JoshuasTravels — Oz

Posts categorized “Oz”.

July 11th 2005

The Last Stand

There’s a large part of me that didn’t want to leave Australia. As natural as I think this is, it’s still a pretty big bummer. But, even if I had two years and a million dollars, I know I’d still have left Australia with places to see and things to do.

I wish I could’ve gotten some more surfing in. Aside from a few day-rentals at various beaches, my 7-day surf tour was it. It’s a big pervasive myth that you can buy a beat-up used board for around $100. Believe me, you really can’t find one for under $400 – the Saturday markets, the classifieds, hostel bulletin boards, craigslist, or anywhere. And as much as I love surfing (which is a lot) – $400, that’s travel fare to Darwin and Adelaide. I guess I loved traveling more than I loved surfing.

It’s a well-documented fact of life that money always seems to go a little faster than you think it should. I’ve lived a privileged life, never having to worry about food or shelter or anything else – my sister and I have literally wanted for nothing. So ever since I was a tot, I’ve been in the pseudo-habit of generally taking in more money (from allowance and lawn-mowing and the odd job) than I was handing out (for bubblegum and comic books). Oz has suspended my trustafarian status. I don’t regret many of the dollars I’ve spent here in the GDU, but I won’t deny that I’m a creature of habit (or, if you’re overly pessimistic, ‘incredibly predictable’) and that I was a little uneasy with my cash-flow at times.

Another habit I’ve also taken pains to avoid falling into is consuming more calories than I’m expending. I’ve gained just under 10 merry kilograms of potential energy. While this is not a good thing, I’ve no serious worries about this: the Ranger Challenge has a funny way of upping my metabolism to ferocious rates.

Still, I left the GDU with a whole lot of fond memories. I’m sad, but I’m happy. I’ve learned a lot about Australia

, but (more importantly, I think) I’ve learned a lot about America. It wasn’t all fun and games (there was a bit of schoolwork and I got a super-stressed once or twice, not to mention the emotional fatigue of trans-Pacific travel).

But I just can’t explain how much I’ll just miss that feeling of just being on a train or plain or bus somewhere between Here and There. Not that I won’t be glad to get out of this constitutional monarchy/dictatorship. There’s no two ways about it – I’m American and I’m proud of it (I loathe seeing the Queen on every form of currency in my wallet.) There’ve been times during my journeys that I’ve never been more than mortified of America, but more often than not I’ve never been more proud to be from the greenest (politically speaking) State in the freest country on earth. I do so love my Oregon, full of rugged and mannish Lumberjacks.

In my last few days I’d start to remember weird things at bizarre times. I’d step out of the shower and remember the first time I saw a ‘Roo. It was on my first train up the Hunter (to Newcastle). I’d just stepped off the plane and I was talking with a middle-aged bloke the whole trip when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few bounding along. I childishly leapt out of seat and giddily asked if those “were Kangaroos.” My companion assured me that yes, they “were Kangaroos” in the same nonchalant manner that I might use to assure that yes, my hair “is brown.” It thus occurs to me how very strange ethnocentricity is. I could watch Wallabies leaping for the rest of my life and it would still look strange to me, as if these animals should be galloping or running, like they do in the Euro-Afro-American tales from my childhood. Honestly – what kind of animal hops somewhere?

It’ll always be bizarre to me.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve left Oz with a few new vices, a few regrets, a few new scars, a few new mates, and over two gigabytes of photographically-reinforced memories. I’ve “braved” the Aussie winters (which get so cold that you have to put on a t-shirt). I’ve made some fantastic effort at finding that thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

I’ve had some awesome (learning and not learning) experiences, I’ve met some flat-out remarkable people and I’ve killed a few brain cells. I’ve had my first bouts – and I realize they’re only bouts – with the Real Life of dockside workers and fruit pickers here in Australia. At the same time I’ve spent a lot of the almighty D and I’ve used bathrooms and showers that would’ve made Bob Marley cringe. I’ve been to an Aussie Barbie or two; I’ve seen the Great Victorian Desert, hiked through the rainforest and swam in Billabongs. I’ve been to all the urban jungles and packed a whole lot of living into six months.

