The International Writers Magazine: Australia
to Townsville. The portly man at the Globetrotters hostel took our
money and slipped back out the back. He must have been with Jack,
Daniel, Tia and Maria for most of the afternoon. He smelt like the
Bundaberg distillery. The bloodshot look in his eyes clearly demonstrated
that at 6pm he was in the advanced stages of his weekend drinking.
His wife seemed
to take it all in her stride, this was probably a daily routine that
she she accepted rather than fought. 'Under friendly ownership' read
the sign on the way in. These surely can't have been the owners.
We put our bags down on the nearest table and wooden seating area adjacent
to the stairs. A minute to relax and to gain our bearings. "Where
yous guys from?". A half slurred, half Australian accent came from
the next table. "England" we replied. "Ahh yeah, went
to England when I was twenty five, Oxford I think". He was a weathered
and bearded fifty-ish year old man, still trapped with the hippy movement
of years gone by. "I don't smoke tobacco" he added. "I
smoke pure Cannabis". A long dark pipe was attached to his face
and seemed as much of a fixture as his nose or ears. His eyes had trouble
focusing on the most simple things. If he had trouble fixing his eyes
on his matches on the table it was amazing that he had spotted us. When
he turned around to retrieve some skins from his bag he realised that
the three men sitting on the table with him had vanished. "Where
did they go?" he muttered. We were his next prey. To be polite
Fred asked "Where are you from". The reply was as muddled
as his beard. " I've got two existing fines to pay for smoking
this stuff in public". The answer proved how badly his brain had
become disconnected from his mind. We lasted ten minutes and and made
the same excuse as most do when you want to get out of uncomfortable
situations. "We are just going for something to eat".
Wondering around Townsville confirmed what other people had said about
this place. It was Friday night and the place was uncomfortably quiet
for a city. There were a scattering of backpackers dominated by men
in black trousers and shirts. The streets were American in style with
drive-in Bottle shops (liquor stores), drive-in motels, drive-in tyres
and other large pink shop fronts like drive-in memad. There was a competition
going on as to which establishment could have the most garish advertising
boarding's. 'Johns Knob shop' won my prize. The local pubs were certainly,
local. As you walked past the occupants caught a glimpse of you. The
music was bad. I even felt like walking in there just so the music would
stop. The confusing part about this place was it could be so uncomfortable
and ugly one minute and pleasant and enjoyable the next. One dark deserted
road one minute, one overflowing outdoor happy restaurant the next.
We did go out country to Jack, Daniel, Tia and Maria's friend's advice.
We did make it back. In the celebration that followed we decided not
to risk it one more night and leave the next day.
Gilligan's. Built in November 2003. This was the new funky hostel that
pretended to be more like a funky hotel. The reception was lined with
television monitors. The reception was space age in design. The lifts
'pinged' and a softly spoken female voice kindly told you that she was
going down. She even told you when you got to first, second and third
base. What can't it always be like that? In it's attempts to be just
like a hotel the they adopted a 2pm check-in time. They also insisted
on manning this 500 bed venue with just two members of staff. They also
insisted on a thirty minute checking in process which involved filling
in a registration form and then signing three separate pieces of paper
which contained just three words on each of them. For all I know I could
be have been signing up for for three nude skydiving packages but by
that point I would'nt have cared. This hostel was like going out with
a beautiful woman. It had little personality, was expensive, you waited
for ages for it to be ready, but it felt nice to be around and it always
made out that if you didn't want to be there then there was a large
queue of people more than willing to take your place the next night.
And just like going out with a beautiful woman you put all these things
to one side and paid for another night. Of course these conclusions
were based on what my friends had said after they went out with the
In the room we met Hans. A typical blonde haired blue eyed German. His
English was good but not perfect. He had the amazing ability to be blunt.
This was not somebody that was afraid to get to the point. "She
is like a pig, her face is crocked and I detest her". We only asked
what the person was like staying in the room, we were not divorce lawyers.
"This place smells, I demand to be moved!" he added. And what
do you think of Cairns? "It is boring, it does not amuse me".
"Have you been out?" we countered. "Yes" he defended.
"Down the road". He was quite upset that his trusty alarm
clock had failed to wake him that morning causing him to miss his bus.
How inefficient. "Can you make this thing work?" he enquired.
When we tried to explain that we were not that efficient in electronics
I thought he was going to say "I demand to see your papers!".
Cairns is the capital of the north. Sydney is the capital of the South.
That is where the similarity ends between these two cities. In 1934
a huge two kilometre in diameter asteroid called 'Rocky' plummeted from
space and devastated large parts of Cairns. Of course it didn't. But
it may well have just done. It was if some overweight person had sat
on on the city, causing the sides to squelch out from the centre. The
buildings were as low as the buildings in Sydney were high. For this
city seems to have a problem of being able to fill itself with people
and cars. You could quite happily walk along the main streets and not
encounter a single person or car. You could walk from one end of this
place to another and not know where you were going to or coming from.
All the streets were the same. Same in diameter, same shops, same trees,
same pavement. You could walk for miles without finding the centre of
town. Then again there didn't seem to be a centre.
A few miles north of Cairns is Kurunda. The clientele did not do a great
deal to remove the 'tourist' tag that this town had acquired over the
years. Middle aged couples and their children paraded the market stools
laden with bags. Japanese tourists blocked off large sections of the
pavement, doing what Japanese tourists do best in the street. Standing
there and doing absolutely nothing. The elderly couples were busy purchasing
the best Australian gifts for their beloved back home. The tacky gifts
were on a par with the bright red inflatable London bus, the flaking
fake silver Eiffel tower key ring, the 'I love USA tee-shirt'. I have
never seen an inflatable red bus on someone's mantelpiece, neither have
I seen the flaking tower jiggling on someone's key ring. I have also
never seen an American wearing an 'I love USA' tee-shirt, well maybe
I have. These were the sort of gifts that you saw only ten days of the
year. The ten days when your parents visited.
So I rushed straight in and bought one snake skin purse (100% REAL of
course!), two Kangaroo skin rugs and a boomerang that will never be
used simply because they don't work. The Aboriginal statue was a must.
Like most of these statue's you would never put it in your own living
room but that wasn't the point. As I was handing over the three hundred
dollars I paused for a moment to think about the Kangaroo I had stroked
and who had consumed eighty five cents worth of nuts and grain from
my 'feed the animals' bag at the Billiabong sanctuary. What a waste.
I then started to feel guilty purchasing this skin. We had been friends.
He had licked my hand. I had tickled his belly. He had hopped away in
happiness. I was feeling really bad. I mean there were plenty of dead
Kangaroos on the roadside that were fresher and a great deal cheaper
than the hundred dollars I had just paid. And now the Kangaroo rug would
be sitting proudly on my parents lounge floor. For ten days of the year
photos, stories and diary http://coops.photos.me.uk/
Sydney to Byron
Rich Cooper takes the bus
Rich Cooper in Australia
opposite of culture
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