71 Day: Sunday 2nd December: Bali – Darwin and the final country Australia.
Went for breakfast but settled for a couple of pieces of fruit and a cold cup of tea. We considered hiring a car to go and see the paddy fields but had no idea of where to go and we had a deadline to meet of 6.15pm to leave for the plane. The tourist information offices (on every corner) didn’t even have maps of the area we were staying in and just tried to sell trips which all started in the early morning (which we’d missed being in bed) and mainly included fishing, boat trips out to sea and a zoo that Lonely Planet calls disgraceful because of the condition of the animals.
I finished up spending two and half hours in an internet café whilst Anne packed for Australia. A complete waist of valuable time. We were dragged to Bali in the dark after a wonderful time on Mt Bromo and the time, we’d supposedly made up by flying, (Calcutta) was once again cut down. The original itinerary had us flying from East Timor and God only knows when we’d had got there.
Most people were assmbled at the hotel reception when we got there having decided also to give the day up to travelling. The journey to the airport went smoothly and we arrived to miss what looked like a spectacular sunset. I was very pleased and relieved to find out we were flying with Quantas and not Garuda. Mark told me Garuda have been banned from Europe for failing safety checks and neglecting maintance. It took Quantas an hour to check us in and slid into a bit of farce. The security was OTT, had my bags checked three times before we got to check in. We were then frisked again before boarding over twenty minutes late. Our plain was very new with leather seats and neck supports that could be moulded around your neck but was considerablely smaller than the Garuda Boeing standing by its’ side and as much as I looked I couldn’t find the familiar Quantas symbol. Instead it said Air North which I later found out is Quantas’ short haul company. As I sat down I heard Alex telling Barry that one of the cabin staff had told him we were flying through a storm even though Noreen had seen the weather only the day before online and confirmed good conditions. I found out later they were winding me up, the bastards. The actual flight was brilliant and even though 9.30 Bali time became 11.30pm once on the plane we were served food and drinks. We were offered a choice of chicken, beef or veg pies, cheese and biscuits washed down with Jacobs Creek and the very kind air hostess gave me a second bottle. This was a good way to leave the Orient.
72 Day: Monday 3rd December: Darwin -Kakadu Nature Reserve
Not so much a new day but the continuation of the night before. Made a perfect landing at Darwin at 1.30am fulfilling a forty year ambition. At last I was about to know whether my decission not to emmigrate in 1967 for the love of the UK folk scene was good or bad one. As I walked up the tunnel to customs a female airport worker coming down looked up at me and said ‘g’day’. The perfect welcome to Oz.
We had heard so many bad stories about trying to get into Oz so even as we stood waiting to be processed we weren’t sure of actually being allowed in. As the customs officer looked at both of our passports and the screen she leaned over to the officer next to her and said ‘why does it keep saying this?’ For a split second I was convinced that Visas4Oz had botched our ETAs. The other officer looked over and said ‘it’s ok’. We were in!
The Youth Shack Hostel was closed and in darkness when we arrived and as we stood waiting for someone to come and open up the humidity engulfed everything and within a few minutes my body had gone into meltdown. The temperature was a cool 30 degrees and I later found out it was the second hottest night in over thirty years. The humidity which is the real killer was a staggering 89%. Things only got worse when we entered the hostel and our room. I was sharing with three others and no one had thought to switch the air con on. The room must have been in the 100s. Lucky for me the others allocated me the top bunk just under the air con unit which blasted out cold air for the few remaining hours in Darwin.
Out the four of us one went and slept outside by the pool, one lay reading by the light of his torch and John and myself slept and missed breakfast which we were assured by Anne was one of the best ever. Before boarding the bus went with John to get new simcards for our phones and had my first experience of Oz sarcasm. While setting up the account Craig made polite conversation.
‘Where ya from mate?’
‘Pity about the cricket team’
I replied ‘The gov’ts not much better’.
‘Better than the one which sent convicts out to the sand and sun’.
I should have replied pity about your rugby team or words to that effect and given him a run for his money but he caught me off guard, melting still and tired. A g’day and a dig at the English within a couple of hours of landing. I could get to like this place if it ever cools down to just boiling.
When we arrived back at the hostel our new bus with driver and guide Rick was waiting. Although he didn’t start having a go at the English he had the same indifference and sense of humour as Craig. Within twenty minutes he’d given us the itinerary for the next couple of days and did it in a way that convinced everyone it would happen. No bullshit! His presentation ended to general applause and I think he was surprised by it.
Within an hour or so we were fulfilling the first event watching crocodiles jumping for food. No sooner had the boat left the river quay than the first croc made for it. As the lump of meat dangled over its head it carefully and slowly positioned itself and then lifted a good third of its body out of the water snapping at the bait. After a couple more attempts he was allowed to grab the meat and our attention was drawn to croc two on the other side of the boat.
