Tuesday, 9 August 2011

HItchhiking the Coastal Highway Melbourne to Brisbane

I remained in Melbourne for a number of days visiting with friends, sightseeing, and taking in shows. One of the fellows whom I met while working in the orchards in Tasmania had promised to take me to a game of Aussie Rules Football so I held him to that promise.

He and his mates lived in the Hawthorne area of the city. On the Saturday when we went to a game Hawthorne was hosting a team from Essenden, northwest of there. I had seen a game of Aussie Rules on my previous visit to Melbourne but that was at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds - a large stadium that had been built to host the Olympic Games in 1956. The Hawthorne 'pitch' was much more usual in being smaller than the Olympic Stadium - yet hosted over 30,000 people. There were bleachers - which were more expensive - but most of the crowd stood around the playing area. We were a bit late in arriving so the only spot that we could find was at the back - I could see the far goal posts but the crowd in front blocked my view of the near ones.

Just before the game began, three women came in (two middle-aged and one elderly), They had brought a small bench with them which they placed back near the fence and upon which they stood to watch the game. A little later a couple of men came in and stood between these women and where we were. One of them was a big bruiser of a guy - and just as foulmouthed as his size. After a while his buddy said, "Tone it down, Mate, there are some women behind us!" The older woman of the three at the back spoke up and said (with a strong Scottish brogue), "It's all reecht - ye're barracking for ma team!"

The visiting team prevailed by a big margin over the hosts.

While still on the subject of Melbourne, there is one afternoon in November when the entire nation stops for half an hour or so. That is for the Melbourne Cup - Australia's premier horse race. In the offices where I worked in Sydney and in Brisbane all work stopped, radios appeared, and everybody listened and then groaned or shrieked - depending upon who had the winning ticket in the office pool.

It took me four days to hitchhike southwest from Melbourne and then northwest up the coast of New South Wales to Sydney. I passed through hilly countrysides for most of the route, saw many towns and countless farms and stations. Even though I thought that that route would be lightly traveled, I did get offered many rides, met some great people, and stayed at hotels (charming older ones) and B&Bs each night.

Arriving back in Sydney I went to the old flat at Tamarama Beach where I saw my former flatmates and met a new one. While in Sydney I revisited familiar sites and saw a few movies. During my stay a cyclone blew through leaving a lot of water but not too much damage. However, when I left to hitchhike north I encountered a lot of showers - some were downpours - so travel was a bit dicey. Also, because of the weather, I couldn't camp out but sought hotels and guest houses each night.

After a few days on the road I arrived in Kempsey - an agricultural center - and, again, encountered an angel. The weather forecaster was predicting the advent of a second cyclone (cyclones are to the Southern Hemisphere what hurricanes are to the Northern - they cause a lot of damage during their passage but do bring much needed moisture to the hinterland). I had planned to keep on going but I went into a branch of my bank to withdraw some cash and was accosted by a younger man - the next angel!

He had inherited his Dad's dairy farm a couple of miles from the town and, as a teenager, he had been to North America to an international gathering of young people who belonged to the 4H movement. While over here he had hitchhiked around so immediately recognized a 'kindred spirit'. He invited me out to the farm for the duration of the wet weather to stay with him, his wife, and small child.

Much of the farm was low lying land along the river. It was a dairy and he had more than 100 milkers. During my stay of nearly a week I helped out with the farm chores - the first of which was to herd the cows in a riverside meadow to higher ground for safety. Of all the cows in his herd he lost only one to the flood.

I am a 'city boy' but I do enjoy being on a farm and, where I am able, to help with the chores. Neither my hiking boots, oxfords, nor flip flops were appropriate wear out and around the flooded land - so I went barefoot. Some of my readers may find this disgusting but stepping into fresh cow dung is not gross at all - it is warm and soft - and the bare feet are easily washed off.

When the waters subsided and the roads reopened, I continued on to Brisbane arriving there two days later. While picking pears near Shepparton, Victoria I met two brothers from Brisbane. They wrote to their Mom (Mrs. Dears) about me and arranged for me to stay at their home until I found proper employment in Brisbane and could afford to live in a boarding house.

While the other State Capitals are ocean side cities, Brisbane is not. Being very sub-tropical the terrain along the coast is either sand dunes or mangrove type swamps. Where the Brisbane River empties into the ocean there are some offshore islands which block the formation of beaches. Therefore, the city is a few miles inland straddling the Brisbane River. Thus it is not as picturesque - in my opinion - as the others. One thing, though, it is very laid back.

More about Brisbane in further chapters. While I visited the other cities only for days or months, I lived in Brisbane for 2 1/2 years and loved every moment of it.

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