In 1995 over 2,500,000 Australians travelled abroad.
More than 500,000 visited Europe,
250,000 of them marked ‘vacation’ as the main reason for travel on their departure slips,
About 20,000 stayed for more than a year;
I was one of them.
All Rights Reserved. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
Published in 2014
By Garry McAlister
Author Adrian Osborne
ISBN: 978-0-646-92534-9 (ebook)
Copyright © Garry McAlister 2014
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious, any
resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or any events
past or present are purely coincidental.
“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty; and yet it all seems limitless.”
The Sheltering Sky
Rural Australia 1979
I grew up under a flight path; it wasn’t one of those inner city ones you’re always reading about in the papers. At thirty thousand feet mine was more of an art installation than an annoyance; to this day I don’t ever remember anyone complaining about it. The 747’s chalked their way across the sky stitching together the happy summer days of my youth. To my enquiring mind they seemed without purpose, so one day I asked my grandfather about them shortly after the unexpected death of his prized bull.
“They take important people from one big city to another and then back again,” he simply replies, “Here, pass me that chain.”
I watch him loop the chain around the stiff back leg of the dead bull before pulling it tight securing the carcase to the tractor. The death of his favourite bull was certain to dampen Christmas celebrations later that week.
“Look at this will you,” he says pointing to the dead bull. The bull was only three years old and a top price purchase at the sales last year.
“There’s always something,” he continues, “Let this be a lesson for you young Adrian; you can’t expect fairness in an unfair world!”
Seventy six years of farming had taught my grandfather you were always at the mercy of something, “Drought, prices, banks; disease, taxes; remember this young man,” he says pointing to the bull, “The only certainty in life is death, sooner or later we all end up like the bull; don’t you ever forget that.”
Taking off the leather glove on his right hand he continues, “Out here,” he pauses to look around, “We are a thousand miles from anywhere important, what happens out there is of no interest to me; but it had better be of interest to you.”
He makes his way back to the tractor and on reflection stops to say, “You know if you work hard, one day you might find out where those things go. You never know, perhaps there’s a bull at the other end, you could buy it and bring it back here; god knows I need one!”
1995 – The present
The lights are on early in our modest country cottage. I part the bedroom curtains and a shaft of light reveals frost crystals on the lawn outside. Our old red kettle produces a high pitched squeal suggesting breakfast is almost ready, I’d better get up.
Toast pops, bacon and eggs sizzle, tea is poured into chipped porcelain cups.
“How many pieces of toast Adrian,”
I sit down to three pieces of toast, two eggs and a tangled mass of bacon.
“Make sure you get the money belt behind the door, and don’t forget your toothbrush.” I can tell my mother is nervous; that’s ok so am I.
My mind drifts to foreign lands thousands of miles away. This same dream has haunted me ever since my grandfather passed away twelve months ago. I can still hear him telling me, sooner or later we all end up like the bull. His warning consumes me during the three hour drive to Sydney’s Mascot airport where the dream that has played and rewound in my mind will finally give way to the reality of my big overseas adventure.
Ever since he passed away I have constantly questioned the meaning of my life. It’s as though the world has been going on around me and I have been watching on from the sideline, waiting for the whistle to sound so I can enter the game. My grandfather once told me that to know your place in the world you must first understand it, and the best way to do that is to go and experience it, so that’s what I’ve decided to do.
“Yes folks this is it, decision time for our lucky contestant,” says the game show host, “Adrian, will you take the car or come back to play with us again tomorrow night for our grand prize jackpot valued at $680,000.”
“I’ll be back; I’ll be back tomorrow night for the lot,” (The audience applauds).
“Are you all right Adrian; were here,” says my mother, “Were you day-dreaming again?”
The backpack is heavy and unfamiliar on my shoulders, a nauseous wave of panic sweeps over me, small beads of sweat develop on my forehead as I recall all the travel tips I’ve received from experienced backpackers.
“Don’t take too much mate.”
“What you do is lay everything out on your bed and halve it straight away, leave it for a day and then halve it again and that’s still too much.”
“One pair of jeans, a few pair of undies and a toothbrush, that’s all I took.”
“You can get it all over there.”
“Take shit you don’t want so when you lose it, it doesn’t matter.” Their voices echo in my head.
Maybe my mates were right after all, maybe this isn’t for me. I could always go home; there’s no real shame in that; but I know there would be. Like it or not I am committed, I have to prove I can survive out there on the road on my own; I have to prove it to myself and to them; I am going to get on this plane.
I fumble around at the check-in counter with my backpacks. The attendant smiles sympathetically sticking a baggage ticket around the strap at the top of my pack.
“First time travelling overseas?”
“Yes,” I proudly reply.
“22.5kg, plenty of kids leave here with way more than that stuffed into these things. Your flight is QF113 it leaves from gate eight in fifty minutes, enjoy yourself.”
I turn my attention to my parents, my mother’s eyes are red and my father is staring in the opposite direction. Fifty minutes, what am I going to do with my parents for fifty minutes?
In the end we sit and drink coffee, struggling to make conversation as the minutes tick by.
“Can I get you anything to take on the plane Adrian?”
“No thanks mum.”
“What about a little chew, something sweet?”
“I’ll be ok.”
“Do you want something to read, a paper?”
