FINAL TWO WINNERS OF ‘THE WESTIES’ : ‘FADING INK’ AND ‘APOLLO’

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Best 750 word piece – Nathan Fioritti “Fading Ink”

By Nathan Fioritti

“For a very long time I haven’t felt comfortable in my own skin.

“I did what I could to try and feel comfortable and happy with my appearance, but nothing worked. Every time I tried to pinpoint what went wrong I kept coming back to the tattoos, so after months of contemplation I made the decision to get most of them removed.”

Caroline Springs resident Shanice Joi Knezevic was 17 when she got her first tattoo—her mother’s name, Elisabeth Ann, handwritten on her wrist. She remembers asking her mother to sign her name before getting the tattoo. When she told her what it was for, she was pleased and humbled by the gesture. At the same time though, her mother was not so pleased with her for wanting to get a tattoo. Shanice recalls feeling the now familiar pre-tattoo jitters for the first time before her mother’s name was printed on her skin.

Now 21, Shanice has been getting tattoos ever since and even worked as a tattoo artist for almost two years. The tattoo on her wrist is now covered, because the placement was an issue, but she currently has a whole sleeve dedicated to her mother.

When she got her first tattoo, Shanice found the pain to be bearable, describing it like a burning paper cut, but after getting many more, now knows that every part of the body is different—a tattoo that stretches from her shoulder blade to her hips being the least pleasant.

“It wasn’t a huge deal getting my first tattoo, but it was pretty funny to see mum simultaneously happy and unimpressed. She’s actually a lot more hostile about my decision to get them removed.

“I booked it in and had to wait three days before the artist and I were both available. We sat down and made sure I was happy with everything—the size, spelling, placement, and so on—then I got it done and was out within 20 minutes.

“Getting mum’s name in her handwriting was my way of signifying our bond and friendship. Every time I looked at it—and the same goes with my sleeve now—I automatically thought of a memory with her, whether it be good or bad, and I breathed a little easier for a while.”

Shanice decided she wanted to remove about 90% of her tattoos at the beginning of this year. She thinks it is important to think about tattoos before getting them, but thinks it is also important for people to learn from their mistakes and that removing a tattoo is a choice just like getting one is.

She saw many of these decisions made during her time as a tattoo artist but when she decided it wasn’t for her any more, Shanice pulled herself out of the industry.

“I had a great boss and worked out of a good shop called Royal Ink in Melbourne’s West. The crew that I worked with were also pretty sweet. I was getting my shin tattooed at the shop at the time I was offered a place there. Another artist who worked there saw my own design for my shin piece and took it away briefly, then, when he returned, he asked me if I wanted an apprenticeship. I started the next day.”

Shanice felt as if she was stagnating while she watched the industry turn into something she hoped it would not, so she left, and is now studying to work in the field of forensic science.

The last tattoo Shanice got is of the text “Weak and Powerless” across her stomach, taken from the A Perfect Circle song by the same name.

“When I heard that Big Meas, who was my biggest inspiration as a tattoo artist, was going to be at The Australian Tattoo and Body Art Expo this year I had about five weeks to save $1,500 for the tattoo. I booked in and then after four and a half hours of, quite literally, gut-wrenching pain, I became the first person he ever tattooed in Australia.”

Even then, thoughts of getting her other tattoos removed were present.

In Australia today, around one quarter of  people under 30 have expressed themselves by putting ink to their skin—making our generation the most tattooed to date—and over a quarter of these people are looking to getting their tattoos removed, according to consumer advocacy group CHOICE.

The most common method of tattoo removal is laser, but for anyone planning on removing a tattoo in the future, it is crucial to do some research before—the growing tattoo removal industry is largely unregulated and no medical training is required to operate the necessary tools.

The types of lasers used by tattoo removalists are also extremely important.

These are:

  • Q-switched, which are the industry standard
  • Cheaper knock-offs of Q-switched, and
  • Intense Pulsed Light (IPL).

IPL lasers are the worst kind to use for tattoo removal and are often attributed to the distorting of tattoos as well as substantial burns and scars. They cover larger sections of skin, functioning in milliseconds rather than nanoseconds, and are strongly advised against by experts.

34% of Australians who have a tattoo regret getting it, but only one in seven within this group consider removal, according to a study conducted by McCrindle Research in 2013.

