September 27th 1983

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The old fort

Another latish morning.  That, plus breakfast, plus packing, plus the walk into town, meant we didn’t arrive at the ferry terminal till gone 10.30 – we were off to Magnetic Island today.  We weren’t sure about buying food on the island, so Val went off to obtain some supplies, while I, as usual, sat writing this.  I became increasingly jittery tho’, since the ferry left at 11, + there wasn’t another till 1.  I assumed Val was aware of this + would be hurrying, but I kept going to the door of the terminal + looking out, + there was no sign of her.  Finally, at about a minute to 11, with everyone on board, + with me despairing of spotting her, she hove into view, strolling along the quay quite casually.  I hollered at her, + she broke into a trot, while I dashed back to grab the bags + heave them aboard.  So we made it, tho’ only just.  Val, it seemed, had already written off catching this one, since she wasn’t prepared to run in the fierce sunshine.  I could see her point, but still had to restrain myself from strangling her.

We started off outside in the prow, but were soon driven in.  The sea was very lumpy indeed, so the boat was being chucked around, with occasional waves jumping in.  It was as rough as anything I remember in the Pacific, + I did feel a little queasy.  Arriving at Arcadia on the island, there was a bus to meet us, + that took us to Geoff’s place, the only official campsite, down by Horseshoe Bay.  First impressions weren’t good – the guy was abrupt, nearly rude, + the place was $4 per person, twice what we’d been paying.  But there really wasn’t much choice, so we pitched tent, then went for a stroll along the bay. 

We returned + spent an hour or so in the courtyard, reading.  I finished off Ken Follet’s book, “The Key to Rebecca” – very entertaining stuff.  Gradually, we were mellowing to the campsite, since it did have a nice courtyard, plus games + TV rooms.  A guy there told us about 2 nice walks in the area, one to the Forts, old wartime reconnaissance positions up in the hills, + another to Balding Bay, a secluded beach just along the coast.  We decided on the former, as it was growing late in the afternoon.  It was a lovely walk, winding up into the hills, + the 2 forts were fascinating.  Covered with graffiti, of course, but still it was so easy to imagine them in use, + to identify with the people who’d manned them.  Much more so than, say, Normans or Aztecs.  And the timing was good, since we were back in time to prepare tea in daylight.  Not that it mattered so much this time, as we cooked on the floor of the laundry, where there was an electric light.  I was the chef, + prepared perhaps a rather too-hot curry.  But it was wonderfully filling, + still very tasty.

In the evening, rather than retreat to our tent, we visited the games room, + had an enjoyable couple of games of snooker, + then wrote + watched telly.  Oh yes, I nearly forgot – the big news of the day was that Australia II had beaten Liberty to take the Americas Cup.  What fabulous news.  And an enterprising T-shirt printer had made himself a tidy sum by printing T-shirts showing a kangaroo strangling an eagle, with the slogan beneath “Protest now, you bastards.”  I saw 2 of them on Magnetic Island, + it seemed he’d already sold out twice.  Now there’s enterprise.  Val found a couple of hardback HE Bates books on the bookshelf, so we took them, thus reducing our rent just a little.

Good news about the Americas Cup, even though it was a contest between tywo of our old enemies. Part of our limited excploration of Aiustralia; we are looking at various points of interest as we head north.

September 26th 1983

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Townsville

By our current standards, we slept in, not getting up till nearly 9, when the sun on the roof drove us out.  Just across the way was a big shopping complex, complete with Safeway, so we went over there to stock ourselves.  Also to look for a pair of trousers for me – the situation is becoming desperate, since my only pair have bust their zip, largely my own fault I think – I’ve put on a lot of weight during my stay in Sydney.  But no luck as yet.

Walked into town.  We’d had various estimates as to the distance involved, ranging from 10 mins to 2 miles, + as usual the truth turned out to be somewhere between the 2.  We checked out the yacht situation, but without success.  The Yacht Club wouldn’t allow us to put a note up on their board, so we wandered down to see the boats direct.  There were only about 6 cruising yachts, + none of them were going in the direction we wanted, so no luck there.  Consoled ourselves with strawberries + cream – definitely not good for my figure, especially considering I can’t even get into 34” waist trousers now.  But satisfying, nonetheless.

A hot walk back, but we cooled off with a dip in the pool, + then lazed around.  Val was the cook for the evening – barbecued steak + potato salad was on the menu.  It was, however, a fairly dismal failure.  The potatoes took too long to cook, Val disdaining to use our stove, + instead boiling them on top of the barbecue plate.  And the steak was tough as old boots, being cooked too slowly + too long.  What was more, we were eating in the dark, after having made ourselves a definite promise to eat in daylight.  So all in all I was in a foul mood, blaming Val entirely, not only for the errors, but for not owning up to the errors.  We went to bed miserable.

