australia

An Update From Down Under

Australia feels a lot like England. In fact, if it weren’t for our fleeting visit to Sydney’s harbour, the American-feeling avenues in small towns, the road signs showing kilometres instead of miles, and the terrifyingly fast road trains (super-size lorries) that dominate the roads in rural areas, I’d probably be forgiven for thinking we never left.

So when we arrived in Brisbane back at the end of May, just coming into the Australian winter, we were actually surprised to almost feel cold. Over the next few days, we’d have patches of rain to make us feel at home, and even the sunny days were nothing compared to the heat of Asia.

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We spent almost a week in Surfers Paradise enjoying a brief “holiday” in Australia before we set off to our new jobs. Within five days, Ash had had an interview, and we’d both had two phone calls offering us jobs at racing yards. Because this would be for both of us, we chose one of the yard jobs, which would mean jetting off to Sydney after just a week in Queensland.

However, we managed to visit the Movie World theme park with a friend of mine (half the big rollercoasters were closed but we had a really fun day on the other rides Scooby Doo ride!), Sea World (not to be confused with SeaWorld, also: emperor penguins!!) and do the Aquaduck tour where we caught sight of a set for the new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. In fact, a couple of days later I wandered down much of Surfers’ beach and found myself dodging out of the way of a man who I’m 90% sure was Gibbs.

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(POTC set pictured above)

I had wanted to stick around for a few more days to explore Brisbane, hang out with my friend, and go to see the Black Pearl ship at another POTC filming location, but we decided to be sensible and book our flight for as soon as possible.

So we only had one day in Brisbane before our flight, and we spent it wisely – exploring the incredibly quaint and pretty South Bank, chilling out at a play park before we were moved on by the arrival of children, and indulging in delicious hot chocolate at Max Brenner.

And then, sadly, it was already time to leave Brisbane without even seeing Australia Zoo or the koala sanctuary. As it turns out, we also missed out on meeting Johnny Depp. Yes, you read that right. Our friend went along to that filming location and found herself face to face with ACTUAL CAPTAIN JACK EFFING SPARROW. That’s what I get for putting my priorities in order!

A lot of people don’t like Brisbane. They claim it’s the “boring” city; that there’s nothing to do and the nights out are nothing compared to Sydney. I can’t testify either way yet – we only had a couple of daytime drinks in some nice pubs – but from the sounds of the bar below our hostel? Nights out sound fun as hell!!

Although we were flying into Sydney, we would be getting straight on a train to a town somewhere up toward Newcastle, and I was sad that we wouldn’t even see any of the city. To my delight, our plane flew in so that the magnificent view over the harbour was on our side! I was especially glad of this because the lady by the opposite window was asleep with her window down, so we would have missed the sight altogether.

And then, almost at our final stop of the day, everyone had to disembark the train and we were told there would be another one arriving very shortly. The platform was changed twice, so no one knew where it would turn up, and we quickly learned that Australia very much has the equivalent of 13-year-old chavs – i.e. annoying little shits.

Australian trains also interestingly (at least, interestingly to me) have not two floors on their double deckers, but THREE. There’s the platform level “foyer” of each carriage, and you can then go up or downstairs. The chavs decided that they wanted to use all three for their game of Throw As Many Of These Sweets At Each Other As Possible. Bonus points were given for playing the most annoying song at the highest level, and I imagine more for hitting other people.

We finally arrived, night setting in even though we had left Sydney at 3pm and had been told it would take an hour. Luckily, within ten minutes, a taxi had pulled up – a middle-aged lady barged past and took the front seat.

“Where ya going, mate?” the driver asked us.

We told him, and he apologised because the lady was going in the opposite direction, but don’t worry, another taxi will turn up soon.

Twenty minutes passed. It was dark now, and I was worried. I called our manager who gave me the local taxi number, and finally fifteen minutes later we finally were on our way. When we arrived, there were two houses in front of us – a TV was on in the main one but no one was in sight, and I wasn’t even sure if it was the right one but I sheepishly knocked on the door. No answer.

Eventually we poked our heads through the door to be greeted by two German girls. A German guy (there were a lot of German people there) showed us to our room where the light didn’t work, and the girls offered us noodles as we’d arrived ill-prepared. The nearest shop, it turned out, was a 15 minute drive away.

