sun disappears, Matt lingers so we can chat about his recently-released independent board game, a cheeky adaptation of a classic – he calls it EGGOPOLY. It was unleashed to great acclaim, with the initial run of 25 copies selling like hot potatoes (spud shed head honcho Tony Galati is the board’s “monopoly man” by the by). By the light of the almost-full moon, Matt floats on a small pontoon, sipping a cider. I wade around him, holding a phone to record our conversation. The cat scampers around on the nearby riverbank.
MATT AITKEN: It wasn’t the launch of a project that friends were expecting, you know, like a band where everyone had been anticipating a release for a long time. I had to promote it and let everyone know what it was.
LYNDON BLUE: What was the moment you decided to do it – the genesis?
MA: I remembered the other day that the timeline of it was… National Science Week 2013. We [i.e, DIY, IRL talk-show Magnolia’s Late Night Live] did a show at PICA and had Costa [Georgiadis, celebrity gardener] and one of the prizes we had was the official Perth Monopoly. The way we did it was, anyone who did year 10 chemistry comes and gets a prize. Our friend Pete got Perth Monopoly and we played it the next week and…it’s not…
LB: It wasn’t what you’d dreamed.
MA: It wasn’t like Nicholas Cage – there are some things that work on a bad level. And there’s other things that don’t even create a momentum of anti-appreciation; there’s no backfire; you know the fine line between familiar and daggy? The whole group wasn’t too hard on it, but we were trying to get into it and couldn’t fully get into it and I remember thinking: phwoar, this could be done so much better. Maybe I should make my own version.
But how was this kernel of an idea to be realized? Making one copy of a board game is one thing, but producing a whole run for people to buy is quite another. We start talking about collaboration.
MA: I realized I couldn’t do this all myself. I started to get more confidence in the project when I would contact, like, Sally Bower who did the textiles stuff. When I would contact her and nervously say things like “maybe instead of a box we could have a fabric bag” she replied so excitedly – “that sounds great!” – and we’d get together all these op shop fabric samples and straight away she made a duffel bag with PERTH embroidered on it. And then the same thing happening with Danni McGrath with screen-printing – I was just like, woah! These people are really excited.
LB: They were proper into it.
MA: Yeah, I guess you hear of people in the arts getting commissions or being sub-contracted to do something, and the gap between the person commissioning it and the person doing it is huge. With this I felt like I was commissioning people more experienced than me – I was such a rookie to any production things – and they’re used to dealing with bigger budget, more professional people… I got the impression that maybe [this was] a simple job that was easier…
LB: And probably a nice change of pace that collaborators could put a lot of love into.
MA: Yeah… I was trying to imagine that, if someone was commissioning me to do something like that, for it to be more fun I’d want it to feel a little bit collaborative. Like, “this is what I’m kinda thinking – what do you think?” I guess I’ve always had a super collaborative approach to everything, but with this one I was totally outsourcing labour – and it was quite encouraging at the end of it, to think that independent people can work together professionally and it works out well. Cause sometimes when you’re doing loosely curatorial, or freelance entrepreneurial kind of arts things, you just lose track of it. At the same time it was nice to feel a bit casual about it, like – this isn’t my opus, it’s exciting, but my world isn’t relying on it.
LB: Yeah, and I think that’s the magic of finding the right batch of people, where everyone wants the thing to be really nice but can still come at it with that casual sort of mindset.
The mozzies start buzzing round, thin whirring insect noises phasing against the sloshing of the pontoon. Matt starts talking about where the project went next.
MA: About July last year I started thinking about doing it, brainstorming with friends what properties to put. Then, the biggest hurdle was how to make the physical characters. I’d seen some friends cast plastic and things and that looked simple, but you still had to sculpt the original, and I’m not very confident as a sculptor. So I found this FIMO oven-bake clay, which was great – saved the day – and started to compulsively make FIMO characters, mainly with Mei [Saraswati, local musician/artist]. When there were enough character pieces, by that time, [Camp] Doogs was about to happen so I had to stop. And then after Doogs I got really into Paddle Clubb and wasn’t straight back onto Eggopoly…
LB: That’s what I was wondering, whether Paddle Clubb and Eggopoly were kinda like twinned projects – because in my mind they are but maybe that’s just cause I’ve seen them become more public at the same time…
MA: Yeah, well I put Paddle Clubb on the Eggopoly board… I didn’t think about it too hard but you know, I had “utilities” to put in. Although I didn’t want the properties on the board to be super obscure, I wanted them to be things that a broad enough group of people thought were legendary, there’s definitely some cheeky ones in there, like the Rottnest Dome. I guess in Monopoly… it’s kind of like in Batman how you need the Batman/villain dynamic, you need properties that everyone wants or doesn’t want.
LB: What’s been the most controversial property or playing piece?
MA: Well, the ones that people have noticed are… the Highgate Continental guys were so chuffed and surprised that they were on the board. Originally there were 3 record stores on the board, but a year later when it came out – like, Planet had closed. There were also three contemporary art spaces, and those and the record store kind of got merged together…
LB: I wondered if that made it quite a weird or interesting process – the fact that things in Perth, at the moment, open and close so quickly.