Not the greatest of days, then; not even moving forward in this case. But then an awful lot of travelling involves this sort of nothing day, all the more so if you are somewhere inherently dull… like Townsville.

Migrant Connections festival

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The good news was that between us, Hamed and I were able to persuade Carla to join us for our performance at the festival.  Including me, this meant a cast of five, which would be sufficient to tell the story.  (As it turned out, the performance space was so cramped that it was just as well that we did not turn up with more!)

I drove separately to the festival in Streatham, arriving good and early.  I had intended to be there in good time to see all there was to see, and maybe have the opportunity to talk to some people, but in fact I was far too early.  There was not so very much to see, and no-one to talk to; I made myself known to Tamara, the organiser, but she was clearly somewhat stressed by all the things she had to think about, so that was little more than a token hello.

It is not that the event itself was poorly conceived or executed.  There were a lot of people there, and on the whole they were fulfilling their aim, of giving everyone an event at which to meet, to let the children run, to meet friends if you knew them already.  Out front was a sort of market-place of charities and campaigning groups; the main building had various rooms devoted to exhibitions, craft-making (for children), and a performance space – two rooms with the dividing doors between them pulled back, but a difficult space to work, fine for a reading or lecture (or, indeed, some comedy, which went on just before us); not so much for theatre.  It was good that our piece was pretty static; even the limited movement we had included was difficult.

The others turned up during the day, except for Tulsi, who had arrived early, and looked magnificent in their make-up and costume – Tulsi, as well as appearing with us, was performing a solo Indian classical dance.  I had been a little concerned that they would want to keep their appearance in costume as a secret until the dance, but not a bit of it.  Tulsi was on display, and created quite a stir, the (joint) subject of many selfies.

As Carla had never seen the parts she was to play, we held an impromptu rehearsal out front by the bins, and all went well.  The performance itself I was a little less pleased with, partly because of my own contribution.  I was flustered – the comedy acts before us had over-run – and so was not as calm as I ought to have been.  The atmosphere was noisy, with other sounds of children and others filtering in.  And we were very cramped.

Nonetheless, we managed it fine, and got a good reaction from the audience, with one or two saying very positive things to me.  But there was not a great deal of room, and we did not always hold people’s attention as well as I would have liked.  But still, we had performed the first half of our play, and so I suppose that was useful, demonstrating that there are the seeds there of a strong play.

Finally, we stayed for a little while in order to watch Tulsi’s performance, after which I fought my way through the Saturday evening traffic to get back on to the motorway and home.

September 25th 1983

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Daggy Dog the truck

The rest of the night was sheer nightmare.  Ray had told us that this section, from Rockhampton north, was the worst of the lot, + he was absolutely right.  It was frightful, just nothing.  I had taken the middle section, to give Val a spell in the passenger seat, + tho’ it didn’t seem too uncomfortable at first, after a while it began to eat into one’s leg, back + neck.  And yet it was impossible to stay awake.  One nodded, + jerked awake, + nodded.  Ray was also at his most feisty, not responding to the few conversational attempts one could make – presumably he was suffering the same fatigue as we were.  The most horrible thing were the hallucinations.  I saw cars, trucks, bikes, people materialise out of the darkness + appear right in front of us, only to melt away again as it seemed inevitable we should hit them.  I was very worried, partly because my hallucinatory experience gives you an insight into insanity, but also because it was easy to imagine oneself as the driver, + swerving to avoid the things.  But it was a reassurance to discover that Val had experienced exactly the same thing.

Still, as the sun came up, things got better.  Ray did stop to catch 2 snatches of sleep, one for 10, the other 20 mins, but I really don’t know how he does it.  Yet he does this trip, and back, twice every week.  And he says he’s take a week off, but wouldn’t know what to do with the time.  We chatted about the local agriculture during the morning – with the sun everybody seemed to feel better.  But when he suggested, + I think he was at least partly serious, that we should return with him, then come back north with him on Wednesday, we had to refuse, politely but firmly – it had been an experience, but not one we could bear even to contemplate repeating.

Ray dropped us off at a service station on the outskirts of Townsville, + we went in there for a pot of tea.  We had missed one or 2 of the places we would have liked to stop off at, such as the Whit Sunday islands, but were pleased to see that Townsville was the port from which to visit Magnetic Island, one of the ports of call strongly recommended by Patrick.  Our immediate task, however, was getting in to the town centre.  It seemed we were still some way out, well beyond a comfortable walk, + being Sunday, there were no buses.  So we fixed ourselves some breakfast on the roadside, + then, more in hope than expectation, thrust out the trusty digits (me still thumb, Val still finger.)  And got a lift.  A nice man, very helpful – he took us to the nearest campsite to town.

