Tired

“Strange things are happening to me” Randy Newman

Nothing strange is happening to me, I just love Mr Newman; going to rain today, sailing no more… Classics. I am tired though, always, in the daytime. I’m in a box in Al’s Toy Barn waiting to be unpacked. Sat in this fish tank of a kitchen, vast panes of glass and the air of worn familiarity my fish used to get with each other, treading water in their own corner of the tank after the novelty’s of a new betta or tetra has worn off. Might see if I can drag an old boat wreck from the bottom of the lake into this kitchen, hiding in the rusty holes whenever night security/prospective students/pizza guy/anybody looks through the window. “Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same”.

Trains from £9 to London Liverpool, flights from £8 to Geneva Switzerland. Bus to Norwich city center £2.80 (return).

Fin & Thanks

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?)

 

THANKS OVER

 

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.

June 2014

It’s late June 2014 and I’ve just returned from the sea, my wet shorts hang above a lone candle in the centre of the tent, replacing the usual scents of magnesium, matches, piss and rancid butter with the stink of salted seas. Too humid in here to light my secondary candle, the match-heads are just flying off the wood and pinging off the walls. I did it. Great stuff. But now my tent not only contains two burning candles but two hundred match-heads… And the butane tanks of course.

Hard, drying and hot candle wax is splashed across the floor, mostly to fill in the holes that the bastard ants make use of to plunder the butter (table spread actually) but also to entomb the many bastard ants who are then trapped in the killing field when I seal the exits shut. Poring hot wax on ants is fun in a terrible guilty, Caligula, Damon, devil child kinda way. I make new candles with all the wax from the floor that isn’t barring doors to the soil, but it contains so many dead insects that the flame never stops guttering as the heavy bodies of the green electric ants are dragged into the vortex of wax and up along the burning wick. These candles get pinched out ten minutes before I sleep as for ten minutes after the candle goes out the Mosquitos outside drone in a furious outrage that their midnight sun has gone in. There are so many Mosquitos, it’s like a mouse constantly screaming every time a torch goes off or the candle flickers or my leg casts a shadow over the tent wall. There’s a fat black widow spinning in the tent window.

In the middle is the aforementioned dryer, one hook and a candle or two, used for swimming trunks, or if it’s monsooning really bad (it often is), my sleeping bag gets hung up to steam while I wait patiently. In one corner is the flammables and reading material and some empty and some full bottles that I piss in (the Mosquitos in the creek where I’m camped do their best so I really can leave the tent after it rains, I get bitten so bad I feel faint from blood loss) in another corner are stacked the perishables, food and beer, in another my feet and then my little square of a head in the last corner. That’s my tent. I hope you forgive me for painting this picture but I’ve spent… No more than five nights, in the last two months not sleeping in this smelly little tent. She is my world at the minute, therefore it is another state to

Someone’s just called me. Just called my phone… I don’t know the number, they didn’t say anything. This is very interesting, to me, very interesting because… Nobody has called me in at least eight months. I forgot this was a phone, I genuinely forgot it could give and take calls. I can’t call ten back as I have no credit. I’m getting distracted. I’ll be asleep in a minute, spent the whole day swimming and try not to nap after eating two tins of cold ravioli.

I just saw a sea eagle.

Never mind… I’m writing this because I’m going to throw my $40 Tent away at the end of the month, she has too many holes in the floor and her sides, the outer layer has rotted pretty bad from the humidity and it’s all crusted in a fine veneer of batshit. It’s had its day. I got my monies worth and my tent got to see snowstorms for the first time and was so excited she decided to let all the snow and hail in to play with me while I was sleeping. She’s seen slow dawns over nuclear wasteland, fumbled drunken midnight set-ups on desolate Tasmanian beaches, she’s spent more days strapped between the backpack and the backpack lid then she’s spent bungee-cabled onto my friend’s bicycle, but it’s better to walk with a 3kg tent on your your back then try to pedal up a hill with 3kg on the back wheel, providing serious front wheel lift. People have left gifts in her for me, weighed down her corners when I lost my pegs, helped me set her up when I was feeling lazy. She had an old moustachioed Italian opal miner knock on her door looking for me which is a statement that stands on its own. She’s only admitted one guest (which is actually pretty remarkable as my tent does smell like figs, death and lemon-juice bile) and even though the guest was gorgeous it still felt wrong sharing my two-pole home. Her home (my tent) has been the gardens of houses for sale, land for sale, national parks and world heritage sites for sale (fuck you Abbott government), under mountains, on one of the “top ten most beautiful beaches on Earth”, in a public park, in a rainforest, behind a pub when I was too drunk to walk (woke up to find I hadn’t put the outer-layer on top and I’d managed to put two tent pegs actually through both layers of the tent and out through the floor into the ground). She stayed behind a hostel for a week and was so appalled at the hard ground and scared by the cyclone that she told me to leave without paying. She’s made state television and once a small black cat crept in and slept with me while I was in a morning haze, wondering what there is to do in Christchurch. The tent, unfortunately, has had a dead baby possum inside her and probably retains a few of the maggots though she’s been microwaved and X-rayed at customs and quarantine so many times they’re probably now super-maggots with lasers for eyes and a raging hunger for baby flesh, and I really don’t want to be responsible for introducing that to England. So she stays.

If anyone that reads this wants her along with a sleeping bag that stinks of my piss… She’ll be in the jungle. Pegged and lonely and waiting my return.

*sound of brushing teeth

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Colour

I’m done. Finished. Finito.

The two boxes I needed ticked are well and truly tickéd.

I entered Australia with the sole intention of trying my hand at sheep shearing and mining. Wool and minerals. Australia’s two main exports The twin backbones of this great nation, true blue Australia (I also worked in services which actually is the largest export ahead of wool and minerals but fuck services, boring, homogenous).

Andamooka, I’ll need to write another post just to paint a picture of the place (put it on the list with Bruny and Young and Sydney and the rest), just let me say the Wild West and you’ll have to imagine it as such until that post comes. A town where the flag gets lowered to half mast whenever someone dies. Where dingos and blue tongues lizards scrap in the desert sands.

I don’t need to rush around every state to try and see it all. I personally prefer to know one place real intimate than to have been to five and remember none… And boy do I know Andamooka well. Like the back of my scarred and dusty hand.

Its open cuts, its shafts. Every inch of this fucking town I’ve scoured for opals; the backyards of abandoned shacks, under discarded washing machines, under discarded cars, along the sides of roads, underground and above.
And have I been rewarded?
No. Is the simple answer.

I have not made my fortune. I cannot buy myself a silky sleeping bag liner to hold me at night let alone a yacht full of strippers… That’s not to say I haven’t made money, I have. It’s just more along the lines of a cold beer every day as opposed to shouting a round for the whole town and washing my filthy self down in Dom Perignon. No. Though I’ve had a taste of Daniel Plainview’s life it’s been the part before he finds any oil and drinks people’s milkshakes.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

what is it?

opal is a form of silica, chemically similar to quartz, but containing water within the mineral structure. Precious opal generally contains 3-10% water which acts as prisms, refracting the light and producing the characteristic “colour””

This opal is found at a level between 3 and 10 metres down, a former seabed a couple of million years ago. Though that’s horse as there are often two levels in one place and hills make finding the level a good deal more difficult than “between 3 and 10”. The water is trapped in cracked rocks, fossils, dead plants and clay, left for a few million years and the trapped water reflects light in all the Richard Of York beauty.
In the rocks it forms normal standard opal, crack it open with the pick and you’re rewarded either with beautiful crystal opal ($$$) or potch, potch is opal, just not pretty or copious enough to sell, it consists of mainly one colour instead of the spectrum and is often in thin veins in the rock. This is the majority of what I find.

However Andamooka is unique in that the opal is not only in the rock, but has leeched into clay as well. This is called matrix and is a different kettle of fish.

The matrix is clay containing opal, when dry it looks exactly the same as clay, white and porous, making it pretty difficult to identify, especially when it’s hidden inside a mountain of white porous clay. When wet however… When wet it also looks just like clay, until the sun hits it at THE perfect angle then you see the teensiest tinyiest play of colour, the smallest glint of green or red flashing as the sun shines over your shoulder. Always over the shoulder. “You can’t see a rainbow by stating at the sun” as my partner often informed me.

Take your clay and boil it in sugar water or cola then boil it in pure (98%) sulphuric acid. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
This turns the sugar into.. Carbon? I think, not sure. It makes it black anyway. The colour now stands out like nothing you have ever seen. I prefer it to crystal, the pure stuff, by a long shot.
This particular trick is unique to Andamooka and was slyly employed in the 80s to fool buyers into thinking they were purchasing the rare black crystal opal from NSW. Someone found out, people got in big trouble, but the process remains as a way to highlight the colour play.
I found the matrix but getting the acid is proving more difficult as shitty biscuits state government requires to jump through all sorts of loops to buy an transport it. Also 20 litres weighs what felt like genuinely at least 100kg and I’m not in the mood for carrying that in my backpack. Boiling it requires both incredible stupidity and the ability to replace anything the fumes touch… Tent, clothes, skin, lips, the lot.

Red colours in opal are the least commonly seen and command the highest prices, blue vice versa.

how do I get it?

There at two, no three ways to get opal: buy it, mine it or noodle. I’ve done the latter two (though I’ve been tempted to chuck everything in and just pay for it often enough).

Mining involves either working with a partner, as I have, or going alone and buying a lease. The lease lasts for a year and consists of four white posts in the ground, 100ft by 100ft, I think. Nobody else can use this ground, however keep your damn mouth shut boy or else the whole town will buy leases surrounding yours. Not because they think you’re onto something and want to snoop around, oh no. Overburden is the ten metres or so of dirt you have to remove to get to the opal, no matter I it’s tunnels or open cut the dirt has to go somewhere. If you have leases surrounding yours, you have nowhere to put the overburden without it falling onto other leases. This means you can’t dig. People sit around each other’s claims for years without digging, in a stalemate, however you have to be at your mine for a certain number of days a month to keep your lease, all this means is that the men drive out to the lease (or normally get someone else to) and then drive back, as all that the wardens look for is tire marks.

I should really say now that nobody seemed to want anyone else to succeed, in fact quite the opposite. If any one asks if you’ve found any opal, the clever thing to say is “what’s opal?” It’s a pretty dangerous atmosphere, to not get sidetracked Andamooka is a lawless community, self governed, that consists of East Europeans with vast amounts of Gelignite; it has a history of murder and sabotage more colourful than the opal. Though nothing is more colourful than opal. It doesn’t help that the town is essentially dry, nothing more is coming out the ground, the heyday is over, gone, no more good times.

The “level” is the line of seabed where the opal is hidden. You can dig shafts down to the level and then tunnel along when you find it, alternatively you can mine open cut, where you excavate down to the level with bulldozers and work along it with picks. These are the two options for the miner. Open cut is easier and safer, if more costly in terms of machinery; bobcat parts, diesel, picks etc… Tunnels are more fun.

It’s also worth saying that unlike most mining, opal mining is individual, a sole undertaking by only one or two people. For example the BHP mine next to Andamooka (2 hours away) is run by one of the larger companies on earth. They use planes and sonar to sound the ground and identify gold and uranium and whatever else they’ve got under there. With opals the only way to find it is dig, and digging with no real hope of finding anything is a job nobody would ever take a wage for. The people of Andamooka find the opal, cut it polish it and sell it, or try to sell it.

