Category Archives: Australia

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! 


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. 


Livin’ la vida hostel

I’m somebody who likes their space and privacy.

So the idea of sharing a room with 6 or more people whom I don’t know was a pretty daunting idea before heading out on this adventure. But that is exactly the situation you will find yourself in whilst backpacking around Oz, so I would have to face my fears of cramped rooms, snoring, cockroaches and shagging room mates.Supposedly all of that is part of the backpacking experience, meeting new people who are all thrown in together in the same situation cramped together in rooms too small for the number of beds in it. But you know, when in Oz do as the backpackers do.

Pilling all my gear into the hostel on my first night in Sydney was the first time the reality of living in a hostel started to sink in. The Sydney Harbour Youth Hostel Association (YHA) was an ideal place to be starting this adventure with a pretty modern set up and a stunning view over the harbour there was really no other place I wanted to have the starting line. However my expectations of walking into the hostel and immediately making friends with my chirpy northern charm  wasn’t as straightforward as I wanted to believe. Whilst there were always groups up on the roof terrace catching the final rays of sun as it set behind the skyscrapers of Sydney they would keep to themselves.

Typically these folks seemed to have known each other for some time be it from back home or meeting them on this big red rock in the southern oceans. Whilst typically you could hold an amicable conversation with them managing to find drinking partners for the evening proved to be more challenging than I thought. Not that it ever stopped me from drinking I hasten to add.

Maybe deciding to travel solo had been a bad idea. Had I travelled with friends would it have been easier to integrate with others rather than sipping my gin and tonic in looking out over the harbour on my own?

My first night sleeping in a hostel was not as bad as I had feared (probably due to the  25 hour flight the previous day and the quarter a bottle of gin I knocked back) although the fact that my room mates didn’t speak the next day had me worried. Was I a snorer? Had I kept them awake all night with a chorus or snorts and grunts? I didn’t want to be that room-mate that is hated by every one in the dorm so I decided that from then on I was going to sleep only on my front to cut down on the risk of snoring.

Along with my fear of snoring I was finding it harder than I had imagined this backpacking malarkey in my first few days. Thousands of miles from everyone I knew and the fact that even messaging by the internet proved an issue because of time-zones further compounded the feelings of isolation.

Although alone I was still finding this new country fascinating. Whether taking in the colonial history at Cockatoo island and the Hyde Park barracks or the natural beauty of the coastline at Bondi and Manly still made it an amazing place to get lost in. Although some people I talked with didn’t find it as spectacular. Marco a French lad who I spent an afternoon talking with found things out here less than idyllic. Complaining about the slow pace of life and the lack of posh restaurants he seemed to have a talent of finding faults with anywhere he went. Like some sort of terrible tour guide he rattled off places he had visited and told me the many reasons I should never go there. Whilst everyone is entitled to their own view this guy seemed to have the philosophy every silver lining has a cloud, determined to spread his displeasure with Australia to anyone daft enough to listen to him. Needless to say I’d had enough of this winging frog and decided it was time to move on to another hostel, and not before time.

Leaving the YHA I headed for the Mad Monkey hostel in Kings Cross. I had heard mentions of Kings Cross throughout my introduction to Australia as party central with lots going on all the time, whether it was for good or bad there was only one way to find out. Arriving in the hostel at 10am I went to drop my bags off and was greeted by a dozen drunk, singing and louder than normal Americans who judging by the bags under their eyes their beds had remained awake to greet midday once more before their session was over. The Mad monkey was in a different league to the YHA, whilst the latter resides in the premier league the Mad Monkey would probably be conference league at best. With cramped rooms and broken air con the place took on the smell and appearance of a month old gym bag forgotten in the boot of a car on a hot day. I thought I had made a terrible mistake. ‘I can’t do this’ ‘I need to get out of here’ I kept saying to myself. I frantically started searching for another hostel or Air B’n’B just anything to get me out of this place. But to no avail.

I left the hostel and took the short train journey to Bondi Beach and spent my afternoon reading in the sun staring out at the idyllic blue sea dipping my toes into the Tasman Sea for the very first time. All the time putting off returning to mad monkey with the thought of it making me long for home and feeling doubt in this adventure and the black dog beginning to set in.

