I am home and awake during the day-time. Though I wish I was still wandering among forests of skeletal gum trees, chasing possums in the red dust as kookaburras and cockatoos scream together, or perhaps going on starlit walks under the southern skies, wishing on satellites when shooting stars were few, maybe just hunting fish with spear at dawn, standard. For now I’m happy painting my old room. Crushed stem and timeless white. Timeless.
All I have from one year of travel fits into a shoe-box (apart from the freddo mold that’s too big for the freezer drawer). In the box are stuffed some faded cinema tickets (Robocop!) and receipts, a soap bar of magnesium, half a candle, a fly net and 3 hats. My (sister’s) phone is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean along with a years worth of pictures, videos, names, memories and three terribly hilarious, world changing blog posts about Australia that I’d been writing since the week I arrived … They were so good. All I really have are a handful of over-filtered, over-saturated pictures on instagram and two scars. Thank god I don’t have a terrible memory. OH NO WAIT!
So I cling to my memories like a child with a soggy, threadbare, patchwork blanket: like a day drinker to an empty glass. Metaphor corner here. I try to remember why I wrote nothing, not a single damn word, about Young or Sandy Bay (I’m reading this back an hour later and I can’t remember where the fuck that is, sandy bay? WHERE?!) or Perth or the two months I lived in Sydney. I didn’t even take any pictures, the memories are slipping, I lose them everyday. Like the time somebody punched me in a pub on Elizabeth street in Melbourne and I punched them back in my first and only bar-fight. Or the time that a middle aged man wearing both his name and gay pride badge watched me through a crack in a public toilet cubicle while fondling himself and I followed him around Sydney until he got scared and turned around and apologized; he said he had “cancer bad” so I couldn’t hurt him. I couldn’t hurt him, I couldn’t try. “Don’t judge all Australian’s on me”… Painfully true story. It’s 24 carat gold memories like these that are slowly slipping through my fingers… I’ve already forgotten what gelignite smells like, though the smell of flyblown sheep will take a little longer to lose. Fantastic… I can’t tell myself about the girl I met at Sunset Bay but yet the smell of a bloodied twitching sheep, skin and flesh writhing with maggots… Selective.
I had a diary but it was stolen on a train from Harden by an Aboriginal girl who was so so very nice to speak to. It’s over.
The most important thing is to give thanks where thanks are due:
THANKS WHERE THANKS ARE DUE
in no particular order
The bus driver who pulled up next to me and gave me a free lift to the airport because “you’re sweatin to death mate”.
The man at the doughnut place… Krispy Kreme, who gave me a free pink glazed treat as I’d never been before.
Hardman – the strong: To throw a pale English boy into a tin shed full of highly unionised, weaponised ex-cons in the middle of nowhere, introduce him to everyone and then calmly share with him of all your drug habits and criminal tendencies, then to calmly instruct him on how to take down a runaway sheep without losing time: only Hardman. My teachers had trouble making me pick up a pen, but to not only make me work 8 hour days of literally back breaking labour, sorting out blood and shit, but to do it whilst teaching and explaining the most genuine patriotism and love I have ever seen. But then my teachers weren’t muscle and scar bound chemical lovers named Hardman. Nobody loved wool more than Hardman; Lenny and the clan appreciated the new builds with air con and amps and properly boarded floors but it was Hardman with his painfully scary intensity who worshiped at the old temples of the early 20th century, the wood and timber shearing sheds with hand pieces powered by hand and muscle not petrol. He swore he could tell between the AAA grades of wool by fucking smelling them, he was in the top 3 most Australian Australians I ever met, by Australian I mean friendly yet terrifying men of the land who smoke bonds and drink tooheys and kill animals and are at their happiest when doing all three at once. He was scared of nothing, he’d lived in one town his whole life yet could quote Dickens at JUST the right moment to crack up the whole shed. On the shearing floor he was a machine with a broom, a robot whose only concern was dags and fleece, when the clock started he was a blur, dancing wildly around the room, throwing lumps of sheep shit and screaming curses as he pirouetted, trainers soaked in blood. He terrified me into respecting Australians. Thank you Hardman for teaching me more than the tips and tricks of the trade of sheep shearing, thank you for teaching me the mythos and lore of Australia.
The transport officer in outer Perth who let me travel for free back to the city, thank you.
