JoshuasTravels — Anna Graduated! and also, Machine Gun Traveling

Anna Graduated! and also, Machine Gun Traveling

Written by . Posted at 8:30 pm on June 11th, 2005

I lied, this is another big one. I’ve got too much to say and it’s all important. To me, I mean. Posterity is a harsh mistress.

Most importantly, my sister graduated from High School recently. That’s a surreal fact; she’ll always be (at least partially) thirteen years old to me. I really really wish I could’ve seen her walk across that stage, but I was trapped one Pacific ocean away. Still, I’d like the world to know that I’m very proud of her. On a more traditional note, I’ve been celebrating her commencement with some serious, take-no-prisoners traveling (a day at each stop, thus the term Machine Gun Traveling).

Never ever referred to as the Emerald City (even though it is the capitol of Oz), Canberra‘s a one horse town. You can scope out all the cool federal buildings and be done by lunch. There are a few things worth nothing, though – the National War Memorial being at the top of that list. I always thought it would be tough to top the US Tomb of The Unknown Solider, but the Ozquivalent came chillingly close. There’s something inherently hard-luck (they never ask for anything more than a fair shake) about Aussies; the nation was built on the backs of convicts that didn’t ask to be there and Britannia (and, to a certain extent, the world) kind of ignored and ignores them.

I should explain Gallipoli. G is a place in Turkey where the Aussies (allied with the UK) and the Turks (allied with the Germans) basically slaughtered each other in WWI for no better reason than they were allies with the wrong countries during the wrong war. They say that G is where Aussies stopped being British first and Australian second and Australian first and British second.

I checked out the US Embassy but they wouldn’t let me in. I flashed my passport and everything but 9/11 security kept me out, which was mucho-lame-o. I’d never been in an Embassy before and had a whole series of photos planned out – me kissing the soil in the true spirit of Iran-Contra, me doing the ‘I’m in Australia-America-Australia-America-Austr…’ one foot hop between “borders.” But none of that happened. I did get a nice picture by the sign.

The coolest part of the Parliament tour was learning that all the clocks in the building have two little lights – one green (Senate) and one red (Reps). When the Grand Wazoo or whatever decides to put something to a vote, a clerk pushes a button and the corresponding clock-lights flash and bells ring like a fire drill and the Minor Wazoos have four minutes to get into the chambers. After 240 seconds the doors lock and allowed in or out until the vote is cast.

Hoped it over (hoped, get it? Like a Kangaroo!) to the High Court, too. The best Aussywood movie is a deadpan comedy about immanent domain called The Castle. One of the final scenes shows the main character, Darrel Kerrigan (the Aussie everyman) talking about the differences between houses and homes and the general importance of the individual standing up to The Man. And he’s saying all this in the exact same spot outside the High Court that I stood in to get my fanboy picture.

By then it was getting late and I was curious about the nightlife. There wasn’t much. Canberra‘s got some of the best minds in Australia but they aren’t party animals. I did find a bar that was open until 3AM, which meant I only had two hours to spend in the cold (and it gets colder than you think). I was leaving on the early-early train and couldn’t really see the point of paying full price for a hostel-bed I was only going to spend a couple of hours in. Hostelling is really the big money-expenditure in my travels. I can cut travel and food to the bone, but hostelling is 30-25 bucks a night, easy. So, in the spirit of Australia, I figured I could rough it out.

Waltzing Matilda is the OzTerm for hobo-ing, and I felt more than game. So, after the bar shut down, I walked in big circles around the capitol – as long as I kept moving I was fine, but if I stopped I’d get really cold really quick. It quickly became apparent that that lack-of-hostel was the worst $27 I’ve never spent.

Then I came up on these hippies that I’d seen before, camped out/protesting in front of Parliament. They’d all gone back to their tents so I huddled around their dying campfire for a good 90 minutes before hoofing it to the train station. I’d like to stress that nobody should worry about me – nothing happened, I was completely fine and I’m a little wiser now. For a kid who grew up in the posh suburbs and always knew where and when his next meal would be, it was a good experience. Nevertheless, I’d like to take this opportunity to add that vagrancy isn’t near as exciting as that “King of the Road” song makes it out to be.

Nestled in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Katoomba was as nature-y and beautiful as my home-state of Oregon. There were times where I could literally shut my eyes, point my camera in any direction at any angle and still take a great picture. It was (again) a great little stopover, but only an afternoon’s worth.

