Australia and New Zealand AUGUST 1978 - JUNE 1979

Throughout much of Asia, one dealt with two phenomena – climatic heat and humidity in many parts, and crowding and population pressures. The flight from Jakarta to Perth was like shifting from one reality to a totally different one. The flight had arrived at around 0330, in a Perth winter with the temperature about 7 degrees, temperatures I had not experienced since the Everest region of Nepal many months earlier. At about 0700, I was able to hitch a ride in town with a woman who had picked up her son. The drive from the airport and through downtown was surreal. Admittedly, it was early on a Sunday morning, but from someone with an Asian perspective, it was if the neutron bomb had hit. All of the buildings were intact, but there were no people on the street. I went to the James Street hostel and decided I needed to look for work.

While work was not as plentiful as it had been a few years earlier, and you now needed a working holiday visa, it was not too difficult for a foreign backpacker to get basic labour jobs in Australia. I worked for a couple of weeks as a “roustabout” on a sheep farm not far from a village called Budjarra. It was not the romantic outdoors job I had imagined. Almost the entire day, from 0700 to 1900 I was working inside a shed, pulling the turds off of just sheared sheep-skins at close to minimum wage. Later I picked up work as a labourer at Swan Brewery in Perth for a number of weeks. The beer drinking culture in Australia was very much alive in those days, and Aussies working in a brewery were a hard-drinking lot. Once I finished there, I decided to go to Tasmania to look for work. I had met a Scot who had worked at the mines in southwest Tasmania and he recommended it for being able to make a fair bit of money in a short time, usually through very long hours of overtime.

I arranged through TravelMates, to go across to Adelaide, with Bruce, an Aussie who had been working for a few months in Perth and who had the vehicle and was heading home, and Ted, another Australian back from two years living in England and then spending ten months traveling through Europe and Africa down to South Africa. We did an interesting route south from Perth, down the coast and ultimately to the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin, the southwestern tip of Australia. This is the furthest piece of inhabited land from my home town of Kingston, Ontario. From there, almost at the half-way point in time, I was at the half-way point of travel around the world. We continued on to Albany, then to Esperance and the Archipelago of the Recherche and up to Norseman, before doing the long trip across the Nullarbor.

We had gone past Balladonia and kept driving through the night, stopping for a bite of food at the Eucla Motel. As dawn broke, we were still driving, now in South Australia and the desert like conditions were just starting to soften as we passed Penong and arrived in Ceduna. During the night, we had run over a dead wallaby on the road and had to spend a few hours getting the vehicle fixed. We drove for the better part of a day and finally arrived in Adelaide.

In Adelaide, I met my benefactor from Prague, fully eighteen months earlier. We spent a great week together and he kindly let me drive his vehicle to the wine district of South Australia. A few days later I continued on to Melbourne. I looked for work at Carleton and United Breweries, but there were no openings. I stayed with friends of my sister who had come to Canada for a year on an exchange program and extolled its great virtues. Biz Jets had a charter service to Smithton, Tasmania for $19 standby. I took that, then hitchhiked south to Hobart.

Tasmania had always fascinated me – a bit like the south island of New Zealand, as a place at the far end of the world, but with a similar heritage to part of Canada. I looked for work in Hobart, then in the mines around Queenstown. After both of these attempts failed, I decided to tour around the island for a couple of weeks, then return to the mainland to look for work in either Melbourne or Sydney. Almost my entire time in Australia was spent working or looking for work, save for this time in Tasmania. Hitching was easy throughout most of Tasmania, as I went to Devonport, Port Arthur, St Helens, the Freycinet Peninsula, Launceston and finally back to Smithton.

I booked my standby flight on Biz Jets, and went out to the airport. The flight (I believe about a twelve seater) arrived. There was one no-show so I was able to board the flight. Just before the pilot shut the door, a car raced up and a passenger with a confirmed ticket showed up. I had to get off the plane and it took off without me, just around dusk. I thought I might as well roll out my sleeping bag at the airport and wait for the morning flight. A couple of hours later a policeman from town came in and started talking to me. He mentioned that it might be more comfortable to sleep in one of the jail cells, and as an adventure I agreed. I overnighted, solo, in the cell and the following morning started hitching towards the airport.

I was picked up by a farmer, Maurice Haines, and during the ten minute drive I mentioned how I had looked for work unsuccessfully in Tasmania and was now heading back to the mainland. After thinking for a minute, he said he could use a “hay carter” for a few days if I was interested. I agreed and he offered me a place to stay on the farm. I did some work with him on the farm, and a few days later his wife got me a job working at a fish factory where she worked. And thus I spent another ten weeks working at the fish factory until shortly before my visa was going to expire. A rough job, but long hours and lots of overtime which significantly replenished my savings. In early February I finished there, flew back to Melbourne, then continued on to Beechworth, Canberra and Sydney for a last few days before flying on to New Zealand.

New Zealand

New Zealand was dramatically different than mainland Australia, but its comparative greenness had many similarities to Tasmania. For whatever reason, the percentage of young Canadian backpackers, primarily from British Columbia and Alberta, was the highest that I had seen during my entire trip. I had long known that the standard of living and wages in New Zealand was considerably lower than in Australia. I decided that while I would look for some work in the south Island, I would devote the majority of my time in the country to visiting its various regions with the dramatic diversity that it had to offer.

From Auckland, I hitched south to Rotorua, Lake Taupo and Wellington before crossing on the ferry to the South Island. Once across, I hitched down to Christchurch, then across to the west coast to Greymouth, up to the Punakaiki Rock formations then down to Hokitika. I had hoped to hitch south, even though I had been warned that because of the very limited traffic, it was the most difficult area in all of New Zealand for those thumbing it. It was also very rainy the day I was to head south, so a group of us staying in the hostel decided to take a bus south to the Franz Joseph Glacier. By the time we arrived at the hotel at Franz Joseph, we were informed that the road south had been washed away and the town might even have to be evacuated. The rain continued, albeit less heavily the following day. However, the day afterward was clear and we walked up parts of the now impassable road to the edge of the glacier. Ironically, the heavy rains had “cleaned up” some of the sediment, making the glacier appear more blue and pristine than it had in some years.

As the road was impassable. We ended up taking a small flight for about seven minutes to Fox Glacier on the other side. After a day of hiking up to Fox, the option of hitching south seemed futile, but ironically, one of the Maori repair crews was heading south to the Haast and we managed to get a lift with him.

I enjoyed my time in southern New Zealand. For me it represented something both familiar, but also very far away and distant. I hiked the Routeburn track, made my way south to Invercargill and then spent a week on Stewart Island. Returning up the east coast I arrived in Dunedin and after a few days, managed to secure a job at a meat packaging plant for about six weeks. I did some short weekend excursions to Mt. Cook and Tekapo, then to Alexandra and Wanaka.

Later I went up along the coast, back initially to Christchurch, then Nelson and up into the North Island to Clive, Gisborne, Whakatane, Whangamata,k Raurimu, New Plymouth, Dawson’s Falls and Hamilton. From Auckland I went up to Northland. Alas, though many Kiwis had extolled the place, I found it considerably less impressive than so many other places I had seen in the world.

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