The pretty dutch girl who lent me her car in which I explored the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the finest drive I’ll ever know. Whenever I need to make myself happy I close my eyes and remember powering your Subaru through twisty Alpine chicanes, past endless lakes of the purest blue, over snow capped mountains and into bliss… Motoring nirvana.
Thank you Jake and Jerry and your brother too for… For just being top human beings.
Ananda and Adam – the aspiration: In a wooden house surrounded by grape vines in the the middle of Tasmania is a wonderful couple, they have wonderful children and grow wonderful organic produce that I’ve slaved on. There wasn’t one day of the month that I volunteered on their farm that I wasn’t both deeply envious of their life and deeply happy that I could spend time with them. “Have a go on the ute mate, she’s wild, yeah borrow the kid’s bikes Joe, head over to JC’s shack in the hills Joe, he’s got some special plants he needs help with, are you looking at my fucking wife Joe, my chainsaw’s out of gas Joe but my regular saw aint”. Nothing was too much trouble. They had everything I ever wanted and do want; for the rest of my life I will aim to live in Tasmanian wilderness, in a house full of backpackers, smoking, drinking and occasionally cutting down a forest.
The subway guy who gave me a free sub on my birthday when I asked for a free cookie. “All the salads?”
JC – JC: I can’t really explain, if he knew I was giving him a presence on the internet in this, my little way, he would slit my throat. A weed growing madman, who one day while walking in a desolate forest decided he would build a house right there with his own hands: running water from the mountain, electricity from the sun. Pay JC in batteries or pencils and you’ll receive a homemade seat by the homemade fire, a homemade beer and a joint of homegrown, “fuckin possums stampin on my fuckin leaves”. The only news came from the radio and he didn’t believe me when I explained the internet to him twice, JC was probably a step further into wild-man living then I’d ever dare go, completely off the grid, his sewerage system was pretty much just throwing his own shit into the treeline. But the idea that to have someone else build a house for you, that not being able to provide shelter with your own hands is shameful, to live and die alone and not give a dingo’s ass about it. Who can look around themselves and know ever item they can see was crafted by their own hand? He built a fucking dovetail resin sealed canoe (that didn’t float and never would). JC would drink Ray Mears’ blood let alone his piss. It goes without saying he is also in the top 3 Australian Australians I met. Anybody who can drink 4 dirty dirty beers, smoke a half ounce of homegrown, chase a possum while singing waltzing Matilda and after discuss the finer points of Aboriginal land rights and the American Enlightenment deserves huge respect. JC thank you for showing me that the only tools we ever need to make a happy life for ourselves are at the end of each arm.
Lukas Pille: you drove me at breakneck speeds into the Blue Mountains, for this and some of the crazy apartment times, I thank you.
Karl, Kim and Lauren: your scroggin nourished me as did your constant vitality and hilarity. I’ve neglected our friendship horribly but thank you for everything.
I can’t thank or apologize enough to the Swedish girl who changed my trousers when I was drunk.
Thank you to the ladies and men of the various catteries around Australia that always let me spend the afternoons playing with kittens.
Thank you to the old couple in Hobart who spent an hour drawing me a map when I was lost on my bicycle. The present I gave was terrible especially considering I ate most of it. Thank you for praying.
Thanks to the driver that took myself and two pretty girls from Milton Keynes to Split Apple Bay in remote New Zealand but merci also to the French family who gave me and two pretty girls from Milton Keynes a lift out of Split Apple Bay half an hour later during the torrential rains, we flooded the back absolutely soaking destroyed it, je suis desole.
The fisheries officer who let me off 3 charges – the forgiver: “You have the right to contact your consulate, you have the right to remain silent”… Is there anything worse to hear in a foreign country aside from “run for your lives they’re using phosphorus shells” or the sound of automatic gunfire growing increasingly close? I don’t think so…
1. My catch was undersized.
2. My catch was over number.
3. I was using the wrong knife.
All in all I was in for a fine big enough to send me home and then a bit more. This was serious shit, fisheries over there are a little more… paramilitary then they are in England. Scary guys, webbing, muscles, binoculars, aviators and ponytail or two. But, he let me walk. Thank you officer.
My legs thank the lady at Hobart bus station who essentially let me travel the distance from Edinburgh to London, for £5, with a bicycle.
