Published: March 13th 2009March 13th 2009
Lazy days in Sydney
In the far background, the Opera House
After 10 weeks in the back arse of the planet, Sydney airport was a technological marvel. It had newsagents, coffee shops, deli counters (Marcel near tears at the sight of them) and most importantly a reliable transit system. The driver’s relatives were not ushering us into a numberless bus. No sketchy ‘bag man’ disappeared behind the bus with our lives in tow. Just a friendly "G’Day" from a forty something Ozzie sporting khaki shorts and socks wrapping his knees. “Ahh……the first world” we smugly reflected as our ghastly early bus left for our new home, the Blue Parrot Hostel in the ever charming and always unpredictable suburb of Kings Cross.
Sydney should be the capital of Australia! For those who don’t know, in their wisdom back in the early 20th Century, the government, undecided on whether to hand the accolade to Melbourne or Sydney, decided instead to cut a chunk out of the state of ‘New South Wales’ to make a new state with a new capital, Canberra. Sydney however is quite the superior city, with over nine beaches, towering skyscrapers, an abundance of attractions and an allure that never leaves you. One can see why so many Irish get
Three Oul Wans!
The three sisters in The Blue Mountains
trapped in this metropolis. We spent three weeks in the Blue Parrot Hostel, voted third best hostel in the world and I have to say it could very well be the third best hostel in the world. During our stay we visited many of the top sights Sydney had to offer including the infamous Bondi Beach (County Bondi), where the Irish “How’s it goin’ boss” greeting is more common than the stereotypical blonde haired Ozzie ‘surfer dude’! We made some great friends in the Blue Parrot and had some fiendish nights out at Sydney’s finest nightclubs. As with all good parties we burnt through money at the speed glutinous kids eat cake. So with our finances dwindling we held back on the casks of wine and withdrew large sums of money to fulfil the dream Marcel and I masterminded so many months before over giddy office emails: The Hippie Van!
Our mind was set, a van that we could sleep in, accommodate prospective friends in, cook in and most importantly a wagon that could blare the classic; ‘Fortunate Sun’ from seventies masters: ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’. During our final days in Sydney after viewing so many inadequate vans, we stumbled
Camping north of sydney with Matilda
across our precious Matilda. A friendly young German couple rolled up in a mature mustard 1985 Mitsubishi van. Showing her years she was a graceful four gear, 1.4 Litre, engine oil hogging lady with a lure that had our dollars instantly leaping her owners. With enough space for two to sleep, fold away beds, camping equipment, cooking supplies, utensils, satellite navigation (the list goes on), she was perfect (We did discover however after brown envelopes changed hands, that ‘Creedence’ couldn’t be blared from the atrocious four watt factory speakers!).
With our dream finally realised and a giant virtual hole in our bank accounts, we turned our backs to Sydney and departed for the Blue Mountains to road test our girl. The Blue Mountains are situated an hour or so west of Sydney in an enormous 100 million hectare national park. They are so called as the light reflected across the valley is distorted by the heat of the ground yielding a blue hue to the awed tourist. We walked the tourist trails of this beautiful area, encompassing the famous ‘three sister’ peaks, and spent lazy nights in the surrounding campsite cooking from Matilda’s rear (Where there was a kitchen
Me acting the maggot at the Playground Weekender
you smart arses!) and sipping brews until our supply ran dry. The next few days were lazily spent motoring north through New South Wales to reach the ‘Playground Weekender’ boutique festival in early February. This non-for-profit “green conscious” festival was setup by an English couple a few years back and is said to have the coolest mix of people and acts of any Australian festival. An 8,000 strong crowd arrive by ferry to this retreat secluded in the picturesque valleys 2 hours north of Sydney for musically fuelled fun in the sun, and this festival doesn’t disappoint. With a poolside bar, five stages, riverside bathing and giant bouncing castle all packed into an intimate setting, you can lose yourself in this oasis of amusement. Saturday at the festival is dress-up day which brings out the weird and wonderful. (The best costume we saw was twenty or so guys dressed identically as Oompa-Loompa’s with one leader as Willy Wonka - pure genius). Marcel and I, as cheap backpackers, visited local vintage shops in Sydney’s suburbs hunting garish accessories for our outfits. Marcel being a washed up C.I.A agent and yours truly being told I look like some sort of ‘disco hobbit’,
Washed-Up C.I.A agent
Marcel at the Playground Weekender
which worked for me. For all you audiophiles; over the weekend we saw The Streets, Jose Gonzalez, Salmonella Dub, Crystal Castles, Tom Middleton, Primal Scream and Grafton Primary. When Monday unfortunately came we pointed our satellite navigation towards Newcastle and engaged engines.