I’ve tasted all types of brews, surfed some great waves, gazed at the Southern Cross, held wombats, eaten crocs and Tasmanian kangaroos. I’ve been happy and sad, somber, sober and not sober, giddy and everything in-between. I’ve done my best to improve the American image (although not always successfully).

I never did make it to Cairns, go downhill skiing in the Snowy Mountains or see Uluru (that big rock in the Red Center) with my own eyes, but that’s okay – it just gives me a reason to come back someday.

I don’t fancy myself too much of a braggart but honestly, it’s kind of nice to be able to say “yeah, Tasmania was nice.” and “I’ve seen Darwin, Australia” or “hey, I’ve had a beer in Adelaide and I’ve spent some time in Perth.”

I calculated it out during one boring night: I’ve rack up more than 16,800 miles roaming between major cities (that doesn’t count the side-trips to surrounding cities and other attractions). For illustrative purposes, I’ve traveled about 60% of the equator’s length

(24,898 miles) or gone the distance between LA and NYC just over six times. But it’s who’s counting?

My backpack, my Top Guns and me have been in every capitol and state and territory in the Nation of the Commonwealth of Australia (and a few little places that aren’t on the map). I checked the Australian census and wouldn’t you know it but I’ve been to the richest suburb (Jutland Parade) and the poorest (Callaghan, NSW) in the Lucky Country and the suburb with the most “o”s in its name (Woolloomooloo) in the entire world.

But what I’ve done isn’t half as important to me as what I’ll miss. I’ll miss the “house meetings” after class every Wed. night, meeting up at the campus bar for kicks and karaoke. I’ll miss Weet-Bix. I’ll miss the wanderlust (I had it and had it bad – I’d get pissy if I hadn’t gone someplace new in the least three weeks). I’ll miss that marvelous Southern Cross. I’ll miss picking fruit from our backyard tree. I’ll miss waking up with the sun high in the sky, eating a leisurely brekky, lacing up and going for a nice run up to the beach, along it and back and showering in room-heat that is hotter than the shower-water and just wondering if life could get any better. I’ll miss the subtle everyday things that make me grin: looking at a packet of sausages and seeing Kangaroo as the “primary meat product.”

Walking to class through a beautiful campus and suddenly realizing I’m Australia, where stress might as well be illegal and a hundred other things I won’t know until they’re gone. I’ll miss the Tomato Sauce. Tomato Sauce isn’t ketchup. It’s really very close but it’s not the same thing. It’s much better – less sugar or formaldehyde or something. Australia groceries, in general, have far less preservatives than I’m used to. It’s a little inconvenient, buying milk that goes bad about twice as quick as I’m used to, but it’s been a pleasant change and one that I’ll miss. Man, is Oz is an excellent country and man; this has been one phenomenal trip.

Oh, I’ve had a good time down here. But, I just don’t know if I’m ever coming back. I’d like to say that I am – there’s so much left to do – but I just don’t know. It’s a big, big world and I’d love to see more of it. Europe and Asia are next on my list, hopefully in a few years but who knows? Maybe I’ll come back to Oz in 40 years and ski Perisher Blue. Or maybe on of my new mates will come out to Oregon so I can show him Multnomah Falls or maybe I’ll meet somebody in Chicago.

And with that, the “travels” in transitions toward the metaphysical sense of the word and I’d like to thank you. Thank all of you for reading all of these. As someone wiser than me once said: “what good is a story if you can’t share it? What’s the point of a picture if you can’t share it?” Gracias and danke to you, dearest readers (dare I call you my adoring public? Nay, I shan’t dare). Your ongoing encouragement and lack of flak has been most encouraging, even as these sendouts got longer and longer.

One Lucky Kid’t_get_to_see2/index.html

June 30th 2005

one last little trip (CootaGundagaiMelbourne)

I was seriously considering doing this trip “naked,” with just the clothes on my back and the camera in my pocket, but in the end I did the sensible thing and wound up throwing a book and a jacket in my small backpack and setting off. I didn’t bring any shower gear and thus look a little scruffy, but that’s a badge of honor I wear with pride. Hygiene isn’t necessarily the first thing to go when you’re minimalist-backpacking about, but it’s usually the second or third.

