85. A False Sense of Security

July 16th, 2011

(Written: 12th July 2011)

I've been to Santiago in Chile before and as such I planned to leave here quite quickly.  Not only that but its winter here and at night it gets really cold.  I also had to head north as the shortest timed flights across the Atlantic go via Iceland and I'm currently very much in the southern hemisphere.  So next stop north to Lima in Peru and although I've been to Peru before I haven't been to Lima.  However, I still wasn't sure that I was going to as I couldn't believe the price of the flight tickets, tickets and particularly direct ones in South America are amazingly expensive.  I managed to find a reasonable series of flights hopping through South America and up to central America but I have to stop at a number of towns I've never heard of ever wanted to hear of.  Bizarrely, booking 7 "multi-trip" flights to Panama is a third of the price of booking 4 I wanted.  But there is one positive in addition to the lower cost.  Yes it may take longer to get where I want to go but only one of the flights is over 4 hours but most others are barely one!  That's keeping my average down!


So after spending one day walking around Santiago and looking at the "free Patagonia" graffiti everywhere in addition to the usual "homosexuality is a crime against God," graffiti you seem to get everywhere in South America, I hoped on a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I was a little concerned as I'd learnt in the morning that Buenos Aires airport had been closed for a few days due to volcanic ash.  If I got stuck the knock on affect with my seven flights would be an absolute nightmare as since the problems in Iceland last year with their Volcano, insurance companies no longer pay out and airlines technically only have to offer a refund.  Seems to be because it's declared as an act of God and all that.  Seems quite a nasty guy to me, hates homosexuals but loves airlines and insurance companies.  Sounds like Richard Branson!

Santiago Santiago

We landed in Buenos Aires ok but the connecting flight wasn't on the screen yet and of those that were a number of them had been cancelled.  To take my mind of it I headed into town for a quick look around. It's yet another place I've been to before and to be honest it hasn't changed much, but it was still very hard not to sing, "don't cry for me Argentina" as I passed the famous Evita balcony on the pink Palace.  But back at the airport the flight was on and I gave a sigh of relief as we took off to the old capital of the former Spanish Viceroy of South America.

Buenos Aries

Flying into Lima in Peru I experienced the worst landing I've ever had on a plane.   As we slowed down on the approach suddenly the nose of the plane rose and the back dropped.  We must have hit a huge depression but so much was the stall and drop that a magazine on my knee lifted into the air, I instinctively and rather pointlessly grabbed the back of the seat in front while the stewardesses just behind me at the back of the plane screamed.  This didn't particularly fill me with confidence!  It honestly felt like we were about to plummet to the earth but all within a few seconds the engines roared and the pilots dipped the nose back down.  I just looked at the lady next to me and we just both gave a huge sigh of relief.  Leaving the plane was equally weird.  No one said the usual goodbyes and the stewardesses were in animated discussion with he pilots.  Travelling overland may have taken me a long time but it's far less scary but at least the flight was only 4h20mins, still within my 5 hour rule.


But you most defiantly know you've arrived in Lima when you exit customs.  You enter a hall full of hundreds of people shouting after you for their custom.  You forget how different and European Chile and Argentina are.  And also you forget how much safer Chile is compared to most other South American countries.  I'd arranged for a guy to pick me up at the airport as Lima is renowned for taxi drivers taking tourists from the airport to dodgy parts of the city and then stealing all of their possessions.  As I was arriving late at night I thought prearranging although a lot more expensive, was a lot safer.  Driving through the bad areas of town the taxi driver didn't stop at any red lights as if people saw me in the back there would be a small chance I'd be mugged, but I eventually arrived in the relatively safe and affluent Coastal suburb of Miraflores.  Although having said that, most houses are surrounded by high Walls and electrified razor wire like a prison although the prisoners are on the outside!


I had a slight delay getting into my dorm as an Israeli guy in the dorm would not let me in until he had finished praying.  I always find this amazingly rude as it's happened a couple of times before.  It's a dorm, not a synagogue so why should I have to wait 10 minutes for him to finish. I asked him to leave as I too wanted to pray but he just laughed and continued taking his praying tassels off.  But what can I say about Lima, well, I was quite surprised at how nice the old historic centre looks.  I guess this is partly because it was from here Spain initially ruled all of its South American colonies.  But you get lulled into a false sense of security in the centre as everything is clean and tidy with police everywhere.

