Tatts All Folks!

7 April 2017 Amy Hetherington

Tatts All Folks!

In one of my earliest memories of my grandpa, I’m standing next to him, on a kiddies step at his pink bathroom sink. His hair is still dark. He’s wearing a white Bonds singlet, and brushing his teeth, real and false. But I can’t stop staring at the tattoo high on his arm.

“Why did you draw on yourself, Papa?”

“It’s a tattoo, teenie. I was young and daft.”

Papa’s 90 now. And, like him, his tattoo has aged well. You can still make out the name “Flossie”. He’d lost his appendix on his merchant navy ship off the coast of PNG, and was convalescing in Sydney when he met and fell in love with Flossie, the baker’s daughter. Perfect for Papa, whose vice is cake. But it was 1945, and he was soon back at sea – only for the Japanese to surrender as his oil-tanker passed the heads of Sydney Harbour.

It would be months before he arrived home in Scotland. On a stopover in Bombay, he got inked by the side of the road. He was 18 and in love, and Flossie was now forever… “But Mama’s name is Elizabeth?”

Try explaining all that to a four-year-old! The long-distance love fizzled; Papa fell head over heels for my grandma back in Aberdeen, and years later they moved to Adelaide with their four children. While back then tattoos were the markings of sailors and outlaws, they’re now very much mainstream. One in five Australians are now inked, with more women than men baring body art.

In this edition, Chris Flynn (p14) looks at the colourful history of tattooing; Andrew P Street (p20), Erin Stewart (p21) and several of our vendors share the personal stories behind their ink; and photographer Steven Burton (p22) helps regretful former gang-members in LA remove their tattoos.

As for Papa, he doesn’t have too many regrets about his tattoo; he says Mama didn’t mind. Too much.

Amy Hetherington, Editor

This editorial first appeared in Ed#534 of The Big Issue.