Shanice plans on beginning to remove her tattoos soon now that it is winter, but it will be a while before her tattoos fade away. The tattoo removal process is never a short one.

47% of Q-switched laser removals require up to 10 sessions to successfully remove a tattoo, and 26% require over 15 sessions, as recorded in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“I don’t regret my tattoos at all—I still value why they were put into my skin—but placement and design are two huge things that I was really breezy with when I shouldn’t have been.”

For Shanice, tattoos have been, and continue to be, the best way to express herself and pay tribute to things that mean a lot to her. However, she feels as though she rushed into getting her tattoos and, looking back, thinks it would have been better to wait until she knew more about the industry and the artists that are out there.

She already has some future tattoos planned to cover the few which will not completely be removed due to pigmentation of the colours and the professionalism of the tattoos.

The only tattoo Shanice will be keeping from the sleeve dedicated to her mother is of a little teacup with the text ‘white with two’ on her arm, because her mum can’t start the morning without her tea.

By the end of it all, Shanice will be very familiar with the tattoo removal process. She will have experienced the rapid bursts of light hitting her skin in nanoseconds, milliseconds. The ink particles in the dermis layer (below the epidermis) of her skin breaking up and progressively being removed as her tattoos lighten. And just as what they represented may have, the tattoos will become an echo of what once was, and eventually, disappear.

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Best Westsider profile – Michael Townsend “Paul Anderson – Apollo”

By Michael Townsend

Not far south of Footscray Road on the Maribyrnong River is the iconic Cotton Mills building, a former industrial structure with a tall brick smokestack protruding from its center. The complex has been reinvented for the modern era and found a new life as warehouse offices, businesses and showrooms. One of the larger ground level spaces is now known as the Apollo Gym and it is here that I meet Paul Anderson.

He is finishing a morning group class and as he takes his clients through their programs I am free to walk around the gym he has built in this stunning old warehouse space. The vibe is old school strength meets new school training techniques with an impressive section of the downstairs space devoted entirely to free weights. Enlarged newspaper articles and posters feature prominently on the walls above the wrap-around mirrors of the gym. The man in all the pictures is Paul Anderson senior, a Melbourne strongman performer from the fifties known as “The Mighty Apollo” from which the gym gets its name and it is because of him, in large part, that I am here.

After his clients leave for the morning Paul has the middle hours of the day for sporadic training before the evening rush of after-work people monopolize his time again. For now though, the gym is quiet and we are able to talk. Paul stands tall, with an impressive physique for any man, let alone for one just over fifty. Despite looking like a warrior, his gentle demeanor is instantly disarming and as we speak, his words come naturally and eloquently.

He has, for the last five years, been working with production company Plot Media to sort through a mountain of footage, audio tapes, film stock and journals for an upcoming documentary on his father’s life titled “The Mighty Apollo”. His father existed in a time we can hardly imagine now. Growing up in a poor then working class Richmond, Paul tells me, “they were lucky to get one square meal a day and that was usually a stew at night. The rest of the time they lived off bread and drippings.” Paul senior worked multiple laboring jobs to make ends meet and to bring in extra money he would compete as a weightlifter.

Before the internet and television, theatres like the old Royal Theatre in Footscray, were where the masses sought entertainment and often that included boxing and weightlifting contests. “There were a lot of prize fighters back then and people lifting weights too and those guys got paid.” Competing professionally meant that Paul senior wasn’t eligible for Olympic selection even though, as only a featherweight, he broke several heavyweight lifting records.

It was his incredible feats of strength on the stage that led his father to try his hand at more daring displays and by the end of the fifties he had made a name for himself as a strongman. He once pulled a thirty-five ton Melbourne tram uphill with his teeth, he let an eight ton elephant stand all four feet on his body, would snap pennies in his teeth, bend police jail cell bars over his arm and hold back two cars pulling in opposite directions with his linked arms. In one piece of old footage I watched Paul senior balance large rocks on his back and arms while another man smashed them with a sledgehammer until they broke. There were no tricks to any of it, they were all simply acts of incredible strength.