Lima Lima

With this false sense of security firmly in place I headed to the presidential palace and then over the River Rimac to a small area called not surprisingly called Rimac.  It's a pleasant looking area with yellow painted buildings and a beautiful bright orange church at the end of the main street.  It all looks very inviting and as such I started to walk to towards the church.  As I did so I could see the area behind the church was filled with buildings in various states or decay but the age of the buildings gave the area a unique charm.  Just as I got my camera out an old couple across the street gestured frantically to get my attention.  Their actions were distinct, clear and done almost in a sense of panic.  I looked over my shoulder to see a couple of guys walking towards me.  The lady grabbed my arm which I think was done to make it look like I was with them, but they said quietly through gritted teeth, run, run.  But in Spanish of course.  Being me I didn't run but thanked them and walked back towards the safety of the main square while keeping a careful look over my shoulder.  I thought running would be like running from a bull.  The more you run the more it chases because it knows you are aware of it and are scared.  Not running left doubt in their minds.

Lima Lima

Eventually I made it back to the lines of armed soldiers and police next to the armoured police tank!  I guess seeing these should have highlighted that the area was not particularly safe!  But that's the trouble of travelling without a guidebook, a book would have shown me where I should and shouldn't go but I had no idea.  However, I got away with it this time although I was a little annoyed I didn't get the picture I wanted!


But that was Lima and I can't say much more than that.  This experience left a bitter taste in complete contrast to last time I was here when I visited Cusco, the list City of the Inca (Macchu Picchu) and Lake Titicaca.  So it was time to continue north to Quito in Ecuador via a strangely named place of course (Guayaquil).


69. Nanny State

May 17th, 2011

(Written: 19th April 2011)

According to the guidebooks Esperance is an amazingly beautiful town and possibly the best place to visit on the south coast.  So imagine my surprise when on walking to the seafront all I could see was a massive shipping port and massive oil containers surrounding the town.  As it turns out what makes this place a pull is the 40km coast road.  I hired a bicycle to do the hilly route and it does have to be said, the scenery was stunning and it was well worth making the journey to get here.  But there was just one problem...


In the 10 years since I was last here Australia has turned into a complete nanny state where there are practically laws for everything.  My favourite so far was one in the Northern Territory where I chose to eat my dinner in the smoking area of a bar as I was with a group of people but I was jumped on by two security guys who informed me that I had to eat in a no smoking area otherwise I'd be thrown out!  What the hell! It's not as if I was a smoker in a smoke free dining area, I chose to eat with smokers, but it turns out that Australia no longer allows me freedom of choice.   They clearly believe that I, who clearly understand the risks for passive smoking, am not able to think for myself.  Similarly I have a problem with the voting system in Australia.   By law every Australian of legal age has to vote in elections no matter where they are in the world otherwise this is punishable by fine or technically prison.  But how is that democratic?  Surely it's a person’s democratic right to choose not to vote?  By forcing you to vote and not having the option "none of the above" is not democratic at all if you have to vote for someone you don't like.....  But back to my original issue....  Although quite sensible to do, the Australian government has decided that all cyclists must wear helmets at all times, no matter where you are.


This is quite reasonable and even I on occasion do wear them but in hot weather and when I'm away from heavy traffic I tend not to as I overheat which in turn causes me to cramp up.  On his occasion I got so hot that I cramped up after just 20kms!  I am prone to cramping but usually it would be at least 60km, although this annoyed me as cramping up while cycling is probably more risky than not wearing a helmet, what irritated me more was what happened the next day.  The next day to my horror I noticed that the overheating had caused a massive rash on both of my ankles which has left them scarred.  Granted I have to go to the doctors when I get back to the UK as my overheating problem has been getting worse in recent years and this trip has amplified it but I'm holding the Australian government personally responsible for my scarred legs as they removed my choice which could have prevented it! Not happy.....

Esperance Esperance

Anyway, I left here and headed to the twin towns of Kalgoorlie and Boulder (founded 1893) for a couple of nights.  I didn't know what to expect as this is not only an outback town but a major centre of the great Australian gold rush.   On first inspection it looked like a pleasant enough town, like an oasis surrounded by endless red dust and sharp dry scrub with old turn of the 20th century buildings and wide open roads.  There is quite a lot of scaffolding covering many buildings including the imposing main post office as almost a year ago there was a large earthquake here that damaged many of the stone buildings.  Most people’s homes here are made from wood so they simply just wobbled! It's all very pleasant but then night happens......  The hostel I managed to find was only one of two in town and I was the only person there who was actually just travelling through and not working in the town.  There's a lot of money to be made here as there is a massive opencast goldmine here which pays well.  You can visit a viewing point that overlooks the mine but even there you can't really rationalise how big it is as perspective is hard to attain.  The trucks are the size of a large house but here they look like nothing more than Tonka toys.  Most backpackers here are working on their working visas and earning about £30 an hour, which is a lot considering they usually don't pay tax.  The mining also results in a skewed population with over 65% men and less than 35% women.  So there is little to do here other than drink, fight, and visit the infamous Hay Street brothels although the latter seemed to be frequented by women as old as the town!