It looked very pleasant, the only real problem being that it had a sign up saying “No vacancies”, but we had some confidence of being able, nonetheless, to obtain a spot.  We do have, after all, only a very small tent, so we got out there.  And a quick scout around the campsite revealed that the place was indeed far from full.  But there seemed to be no-one in charge around, + in any case, the stated office hours were from 5-6.  What was more, by asking around, we discovered that the person in charge of the place was a temperamental battle-axe, so we were reluctant to arouse her by simply pitching now + paying later.  It was still early, so we had a long wait, but the day was scorching + we were very tired, so it wasn’t unpleasant to sit in the shade of the barbecue area, + write.

At 5.30 (she was late) the lady opened up the office, + I booked us in.  There was no problem at all, + in fact the place was very cheap – just $4 for the pair of us.  Our neighbours seemed pleasant enough – a Canadian couple, our age, + an Australian couple, a little older.  But both sets seemed remarkably well-equipped, the latter pair even having a television set up in the doorway of their tent, + a huge double mattress inside.  We cooked some delicious bangers + mash, + then went to bed.

Definitely something of a nightmare, but we had made good progress, and still had the option of seeing some of the idlands along the coast. And bangers and mash for tea – who could ask for anything more?

September 24th 1983

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Today was animal day, beginning to end.  To start with, we discovered we’d been attacked by ants during the night.  Fortunately, we have become so accustomed to the little bastards as to treat such an occurrence with a degree of equanimity.  Not so our next encounter.  A huge spider was lurking beneath our towel, hanging out to dry on a neighbouring tree.  When I accidentally disturbed it, it made a bolt for the tent, in which Val sat, petrified.  Talk about Little Miss Muffet.  Tho’ fortunately we were able to reverse the rhyme, + frighten the spider away.

After some breakfast, we went for a walk up into the National Park, a mile or so away.  The first part of the walk was interesting, sticking pretty much to the coast.  And we spotted animal no. 3, a roo, + 4, a big lizard (I think it’s called a goanna.)  The last gave Val a particular fright, since it was sitting in the middle of the path, but it seemed it was equally disturbed, since it reared up onto its hind legs + took off into the bush, + then up a tree, from where it could watch us in safety.  We made one slight detour down to a big long beach, which, considering its inaccessibility, was remarkably well occupied.  Val stripped off for a quick dip, but I couldn’t be bothered myself.  It seemed like too much hassle.  And then back to the beginning of the trail, completing the circuit, this last section being more of a chore than pleasure.  Still, it had been good to be walking again, even tho’ it was tiring – 5 kms or so.

On the road again (or OTRA).  Going up out of Noosa Heads township, a ride with a young Oz couple.  We could only just squeeze in, but it was just a short ride, so bearable.  They told us they were going to the pub, so we envisaged just a couple of hundred yards up the road, but fortunately the pub they had in mind was a bit further, at the township.  So good for us in 2 ways: it took us beyond the main junction (tho’ not yet on the main highway again), + enabled us to stock up on some provisions.

It was bloody, bloody hot, but a guy took us from there to a place with some shade, just another few miles.  The trouble was that it was a difficult place to stop, so we crossed to a picnic shelter, set up our stove + made some coffee.  It was a good break, + a nice place to sit + rest, quiet + peaceful by the riverside. 

And then we walked on a little to a more accessible spot.  No shade, but the sun was starting to sink now, so wasn’t so fierce.  And soon enough we got a ride, in a pick-up, or ute (for utility van) out to the main road.  A nice guy, who had done his share of travelling, like ourselves, but who now made his living building swimming pools.  He took a back road, so dropped us on the highway further south than we would have liked, but that didn’t matter – getting back to the Highway was the important thing.  And in from Noosa.

Another lift from there to Gympie with a Frenchman who has lived in Australia for 20 years or so.  Not that one could tell – he still had a strong accent.  A nice man, friendly  + chatty, he seemed genuinely reluctant to see us go, + kept chatting on the roadside after we had got out, about mysticism.  That seemed to be his thing.  But it isn’t mine, not at all.  I am the most profound sceptic about anything I can’t see, hear, or touch.  Hence my devout atheism, I suppose.