Our attention was being drawn to each new croc by the none stop Ben Elton type talking captain.
‘Who they’re mean ladies and gentlemen.
Pure killing machine ladies and gentlemen’.
And they’ll eat you ladies and gentlemen if you given em the chance.
‘And when it’s hot and sticky like today and your by a welcoming cool looking pool of water you’ll given em the chance’.
‘There everywhere ladies …. and so on and so on’.
Intermindled with all this showmanship blurb he also gave us the statistics how crocs were hunted to extinction, before being protected for the past 30 years. They will only eat something smaller than its’ own body size and are only now again reaching the size of mankillers. Every year more people are being attacked and this will increase as the crocs getter bigger. They live a similar age to humans and grow at the same rate. Most of the specimens we encountered were, according to the voice, about 3 metres long and would kill given the chance when hungry. Much of his comments were intended as a serious warning to people not to swim if the sign says not to.
‘Whoo and you will ladies …’ and so on etc. Why would anyone be stupid enough to swim with crocodiles?
After the hour feeding the crocs we were entertained by two beautiful three to four foot long water pythons who didn’t seem to mind being wrapped round people’s necks etc. We were told to go and wash our hands, arms etc if we had sun tan lotion on.
73 Day: Tuesday 4th December: Kakadu Nature Reserve
Unfortunately this record has been lost and I will have to rewrite it when I have time to check out what we did
74 Day: Wednesday 5th December: Catherine – Daly Waters
we started out early and went canoeing up the Catherine Gorge for three hours with John as my partner. Had a very pleasant relaxing time just paddling up the river until we came to a point in the river where we would have to carry the canoe to continue the next gorge. After a very pleasant hour just swimming in the beautiful clear water we decided to just take our time and head back down at a leisurely pace. Later found out that the river does have freshwater crocodiles. At one point when we were swimming and fooling about Lauren got out of the water saying she had seen a long object swimming not too far away from us and it was obvious she was serious. I have no doubt we had been swimming with crocodiles, all be it, harmless freshwater ones.
Anne, Noreen and Viv went on a helicopter ride up the gorge but were very disssapointed by it. The pilot kept well away from the gorge and too high to see it or us and take any decent photos. A waist of money.
Lunch in Catherine at Subway
Carried on moving south and called in at a spring which was dugout by soldiers as a makeshift swimming pool and, of course, it was then commandeered by the officers for their own use. The pool offered us the first cool water and everyone, plus another group heading from Alice to Darwin, took the opportunity to swim even though there was a warning sign about crocs.
Arrived at 6.30pm at tonight’s stop the Daly Waters pub. The bus slowed down and came to a stop as it approached a set of traffic lights on red. It then turned onto the ground behind the pub and parked. I later found out the traffic lights are always on red, everyone has to stop at Daly Waters. We were camping using swagger bags. The camp area was right behind the pub and after spending a good 30 minutes trying to set our Mosquito net up between a tree and a makeshift pole we retreated to the pub for a meal. The air around here was filled with various flying insects some big enough to be picked up on a radar screen. A flying beetle the size of a piece of anthracite tried to go through my body and both of us finished up on the floor trying to work out what had hit us. It happily crawled off into the scrub while I beat a quick retreat back to the bar.
This was the first pub since leaving England that I would be happy to call my local. The barman was a young man from Bolton who’d been traveling around Australia for 3 months mainly in the west around Perth, which he loved. He did admit that he was missing his mates back home and the dozen or so inhabitants of Daly Waters, although great, hardly made the place a cosmopolitan town like Bol.. don’t be stupid. If the rest of the town’s folk were anything like the ones in the bar then this place could give any large town in the UK a good run for its money. A group playing pool and dressed like cowboys eventually left the bar, as they do every night according to the landlord, to fight. The landlord’s wife just took the opportunity to commandeer the pool table for a winner-takes-all competition which I just happened to win because everyone else who entered were pissed. We were also provided with fancy dress hats and gear to make the competition even more ridiculous and the pool table was by now covered in what I thought were lace flies: an insect with long lace wings which turned out to be termites. The air, the toilets, the showers, indeed everywhere in and around the pub was covered with these harmless but very annoying creatures.
The pub itself beggared belief consisting of a combination of corrugated sheds encircling a central main bar and garden area. The walls and ceilings were covered with various artifacts left by travellers. These consisted of women’s knickers, a thong tree (flip flops), foreign currency, photographs of individuals and groups all pulling faces. The place was a veritable museum of disused machinery and equipment such as saddles sitting astride a pole and boxes of old military communications equipment etc etc etc.
By the time it got to bedtime we decided against sleeping in swag bags, covered with mosquito nets or not. There was just too much animal life about and the kind barman from Bolton put us in one of their backpack rooms outside. I doubt whether I could have found my way the short distance back to the camp.