I had some Kangaroo in Katoomba, too. It set me back a Rock Lobster but was totally worth it. Five months in country and I finally ate one of the national emblems. ‘Roo is a bit dry but tastier than some of my Grandma’s homemade-from-scratch pepperoni pizza. No, cancel that. Kangaroo is tasty-good but nothing is better than Grandma’s HMPP. Nothing. Crocodile’s next on my list.

Broken Hill:
I recommend taking a looksy at where Broken Hill is on the map – it was one heckuva a trip out there. 22 hours on the train ride from Broken Hill to Newcastle, but I had to jump Katoomba train to Dubbo, then catch a coach to Broken Hill, which made the trip even longer (and worse, trains are quickly becoming my preferred method of travel – fast but without of the security or file-through-one-small-door or take off and landing of aeroplanes). I can never complain, though; I picked BH specifically because it was as far into the bush as my rail pass would take me. What does it say about BH that the next “station” (it’s a tiny little platform) is an hour away for a train booking along at 160 kph?

I haven’t heard an Aussie laugh louder than when I ask the coach driver if BH was “pretty outbacky.” He stopped laughing and said, among other things, “yeah, it’s pretty outbacky” in just a way that conveyed a sense that you don’t get very much more outbacky than BH. This pleased me.

At the rest stop in Cobar, we got talking and it turns out the bus is American, three years old with about three million miles under it’s wheels. The engine never gets cold, they just swap drivers. This made me blush with pride.

I took a little walking tour of BH. The tour guide, interestingly enough, reminded me of my other grandma – short with curly gray hair and just bubbling over with stories to tell. The tour guide grew up in BH and everywhere we’d stop she’d say things like “ooh the rail museum, you’re going to want to spend at least a half day there.” At one point she told us we’d need “a good nine months” to really see BH.

Originally blossoming as an incredibly mineral-rich mining town, BH is big into tourism now. And art. Pro Hart (they say he’s international renowned) is a BHer. I can’t speak for the world, but I really liked his paintings. There’s other artsy stuff, too – the world’s largest single-canvas-solo-artist painting and this life-size diorama thing that curves all the way around and makes you feel like you’ve walked into a painting. Very neat, but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.

Viddyed the Royal Flying Doctors museum, too. Waay back when Aeroplanes and medicine were in their infancy, a missionary started up the RFDs (originally just the FDs, it became the RFDs with a visit from the Queen), a group of pilots and doctors than would practice medicine all throughout the outback. It all started with this Flynn, who was sick of hearing about guys nursing their sick buddies for seven months and then having to dig their grave, all on account of the serious lack of health care. The RFDs are still operating today.

From their 22 stations they can reach anyone, anywhere in Australia, in two hours. They developed body charts and numbered medicine chests and would diagnose over the radio; “you’ve got stabbing constant pain in zone D? Take three pills from the #7 bottle.”

Another thing that made me blush; the RFDs use American Beechcraft planes that are made pretty close to where I go to school (Kansas City). The planes are heavily modified and can land just about anywhere. They don’t charge a cent for their services, either – of all my travels in Oz, the RFDs touched my heart the deepest. Altruism through and through.

The Desert Sculptures, just outside of BH, were bloody fantastic. Twelve artists spend two years camped out up there, making twelve different sculptures without power tools. The sculptures, coupled with the sunset were just indescribable. The sense of distant is so froggin vast. You could pick any direction and walk for two years without seeing any other humans or changes in scenery. It’s beyond words. You might as well be on the moon. I look back at the pictures I took less than a hundred hours ago and the photographs just don’t illustrate the perpetual magnificence of the place.

The BH hostel was awesome. For half a Blue Swimmer I got a huge brekky. I walked out my door (it was a two-man room but nobody showed up for that other bed) as the cook-lady was walking up the hall. She asked for me by name and I sat down to eat my massive home cooked meal and just felt like King.

21 days left. I was walking back from the supermarket tonight when I realized with absolute clarity that I could live like this forever. The warm night air, the friendly relaxed atmosphere, it all feels so perfect. I know I’m waxing poetic with my time so short, but it really feels like I could really live here. I’d fly back and see my family at Christmastime and get some sweet, good-natured Oregonian girl (well, this one in particular) to come over and marry me. We’d pick fruit off trees that grow right in our backyard, go to the beach twice a week and start raising a little family of hedonists. I know it won’t/can’t/shouldn’t happen, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’d be perfect.

For reals,
Johnny Cool


  1. I had forgotten you missed Anna’s graduation. Isn’t it funny how your memory fades…..
    Love Mom

  2. You know, I think it’s wonderful that you, P.Fento, are the first to utilize the comment section. Thanks.

Post a comment.

let's lose charley