I had managed to get myself quite badly burnt by the sun, so was about to change into long trousers, when a truck pulled up, a good hundred yards along the road.  We weren’t at all sure it had stopped for us.  So I ran up to it.  Yes he had, so it meant a run back to the bags, + another swift trot again, a weirder relay they couldn’t devise on “It’s a knockout.”  I was quite shattered by the time we finally settled in, but it was worth it.  “I can take you some of the way,” the driver said, + some of the way turned out to be 600 miles, all the way to Townsville.  Ray, the driver, was going to do it more-or-less non-stop too – he had to be there by 10 the next morning.

We chatted with him for a few hours, tho’ really he did most of the talking, + seemed to want us mostly as an audience.  The most entertaining part, actually, was when he caught up with some mates of his, also driving huge refrigerated semi’s, + chatted with them over their CBs.  There were jokes (I even contributed one pretty tame effort myself) + a certain amount of ribbing – of course.  Our friends had more powerful trucks than ours tho’, + soon lost us when we came to some hills.

During the next spell, I dropped off to sleep – couldn’t help myself – but Val was able to stay awake + keep the conversation going.  Pulled in at another truck stop just before midnight – our friends were there, just finishing their meal.  But unusually for a truckie, Ray eats very little, + so we barely had time to grab a cheese sandwich + a cup of coffee before OTRA time. 

Oh yes – the last animal of the day.  In the loo, Val found a small green frog looking up at her, but fortunately there were 2 cubicles, so to the mutual benefit of girl + frog, she chose the frogless one.

And still we head north, taking very little time to see anything at all of the countryside along the way – we were keen to piush on, and to get back to real travelling, rather than squander our money in what seemed to us pretty dull surroundings, not so very differet from w2hat we had already experienced. So particularly good to catchy a long ride in a truck.

September 23rd 1983

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Tony and Chris

The really big news of the morning, which we heard first broadcast over the radio, + then from Tony as he knocked on our door for our early morning call, was that Australia II, still battling in the finals of the Americas Cup, had pulled it back to 3-2 down in the best of 7 final.  Very good news, as the Americans have seemed to have been such bad sports about the whole thing.

A bite of breakfast, then we travelled in to town with Tony to collect our money.  Left our packs behind, since we were all coming back again during the morning.  In fact, we didn’t need to travel in at all, except that it was more interesting to look at Brisbane rather than sit at home.  Until  the bank opened, we left Tony to make some phone calls while we shopped + strolled around Brisbane.  They had a simply splendid Army Surplus store, where we bought an excellent clasp knife + a water bottle, + could, if we had been at home + so didn’t have to carry the stuff, have bought a whole lot more.  Oil lamps, bugles, plates, clothes – marvellous.  And then we killed an hour or so by wandering around, tho’ I hardly think we did Brisbane justice.  Our stroll was random, + of extremely short duration.

Back to the office, + then to the bank, where Tony coughed up the danegeld, before we retraced our steps once again to Woolloowin, the suburb where Tony lived.  Picked up our bags, + then Tony was kind enough to drive us out to Apsley, quite a distance really, dropping us off at a service station on the main highway out.  Tony had been very kind indeed, far more than I had expected or, indeed, deserved, in view of my opinion of him.  I feel he is a sad man, whose life, at its twilight, has dulled.  And he lives in the fantasy dream of the salesman, where things are as he would like them to be rather than as they are.  I could see John Bush becoming like him as he becomes older.  Not so much death, but decline + fall of a salesman.

The sun was burning down, + we waited for about 30 mins or so, so were grateful to accept a ride from a middle-aged couple which, altho’ not far, would, they told us, drop us in the shade.  Our hearts fell when we saw the spot they took us to.  Right on the highway, virtually a motorway, + the shady spot merely the place underneath the overpass.  What was worse, there were 2 other hitchers a little further down the road.   So we decided to do the decent thing +m walk beyond them.  Where we prepared ourselves for a very long wait, + still in the heat of the sun.  However, much to our amazement, a few minutes later a car screamed to a stop just ahead of us, by-passing, I believe, our 2 competitors.  It was a young couple, + another youngish girl in the back, all on holiday down in the Brisbane area.  It was a bit of a squeeze, but it was a big hired car, + air-conditioned too, so very comfortable.  From what they said, we didn’t expect to be with them for very long, but really it was quite a hefty ride.  They were nice people too.  They suggested it would be a good idea for us to make a slight detour out to the coast road, + then  north to a place called Noosa Heads, + as they were going part of the way themselves, we agreed.

Our next ride, by contrast, was uncomfortable + mercifully short.  Tho’ it was interesting enough, being in a pick-up with a grumpy guy best described as a “character”.  He had pronounced + definite opinions – on everything, I imagine, but chiefly the ones we received were on race.  Melbourne was full of “wogs, wops, + slopeheads”, + black + white people couldn’t get along together.  It seemed rude + not very sensible to point out that Australia had been a black man’s country in the first place, so we didn’t.  Tho’ perhaps we should.

