Saturday, 6 August 2011

Alice Springs - Perth - Melbourne

In case any of you are wondering about my 'phenomenal recall' I have to be honest and say that I kept diaries/journals for most of my adult life. Earlier today I read the journal entries covering the period from November 14, 1962 until January 3, 1963 - this 'chapter' is about that period.

The ride from Alice Springs down to Marree and Port Augusta was much more comfortable than was the ride north - I was able to ride in a sleeper coach this time! Antonio (Tony) Cicchini, Beth Hall - a nurse at the John Flynn Memorial Hospital in Alice Springs - and I were about to drive to Perth. Both Beth and Tony were going home for Christmas.

The automobile had ridden on a flat bed car in the train and was offloaded in Port Augusta. After having the car serviced and buying some food and other supplies we were on our way. For a number of miles we drove past wheat fields, cattle and sheep stations and we camped out that first night. The 'highway' was paved, then it was graveled and then dirt and it took us past the Great Australian Bight so we could see the ocean from the dirt road we were traveling on. Soon, though, the agricultural land gave way to the desert - grey, dusty and covered by plants which needed little water in order to survive. Then we were crossing the Nullarbor Plain. For years I thought that this was an Aboriginal word - but - no - it is Latin meaning 'no trees'.

We spent one night out on that plain sleeping on what - while driving - is a bane of life in the desert - bull dust. It is so dry there - and in some areas near Alice Springs - that dirt becomes a thick dust of the consistency and texture of talcum powder. While traveling in an open vehicle - like a Land Rover - anybody riding in the back has to use a bandana to cover the mouth and nose. At the other end of the ride through the bull dust patch the rear passengers are covered in grey dust and resemble zombies!.

However, sleeping in our bags on the dust is like sleeping on a downy mattress - very comfortable indeed. In the morning, though, we had to do some cleaning to get the dust off of our belongings before we could continue on.

During the third day on the road we gradually came into inhabited land of cattle and sheep stations followed by wheat and other crop farms.

Most of the animals that we saw were small - except for kangaroos. We had to watch them as, if one jumped in front of the vehicle, a collision could be quite damaging to both the animal and the vehicle.

The three of us were riding in the front seat of that sedan with our belongings in the trunk and on the back seat with a rifle on top. As we got closer to habitation we began to see trees again. Along that stretch of road we saw an emu trot across some distance in front of us. Tony was one of those people who thought that he should shoot any creatures that he might see. As he was driving he began to shout, "Get the gun!" "Get the gun!" Both Beth and I replied, "Get what, Tony? - oh the gun!" By that time the emu moved safely out of harms way. It was of no threat to us so why should we kill it?

In the afternoon we drove through the gold mining area around Kalgoorlie and then through the Darling Range (old mountains that were no more than high hills) and began the descent to the coast. In those mountains we began to see the result of more rain - lush vegetation.

Late in the afternoon we arrived in the built up area east of Perth. We dropped Beth at her mother's place and then Tony took me to where his parents lived where I was invited to stay. A nice clean house, good food - but 'Mamma' Ciccini spoke no English!

The next day I visited Perth for the first time - a beautiful city. The Commonwealth Games were about to start, there were many visitors to the city and everything was shiny and clean!

The first person that I encountered whom I knew was Giovanni (Johnny) from Alice Springs and, on the following weekend, I saw Barry who was working in another town south of the city. As well as decorations for the Games. Christmas was coming and elaborate Christmas light displays were everywhere. This was in December of 1962 and the astronaut, John Glenn,  was orbiting the earth in a space capsule. The nickname for Perth is/was "City of Light" - a la Paris, France - so the city authorities asked the citizens to leave the Christmas lights on all night long. Mr. Glenn noticed and commented upon the spectacular sight. 

That was the year when Canada's hopes for medals were resting on the shoulders of Harry Jerome. The day that he was scheduled to run in the heats I went out to the stadium to cheer him on. He had a terrible race and did not even place.

While in Perth I did some touring and an acquaintance took me out to a sanctuary that is northwest of Perth. In that sanctuary was an enclosure of eucalyptus trees where Koalas were kept. 'Feeding time' was in the early afternoon. After the keepers had brought fresh eucalyptus branches into the enclosure and the koalas had eaten, those with cameras were allowed in - ten people at one time. I was able to stroke a koala (very soft fur and - not surprisingly - the 'bear' smelled like eucalyptus) and had my picture taken. Again I wish that I could locate those missing slides!.

I remained in Perth for a couple of weeks. During that time I took Barry to see "My Fair Lady" (this was the performance where I found myself seated between Barry and three young Roman Catholic priests). All four of them enjoyed themselves thoroughly so I did as well.

Another event was going down to the port of Fremantle to see off Giovanni who was returning to Italy. There were maybe half a dozen of us there and Giovanni was overwhelmed - he hugged and kissed the cheeks of each of us while tears streamed down his face. Sentimental Italian but better to be that, I think, than a stoic northerner!

The games were over and it was time to move on so I hitchhiked south to the town where Barry was working, visited for a couple of days, and then hitchhiked on to the southern town of Albany, east to Esperance (the shipment port for the ore from the Kalgoorlie mines) and then north to Kalgoorlie.

At Albany is one of three marine phenomena of the world - a blowhole. The two others are located on the Big Island of Hawaii and just south of the Mexican city of Ensenada on the Baja Peninsula. I have visited the first and third - but I have not been to the Island of Hawaii.

I arrived in Kalgoorlie, bought a train ticket to Melbourne, and waited for Barry to arrive. He came by train from Perth and, because of the varying gauges of the Australian railways, he had to change trains. We had a berth each on the Trans-Australian train - but had to change just across the border of South Australia and again in Adelaide. The last train was the most comfortable - coaches with soft seats that reclined. No berth - but I was able to doze off between stops.

In Alice Springs another bookkeeper had arrived before I left and he had invited me to spend Christmas with him and his partner. That was an odd situation - Ivan was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother and, therefore, Jewish. He and Jon were to go to his parent's home for Christmas dinner but I - as an outsider - was not invited! He left a pork chop in the refrigerator for me but I detest pork so I left the apartment and walked for a few miles before I found a restaurant open for business and with a Christmas menu. I had roast chicken.

On New Years Eve there was another charade. Ivan's parents along with other family members were expected for a dinner party. Ivan had a brother who was Orthodox so all non-Kosher foods had to be thrown out or hidden!

While in the city I saw a live performance - "The Black & White Minstrel Show" - which was quite enjoyable. Of course, that type of performance is now frowned upon.

Shortly after New Year I took the train to the town of Bendigo where I met Barry and his buddy, Roy, so we could be a team working in the orchards near Shepparton.

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