First Six Months in Oz

I had met this older lady, on one of our tours, when working for Springbok Safaris in Cape Town, and she offered me a job in her travel business in Wisconsin, United States of America. I agreed to come but stated that I would drop in to Australia along the way for three months, just to get a brief glimpse of the place. I started planning my trip, saving my money and booked my passage on an ocean going liner.

After a nine very horny days across the Indian Ocean from Cape Town to Perth on the good ship MV Ellinis with some thousand English immigrants on board (they used to call them Ten Pound Tourists), I arrived in Australia on the evening of 11 September 1968. I stepped off the ship at Fremantle and was thoroughly searched by quarantine inspectors after stating on my arrival form that I had been on a farm two weeks prior to my departure from South Africa. Lesson number one….do not speak of farms on arrival forms!

I had written an old school friend who now lived in Perth on meeting me when I arrived in Australia and as I did not want to impose on him I asked that he could find some economical accommodation in the city. I finally cleared customs and was met and after a meal and a catch up on school related news I was dropped of at this boarding house. Bloody Hell! Were there bed bugs in that place? Luckily I had only booked in for one night. Having had a sleepless night I woke in the morning and peered out of the window to look across a sea of red tiled roofs. Everything looked the same. My heart sank in dismay. What on earth was I doing here? I showered and dressed and went down for breakfast where the lodge owner asked if I was staying another night and when I replied in the negative she called me a “Bloody wog”. I had never heard of the expression and expected it to be something nasty so took no notice. Grabbed my large suitcase and guitar and struggled down the street looking for a car and something to eat.

First day in Australia.

At least they spoke English here and I could understand to some degree what they were saying through their nasal strains. Some words were beyond me. It wasn’t long before I found a shonky car dealer and procured a FJ Holden from him for $50. But the radiator had a hole in it and that had to be repaired first. Then I bought spare belts and hoses and engine oil and a drum for water and a jerry can for extra petrol and by the end of the day and $150 I was mobile. While I was waiting for repairs to the car I had been looking through the paper for other lodgings and found some in Claremont, a western suburb of Perth. With a street map in hand I made my way along the streets keeping my eyes wide open to GIVE WAY TO THE RIGHT rules as the friendly car shonk had warned me. What a bloody experience! Cars could fly out from the right, even if you were on a major road and you had to give way to them, sometimes in haste, so as to avoid a collision.

I found my new lodgings after a while and booked in for a week. It was a much nicer place with gardens and lawns out the front. I had decided to go and look for job and would take the train in to the city each day. I was also set on getting an Australian Drivers Licence.

The following morning a bloke at my breakfast table said ‘Ow yer going’ to me and I said “By train” and he looked at me quizzically. Someone at the table twigged amongst all the laughter and explained my second lot of Australian slang to me. I soon found out what ‘wog’ and other vernacular meant. I dressed up in a suit and went to the city doorknocking on Travel Agents looking for a job whilst presenting good references. It was not to be. The Australian psyche in 1968 was to make you start at the bottom if you were new from overseas. After two weeks of doing this I gave up and went to the labour exchange or Commonwealth Employment Service. I had managed to pass the questionnaire needed to get my drivers licence by this time.

My first day at CES and I got sent to a job. What sort of job was it? “Dogman’s offsider’ came the reply. What the hell is a dogman, I wondered? Anyway, I caught the bus to this place and presented myself. It was a steel manufacturing yard and I soon found out what a dogman was. I had never used a chain in my life but had to learn really fast. Words like “You fuckin dickhead” or “You fuckin wog” encouraged me to work without questioning. I got the drift very quickly. Seven thirty start, Smoko at nine thirty….and nothing is more important than Smoko. lunch at twelve and smoko at two thirty and knock-off at four thirty. I managed two weeks at this place but left as it was monotonous work and the quality of the conversation was below average plus, I had blisters on my hands. “Can’t fuckin’ hack it, mate?” said the foreman, “You fuckin’ wogs are all the same. I nodded my head, took my pay packet, and left. In fact, after a month in Australia, I was getting ideas of moving on and took to the road to the north.

I drove up as far as Geraldton and had a look around. I got talking to some locals as I was keen to go up to Darwin and found out that there was at least three thousand kilometres of gravel road. What??? Yes, three thousand, mate. I decided to give it a miss and turned south again. Back in Perth I visited my friend and his wife for a couple of days and then said my farewells and continued driving south.