75 Day: Thursday 6th December: Daly Water – Alice Springs
The air con in the backpacker room was a complete failure and I regained consciousness in a pool of my own juices. The heat and humidity were unbearable. Much more so than anywhere else we’ve been to.
The journey to Alice started at 7.30am and it was already causing me to meltdown. Also learned my first important lesson on survival. Went to the loo and as I turned and flushed it a two to three inch long jet black beetle crawled out and fell into the bowl. No problem but it could quite easily have been a Redback. From now on I always lift the toilet seat before sitting.
Within 30 minutes of driving south the scenery changed from tall trees and quite lush terraine to shrubby bushes and arid, semi desert. Hopefully the,however, the humidity levels will fall.
Had a picnic lunch at Mary Ann Dam on route. All went for a swim but the water was smelled of earth like a
Alice was a surprise to me, I expected a cross road with a bar and general store, horses and big rough looking, always fighting, comic book residents. In reality it’s a town of 22,000 with modern shops and bars etc. We were camping 20 minutes outside the centre of town on the Stuart Caravan Park, so named because of its’ proximity to the Stuart Highway the single road stretching from Darwin to Adelaide some 3800 kilometres . Once again the choice was between swags or small tents. Anne decided to go for the tent and avoid insects round her face. I would have gone for the swag, if I snore half as loud as she says no selfrespecting fly would come near me. We arrived latish and got the tent up in no time, had a power shower (pushed me against the tiles) and set off to tonight’s eating place Bojangles. If it is half as good as Daly Waters we’re in for another treat.
When the bus pulled up outside the bar two monsters held the, saloon type, swing doors open and welcomed us in. The inside carried on with the western theme with long benches, beams and a big wood bar selling stock Oz booze: VB (Victoria Bitter), Carlton Bitter, Castlemmaine XXXX and a light premium beer for drivers. I know Australia is upside down but it really does turn things on its head. For instance a premium light is only just over 2% when a premium in the UK would be a strong beer and money gets smaller according to its value e.g. $2 is the smallest coin, $1 is twice as big and a 50 cents is a big clumsy looking coin something like our 50p. As we sat down a dark bold ugly looking bloke came over and explained the situation. He was going away for a few minutes and then coming back to take the order and all the dishes on the menu were $14. The menu was interesting including Kangaroo, Fish & Chips and Lamb Shank, which was my choice. True to his word he was back in a couple of minutes and asked us all to follow him to a counter where he took the orders, gave us a table buzzer which would sound when the order was ready and asked for the money. When Lucinda, usually one of the first in the queue, said we weren’t paying he got really shirty and made his way round the counter to throw all 27 of us out singlehandedly. It was left to me to explain that our leader was paying. This seemed to infuriate him even more and he demanded we brought Leighton to the counter. The food which was ready and waiting, as the buzzer started to vibrate on the wooden table, was better than the night before. My lamb shank was served with well mashed and seasoned potatoes, rich gravy and a salad. Those that had the kangaroo were also impressed. As I started the meal I encountered my first run in with a real Sheila. Anne and myself decided, because the lamb was delicious, to have a glass of Oz Shiraz with it. and as I leaned over the bar to make my order the owner of the three full half pint barrel glasses in front of me and containing something resembling gin or at least clear alcoholic judging by her appearance said ‘that’s my place’. I should have just moved but instead I explained the situation. My accent immediately provoked a drunken ‘where ya from’. My answer didn’t help. ‘Ya obviously not Australian or ya’d be a gentleman and help me find the green bean I’ve dropped by the bar’. I was now confronted by a major dilemma. I could play along with her game of taking the piss out of a pomme and letting my tasty lamb go cold or tell her to piss off and cause an ashes type confrontation which I couldn’t win. I tried to explain about the food and received another insult about my nationality. I took my head torch from my pocket and shone it at the floor and drew her down ‘saying whereabouts did it fall’? Just as she was about to take it one level further the ugly no nonsense barman said to her ‘what ya doing?.’ When she explained he said ‘piss off back to ya table’. As she walked away carrying the glasses of booz she gave him an I’ll get you back for spoiling my fun look, turned to me and said ‘thanks for fucking trying’. I rushed back to my lamb feeling I’d been let off lightly thanks to Mr Nononsense man.
Later I went to the toilet. As I pushed the door handle to enter the doot opened from the otherside as some one came out. Once inside the tap in front of me turned the tap on in the next bowl and the hand dryer started the one next to it. I was beginning to see where Sheila was coming from if the ladies were the same. We decided to leave with the coach and finished the night off drinking wine and whiskey on the campsite with Anne and Noreen. All in all, a good day.