Sir Donald Bradman was, and pardon my French; la merde mθre-affectueuse. Universally regarded as the greatest cricketer of all time, Bradman is also one of Australia‘s greatest popular heroes. He lifted the nation’s morale out of a pretty nasty depression and dominated the game for two solid decades. After WWII, he lead the 1948 “Invincibles” tour of England (where the Aussie’s went undefeated the entire tour, a feat yet to be matched), where bowlers (“pitchers”) invented new ways of throwing the ball – ie gunning it straight for Bradman’s head and body – in an unsuccessful effort to unnerve The Legend.

To say that Bradman is to Cricket what Jordan is to Basketball or Gretzky is to Hockey or even Kiefer is to swimming somehow sells him short. It’s been more than 50 years and the only a handful of people have come close to half his record. The guy was a man among men. So when I had an hour-long layover in Cootamundra, the hometown of Sir Donny B, was I excited? You betcha. I had to walk a pretty quick clip to see his birth-house, but I’m glad I did.

I got to my mate Gundy’s hometown just in time for lunch. The mayor has a neat little cafι right in the CBD (well, “CBD” is being generous) and he cooked me up one tasty bacon and egg roll for very reasonable price. A lifelong resident, Len Tozer is in his seventh year of mayorship. More importantly, he was polite enough to make 10 minutes of small talk with a certain American.

I spent the whole afternoon just walking around. I kept finding myself wanting to ask people if they knew my mate Sam McIntyre (Gundy). I sort of expected him to be the Fonz of Gundagai and, ridiculous as it sounds, I kept thinking/hoping that somebody would say hey – you know Sam?  Howize? He’s a top bloke, he is. Lemme buy you a milkshake….


I wandered past 52 West Street, where Momma and Poppa Gundy invited me in and gave me snack, drink and pleasant conversation. They’re top folks, they are. With parents like that it’s no mystery Gundy turned out like the Mr. Terrific he is.

A bit of quick history: when whitey first settled the Gundagai area, all the natives lived up in the hills and told the gringos to do the same. But nobody listened and, sure enough, the mighty Murrumbidgee flooded something awful (that initial flood still stands as Australia‘s most lethal natural disaster). Yarri (who has since become a sort of local legend) and three other aboriginals grabbed their paddleboards and bravely rescued a whole lotta white folk.


I took a gander at what used to be world’s largest timber bridge and saw the Dog on the Tuckerbox (DoT). You can’t leave Gundagai without seeing the DoT. There’s a few great songs and poems about it but basically this bloke was going twixt Sydney and Melbourne (Gundagai is the halfway point) and everything that could go wrong was going wrong.

Then, five miles from Gundagai, his dog and jumped up and sat (early versions of the poem put an “h” between the “s” and the “a”) on his food-box. Due to the root-for-the-underdog character of this great country, the DoT event has been celebrated for over and century and immortalized in statute.

Still, it’s five miles from Gundagai and, although I was fully prepared to walk the ten miles there and back, the visitor’s center pointed me to Collin, the town’s answer to public transportation. Basically, Collin drives a city car around, taking people where they need to go for enough coin to cover petrol and insurance. Dad & Dave was an old radio drama and early movie series about the hardships of life in the new country (think Laura Ingalls Wilder). I was really excited to see that statue (also in Gundagai), but fear of vandals (see what gun control does to a country?) prompted the city to move Dad & Dave to storage.

Heck, I figured I was halfway there; I might as well hop the train to olde Melbourne-towne (again). This officially racks me up to about $600 worth of traveling on my $250 unlimited-travel rail pass. BTW, it’s Mel-bin, not Mel-born. No, I don’t understand it but I respect it. After all, I’m not from Our-gin.

In six months of hardcore traveling, Melbourne is the first city I’ve revisited (Sydney doesn’t count). I’m still not sure if it was a good idear [sic] or not. It was nice in some ways. It was exciting, already being familiar with the city layout and being able to do some stuff I didn’t get to last time and re-do some stuff that was neat the first go-round. But I also felt rather melancholy as I recognized, oh, say the park bench I ate a kebab at four months ago.