“Look, he doesn’t want anything alright!” says my father.
Calling passengers for flight QF113 to London via New Zealand, your flight will commence boarding from gate eight in thirty minutes. All passengers on flight QF113 can now progress to gate eight you aircraft will soon be ready for boarding.
“Look, guys I have to go, thanks for everything, I mean that, you know I appreciate how much you do for me.”
“Get going mate, good luck over there, look after yourself.”
“I will dad, don’t worry about me, ok.”
“We care for you Adrian, don’t forget to call so we know you are ok.” I hug my mother before shaking hands with my father who hands me a $100 note.
“Take it, it’ll come in handy.”
“Adrian, swap it for you change, that way you won’t upset the metal detectors.”
I empty my pockets; about $8 in change and swap it for the $100 note before leaving for security. Heading through the metal detectors I reflect on my last moments on Australian soil; give us your change so you don’t upset the metal detectors. Christ mum, where did you get that from.
I squeeze past two guys to my window seat looking out over the right wing.
“Great, a window seat!”
I am about to discover that a window seats means I have to crawl over two people to go to the toilet, but hey; how am I to know. I fish through my daypack for the lock before securing the pack and jamming it under the seat in front of me.
“Hey, I’m Adrian Osborne; off overseas, I’m a backpacker you know!” I say to the guys sitting next to me shaking their hands furiously.
Scott, the guy nearest me returns to writing on postcards, he has kicked off his sandals and folded his feet under him like a budda. His mate Matt is holding a plastic water bottle from which he takes a mouthful; neither are cleanly shaven, they wear worn khaki shorts and faded loose fitting check print shirts.
“So where are you going backpacker Adrian?” Matt asks.
“Oh, Europe, North Africa, the US, New Zealand, you know, all over really, I guess! What about you guys?”
“Were backpackers ourselves,” says Scott, before describing their recent adventure, a mystic foot journey from Chile through central and north America culminating in a summer solstice party outside the town of Digby in Nova Scotia, Canada.
“Here’s a photo of us with Travis.”
“He’s a Canadian dude we met in China,” adds Matt.
“Yeah, we said we’d drop in for a barbecue if we were in the neighbourhood, you know.” They laugh; a photo of them with a Canadian guy, grill tongs and beer in hand sits on Scott’s tray table.
They continue to describe in intricate detail their journey, “All up that trip took about 18 months or so,” says Matt.
Turning to me and grinning Scott cautions, “I nearly died in Brazil; man, you’ve got to be careful in the Amazon!”
These guys are calm; they radiate a positive energy that must come from a long time on the road. Their very presence is comforting to me; they don’t appear to be afraid of anything.
“So do you guys have a travel plan?” I ask naively.
“Yeah, sure we do?” replies Scott looking to Matt.
“Well sort off,” Matt adds, “Don’t get too hung up on plans Adrian, remember; it’s not a race; it’s an adventure.”
“That’s why you go travelling Adrian,” concludes Scott, “You’re never really sure what’s going to happen, isn’t that exciting?”
When I look back now, that was the moment I was inducted into the world of budget travel. In a year or so I would possess that same aura of confidence, I would wake up, face the world and say, I’m not really sure what’s going to happen today; isn’t that exciting! I was just another guy searching for something more out of life, thankfully something more is what I was about to find.
We stopover in New Zealand less than two hours into the journey, I am ordering a coffee in the transit lounge cafe when a six and a half foot Maori quips, “So you Aussies still teachin’ your cricket team lawn bowls?”
Not wanting to start anything I reply, “Mate, I’m not really into cricket, rugby’s more my thing.”
Stunned by this response the guy stands up leans towards me and says, “Rugby’s more my thing too bro.”
A month from now I would watch a New Zealand winger who looked remarkably like this guy romp in four tries against England in the rugby world cup semi-final. In one try the winger runs completely over the top of the English fullback Mike Catt.
Safely back on the plane I reflect on my first visit to New Zealand. If you don’t understand the underarm cricket jibe, I’ll explain. The incident occurred at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the 1st February 1981 in a one day game between Australia and New Zealand. It was the last ball of the very last over and New Zealand needed six runs to draw the match. The Australian captain, Greg Chappell had made what many punters describe as a monumental error by bowling Dennis Lilley his strike bowler in the 49th over leaving Trevor, his own brother and a medium pace bowler at best to deliver the final over.
So there he was, poor Trevor, staring down the wicket at a fired up Brian McKechnie with one ball to go. The equation was simple, Brian gets hold of the final delivery and hits it out of the ground for six and New Zealand draws the game (highly unlikely), he hits it to the outfield and they run six for a draw (even less likely). The most probable outcome was that Trevor would bowl a delivery that was precise enough in line and length to restrict New Zealand to less than six runs, Australia wins and he becomes a national hero.
In a moment of pure panic Greg directs his younger brother to bowl the last delivery under arm; yes you got it a la lawn bowls, rolling the ball along the ground to eliminate any chance of a draw. Almost fifteen years on resentment still rages across the Tasman. At the time the New Zealand Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon quipped he thought it fitting the Australian team wore canary yellow; how dare he!
I drift off to sleep, ball in hand staring down the wicket at Brian McKechnie who is staring back at me, wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh gives me the nod on leg stump, the crowd is cheering, Come on Aussie, come on, come on!!!