Much more pleasant + interesting was our next ride, with another “character”.  Or 2.  Or 3, counting the baby in the back seat.  But she slept most of the time.  John + Carrie were a couple, he enormous, she slight, with, they told us, a patch of land out in the middle of Queensland.  They aimed for self-sufficiency, + were full of big ideas,  but we didn’t get to know them well enough to tell whether they were realistic.  (“The pie in the sky turned out to be way too high.”)  Most refreshing tho’, they had a good sense of humour.  Nice people.  They dropped us off at a beach, where we both, this time, braved the water.  It was excellent for body-surfing, so I really enjoyed it.  That is just about the only aquatic activity I enjoy.

However it was back on the road time soon enough, + we were lucky to get a ride all the way to Noosa from an old lady.  She was a bit disconcerted by our packs, had stopped, she said, because of our faces.  Had never given a ride before, which is always a nice ride to get.  It shows that something in one’s hitching tactic is working. 

She dropped us right at the camp-site, so were able to pitch tent, then go looking for some fish + chips.  Regrettably, Noosa is a very expensive place, + there was nothing which fitted our purse, so back to the camp-site for cheesy stew.  Chatted, first with Ben + Lambert, 2 university researchers on, it seemed, a boys’ trip out.  They both had families, so I presume it was as innocent as that.  Then with Tony, a telephone salesman (insurance) who can’t have been doing too badly out of it, as he had a nice motor.  He gave us a lift to the pub, + there we had a couple of drinks together,  but it’s a good job they had a video juke box, as the conversation wasn’t inspiring.  Enjoyed the videos tho’.

More aq case of making progress north than anything of note to comment upon.

Panic measures

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Shamym and Hamed

Which is not quite right, as there was no actual panic.  But we do have the performance at the Migrant Connections Festival in two days’ time, and even though I have made it clear to the organisers that this will very much be a work in progress, and will inevitably be a reading, performance brings its own pressures.  I had turned up to the rehearsal with some remaining feelings of hope, if some of the increasingly desperate moves we have made to increase our numbers come off, then maybe…

But actually, those hopes faded.  Sherwan came through the door, and I thought for one moment that he had been able to join us after all!  But then it appeared he had no good news, was there to tell us that his application for asylum had been denied.  Inevitably, he was a little down, but there are still some avenues left for him to explore – appeals and the like – so his situation is not yet desperate.  (And actually, even if those attempts fail, where will he be sent?  He did aske me to see if I could contact the Red Cross to see if they have any news of his parents in Iraq, and I will do my best, but really I suspect there is little hope on that front.

After which, other news rather paled.  Abdulaziz and Ali did not make an appearance, and I did not really expect them to, and their limited English makes it difficult to integrate them into such a wordy piece of theatre.  Another previous member of the group had told us several times (including today) that they wanted to be involved in the production, but no show once again today.

Hamed jad brought along a friend, Fariq from Morrocco, with the possibility that he might be able to step in, and he did stay for the rehearsal, and was actually very good, but when he learned what was involved, travelling to Streatham all the way from where he lives, he was forced to withdraw whatever participation we had hoped for.  And finally Shamym, the lady who stepped in for me the other week, will almost certainly not be able to attend the performance.  Which leaves just four of us.

With Fariq and Shamym joining in, we did run through the material we intend to perform on Saturday, and in the circumstances, it could have gone a lot worse.  But what is clear is that we have a challenging period coming up.  Numbers are very low, so we need to recruit, but also to integrate people into an existing show.  And I am going to be away for four weeks, so we really do not want that to be completely blank.  And there is politics, of course; what will happen to the asylum-seekers if the hotel scheme closes.

But there are also possibilities, with the Food Bank keen on us to provide some material for a gala they are holding later this year.  And next year, there is interest from a Migrants’ Theatre Festival being held at the Cockpit Theatre.  So we need to remain positive and optimistic.

September 22nd 1983

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Val at Surfers’ Paradise

In order to escape paying however much the local council would be demanding from us to stay at their campsite, we arose at an exceptionally early hour, pulled down our tent, + trotted across the road to eat our breakfast at one of the beach picnic tables.  It really wasn’t too much of a bind, since we’d already used the showers last night… + very nice it was too.  Very few scruples too about our small piece of subterfuge since, altho’ I’m not a total believer in the all property is theft notion, in this particular case it is undoubtedly true that we need the money a lot more than they do.  Which isn’t much of a justification either, but there you go.  We did wander down to the beach for a few minutes, + Val even went so far as to get into her bikini + run into the Pacific.  As far as her ankles anyway – it was too bloody cold, so she said.  So that was the end of our experience of Surfers Paradise.  So far as I am concerned, the surfers can have it.