I made my way back to the US Consulate, this time with passport in hand. I was rebuffed for taking a picture in front of the sign (the rules must’ve have changed since my last visit). Apparently that’s a security risk. I can’t possibly see how: the whole city knows which building is the US Consulate and if they’re hiding crucial State secrets in the lobby, my congressmen is going to get one angry letter signed Joshua Kirk Fenton, adventurer extraordinaire and proud voting citizen of the republic of the United States of America. I was told to delete the photo but I’m going to press my luck and the first amendment on this one.

Anyhoo, I was then told by a different security guard that visiting hours are only between 9AM and 2PM and that it was 2:30PM and that I was out of luck. This made my laugh – am I expected to believe that I’m only a citizen of God’s Greatest Country between normal banking hours? This may just be me (a few people have told me that I’m somewhat, well, “unique” is the kindest word used) but I consider myself a real live nephew of my Uncle Sam 24/7/365 – 366 if it’s a leap year.

Snubbed just the same, I pressed forward on foot, continuing onward and eventually reaching St. Kilda, the beach I didn’t get to see in March. It was a little cold but absolutely beautiful (in that strange Australian way). I was rather proud of myself for walking the whole way (a good 7 clicks). I passed the time people-watching and humming slow Jimmy Buffett songs and generally feeling sorry for myself. Then I grabbed some cheap Chinese food and caught the midnight train to Sydney and home, where I’ve been and will continue to spend my ‘last three sleeps’ with my mates in mirthful celebration of six months damn well spent. I’ve prepped a little “been there, done that” sendout which I’ll send along as soon as I’m back in the USSR [sic]. I’ll accompany it with pictures (of course) that will, depending on your worldview, make me look like either an alcoholic or a 20yr old.


June 24th 2005

Notes From A Large Island

I remember my first travels – I was so sure that I’d never run out of mime or money. Now I hit the ground running, seeing the cities in as few hours as possible. It’s not as carefree as my early adventures but the OzCash not spent on food and shelter makes up for it.

Surfer’s Paradise:
There’s an OzCity named Surfer’s Paradise. But, between you and me and the rest of the Internet, it oughta be called Shopper’s Paradise. The entire city is a credit card companies dream. It was overcast the day I get into town (of course). Luckily, I was wearing my  Oregon-Lumberjack Flannel shirt (which I got for a steal at the upscale-menswear store in NC). All in all, Surfer’s Paradise was very touristy and while the  surfing looked very good, nobody was riding the waves; they were all shopping it up in the high-rises across the street. The town was full of stores like Gucci and Louie Vutton and Bureberry.

I was able to get my Croc Steak but let me tell you, that was a story. I’ve always loved the Aussies for, among other things, their distinct lack of high-brow culture. I like to think of it like this – France has nearly nothing but culture (“French culture” is, arguably, France’s main export) and Oz has a big hole where culture should be (Oz culture is basically ‘working class culture’ – drinking is very important and pretty much anything is acceptable as long as it is more or less fair dinkum). As an American, I feel such OzCulture is totally awesome. But despite the fact that I’m in anti-France, the matire’d (“waiter” doesn’t seem to describe it) was a real jerk.

I was patronizing The Captain’s Table, a very unAustralian and very snobbery but still croc-serving restaurant.  I was begrudgingly given a seat and it wasn’t until I went to the toilet (they don’t call them “restrooms” here) that I realized I was still rocking the plaid flannel and my hair reflected the overnight train and coach ride. Nonetheless, my money was good, even if the service wasn’t. The croc-meat was as tough as I expected it to be and I waltzed out of The Captains Table feeling good and crossing one more thing off my OzToDo list.

First off, I liked Brissy. It’s not called BrisVegas for nothing – the relaxed atmosphere knocks the socks off Sydney. The weather was incredible: sunny enough for a polo shirt, breezy enough that I never broke sweat.