Kalgoorlie Kalgoorlie

To sum up the town and the type of backpackers you get here, one evening as I dozed in bed a Northern Irish guy burst into the room and woke everyone up telling us to come with him to the bar around the corner as we had to "smash the f**k out of a Kiwi guy."  Ah, there’s nothing like living up to a stereotype!   I declined the offer of course, but what was the Kiwi guys error?  Well he happened to have pulled a German girl the Irish guy thought he was going out with.  So it’s a town full of shagpackers and bullpackers.

Then there was the perpetually drunk Dutch guy who befriended me at the hostel.   He was an anal-backpacker with everything that entails.  He was 23 and had been backpacking for 4 years and so no matter what anyone else said he knew best.  The fact he'd only been pretty much around America, New Zealand and Australia in all that time didn't stop him giving advice on more exotic destinations.  But that wasn't the problem as I'm used to this sort of stuff but what I'm not used to is....  The hostel was practically opposite the oldest brothel in town and you had to walk past the place.  I always gave the building a wide birth as to avoid the attention of the fat pensioners who seemed to work there but as I was doing this I noticed a shadow shuffling behind a tree on the other side of the street.   As I walked further the full horror of the situation was realised as the light from a turning car lit up the shadows.  It was the Dutch guy with one hand on his cock and the other holding up his trousers.  He stood there playing with himself as he looked at the grandmothers behind the windows, one of them was knitting for christ's sake.  Immediately I turned away and walked on pretending not to have noticed him.  Later back in the hostel I deliberately sat on the same table as him to see what would happen. He went all sheepish so I guess he thought I noticed him.  The best thing about this is that he went quiet and was no longer the anal-backpacker he had been, he was now simply just a cock!  But from what I saw, just a small cock.

Kalgoorlie Boulder

But the Irish and the Dutch guys really summed up the type of people you find in this place really.  The bars are full of drunken men who go there as they have Skimpys, that's women serving beer in just their underwear.  One bar in Boulder even has a nude barmaid.  And after getting drunk you just go out for a fight. That's pretty much life here in what is a very "redneck" and slightly racist town.  There is also a major short sightedness in the local population when it comes to preservation.  The town of Boulder was badly hit by the earthquake and many buildings on the not very busy high street are still covered in scaffolding and one lane of the road closed.   On the scaffolding there are signs put up by the local shop keepers stating "pull the buildings down to save our businesses."  This is crazy as Boulder is not very busy anyway as it only has a tiny population and basically making the high street one way won't make any difference.  Secondly, the gold will run out in the next 20 years and there will be no reason for people to live here as there will be no work.  The population now is smaller than it was 100 years ago and it will only get smaller!  So how do you attract people....  Make it a tourist town as it has many beautiful buildings, and you can't do that by pulling them down.   There's definitely an "American deep south" feel to this town and it needs to snap out of it.


The town also suffers the one thing which you always get in the outback and nothing really prepares you for it.  The flies.  When looking at the Ethiopian famine on TV years ago I always wondered how the people could tolerate the flies trying to get into their eyes, nose, ears and mouth but then I visited Ethiopia and one of the drought affected regions and realised that there is no point in trying to stop the flies as there are just too many of them.  Here it was just the same.  They basically they cause people here to have Tourette’s syndrome as many people walk around swiping the air with almost involuntary actions with the accompanied swearing at the flies.   I guess I looked weird to many but in Ethiopia I found a cure for this problem and it worked here.   Push your sunglasses as close to the eyes as possible, put "in ear" ear phones in your ears and use a triangular bandage for a bandana over the nose and mouth.   Yep, you look crazy but you won't be twitching from flies in the ears, nose, eyes and mouth.

So all in all I was glad when the Indian Pacific train pulled in although I did have one last bit of pain before leaving.  There was one guy both shagpacker and bullpacker from Wensleydale, Yorkshire in the hostel who was talking so much bullshit it physically hurt.  He somehow thought because of "Yorkshire" we had something in common but I wasn’t 21 and boasting about having fathered two kids in the UK who I’d run away from to avoid paying maintenance.   The only thing we did have in common was that he said he hated thick people, and at that very moment so did I!


70. On the Straight and Nullarbar

May 23rd, 2011

(Written: 22nd April 2011)

The Indian Pacific train is one of those journeys most Australians fantasise about and want to do.  It is aptly named for the fact that it travels the full width of Australia from Perth on the Indian Ocean to Sydney on the Pacific.  But what can I say about the journey.  It's amazingly slow with an average speed of barely 50mph which is surprising but as you go along you realise why.  The track seems to be poorly laid as on more than one occasion I woke to think that we were coming off the tracks such were the bumps.  But for the train buffs amongst you, the train was 711 meters long, that's a little under half a mile and it travels along the longest straight (but bumpy) section of track in the world at 477.14km long, that's a little under 300miles in a perfectly straight line.