It was a fairly short walk out to the highway, + from there we got a lift immediately, first car that came, with a lady teacher to the outskirts of town, away from the purely local traffic.  And in very little time, we had another ride, a very comfortable one this time, with a used car salesman, driving one of his nice new motors all the way – it really isn’t all that far – to the outskirts of Brisbane.  One of the particular benefits of the ride was that he had a perfectly clean + empty boot, so that we were able to stow both of our bags in there, rather than nurse the bloody things.  It was Val’s turn to sit in the front.  Tho’ generally that is the most comfortable seat, it is also the most tiring, since that is the conversation spot.  However, it wasn’t too arduous this time.

We were dropped off at a big satellite shopping centre in the southern suburbs of the city, + we were beckoned by the big golden arches of a McDonalds store.  We’d been presented with McDonalds gift vouchers by Pam + Gerry when we left Melbourne, + still had a dollar’s worth left, so we splurged these on a coke + an apple pie.  We then tried to telephone our 3 Brisbane contacts but without success.  For one, the most likely, the phone had been disconnected, + neither of the others were in, so we decided to head in to the city.

A guy we got chatting with offered us a short ride to the main bus route, so we accepted it.  It was a bit crazy – we found ourselves driving along, just ahead of the express bus into town, desperately trying to get far enough ahead of it to leap off the back of the truck, + hail it at a bus stop.  We made it eventually, + a very nice bus it was too – spacious + air-conditioned.  It dropped us right in the very centre of town, right next to the Queen St mall, so we were able to lug our bags into the shade there + sit ourselves down.  And it was still well before 12.

We wandered the shops a little, taking it in turn to mind the bags, + I rang our other 2 hopes again.  Both of them blew.  Scott, the guy we’d traversed the Panama Canal with, had moved to Western Australia, + Laurie (Bruce + Sandra’s friend) had visitors, so couldn’t put us up.  Ah well.  With those 2 setbacks, we were just about ready to move straight out of Brisbane, but suddenly I remembered (+ really, I had completely forgot) Tony Gorman, + with anything like luck, money.  I rang him, + he told me to come on over – fortunately he had his office right in the city.  Which, as soon as we picked up our photos from the one hour developing, + Val had bought herself a pair of bright green dungarees, we did.

Both mentioned here – the Queen St mall, and the green dungarees

He was quite his old self, of course, full of news about sales + potential sales.  The good news was that I had $123 coming to me.  The bad was that we couldn’t collect it till tomorrow.  “Where are you staying?” asked Tony.  We didn’t know, of course, since we hadn’t planned to stay at all, but with $123 on its way I was quite prepared to, so I said the People’s Palace, a place a backpacker in the street had told me of.  But when Tony suggested staying at his place, a notion I was, I’ll confess, a little unsure of, until he told us he would be out at a meeting for most of the evening.  That, for me, clinched it.  Which is unkind, of course, since it was a kind + selfless offer.

We travelled back with Tony, quite a tortuous trip by bus, train + car.  It must be especially wearing for Tony, who only has one leg (the other is artificial, not strictly missing.)  His place was pleasant enough, tho’ both bare + untidy, but it did possess a colour TV, + a separate room for us.  We joined Tony for dinner at a small café he frequents – he tells us he never eats dinner at home, which is both sad + understandable.  It was a fine dinner, of its kind, tasty yet overcooked.  And cheap, of course – most important.  And then Tony dropped us off back home, before shooting off.  We lazed in front of the telly, watching mostly old British programmes – Man About The House, Some Mothers, Police.  And then, fatigued, to bed.  The photos, by the way, were magnificent.  Especially Angela’s set from the party – a real ego trip for me, who was in most of them, but the others too.

More fortunate than we deserved to be, in that today’s entry details 2 free nights’ accommodation, despite my somewhat sniffy remarks about Tony. Her had been the most old school of all the salesmen I had worked with, but had then headed off to Brisbane to start an office there, to our good fortune. But also, especially after my comments yesterday, an unexpected addition to our funds – as I recall, largely courtesy of Sir Peter Abeles, to whom I had sold a half-page advert in the programme for a Lords Taverners dinner. We had been given a copy of a letter of support from the Duke of Edinburgh, so I popped that in with the info, and that seemed to have done the trick.