However the next day offered a change in tempo and  another insight into the wonders of Kings Cross. Whilst sleeping in a shared bedroom is difficult being woken by alarm clocks and fire alarms makes it seem all but impossible.

All it takes is a random event to get a conversation started. Be it a football game, currents affairs or some guy a few cans short of a six-pack setting off the fire alarm at an ungodly hour for no reason. Whilst waiting for breakfast I ended up chatting with two brothers from the US and a girl from Spain all of us looking bleery eyed and a tad grumpy to be up this early. A few cups of coffee and pancakes later and plans were made and in the afternoon we found ourselves sharing peaches on Bondi beach and jumping through the surf. Suddenly I seemed to have found some kindred spirits. The idyllic blue sea and the laughter and wails of fun being smashed around by the towering turquoise barrels smashing us into the shore made me realise I was in the right place. Maybe that nutter with the fire alarm had saved my trip?

The following nights spent with the mad monkey led to more people wanting to join us, our little international brigade added Irish, Germans and Canadians to our ranks. In the end our little posse had us drinking in all the local venues and awake until ungodly hours.

The highlight was the night of the US election. Whilst Donald Trump’s victory night might seem like a peculiar highlight, I must explain it was not for seeing a bigoted, racist, tangerine faced, balding and all round cretin elected to the most powerful office in the land. It was for the people surrounding me when we received this news. Whilst all of us distressed at the way the world was going with the rising tide of the right-wing and scientifically ignorant gaining power on both sides of the Atlantic we decided tonight was the night we would hit the town and set the world right. Sharing in the love of this diverse community we found ourself in the hostel we set about trying to dispel all the hate nations can hold towards one another. This trip makes you open your eyes to new ways of life and new attitudes, whilst you may not live like them you find that you are more similar than you ever realised. That all people hold goodness in there heart and want the best for their fellow human being regardless of where you may call home. For the first time in a long time I felt a wave of optimism for the future. If the youth can hold these beliefs and remain true we can endure and win against this rising tide of hatred and fear.

As my time at mad monkey drew to an end so it did for many of the others. Moving on from a hostel that I originally held animosity towards I now felt sadness. Maybe I was too quick to judge this place where I later found myself settling into this new status quo of this new bizarre lifestyle I had chosen to lead. Or maybe it was the hangover from the night before starting to scramble my grey matter, I couldn’t be sure.

Moving into the central business district of Sydney and being slap bang in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Australians largest city took some getting use to. The constant comings and goings of the endless streams of people, the incessant drone of cars and the endless supply of watering holes to quench your thirst on an evening made it difficult to decide where your should drink that evening. What a place to be! I checked myself into the Wake Up! (Punctuation obviously makes the place more edgy and down with the kids) having once again lost a stone in sweat arriving carrying a bag the size of a person looking bedraggled and sweating profusely, like a fat man who had heard there was free nuggets at McDonald’s. “This place was in the right direction” I thought to myself. It had seen the right end of a mop and duster in the last week, gleaming polished floor with an open plan reception with beautiful women behind it, I guess hostels aren’t so bad after all. I got checked in and carried the dead weight of my bag to the lift and through the corridor to room 402. I had now got the routine of arriving in a new room down. Firstly circling the room checking for a free bottom bunk, sadly my luck wasn’t in this time. Settling for the top bunk near the window I turned back to take another look across the room looking for a free locker and then I saw something that all backpackers dread. I don’t know how I missed it. A bed surrounded in an improvised curtain of blankets, sheets and towels. Affectionately known by backpackers as a sex fortress. “There’s a bloody couple, fucks sake.” The bastards better not try anything tonight or their will be hell the to pay.

Wake up! Was a great hostel, the rooms although a little small and compact were more spacious than that at mad monkey with less beds cramped in and were blessed by the divine wind that is air conditioning. Pleased I didn’t have to wake up in swimming in a pool of my own sweat any more I headed down for and check out the kitchen and cinema room I was told about by the lovely Dutch girl on the desk earlier. The movie room was impressive with big screen and piles of pillows it was ideal! Although no one could find the remote to turn the TV on so I ended up having a few drinks with an Australian actor here looking for work and a fantastically hippified German techno head. The theme of only a few drinks in the afternoon soon got sufficiently out of hand and obviously finished at 2 in the morning. But you know, these things happen.

