It was 2009 when Simon Young realised the world was going to end. He was living in Tenterfield at the time – an inland beef town some 700 kilometres north of Sydney. “And one night I had this dream that I was driving in the car up in the mountains, which is a place that I’m familiar with. I drove over the mountain and I drove into the ocean and I thought hold on a moment, I’m in the mountains. What’s the ocean doing here?”
Simon began researching cataclysms. He watched films and read books and scoured the web and he became convinced that in the three months between December 21st 2012 and March 28th 2013, humanity would be destroyed by a hellish run of tsunamis and earthquakes. He decided something had to be done. “If you’ve got a plan or you’ve got food stored or whatever it is then you’ve got some hope. It’s only hopeless if nothing is done.”
This is what he told his girlfriend. He sat her down on the edge of the bed and drew the curtains because he didn’t know who was watching. He explained that he’d looked over maps and analysed the relevant crop circles and they had to prepare but she wasn’t listening. She gave him a look. He then tried his family but they responded with the same awkward smiles and dead eyes. “I guess that’s what drove me to actually start (a survivalist community) because I realised none of my family had an interest in what I was talking about. I basically got the thing ah, you’re crazy, what are you worried about that for?”
I speak to Simon on the phone and he doesn’t sound crazy, or at least not yet. He sounds kind of like John Butler – a surfer drawl with lots of references to “karma” and “negativity”. He tells me that the community he’s pulled together is constructing a bunker out of shipping containers, 1.2 kilometres above sea level in the mountains outside Tenterfield. He won’t tell me where exactly but he will explain how it’s funded.
**Simon Young: **It’s $5000 for an adult and $2500 for a child. So a family of two adults and one child would pay $12,500 for entry into the bunker. At the moment we’ve got two financial families and we’ve got three other people including myself.
VICE: And are these people from a particular age group or demographic?
We’ve got all sorts of people. One person who’s just joined is an engineer with Qantas. The youngest has been 14 and the oldest is 70. We had to turn down the 14 year old though because he was a minor.
Do you regularly turn people down?
Sometimes people have applied and been rejected because they have personality issues. A lot of people want to come along and bring their guns. But if you have a whole heap of people with guns that puts you into a terrorist bracket. You then lose all of your rights. Since the Bush government brought down the twin towers you can be trialled without lawyers. We don’t want to be in a situation like that.
And what sort of people are you looking for?
I guess we’re looking at councelors and things like that, you know, as potential bunker people. You can imagine a situation where we’ve lost a lot of family and seen a lot of devastation and you can imagine people are getting out of control and losing the plot. So someone who is a councillor might get a free ticket into the bunker just for their skills. In a perfect world we’d have a councelor and doctor.
An image appears in my head of ten people losing their shit in a basement. It’s an unpleasant image that highlights my problem with this whole scheme. Whatever happens, apocalypse or not, ten people will lock themselves in a bunker for three months and this will be unpleasant. So I ask the question everyone is wondering.
Is it possible that you’re a crackpot?
[Nervous laughter] Ah yeah, well, the media often says things like that but it’s not something I’m going hold against you. It’s not something that people say for a start, you’re the first one.
(The authors' depiction of the bunker, based on Simon's description.)
And then there’s a bad sort of quiet and the conversation tapers off. I get off the phone feeling depressed. All that paranoia and madness and all I could think was why would someone do this? So I turn to Simon’s website for answers and this is what I learn:
According to www.2012australia.com.au, the furthest planets of our solar system trace irregular orbits around the sun. This is particularly true of Pluto (yes, not a real planet) and Uranus. According to research these planets behave as though they’re being affected by the gravity of a much larger body and astronomers have speculated that there’s a yet undiscovered planet dubbed “Planet X”. Now, the idea is that Planet X has an orbit path that brings it closer to us every couple of thousand years. The problem is that this bastard is supposedly 4 times the size of Earth and its sheer gravitational grunt will cause tidal waves and earthquakes and death.
Prof. Chris Tinney who teaches Astrophysics at the University of NSW is unconvinced. He tells me bluntly that “Planet X has not been detected, and does not exist.” I mention that it may still be out of our detection range but he scoffs that “If a planet was going to pass in its orbit near the Earth later this year, then it would already be so close you'd be able to see it with the naked eye and it’d be much brighter than Mars. But you can't and it isn't.”
So it’s not looking good for planet X. But still, as far as understanding the particular psychology of bunker people it doesn’t really matter. The real handle on the subject is not that this stuff could happen; it’s that they think it’s happening now. Even stranger is that this certainty seems to emanate from an obscure Latin American calendar. So what’s that all about?
The ancient Mayan civilization of Mexico had a calendar based on several different cycles to indicate different lengths of time. A week is a cyclical event. So is a year. And what’s happening is that on December 21st this year, one of their “long count” units of time is ending. This is the same as Monday rolling over to Tuesday except that it’s called a baktun and it lasts 394.3 years. So what does this have to do with either the apocalypse or Planet X? I put this question to a British academic by the name of Dr Joseph Gelfer who has penned a book titled 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse. He tells me the Mayans never said anything about an apocalypse. Instead it all came from an American archaeologist named Michael D. Coe “who was trying to correlate prophesies with the Mayan calendar”. I mention that doesn’t seem like grounds for panic and he tentatively agrees. “But that doesn’t mean you should discount people’s belief in [the end of the world]. We need to take seriously people’s efforts to make meaning in their lives. They’re trying to find a way to understand what’s going wrong with the world.”
I agree with the man entirely. After spending two paragraphs debunking “evidence” I’m no closer to the heart of the issue. I call Simon back to tell him I’ve done some research and I don’t believe the end is nigh. I want to use this admission to talk about why he believes it is but that doesn’t quite work. Instead Simon gets on a rant about how the truth is smothered and oddly, this reveals a lot.
**Simon Young:**They don’t want you to know the truth. Actually, there is a very interesting aspect of this. When you start your own survival community, and I was talking to another guy about this, you’re going to have a lot of problems with people trying to kill you.
VICE: Trying to kill you? Who’s trying to kill you?
Well, who knows. There’s an entity that goes around and looks for people like me and tries to sabotage what we’re doing.
Can you give me an example?
Well, I can tell you about a co-survivalist. He was driving home one night when a truck appeared behind him and tried to run him off the road. I’ve also had similar situations.
So what, these are like the Men in Black?
Yeah exactly, the Men in Black dudes come around and try to interrogate you. I’ve had private investigators come to the property and pose as possible candidates. One bloke actually paid $1250 to be a member but then once I’d exposed these Men in Black to the police, the guy disappeared. He hasn’t been heard of since. You see, these people don’t want us telling the public about what’s going to happen, that’s the issue.
Simon says something interesting before we hang up. He says “Anything that happens to this planet has got to be positive. This planet is in a very bad situation at the moment where it’s got a handful of people who have enslaved the rest of us. I think that any catastrophe could have a very positive side effect.”
And to me, that’s the hook of survivalists. Building a bunker is just the result of seeing the world as a crime-scene rife with Men in Black and calamities. With the right kind of eyes, maybe you and I would be building a bunker too. And here I can imagine Simon slithering from his bunker on the first calm morning in weeks. He and the others will stand blinking at the smashed landscape and they’ll smile because they were right and we were wrong. And they’ll smile because now there’s hope.