September 21st 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

We had a later start than we’d intended, since Pat was up + showered, breakfasted + off to work before we stirred.  Still, it wasn’t too much longer, then we were having a cup of tea in the surgery together, + then off.  Retraced our steps to the service station where we’d been dropped yesterday, + started hitching again from there.  It was another roasting day, so fortunately it wasn’t too long before we got a ride.  We were bloody grateful tho’, since there’d been very little traffic.  He was quite a nice bloke, called Stephen, not chatty but intelligent with what he said.  He was off to an alternative culture festival being held up at a place called Nimbin.  It had attracted quite a bit of publicity, since even Pat had heard of it – we’d been talking about it yesterday.  It sounded really quite interesting, so we decided to go along with him.  I had to think about what I wanted to do, and what I thought I should do, + what was easy to do, + going to NImbin won 2 counts out of 3.  After all, we are here to see things, if at all possible. 

Drove to Lismore, the nearest big town to Nimbin, + stopped there to obtain some shopping, + some information, since none of us knew much about the place, or the event.  The info we received tho’ wasn’t encouraging.  There was a $35 entrance fee to cover the whole 5 days that it was running, + tho’ it might have been possible to negotiate some sort of deal on a one-day stopover, we didn’t really see that they would let us in for less than $10 apiece.  So, reluctantly, tho’ we still weren’t certain about it, we decided to leave Stephen in Lismore –he had driven all the way up from Coffs Harbour, so was going in anyway.  This was a bit of a pain, since we’d driven inland away from the main coast road to get to Lismore, + would now have to hitch back out there.  It was only about 30 miles, but still might prove difficult.  As, in fact, it did.  Stephen was good enough to drive us back to the outskirts of town,  but from there we had quite a hefty wait for a ride… + that was only for a few miles.  Still, it did take us properly out of town, to where the purely local traffic ended.  Still, another goodish wait, but then an old lady, on her way to work at a small children’s home, gave us a ride.  She dropped us at a local store, + we barely had time to buy some orange juice + local honey before a car pulled up for us.  He was an ex-pat Englishman, now involved in boat delivery and building one-man aircraft.  Interesting, but a bit weird, + rather distant + inconsistent.  Still, he did take us down to Ballina, which meant we were back on the coast, + Highway 1.

Time was getting on, + we were half-resigned to finding a place to stay there, when our usual last-minute luck turned up trumps, when a guy in a pick-up pulling a caravan stopped for us.  He was heading all the way north to Surfer’s Paradise so, as has happened to us so many times, just when a day looked like being a bummer, our Fairy Godmother sent down the answer to a prayer.  Fortunately, for such a long ride, the bloke was interesting.  He now towed caravans for a living, his own business, but he’d made his money initially as a sheep-shearer, + had a good deal to tell us about that.  Apparently, a merinho sheep is wrinkled, to get more wool on it, + so is a lot more difficult than a cross-breed to shear.  We didn’t agree with all he had to say mind – he was fascinated by the modern developments, + especially all the money that was being made, + thought that the high-rises were great, + Surfer’s a true paradise.  We thought it was hideous, but he was certainly interesting + happy to take us on a short detour to show us various things.  And almost best of all, he dropped us directly outside the Council Camp-site at Surfers, so we didn’t have to walk even a few yards.  The office to the place was shut, so we just pitched tent alongside another one, + had a cold meat sandwich, + then walked to the main entertainment centre at Surfers, about a mile and a half.  But it was just so dull, about as interesting as its English seaside equivalent yet without the charm.  We bought an ice-cream, then wandered home again.  Why do people spend their money on such places.

This does indicate how easily we could be swayed, our decisions largely lead by what we thought we could afford. This concern with money had been a guiding principle throughout our trip, but actually it was to play an even larger role on our trip back through Asia. We had had till now the reassuring thought of being able to top up our money in New Zealand and Australia, but now, though we were about as flush as we had been ever since we started, it was likely that that money would have to carry us all the way home, with little prospect of paid employment (not quite true, but we weren’t to know that at the time.)

Otherwise, a fairly normal litany of rides and ride offerers, with pretty much the normal range of people.

September 20th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Pat (an earlier picture, from Sydney)

An early start – we’d promised that when we’d been allowed to camp.  So our tent was down even before 7.  Tea + toast for breakfast, during which we canvassed the truckies to see if they had room + were heading north.  No luck that way, + once the toast was eaten, it was outside + busy with the thumbs.  Or thumb.  The Australian way is to point with the forefinger, + Val has adopted this method, while I, being of a more conservative + traditional nature, stay true to the good old thumb.  We waited about half an hour out on the road, but then were picked up by an old guy.  He’d taken the back seat out of his motor, but I was happy to take that berth, partly because the bloke suggested I should, but equally because I was more than happy to let Val handle the conversation.  In fact he was, I believe, quite interesting, + had all sorts of tales to tell about the depression in Australia.  I can’t say for sure since I’m afraid I slept for a good part of the journey.  Obviously. I still hadn’t recovered from a succession of nights with very little sleep indeed, + being driven is very soporific.  I think the bloke didn’t mind too much tho’ – he was happy to have Val for himself.