Noodling is pretty much just walking around and looking for opal on the ground. It’s both easier and harder than it sounds. Some of Andamooka’s most beautiful finds were from tourists walking down the high street and seeing a flash of colour on the red dirt road. I did… Okay with it but not laughing naked in a bed of plastic Australian dollars okay.

The whole town is a mine, houses are built ontop of, and often in, the honeycomb of tunnels and cuts. The great piles of earth removed by the bulldozers to make land for dwellings contain most of the actual level, leaving finding opal merely a matter of walking across the right mountain of sandstone or through the right back garden and the sun catching the colour. The matrix in particular is a common find within the town as opposed to the mines as before 20 years ago, miners had no idea what to do with it, so they simply threw it away. I found this mostly outside the windows of old miner’s houses.

But noodling isn’t mining, it’s a tourist thing and I was determined not to be a tourist. So I waited for Lance. I met Lance in Bruny Island. Just south of Tasmania. He had made a 2 metre tall flouting buoy with a ladder on one side and a trampoline on top, anchored maybe 100 metres out at sea it was the perfect instrument to turn my bellyflop into a dive. I used then went to thank the man who made it. The house was identified by the makeshift wind vanes, slides, parts of aeroplane on the roof and just general Dickensian Australiana beauty of the place. I met Lance, we talked about opals and he invited me to Andamooka when the weather was bearable (below 50C).

5 or 6 month later, true to our words we meet and talk for an hour before donning hardhats, boiler suits and fetching the rope ladder. Lance has a white Range Rover from the 80s, he’s cut the back off it and turned it into the longest ute you have ever seen. He had a friend who bought the extra extended long wheelbase Range Rover from UAE, the longest Range Rover you can buy; Lance’s was more than a metre longer. It’s the car of my dreams.

If I start to write about the tunnels I won’t stop, but, I need to write about them.

We go down old tunnels looking for pillars the old miners left for roof support, we destroy the pillars to see if they’ve missed any opal. Going down old tunnels also helps when looking for slips in the earth, faults. These faults can be followed onto imminent ground for Lance to buy his lease when I leave.

So we drive up to either lunatic or tea tree (some of the opal fields) lift the rusted tin sheets off the hole and look down, the way you look down off the top of a cliff, pursed lips and pulse thumping. After we were down Lance says he’s surprised I did it in the first place, most would of chickened, I didn’t tell him how I close I was to not going down, or how scared I was looking down the shaft, or how my first attempt to get onto the steel pole placed across the hole which holds the rope ladder nearly made physically sick. It’s a long way down. On a 10 year old homemade rope ladder that swings and flexes with every step, in a tunnel that had been left for 40 years, down into dust and darkness. Past the zone where the air turns from fresh to stale. It’s been five minutes, you’re still climbing. You pass nests full of dead birds, Lance shouts up that sometimes you’ll find a pissed off snake at the bottom that fell down and hasn’t eaten for days. You’re still climbing down, take a break and rest your back against the crumbling wall of the tunnel. You can’t see shit. Keep climbing down. It’s maybe 10 degrees higher than the above ground temperature if the tunnel doesn’t hit another tunnel with an open shaft, if the tunnel is a nice tunnel it meets another shaft and the air flows through, these are 20 degrees below above ground temperature, fly free and gorgeous. You hit the ground, the underground. It is. The best.

I can’t describe the vibe I get 15 metres below. The pitch, true darkness that only gets lighter when you close your eyes. The silence, not just absence of noise but sheer denial of it, it’s crude to talk, the atmosphere of an empty church still lit by candle but carved by pickaxe. The smell of dust and damp and weight and fear. Something beyond sense. The feeling I get when I’m underwater, lying on my back and blowing bubble rings at the surface, surrounded and confined and unable to breath properly, like drinking or dreaming going underground is a true loss of control. When you stand in your garden there is the one single assurance that the sky will not fall down and crush you before you realise what’s happening. Lance comforted me by saying “there’s no quicker death”… Thanks Lance.

The first thing you do is check the walls for cracks, these mean the tunnels is unstable, the tons of sand above are a shifting away and wanting nothing more than to slump and crush and bury. To Lance it means hit the crack with the pick as that’s where the opal hides. I don’t argue with Lance. The next thing is to light a candle, though a head torch is brighter it can’t tell you if the air is running out, or where the exit is when you get lost; and you will get lost. Oh you’ll get lost.

Your body will keep you breathing automatically, the candle will go out if the air gets used up, all that remains is to find the level and chip away, all day all night. Lying on your back in a two foot high tunnel, packed so tight you’re only reminder that you are looking up is the dust and rock drifting down onto your straining eyes. Nothing exists aside from that line of rock that may possibly hold your fortune. In itself opal mining is dissociative, meditive, transient kinda work: coupled with the atmosphere of beneath ground and you quickly forget planet earth. Forget food or friends or day or night or politics or sun or sex or iPhones or humans or life. You forget yourself…. It’s bliss.

It’s too hot for overalls but you emerge from the shaft to find the sparks from the pick have burnt holes in your shorts and fragments of flying rocks have cut you to ribbons. You can be wiping your sticky blood off the rock time and time again without realising you’ve been cut because the red blood isn’t red crystal opal. So I t doesn’t exist.

Nothing matters and nobody cares. It’s not escapism it’s oblivion. It’s what I like about camping and lifts and hiding in car boots and good books.

Then you see colour and your. Brain. Just. Goes.

what the FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUIUUIIIIARGHWHAT

for 4 hours or years or months or forever you’ve seen white and only white, constantly seeking for the tiniest flash of blue or yellow. Then a rainbow jumps out and kicks in your fucking head.

Before the air or dust gets to it the opal is at the hight of its beauty, the zenith of natural magnificence and splendour. Polished and cut under jewellery shop lights it will look like rusty dog food in comparison to the first time it’s exposed under shaking torchlight. Blues and greens and reds. That’s the one I found. Tiny, near worthless. But if I have a kid they will never match the beauty of that one tiny stone.

then what?

You try and sell it.

Nobody wants to know. Even if it’s the nicest piece they’ve ever seen. Supply is rich and demand is scarce. All the miners are sitting on rings and necklaces and boulders and pendants and buckets of matrix. Nobody wants to buy it. No tourists go to Andamooka, it doesn’t matter if you can set it your self and polish it an cut it yourself if you have nobody to sell it to.

I sold some and then kept the nicest bit I found to turn into a ring for myself, in Adelaide I had the stone cut in half and the half of it paid for the stone to be cut polished and “tripleted” (placing the stone on a black glass backing with a glass some on top to magnify the colours. It’s green and blue, slightly like my eyes I noticed as I examined it nightly in my tent, but turn it just slightly and red will… It’s nice.

Getting the stone set into a ring is the next ripoff but what can you do?

OPAL MINING: TEN OUT OF TEN

But leaving town was the most difficult thing I’ve done in a good while.

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Far North Tropical Queensland

I’m writing this to distract myself from the storm. Last time a cyclone hit North Queensland, it nearly crushed my tent and I was camping in New Zealand. This is true but it’s not going to get me to sleep, the winds also make the already stupid candlelight reading an impossibility, though the howling gusts have stopped the Mosquitos from coming through the holes in my tent, ill stuffed with socks, and it should also be praised for blowing away the stenches of piss and French onion soup that are the last camp followers present after I drink alone.

I will say that though it seems I’ve fallen for camping in a big way, Queensland’s not the state for it. The humidity has begun to rot the outer shell after one week. After braving the snow off the southern alps, having to scrape the salt off the walls after gales from the Tasman sea, the time I left it on a radiator and it caught afire or even the simple fact it was only about £20; I fear the wet air of the sunshine state will murder my sweet tent… If we survive this storm.

Just to allay your fears mother by now I may have run from or been told to leave the local park and gone to camp ground. I have a cash in hand job potwashing until the man from Adelaide sends me my opal. So by now I’ve probably grown tired and bloody of all the pests below and gone to some $20 a night dorm. Also I think the candle wax in my phone is working its way through the innards. Email is down, the charger won’t go into walls anymore the headphones don’t work, home button’s long dead and the wax is under the screen in different patterns everytime it gets warm and cool again: I had the brainwave of standing it upright and leaving it in the sun so now I can see most of the top half of the screen. Sorry Rhian, it survived jetski storm, waterfall, toilets, vomit and snow but I fear a candle is crippling it. I’ll try and find a “cyber bar” to skype with you next week. It seems to be playing silly buggers. In lieu of skype.

“Hey mum, how are you and dad and Rhian and the cats, my fish? Still dead?! Norwich look nice? England faring well? What’s all this UKIP shit I keep hearing about, the Australians are laughing at you guys… Can’t wIt to see you all again, I’m eating well and am happy and my skin has yet to peel an reveal the English boy beneath. I want nothing for my birthday save for cake when I return in August… Icing AND the cheesecake biscuity base you know I love? Is that possible? If not then shop bought hungry caterpillar will more than suffice. MUCH LOVE”

Camping in the park: I’d camp in the jungle but the water ain’t so good, the park is essentially just a section of rainforest left uncleared anyway, true rainforest at that, not the temperate forests of Taz or New Zealand. There are no winters or summers here, only wet and dry, currently it’s wet season, very wet season.

foes

The ants are not much company. The small black ones with a red head are standard fare garden biting ants. The lime green electric ants are something else, they want to get under my skin, watching one on my shin it was biting and then trying to slide into the bite, pulling herself down and along with the legs, failing, then biting again.

In the outback the ants were more than an inch long and the millipedes at least 10, but they were visible. I had both in my tent and during the pre-read check with the torch you can weedle them out of the corners and smash the fucking carapaces to dust with Game of Thrones. I can’t see the smaller ants, so I rise most nights in sharp pain to punch and slap the darkness and return to troubled sleep.

There are… Spiders. They look like spiders, almost. Maybe more like a prawn, small and see through, maybe an inch or two long but only a cm wide. They scare me the least… Since the huntsmen of Liffey no spider can scare me. That’s not to say they are friends as if they bite me I will die. However my longest and deepest phobia has been usurped by others.

Principally crocodiles. Not fun ticking crocodiles or crocodiles that hunt mice on the bayou or crocodiles that guard mad lion kings from foxes in green doublets. Not Disney crocodiles. Crocodiles that will bite me and break my back as I try to unzip my tent. 7 metre long crocodiles that will drag my tent with me inside it down to the ever present mangrove swamps to drown me. I have seen a crocodile in the wild and it was was nothing like a bird or a reptile or a snake or a lizard. It was just teeth. The first night of camping here I had a near panic attack and fled my tent to the nearest hostel wearing only my PJ bottoms, white knuckles clutching my wallet. I may have been reading too much Game of Thrones or maybe had too much time on my hands waiting for these shyster opal jewellers or mayhaps it was the price of that night in the hostel… But the day after I returned to my abandoned camp and set to work fencing and staking, using the Bowie knife to fashion countless stakes to ring my perimeter. I started ditching as well but my blisters and calluses from mining have reopened and they really hate the salt water swim that is my shower. I can sleep with a staked enclosure. Not soundly. But I can sleep.