76 Day: Friday 7th December: Alice Springs – Kings Canyon
We were changing buses today for one which hopefully has air con that works. After unloading everything onto the grass we set of into Alice. Had to buy our seventh camera simcard and found a photography shop quite easily but gasped at the price, £20 for a 2gb Sandisk. This is £14 more than at 7dayshop.com. Oz is not cheap. Bought yet another hat putting me in brother-in-law John’s class. I now have my Arab headset/ scarf from Istanbul, Afghanistan hat from Bilal in Pakistan, Tibetan from the refuge in Darjeeling India, an Australian baseball and now a white, straw fedora.
To be continued.
77 Day: Saturday 8th December: Kings Canyon – Uluru
Once again original record lost and will have to be rewritten later.
78 Day: Sunday 9th December: Uluru
Even though the night was hardly peaceful with the wind and the youngsters we made a very early start to see the sunrise over Uluru.
When we arrived at the visitors car park and made our way to what was considered to be one of the best spots to see the lump of rock change colour I was amazed to find hundreds of different tourists but mainly Japanese all waiting for the magic moment to happen. Unfortunately because of the weather conditions sunrise took place with little effect on the rock and we left a little disappointed but glad to have done it.
We did spend the next couple of hours following the 9.5 kilomotre walk round the base passing all the sacred sections (no photos or entry), watching the amazing birdlife especially near the waterholes. Many were disappointed because they were not allowed to climb to the top of the rock because of the weather conditions the night before which made the climb dangerous. I had already made the decision not climb irrespective of the conditions out of respect for the Aborigines. As we looked up at the path up on to the top I was quite glad it was closed. I have seen many documentaries about the rock but none have really conveyed the height and size of this beast stuck in the middle of the desert.
Went into town and spent most of an hour and bit being pissed about by the two guides who wanted us to go with them to a bar. Eventually went into a shop while we sat outside waiting. When I asked when we were going to the bar Dave said or we’re not now it’s too far. Thanks alot prat.
Next stop the Olgas which are higher and more extensive than Uluru. Two short walks up the Valley of Winds and a gorge.
Cultural centre typical, boring and very expensive. cultural centres in Oz are to the Aboriginies what casinos are to the American Red Indian
Back to Uluru for the sunset and champagne and nibbles along with hundreds of other tourists. The scene was very amusing with the Japanese all seated drinking from Champagne flutes while we drank champagne and stubbies from plastic mugs. Still it was good but the sunset no better than the sunrise. The atmosphere was great.
Had good fun back at camp with Ben and Das looking at their videos and talking to Das’s mum back in Berwick on Tweed.
79 Day Monday 10th December: Uluru -Coober Pidy
Another 4.30am start with a 600 kilometres to cover to civilization and Adelaide. First couple of hours spent backtracking to get back on to the Stuart Highway.
Pulled in to take photos of the state border between the Northern Territory and South Australia. I sang South Australia.
South Australia I was born
Heave Way, Haul Way
South Australia round Cape Hone
And we’re bound for South Australia
Haul away you rolling King
Heave away, Haul away
Haul away you’ll hear me sing
We’re’bound for South Australia
But I was a little sad to be leaving the Northern Territory and the outback because although the weather’s been untypical nothing can hide the variety and beauty of this enormous state which is the size of Britain but has a population of only 220,00. A little further on the bus slowed down as two Wedged Tailed Eagles, the largest bird in Oz were having dinner with a group of White Bellyed Seaguls, second largest, in the middle of the Stuart Highway just inside South Australia. Perhaps I’ll like SA even more than NT.
The scenery began to change to a flat arid landscape and as we approached Coober Pidy the desert was punctuated with mounds of waist from the mines. As we entered the town one could be excused for thinking it was a scrap yard of disused machines, corrugated outbuildings and prefabricated shacks and not the opal capital of the world.
We pulled into to the Opal Museum car park and we were met by a guide who was to take us round the town and show us the main sights which consisted of a church, school with special turf playing fields and a water treatment plant. The best thing about the tour was the guide who was a Dame Edna character she spent most of her time rebuking the driver for not immediately responding to her demands to turn left/ right. Her enthusiasm for the town was amazing; she enthused about the school’s lawn, a water treatment plant and a friend who spends $200 a month to water her garden.
Once back at the museum we were ushered into a theatre to watch a video on the history of opal mining and the working of the stones. As the documentary was about to finish Das and Ben took the opportunity to slowly make their way towards the door and the pub up the road when suddenly the screen burst apart and Dame Edna appeared to ask them ‘where they were going’ and there was still the mine to see. After the mine which I thought was quite interesting we were led into the showroom/ salesroom for the real reason we were there: to buy. Most people bought something, some very expensive. By this time the youngster had escaped.