My journey took me south of Perth and in to the big forests. I veered to the left and drove out on and through the salt lakes of Lake King and Lake Grace. Then down to Ravensthorpe, Esperance and up to Norseman before tackling the big trip to the east. The sealed road only continued on for a short distance from Norsemen before reverting to a corrugated carriageway. I plodded along from road house to roadhouse topping up oil to the engine every now and then as by now I realised that the main bearing oil seal of the engine was leaking. The longer distances I travelled at a time the hotter the engine became and the more the oil would leak past the seal. Eventually I realised that the old car was using too much oil and that something would have to be done about it. I had arrived at Madura Roadhouse and started talking to the mechanic there, who incidentally, owned all the businesses. Of course it was to his advantage to paint a gloomy picture of my predicament and as I was not in the mood to fiddle with engines out on the Nullarbor I swapped the car for dinner, bed and breakfast at the Motel. The following morning I lugged my suitcase and guitar out to the road and waited for a ride. I got a lift in a truck and the driver and I conversed on many subjects on the long haul to Eucla. That is where the sealed road started and we sped on to Ceduna, the kilometres clicking by one by one. I drove the semi-trailer for a couple of hundred kilometres to give the driver some relief. Eventually we arrived in Ceduna where the truck was to unload and then stay over for the night. I wandered over to the Shell Roadhouse and had a long hot shower, a change of clothes and a good feed. As there was still some time left in the day I decided to get out on the road again to see if I could score another ride. I had only been standing for about 5 minutes by the side of the road when a Police car turned up with two policemen in it. “Get in”, one said as they pulled up next to me. I complied. They drove me back to the Police Station and told me quite forcefully go in to the front waiting room. I was quite taken aback by this turn of events but decided to keep a cool head and to offer as little information as possible. While I was being questioned the District Commander walked in through the door and enquired as to what was going on. It appeared that a tall blonde male had stolen a car somewhere to the west and the police were following their line of enquiries. I told the DC who I was, showed him my passport and told him of my misfortunes with my car and a copy of the receipt I had given the mechanic at Madura for my car. Figuring that I was telling the truth he accepted my story and then wanted to know all about South Africa as he had an Aunt who was living in Johannesburg. In the end he invited me out for an evening meal at his place and then dropped me back at the station later where I was given an open cell to sleep in for the night.

The next morning a truckie picked me up about 9am. He was on his way to Adelaide with a load of furniture. Irish born he had such a bad accent that I could barely understand him. But we got on well and covered manu subjects. I recollect the long road once again to the east, the mining town of Iron Knob and thousands of Galahs flying around eating the fallen wheat seeds on the side of the road. I remember Port Augusta at night vaguely and then we slept on the side of the road for a few hours at Mambray Creek where there was an area to pull off the road. In the early morning we passed the smallholdings outside of Adelaide where produce is grown. I said goodbye to the Irishman and gave him my guitar which had by now become a burden to me. I was learning fast that one must travel light. My home made back pack was still too cumbersome but I was unsure of what to do with it. I had bought it in Cape Town. It was a fold-up type suitcase and the one good thing about it was that I could sleep on top of it when I needed to.

I caught a number of buses to the outskirts of Adelaide and had just set myself down to wait for a ride when a brand new Toyota Crown car pulled up. The drivers was a young woman aged in her mid thirties and heading for Portland in Victoria. I was unsure of where it was but it was in the general direction of Melbourne so I got in. Noami was quite a talker and very good looking. She and her husband were in the fishing business and she had come to Adelaide to visit relatives while her husband was out at sea. We stopped for lunch at Bordertown and sped on past Horsham and then down south towards Portland. I slept for a short while in the car and then apologised for being so rude. Then Naomi got tired and I said that I could drive and showed her my International Drivers Licence. We arrived in Portland in the early evening. Their house was on a smallholding and away from any other houses. I helped her unpack the car and was about to say goodbye when she asked if I would like to stay for tea. I was hungry and tired and said yes immediately. She contacted her husband by radio and found out that he would only be home in two days time. We sat down for a nice tea and a bottle of wine. Then another bottle of wine appeared and halfway through the third bottle of wine we were quite merry. Suddenly Naomi stood up and walked around to my side of the table and took me by the hand. She pulled me on to my feet and led me to her bedroom where she stripped naked in front of me. She was better looking naked than with her clothes on. We fell in to a heap on the bed and made passionate love all through the night. Just before sunrise she said that I had better have a shower and that she would take me out to the road so that prying eyes from neighbouring properties would not see what need not be seen. An hour later I was once again standing by the side of the road again waiting for the next ride. Both Naomi and I understood that we would never meet again and just kissed a fond farewell. There was no passion in it as both our passions had been spent.