To be honest, the builders could have easily made it straighter for longer, at least double, as the route takes you through what is known as the Nullarbar plain which is amazingly flat and barren.  It reminded me of the Hungry Steppe in Kazakhstan which also took two days to cross.  But having travelled the full circuit of Western Australia most of the countryside appears similar to this.  If the sea levels were to rise then most of this flat low lying and to be honest, quite boring desert area will be underwater reducing Australia to a fraction of its size.   But that said after a brief stop at a fly infested outback ghost town called Cook, population 4, which marked my exit from Western Australia after 3 weeks, and a second night on the train, I arrived in Adelaide.


Adelaide is another place that has surprised me slightly.  Most Aussies back in the UK slag the place off for not being a nice place to live, run down, violent and basically a dump.   Well, I've just added it to my list of favourite Australian capitals, and although I still have to visit Hobart, Adelaide now sits in a respectful second place behind Melbourne.  But maybe that's because if you picked someone up from an equally sized British town and dropped them here and I'm sure vice-versa, they would not realise it was a different country!


Adelaide is the most British city I've ever been to in Australia. From the churches to the town houses and the old administrative buildings which nearly always have the British royal coat of arms on them, it says Britain.  Then there's the almost obligatory botanical gardens.  I've travelled a fair bit around the world and there is nearly always something which says "the British were here."  It's not so much the large imperial buildings or the lion and unicorn gargoyles but the Botanical garden. I haven't really come across these places in old Portuguese, Spanish, French or Dutch colonies.  They may exist but maybe they no longer operate as such, but here as in New Zealand, Canada, USA, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, Malaysia, Burma..... the list could go on.... they still have operating botanical gardens.

Adelaide Adelaide

To a degree it just goes to show that many of the ventures to the new world were not only about colonisation and exploitation but also for some as scientific intrigue.  And that's why you have place names like Botany Bay, Cooks first landing site in Australia, and many places called Banks, particularly the stunning Banks Peninsular in New Zealand. Joseph Banks was the botanist scientist on Cook's HMS Endeavour voyage.  Similarly, Darwin made many new discoveries plus one really important one we all know about on the ship the HMS Beagle.   And similarly scientists on board HMS Challenger in 1872 all but invented oceanography.  Before the scientist Charles Thomson investigated the oceans little was known about anything that lived beneath the surface, after this 4000 species were known plus endless information about the sea bed.  The importance of this discovery is why the space shuttle Challenger was given it's name.

But what do all these facts have in common?  Simply the abbreviation HMS.  The country and the navy needed scientists to keep one step ahead of the rest.  Although clearly the development of new uses for the new discoveries, particularly in terms of the botanical, did lead to exploitation of land and people, I can't help but be envious of these guys as everywhere they turned there was a new discovery.  I also feel these guys never get the credit they deserve as even the national anthem prety much states that the Navy created "the empire" which of course to a degree it did.  But what would it have been if it were not for the scientists to see the opportunities and the engineers to realise them.  Ooh another tangent which makes the blog even longer than it should be but my head is full of useless facts and unfortunately strong opinions.......  But the botanical gardens in Adelaide compliment the city beautifully, although you can tell that you are not in Britain as generally you dont find amazingly colourful parrots flying around, very noisy galahs and the massive fruitbats hanging from the trees.

Adelaide Adelaide

But in addition to this, you have the beautiful Adelaide Hills just outside of the city which to me mirror the countryside around Dorking in Surrey.  Rolling hills with small tree lined fields fade into the distance as you pass small farmsteads and travel through pine tree lined roads.   The only thing to break this image of serene Surrey is Hahdorf, one of the earliest German Lutheran settlements in Australia. They came here as refugees escaping persecution in Germany.   Unlike similar migrations I've seen in South America where they still dress in 19th century garb and only speak German, basically Mennonites, here the only thing that really remains is the Teutonic looking buildings, and the occasional apple strudel staring at you through a cake shop window.


But as beautiful as it was here I have to move on. Next stop Melbourne, a place I've been to before so hopefully it will just be a quick stop to pick up my post from the post office and then catch the ferry for the 11 hour overnight journey to Devonport in Tasmania.  One thing was really noticeable here though.  As the south east of Australia is so much more populated than the west, coach companies have competition.  This meant that my journey from Adelaide to Melbourne was $50, the same distance in western Australia where greyhound have a monopoly would have and did cost me over $100! Travelling costs were now normal again...  And reasonable....

Port Adelaide

71. Half Way Between Paradise and Nowhere Else

May 29th, 2011

(Written: 27th April 2011)

As it was Easter weekend I had been hoping that the bus would get me in to Melbourne on time so I could quickly pop to the general post office before it closed to pick up some mail I was expecting.  I figured it wouldn't be that bad if I was late as although it would be closed tomorrow, Good Friday, it was bound to be open on Saturday just as they would be in London.