The bar at the top of the street was an architypical Australian bar, modern with canteen type tables and chairs and banks of monitors high up all round the walls, and pokey machines along tha back wall and ajoining room. The clientele either sat playing pokey, stairing mesmorised by the lotto on the monitors or buying beer at the bar. As I made for the table where Anne had sat herself down I noticed Dame Edna at the next table smiling at me. She obviously knew what I was thinking because she simply said ‘I drove here sweety’. I thought she might have used a secret underground passage from the mine.
Went to the underground bar. Das and Ben getting were very drunk but I thought they would be ok because as we went to the bar and bought drinks the barman anounced it wwas closing. After another rten minutes we left and made our way back to the underground type cells.
80 Day: Tuesday 11th December: Coober Pidy – Adelaide
Very early start 4.30am again although my day started earlier, as usual, with a toilet stop. As I made my way up the underground passage to the exit door John came towards me having already been and greeted me and pointed down to the ground under the sink area and said ‘don’t fall over him’. Curled up in a ball on the dusty, cold floor holding his camera like a child cuddling a teddy bear for solace was Ben. On my way back I contemplated waking him and moving him to one of the bunk beds above us in our room but he was soundly sleeping and it seemed a shame to disturb him. Also Rick would be waking everyone in 10 to 15 minutes and so it seemed a pointless exercise. What was more important was where was Das? Ben then told Ric, as he made his way on to the bus, how they had lost their way back to the accommodation after leaving the bar and eventually decided, in desperation, to sleep in a disused spaceship used for the film Black ?
After a couple of hours of cuddling together to keep warm in the near freezing temperature he set out to find the cave. When he went back to show Das the way he found that he had gone on walk-about. We spent the next twenty minutes trying to find Das and it started to get quite worrying when a very cold looking, shaking Das accompanied by Alex, who’d found him. It later emerged that Das had sought refuge in what he thought was the doorway to the hostel hoping some one would come out and let him in. The doorways was, in actual fact, the main entrance to the Opal Museum and that didn’t open untill 10.00am.
Both Das and Ben were totally oblivious as the most beautiful sunrise of the whole trip developed as we headed down to Adelaide. In the space of a couple of hours the landscape changed firstly from shrub to a large salt lake stretching for as far as the eye could see and then flat harsh grazing land.
Very soon we pulled in to have breakfast at one of the wonderful roadhouses. These are literally oasis in the middle of the desert selling everything that anyone needs to survive; from Mrs Macs pies and Magnums to tee shirts and the more essential goods like beer and petrol. Set a couple of hundred miles apart they are able to charge what they want without too much complaint. You’re not about to set off a couple of hundred miles down the road to save a couple of dollars on a packet of tea bags and a bottle of milk. The other absolutely essential thing about these road side mecca’s is their social side providing information about everything that has happened over an enormous area to all those living around and those passing through on a regular basis.
My first and only impression of Adelaide was of a large city with very wide, well kept roads. the Lonely Planet says it has a reputation for being boring and I can see why but it had a sense of calm and cleanliness about it lacking in most modern day cities I have visited and so in a way I found it refreshing. The hostel was clean and I found myself sharing with Colin, John and Das and Ben. After a trip to a local bar I found myself sitting at the front entrance to the hostel smoking and talking to a young woman from China who’d been travelling for five years and was running out of excuses for not returning home to her father and a traditional life of marriage. We discussed Marxism, Maosism and the state of modern China and I eventually went to bed at 4.00am being no nearer to solving the young ladies dilemma. I hadn’t been in bed long when Ben and Das returned to share their nights experience with all of those sleeping on their landing.
81 Day: Wednesday 12th December: Adelaide
Went to the toilet at about 6.30am and Ben and Das were looking at photos on Ben’s laptop and giggling. Went back to sleep until after 9.00am. Found Anne downstairs with Noreen writing post/ Christmas cards. This is probably the most civilised city we’ve been to so far and we had no breakfast nor drinks. We had to get a bottle of orange from a drink machine.
There seems to be some confusion about our leaving time. It was supposed to be midmorning or about 10.30am and then the bus suddenly had to go to their workshop which took one and a half hours not thirty minute as we were told. We sat around using the internet but generally getting bored. When the coach arrived Lucinda and Andy had gone on walk-abouts.
I fell asleep again and missed the views of Barrossa Valley. Had a roadside lunch looking at the Murray Bridge and river an hour outside Adelaide. Picnic spoilt by the flies.
Another long day of driving made worse by a confused late start. The countryside very similar to the South of France with vineyards and fields of wheat. This area is suffering from a great water shortage, up to five years since the last significant rain fall. Many farmers going out of business. Have to say the fields are so well kept that it is hard to believe there is such hardship.