Silverfish, my sworn foes. I don’t know much about them but I think they’ve been drinking blood from my neck, because there are no Mozzy bites. We shall see.

The park rangers. They grow more suspicious every day. I know they’ve found all my baked bean tins in the bins and gone out looking for my camp, I doubt they’ll find it. I should put a warning up about the stakes but then that’s proof. Maybe they’ll let me stay in appreciation of my fortifications, instead of the more likely hefty fine I have avoided thus far. I leave no trace, I only cut an burn dead wood. Why they so mad?

The town of Port Douglas is itself my enemy. A tourist trap of cheap jewellery and digery… Didgereedoos? Dijere, didgeridoos. I have yet to met anyone who lives here, there are hotels and empty holiday homes and why go to the beach when the palm resort had the second largest pool in the Southern Hemisphere and why look at the parrots when you can buy plush toys of them for your mewling chubby children.

The Mosquitos you can’t imagine. I bleed. I swear in the mornings I feel faint from loss of blood. Yet the toe curling pleasure of scratching them raw has been denied me by those I met in Sydney who had been bitten in Queensland and scratched them. Permanent scars. I already have some on my ankle from jack jumpers in Tasmania (really shitty ants), I don’t need any more scars.
dengue fever is also imminent unless I slink back to a hostel. Though at this terminus of most traveller’s journey from Sydney up North through 4000km of East coast party hostels and nightclubs I’m more likely to catch something in a dorm room.

my friends

The bats, AKA the flying fox all stars. I’ve seen bats to make me stand awestruck in Sydney, as they obscure the setting Sydney sun on their way back to roost in the botanic gardens, but it was the scale, the multitude rather than the size that impressed. These tropical ones are… I’m not even sure they’re even bats. The locals call them flying foxes and they must be bigger than the biggest fruit bats. I thought they were just really large bats flying curiously low; Then one actually flew low.
I can’t describe.
I could say the wingspan must be at least a metre and a half, that they bend palm trees when they roost in them. That they could easily kill me on my long walk across the fields behind the beach to tree-line where I camp. That when they walk on the ground on winged arm and hairy feet the leather bound elbows rise above their heads like hinges of some nightmare clockwork spider.
But they just watch.
At night they warn me of people coming near, drunks in the park or rangers maybe, they climb down the trunks of the palms, tiny hands clasping the bark like a monkeys, brown fingers with tiny peanut knuckles. The bats won’t take my bread but they appreciate the offer, well they have yet to drag me screaming out of my tent so I like them.

The parrots are my friends only in that I have as many foes that I need to court the favour of these preening fools. They squawk and scream all damn night but are constantly beautiful and have a pleasing habit of causing you to look up when normally you wouldn’t. Parrots let you notice rainbows and sunsets and other things that most miss for their shoes, papers and phones.

uncertain allegiance

The Jelly fish have yet to make an appearance. Foreshadowed all along the coast with bottles of vinegar hanging from every warning sign I do not know how to complacent to be now the nets are down. Some locals still won’t swim in water.

The crabs. Tomorrow I will catch one of the monster black crabs that hide in the rocks on the headland and cook it. Then we will see if I’m still scared of them or if they’re more scared of me.

Review: Jetboil Zip

I’ve done some other reviews, one for an emotional Spanish language film about Columbian drug mules called Maria full of grace (don’t swallow grapes kids) and one for the new Robocop (which I enjoyed far too much). But I didn’t post them and they got deleted to leave space on my sister’s phone to take photos of rainforests. Oooooooh, so lush and green.

The rain that must come along with the forest has confined me to my tent for the second day. I took a funny picture of me in said tent but have nobody to show it to.

But to the JETBOIL. JETBOIL. I’ve tried to use my shmexy little black camp-stove in the tent before and though I slept well I suspect the fumes to be detrimental to my health. So due to the rains it was cold beans for breakfast and two tins of cold rice pudding for dinner with not much to do betwixt them, aside from penning this review for my jetboil. But first; who is this fabled ser Jet of Boil I speak of?

technical specifications

It’s like a stove… But more like a little kettle, that runs on butane… No that’s not it.
He boils the water. He is my little water boiler. The “jet” prefix relates to the time it takes to heat up your cuppa, the speed being: pretty nifty. Like a jet. Imagine a jet engine; fire, turbines, hot chocolate, exactly. Maybe one minute, if that. But now we musk ask ourselves, is the mythical sub-minute boil… Too short?

To explain. With a kettle you know you have a good two three minutes to think about Dolly Parton and tree snakes and who makes trains and what blind people fear before the water’s a bubblin. You start to drift away with the jetboil however and dark in incestuous warlock magic that powers the fire means that the mug is boiling over already, spurting boiling hot chocolate over your fingers as you attempt to kill the beast, scalding your delicate crotch as pink and purple gas flares singe your eyebrows (true story). So after that you watch it like hawk, and if there’s one saying that has a semblance of truth in this crazy world it’s that a watched kettle takes fucking years to boil.

But what does it look like?

It resembles a small black mug with a plastic lid. Take off the lid and inside the tripod, burner, pan stand, matches and butane tank are stored. Take em all out, put em back together and you have a little camp stove. Lego fun for the child in you, the ability to cook noodles for the big strong manly man. Fill the mug with water or beans or stew or don’t use the mug and fry some bacon or cheese or whatever the hell is on the turn at the supermarket. I’ve turned it from a hard boiled Easter egg machine, cracking one out every two minutes to a coca cola burner to try and carbonise some opal; it’s uses are many and varied. MANIFOLD. It boils things, quickly. The little lid has tiny holes in it so after your pasta is ready you can simply tip the whole thing upside down which will either drain out the water OR make the lid fly off and vomit all your penne and sauce into a steaming basil scented mud-puddle around your trembling sorry feet. STILL GOOD!

But what does it really look like?

Sexual. If the batmobile was a gas cooker full of steaming rolled oats. It’s the closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that most of my generation have ever seen. LEATHER. It’s all black and metallic and assembling it kinda feels like you’re putting together the pieces of something manly, like a gun, to murder someone with.

But will it get me girls?

I’m not saying the all powerful jetboil zip has seduced a girl into to sleeping with me… But that is essentially what I am saying. That did actually happen.
This is maybe more to do with a four day power cut meaning me and my mighty jetboil were the envy and providence of a starving, sallow faced hostel populace, unable to function without wifi or microwaves. But I believe that the dangerously arrogant yet playful aesthetics of the unrivalled jetboil zip had a hand in the union, as did, apparently, the way I peel a hard boiled egg… But no accounting for taste eh?

But what to cook Joe?

Recipe #1

Honeycomb off tree. Rum. Rolled oats. Boil.

Recipe #2

Blackberries from side of busy road. Rainwater. Rolled oats. Boil.

Recipe #3

FUCKING BAKED BEANZ TIME!!!!!
BEANZ BEANZ BEANZ
BEANZ MEANZ MOAR BEANZ
CRABBE AND BOILLLLLL

Recipe #4

Saltwater from the sea. Cous cous. Boil.

Recipe #5

Rolled oats. Boil then lightly burn for varied consistency.

So… With all ‘o’ dem recipes the limit is your imaginations!!! The proof really is in the porridge. Just don’t try to cook anything that burns easily. Kim Jung-boil only really has two temperature settings: jetboil and off…. Cooking meat with the jetboil is possible, if you like your steak either jetboiled or raw…. But better than public BBQs that everyone pisses on eh?

Intersting. Do you have any sad jetboil stories Joe?

Well as it happens… I first saw a jetboil summer (sth hemis) 2014, on the tent strewn shores of Lake St Claire in the great Tasmanian Wilderness (great start, story goes downhill from here). It was being wielded by a young, hippyish chemist grad from Melbourne, cycling round Tasmania with his long red hair, red beard and jetboil in tow. That night he cooked me some pasta in this strange apparatus and then we had oats with rum. He instructed me on the basics of making liquor (something I’ve always wanted to explore since the cider worked so well. Apparently the key is with tomato paste)… Well the next night we ate something different, I’d run out of my own food 3 days previous in the mountains, but this time he let me attempt to tame the Jetboil myself, it overboiled of course, this was in my green days, before I learnt to master the gentle caress of the controls that really set apart the jetboil men from the boys. But I’ll always remember him saying “this instant mash is so good with cheese, I’ll tell my mum” but more importantly, when I apologised for over jetting the jetboil he said “don’t worry… You can’t hurt it”, with a sorrowful glint in his eye. That very same night, whilst being pestered by a possum, I realised that I couldn’t hurt it, we all need camping appliances that can hurt us more than we can hurt them, this is the jetboil. But I saw beyond that too, for all the jetboil’s hardness and tough hide, if it were but more human and loveable, less distant and utilitarian: it would be the greatest friend you’d ever know. This was the reason for the cycling chemist’s sorrow.
The cyclist gave me a book of the most hauntingly beautiful and prescient short stories by… Someone de la… Not sure, shit. He wrote his name in the cover and told me if I ever stayed in Melbourne to live in his beachfront house in St Kilda so I could learn the finer points of moonshine. I gave him the man who was Tuesday… Or Thursday. My memory lapses. Either way he cycled off into the middle distance, I didn’t have any tent pegs so he had weighted the corners of my tent down with rocks and left me a cigarette, I never had a chance to thank him.
Months passed and I eventually found myself in Melbourne and so looked for the young man’s name: to no avail. I had lent the book to some also forgotten girl in Hobart along with the name inside. So it lies to the jetboil I purchased on the cheap, to carry on in perpetuity the memory of Aiden… Something or other.
True story.

yeah… Great. What do you give it out of ten though?

10 CANZ OF BEANZ

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Adelaide

I’m leaving Adelaide on greyhound, drunk on free wine and blushing after Mercedes’ kiss on the cheek. Mercedes is her work name.

What a city.

Everytime I veer slightly from the hashtagged, beer ponged path of the traditional backpacker I’m rewarded. Forget Melbourne. Forget the East Coast. Adelaide is a hidden gem and I hate hate hate that phrase.

After twelve hours in Christchurch airport and nineteen in Melbourne airport I arrive in sunny South Australia. The festival state, though I’ve missed the festivals. It’s Friday and I’ve three days to play with before the ten hour bus to Roxby Downs, then to Andamooka and then, hopefully, to my fortune in the opal fields.

Unfortunately there was a festival in town, tasting Australia, where for a paltry $3 one can buy an empty glass and walk around a field tasting sweet reds and dry whites and fancy roses from the Barossa valley and claret and cider and beer and candied honey from Kangaroo Island and oysters from the Eyre peninsula. I reused my glass every day. This is unfortunate because I can’t remember much of anything this weekend aside from the fact that I love Adelaide.

REASONS

Everybody knows everybody.

I had a greenstone from Hokitika NZ I wanted turned into a pendant. The leather string was free from the girls at spotlight, they recommended me to a jewellers who provided me a free parrot clasp who sent me to the “bodybuilder”. A hulking watchmaker hunched over cogs too small to see, he tied the knot at the back.

The girls at spotlight (haberdashers (I think that’s the right word)) gave me a discount on crochet hooks and yarn, the city wide free wifi let me sit in one of the many secluded parks perfecting my chains.

