An underground icon

• One of Ricky’s tattooists Mark works on a customer’s artwork.

Part two

Mr Luder says he was so transfixed by the tattooist’s skills that by the age of 14 he was doing mates’ tattoos by hand, and in 1974 he started charging them and his career was born. Phillips, meanwhile, placed third in an international tattoo competition but eventually succumbed to his addiction in 1992.

Mr Luder also started working the show circuit; the dirt floors and cardboard signs a far cry from today’s immaculate studio.

In the early 70s he moved west and set up shop in the guest house of the historic Middleton Beach post office in Albany, before moving to Perth and opening a shop in Rockingham in 1976.

His growing reputation paved the way for a trip to the United States, a pathway he says is now open for the next generation of tattooists.

But he laughs that like rock stars, there’s such a clamour for their presence there’s no great joy in the travel and they barely get to see any scenery other than what’s outside the next hotel window.

He returned to Melbourne but was soon back west, squatting in one of the small shops opposite the old fire station in Phillimore Street until the owner caught up with him eight months later and they negotiated an informal lease with some rent arrears.

“I’d got tattooed there at 14 by Pete Davison,” Mr Luder says of the studio. “In fact all five shops there have been tattooists; not all at the same time though.”

Fremantle’s hosting of the America’s Cup in 1987 saw the end of that gig and he moved around the corner to Thornton’s studio where he worked for two years before striking out on his own again.

They were boom times for local tattooists.

“I tattooed all throughout Gulf Wars I and II, and I paid off two houses from the Yankees; they were great clients,” Mr Luder said.

He reckons Fremantle’s links to the 19th century whaling industry and the convict system made it an under-recognised powerhouse of international tattooing. Famed American tattooist Gus Wagner reportedly stopped in the port several times and credits Aboriginal cultural tattooing as being one of the influences in his art, which in itself helped define American tattooing for a generation.

Convicts on their way to WA apparently used black suit from the ship’s lamps mixed with their own spit to create an ink of sorts, and Mr Luder says there’s evidence they were providing some decorations for their red coat guards along the way.

“Fremantle really is at the apex of the tattooing circle,” Mr Luder says.

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