Bus suddenly pulled into a very clean, quaint spacious little town called Woomera. As the bus pulled up outside a Victorian building calling itself the Royal Hotel I assumed we were staying there. It turned out we were going to a fish and chip shop and our destination was still two hours way although the landlady of the Commercial Hotel next door estimated three hours in a coach. I had Barumundi and chips for the second time in two days washed down by two glasses of VB beer.
Sunset was glorious again but an hour later thanks to the time change. The rest of the journey was pretty boring driving through the dark and we arrived at 11.40pm and then had to erect the tents. Had a quick couple of glasses of wine and went to bed. The site what we could see of it looked good. The toilet and showers were very modern and clean. Very soothing to go to sleep list
82 Day: Thursday 13th December: Wannanba – Melbourne
Had a bit of a lay-in until 6.30am, took the tent down, had a bit of a breakfast and made a quick trip to see the sea which was not far. Left at 8.00am instead of 7.30am, because the reception was closed until eight.
We were setting off up the Gt Ocean Rd to Melbourne. The road very quickly changed into a kind of country lane with fields of harvested wheat. The landscape changed yesterday to a very continental looking environment with vineyards etc and it carried on today in a sim ilar vain.
Stopped for dinner at a famous pie shop and they were pretty good. I had a shepherd’s and Anne had Chicken and Mushroom but there were beef in Guinness, Moroccan lamb, leak stilton and chicken.
The ocean road, did as it says, followed the coast and pretty spectacular it was in places but generally it was beautiful in a European way with green grass, trees and well kept bungalows neatly sitting on the hillside looking out to sea. Yvonne told me that the very modern designer looking properties sell for $1000,000, that’s £400,000 plus or the price of a terrace in London. She actually thought that a million is a lot of money and that I was exaggerating about the price of London properties.
After lunch we went for a walk through a rain forrest to a beautiful waterfall called Triple Spring. There were forest Ash rising to about a hundred and fifty feet and thirty feet in diameter.
Further down the road or, to be correct, up the coast we pulled into a café called aptly Kuala Cove Café and of course the trees were full of Kaulas. Well not exactly but the first tree we came to had five, two adults and three young and in all we did see nine all lazily sitting drugged out of their mind on Eucalyptus. As we got of the bus Noreen noticed a large striped snake slithering off up a water culvert. I managed to get a poor photo of it but there was little doubt what it was. Tiger snakes are one of the most dangerous and it seems will attack if provoked. This was my second deadly snake. Far more beautiful were the incredible King Parrots which are quite big and have very red heads and breasts and green wings and swoop just at head height and adopting an ideal position in a tree for photographing before flying off before you could take one.
Back on the road the highway carried on with beautiful views of the cliffs, the rocks and the pounding waves. What I found strange was the total lack of people and traffic which gave the whole route a feeling of a clean, empty space undiscovered by tourism. However, talking to Yvonne she assured me this coast will be like a mad house just after Christmas. It seems Australians wait until after Xmas before setting off for a months vacation and this area is very popular with those around the Melbourne area.
The first sight of Melbourne was of the familiar skyline and the traffic which seemed to cause Rick the driver some problems mainly because of low bridges which the coach was unable to get under. Eventually he managed to get a taxis driver to show him a safe way to our hostel Urban Central which was very modern, spacious, in short enormous. After booking in I was once again in a room with John and just for a change Kwok who had rejoined the bus after leaving in Darwin with a badly infected foot he damaged in Bali.
After a few beers and a couple of games of pool, with John, in the very large bar we all set off to find somewhere to eat. We finished up eating in a restaurant along the road from the hostel and although it was reasonable it was quite expensive. Finished off the evening drinking and playing pool in the hostel bar again and later being entertained by the lads in the presence of Lucinda’s sister who drew them like flies round the proverbial but then drove them mad with her obsession with money and costs. Costs were not something the lads understood or wished to discuss.
83 Day: Friday 14th December: Melbourne
We had a lay-in untill about 9.00am and then set off into the city to do some shopping. We didn’t get very far because the shop a few doors away from the hostel was an AppleMac dealer and I wanted to check the price of a laptop. I’m so pissed off with the level of internet access that I’m seriously thinking about buying one to compress my photos etc. Of course the problem is buying the software, although, I could download some thirty day trials of Office and Fireworks. Anyway the lads in the shop were very helpful and suggested I wait and buy within thirty days of leaving Oz to get 10% tax back. The prices looked good: a basic laptop with 2ghz intel, 1mb ram, 80gb hard drive costs $1580 or £660 which I think is cheaper than the UK. A 2.2ghz, 1mb ram, 120gb hard drive, black with internal camcorder was £1700.
