Battles of the Ocean Road Part 1 – Arthur and the Witch

The problem is as soon as you give a name to a car it gains a personality.

Whilst you would wistfully hope for some cute quirks like a funny registration plate or radios that are stuck on one station, what you get in reality is a machine that chooses to spitefully breakdown at the most in opportune moments, not allow windows to open, throw the contents of the glove box out for no reason, air con that dies on baking hot days and strange rattling noises that only appears on long journeys the source of which shall forever remain unknown.

So when I christened my dinted 2006 Nissan X-Trail Arthur Dent since I knew much like his literary namesake I was in for a journey that would be that would be inconvenient, often perplexing but always full of weird and wonderful sights.

Having purchased Arthur in Sydney I headed down to Melbourne to meet Danique, a Dutch girl who I met whilst in Bounce, after which we had planned to drive the Great Ocean Road, a legendary piece of tarmac that snakes it’s way along the southern coast between Adalaide and Melbourne.

As with all great journeys they start with a single step. The first step for me and Arthur however happened to be flat onto our faces. Having arrived in Melbourne to meet up with Dani I had made the terrible realisation that I couldn’t register my vehicle online (which I had previously been told I could, leading to lesson number one of the ocean road, never trust government agencies) and the only way to do so was to drive back into New South Wales. So I decided that the day before our departure I’d head up to the closest town in New South Wales to Melbourne and get everything sorted out before our grand depart the next day.

At least that was the plan.

The nearest town in New South Wales to Melbourne as it happens is a little town called Albury. A 3 hour car journey away. Now Albury may have some wonderful sights filled with wonderful people however my everlasting memory of this forsaken backwater little town will be the black hole that is NSW vehicle registry department. This place sucked all goodness and humanity out of the world, sat in the middle of the main high street with its glass fronted entrance was surrounded by flower beds of what would have been beautifully bright flowers anywhere else in the world instead they took on a monochrome appearance next to this place.

I sat alone in this glass fronted building with its impenetrable wall of desks across its centre alone and in silence except for the occasional painfully slow click of the keyboards from the dull and suicidal looking employees lined in front of me. They looked as though they had been imprisoned here for so long Stockholm syndrome had set in and they had accepted their fate of never being able to escape this place. Amongst these hostages sat a scrawny witch like creature. With a look of pure distdane for all that was around her she sat behind her desk doing goodness knows what, because it sure as hell wasn’t working as the painfully slow tapping of its keybord had the same rhythm as a dying mans pulse. It was possibly coming up with new hex’s to cast upon the unsuspecting sleeping inhabitants of Albury, but I could never be sure as with an obvious look of pain and discomfort it finally called for the next customer to come forward. Hopeful that my time in this strange greenhouse on bureaucratic horror would soon be over I raced to the counter.

The obvious hatred for anyone who had the audacity to disturb it doing sweet fuck all became apparent. Demanding me to fill out several forms, most of which i’m pretty sure where not neccesary in the first place, it then asked for my ID and i dutifully handed over my driving licence.

The only response i received was a gleeful nope.

Baffled I tried to explain that I had left my passport with the reception at the hostel i was staying at it refused to accept it letting out a raukus cackle as i went to leave. Resigned to the fact I now had to endure a 3 hour drive back to Melbourne with nothing to show for it but fuel receipts and an empty McDonald’s bag I kicked the tyre on Arthur cursing him for getting me into this mess nearly breaking my toe. Whimpering in pain I climbed back into the car and set off back to Melbourne.

Needless to say when I finally arrived back in Melbourne and met Dani in the pub, I received no sympathy, only to be greeted instead by raucous laughter. Now we had no choice but to endure the same sordid journey again tomorrow. We did however agree to change our plan some what. This detour back towards New South Wales gave us an opportunity to head into the snowy mountains a six hour drive from Albury and the chance to climb Australia’s highest mountain Kosciuszko. Kosciuszko is a particularly difficult word to get your mouth around when you first come across it, so much so we start calling it mount Polish instead since it was significantly easier to say. As the name might suggest it’s name isn’t British in origin but Polish. Thankfully it wasn’t named after the explorer who first noted it Paweł Strzelecki, who decided to name it after a Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. Either way you would sound like you are choking on spider webs trying to pronounce them.