MA: Another important thing was that, the Perth Monopoly had like, Freo Markets, Kings Park, and then halfway down they had three beaches with Scarborough Beach the highest. I was just like, what planet is someone on that they put this bogan… kind of cleaned-up but actually just less violent beach… the top, then Cottelsoe, which is sort of just the postcard-heavy tourism thing… This is very barely Perth. And things like Council House, that beautiful building, so architecturally significant, as the bottom property – I was like c’mon! It didn’t feel accurate, culturally or whatever.
Matt tells me about Anthony Bourdain’s approach to creating tourism journalism, by discussing local food options with locals, and how this became an influence.
MA: There was that idea of trying to do tourism via, like, subtle interview. And the food properties were always at the back of my mind. I think that was a big thing for me – what if you could have monopoly set that had spots where if, say, someone was visiting town, spots where you really wanted to take them? Spots that were more subtle tourism places, or more slightly secretive, I guess just gems.
[The cat meows]
MA: Sometimes I think we’re a bit lost in terms of having voices in the community – like, if the official Perth Monopoly was to be curated by someone based on cultural value – I don’t even know who that person would be! We’d have to pick someone. I’d be so curious as to what would get chosen. [Eggopoly] was always going to be reflective of my mainly North Perth-based circles of friends…
LB: But that’s part of the beauty, it sort of captures your collective lives or something – and having, like, Paddle Clubb on there, it’s like a snapshot of where we are.
MA: I’ve got Netflix as a utility too – I’d had Uber, and then when I changed it to Netflix I realized that having Netflix and Paddle Clubb was like, electricity and water! There were other things where I felt like I had no choice, or it was the People’s Choice, like I felt like if I didn’t put Hyde Park or Alfred’s [Burger Shop, Guildford] there would’ve been chaos.
LB: What were the top-tier properties?
MA: Number one was Balcatta Tip, and number two was Cannington Salvos… It was this feeling of like, maybe the most valuable thing sometimes is adventure. An op-shop is so unpredictable and everyone’s found really unexpected, amazing things in op shops. When they say “pre-loved,” that’s a bit of cliché but I think it’s also real – someone’s worn this a lot, and aged it, and this bit of clothing has survived. That was another subconscious influence, op-shopping, particularly like Paddington way, and finding these amazing 80’s John Sands board games, like ‘Shearer’ where that famous phrase “we’re not playing for sheep stations” comes from. And ‘Polyconomy,’ where it’s set in the Australian business climate of the 80s, and you play Monopoly with Australian businesses and there’s like telecom logos but you also run a parliament and the Prime Minister can raise the taxes…
LB: Sounds pretty demanding.
MA: Yeah, maybe that’s why it didn’t so well. Maybe it’s a game that intellectuals would play.
LB: How many times have you played Eggopoly so far?
MA: Only once really properly! But I had a trial game during the week to make sure it’d be ok. A couple of friends during the trial were like – you need some more crazy elements, because Monopoly can just drag on. So I added in the ice epidemic, and a few weird rule variations. I think there’s a balance, you want the rules to be pretty simple, so everyone knows the lore, but also…
LB: You want to be thrown and surprised a bit too.
MA: I think I’m pretty good at the first half of Monopoly but pretty bad at the second half.
LB: Me too – my attention starts to wane – but that’s why I’m looking forward to a game of Eggopoly…
MA: Yeah, so one thing I was excited about is instead of Free Parking – which isn’t really part of the game, just something people to do…
LB: Yeah it’s like a life-hack.
MA: Yeah, there’s these little hacks! And it’s somehow emergent. It’s mysterious how that happens.
LB: I wonder if it’s like, a regional variation.
MA: Yeah it could be just, Australia, or WA! And I’m sure journalists and sociologists are just like, not looking at that.
MA: They probably have bigger things to find out. But anyway, one thing I did was – free parking, you encourage the rule of putting the rent in the middle, but no-one can ever pocket it. Instead, you have a list of community projects it can go towards; you can do a pop-up “Open House” Perth where no-one pays rent, or free wifi, or if there’s enough in the middle you could use it to buy a property for the…the… Is that a mouse?
LB: Yeah is that a little water rat? This cat’s pretty interested in it.
MA [to the cat]: Yeah, get ‘im! [To me]: Yeah so you can buy a property for the community. I thought it’d be pretty interesting if there were spots that no-one specifically owned, a “safe spot” on the board. There aren’t normally many safe spots on a monopoly board. Another thing were the transport utilities…
[Something flies rapidly from the shore into the water]
LB: WOAH! What the fuck was that?!
MA: Was that the mouse?
LB: I think it might’ve been something out of my bag!
MA: What bag?
LB: My bag there, the cat was just in it!
In the end, we’re pretty sure it was the mouse. A supernatural flying water-rat. Just another night in the life of Matt “Acorn” “Maitkens” Aitken.