After scrambling up the shear and jagged cliff face that was the 3 stairs into my bunk bed I collapsed face first and passed out into as drunken stupor. I couldn’t tell you how long I slept for but what I can tell you I was greeted by moaning, creaking and cracking from the bottom bunk at the end of the room. “Is that?  Are they? Oh for fucks sake!” Needless to say the inhabitants of the Bangborough Castle whom I hadn’t met yet had taken up residence and were inspecting the ramparts. I rolled over and could see phones lighting up the faces of my other room mates also not invited to the shenanigans in Camp Shagstion. I don’t know why but it’s at this point my phone appeared in my hand and Spotify had opened. Like a man possessed my thumbs worked over time finding just the right song to set the mood for the star-crossed lovers in the corner. As I slowly increased the volume on my phone to its maximum volume playing out Marvin Gayes perfect love-making anthem sexual healing. Things seemed to come to an abrupt stop in Fort Bonksville replaced by the cackling laughter of all my fellow room mates. After my point had been made I rolled back over into my drool sodden pillow and had a great night of undisturbed sleep.

The following week I found I had to move on from wake up! as I hadn’t been sensible enough to book ahead at the hostel so I was kicked out and had to migrate the massive 200m to the other side of central station. Between being a new arrival at my new hostel, Bounce, and working as often as I could it took me some time before settling in. But with the ramping up of festivities in the build up to Christmas and New Years the opportunities to remain hidden and unknown diminished. With hostel parties galore the goon (cheep bags of Australian wine typically costing around $10 for 5L) was flowing and friends were made easily over a glass or seven of this dangerous hangover giver.

There is something about the festive period that seemed to open people up and in the end you weren’t able to turn and corner in and hostel without encountering someone you knew who would want to catch up on the days events, even though neither of you would be able to remember each others name.

Mixed in with people from all seven continents, of every race and creed gathered together her in a country so far from their homes is a moving experience especially when everyone is so friendly with one another. It didn’t take long to fall into a circle of friends who by the end of the 12 days of Christmas were as close to family as you could come.

Although I had fallen in with a crowd mostly from the UK and whilst others mistook my northern accent as a Welsh one I don’t think I could have found a nicer group. Finding myself constantly with something to do sleep continually evaded me. Whether it was cheep club night or just goon on the roof terrace overlooking central Sydney you couldn’t have asked for a better group of people or place.

When Christmas day finally arrived we arrived we revelled in our mock-up Christmas  dinner served by bounce. Although lacking in Brussels sprouts someone managed to get their hands on some cranberry sauce so the day was not ruined. Like any tourist in Australia there is only one thing to do on Christmas day arrived and that was to head to the beach. So donning our Santa hats, reindeer antlers and Christmas inspired Hawaiian shirts and headed for Coogie beach.

The scene that greeted us was incredible. A sea of Santa hat clad revellers filled the beach all the way to the water line as if there was a titanic battle to hold the tide at bay. But undaunted and eskys (cooler boxes) in hand we laid claim to our own portion of the beach open a few tinnies and set to work on the festive spirits. As the day wore on more and more folks from Bounce began to join us ultimately there must have been neatly 40 of us enjoying the rays of the Christmas sun. To say my mind and body was confused at the fact it was nearly 30°c on December 25th would be an understatement. Although an incredible spectacle with the amount of revellers on the beach it felt any other day at the beach, but with more Santa hats. I understand now why aussies had an obsession about our cold winters. Being locked snugly in your home for a day of gorging yourself on food and drink with the only distraction being your grandparents snoring during the 5pm film was something different. Where as any day at the beach or any barbie in the back garden just felt like any other day making what back home feels like an exceptional day feel damn right ordinary.

But if Christmas was ordinary New Years in Sydney was extraordinary. With tickets sold out months in advance and queues miles long Sydney felt like the place to be to see in the New Year. Smuggling in our booze in resealed soft drinks bottles we managed to get into Mrs Mcguires chair hoping for a spectacular view of the firework show over the harbour bridge and opera house. Our view although limited gave us enough of a chance to see the harbour bridge between the tree as we spent the 17 hours lounging about waiting for the show to begin. During this time it began to sink in this is the last time we will all be together in one place. Folks had already began making plans the previous week to head up the coast for farm work, to being travelling to Melbourne or heading out to the red centre and Uluru. It was all coming to an end.