As could have been predicted by the start of this blog the bus got me into Melbourne 5 minutes after the post office closed.  I checked the door for when it would be open again.....  Next Wednesday!  The Australian post service takes practically a whole week off for Easter!  It also seems to take another thing and that's the piss!  How can an important service like the mail stop completely for a week, if the post system in the UK stops for two days it takes two weeks to clear the backlog.  At this rate I won't see my post for nearly two months!


I had hoped to pick up my driving licence for two reasons.  Firstly so I had another form of ID as I had wanted to submit my passport to the British Embassy to get a new one and if I did I need another form of ID to get boat tickets and coach tickets etc.  And secondly, when I get to Tasmania the public transport is nearly as bad as Western Australia and as Sheffield is not a major city I needed a backup plan just in case public transport doesn't run.  So I have yet another quandary, do I sit it out in Melbourne and add yet another week to my journey or head off to Tasmania in the knowledge that I'll be arriving during Easter weekend and public transport will be even more sparse.  Well for me it was an easy choice.  I'm not sitting around on my arse for another week, I've done a lot of that which has all but ruined my chances of continuing to South America.


The overnight ferry to Devonport in Tasmania was pretty uneventful apart from drunk seasick Aussies vomiting everywhere.  But as I walked into a cold Devonport in the early hours I got my first glimpse of my destination and I have to admit it bought a small smile to my face.  It simply said.....  Sheffield 28.....  Just 17 miles away but even though it was so close could I get there without having to walk?  To my amazement as I walked past the Devonport tourist information office at 7:45am on Easter Sunday I found it open.  This was surprising as the one in Melbourne was ironically closed for the holiday so I had assumed this would be.  Inside I was advised that there was not a bus to Sheffield today as they only run twice a week but luckily there was one tomorrow but I would have to get the same bus doing the return journey 2.5 hours later else I'd  be stuck in the tiny town for 4 days.

Devonport Devonport

The next morning I set so many alarms for fear I didn't wake up to the first one but as usual my brain must have an inbuilt timer as I woke up 3 minutes before they all went off which always seems to happens.  The minibus turned up on time which surprised me.  Not for the fact it was on time but the fact that it was a minibus.  It only runs twice a week and they can barely fill a minibus, it just shows you how much you need a car here.  The tourist office had told me that I was lucky to be going this weekend as there was a big festival in Sheffield so with masses of anticipation I looked out of the window as we approached the town.  The countryside almost looks like the countryside back home.  Unusually for Australia many of the farmers fields are a patchwork of smallholdings surrounded by the odd hedgerow  or fence rather than the usual massive intensively farmed fields of the mainland.  The undulating hills and rocky outcrops added to these reminders of the peak district back home.  And then I was there.  The sign "Welcome to Sheffield" announced my arrival at the first Sheffield on my 38,000 mile overland (plus the 400mile horrible flight).  Then as sometimes happens on such journeys, two aspects of my life met with amazing coincidence.  Not only was I in Sheffield but I noticed that the tourist office was called the Kentish office.  It turns out that the county in which Sheffield lies is called Kentish and that Sheffield is a Kentish Town.  Strangely, Kentish Town is the town in London where I've lived for 8 years!  Funny how things happen.  Having passed though the UK Kentish Town on the way here and Kentish here in Australia I've also inadvertently linked those places too, a kind of Home from home...... from home.


Arriving was a little weird as a part of me rather selfishly wanted acknowledgement of what I'd done.  I guess after such a journey you expect a kind of fanfare on your arrival and with everyone you talk to you feel like mentioning what you've achieved but you don't as you know that people are simply not interested.  After all, talking a year off work to do what is fundamentally a pointless exercise is quite a selfish thing to do.


Arriving here also gave me a palpable air of despondency, not for the fact that the town is tiny and a little bit dull, but for the same reason I had felt disappointment at finishing my first degree.  Of course you are happy that you've completed the task, but there's a sadness that the great time you've has come to an end.  And for me right now, arriving in Sheffield was a sign my journey was coming to an end and although not the actual end it was most definitely the beginning of the end.  But, as there's the very real possibility that I can't get a cargo ship to NZ I also had the realisation that retrospectively this could be the end of my journey.


There are some unusual place names around Sheffield and the street maker in the middle of Sheffield summed up where I'd come from and the position I now found myself in.  Exactly half way between Paradise and Nowhere Else, two small villages just 5km away from Sheffield.   Might use that as a book title when I sell the blog!