As we reached the Yarra River the modern skyline soared above in a very friendly kind of way and not imposing and threatening like I always think NY looks. But of course Melbourne is a minnow compared to the Big Apple. The south bank consists of a large casino complex and many fine restaurants and bars. The north is the main shopping area and we headed for Elizabeth St to buy yet another SD Mini Card for the camera/ PDA. This time it was cheaper than in Alice but at £15 for a 2gb still extortion compared to the UK
I quite enjoyed the shopping spree. We went into the outdoor shop Kathmandu which had 50% sale and bought Anne some new Solomon walking boots, socks, pillow to replace the one lost and a foldable shoulder bag. The boots were to replace her trainers which have not recovered from the jungle trek to see the largest flower. We also went into a chocolate shop to satisfy John’s passion for chocolate mochas and I have to say it was delicious. I also bought myself another silk shirt which is much better than the one I purchased in Varanasi. The shirt I also had made whilst there as long since been binned. It was not finished off and started to fall apart. Anne was right when she tried to dissuade me from buying. Another £4 wasted.
After the mini shopping spree we headed back to the south side of the river for a more grown up drink. The bars and restaurants were very busy with Christmas office party’s etc. It’s strange that all the shops have special deals and sales on for Xmas and plenty of party’s but it doesn’t feel like Christmas at all. It may be that it only works in the winter. I’ve believed for a long time that it has very little to do with religion and all to do with cheering the people up in the midst of winter when there’s nothing to do on the land. It certainly doesn’t work here in Oz.
Once back at the hostel I attempted again to upload more of my blog. I paid my $5 and tried to log on to four or five machines to no avail. Eventually got on after fifteen minutes of wasting my money and time. Managed to check my email but when I tried to locate my USB nothing happened. I was informed by the receptionist that they have been blocked because of hackers. Her answer made no sense to me and she wouldn’t reimburse me either.
After an hour John and I made our way downstairs to the large, noisy, hostel bar. Anne came down just in time to make happy hour which lasts two hours in Melbourne. Set off once again into the centre but this time to eat by the Yarra. It was only 8.00pm when we arrived at the first restaurant but it was obvious we were going to have difficulties getting a table. The place was buzzing with people seeking tables and each establishment had a queue of people waiting. I managed to get a table at Greccos which was packed and presumably a good sign. I ordered barbecued Octopus on a bed of chick peas to start and Mussels in a tomato source to follow. I had finished my first course before the wine arrived and when it did, after complaining, it came Luke warm and served in wine glasses straight out of the dishwasher and hot. Second complaint didn’t go down to well, for a moment I thought he might call us winging pommes but he did change it for an ice-cold bottle and cold glasses. I had been told the eating establishments in this city are excellent and indeed the food was good but the service suffered from the number of customers passing through. The waiter smiled when I gave him a $20 tip and he apologised for the wine. He’d been rushed off his feet poor lad.
When we came out we entered the fairytale environment of the casino world of the stupid and rich. A large ornate clock hanging from the roof marked the central area with bars, restaurants and gambling halls running off at tangents. One hall had poky machines stretching for as far as the eye could see. I have to say I was glad to find the front carport area showing off Audi’s, Mercs etc because it meant we were out of the maze. Outside, the fairytale continued with the lights and reflections from the buildings on the Yarra. Melbourne is more beautiful at night than in the daylight and although we saw lots of drinking and merriment there was no sign of bad behaviour or violence. This is a great city we’ll be returning soon. I can’t wait for Sydney bring it on.
84 Day: Saturday 15th December: Melbourne -Camping Jindabyne
Awoke in the dark at 7.10am and managed to make out the time without lights or glasses. I had been disturbed by our other bedmate Kwok who arrived at 4.00am and settled down to a quick snoring burst which died almost instantly. His snoring did not last long enough to wake John who was sleeping soundly as a result of all the booze he’d consumed last night. Once downstairs I became aware of the pouring rain well before I took our bags to the bus. Anne nagged me into running a few hundred yards to post some more Xmas cards and the street was difficult to maneuvre with the puddles and spray from the traffic.
The journey out of the city was easier than the one in and I must have fallen asleep because when I awoke it was to a wet but beautiful landscape of hills, trees and lakes. Anne said I’d missed the best views. We were now in the Snowy Mountains at an altitude of 1500 metres heading for our next and last stop in Jindabyne.
We were directed to a very nice chalet type hut with a double bed, lounge area and full cooking facilities. Before we had time to settle in we were wisked back off to the bar down the road for Leighton’s last sourced meal of cook your own stakes and salad. Once again the pieces of meat were a good inch thick and 10 x 6 and succulent. After the meal and a few beers we headed back to the campsite and our final drinking session together. The communal area was closed but this didn’t stop the lads from opening it up and settling down with boxes of beer and wine.