So it was decided we were to leave early in the morning, get the car registered (passport in hand) and then head off for Kosciuszko. The drive this time didn’t feel anywhere near as long with someone else in the car. Tearing up the K’s with music blasting from our phones (Arthur didn’t have a aux cable and we had no CD’s) we continued set off on our way to Albury.

On our drive we repeatedly noticed some orange road signs with a mysterious shaped mask with a slot for eyes pointing off to towns just off the main highways. Desperate for some way to break up our journey we decided we would investigate what these signs were all about and puled into the small town of Glenrowen. Namley so that we could refuel ourselves rather than Arthur. When you pull into Gelnrowan the origin of the mask that you see on the signs becomes very apparent as you a greeted by a 20m high giant wearing a steel mask and a long brown trench coat. This giant is none other than the cultural icon of Victoria, Ned Kelly the outlaw bush ranger. Steeped in folklore that makes his legend almost as tall as the statue in Glenrowen, Ned Kelly was a man who was pushed to far by the law and set about trying to form his own free state along with his brothers and comrades. Killing law officials and robbing banks did him no favours getting along with the government but burning mortgages for small local farm owners gained him an immense following amongst the population of rural Victoria. I knew nothing of Kelly apart from his iconic steel suit and unbeknownst to me i had arrived in the final chapters of his story for it was at Glenrown the final acts of the Kelly gang played out.

Thankfully, knowing nothing of the Kelly gangs last stand, someone had created a sign posted walking tour around the site, sadly it had been created by someone with all the orienteering skills of Ray Charles stuck in Primark. The idea of conforming with the rest of the world and going with a simple numerical order for the signs to run in had been abandoned and instead they had opted for sending unsuspecting tourists back and forth across roads, bridges and into woodland. Completely baffled and none the wiser on the actual events of the siege after reading the signs we resorted to organising our own self guided tour using that fountain of all approximate knowledge, Wikipedia.

The final show down that played out is exactly how the 12 year old in me would have imagined between an outlaw and the law. In a wild west display of defiance Kelly had holed up in the Glenrowen Inn awaiting the authorities arrival knowing they were to arrive by train. Despite attempts to sabotage the tracks leading to Glenrowen the full force of the state of Victoria was bearing down onto the Kelly’s. They were more than prepared however, with pistols and rifles loaded they donned what would later become their infamous steel armour they were ready for the showdown. Built from plate steel from old ploughs gave already imposing 5 foot 8 Ned an even more ghostly and menacing figure. Soon after the fighting began the Inn caught fire and Ned’s two brothers were killed. Ned however managed to escape staggering into the woodland behind the inn and although heavily wounded Kelly approached the police emerging out of the thick fog like I lumbering ghost described by one officer to be “old Nick himself” (known to us 21st century folks as Satan), only to be shot in the leg and captured. In the three months following his capture Ned would stand trial in Melbourne and be sentenced to death. If this was an attempt to end the legacy of Ned it did quite the opposite only giving birth to the legend of Australia’s most notorious folk hero. Apparently Ned’s last words before he was hanged was “such is life”, to be honest i feel maybe Ned was playing down the severity of the moment he found himself in.

After a welcome bacon and egg sandwich we hit the road again finally getting into Albury soon after the office opened. My favourite witch was pleased to see me. With a look like it had just passed a kidney stone it waved me over. Wheezing from its emphysema riddled lungs it asked me, gleefully, if i had remembered my ID today.

Miserably i handed over my passport, insurance documents and green slip hopeful to get out of this pit of dispare as quickly as possible.

The old crow, grinning from ear to ear once again, told me i had the wrong insurance. As it turns out what I had purchased was Third party insurance, which only covered property damage. What i was supposed to buy was Compulsory Third Party (CPT) insurance which covers personal injury. Desperatly scrambling for someone to blame I pointed the finger at the insurance company, those bastard bankers have had it coming I told myself. 