And so we began our three weeks working on a racing yard. Ash and the other guys shovelled poo, sorted bedding, changed water, swept, cleaned paddocks and other general maintenance. My daily routine started at 5am, and by 6.30am I would have fed, taken rugs off and taken temperatures of 22 horses. By this time, they were being saddled up, and as they started to come back in from their rides, I’d hose them down and put their rugs back on. This job was between four or five of us (depending on days off) and we had anything between 66 and 90 horses to wash before 11.30am. My record was about 25!

The afternoon shift began at 2.30pm and usually involved leading horses onto the walker and doing odd duties in between. We’d try to finish by 5.30pm, and that was our day. We’d work through the sunrise and work through the sunset. We’d come in and Lasse, an ex-army guy from Finland, would demand that we watch Gilmore Girls. Then everyone would gather round to watch Friends, if we had the energy a film would go on, and then it was time for bed. This was our routineΒ for three weeks.

You know the rest after my last Australia post.

Cut to the end of June, and we were on a train back to Sydney – and we’d actually get to see it this time, albeit briefly! We had a rental car booked for the following lunchtime, which gave us the evening to see the harbour, have a couple of drinks, catch up with some friends from the yard, and then a morning to walk past the Queen Vic building, do a little shopping, see the harbour during the day and eat some delicious pumpkin soup.

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And then we were off on our miniature “road trip”! Because no big cars were available to Mildura (and campers had to be booked five days in advance), we had to hire one to Adelaide and then turn back in a different car to Mildura, 400km back towards Sydney. The whole trip would be 1800km, and 1400km of it would be in a virtually brand new Jeep Compass with only 3000km on the clock.

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Amazingly, I managed to drive us safely out of Sydney from the city centre – the “suburbs” then go on for hours, and eventually we plonked our tent into the ground somewhere in the Blue Mountains and proceeded to celebrate the start of our mission with copious amounts of goon. (a backpacker delight composed of boxed wine)

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The following day’s drive was beautiful – after a couple of stops at viewpoints throughout the Blue Mountains, we had lots of scenic roads, a crowd of kangaroos sunbathing on a hill, and… a brief stop in Canberra. The thing with Canberra is, it’s very pretty, I’ll give it that. But it’s so dull. Apart from the lake and Capital Hill, there are no discernible landmarks, just a main road cutting through concrete blocks that probably don’t house anything any more interesting.

Apparently there’s a really good museum, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to find it. We found a shop instead, bought some kangaroo burgers, threw them on a free barbie in the park, and left.

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And then we spent two days cruising through lots of cute towns and camping in the middle of nowhere, occasionally meeting local welcoming families, and finally made it to Adelaide. We found it to be much better than any of us had expected. It’s small, pretty, and has character.

I messaged an old friend who lives in Adelaide and he promptly replied saying he’ll be with us in five minutes. The first thing he said was why on earth were we on the dodgiest street in town – trust us! A quick look around at the gogo bars and the kids smoking outside Hungry Jack’s said it all – especially when we walked past and those kids were asking someone if they sold weed.

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Unfortunately, we decided we needed to find a campsite before dark, and so we were on our way again – this time sad to leave. My friend had recommended that we go to a nearby beach, though we weren’t sure which one, but we found ourselves around Port Adelaide just in time for the sunset.

We weren’t going to make it to a campsite before dark after all – but I’m pretty sure this view was worth it.

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And the next day, we arrived here in Mildura. We had received a very dodgy sounding text from the manager of the hostel we were staying at – “meet me behind Bunnings with cash for rent” – and were now thinking of putting our tail between our legs and running a mile (or a few hundred). Had we made the biggest mistake?!

We turned up at the hostel – no one official was there. We called the agent and he asked if we had got his text. We had come 1800km, we couldn’t just turn around. We had a car; if it was bad we’d drive off and we would plan our next move.

As it turned out, we pulled up next to a very nice house and were greeted by a lovely French lady who showed us around and put our minds at ease. We were the only backpackers there – no one else would turn up for three weeks, and many have come and gone since.

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Yet almost three months later, we’re still here. We’ve been on the verge of leaving time and time again, only staying because we want to save more to get us on our feet when we do get to a city, and partly to tick more regional days off.

Really, there’s nothing else to say about this place since my last post. We’ve met some amazing people, we’ve had some really, really shitty weeks where we haven’t been given jobs, and on Saturday we had a great day at work where I drove a tractor and then at the end of the day we joined our supervisor for beers that he provided. Life, although challenging and currently not what I expected to be to say the least, definitely isn’t so bad after all.

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