Gordan had instigated an Oscars award evening and he and Andrew compared it. For a week or so before everyone had been encouraged to write down any awards they thought was appropriate. I nominated Ben for the Best Bus Carpet for all the hours he’d slept in the buse’s isle etc. Although it was well thought out and presented, by Gordan and Andrew, it somehow drifted into a rather raucous event and eventually came to an abrupt end as a result of the complaints about the noise from elderly campers in the immediate vicinity. Anne was nominated for being the only person on the bus to have a song composed about her and I for promoting Sheffield.
85 Day: Sunday 16th December: Jindabyne – Sydney via Canberra
It should have been an 8.00am start but after last nights shindig there was no chance. We took our bags down to the bus and it was raining yet again. The weather’s been pretty poor since leaving the Northern Territory. It started raining in Melbourne and has continued since and colder as we’ve moved north.
Arrived at the Parliament buildings in Canberra at 11.15am and spent an hour looking round, which was about the length of time needed. Although it consists of lots of marble and large open spaces it is still quite plain. I related a story to Andy about one of my early visits to the Houses of Parliament and a tour with Brightside MP Joan Maynard. She told the students that everything in the palace is the real McCoy: paintings, statures, furnishings, marble, onyx etc and all of it designed to corrupt any MP from a working class background. She suggested it should be burnt down and a purpose designed functional building built. She would like the one here in Canberra. Went on the roof to get a good view of the city, the old parliament building, the Telstra Tower and the lakes but unfortunately it was raining heavily.
Set off for Sydney and sadly the final leg at 12.30pm. As we got nearer the rain got heavier and the visibility poorer. With just 50 kilometres left we hit a traffic jam and the last few miles were slow and an inauspicious way to finish a journey of a lifetime.
We arrived in the pouring rain at Mrs Macquaries Point across from the harbour bridge and the Opera House. It somehow didn’t look the way I expected it to. It just looked and felt like an ordinary town with a big bridge and harbour. My first comment was it could be Newcastle. Ah, such is the power of the sun!
As normal when the bus pulled in everyone ran for a toilet which was about 150 yards away in a park. My first observation was no taxis so how do we get to our new home for the next week, the Maze Backpackers Hostel, 417 Pitt St, China town? We were told by Andrew that this was just a photo shoot opportunity. I then mistakenly thought he meant with the press but it turned out it was for us. The only person to approach Andrew and question some of the changes was Sue and he told her this was not the place or time. ‘Send me an email’. Fat chance of a reply.
So it passed on the 16th Dec 2007, at approximately 6.00pm, standing at the front and hanging by his fingers tips from the overhead parcel shelves of the Oz Adventure bus that had carried the remaining 29 survivors the final 3000 of their epic 12,500 mile journey from the warm and sunny Embankment in London to the wet, windy and cold Mrs Macquarie’s Point in Sydney and looked upon by stalwart Oz driver and guide Rick, Group Leader Leighton James, deliberately and nonchalantly and definitely not in the tradition of earlier great leaders dismissed the family for the very last time, therefore, dispersing them for ever to sail the trade winds of the great oceans, fly the Boeing packed air corridors of the world and rattle down the ancient Old Spice routes of long dead ancestors and in so doing ended the Saga of Ozbus 2 with the immortal words:
‘Tomorrow’s itinerary is as follows, do whatever you fucking want’.
The bus then dropped us at Circular Quay and after a few tearful goodbyes we made our way to the next stage of our journey and our home for the next week. The Maze Hostel is as central as it could be but nothing can change it from being a dump in the middle of Sydney. Our room for $70 a night was a cell that would be condemned by The Prison’ Ombudsman. It consisted of a bare 8 x 6ft room, a window opening out onto the noise of Pitt St and the hostel across the road, two tone painted walls of dirty cream and manky mustard and iron bunk beds. No shelves, cupboards, chairs or plugs to recharge batteries etc. The gents toilet was eau de urine even though they were cleaned on a regular basis, unfortunately the main male clientele could not work out the complicated procedure for lifting the toilet seat.
When we climbed into bed we noticed that the room’s fan was dead and we both breathed a sigh of relief that it was raining outside and cool. As I lay on the top bunk and rejected the Australian flag coloured duvet by pushing it down the bed towards the window, the noise began to roll out from the hostel across the busy road as the smokers, drinkers and singers filled the pavement. I eventually fell asleep sometime in the early hours in the knowledge that I didn’t have to rise to anyone’s trumpet. As it happened I was semi conscious just a couple of hours later but not because of the noise from individuals but from the sound of the city.
As I lay there the city began to play an urban symphony. Street repairs began as generators and pneumatic drills percussion in unison, low voices repeating late night gossip hummed in the background, car engines ticked over at the traffic lights and police cars and ambulances, life saving, dashing about in the shadowy distance with syrians at half volume. In the bunk bed, squeaking, half slumber of my head the din moves down an octave and starts thrumming like a giant didgeridoo and lulls me back to sleep.