I could feel my soul being lifted out of my chest once again by this vile creature behind the desk as it started up again “so including your registration change over fee, new registration and CPT that comes to $1,100”.

I collapsed. Dead. No amount of CPR or the strongest dephribulator had the chance of reviving me. My wallet spontaneously combusted, never before has so much money flown out of if for something so inane.  The witch had won, it let out a raucous cackle as I inserted my card, thunder clapped over head and the world outside burst into flames. Ok that might not be exactly what happened but you get the idea how distraught I was. Nearly two-thirds of my money I had planned for this journey was gone just so that I had a car to drive. I was devastated.

Walking out of the building I realised that my soul had been ripped from me leaving only a husk. All joy in my life had gone and my clothes had suddenly become monochrome like the bland flowerbeds surrounding us. I cursed the witch muttering under my breath hopefully loud enough for it to hear. Dani was equally as shocked as me and realised my dispare. Thankfully she knew the only thing that could improve a sour mood, food.

We went into the near by mall to supply ourselves with all the food and snacks we would need to start us out on our adventure. Australian malls as it turns out are every bit as interesting as the rest of the country. Walking into these temples to the gods of airconditioning you feel compelled to spend your money (or what little money you have left). One store in particular seems to hold a heavy gravitational pull for me, as if passing a black hole I cannot help but find myself being pulled into it. For those of you not lucky enough to have experienced K-Mart i will try and describe it to you. K-Mart is discount department store filled will every mannor of crap under the sun including the stuff you never realised you need. Basically if JML owned a department store it would be K-Mart. From fishing rods to fishnet tights, pillows to ping pong tables it has the lot. If you accidently walk into one you will find you walk out carrying armfulls of shopping bags filled with the top of the range cheap crap, a lighter wallet and no memory of where the last hour went. Needless to say even in my bankrupt state I still found the urge to buy myself a solar powered lamp which could also charge your phone to go with the other three torches I owned. 

Malls do come furnished with other delights for those not looking to buy shite The food courts here are astounding, in the UK I typically would be more than content with McDonald’s or Greggs but in straya they did away with this generic nonsense and went for sushi, borritos, thai, Indian, Chinese and anything else you could fancy. Mind you none of it was exceptional but it was tasty, filling and cheep which for a backpacker is the only important factor.

Danique picked up some sushi whilst i decided to opt for a kebab wrap. I try to live by the rule never to by sea food in a landlocked country, fuck knows how you can call it fresh fish when its been kept in a fridge for a week. I know Australia is an island surrounded by ocean but when you are hundreds of km from the ocean I would count that as being landlocked. 

We had grabbed some snacks but my detour to K-Mart had cost us considerable time (I really needed that tourch!) and we figured that we could eat on route and ought to pick up food supplies from Coles for the next few days and hit the road. Coles like any supermarket works off the rules if we hide food in a random order it will force you to but more shit you don’t really want. Undeterred we charged round filling our trolly with as much canned food that was high in preservatives and E numbers that we could find so that it would spoil in the furnace that was the boot of Arthur. The plan was that pasta and rice would form the core of our diet padded out by tins of tomatoes, mixed beans, tuna and sweetcorn with the occasional fresh vegetable just to mix things up. 
We left coles with our trolly full of cans and vegetables and started loading the car up. This is it. The start of a true adventure! Forging our ways out into the wild Highlands of the snowy mountains, this is the adventure we had both been hoping for. With a true sense of adventure pulsing through out veins I started up Arthur and released the handbrake ready to pull away. Danique let out a shout! 

“Wait!!!” 

I jumped slamming on the brakes thinking I was about to run over a child. 

“We forgot tea!!!”

I turned off the car adventured we raced back into Coles. We couldn’t possibly leave without tea! For no matter how bad the road ahead would get, and it would, a cup of tea could restore our normality. 

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