As the Devonport tourist office had mentioned that I'd chosen a great week to visit Sheffield as there was a major international festival I visited the tourist office here to find out where it was.  I was told that it was in the field next door.  Right, I said trying to keep a straight face.  I'd passed the field on the way in and had just assumed it was a small kids party!  Sheffield is known throughout Australia as the Town of Murals as these are painted everywhere and this kids party was the  major international arts festival....  Mmmmm, it was just 9 people painting in a field and kids running around with spiderman and batman face paint...  Was this how Sheffield was meant to feel or just 9 people painting in a field?  I had this phrase going around my head to the Pulp song "sorted for E's and whiz."


But why is Sheffield famed for Murals....  Well after being founded in 1859 (with a few pioneers with the very Sheffield name of Cocker) Sheffield's recent history mirrors that of Sheffield, UK as in the 1980's loss of farming and trade in the town meant that the town was failing.  So I don't know how someone came up with the idea, but the whole town decided to paint murals on the side of many of the buildings depicting historical landmarks of the town and region.  Now it's a major tourist pull.  I had wondered whether the town was named after the UK city or someone's name, but apart from the very Yorkshire names on the list of pioneers, it soon became apparent it must have been named after the city.  There's a river or should I say stream running through the outskirts of town and what did they call it?  The Don!  Sheffield, UKs main river.  Then there's the kids play school club, they call it the Tykes.  This is the nickname of anyone from Yorkshire and although originally stemming from an insult Lancashire men would call Yorkshire men (a tyke is an old term for a type of louse for those who don't know), we took it on as a term of endearment and in fact it's the name of the Yorkshire Cricket team.  Clearly the guys who settled bought the word over with them as it's commonly used here.   It also turns out that the biggest trophy in Australian cricket is called the Sheffield Shield but I'm not sure of the connection there.


Before I left I had just one more little thing to do.  By pure coincidence I'd arrived in Sheffield on what is possibly the most important national day in Australia, to some even more so than Australia Day.  The 25th April is ANZAC day and for those who have been reading the blog may remember that back in Turkey I'd been on the ANZAC tour in Gallipoli.  Many in Australia see this as the campaign where Australia was first seen as a nation in it's own right and many here see it as the birth of the nation, however some others see it as an inappropriate sign of nationalism.  I personally see it as a sign of remembrance for those who had no choice and were killed not really knowing what they were fighting for.  I joined the service at the war memorial and after the service and flower laying ceremony was over I placed my own small bunch of flowers, which were well and truly crushed on the bus journey here, on the memorial with a message of remembrance starting "From Sheffield England to Sheffield Australia......"


Sheffield Sheffield

But it was time to go otherwise I'd have been walking 17 miles back to Devonport.  But before I left as I was walking towards the bus stop a very nice thing happened which left a nice impression of Sheffield.  A young girl walked up to me with her mother and gave me an Easter egg and wished me happy Easter.  This nice gesture took the edge off my disappointment of the impending end of the journey but now I have to continue and need to try to get a boat to New Zealand but the shipping agencies are simply not responding to any of my pleas for help.


72. The Criminal Element

June 2nd, 2011

(Written: 1st May 2011)

The hostel I found I Devonport was a little strange.  It turns out that Tasmania Backpackers don't really accept backpackers in the truest sense of the word. They just accept those on working visas as the owners do a business in arranging backpackers to work on the many fruit picking farms in the area.  Backpackers who are on a working holiday visas and wish to stay in and work in Australia for two years have to work for at least 3 months doing such work, even if they are doctors!  Australia has bizarre immigration laws!  The lady let me stop anyway but as with Kalgoorlie it was difficult to fit in with the long term guys as they work together and live together but having said that it was a lot better than Kalgoorlie!  But there were cliques, the Chinese cook and talk with Chinese, Japanese with Japanese, German with German, Spanish with Spanish and the Italians with.....  Well the Italians hang around with which ever group has the pretty girls in it, but they're the exception to the rule!


I suppose I should have headed straight back to the mainland and tried to get a boat to NZ but as it's becoming pretty clear that I won't have time to go to language school in South America now there doesn't seem much of a rush. I'll probably have to save that for another holiday....  So while I'm here I thought I might as well see some of the sights on the island, this decision was also enforced a little as the next cheap boat to the mainland was in 5 days!  Either $325 or $ 97, no choice really.


Hobart is a very pretty little city and is the second oldest settlement in Australia after Sydney.  Like Sydney it is set in a beautiful natural harbour but it does benefit from one more thing Sydney does not.  There is the stunning backdrop of Mount Wellington, which brought back memories of Cape Town and Table mountain behind it, although here on a much smaller scale.  The city has many pretty little Georgian buildings giving it an old English feel and added to this is the small village of Richmond.  A village which consists almost completely of buildings from the Georgian period.  It also has the oldest gaol and oldest bridge in Australia.  The wildlife is also pretty amazing with wonderfully coloured birds flying everywhere.  Irritatingly while trying to take action shots of the birds my camera lens decided to break which means that I no longer have anything electronic which hasn't broken on this trip.  I can still use the thing as long as everything is 20.5 metres away!  But then there's the site I really came all the way down here for to the southerly most reaches of Australia, Port Arthur.