I checked out the city hall clock tower (for a killer view of the city), I scoped out the Eiffel Tower mock-up (I’ve always said nobody does France like the Aussies), I wandered around the Queen Street Mall (very busy) and the Fortitude Valley suburb (not so busy). I tried to see Parliament-in-action (and was denied for the third time in as many cities – but that’s okay, at least I’ve seen the fierce Question Time bits on TV), I walked along the sweet-as floating Riverwalk (which would move with the waves from passing boats), I ran into Aaron from
Minnesota again (we’d taken the same bus from Surfer’s and spent half the trip swapping stories and tips – he’s studying at Wollongong for six months and if I had more time I’d have loved to go backpacking with him), I had a cheapo McGagwhich (the previous night’s Croc took some of the heft out of my wallet), I did not see the new Batman movie (even though I really really wanted to see it on opening day), and I caught the 7:15PM train to Toowoomba (what? You think I should write something here?).

I rolled into Toowoomba on the late train and the hostel I was planning on crashing at was flashing the No Vacancy neon. Ergo, I wandered into a pub asking for directions to the nearest motel but wound up having a great time with the locals. I figured my luck had finally turned around when one of my new mates (who worked at a Boarding School) reckoned that I could have one of the hundred-odd spare beds (the schoolkids were on vacation).

The regional brew of Queensland is XXXX (pronounced “four ex”) and I drank my first a little faster than prudence allows. Although I remained careful, my successive ales evaporated rather quickly, too and before I knew it it was late and I was tired and the pub was closing. Ergo, I woke up the next morning a bit under the weather and with a 4.5Km walk back into town.

But that’s beside the point, the whole reason I came to Toowoomba was to follow Thomas Fenton’s century-old footsteps. I have now been in every city he missioned in. I got the local church address from the pretty-nifty Temple Locater search feature on, the web’s ultimate source for all things Mormon. The church itself was closed (usually there’s somebody milling about inside) but that didn’t stop me from taking some groovy snaps. I wasn’t too bummed about not being able to peak inside – as much as I would’ve loved to see T-Fento’s name in a book somewhere, I’d probably have better luck just writing to Salt Lake City.

On the whole I liked Toowoomba – it’s a small laid-back country town with beautiful weather. I did catch the 5:45PM showing o f Batman Begins, which def. gets the Josh Fenton Seal of Approval. Somehow, between all the obscure comic references and changing-of-details, I was still left froggin awestruck. It was better than my father’s early morning sourdough pancake breakfasts. No, cancel that. If there’s anything better than some of my Pa’s sourdough brekky, it’s not from this planet. Still, Batman was awe-diddly-some.

Brissy Saturday Markets:
I had a four hour layover in Brissy after Toowoomba, so I jumped over  to their Saturday markets. I’ve been to Saturday markets all over Oz and talked to those who’ve been to ’em all over the world, from New York to Honduras, and I’m proud – proud as punch – to say nothing comes close to the livelihood and sheer insanity of PDX’s Saturday markets.

Less than a week left. It was on my way back from Casino when I started getting the blues. I fully intend to repeat my backpacking experience on another continent, hopefully soon. But the fact remains that this is the last time in a long time that I’ll be able to grab my backpack, catch a train and wake up in some amazing far-away land. I’m absolutely giddy with excitement to see all the people (in both Oregon and Missouri) and cats (well, one in particular) that I love again. And Mexican food (I miss Mexican food a lot more than I ever thought I would). But I’m also somber with the realization of the upcoming lack of autonomy – I’ll likely never again be so free of responsibilities. I’ve buddy-traveled once or twice, just on short hops, but I’ve been largely flying solo, doing exactly and only what I want to, taking the routes I want to take and only worrying about Making Josh Happy and having that be my primary concern..

So the transition back to Oregon and Missouri and My Waiting Life will be difficult. I’ll miss traveling every other week; I’ll miss my OzMates and that unmistakable taste of OzBeer. But I knew that when I signed up. I’m comforted by the memories I’ve got, the pictures I’ve taken, and the words of a wise, wise man: “they’ll never be any doubt that the pleasure was worth all the pain.”