The library.

As I travel around Australia and New Zealand I’ve been reviewing each and every library I visit. Though I normally love libraries the visits have increased more than usual as the library is the refuge of the stinking backpacker; free wifi, silence, maps and comfy seats.

Now the state library of Victoria takes some beating; Ned Kelly’s tank suit, every scrap of history relating to anything interesting Australia wise, xboxs’ and gamecubes. Launceston library in Tassy had the prettiest librarians, Sydney had the most comics, Christchurch let me pretty much live there for ten days.

But Adelaide library. As libraries go, they don’t get much better. The tech lab contained no less than 3 3D printers and 3D printer guns… A 3D printer, mum, is a printer that forms hot plastic to create an object: kayaks, sculptures, pistols that fire. Anything. I created a ring with Adelaide inscribed on it, the librarian used a calliper to measure my finger, they then printed it and have it to me, gratis.

The high street.

Every day it was another spectacle. African mask making and dance lessons, football training, $3 for as much wine as it takes to make you partake in the African dancing.

The people.

Friendly bordering on the point of too friendly, which is just right. A conversation with a complete stranger is never more than ten meters away wherever you are in Adelaide. I’ve met such an assortment of interesting characters I could write a sequel to Nicholas Nickelby and then some.

I’ve just been kissed and waved onto the bus by Mercedes, a member of the oldest profession who I met half an hour ago while tasting a particularly fine Pinot Grigio for the fiftieth time. She’s from Cambridgeshire originally and a month younger than me… Like all Australians, she’s fantastic. Talkative, friendly, desperately self assured.

When I tell the friendliest people on earth that I’m off to Andamooka, usually in a food court when I’ve drunk too much, they do one of two things.

a. Urge me not to go, or at least go bearing arms or a knife “it’s the Wild West” “you don’t understand” “it’s diferent. Out there.”

b. Laugh at the baby face freckled English boy and ask where I’m really going…. Return to a.

But I’m on the bus now, it drops me off at one in the morning at a petrol station in the middle of nowhere, irradiated desert from nuclear tests on one side and not much else on the other. Riches ahead and underground. I hope.

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Generalised Zealand

Kia Ora.
I tried to cover the Land of the Long White Cloud as a diary, made it halfway fore it blew away in a cyclone (the power was out for four days, I write this blog on my sister’s phone and after I lost momentum n gave right up). I also met a succsession of pretty girls and even prettier mountains that served to sidetrack me. I’m not even sure the purpose of the blog, nor the interests of the reader, are geared towards personal details of what I’m doing and thinking… Generalised observations of faraway places are instead what’s on offer.

New Zealand. Atearoa. (all spellings are guessed at (pronounce every vowel when speaking Maori))

I’m not going to say “10 out 10” or “top banana” or even “11 out of 10”; rather to fair NZ I say… 9:1 in exchange of 1:9.

Simply put, I’d rather of spent 9 months in New Zealand and 1 in Australia. I don’t regret that it’s the other way round, I don’t regret much in fact I’d go as far as saying I don’t regret anything. But it would’ve made life so much easier.

In defense of Australia there is far far more to see here than in New Zealand, it’s just the distances between the experiences that’s the humdinger.

From where I am now in Oz (Andamooka) it’s a 5 hour, $150, coach journey to leave the desert, another 5 hours will take you to the nearest city. Fair dinkum, to Australians that’s a short drive. But in New Zealand Every 30 minutes would reward you with another spectacle of nature (not that red dust isn’t interesting it just loses its interest and quickly). A 5 hour drive in New Zealand would take you through; alps, glaciers, volcanoes, grass-plains, lakes, sounds, stony beaches, sandy beaches, dolphins and more. One day the sun will blind but the next you’ll be fighting hard to keep the snow out of your tent.

New Zealand is god’s gift to travellers. Small, compact yet varied, with postcard photo opportunities at every turn. Hitchhiking is second nature and half the time you won’t even have to bother raising that thumb and painting on that smile before someone stops. Every village has a hostel and a log fire. National Park car parks with Nissan Sunnys packed full of German blondes are a guaranteed sight and camping is pretty much allowed wherever there is no private property, though the DOC huts are so cheap and well located there’s no reason anyone who visits the country shouldn’t frequent them. I recommend Brewster for the views and White Horse for the walks.

It’s not perfect. There are, like Australia, a shize ton of Germans, but that’s okay after you get used to the fact English is the second language of every hostel and campground. They cook good apple cake; more importantly they share said apple cake.

The cities, though all “funky” and distinct, are often small and lack the beauty of Sydney or the pull of European cities.

Culturally sure the Maoris have come out of colonisation infinately better than the Aboriginals, infinitley (it seems auto-correct spelling has given up today), but the culture/tourism seems tacky at best. Gives perhaps a shadow of the beauty of what their culture must’ve been. It’s clear there are also real problems with alcholism and the terror raid debacle still seemed to really REALLY cause grievances with Maoris I spoke to. On an unrelated note Maori TV is the best station in New Zealand.

Wildlife in New Zealand is comically absent compared to the Zoo across the “ditch” that is Australia. Though on the other hand, not much can kill you while you’re swimming, or asleep, or gardening; which always a positive.

So if it’s not the animals or the Ayrans or the hangis or the fauna that attract… What makes New Zealand so magical?

The Geology. The land the earth the… y’know. The place. Not what’s on it or in it or what the cafe culture’s like in Wellington or where you can rent a jet-ski on a sunday in March.
It’s the hills. The thermal pools and gently smoking calderas, puffing bouts of yellow sulphur smoke into the azure sky. I never really liked geography at school but I appreciate a good vista as much as the next human being. The snow capped Southern Alps left me breathless. Genuinely. I spent one month in a state of constant awe.

Sudden downpours, lightning storms, avalanches, volcanic eruptions and my first cyclone (Ita she were named). The smell of sulphur and the taste of glacier water. These things are all present and correct in Australia, probably, but within a half hour drive? Perhaps in Australia the beauty is increased by the distance between great sights, so far though the inaccessability of places in Oz like the Flinders ranges means the average backpacker will never get to see them.

I’m happy that in my month in NZ that I saw everything I wanted to and more, the country redifined my conception of natural beauty but also the power of nature.

Fuck it.

NEW ZEALAND 10 OUT 10!

New Zealand

I’m beginning to find that in this style of writing that relates mainly foreign cities and my opinions on them, all of the adventures, alright not adventures, but people I meet and events that occur outside of these cities, are lost. Forgotten already.

Save having to write a post for every small excursion or event, like “Blue Mountains” or “the time I ate some nice Salmon”; and also save retroactively writing a list of all the interesting things I can remember in one post, perhaps titled “let me piss a good time in your face”. No instead I’ll actively try to do more than simply “Wellington… Auckland… Longplacename” (genuine I promise you).
I’ll attempt a diarise (SHITE WORD) my time in New Zealand, a holiday from holidays, before I return to what promises to be a very hard month or two of work in South Australia.
My flight leaving on the 30th I shall begin on the 1st, because it’s neat. However I have already been in New Zealand one week, waiting for my card at the same address. So a little preamble is in order.

THE FIRST WEEK
After being released I faced an indeterminable wait for my card (at most 5 days no?) so as is good practice I arranged it to be sent to the bare cheapest hostel and stayed there. I’m still there now, on the last day of March, a week later. My card has arrived and the morning will take me somewhere new. Finally.
There is really not much of note in the first week aside from the fact that I walked to and from the library so often that I became firm friends with the Maori guys that wash cars at the traffic lights on the way. They tell me “yeah Bro, Dunedin good, student pussy lips”. I was also woken by a small tremor late afternoon of the 30th. Scary shit.
The hostel is mostly populated by East Germans, capitalising on the construction work much needed in this city. In typical German fashion their English isn’t great, but hey, neither is my Deutsch.
As the Germans refuse to speak English I’m friends with an Indian man and an Israeli… We insult Hollywood, the Germans and the hostel in turn, though it’s not such a bad place, just kooky.

The owners of the hostel, a perma-stoned kiwi couple in their 50s, are never here (physically and mentally) and when they do visit to demand payment they shift from dismissive and then to a strong dislike of everyone at the Hostel.
Everyday we’re informed of fresh problems with Irish thieves that don’t leave til police are called, the constant pile of dishes the Germans leave unwashed, bathroom vomit, neighbours apparently stapling threats to the fence, mixed (read shitty) reviews on hostel booker and the fact that nobody has paid in weeks and most leave without doing so.

They’re a lovely couple but despite 3am lectures on human unity and the failure of modern education they only ever taught me that running a hostel isn’t worth the hassle. Which is a real shame… Billingborough Backpackers was to be great.
My card arrived today and tomorrow I leave.
I present a month in New Zealand.

THE FIRST

I lied. My card didn’t arrive yesterday, it arrived at Christchurch yesterday. I believed the two to be synonymous.

After arriving in the city at 9 in the morning it would surely take an hour or two to reach the hostel; so I booked a bus leaving Christchurch for the second of this month. But it didn’t arrive yesterday. So I anxiously waited outside, eying the road and the postbox in equal turn, all day.

In anticipation of the coming courier I read some Frederick Forsyth and wait 5 hours, from 11 til 4. Mike the owner, who had my passport as collateral as I couldn’t pay, forgot who I was every hour or so and came out to enquire why I was on the porch, furiously staring at the mailbox. He asked everyday who I was and why I couldn’t pay and every day I reminded him I was waiting for my card. He also calls me Ben a lot.
The Forsyth book was finished, then Nicholas Nickelby, then Robinson Crusoe. At four I realised I was either going to have to miss my card or the early bus the next day and so I ran, fucking ran I tell you, desperately hoping the courier would t come in the 5 minutes I was absent, to purchase a SIM card so I could call UPS… The SIM card didn’t work with an English phone… No refund. I must’ve got a bit batshit as the spotty kid who worked at the phone shop let me use the landline… After the classic robo-bitch automated answer and the obligatory joy sapping hold Muzak, UPS tell me they gave the card to a 3rd party deliverer… They weren’t sure who, they couldn’t tell me anymore thankyouverymuchsirhaveaniceday…

I got pretty angry at this point and so ate some calm-down pasta (penne with cream). Upon returning to the hostel I asked Mike if the courier had came while I was out, clutching at straws.
“Nah mate… Still not come”
“FUCK”…… I replied
“… They did come yesterday though… Left a note for you…. You’re John right?”

Well fucking thanks a bunch Mike you dozy lemon… So they had come yesterday after all but instead of getting me from the garden Mike sends them away. He’d been waiting with me the whole damn day?! Fucking asking me if the my card had come in the post yet?!?! Without remembering?!?
Don’t do drugs kids, they eventually make you reeeeeel stoopid.

The note informs me the driver didn’t deem it safe to leave the card here, a fair shout. In the hostel where cold pasta, $300 cash, chairs, pillows and a car (true story) are fair game; a credit card with PIN number inside would probably last seconds. Whether he was put off by the fact the building is a legitimate wreck or the clouds of sweet smelling smoke that hang over it we shall never know. The note also said I had half an hour to get to the courier office before it closes. There was no time tomorrow as my bus is at 7am. The office is a good 40 minute drive away.