The day dragged on for a while and another hitchhiker joined me. First we stood at a distance from one another but later came closer and started chatting. Then around lunch time lime green Valiant Regal stopped and a man with a soft voice and with lots of rings on his fingers invited us both to join him. I climbed in the front and John in to the back seat. We had gone to far when I realised that the driver, Pauly, was an effeminate person. He put his hand on my leg and I pushed it away. Soon after he found an excuse to stop at a Café and bought some cigarettes. Then he invited John to sit in the front with him. Very soon they were holding hands and sitting close together. It was a slow journey with frequent stops and eventually I offered to drive. Pauly and John got in to the back seat while I took up the driving position. I turned the in side rear-view mirror askew so that I could not witness what was going on and turned the radio volume up loud. I could not believe that two persons of the same sexual persuasion could meet like that, forgetting of course, my tryst with the housewife the night before. The Valiant sped along until we reached the outskirts of Melbourne where I bade farewell to the boys and hopped on a late afternoon train which took me in to Flinders Street Station. I still remember the train. The doors were left open while the train rambled from station to station. I could never figure out why.

At Flinders Street Station and found a phone box and rang Brian, a mate of my mate Ian. About twenty minutes later I was picked up from the sidewalk and met Brian for the first time. We went to a pub for a feed and numerous drinks. Ian had met Brian in London when both of them were on a working holiday. Then Brian had spent some time in South Africa before returning to Australia. Brian lived in a flat with his mother. I am not sure if she lived with him or he lived with her but by the second day she called me a ‘Bludger’. Not knowing what this meant I asked Brian who became very incensed with his mom. I found out what the meaning was and went down to the local shops and bought some food and a bottle of wine. This seemed to placate the old girl. I had found out very early that due to a heavy migration program after the Second World War, some sections of the Australian Community took a dim view, if not a bigoted one, of new arrivals in the country. The hospitality that we had all enjoyed in the country where I had grown up was not forthcoming here in Australia. Socially you were accepted when in a crowd you would shout a round of beers but that seemed to be where the line was drawn.

On the weekend Brian was invited to a party and took me along. I went dressed in my African Safari suit which I had thought at that time was really cool but totally unknown in Australia. An English immigrant cottoned on to me and gave me a real earbashing about the way the white South Africans treated the black populace by decree of their separate development policies know as apartheid. I simply did not have an answer to this as politics was as far away from my mind as could be. I tried to get out of the conversation but to no avail and after a while told the other bloke to fuck off. This caused a stir and soon afterwards we left the party. Brian understood the situation but he warned me that Australians viewed the world differently to what I was used to. I was to find out at a later date that many Australians had a very bigoted approach when it came to the indigenous population of this country and preached double standards.

After the weekend I took leave of Brian and his mother and hitch-hiked to Sydney. I paid a for a weeks rent in Bondi in a clapped out motel and hung around for that time moving around the city and visiting the famous Kings Cross and other dubious places. The city irked me and was dirty. I grabbed my swag and head for the railway station when my rent ran out. I was perusing the train schedules and platform locations when I was approached by a bloke who recognised a safari suit. We started chatting and he gave me an address of some Rhodesians who were living up on the Gold Coast who were friends of his. I caught a train to Newcastle and then hitched the rest of the way to Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. The last lift was a young bloke in an old FJ Holden just like the one I had bought in Perth. I remember driving past a sign which showed the way to a beach side hamlet. The sign read ‘We have everything except sandflies’ This I thought was very amusing but was unaware of what sandflies were. I found out in due course.