What was to follow was a week of pure boredom and torture for myself. Upon leaving a campsite in Newcastle Matilda blurted out a cry for help and went into cardiac arrest. Crippled on a deserted roundabout she left behind a trail of oil that would have Greenpeace foaming at the mouth. I turns out an ageing seal malfunctioned causing her too leak oil and eventually led to me unknowingly try to start her with no oil. A local garage mechanic, grinned and shook his head to our innocent pleas for help, “she's good for scrap” he exclaimed. That day we died a little inside. Two weeks after meeting us, Matilda was on her death bed. We packed our backpacks and chose to fore-go the €200 or so of camping gear we put into the van just a week before. No sooner did we cobble together change for the depressing bus into town, a rogue mechanic dressed in a old oily beach t-shirt and absent of footwear approached us with a possible solution. He would take a look at the engine to see if it could be salvaged. A friend of the garage mechanic, Don explained that he could do some tricks that would be “unethical” for a proper licensed mechanic to do. One could hear Matilda’s heart beat faintly on the oil stricken forecourt. A week and a few hundred dollars later, problem after problem for Don left us with no choice but to abandon the poor girl in search of employment up north. With hearts breaking we boarded the overnight train for Queensland.
Brisbane is a cosmopolitan city, a friendly city, a city of culture and history. Much smaller and diverse than Sydney, Brisbane with a population of 1.8 million, is the capitol of the comically strange state of Queensland. Queensland, “The Smart State” is quite a quirky state. It’s not the rigged elections, hilarious road signs (One demanding: “Do not spread Fire Ants!”), exploding ATM raids or the fact that Brisbane (on the same longitude as Sydney) is one hour behind Sydney, its just little things you see day by day. However Queenslanders are infectiously nice people. Laid back in their ways, you are always greeted with a “G’Day mate” and after thanking someone, a friendly “No Worries”. Staff in shops no matter what their age or what the class of store will always greet you with a “How’s it goin’ mate”, and after you mutter the same reply they nearly always say “Good thanks for asking”. Now to me, that’s conversation. Before paying for your bumper pack of crisps and cheap cola your already are friends with this teller. It always sparks to memory the Irish film ‘Intermission’ where the girl in Dunnes Stores grunts and tuts when asked to do menial tasks, such is the difference between the Ozzies and the Irish when it comes to the basic level of service. After two weeks of so endless job searching in beautiful Brisbane, our wallets were so light Marcel and I undertook the unimaginable: door to door sales. With spirits flying at an all time low, we were huddled into a crowded room with twenty other recruits to be brainwashed by a sales company for ‘Integral Energy’, their mission: to be the best sales reps and gain 100% share of the….yadda yadda yadda…. Our mission was to knock on doors in the 30C Brisbane heat to get homeowners to switch energy companies and make our super company super rich, meanwhile it laughs in the face of its devoted foot soldiers with promises of BBQ’s and “super fun” nights out. I for one, annoyed about eight scraggly dog wielding house wives before spending half a day vegetating on the street kerb questioning my credentials and wondering how I got there. That night we quit and got drunk - true Irish fashion ehh?
I remember it so well, it was another scorcher in Brisbane, quite windy (remnants of a cyclone up north), Marcel had sadly finished his eight cup of tea and I shuffled cards for no other reason then to pass minutes of excruciating time. That’s when the call came, the call of freedom. It was Don. Matilda was alive! In his usual laid back surfer-esqe tone of voice, he explained in technical gibberish what was wrong and how remedied the problem. I booked a flight, retrieved our girl, bought a six pack of coke and departed into the night for the 770km, 11 hour drive to Brisbane.
This brings us to the present day, where two months on from our arrival in Oz, we sit like penniless hippies sipping cheap beers beside Matilda, frequenting the campsites north of Brisbane in search of the last hope; Fruit Picking Jobs. It’s all up in the air at the moment. Will the weather allow the harvest to go ahead? Will we find work among the thousands of recession generated jobless backpackers? Will Marcel ever throw out that damned hat?
Until next time…