Sam Wood and Max Hoffman from Ride & Seek: Thank you both for driving me down to Melbourne in what is still the longest time I’ve ever been in a car, I couldn’t of spent that 500 or so hours with two nicer guys. Thank you Sam for lending me your “beaut” of a road bike, she was so very smooth on the flats outside Sorrel, I traveled miles and miles without pedaling once. Yeah… I’m going to say it, the 8 or so days living out of panniers were the highlight of my whole year, my legs still hurt. Thank you both for the experience of a life, not much would make me happier than going on a bike ride with the two of you right now.
The couple that took me two minutes to Richmond before their car broke down, you were arguing so much you’re probably still there, but thank you.
The man who took me 30 minutes closer to Richmond, I hope your recycled oak barrel skateboard kickstarter gets off the ground.
Theo, who eventually took me the hour or two into Richmond, thank you for playing smashing pumpkins all the way, it was glorious.
Scott, Warren and Amanda – the locals: I met Scott on a bus in South Victoria, he’d just finished work at the camper-van assembly plant and I told him I was planning to camp on the beach of the island where he lived with his friend (Scott) and friend’s wife (Amanda) and daughter. An hour later Scott and Warren cycled past me setting up my tent and invited me to stay in their house, this kindness was so unexpected, so very unusual to me as a close-minded, perma-apologetic Englishman that that night I slept with my knife beneath my pillow. But it was a genuine, Australian, warmth and for one month they fed me their Chico rolls and battered Mars Bars. I slept in the spare room, a double bed beneath the Southern Cross flag. We watched MKR and Housos and they lent me rods for drift fishing, florescent lures for squid fishing, knives for Abalone fishing and then they let me use their gas powered lemon cannon. How can I describe the difference in emotion from being alone for three months to having good, close friends pick me up from remote islands by jet-ski? I met Scott on the bus when I was fleeing from Melbourne after a particularly shitty time but when it was time to leave the house, I couldn’t… And I didn’t, I came back twice. The man took me to his fucking mother’s table to eat shark! A complete stranger, I spoke to his friend on a bus one night and he took me into his world showing me things most locals had never seen let alone clueless backpackers. I’m not able to express how thankful I am to these people, hospitality to a stranger but to the furthest degree. Perhaps things did get a little racist sometimes and out of hand, perhaps we did do some silly things and perhaps we did shout things at people and get into trouble fishing but it was true blue Australian “fun” for good or bad and I thank them for showing it to me.
The subway guy who gave me a cookie to give to a friend when I told him I liked his hair.
The lady at Woomera kinema who let me see Gravity with the RAAF guys for free, it was… Weird. They wouldn’t stop fucking nit-picking. “Well how would you hear anything eh?”
The man who caught a salmon for me and slit its throat an all, it was the finest I’ve ever eaten.
Wild John the bushman, you risked your tight BHP job to pick me up, your lift might’ve saved my life.
A member of the Australian federal goverment who explained something something fiscal blah blah budget, blah blah auditing to me in between twisted stories of sex and backpackers. Thank you for the lift and the hokey pokey chocolate.
The South African who taught me how to crochet my first chain. Thank you.
Thanks to the owners of the worst hostel in Christchurch for driving me around your ruin of a city and telling me the most horrible stories.
Jake Chu – the friend: Jake Chu Jake Chu… Where to start? I love Jake Chu. Imagine your first day leaving a provincial county in country England on your own, you fly for 12 hours, arrive in China take a 1 hour bus and promptly get lost with no internet or map in the most densely populated city on Earth, on EARTH, IN CHINA… AT NIGHT. Trying to find any police that spoke English or a passer-by who would speak to you. After maybe the worst hour of my whole year, accepting my future fate as a rent boy in a downtown Opium den a man reached down into the gutter where I was sitting and put his hand on my shoulder, that man was Jake Chu. He had just finished his day and after 8 hours of work found nothing abnormal about walking to the MTR station with me, getting the train to Causeway Bay and then walking another half hour with me to the very door of my hostel. When I thanked him and offered to buy him a drink he smiled and said “You don’t know where to drink, sleep tonight and tomorrow we see Hong Kong”. I’m not going to say he saved my life, but I will say he saved my travels. The idea that every stranger, every unknown man and woman is a friend. The idea that in the one city where nobody will look you in the eye, there is someone to take you by the hand and buy you pork buns and introduce you to his friends and show you a secret cocktail bar on top of a skyscraper, where you can buy ginger G&Ts for around £2. There is someone who will pray for your soul and make you believe in God and friendship. Someone who after meeting you twice will meet you a year later with a bag full of presents for your family. I cannot say enough about how if any person on Earth deserves a heaven it is Jake Chu: but for a single example, the last time I saw him was an hour before my flight to Heathrow from Lantau, in the month where one flight was still lost in the sea, one flight was stolen from the sky with missiles and another simply crashed, I need Valium to fly in the calmest conditions… Jake and his friends held me and calmly informed me my flight would be carried home “upon the wings of angels”, we prayed until I nearly missed my flight. I haven’t taken drugs to fly since, I’m starting flying lessons again in one month. God bless you Jake Chu.
