Sunday, 31 July 2011

Two Hitchhikers

In my mind, my trip to Australia was to be a 'working holiday' so, after 16 months, I noticed an advertisement in the paper - an orchard owner in Tasmania was looking for pickers. I responded and was invited to come down to Port Arthur and go to work.

I resigned from my position in the office of the newspaper and, with a New Zealand acquaintance of one of my roommates, left to hitchhike around the southern part of Australia including Tasmania. The Kiwi's name was Brian.

One Monday morning in February we took a suburban train to the outer suburb of Liverpool and the highway. Hitchhiking in Australia was relatively easy and, except for the remoter areas, rides were fairly easy to come by.

Australia is an 'old continent' in a geological sense. Therefore the 'mountains' are relatively low while much of the topography is either flat or gently rolling. Therefore rides usually were easy to come by - even for two young men bearing knapsacks. Quickly we traversed the territory from Sydney to beyond Wagga Wagga. The name of that town is Aboriginal in origin. In that language - to signify more than one - a word is repeated. 'Wagga' is the word for crow so 'Wagga Wagga' means many crows!

Near there we camped on the side of the road near a service station and house. The owner invited us first to move our 'camp' to the lawn in the back of the house and then, in the morning, to come in for breakfast. To me 'breakfast' always meant bacon and eggs with toast (or pancakes/French toast etc.). We weren't served these but lamb's fry and bacon on toast (the lamb's organs sauteed with bacon). Wow - was it ever delicious - and I learned something new!

The route we were following did not pass through the Barossa Valley where most of Australia's medal winning wines are produced but, as luck would have it, one of our 'chauffeurs' made a detour through there so we could see it. Very beautiful!

After a few days on the road we arrived in Adelaide, South Australia - a lovely and orderly city. Not long after I arrived in Sydney I heard a little jingle that has stayed with me. It is a description of the ethos of Australia's state capitols. Most immigrants/visitors arriving by sea arrive in Freemantle - the seaport for Perth, Western Australia - and the jingle begins there.

In Perth the first question to a stranger is, "Where are you from?", in Adelaide it is "What church do you attend?", in Melbourne it is "What do you do for a living?" In Sydney it is "How much money do you make?" and in Brisbane it is "Come for a beer!!!" For some reason, Hobart is not mentioned.

Back in Sydney I had met three young English women and one of them had friends in Adelaide who supervised the School for the Deaf. I had been given their address so Brian - the Kiwi - and I went there and were warmly received. They took us driving all over that very neat and clean city.

As time was getting near to when I was expected for work at the orchard in Tasmania we continued on. We hitchhiked for two days to arrive in Melbourne and went to see friends of Brian who lived on the eastern edge of the city. Melbourne is huge - second only to Sydney in size. Also, like Sydney, it had a good transportation system so it was relatively easy to navigate. We stayed with the friends for a long weekend and then took the overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania.

As there was still some time before I was expected at the orchard, we did a bit more touring. Devonport is a relatively small town so it was easy to reach the outskirts where we began hitchhiking towards the eastern coast (traveling along the north coast of that island). One of our first lifts of the day was very memorable.

An elderly couple stopped to pick us up. The car was a relatively small one with no room for us and our backpacks in the back seat so the gentleman got out to put them in the boot. Suddenly I saw an enormous spider running up the lintel post in front of Brian. The wife calmly said, "Dear - there is a tarantula in the car"! This was a misnomer - while the spider was mildly toxic, it was a huntsman and not a tarantula. Each time I watch "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and see the spider king (Aragog) I think of the huntsman. The gentleman opened the door and, using his hand, knocked the spider to the shoulder of the road, got back in the car, and drove on!

Eventually we made our way back to Devonport and on to Launceston for an over night stay and then south to Hobart. We caught a trolley bus out of Launceston and were sitting in the rear seat. A lady riding beside us saw our backpacks and asked where we were from? When I replied, 'Vancouver, Canada" she mentioned the name of a nephew who lived in Toronto and asked me if I knew him!

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