But what an end it was. The fireworks display in Sydney was everything it was hyped up to be with night turning back into day with as many colours as the mind could imagine. As the cascading sparks fell from the harbour bridge signalling the celebrations end i had that feeling every traveller gets rolled over me, that I will never pass this way again with this crowd of people. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing you will never be here with this crowd of people somebody whom you may never see again. How different could life be had I booked into somewhere else? For better or worse sipping the scotch I had smuggled in the bottom of my bag and linking arms singing out auld lang syne I knew that this was the best moment I could have wanted for.

Now that everyone has left bounce and I find myself with only a small scattering of friends still here I’ve found I’m becoming isolated. Whilst I’m still involved with day-to-day life around the hostel the Sydney doesn’t seem the same any more without the amazing people who made this city their home with me. When you throw yourself into the melting pot of hostel life it rewards you greatly, but when they move on you find yourself alone again. Maybe Joe Strummer was right when he said “without people you’re nothing”.

When you come to a land down under

As I staggered into a bar in central Sydney half-starved and struggling to keep my eyes open I found a menu sat down and asked for a beer.
“I’m sorry sir but I can’t serve you that”
With a look of complete bewilderment, despair and anger I said “why not, I can see the beer taps and glasses, it’s not unreasonable to ask for a beer in a pub is it?”.
“No sir it’s not. But it’s 8am and we don’t start serving alcohol until 11.”

It’s then I realised how knackered my body clock was and that Australia is canny far away. In fact it’s fucking far away. 23 arse numbing hours away. But finally I find myself half way across the world in a country that has fascinated me all of my life and I have dreamed of visiting. Whether it’s the fact its the only island to be a continent or that 7 of the 10 most deadly creatures in the world live there it has managed to pull me all this way. So needless to say my first encounter with an Aussie as I stood with a shattered body clock and tired eyes I probably wasn’t how envisioned the  start my adventure.

Yet sleep is still far from my mind since like a child on too many blue smarties I am already besotted with this new nation and eager to get out and explore.

Jumping off at Circular Quay Station has to be one of the more surreal experiences for someone new to Sydney. The image in your mind’s eye of Sydney actually lives up to what you see from the station platform. The gleaming sky scrapers with the Opera house on your right and the harbour bridge emerging triumphantly over the crisp blue waters of Port Jackson making the need to get out and explore as much of this city as you can as vital as the warm humid air you breath.

I decided to start my adventure in the place where the first European settlers entered Australia down in the infamous area known as The Rocks. The area was built shortly after the initial settlement of Sydney carried with it a notorious reputation of vice, debauchery and violence. Formerly Sydney’s most famous slum the area is now, like many interesting areas in the middle of a city, is suffering the effects of gentrification with more restaurants and pastry shops than anyone could ever need.

But beneath the hipster skin of The Rocks the history can still be found. Wandering around the winding streets you can still see find the clusters of terrace houses and old pubs where even with the 21st century fixtures you can still imagine yourself in the early 1900’s.

In the early days the British convicts that were deported to establish the colony at Sydney harbour the 8 month transport was punishment enough for there crimes and upon arrival the convicts were set to work built there own camps and administration buildings. Battling against an alien landscape and not enough materials, resources and food the settlers fought. Within 30 years though The Rocks was quickly established as the main commercial hub of this growing colony along with the reputation of any commercial centre with gabling and drunkenness rife. The aboriginal clans who’s lands the colonists had claimed found themselves ever pushed to the fringes of this new and strange society.

The stories of the people who used to live in the area are still fresh in people’s minds with some epic tales such as the bunch of roughian’s know as the Rocks Push known for violence and robbery against police and pedestrians alike. Female members of the Push would entice drunks into dark alleys only to be assaulted and robbed by the gang. Stories of nicer times such as the foundations of the house of two ex-convicts who married which can be found in on the ground floor of the Sydney Harbour YHA.