At this moment Mike’s wife pulls up and I jump into her car and offer her $20 to floor it.
Mike’s wife is a character, a character from GTA that you do side quests with, the last involving me handing out “legalise cannabis NZ” flyers for her political party at her behest. So in true video game fashion she repays the favour and we bomb it to the otherside of the city in her rusty little micra. The combination of Christchurch’s still quake fucked roads, peppered with pot craters, red zones and sudden drops, along with Cheech’s driving skills make today’s half an hour journey the most exciting moment of my week so far.
We’re 5 minutes late but the shutters aren’t down yet so I dash in… The man behind the counter shows me the parcel, damn near rubs it in my face before asking for I.D.

I’ve spent 8 days out of my 38 in NZ in a rough hostel, in a rough neighbourhood in a falling down city, anchored only by the fact I chose to send my finances here. I wanted mountains.

So I rip open the parcel, present the new card with my name on it as I.D; smart. Except for the fact that this is one of those new cards with no fucking name on them…. The man can tell I’m about to cry though so he asks me to leave, with my credit card. Finally. The chain holding me to Christchurch is broken, I can see New Zealand.

Driving back at a more sedate pace through Christchurch she draws my attention to the things I’ll miss. The gardens, the ingenious reinvention of the city; from shipping crate malls to tent pubs. We drive past a few of the houses in the suburbs that have actually been rebuilt and an explanation is finally given as to why not much else has, “12,000 aftershocks”. She describes the smell of the burning bodies trapped in one of the office blocks that came down near her house. The rest of the car ride is silent.

When I return we settle finances, my passport is returned (even though using a passport as collateral is illegal as it don’t belong to me but to Q Lizzy). I then buy some cider for all the Germans who have given me beers every night on hearing that my card still hadn’t arrived.

I need to rise at half 5 in the morning. My bag is packed and ready.

I just went to the toilet to brush my teeth and there was a Maori guy in there hogging the sink, delicately washing the roots of a healthy looking weed plant. I’ll miss this hostel.

P.S. a quick postscript
I do P.S. sometimes and as this diary debacle feels a little cheeky and informal I’ll include one or two.

P.P.S.

Rekorderlig seems to be the cider of New Zealand. They have special exclusive flavours, like elderflower for example. They also have a fair whack of advertising on the streets.
Now I know Rekorderlig tastes nice, it’s sweet, like candy. It’s also Swedish and therefore cool.

But it’s just not cider. This isn’t me being a snobby ass because I sometimes make cider. Rekorderlig and Koppaberg too are genuinely, literally not ciders. They have NO APPLES!!!!

This really pisses me off. Well… No. It doesn’t, nothing really pisses me off. But it’s not right.

The alcopop boom of the nineties never died, it just hired a marketing agent and was re-spun without your knowledge as the term “alcopop” became associated with children binge drinking in the park. It’s the same with many “ales” “blends” and “ginger beers”. They’re all sugar and water and flavourings, alcopops by definition rebranded by companies with roots dating back to 1999. In no way is Rekorderlig a cider.

Just to get that off my chest so I can sleep easier, for tomorrow is….

THE SECOND

It’s 2 in the morning, I won’t get to sleep til 4, I know this. I also know I have to wake at half 5. I’m not sure if I should fall asleep… Or?

Should I pack up my tent now, walk the half hour to the bus stop and fall asleep there?

It’s 3 in the morning, the best time to attack. The Israeli in the tent next to my is abusing himself. I can hear cats padding through the fallen autumn leaves, in search of the rats that plague this city… More breaking news after early morning pasta.

I eat my pasta while reading “The fist of god”!… Which is actually better than it sounds, so good in fact I look up and it’s light outside. 6 o’clock and I hadn’t slept at all. Not unusual but still not ideal for a travel day.
The tent is packed in 4 minutes, a new personal best. I grab everything in the fridge but sadly neglect the cupboards leaving my collection of cup a’soups to be enjoyed by Seamus o’thief; this isn’t racist, the thieves at the hostel were mostly Irish. Never mind.
The walk takes an hour and again I’m really cutting it fine here.

It’s worth a mention… I may sound like a haphazard traveller, missing things, losing credit cards, getting police looking for him. But I think as so far as travelling goes I’ve got it dialled. I’ve smashed job interviews, got several jobs, opened accounts, got apartments, arranged international travel, accommodation, transport. I lived in cities and commuted to work, I’ve camped in the wilderness for a month and learnt survival skills.
Just to say, it’s not all slipshod doofus Joe, bouncing from one disaster to the next, losing things, missing busses, getting in trouble. And even if that is the case it doesn’t bother me.

I make the bus in time, and jump aboard. To get around New Zealand I’ve purchased a bus pass as it was on special offer on the internet. It covers ten bus trips of any length, for one month and was a mere $200 which is only perhaps £90 and it included two trips on the inter-island ferry, priced at $50 each… That would’ve been $2400 with Kiwiexperience. Just saying.
The 4 hour trip is my 1st trip of 10… It is also the most beautiful bus journey I’ve ever been on.

For the first hour we ride in silence through fog, real fog, the foggy kind that let’s you see maybe 50 metres. Sheep are vaguely discernible. I should make clear that I am ignorant of the difference tween mist and fog, we were by the ocean… So I think it’s fog, but I don’t know why these are linked in my head.

After the second hour we can feel the bus slowly climbing, presumably up a mountain. I haven’t seen fog for 6 months having been in Australia but after an hour I realised fog isn’t all that great. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying it’s not interesting; landscapes obscured in mist are often lent an air of mystery. However I’d spent 8 days in Christchurch, suspense and excitement mixing and growing, is New Zealand really as sexy as the pictures make it?

Yes… My god yes. We push through the mist and emerge into a mountain pass, proper mountains, capped with snow. The sky is so blue and the hills and the forests just… It’s like a film. People on the coach genuinely gasp, the fog making the eventual reveal even more spectacular. We pass bubbling streams and wide flat rivers, sub tropical and temperate rainforests, we plunge back into the mist again and again and everytime we escape the vista is both more stunning and completely different from the last. Sheep are fully discernible. By the third hour we are skirting South New Zealand, riding along the ocean road and these are all roads, single lane and not very busy for being main thoroughfares for a country. I’m sitting on the right, the ocean side as opposed to the mountain side, this was a conscious decision and a wise one. The seals playing in the rock pools soon give way to pods of Dolphins surrounding Kaikoura, people on the bus start laughing and pointing. The bus driver says she has the best job on earth and says it with real passion. This is New Zealand. Endless fins cutting through the still ocean. The southern alps, jutting higher than anything I’ve seen in years. Instantly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been; I couldn’t even take a picture for the cheesy reason it wouldn’t capture what it was really like.

I should’ve slept on the coach though. When we reach the final destination after an hour of Marlborough vineyards, vines ranging as far as the eye can see along swollen flanks of green hills, I promptly walk to the nearest beach, dive in as I had not showered or changed clothes for a good while, play with a starfish and a jellyfish then promptly fall asleep on the sand.

I woke up an hour ago when my skin started burning. The numerous sandfly bites obviously didn’t hurt quite enough to rouse me, they do now I started scratching them, oh boy do they fucking hurt now.

Nice hostel DONT MISS DESSERT JOE.

THE THIRD

I fell asleep. For … 16 hours? Yeah, 16 hours. From 4 til 8. I feel not overtired, but not quite fully get up an go snap snap snap. I missed free desert and indeed any lunch or tea: damn shame. I should get out of bed, such a good bed though. There is a chest, like an old sea chest full of blankets and it appears I’ve availed myself to a good few of them. Time for breakfast, also free!

I’ve eaten my breakfast and check out of the surprisingly cheap Atlantis hostel, the best hostel I’ve stayed at in my travels (the pickled frog of Hobart being #2 (that’s hash not hashtag)). The free breakfast was bread but it came with syrup and the shower was slightly too forcefull, which is just as it should be. It was also only $20.

I’m currently in Picton library, booking my ferry to “Welly” as the Germans called it. The 2:00 is full and so it’s wait for another day or for the 7:00, by which time the beauty of the Marlborough sounds (15,000 kilometres of coastline, 1000s of secluded bays, beaches and coves, all bunched into a tiny area) will be dark.

I’ll stay another day and buy my third wide brimmed hat, 1 stolen 1 mouldy. The Scottish shopkeeper tells me he’s blessed to live here, 10 minutes to Jet ski, 1 hour to snow ski. 20 years ago he got the ferry times wrong, he’s been here ever since. Most golf courses per head on earth, tropical climate, big boat, small house. It does sound a pretty good deal.
All I need to do now is worry about what to do all day.

I think I’ll go swimming.

I went swimming; skinny dipping. At sunset, in the Marlborough sounds. The walk back to the hostel was longer than I remember and so I’m passing through forests in pitch black save for starlight.

I missed lunch and dessert (again) so treat my self to a six inch sandwich full of meatballs and beetroot from a sandwich chain on the way back to the hostel. Chatting to the happy young man behind the til makes me realise that there are far worse jobs than working at subway at 11 at night. I get a free cookie, though this would normally not be included in the diary Subway cookies cross into the realm of super cookie. Soft yet firm, sweet yet not overly. The perfect cookie. You can’t hold it by the edge lest it collapse, just right. Never understood tough cookies….

Just brushed my teeth… Unisex toilet, I can tell you without a trace of doubt, girls brush teeth just like boys brush teeth, they still wander around and spit at the end. Except the spit into the basin is maybe a little less “MEGA SPIT” and a little more “baby dribble”. I’m waffling to make up for the fact today has been a contemplative yet quiet day.

It’s… Exactly…. …. …. Twelve o’clock
It’s going fast.

THE FOURTH

The fourth was a strong day, I liked it.

I rise late and could well rush to catch the 12:00 ferry I’ve booked, but I’ve just stared talking to a B E A U tiful German girl about why we travel… I’ll pretend I thought I booked the 2:00 and get on that instead.

It works a treat. The ferry travel from Picton to Wellington, from South to North Island through the Marlborough Sounds and over the Cook Straight. A 20km stretch of windy ocean between the two islands populated by orca that refused to show themselves.

Fact of the day
The youngest swimmer to cross the Straight was 11, I think it took him 13 hours?

Second fact of the day
Though journeying from South to North Island you actually end up neither more Northerly or Southerly than where you set off.

It goes without saying the ferry journey is stunning. Really stunning.

The ferry is full of hundreds of kiwi soldiers in full D.P.M. The carousel in Wellington delivers Bergen after Bergen. Walking off the jetty with them I feel like I’m with them, part of a bigger action. It feels good.

I arrive at Wellington at 5 and leave at 6. Not due to the city, it seems pleasant enough, I’m just in travel mode having spent far too long in Christchurch. I need a proper day of travel, not where you reach a destination and stop but rather where you keep on moving until you have to stop and then find somewhere convenient.

I buy a handful of pine nuts and some couscous then hit the train. Every rail journey is a striking reminder of how English trains are a fucking rip off, $9 so £4 for a three quarter hour journey north along the West coast to Paraparaumu.

It was revealed to me a few day ago I actually have family, distant, but still family, in New Zealand. They live in Paraparaumu and I want to meet them.