The Israeli gentleman who took me to Mt Aoraki, Dire Straits sing alongs and photo-stops. Thank you.
The pretty girl from Kingston, Hobart. I was your first hitchhiker, you were my first… hitchhikee? driver? friend? It was awkward but magic, “I won’t tell your mum if you don’t tell my dad”.
Christopher Green for crafting my tatty opal stones into the two most beautiful, exquisite rings I have ever seen, you are a jeweler extraordinaire, not, as I called you, “a shit merchant”. Thank you.
Jane and Michael – my oz family: Thank you Jane and Michael. You welcomed me like blood in an unfamiliar country, dissolving my fears. Thank you for taking me from Sydney to Young and thank you thank you for the experience of rural life on the sunny South-West slopes of NSW. One of the most beautiful places I’ll ever visit in my life. Thank you for putting up with my chronic idiocy and losing myself in Canberra. Jane your services as a matchmaker and friend finder are superb, your pictures, your house, your family and the farm are beautiful. You’ve made the cherry capitol a part of my life forever. Michael I wish you best of luck with the business and the conversation we had in the journey from Sydney gave me the best grounding on your country I received. If I could listen to your music and drive in an old Holden I will have lived a good life.
Lance – the partner: Lance thank you for helping me find my colour, thank you for helping me discover the underground kingdom and all the glorious heavenly treasure it hides. Happy mining my friend and partner. Also thank you for lending me that beautiful rope ladder, I feared for my life on every single broken, slippery rung. The last top 3 most Australian Australians.
The £10 POM who drove the getaway car when I robbed the Cadburys factory.
Adam – the officer: Adam… I’m at least 85% sure it was Adam, is an officer in the Salvation Army Fortress in Perth. This softly spoken young man would take me on his active community outreach onto the dimly lit Friday night alleyways and abandoned buildings of Perth in a dangerously powerful Holden full of hot chocolate and lasagna. Sometimes he let me drive. I thank him for shining a light on the dark side of Australia; the racism, the bigotry, the stupidity and the unspeakable cruelty that the Abbot government and most previous governments have treated the Aboriginals with. He destroyed my blind innocence. He is a soul created to give love to everyone he meets, through anyway he can, I tried to help him with the soup and sleeping mats side. Adam showed me that, not as some kind of sick tourism, but that people visiting Australia are not being shown the true history or the true state of Aboriginal affairs today. I thank him for showing me the stupidity and the pain we ignore when we think of the Land Down Under.
The drunk man who gave me a lift on Bruny Island, I hope you’ve no more run-ins with the only officer on the island, but you’ve got a problem. Thank you for the hitchhiking advice though “Never be afraid to stick up your thumb Joe”.
Kiwi customs and border security: thank you.
Malcolm and Anne – my kiwi family: My mum emailed me when I arrived in New Zealand to tell me that her Father’s sister lived in a small beachside town in Hokitika called… Paraparauamu… Parapara… Paratown I don’t know, something or other. Family is family but I didn’t expect the welcome I received: literally, geographically, as far away from England as anyone can be: sick, no phone, camping by the roadside, walking for miles, feeling homesick and tired I knock on the door… It opens, “Hello there, you must be Joe. It’s roast beef and three veg tonight if that sounds good?”. Such kindness, such gorgeous hospitality. Words fail me.
Thank you Aiden for making me tent pegs.
Thanks to the man who gave me a lift from Woomera to Roxby Downs through the wastelands, keep growing that copper (yes you can grow copper, weird eh?)
This is a fucking shambles of a list eh? I tried to thank everybody that’s picked me up by the roadside but gave-up halfway and the thanks that I have actually given fall abysmally short of how I feel… Even the idea that I’m writing a list of thankyous is slightly stupid: I’ve come home not won an oscar. But I really do think it needs to be done, even though nobody on this list will ever read it. So many people helped me so much in so many ways that to not mention them would be simple bad manners.