Surfers Paradise was a bustling joint with lots of tourists flocking to the golden beaches. Beer flowed freely from all the pubs and there was a general consensus of merriment. Beer drinking and sex was the order of the day amongst the young people and I had my fill in my time there. I spent my first night sleeping on the beach and the following day got up to Main Beach where I met up with Rob and his gang of Rhodesians. It was one of those raised tropical houses which they rented and I was shown a room downstairs and told to stay as long as I liked. I had to contribute some food from time to time. These blokes all had jobs and very soon I was working too in their gardening business. Rob advanced in to the corporate world some years later and became a name around the area. I stayed two weeks and hitchhiked north to Brisbane, Rockhampton, Townsville and finally Cairns. By this time I had shed my large fold-up case and only had minimal clothing in a backpack. I was running short of money and started working in pubs washing dishes and cleaning bars. I wrote to my mother that I had seen some of Australia and was now thinking of coming home again. Two weeks later I started hitch hiking again heading south back to Main Beach. Here I spent Christmas and New Year and it was a hilarious time. News Years even got a tad out of hand when thousands of revellers took to the streets of Surfers and the cops arrived. I remember standing on the sidewalk with a bottle of scotch in my hand when a cop walked up to me with his baton raised and said “Move”. I did just that. After the festivities and parties had died down I left Surfers and started hitch hiking again. This time I took the New England Highway down to Dubbo and then headed west and in one week managed to get back to Perth. I rang my mother from Perth but got hold of my father instead. He said that he was not going to pay for my ticket back home and that I had better get a job and pay my own way back if I was so inclined. So I said “Fuck you, dad” and he hung up on me. Suddenly I did not know what to do. I had completely forgotten about my intentions of going to America. I rented a room in a boarding house and started looking for work in the tourist industry. But it was slow going. I was a foreigner and those jobs just were not available. I was reduced to digging ditches on construction sites. It didn’t hurt me and the pay was probably better as long as you towed the Union line.

A couple of weeks went by and I had enough money again and so I set off to the east coast again. I hitch-hiked across the Nullarbor, after once again, having a run in with Police, at Norseman. They picked me up for vagrancy. What was vagrancy? No means of visible support and being idle in a public place. But all I was doing was waiting for a ride! I protested and told them I had money and showed them my bankbook and demanded to get access to the South African Ambassador in Canberra. After a lot of swearing they let me go but I had to make my own way back to where I was standing in the first place.

Just on dusk a jolly bloke in a Valiant utility without a windscreen picked me up. He reckoned it was going to be a long night. I suggested we go back to the bottle shop and I would buy some beers, which we did. The beer kept us from going insane with all the bugs flying in to the cabin. After a while we agreed to fasten the opened up beer carton to the bull bar just so that we may get some deflection from the flying things and it worked as long as we kept the speed down to about 80kmh.

A number of rides got me as far as Mildura in Victoria and there I got picked up by a truckie late at night after he spotted me sleeping at the side of the road. That is also the night I had an encounter with a bull-ant which bit me on the lip causing it to swell up dramatically. Luckily the poison dissipated just as fast. I got to drive the truck as well as the truckie had a deadline to meet and he was very tired. I drove quite a distance until we reached the Southern Tablelands where the roads had more twists and turns. I took leave of my lift at the Sydney Markets and made my way to a boarding house at Bondi.

In Sydney I did a course on Olivetti Typewriters and how to service and sell them and got paid at the same time. But the prospect of a job selling typewriters did not appeal to me. I had started working in the service department of Olivetti after doing the course and was looking for a way out of it. Then one night a cupboard door in my room at the boarding house broke. I went to the owner and asked for a screwdriver to repair it and when the owner saw the broken door he lost his temper with me and told me pack my bags and to leave immediately. I had just paid a weeks rent in advance but that was not refunded. So I was reluctant to go but eventually got pushed out in to the street by two of the owners sons. I had sorely been ripped off again. Then an Englishman, who had witnessed the affair and who had also been staying in the boarding house came over and said that I could sleep in his Holden Station wagon and that he was heading to Queensland in the morning and if I shared some of the costs I could get a ride. So I agreed.