The Oregonian

June 11th 2005

Anna Graduated! and also, Machine Gun Traveling

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

June 7th 2005

An American werewolf in Newcastle

So I realized that, despite my best efforts of traveling, traveling, and traveling about Australia I still haven’t seen too much of Newcastle, my HQ. It’s a nice little town. Oz is divided into six states and two territories (they also own some islands and a slice of Antarctica, but that’s getting technical). Unlike America, the largest city in the state/territory is always the capitol of that state/territory. The capitol of Australia is in its own Territory (the Australian Capitol Territory, commonly known as the Aye See Tea) which is halfway twixt Melbourne and Sydney and a bit of a blatant copy of ‘ol Uncle Sam’s DC solution.

But I say these things for a reason – so you’ll know what I mean when I say “Newcastle is the largest non-capitol city in Australia.” It’s big but not too big, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Sydneysiders consider Newcastle a dirty industrial city with not much to offer. And they’re wrong – for one, Newcastle has branched out considerably and now has the most artists/musicians/creative people per captia than any other city in the whole country. And it’s still right on the coast, about three hours north of Sydney.

Imagine Newcastle as a big right triangle pointing south, the longest side along the shore. The Uni(versity) is at the corner furthest from the beaches. The ninety degree angle would be between the side that runs from NC proper to the Uni and from NC proper south. I live more or less along that NC-Uni line. Its 10 minutes by bus to the beach and 30 minutes by bus to the Uni.

It’s really a top location – two blocks from the discount supermarket and a few other shops but still within the free fare zone. I don’t know if American cities do this but every OzCity I’ve visited has an area around the Central Business District (the downtown, commonly know as the See Bee Dee) where you can jump on and off buses without worrying about all that paying nonsense. Between normal business hours, of course. I li ve on the bitter edge of the no pay zone – it’s a free ride to the CBD and beaches, but its $2.60 to get to campus.


Where was I? Right, the pictures. A distinct lack of traveling (I’m resting up for a big one month marathon of a journey) has left me restless. Ergo I charged my camera-battery, laced up my walking shoes and off I went, walking about this temporary city of mine and snapping away like crazy.

A few comments on my collection of ones and zeros (which is thoughtfully titled “Behold,  Newcastle in less than a hundred pictures):

To understand Newcastle you have to understand coal. Newcastle is all about coal. It was founded on it and is still the world’s biggest exporter of the stuff. Something like 150 million tons annually. It’s a Coalopolis. I go to the beach a lot and the fewest coal-ships I’ve ever counted waiting to get into the harbor is six. It’s kind of romantic, in a capitalistic sort of way, how they’re all snuggled up against the horizon.

Also, I gave blood recently. This isn’t really a big deal, but everybody on this list is on the list because they’ve met me at some point or another and therefore how much of a loudmouth I am. I think these sendouts are testament to the fact that I don’t mind talking about Josh Fenton and The Things He Does.

So I gave blood, which is something I like to put on my “warm fuzzy” list (directly opposite the “cold tingly” list). Quick aside: The first comment I always get from nondonors (geez that sounds harsh doesn’t it? “nondonors”) is “oh I hate needles.” And, I just have to laugh because hey, I don’t exactly get a buzz off the needle myself. Back on track: this last donation marks my first gallon. They’ve taken out pint after pint (or, in Australia, 500mil after 500mil) and this last one put me at the one gallon mark. So they gave me a sweet key chain and this guy who once needed tones of blood wrote me a nice letter. For whatever reason, the Aussie Red Cross does a way better follow-up job than the American chapters. And I’m def. putting the magnet up on the first American fridge I see. Usually I’m not that impressed with that sort of swag but the fact that it says “Australian Red Cross” immediately makes it twice as nice. Five months in-country and I finally got some sweet merch.

OzFact 5:
Australia‘s Health Minister is a guy named Tony Abbott and The Treasurer is a bloke named Peter Costello. Which means that if PM Howard ever steps down (and he very likely might, he’s almost as ‘popular’ as Bush2), there’s a better than even chance that the country would be governed by – and this is rich – Abbott and Costello.

Th-th-th-th-that’s all folks,


let's lose charley