Dropped us in a pretty dreadful place, a few miles north of Fredericksville, or Freddo in the Australian argot, more or less in the middle of nowhere.  We weren’t exactly worried, since it was still very early, but it didn’t exactly look promising.  Still, not to worry, especially when a de Ville pulled up ahead of us – that’s the very top of the Holden range, + a very comfortable motor.  It held just one small old man, who stowed our gear in the back, + then asked us where we were heading.  When we said Grafton, he said “Oh, is that all?”, since he was on his way to north of Brisbane.  Quite a nice chatty bloke, + we got on quite well.  Stopped off in Coff’s Harbour for some lunch, but it was after that his worst aspects revealed themselves.  Chiefly they could be summed up as an intolerance for the other person’s point of view.  Not that we tested this proposition personally – when I disagree with someone giving me a ride, I tend simply to shut up, + this was the case today.  He has adopted an aboriginal girl, + seems to think this gives him a greater knowledge of their problems than anyone else.  Similarly, with the highly complex problems of ecology etc – his was an uncompromising laissez faire attitude, ie let big business (+ big agriculture come to that) rape the land.  Still, on a personal + not political level he was a nice kind man.    Tho’ on a personal + not political level, concentration camp guards were probably kind to their families.

He dropped us on the outskirts of South Grafton, so it was no trouble from there to discover the location of Skinner St, where Pat was practising.  It was about a half-hour walk, but when we arrived at the surgery, there was a note on the door saying, “Visiting patient at home – back at 2.15.”  It didn’t sound very plausible, but it wasn’t long before the appointed hour, so I sat down to guard the bags while Val went off to buy a cold drink – the day was a real roaster.  Sure enough, Pat turned up very shortly, climbing out of a mini with 2 young ladies in nurses’ uniforms, all of them laden down with huge plants.  Yes, it had been a cover story, to conceal the whole staff popping out to buy plants for the surgery.  Typical.

We all had a cup of tea, + then Val + I left the others, (the girls’ names were Kim + Karen, both pleasant + pretty enough, but to me, a bit silly) to do their stuff, while Val + I strolled round S. Grafton.  There really wasn’t very much to see, mostly pubs which looked attractive enough, but were, according to Pat, rough as all hell.  We also spent a good deal of time in the Post Office, sending off a parcel of things we hadn’t had time, or had forgotten, to send from Sydney.

At 5, Pat took us first back to his digs, a dingy + depressing room in one of the pubs, noted for the dog turd in the hallway.  But he paid $25 a week, when they could remember to collect it.  Pat was rather hoping he’d been forgotten.  We then walked to Grafton proper, the main metropolis across the river.  It was a beautiful sunset, but Grafton itself was only slightly more exciting than its southerly neighbour.  We went to a pub bistro, + had a fine meal, but I suspect that Pat was rather embarrassed by Val insisting on not eating, making do with my side salad instead.  I’ve got used to her now, but I’m sure she can be disconcerting for others.

From there, back to South Grafton, + on to the RSL club, of which Pat is an honorary member.  They are quite remarkable places, being financed almost entirely, in NSW at least, by the pokies.  While we were there we were able to observe the zombies at work.  Pat frequents the place quite a bit, since it offers TV, a bar, a restaurant, disco etc at very reasonable prices (courtesy pokies.)  And South Grafton, being a small country RSL club, is very much the poor relation.  We had a couple of games of snooker on a not very good table, making us realise how spoiled we were in Sydney, + a couple of pints –  real pints! – of beer.  I for one couldn’t get over how enormous the things were.  And back home that’s a normal measure.  Then back to the Great Northern Hotel, sneaking in to spend the night on Pat’s floor, taking care not to tread in the shit.  One of the perils of the game.

Pat was another of my colleagues from John Bester, but he had quit before I did – he is a qualified dentist, so he went to take up a (far more lucrative) position as a locum in Grafton, a small town in northern NSW. He had been quite a pal – I had gone with him to a few Sydney Swans Aussie Rules football games, as well as other social occasions. One thing that quite a few of us from the office had got into pretty reguklarly was snooker, often at lunchtime.

Pokies, incidentally7, for the uninitiated, are poker machines, slot machines, what in my youth were called one-armed bandits.