The Australians are proud of the history of the rocks as the area houses some of the countries oldest buildings, at just over 200 years old. I didn’t quite have the heart to tell them that some buildings back home are double that age. The winding streets have the feeling of a more well thought out York with nice blocks of buildings and straight roads but still with the old cobble streets and flagstone stairs.

By the 1900’s The Rocks was a squalid place with filth and decaying buildings everywhere and after an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the area the decision was made to knock down and rebuild The Rocks. Over the years arguments between residents and government raged with locals trying to preserve their homes culminating in the action of the union leader Jack Mundey along with Rocks local Nita McCrae organising protests and campaigning for the preservation of the Rocks for its local residents. Although this campaign was successful what the Rocks is today is a far cry from what it was and further still from the infamous days of brothels and gambling dens.

In the 230 years since the arrival of the settlers the area has undergone a complete transformation and the foundations were laid of what was to become the nation of Australia was born. From the cramped and squalid conditions of the rocks grew this burgeoning nation 23 million.


Walking around The Rocks, Circular Quay and the central businesses gives off a different vibe to any city I had been to before. Although a lot of the culture and construction is influenced by Britain, with imposing relics of empire on every corner reminding you, the lay out of streets can be quite European with wide boulevards where a Italian cafe would not look out of place. The Australians themselves I had always considered to be loud and proud. Not in a bad way, (but you can’t loose and Australian in heavy fog) but I found this stereotype I had in my head to be in complete contrast to my first exposure to the nation that spawned them. Whilst quintessentially British in a lot of there attitudes they have also taken on a lot of influence from the Spanish substituting ‘Manana’ for ‘No worries’. Its as if Britain finally removed the stiffening branch of snobbishness and delusion of grandeur from its arse and taken a few tokes on whatever Cheech and Chong were peddling making them so laid back they are almost horizontal. Maybe the isolation of being an island miles from anyone else makes you take what you already have for granted not wanting to take more from others and demanding to be the centre of attention.

Sitting around circular quay watching the come and go of the ferries and the constant throng of tourists walking with no real purpose enjoying the late evening sunshine as the sky changes its hues from yellow to red to purple the penny is finally beginning to drop that I am in Australia and despite the bridge looking incredibly similar to the Tyne Bridge everything is different. I am 17,000 km from home having said goodbye to my family and friends only the day before. The distance suddenly seems real and the fact I am in this new country for a year thrills and terrifies me.

January 26 – a day with two names

Personally I’m a bit afraid of patriotism and national flag waving.

But January 26 is a day you can’t really avoid it whilst out in Oz. Australia day causes a sudden explosion of Aussie flags and more cuddly koalas, kangaroos and wombats than anyone would need to see in their lives. Whilst celebrated by most Aussies by the standard beer and BBQ in the back garden whilst blasting out triple J from the radio, the highlight of the day in central Melbourne is the parade through the city centre. With an almost American fan fare around it, marching bands and Australian soldiers led out the vast and racially diverse communities that have made Australia their homes. The only problem I found was there was one glaringly obvious community not represented.

The parade itself was a spectacle like I had never seen before. With a swathe of blue red and white covering the kerbs the road took on the appearance of a grey river cutting through the swollen crowds of people held back behind steel barriers. The city was fit to burst. Excited children pushed their noses up to the barriers whilst others opted for sitting aloft on their parents shoulders craning their necks to get a better view.

The start of the parade took on a sombre tone however. The week before a crazed driver had ploughed through crowds on Bourke street killing six and a moment of reflection in memory of those that were lost was observed by all.

Soon after the streets were filled with the sound of brass and drum as a marching band led out marching soldiers and the rest of the parade. Young scouts came rushing toward the barriers thrusting paper flag emblazoned with the southern cross and union jack in to the waiting hands. Quickly endless stream of different groups cam marching past the waiting crowds each a spectacle in their own right with some groups such as the Thai, Chinese, Sikh and Malaysians opting for big, bold and beautiful colours whilst others, such as the Scots,  opted for big bold and droning sounds from their pipe bands.