So I catch the train. Next to me sits a young woman, she’s watching Fry and Laurie on her iPhone and I want to tell her that not only am I English but I love Fry and Laurie! But it’s late at night on public transport.

This is no England though, consequentially she starts speaking to me and teaches me how to pronounce Paraparaumu and Kia Ora and Atorea (the r is rolled and the vowels are Italian). She works for radio New Zealand has interviewed flight of the conchords (chonchords konkords) and I get her number, she plays a bit of ukulele to me on the train and then says farewell.

Sometimes I hate people but usually I love them so much.

I make Paraparaumu and it being not only too late but also god awfully rude and presumptive to call on my grand… Uncle? My great… My 4th… My family. I whip out my campermate app, a decent offline map of NZ with tent sites and wifi marked. However the map represents the town as a blob of grey pixels when in fact it is quite the suburban sprawl. With many shadowed lanes and shady underpasses.

I wander round the dark unfamiliar streets for an hour before giving up and asking at the R.S.L.

R.S.L.s (retired service leagues) are community clubs, initially established for returning soldiers, they’re now fond haunts of bingo fans and ageing ale drinkers. One of my happiest memories in Australia is being taken to a quiz at an R.S.L in Young by Michael and Jane, getting tipsy and then me and Michael dominating the quiz and winning our table a selection of towels and hipflasks.

The chaps at the league love a visitor, they fight over who should give me directions before a Maori lady takes me out back and walks me to the right road.

At the end of the road lies an industrial park next to the railway, a collection of cheap motor inns and a camping ground. Walking in I check the site and the prices out on the app so I don’t get ripped off. There is the option to post comments about each individual campsite and the amenities and atmosphere within. There’s only one for Ventnor Drive Motor inn and I read it as I walk up to the manager’s house. Verbatim it reads “the owner wanted to hit us!!! Never go there!”

I look up, the owner, a fat red faced man, maybe 50 years of age, is standing right in front of me, staring at me, it looks just like he wants to hit me.

“We’re closed”

It’s 10 o’clock true, too late to check in but this is the only campsite in town and the motorway is too close to allow for safe freedom camping… I apologise to the man and walk away. He calls me back, stares into my face a little more and tells me he likes me.

“I like you”

I can see his wife watching silently from the window of the house, the owner is still staring at me. This genuinely just happened.

He showed me to a tent site right next to the house where it’s quite clear nobody has every camped. He asks me if I need to use the kitchen, I say no having had a crisp sandwich on the train. He asks me again, again I say no. The fourth time he asks me I say yes and he tells me the kitchen is closed. We go into his office and I pay for the site, $26 which is pricey for a campsite. He looks at me again and takes the price down to $24, then $20. “You’re a nice boy”.
I stop him before he starts paying me to stay here, I’m still scared he’s going to hit me.

THE FIFTH… and the sixth

I leave early and set off with no real idea of where to go. I know the name of the road my 4th cousins live on and it seems a small town. It was a small town; but also not the right town, Paraparaumu Beach is a fair old walk from Paraparaumu. But after questioning posties and hairdressers I find myself outside their door. I should’ve called… I tried.

So it’s with some surprise that I meet Ann, my grandad’s cousin (a tenuous claim to family on my part) and Malcolm, her husband. I was lucky they were home but luckier still they were the nicest people I could hope to meet. For the last two days I’ve been taken around the West Coast and introduced to various family members and friends.
Sometimes when I think about getting old, usually looking into the nursing home next door to my house, I promise myself a fiery car crash. But when I actually spend time with the generation our culture loves to ignore and shut away, I feel only happiness at the prospect of having 30 years or so to before I die when I live only for family and relaxation. Old people live the good life.

On the night of the seventh I was taken to see some local kiwi am-dram, a musical all about old cockney songs titled “London Pride”, it was hilarious and fantastic in equal measure. I was in a hall with 30 or so ex-pat “old wrinklies” (Ann’s words not mine) watching a group of 50 something’s dressed as beefeaters and pearly queens desperately trying to get us to sing along to knees up mother Brown.
I was half deafened as the amps were tuned for older ears and the ladies that came around with glasses if water every 5 minutes looked at me like I didn’t belong but it was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic, I sung and clapped along to dedicated follower of fashion and didn’t know many of the others but yeah… Not the standard backpacker experience.

I had meat and three veg for tea and fell asleep listening to the Iplayer. Sometimes after telling me about the time he saw the Beatles or the moon landing or the great smog Malcolm would play us some Lloyd Webber on the electric keyboard while Ann put down the jigsaw to show me pictures of my mum when she was 3; such lovely people. To take in the most distant of distant relations and treat them like a son.

THE SEVENTH

Today. Today was quite cold; and wet. I’m in my tent, my cheap little tent, listening to it rain. I need to get up early tomorrow. I think there’s a mouse or something, hiding from the rain between the inner and the fly, I’ll leave him be unless he fucks with my couscous.

I left Malcolm and Ann this morning, packed lunch in hand, clothes washed, “don’t talk to strangers”.

From there on there’s only so much I can fluff, I spent most of today on a bus, in the rain. It is essentially like watching Lord of the Rings without any plot or characters, mountains after mountain, valleys and fast flowing streams. My 5 hours on a bus was spent solely staring the window, mesmerised by the view. The clouds turning from dramatic to just short of biblically terrifying, a storm’s coming.

Bus journeys don’t make good reading though.

I eventually alighted in Mordor, dark mountains bathed in watching cloud, active volcanoes smoking like hella chimney pots, long fields of gorse and broken stones as far as the eye can see, no trace of sunlight.

Tomorrow I climb Mount Doom…. Genuinely.
This is where they filmed Mordor, tomorrow I climb Mount Doom.

To ease myself into the hike I started with a 10k stretch from the bus stop to the campsite, made it perhaps 3 before a young lady stopped and picked me up. No outstretched arms of raised thumbs, just kiwi courtesy. I wanted to walk but it would’ve even impolite to say no, also impolite to not stay at the campsite she works at even if it was slightly more expensive than the one I was planning on $16 compared to free. But she was lovely and it was raining. I haven’t spoken to anyone my age in months.

I’m not writing this to boast that I get lifts from girls when I don’t want them, it’s just that if I don’t write it down or take a picture of it, it’ll be forgotten. This is the case with all my travels so far and it’s the only constant negative of my travels. I’ve forgotten half the people I’ve met and most of the things I’ve done. Even sometimes when I read things that I’ve done I don’t remember them.

Prince William and Katherine (Kay-T) have just landed in Wellington amid the fog and rain, I wonder if they feel slightly at home too…
I’d tell everybody here I was a emissary traveling with them if everyone wasn’t also English.

I’m rambling, time to brush my teeth and try and learn Spanish.

Adios.

THE EIGHTH

I climbed Mount Doom today. Against my better judgement and the advice of many; I’m beginning to worry that a diary blog is compelling me to be a little reckless in order to have something to write about, I would’ve climbed it anyway… Just, it’s nice to write about something.
I do my writing in my tent, usually between 12 and 1. A little earlier tonight since I’m exhausted, my shoes, socks, gloves and waterproof trousers had to be binned, my legs are on fire.
Couscous for tea again, with an accompaniment of pine nuts and sugar.

I woke at half five to catch the shuttle. Where there are free national parks, other means will have to be made as to depart the tourist from their monies. Shuttles, being Tongariro park’s raison d’extra. You can’t camp near the mountain, no bus will drop you next to it and the roads all funnel you away from the base. So each campground/lodge/hostel has a shuttle, some with the distinction of being the cheapest, or the quickest, or perhaps offering multiple pick up times throughout the day. It turns out my campground had the earliest shuttle. So at five in the morning, rays if starlight falling through patches in the cloud, a red stag in heat roaring across the heath; honestly, it was as nice as a 5:30 wake up can be.

We assemble outside and have a brief chat with the mountain man who runs the shuttles, and I’ll be dammed if he isn’t telling us we can’t climb the mountain. Or even do the 6 hour walk around the National park that takes to the mountain and out through a field of sulphur lakes, red craters and sharp ridges.
I didn’t have time to wait for 3 days til the weather cleared, this wasn’t Christchurch.

I didn’t think he could expressly forbid us from going, we paid, he should drive us, it’s 5:45am and the stag has kept me up most the night. The mountain man warns me of the gale force wind, sudden frosts, frequent rain and total cloud cover. I don’t have time to wait around though, and is it really Mt Doom if climbed in fair weather?
He can tell I won’t be dissuaded and so sneakily persuades everyone else on the shuttle not to go, then informs me I can’t start the trek on my own.
I have some courage noodles.
Then get a lift from another hostel.
I’m dropped off at half seven with explicit warning not to summit Ngarahoe due tithe wind and visibility, the driver can tell I want to and so gives us all until 4:30 before the shuttle leaves the pick up point, 19km away from the drop off, 19km of hell. This sneakily means I have no time to take the side trip up the mountain.
Challenge accepted.

Tongariro National Park is God’s way of showing us mortals the horrors of hell before we sin. The skies are grey, mountains invisible behind thick swirling cloud. In the far far distance you can make out the millions of acres of smashed and shattered tree stumps, victims of NZs logging trade. The ground around the base of the mountain turns from grassy to swathes of rubble, boulder fields as far as the eye can see, the rocks are red and yellow and black, volcanic. Igneous I think is the word, or metamorphic? Shit… Not sure.
As progress is made up the mountain the ground turns to shifting black sand, impossible to walk on and harder still to climb. After an hour or two of marching through Mordor I reach the base of the mountain, the cloud has taken the visibility right down to 10 metres, it’s not long before it turns to 5 metres, then 3. The wind whips the sand from your feet and throws rocks, turning the very air into a maelstrom of flying black rock. Iwhen I took of my balaclava I had a perfect outline of my eye and mouth holes on my face in black sand, glues by sweat and rain. I’ve just had to spend 1 hour washing the sand out of my ears, tummy button and other various little hiding places sand is so adept at finding. There are still little specks of black rock lodged in my scalp, it hurts when I claw them out.

When the wind does really gunn it the clouds of creamy sulphur smoke that hang over the belching craters also hits you in the face, so much worse than rotten eggs.

I climb for two hours on my hands and knees, lying down whenever the big gusts curl around the side of the mountain and try and pull me off. It’s not fun at all, not one minute of it. In fact I’d go as far as saying it was really shit.
The rain from the clouds I’m climbing through begins to freeze on my jacket and balaclava, the air gets thin. I can’t stand up because of the incline an I crawl at a metre every ten seconds, rain bouncing off my back.

If I don’t make it to the summit I won’t allow myself to eat milk bottles for lunch anymore or let myself buy merch related to Lord of the Rings while I’m here. I question my choice to incentivise what could be really quite foolish, I then tell the cowardly part of my mind to please leave because I’ve made it this far.