Jack was a shearer and he had a job lined up in Western Queensland. I went along for the ride. At night I slept on the front passengers seat and Jack slept in the back of the car. But Jack’s feet stank that much that I eventually opted to sleep outside with the mosquitoes. The tales that Englishmen do not bath seemed to ring true. On the third morning we were driving along the Diamantina development road and the car stopped and the bloke said that he was turning off on a station where he had a job and that was as far as my ride went. There I stood in the middle of no-where with my swag and a bottle of water. A couple of hours passed and then a Landcruiser utility came along driven by a local pastoralist who was going to Bedourie and gave me a ride. He was astounded that I was standing out there in the middle of summer. At Bedourie I was lucky to find the Mailman and get a left as far as Dajarra. As I sat down on the stone steps of the Dajarra Pub contemplating my lot, the publican, Mrs Johnston, came out and asked if I would like to do some work. I was very pleased with this offer as my kitty was severely depleted as I had just about paid for all the petrol for the ride in the shearers car. So I did some painting, washed dishes and worked in the bar for week and got a bed and meals. During that time I got an opportunity to go kangaroo shooting with Mrs Johnston’s son and that was an experience in itself. At the end of my week stay there when the work ran out, word came from the north that the road construction company was looking for labourers and on the Monday morning I got a lift in on the road to Mt Isa and very soon was working for P Zanen and Co building the road between Dajarra and Mount Isa. At the end of the first day I was shown my quarters at the construction camp site. There were the ATCO demountable buildings with rooms and beds but no roof and no windows. I slept under the stars like that for 6 weeks before taking my leave from the harsh rigours of road works. I was given a cheque for my labours and managed to cash it at one of the pubs. I spent the evening there drinking beers with the locals and slept the night in a decent room. The following day I decided to head back to Darwin and took my swag out on to the road.

I stood on the other side of the creek to the west of Mt Isa all day and no ride as forthcoming. In the evening I boiled the Billy and cooked some tinned food I had with me and settled down for the night. Around 9pm a car stopped as the driver had seen the embers of my fire. Jump in he said, the more the merrier. Now we were 6 up in an HD Holden wagon. These blokes had all been at the pub and were pretty drunk. We drove off into the darkness and I was given a beer. I was not sure of what was going to happen here but evening wore on uneventfully until the driver started getting bored and would drive on the wrong side of the road when other cars were approaching. Luckily for all of us his best mate talked him out of it and very soon was behind the wheel himself. We drove on into the night and camped by the side of the road somewhere near Avon Downs. The next day the drive continued until we reached Three Ways where everyone went in to the pub for a beer. I bought the car owners a few beers and when the crowd I was with started to pick a fight with the locals I said goodbye, grabbed my gear from the car and walked down the road to where the Barkley Highway met the Stuart Highway. I wasn’t there long before an old Landrover stopped with a very fat American called Michael at the wheel. He had a fellow hitch-hiker with the name of Mati who was a Latvian. Mati was later to take photos at my wedding. The old Landie was slow and we plodded along, talking about what the north would be like as none of us had been there. We had only gone a relatively short distance when my ride of the previous night passed us and then spotted me at the same time. They stopped their car on the road in front of us so that we had to stop. Everyone got out. The driver of the Holden turned out to be a Croatian immigrant and very aggressive. He was most upset that I had left his party and had insulted him by doing that. At this point in time Michael went and hid behind the Landrover and Mati stood away at a distance. Frank, the Croatian, had his mates and fellow travellers flanking him but they showed no interest in aggression. However Frank wanted to make an example of me and I could see that a fight was about to ensue. So I egged him on as I could see that he was well under the weather and incapable of doing anything. I was standing with my back to the Landrover and as Frank lunged at me with his fist I side-stepped him and banged him behind the head with my open hand in the scuffle. His closed fist hit the panel of the Landrover and his head hit the side mirror cutting it open and letting blood gush out.
“Oh God, Oh God, Oh Fuck, I have broken my hand,” he yelped and collapsed into a heap, blood dripping down his face and grimacing at his seemingly broken hand. His mates picked him up with one smiling and another saying sorry about this and they bundled him in to the car and took off. I was to meet Frank again in Darwin but that is another story. Our journey continued on uneventfully and we camped out a night near the Fergusson River. The dingoes started howling and Michael became very restless. Long before sunrise Michael woke us to say that he wanted to move on. By the time got to Adelaide River it was hot and we got an inkling of what is was going to be like. It was February and in the middle of the ‘Wet’ season with storm clouds building up already. We arrived in Darwin around midday and the heat was stifling but the ‘Hot and Cold Bar’ at the Hotel Darwin provided cool relief and I spent most of the afternoon there getting to know people.

I had arrived at my destination.

Posted in Life Stories.