Hobart Richmond

Set up specifically as a penal colony as most of Tasmania was, this was meant to be one of the harshest places to be sent and it was for the worst of the worst.  But it has to be said, the guys who settled this place found the most beautiful setting and yet another amazingly picturesque natural harbour.  The buildings here are in a state of ruin, not deliberately so but caused by a number of forest fires over the years, but all this adds to the charm from the old ruined prison block to the shell of the former church.  The history here does have stories of suffering but it's equally balanced by the stories of hope and that fundamentally people were here to be rehabilitated into society with new trades and responsibilities which overall it appears to have succeeded in.  Because of it's history many Australians almost hold this as a sacred site.  There is even a small amount of "criminal chic" in being able to trace your ancestry back to this time and place.  Seventy percent of Tasmanians can trace their family history back to criminals sent to the Island between settlement and the late nineteen hundreds.

Port Arthur Port Arthur

Sadly for many here, this place has taken on a new and very dark significance.  On the 28th April 1996 a man whose name I'm not going to mention as he does not deserve any recognition, massacred 35 people here. Having now read a transcript of events that happened that day, massacre almost makes it sound better than it actually was if that were possible.  He basically executed all 35 and in the worst example of all, made a mother kneel down pleading for her children's lives basically in return her hers.  He then shot her in the head and then chased down her two infant girls and did the same.  Tomorrow is the 15 anniversary of this and what is strange, nothing was mentioned of this anywhere, not even in the small remembrance garden.  In fact we were all told specifically not to mention anything about it before entering the site so horrific is the story and its memory to the locals.

Port Arthur

After visiting the stunning south coast of Tasmania which bought back memories of New Zealand I headed back north towards the mainland stopping at the very pretty town of Launceston and its main tourist attraction, the Cataract Gorge.  I also got to experience at first hand the racial abuse so many have to tolerate in Australia.  While stood at a traffic light with a Chinese girl, a car pulled up with some teens in it and they shouted all kinds of names at her and threw things.  They then turned on me thinking that I was with her.  What amazed me more was her reaction to it which was to walk on as if nothing had happened.  Was it so normal here that she accepted it?


But Australia does seem to have become more inward looking should we say. Even in Sheffield I remembered a sign in a local shop telling people not to shop at the big supermarkets as they were killing their business with imported food.  They went onto say that milk and other products were poisoned by Chinese water and you should not buy them. Not based on fact just fear.  The fact is that the Aussie dollar is strong, the poor in Australia are finding food expensive as most food is predominantly grown in Australia, this is thanks to a "buy Aussie food" agenda by the government which appears to discredit cheaper imports.  This means that amazingly bananas are almost £10 per kilogram opposed to about £2 - £3 in the UK.  Australia is most definitely not an open market and to this end, the abuse this girl got was about her going home and taking her nasty Chinese goods with her.  Australia can be a little racist for my liking and wrongly blaming a young defenceless girl at a traffic light was definitely uncalled for.  But I was soon back in Devonport to experience one last Saturday night fight amongst the teens in Mc Donald's before getting the ferry to Melbourne.  One guy took objection to another looking at his friend "a bit funny."  Young Aussies can be very aggressive.


73. Changing History

June 10th, 2011

(Written: 9th May 2011)

On the ferry to Melbourne I was hit by nanny state Australia again with the announcement that it was a federal offence to sleep in any of the public areas of the ferry and people could only sleep in designated cabins.   A 10 hour journey with a 7am check-in and my alarm clock waking me up at 5am, I can't promise I won't nod off as generally I have no control over the exact moment that pass out?!?!  But it's a federal offence? Or was this the Australian class system? The rich can afford a cabin to sleep, the poor have to prize their eyes open and age prematurely due to lack of sleep.  It reminded me of another federal law that bans hot food and drinks on public transport.   I thought this was the company’s policy but no, the government does not want you to injure yourself.  Fair enough but don't people learn by mistakes?  I used to like Australia, but now it's just becoming weird!


I spent most of my time in Melbourne trying to get in touch with cargo ships but failed miserably. No one is responding.  When you phone they say that they can't help but when you ask who can all they say is "I don't know!" and put the phone down.  It must be doable, there are blogs on the Internet from people who have done it and they even name the companies I've been contacting.  But I'm seriously getting fed up of this and stopping in one place somehow makes it more annoying so I decided to head to Sydney via the capital Canberra.   These are places I have been to before but I need a change of scenery while I hassle more companies.