This was a magnificent display of unity amongst the participants, all of whom racially and ideologically diverse who had made Australia their home. I could see Christians, LGBT, Muslim, Sikh and a every other community imaginable rubbing shoulders with one another and were greeted with glee and cheers of the waiting flag wavers. Even the galactic empire led by Darth Vader were present much to the excitement of the crowd.

But through out all of this racially diverse display of Australians identity there was no sign of the original Australians. The Aborigines do not partake in Australia day, or as the call it Invasion or Survival Day, as January 26 marks the day that the first fleet set foot at Sydney harbour and began establishing a colony there.

The aborigines did partake in January 26 though. With an equally impressive show of racial unity crowds in their thousands less than half an hour after the main parade were marching onto the very same streets where the parade had just been. Where once an ocean of blue white and red once was now an unstoppable tide of black, red and yellow advanced. In numbers I couldn’t count and as far back as I could see I saw faces of every colour; Aboriginal, Asian and European alike waving flags and placards. Soon I found myself in the heart of a protest being carried along by this unstoppable tide.

During my time in Australia I have been trying to piece together the story of the aboriginal people. Knowing that the British have a lot to do with the reason behind such a massive protest about racism and racially inequality I felt ignorant at having never learned anything about what my country had done in the past to cause such hurt and set about trying to fill this gaping chasm in my knowledge.

Sadly what I read all to often filled me with shame and disgust. I couldn’t believe the persecution I was reading about and more importantly that I had never even heard about them. With the spread of disease and countless government backed attacks and land seizures from the Aborigines it is no surprise that in the first 100 years after the arrival of the first fleet that the population dropped by 100,000. This trend continued for most of the following century as state sponsored action by both British and Australian governments saw the kidnapping of children from their parents and taken into care. The reasons they did this aren’t clear but what is clear is that this had devastating effects on families and the children themselves with sexual abuse all to common in these centres. This became known as the ‘Stolen Generation‘ and unbelievably this policy only ended in 1969.



The 1960’s thankfully began to see a change in attitude, a surge in progressive opinion took over and white Australia began question this racist attitude to the treatment of the nations original inhabitants that had been held in the past. The biggest turning point was the 1967 constitutional referendum voting on the removal of the now infamous Section 127 clause of the Australian constitution which openly discriminated against Aborigines. This momentum continued in the decades that followed with greater political legislation aimed at helping close the gap between Aboriginals and the rest of the Australian population. The most significant and poignant moment however came in 2008 when Kevin Rudd was elected as the new Prime Minister of Australia. His first order of business in Parliament was the issuing of a national apology to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. In one of the most splendid movements in Australian political history there was finally the potential that Australia could move on from the dark days of its past.

Whilst significant progress has been made there is still a long way to go. Whilst the aborigines make up a mere 3% of the population of Australia with 548,360 people they make up 28% of the prison population. With illiteracy, unemployment, domestic abuse as well as drug and alcohol abuse being significant issues in the Aboriginal communities progress maybe isn’t coming fast enough.

Australia Day is obviously contentious issue. But from what I see Australia has so much to be proud of. January 26 showed me the wonderful diversity that this nation has with cultures openly assimilating into the melting pots of these commercial hubs of Australia and that these people are proud to call this beautiful country their home. And whilst yes the history of Australia is a dark one at times the modern generations should not be held accountable for the sins of their fathers and grand fathers. But at the same time what has happened should not be forgotten and maybe the day is misplaced leading to the feeling of alienation for the Aboriginal community who do not feel that the arrival of Europeans is something to be celebrated. Australia Day is a fantastic celebration of all things Aussie but, in my opinion, the choice of day alienates part of the Australian community, a part that it should be incredibly proud of.

On January 26 one of the highlights is Triple J’s top 100, compiling the top 100 songs of the previous year. This year A B Original, a rap duo consisting of Aboriginal rappers Briggs and Trials, released their first album ‘Reclaim Australia’ with one of the tracks called January 26. This obviously divisive track managed to make it into the top 100 making it to number 16. Amongst many of the politically charged lines within this song one line which resonated with me seems to reflect the attitude of many of the young Australians I spoke with and that is “if you ain’t having a conversation then we starting it”. I feel the conversation is well under way amongst the younger generations in Australia my hope is that Canberra can also here this conversation and continue its progressive trajectory.