Wednesday, 3 August 2011

On My Way to 'The Alice'

My finances were now relatively stable and winter was coming on so it was time to get back on the road and head for Port Augusta and Alice Springs. My hitchhiking with Brian - plus my experience alone in Tasmania - made me feel comfortable in 'going it alone'. As I usually did in larger communities, I took Geelong transit to the "end of the line" and began hitchhiking.

The main highway between Melbourne and Adelaide was to the north but I thought that I would try the southern route along the coast. For the first number of miles the highway was paved but that ended and, as night came on, I found myself on a country road that was not even graveled but dirt. Although the motorists were generous in offering rides, the rides were - for the most part - short ones.

The weather was not the best all day and, as evening came on, I found myself in frequent showers and sleet. When it was completely dark I kept slogging on hoping to reach a town that was ten miles or so up ahead. I was so tired I decided to rest. I took off my backpack, put it on the ground, sat on it and dozed. I was awakened by the sound of a motor and approaching headlights - it was my next 'angel'.

She was a widow woman who was driving back to the family dairy farm where she took me to spend the night. She lived in the original farm house while her son and his family lived in a separate building. It was they who had a bed for me to use.

During our chat in the car I told her that my grandmother mentioned a brother who was a pharmacist and who migrated to Victoria in the early years of the twentieth century. He opened a 'chemist shop' on the High Street of a town somewhere in that state. I assume that his surname was DeLacey/Hollis so she said that she would try to trace him and his family. Unfortunately, knowing the only address being 'High Street' was like saying 'Main Street' in North America - almost every community has a street named that. She did do a search and then wrote to me in Brisbane more than a year later to say that it had been fruitless.

The next morning this gracious lady drove me out to the town of Colac on the Melbourne - Adelaide highway where hitchhiking was easier. This route took me through the town of Mt. Gambier, South Australia where there is the cone of a long extinct volcano and, in the crater, a lovely blue lake.

I arrived in Adelaide the next evening. I did not impose upon the hospitality of the Barkhams (the School for the Deaf) but I did call them on the telephone to ask for the telephone number of Anne. Anne and two of her girlfriends moved to Sydney from England and one of them dated one of my roommates - ergo the connection!

I hitchhiked from Adelaide to Clare and arrived during a downpour. I telephoned Anne who suggested that I hire a taxi to bring me out to the station. The younger man - Andrew Thomas - who owned the property had inherited it when his parents were killed in an auto accident. This man was young but he most certainly knew his sheep! The merino sheep on the property were all prize winning animals. He invited me to go along with him and his best sheep dog while he examined his flock for stud rams that another shepherd wanted to purchase as well as the best of the sheep to be entered into an upcoming sheep judging contest. My job was to catch these rams by the horns and hold them while he examined their teeth and the wool on their backs (all the while he was explaining to me what he was looking for). At first my job was relatively easy but became increasingly more difficult as 'good sheep' were put in one pen and the 'failures' in another. This created more room for the rest to try to keep out of my reach.

When the first job was finished he opened a gate for four more rams to enter the paddock. These rams were to be taken to a special show so their snouts were streaked with blue chalk (thus they stood out from the others). He wanted to reexamine these rams and I was asked to catch them. I lunged for one ram as he tried to run past me and along the split rail fence. I got him but, in so doing, one of my fingers was jammed against the fence railing splitting the tip of it and leaving me with a bloody scar. I was proud of that wound!

The next morning I was back on the road hitchhiking the rest of the way to Port Augusta where I purchased a ticket on "The Ghan" for the long 30 hour ride to Alice Springs. The name was a holdover from earlier days when travel to Alice Springs and Darwin was by camel trains. The herders of these camels were men from Arabia and they were referred to as 'Afghans' which had become shortened to 'Ghan. When the railway was built the nickname was applied to it.

When I was in Australia the railways were still operating as they were when the country consisted of a bunch of colonies each with its own borders and customs. In order to counteract smuggling on the rails each colony installed a different gauge so that, at the borders, all freight and passengers had to leave one train in order to board another across the line. 1962 was well past the colonial days but the different rail gauges still existed. This made rail traffic across the continent interesting to say the least!

At Port Augusta I boarded a modern sleek train for the ride to a small place called Marree. There we alighted from that train and boarded an older one on the next track - but of a different gauge. At the station was a food outlet so I went to buy something to eat thereby meeting Barry Reynolds - a young Englishman (from Windsor, England) - who became a close friend.

The second train consisted of three sleeper cars, a dining car and a coach behind the diesel engine. Both Barry and I were short of funds so couldn't afford a berth. Instead we rode in the coach with as motley an assortment of males as one would ever meet. Most of them were 'fettlers' who worked at various rail camps along the line. Some were station hands on remote properties - and a number were aboriginal men. Many had booze (it was illegal to give alcoholic beverages to aboriginal people but most of the white men on that train ignored that law). Needless to say, we got very little sleep.

We arrived in Alice Springs at midnight the next evening - too late to look for accommodation - so we used our sleeping bags where we hoped that security folk would not see us. We were not 'busted'.

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