Paul still speaks with a sense of awe about how his father attracted crowds, “he would pull a flat-top truck with an orchestra on it through the streets on the way to a fair as a way to bring people to the show”. He tells me “the newspapers called him The Collingwood Hercules and The Twentieth Century Caveman” but it was The Young Apollo that finally stuck. A name that his father used throughout the rest of his career until calling himself “young” no longer seemed appropriate and so he became The Mighty Apollo instead. Even as the fifties became the sixties, as a generation of innocence faded and as the Mighty Apollo grew older and became a father his feats didn’t end. As late as 1982 at 72 years of age he was run over 24 times in a fundraising event for charity staged at the Footscray Market carpark.

This was the life the Paul I’m speaking with today was born into. Paul junior was raised in many ways in his father’s shadow. By the time he was born and came to know his father’s company, the Mighty Apollo Gym had added combat center to the title and was a formidable martial arts training facility as well. His father was a pioneer in bringing Kyokushin Karate to Melbourne and had begun instructing students in the fighting style.

In high school Paul junior excelled in athletics and won state titles in two hurdles events. At 22 he won the Victorian open division decathlon which caught the eye of selectors and in short order he was in the Olympic training squad at the AIS in Canberra. Even though he was there for track and field, Paul gravitated to weight lifting, “I used to get told off by the athletics coach because I was in the gym too much.” His excessive muscle gains eventually leading him to be banned from the gym because his jumping events were suffering but that didn’t stop Paul from working out, “I used to sneak into the gym and train with the Olympic weight lifters and the rowers”. The AIS meant five coaches telling Paul what to do from every angle and this eventually led to excessive mental fatigue even though his physical abilities were on par. After two critical lapses in concentration at two Olympic decathlon trails Paul found himself back at his father’s gym. This time with a focus on power lifting.

He moved to Vienna in 1992 and began working at a gym run by one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s old training partners where, despite not speaking any German, he quickly started running the busy weekend shifts. This was Paul’s first experience of what we know as personal training today. He was paid by the hour to work one on one with clients on the gym floor, a practice he brought with him back to Melbourne. “That wasn’t going on here, it wasn’t happening at all. When we were teaching martial arts, people would pay for personal lessons but in the gym industry, you take it for granted that personal training has been around forever but it hasn’t. In the early nineties when you joined up at a gym, part of being a member meant that instructors would spend time with you and coach you, you got all of your programs and that was all just part of your fees.” He remembers his early experiences in the industry, “as a result it made it hard to make a living out of the gym business because if all you’re relying on is gym memberships it’s difficult to make good money”.

The Apollo Gym has undergone many name changes and location moves over the years, it is now in its third generation of Anderson men, having been started by Paul’s grandfather in the thirties. Back then he operated the gym out of a twelve room boarding house in Carlton that he and his wife ran. While Paul senior was at the helm, the gym moved to several inner city locations before settling in West Melbourne where, just south of Spencer Street, you can still see the Hawke Street building façade baring the Apollo name. This was the last location Paul senior ever saw and after his death in 1995 the city dedicated the laneway next to his iconic gym facility to his stage name and Mighty Apollo Lane has been there ever since. A replica of the laneway sign was given to Paul junior which he now proudly displays near the entrance of his own gym.

All the location moves were a result of the business never owning their premises and so when Paul junior moved the gym further west again he was adamant that he needed to buy the new space, not rent it. Together with his long time business partner Martin Girvan they acquired the current site at the Cotton Mills for what he says “was a lot of money for us back then”. Today they own and run The Apollo Gym and another specific personal training facility Elite Sports Performance in Spotswood. It is from this second facility that many sports teams are trained in highly tailored programs, the City West Falcons Netball squad are among many local champions to be seen there regularly.

When asked about the future Paul says he can’t imagine moving the gyms away from the inner west, “I like that out here you have your space, in some other areas of Melbourne you feel like you’re living on top of each other”. He is now on the verge of opening a third training space in the area although is conscious not to spread himself too thin, “the real difference about what we do is that we’re owner operators, I’m down here almost every day looking after the place, I have thirty years of experience in the fitness industry and I care about how people train at our gyms. You just don’t get that from a lot of facilities these days.”

It’s easy to see why he has so much pride in what he has created. With the boutique nature of the gym plus the many highly trained fitness professionals that work here it feels as if Paul is an ever present curator of his client’s experience. If you are looking for a more personal atmosphere for your workouts, come down and say hi to Paul. You’ll find him most mornings and afternoons at the Cotton Mills and if you catch him at a quiet time he might even share with you an amazing story or two about the gym’s namesake.

apollo

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