You can’t drive down the street without encountering a white van hurtling past, can you? They’re everywhere and these ubiquitous transport vehicles could be carrying anything, from flowers, fish, stage equipment, clothes, office furniture to computer parts. But how many of us can imagine one of these white vans being someone’s home? More than you think, considering the price of housing.
That’s why filmmaker Gregory Paxis decided to stop living in a conventional home and see what life would be like on the road. “I’ve been living in a van for four years now and my doco Garth lives in a Van is about the first year of this experience,” said Paxis. It all came about when Paxis knew a woman at his work who was living in a camper van with her husband and her dog.
“She did it, I think, because she was poor and I thought that kind of lifestyle would suit me. I like hitchhiking and roughing it, that day to day lifestyle,” said Paxis. “But then I thought, nah, I can’t do that, I’ve got equipment, this, that and the other.”
Then Paxis was kicked out of his house and when cycling to work, he saw one of those white vans driving past. “I thought, maybe I should give it a try and if it doesn’t work out – it doesn’t work out,” he said. He discussed the logistics of it with a friend and decided to try it out as an experiment for a few weeks, for starters. “People were telling me I wouldn’t be able to last a month. But secretly I knew it would be for a while and it has been, for four years in fact,” said Paxis.
Now it’s all very well throwing a mattress in the back and bundling your clothes in a few plastic bags, but what about showering? “I shower at swimming centres, you can get a shower for about two bucks. Then if I’m at friend’s house, chances are I’ll have a shower.”
Cooking is less of a problem if you have the standard equipment for camping out. “I have a little stove and of course there’s public barbecues. It’s really great because you can cook in the open air and at night time,” said Paxis proudly. “But then again if I’m at a friend’s house, I might do a bit of cooking. But I would never visit a friend just to use their kitchen, though, only if I’m there.”
Four years is a long time, but Paxis has no immediate plans to change his living arrangements. “If I had some kind of long-term illness, maybe, but other than that, no, not really. But if I get a bit older, I’m 39 now, maybe after 15 years I might get a more comfortable van.” There have been many stories about people being forced to live out of vehicles due to unemployment, as well as Melbourne’s population explosion creating a massive housing shortage. But none of these realities seem to have been the deciding factors for Paxis’ life choices.
“I get a bit of money back from productions I’ve made and I also do a couple of shifts at a call centre. Sometimes I just go to the call centre for some place to go. But I like to spend a lot time on my own writing scripts and really I have a low expenses lifestyle.”
And productive Paxis has most certainly been in his van, having made a number of films to date: The Garth Method (2004) winning eight awards in Australia and the US, Garth Goes Hitchhiking (2007) and a feature film entitled The Joe Manifesto (2008).
Garth Lives in a Van screens at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival on Thursday 25 August at 8.00 pm, at the St Kilda Memo, 88 Acland Street, St Kilda. For more info, visit www.guerillafilmnite.com