Before I left I took in one site in Melbourne which I missed the last time I was here.  It's a little strange but the old English style building I was heading towards actually predates the first step on dry land of any European on this coast and predates Cooks visit.  The house was built in 1755, 15 years before Cook's first sighting of the Australian East coast but even more bizarrely Cook's parents built it......   Basically this, the oldest house in Australia was bought and brought to Australia in the 1930s such is the importance of this man.   I guess it's easy to underestimate this guys achievements but put simply, when this guy was born there were huge areas of the world which were unknown and unmapped, when he died (or more accurately was killed), no areas of the globe remained unknown.

Canberra Canberra

In the capital Canberra there are similarly many memorials to Cook including the massive Cook fountain and a large steel globe showing his three most important voyagers of discovery.   But Canberra is fundamentally a purposely built capital and like most of these places, is expensive and quite dull.   I spent more time here getting nowhere trying to book ships. Two companies did get back to me though.  The first was Maris, these guys had helped me in finding a boat to Australia (which I didn't take) but this time they said they couldn't help. The other was P&O cruises.   They had a ship on a round trip cruise from Auckland to Brisbane and back but said that the cruise was fully booked although there could be space if some passengers didn't turn up.   The trouble is, this boat wouldn't leave until the 25th May.  Could I wait that long just on the off chance there may be a place? Well maybe if I had more time but I don't.


So to take my mind off my impending doom I headed around the city visiting parliament and the national war memorial.   I always find the memorial museum quite a strange place, it's extremely nice in the fact that it is not vitriolic but it does seem to point to only Australia bring involved in the first and second world wars!   It also mentions, on a number of occasions, the famous "donkey man" from the Gallipoli beaches.   This guy who was a first aider is said to represent what it means to be raised Australian and the values Australians have.  He went back into gunfire on a number of occasions to bring wounded soldiers back but sadly his luck ran out as 24 days into the campaign he was killed.  The thing I object to here is the fact the John Simpson (full name John Simpson Kirkpatrick) was born and raised in South Shields in the UK.  He would have most likely through nurture got his morals and his strength to help his mates during this time, not in the short time that he happened to be in Australia.  In fact he was only in Australia as he happened to be in the merchant navy there and only "joined up" as he saw it as a passage back to where he considered home, which was not Australia.  The reason he did what he did in the battle says more about his upbringing rather than the claims of a government trying to hold up a guy as a hero for his country.  If he was the man he has been described to be, I would think he would object to the way he's been portrayed.  It's kind of changing history and taking advantage of the dead to suit some kind of nationalistic cause.  And they get away with it as the person at the centre of the story can't argue against it.  Not a nice thing to do really.


But before leaving Canberra I had one more thing stolen; a water bottle holder.  It doesn't sound like much but it was something I bought on my first round the world trip from a street lady in Bolivia who was making them.  It's not so much that the item has been taken but the memory.  Yes the memory will always be buried in my head somewhere, but it's the reminder of that memory I’ve lost.   Without the reminder of the item will the memory be stuck in the deep realms of my mind where so many school chemistry lessons have ended up, never to be seen or remembered since.  Funny how such apparently inconsequential items suddenly become important when they are gone.  On the other and though, it was amazingly useful.


I was soon in Sydney, yet another place I've been before but this time I was looking for ships.   I spent two days looking and then finally resigned myself to having to fly as the only ship I found was going to New Zealand but via the UK!  I bought the cheapest flight ticket I could which was to Auckland and spent the rest of the day wandering about and moaning about the situation on Facebook and on the phone.   I also said goodbye to Paddington, sending him off to Christchurch in New Zealand by surface post.  He should be here in a week and hopefully by boat.

Sidney Sidney

I sat in a bar thinking about it how disappointing this had all been.  I figured that when I get to NZ I was going to wander around the country and make the line of my journey on my route map spell out the word "cock."  The was a fat Australian guy in the bar watching an Australia v NZ rugby match who figured out I was a Pom and decided to try and irritate me.  He went on about how good Australian sportsmen are and why they always beat England.   I was going to tell him how unsporting Australian shipping companies are and why they defeated me but then he came out with the comment, "The problem with you Poms is you don't help each other out, see us" he said pointing at the TV screen, "we are green and gold. Do you know what that means."   Having thoroughly wound me up I responded, "Well, green's he colour of Envy and gold is something gypsies wear, erm, are you a bunch of envious gypsies?"   He wasn't too friendly after that.  Turns out some Aussies like to dish it out but they can't take it!   Never found out what green and gold meant though.

After returning to my hostel in the fantastically named Woolloomooloo I habitually checked my email.  I couldn't believe it, why now, why would someone send me an email like that right now!