Inaugural tattoo show a success
Hot As Hell Body Art tattooist and Life and Death member Sheepie gets down to work.
IT was unlike any bar mitzvah I've seen - behind a column of polished Harleys, a welcome party of tattooed arms, bedraggled beards and leather jackets lounged on the front steps.
"How's it going?" I nodded to my greeters, aware of my own unembellished skin.
"Not bad, mate. Welcome to the bar mitzvah," one of the step-loafers replied.
Call it paranoia, but I had envisioned a much less friendly reception.
Snake pits, daggers and knuckle dusters came to mind.
It was, after all, the first annual Toowoomba Tattoo Show - run largely by what police call an "outlaw motorcycle club".
Obviously, I've watched too many movies.
Dozens of kids were running around Groom Hall, darting from one tattooist to another to watch their artworks take shape.
Organiser Katrina Rose told me about the drama that almost ended the show before it started.
Police took offence to the show's affiliation to the Life and Death Motorcycle Club and tried to shut it down, she said.
"We saw the police six months ago and told them what we wanted to do," she said.
"They said there were no dramas, they would just increase the police presence.
"The health department gave us the okay for live tattooing, which is a first for Toowoomba, so we thought it was all going ahead."
At the last minute, Ms Rose claims, the liquor licence was revoked.
"Luckily we managed to find a new venue, but the police called the owner and told her a bunch of bikies were coming to cause trouble," she said.
"I had to explain they were trying to shut us down for no reason except that we ride Harleys.
"It's a family event. Look around, there are kids everywhere."
Toowoomba tattooist Sheepie was in hot demand for his steady hand and eye for detail.
As a Life and Death member with tattoos from head to toe, he is used to life on society's fringe.
Life and Death and police are locked in a battle of semantics, he explained.
Police call it a gang. Members call it a club.
Police call them outlaws.
Members call themselves one-percenters.
"We're the 1% of people who ride motorcycles as a way of life, not just as a mode of transport," he said.
"Everything here is completely legal, but we were shut down because we're club members.
"Toowoomba's known for its parks and gardens, but not everyone lives in the same way.
"This was something different for Toowoomba, something a bit left of centre."
It was an eye-opener for me, anyway.
On the way out the door, I caught Ms Rose for a chat and a photo.
The first annual Toowoomba Tattoo Show was a triumph for human canvases everywhere, she said.
"Next year will be huge. We'll definitely be coming back."
"Today is a real milestone ... a great way to get in people's faces and show them what we do."
But I'm still not getting a tattoo.