I reach the summit after being knocked to the floor by the wind, something that’s never happened to me before, the clouds get darker.
I do crawl up to the very summit, singing and shouting and swearing to myself, I can’t see anything aside from my feet. I try and take a picture but while taking my hand out of glove to use a touchscreen I realise…

1. My hand is the wrong colour and getting wronger fast

2. A break in the clouds will not come for a few days

3. My hand now hurts really quite a lot

4. I spent so long getting up here I will nearly definitely miss the shuttle and this will turn into a “isn’t Joe thick” story

5. When I shake the water from my glove the droplets turn to ice before try hit the ground with a tinkle

So I go down the mountain on my arse, trying to steer with my feet and flipping over as if I’m doing a pressup while still falling so big rocks can pass underneath me. I’m practically falling 80 degrees down the side of a mountain covered in sand and rock. At one stage my controlled descent becomes just a descent and I roll down shielding my head with my arms. I come to a stop at the base, wedged knee deep in sand (right up my jogging bottoms), shoes finally killed from friction and waterproof trousers ripped in two. It took 2 hours 20 minutes to get up and 15 minutes to get down. Still not fun. But it’s milk bottles for lunch and a trip to Matamata to see Hobbiton!

I walk the remaining 15k with a limp and bits of cold hard lava in my ass crack. I limp pass active volcanoes that last erupted in 2012 “in case of pyroclastic flow seek shelter on the ridges not in the valleys“. I limp past yellow pools of sulphur, billowing foul smoke, I limp past the Swedish school group and they all laugh at my ripped trousers. By not stopping and doing the shoulder propelling thing I make it to the shuttle stop at exactly half four, looking like I’ve died twice and then tried to mate with a Stag.

The driver seems happy, he knows I haven’t had a great time on the walk, mainly because I fucked up and then rushed it. I didn’t enjoy it. At the time or looking back as I lie on my roll mat, legs still spasming, still black dust behind my ear. I didn’t enjoy it.

At what point does achievement overrule enjoyment? I climbed Mount Doom but I’d of been better off not ticking boxes and simply walking and taking in sights.

Fact of the day: Sean Bean is afraid of flying, for all mountain scenes he would climb up the mountain in full costume while the others flew past on a helicopter. This wasn’t Doom, Boromir having been skewered long before that, but still an interesting fact. I like Sean Bean.

My legs. My legs hurt.

THE NINTH

Shit, what did I do yesterday?

Not much I guess…

I got a bus from Tongariro National Park to Matamata with changes at Turangi, Rotorua and Hamilton, where I had a two hour wait for delays.
That is pretty much it.
I re-read Robinson Kreutznater again, drank three litres of water and just daydreamed for 6 hours. It goes without saying the passing scenery was spectacular. From grim Mordor to the Sulphur drenched neon streets of Rotorua AKA rottenrua AKA rotovegas there is always something to catch your eye whilst travelling through New Zealand.

I arrived at Matamata at 11 at night, not knowing where I was staying I determined to freedom camp in some copse or secluded domain. The lightning storm had other ideas, and so defeated and soaked to the skin I trudged into the cheapest pub and sought accommodation and some bread. I got some bread (gratis) and a $45 room with a double bed and an en-suite to myself, though a gap year is self indulgent by definition it’s more than nice to forgo the rollmat for four pillows once every two months.

I fell asleep and dreamt I was walking along North Road in Bourne.

THE TENTH

Matamata is Hobbitton. Well, pretty much. It’s actually what the kiwis call an agricultural service town, supplying machinery, parts, agriculture stuff to the dairy farmers and racehorse breeders around the area. There’s also some limited horticultural industry newly arrived since Aukland, the big city slightly north, expanded; pushing the onion and lettuce exporters out of the area…. Guess who got a guided tour today… Correct. It was me. Well guessed.

It’s a lovely town, affluent, leafy and much better appreciated after a storm. However being farming country my chances of free camping were slim shady. Thin hedgerows and a surplus of private property well protected by men with buckshot do not well lend themselves to camping on the sly. To go on… Which I will as I haven’t spoken to anyone all day and this kind of resembles dialogue if a little one sided… To go on, my bus pass takes me to cities and towns, the bus doesn’t stop outside them nor can I make it. So I’m pretty stuffed when it comes to camping. In Tasmania with the bike it was as simple as ride to a beach, go to sleep. Even walking around Bruny Island there were so many empty holiday homes I had the choice of which Ocean-view garden to lodge in.
But try and find an inner-city camp site, or one within walking distance of a town… It’s impossible.
I’m going to have to spend a fair few nights in free department of conservation campsites to absorb the cost of that night in a pub… And the cost of my journey to Hobbitton.

Hobbitton. I’ve just realised I’ve made the journey all backwards, from Mt Doom then to the Shire. Oh well, they ruined the majority of the film at Hobbitton anyway. In a good way, kinda. Explaining about 80% and 60% hobbit holes. These being two different size of houses, one for Gandalf to stand next to and one for Hobbits. This and other perspective trickeries were revealed to us as we were led around the set.

Hobbitton consists of 30 or so “hobbit holes”, small houses in hills with smoking chimney stacks. There’s a lake, a pub, a water mill and a very lazy tabby cat. The setting is perfect, just as I imagined it before seeing the films, the holes are just right, the atmosphere just so.

I should mention that I love the Hobbit (the book). I really love it. It was the first book my dad properly read to me and one of my oldest memories, it sparked my love of reading and it is both mine and Tony Blair’s favourite book. True story.

I have some issues with the films but Peter Jackson’s reverence of the source material and attention to detail must be commended. NZ sheep looked wrong and even though Hobbiton is on a sheep farm he imported sheep from Sussex for the film. The book mentioned a plum tree but the plum tree they grew made the hobbits look far too big and so he used an apple tree and wired big plums onto it. It was somebody’s job to walk from the door of the Hobbit holes to the washing line each day to make a path on the grass, as if they were lived in. Each individual hole has it’s own personality; in one there lives a potter, a gardener in another and the tools of their trade are in the front garden for you to see, the gardens, and vegetables within are all real and tended differently. The level of realism in an unused film set is just staggering and allows for the fantasy to become more tangible. Bag End is just as it should be.

Though the guides were a little OTT (they seemed to believe the hobbits were genuinely hiding) the whole experience was top banana, and it doesn’t get better than that. Though the gift shoppe didn’t stock my present to myself for climbing a mountain I’ll find it in the studios at Wellington. I hope.

Hobbitton. Being finally able to stroll among my childhood imaginations… 10 out of eleventy ten.

After returning to Matamata I hunt down the nearest campsite on my little camping app and take the two hour walk along a street lined with golden brown chestnut and acorn trees, both already littering the road as winter approaches. I meet a group of friendly cows, I also meet a man who drives me the last 30 metres to the campsite; I’m not sure why.

Thermal pools are the selling point of this particular campsite, 39 degree geothermal ponds of steam and pleasure. I was enjoying myself until a couple started enjoying themselves “enjoying” and so I jumped out. “Dep of health warns against placing head under mineral water”.

Underwater. That’s a strange term. The water is not merely the top layer, are we naming only what we can see or do we just feel uncomfortable saying underair?

I have to wake at five tomorrow and then walk to Matamata to catch a bus that reaches it’s destination (Wellington) 12 hours later. I’ve been to a book shop and stocked up on proof copies, always free if you ask, I’m going to get some sweets now from the surprisingly well stocked campoffice and then I’m ready for sleep.

I’ve changed my mind, I won’t get sweets. I eat too many sweets.

Goodnight.

I dream that I work in a checkout in a supermarket and fall in love with a till girl and them a man sets himself on fire. It’s raining outside.

THE ELEVENTH

It’s still raining at 4 in the morning, at 5 I pack my bag inside the tent, run out, de-peg said tent and drag it under cover to pack it up. I’m not sure why, the next two hours are spent walking in the rain anyway and a pack cover can only do so much.

I spend the rest of the day on the bus, 10 hours. 10 hours.

Too much, much too much.

I’m just about to fall asleep. It’s Friday night. “Feeling hot hot hot” is pumping through my open window, I’m slightly tipsy, but a ten hour bus journey made my brain desire New Zealand cider. The karaoke is mingling with girls laughter perfectly. It’s the perfect sleep song.

Ten minutes later the singing starts to grate, I have my headphones and Andrew Marvell to aid me.

I miss my family and my fat little cat.

I can’t stand cities, I need to sort out multi-day walks, this I will do on…

THE TWELTH

Turning this blog into a to-do list is actually quite effective. My ferry ticket from Wellington back to Picton is booked, it’s from tomorrow that my adventure shall begin, because I didn’t really want to visit the north island, but felt I should. I’m glad I did, it’s just the South Island appeals to me more, so with the North island completed to my satisfaction I can spend the next.. Two weeks or so, walking, camping, reading by firelight and generally having what I consider a damn good time.

To-do for tomorrow: book one great walk and identify any other muti-day tramps I won’t have to book or pay for…

My day… It may be clear or becoming clear that I haven’t spoken to anybody today, this doesn’t bother me, it never has, but it makes me write more… Probably with less content or style but definitely more words.
Though that’s actually a lie. I spoke to two homeless people, one crazy man who may also have been homeless “ever drink that ol’ Chinese tea?!”. I spoke to everyone behind a counter I met today, in supermarkets, bookshops and museums. This is because I was a bit of an asshole last night to the guy at reception, I’d been ten hours on the bus and I don’t like the fact I have to stay at hostels, especially overpriced hostels. Being behind a desk makes people talk to you like a child or a pot plant so I’ve been “and how’re you”ing all day and have met some lovely Wellingburians. I also spoke to a fisherman to congratulate on him on his catch, but aside from that no real human contact today!

Today I realised I’m halfway through my year abroad, I should buy some socks. I ended up buying socks, shoes and a t-shirt or two, I’ve been wearing the same six pairs of everything for half a year, time for a change, because I stink. The shoes the Irish men stole for me also made my feet bleed, so they got binned.

Being my last day (oh Rhian your phone is really breaking under my fingers, I think this post is too long for it’s little processor though it’s been slowing for awhile now)
Being my last day I decided to get to know New Zealand’s fair Capitol, the easiest way to do this, trust me, is get a bus ticket to a random suburb miles away and then walk back to the centre getting lost and found along the way. I chose Mirimar; mainly because it sounded like a superhero or Greek restaurant. On the way back to El’ CBD I chanced across:

The WETA cave, a small house where for no cost you can wander through all Peter Jackson’s props he couldn’t sell. Halo weapons from Blomkamp’s web shorts being the best though the district 9 guns were also sweet as.

The WELLYWOOD sign. Yeah, like you imagine, big wooden letters, white against a green hill.

A collection of wind influenced sculptures, making good use of the breezes (gales) that seem to constantly squeeze through the city streets. It is apparently the Windy City to Christchurch’s garden.

Planes landing on the runway, 15 metres above the water then 10 above my head, swaying and bending from the winds before finally touching down.

A beautiful 1930s tunnel underneath a mountain, of which I had to pass through to get back to the city. I love tunnels. Tip of the day, don’t eat a tomato purée sandwich in a tunnel unless you’re hungry for diesel bread with petrol fume filling.

A crazy old man who loved, I mean really loved, Chinese tea.

After my walk concluded and I returned to the hostel I set my sights on preparation. Ferry ticket: booked. Secondhand books: purchased. First hand books: stolen. Smelly socks: binned. Just plain non smelling socks: purchased. Tuna: eaten.

All these things and more besides and still time in the day to visit the National Museum and then Gallery.

If you ever visit Wellington, visit the museum. I don’t want to say it was better than the National history or science in London… But it was.

If I hadn’t been told it was closing time I would still be there now, hell I’d of probably missed my plane let alone the ferry and still not reached the fifth floor!

I’m writing too much. Wellington has me in it’s draughty pocket though, not seduced quite to the extent I was with Hobart but Wellington has some of the same magic, moody skies and young couples sitting by the bay, the interplay of mountain and water, the fact they are both really just big towns.

I haven’t smoked a cigarette for four months, I made friends with a man on the street handing out flyers covered with vivid cartoons of children with 666 burned on their foreheads. I’m going to church tomorrow morning to see him again, because I’m curious, and it’s amusing, and I grow restless so easily.

I eventually found my present to myself, for climbing the mountain. It wasn’t quite what I wanted but was under $40 and a start at least. After my old one being smashed in transit I have a pipe. To enjoy as I read or walk, before bed once a day while I work and exercise. Add to that my now prodigiously heavy collection of paperbacks, 7 new pairs of pants and my resupplied couscous/porridge oats hiking f-f-f-funtime taste sensation mix… And I’m ready for the Southern Alps.

 

THE REST

 

The diary thing failed. I reached the Southern Island and then the alps and after it all really deteriorated into a mess of distant avalanches, not so distant cyclones, powercuts and snow. It was perfect. I met a girl who let my drive her 2.4 litre turbowagon through the mountain roads, azure lakes on either side, the best drive of my life. I camped in backcountry huts most nights and stayed a week at a hostel without paying. I had an easter meal with ten good friends eating apple cake, bacon, hot cross buns and some very bastardised freddos. I climbed another mountain, walked underneath a glacier and fell in love with the west coast, like I’ve never fallen in love before. It was better than Tasmania and to be quite honest I’m wishing that I spent 9 months in New Zealand and 1 in Australia.

The cyclone did nearly kill me though, as in very nearly. It blew the tobacco out of my pipe then the pipe out of my hand, brought me to my knees (literally) and then knocked down half the trees in the forest. It was without doubt the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life. A week in a hostel without power though was magical. With no facebook or television I bonded with people by candlelight in a way that must’ve been so much easier 30 or 40 years ago. We cooked by gas and the meat at the supermarket was at first cheap and then free as the freezer slowly failed.

I’m afraid of naming that the highlight of my travels thus far… But certainly in the top 5 experiences, those last 14 days or so travelling slowly down the west coast. Nelson, Hokitika, Franz Joseph, Brewster, Johnstown, Mout Cook, Twizel then finally crumblin’ Christchurch. I write this alone, in a dusty PC in a school library in the middle of a desert in the Outback. There are two flies crawling around on my face; they’ve been there all day. This is completely normal and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I miss New Zealand. I pine for it.

Victoria

“The place to be” or so the numberplates tell me.

I arrived in Melbourne from Hobart with the intention of working for the two or three weeks before my flight to New Zealand. I was quickly reminded of everything I hated about cities and loved about Tasmania, I was also quickly robbed of the notion that I had time to make real money before my flight. What followed was a quest to go “bush”. To go to ground with my tent and save as much money as I could.
I succeeded thanks solely to the kindness of strangers.

Anyway. This is Victoria, also a Queen, and the Kink’s finest song.

Arriving in Melbourne

The sun was setting as I walked up the gangway to the awaiting plane, the clouds shone pink around the mountains around Hobart turning orange the closer they got to Sorell. I would of taken a picture had I been allowed to use my phone.

This was the first time while travelling I didn’t want to get on a plane and looking back I could of spent my year in Tasmania. Easily. But I’d spent near three months there and the tickets to New Zealand were cheap and Melbourne even cheaper.

Upon landing the sinking feeling that I made a mistake persisted and then increased. I wasn’t awed by Melbourne the way I initially was with Sydney, nor did it have the charm or quirkyness of Hobart. I didn’t like Melbourne; it had bad juu juu.
I found my way to a hostel, a fuckawful chain called nomads whose prices where increasing every damn night as the F1 approached. I slept and rose to much the same feeling of discontent and unease. It seemed every English backpacker in my overpriced room full of English backpackers was also looking for work and some had been for three weeks.
At this point I wasn’t going to chuck it, I visited some agencies, printed out some CVs, work stuff, y’know. I could hit the streets and get something, be it car washing or cleaning the way I’d done in Hobart.
I stayed one more night at the hostel and when the morning came I began in earnest. Posted an ad for labour on gumtree, applied for two dozen jobs and walked around dishing out CVs slowly realising I didn’t want to stay here.
I hated Melbourne, it may be voted the “most liveable city on earth” but it reeked of falseness to me. The graffiti was shouting out edgy but was just selling products or confirming a predetermined style of a borough. The trams were too busy and the people, there were too many of them. It wasn’t held together by a bay in the way Sydney was, not were the beaches in walking distance. I didn’t actually hate Melbourne, I don’t think, but I do hate cities. Their.. I can’t go into it. Just not my thing. They make me angry and annoying to be around.

So the ad was removed off the gumtree, my remaining CVs were kept, my bag was packed and an awful lot of couscous was stolen. Got to love passive constructions.
I asked the man at the coach station what to catch and when for the nearest secluded yet idyllic beach.

“Phillip Island’s quite nice mate, leaves in ten minutes”

And for all of $10 I was off, two days after I arrived, with only economy, frugality and long swims on my mind.

Phillip Island

The bus left at half five and so left Melbourne at around seven, in time for me to catch the sun setting low over the flat farmlands of South Victoria. Along the straight roads I saw enough ditches and fields to notice that some parts of rural Victoria bear a half resemblance to Spalding, Spalding at its most beautiful that is.

I change a few times and whilst shifting my backpack underneath the last coach a young aboriginal woman ties my shoelace for me, without me asking. She and her male friend share a cigarette while I tell them of my plans of lying low on some deserted beach and living on couscous for two weeks. The drunk indigenous lady declares in a slurred moan that I won’t find any deserted beaches coz of all the fuckin tourist unmentionable unmentionable rude swear unmentionable.
I begin to realise I shouldn’t be this open with my plans to total strangers I also begin to feel a bit threatened and I hop back on the bus, alighting at the first stop as we cross the bridge onto the island.
The drunk lady’s friend follows me, catches up and warns of the perils of camping on the beach, of strange people, muggings, gangs of teens and all the things we grow to fear when we stop being teenagers and don’t hang around in gangs anymore.

I ignore his warnings and head down to the beach to find it all a heady mix of quicksand and smashed bottles. I’m sitting in an abandoned boat shed that people still clearly get high in, waiting for night to fall so I can find a garden of an empty house and set up tent as I did so often on Bruny Island. But there were 800 people on Bruny and tens of thousands on Phillip. I begin to hope for the man to return.

Lo and behold he does! With another friend, they then proceed to show me what true hospitality is. They do me a kindness I can’t ever repay and take me in to their home rent free until my flight, not camped in a garden but in a spare room. I’m living with friends… Australian friends!!!

There is Wozza, the incredibly opinionated Freemasonic, ex moo tie (bloodiest elbow/knee-centric fighting style on earth (not actual spelling)) champion

Scottie, a first gen Oz with Serb roots, damn fine Seadoo skills and a gentle, noodle-loving, nature. He acknowledges that he works for a company that makes pretty shit campervans

Amanda, a half German Queenslander who treated me like a son

And Summer, a one year old that loves screaming and wallets

For two nearly three weeks I lived with these people. The warmest embodiment of Australian hospitality you could hope to be befriended by on a bus. They showed me Victoria the way only locals could and for a little while at least eased my loneliness.

Imagine. Just imagine the same thing happening in England, difficult isn’t it?
These are a small selection of the happy times that I had with my friends.

I was taken squid fishing at the dead of night. A few beers in one hand, rod in the other, hurtling down the bridge on a borrowed bike towards San Remo pier. Sitting on the ink stained pier chatting shit all night. Half watching the glowing lures bob and dip in the water.

Drift fishing in canoes along a gentle river for bream on a day too sunny to properly remember.

Travelling everywhere in the back of their red ute, half hidden under tarpaulin.

Being reluctantly fed proper food! For free!! Meals with more than three ingredients!!! Cooked in woks as opposed to camping stoves!!!!!!! FOR FREE!!!!!! FREE I TELLS YA!!!!! Also a first experiences of the magic of chicken salt on flake, chicos and battered mars bars. Freddos and bangers and mash. (Flake is a type of shark Australians have instead of cod or haddock at fish&chip shops)
(It’s fucking divine)

Freediving for abalone. Huge oyster-looking, chinesey delicacy things that cling to cracks and crevices in deep pools full of tropical fish and forests of kelp; butter knife in hand and incredibly quick reflexes in wrist. If too slow the abalone will simply bend your knife. The catch brought to the surface, recovered and hidden in socks due to Warren’s paranoia concerning fisheries, taken home and fried.

Fishing for Abalone the next day and being caught by fisheries. I had my rights read, a permanent record and narrowly avoided a $1000 fine.

Subsequently driving around the coast pretending to be fisheries and confiscating a small shark from some tourists then throwing him back in the sea.

Shouting and swearing at “fucking tourists”.

Finding a dead seal, beached and thoroughly torn asunder by a shark. Poking said seal with a stick.

Being chased by an incredibly large sting ray in open water til I genuinely thought I was in real trouble. Then it forcing me onto a rock where Warren and Scott were sat on, also hiding from another circling ray.

Drinking cougar sweet mash whiskey around an open fire, getting closer and closer to the sparks as the night grew colder.

Meeting four generations of an extended Australian family and sharing a meal, watching MKR, the Block and housos whilst talking about anything and everything. Gallipoli, national identity, centrelink, AFL and billion dollar desalinisation plants. Then standing outside together on warm nights and staring at the stars.

After a week fearing I was imposing and burdening myself on the family, stretching them financially when I could never repay them, I left for French island. Finding the population consisted of only koalas and having eaten all my couscous I returned after 3 days. But rather than me pay for the ferry Warren had Scott come for me on the Seadoo. Just for fun.

Riding a Seadoo, with a 25kg pack on your back over shark infested ocean. Watching fur seals slowly spinning on the surface, white teeth bared. The countless waves (white tips: gale force 4) coming over the prow of the jetski and knocking off sunglasses and immediately soaking me and everything in my bag to the core. Rain as constant as my fear of a burial at sea.

Being taught how to kill someone using your knees.

Using a BBQ ignition switch to fire some propane launching a lemon out a drainpipe and at least a kilometre away.

All these things and more I did for free, by a chance meeting on a bus with friendly, trusting people.

I tried to pay them to no avail so I bought much whiskey and many pizzas. Not nearly enough but… At some point I had to say goodbye to my new friends, to catch the long morning bus with Scott back to Koo Wee Rupp, then Packenham and finally Melbourne.

Return to Melbourne

I returned to a cheaper post F1 Melbourne. It still lacked any claim to a USP; blandness being taken by Canberra. But I spent most of the day in the state library, learning of Ned Kelly and the history of Victoria. I will give Melbourne the credo of having the fondest library I’ve ever been in… Well done Melbourne.

I booked a cheap hostel and checked in early: I had a flight the very next day.

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