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The International Writers Magazine: Travel Stories
(From Our Archives)

Fraser Island Outrage
Tom Coote

The two young Aussie guys in their bright white shirts couldn’t hide their disappointment. As the various day trippers had trudged back on to the Fraser Explorer four wheel drive bus, several had looked over to them quizzically. They looked a bit too smart to be on our bus.


“We’re custom officials” they said, cheerfully. They weren’t really. They were trying to flog fifteen minute flights over Fraser Island for seventy five Australian dollars a head. Apparently this was great value, we’d see all the highlights from a bird’s eye view – maybe even some dolphins and sting rays – and we wouldn’t miss any of the day tour because they’d meet up with bus again after it had driven on to Eli Creek.  The hands of the couple in the first two seats eagerly shot into the air when we were all asked who would like to take advantage of this once in a life time opportunity. Everybody else on the bus just sat there. The pilots struggled to sustain their high spirits as they repeated their kind offer but received no response. Eventually they led the willing couple away to their airplane while the rest of us continued our drive up 75 Mile beach (it’s really more of a highway than a beach).

We scampered across the scorching sand from the bus to the wooden walkway that ran along the cool, clear waters of Eli Creek. The deep, dark rain forest filtered out the harsh, unforgiving, Queensland sunlight leaving mottled, flickering reflections on the creeks pure, pristine water. A tall, middle aged tourist, dressed all in grey, casually flicked in his cigarette butt. “I can’t believe you just did that!” screeched a stocky Australian, “fucking unbelievable!” The man in grey muttered something that I couldn’t hear.  “This is a national park – you wouldn’t do that in your own country, would you? What if everybody did that?” The two young sons of the increasingly irate Aussie hung back, perhaps fearing an explosion. The offending tourist was turning more red than grey. He mumbled “sorry” and shuffled over to the furthest point on the walkway from the equally red Aussie. “What bus are you on, mate? I’m not just letting this go.” The grey/red tourist tried hard to let it all wash over him. Before letting it go and splashing off into the creek with his boys, the offended Aussie struggled for an appropriate condemnation. “You” he stammered, “you pig!”

Racing back down the beach/highway, burning up the slower four wheel drives, I overheard the flying couple being asked if had been worth it. “Definitely,” they insisted, “it was a once in a life time experience”. They had even seen dolphins and sting rays.

Automatic for the Kiwi

They looked a bit dodgy. While waiting for our mini bus to leave from Nelson to Franz Joseph, two shifty looking Kiwi guys shuffled over. You could see neck tattoos through the folds of their hoodies. We moved closer to our bags.

When we piled on to the mini bus, a shaven headed manager gargled some brief instructions to the driver (he sounded like he had been stabbed in the neck). It was the driver’s first day. The two hoodies were scaffolders due for a job in Westport but didn’t have enough money on them for the fare. The boss croaked that they could get on now and pay later, if they handed over a driving licence.

As we sped through the spectacular scenery, the driver seemed to be having some difficulty with the automatic gear box. One of the scaffolders crawled over the troublesome gears casing to the front seat, seemingly to offer helpful advice. He boasted of how he’d driven these automatics many times before but didn’t seem to have much more of an idea than the driver.

When we stopped for a short break, we weren’t told for how long. Forty minutes later we were still waiting for one couple to return. On eventually arriving at Westport, we realised that a passenger had been left behind. Another frustrated traveller had missed his connecting bus and would have to wait two days for the next one. The hoodied scaffolders ran off without paying - the driving licence, left as security, had mysteriously disappeared from its place on the dashboard at the front of the bus.

In Greymouth we picked up an overweight, grey-haired Aussie backpacker with a walking stick. Anybody who would listen – and quite a few who wouldn’t – would be treated to a lengthy history of her knee troubles and informed that she had only paid a dollar for all her fares around New Zealand (having stayed up to midnight every night for three months so that she could nab the bargain internet promotions). She had plenty of advice on automatics for the harried Kiwi driver – by now the bus was limping along as badly as her.

We staggered into the car park of The Puke Pub at Pukekura (population: 2). While the driver attempted to get some help, we ordered Possum Pie and Roadkill Burgers (“you kill ‘em, we grill ‘em”). A deer, fenced off from the car park, had one broken antler flopping about. The near stump was red and raw looking. Limping Aussie woman pitied the poor stag while munching away at her Deer Burger.

The trashed gearbox finally gave out a few miles later and we were left stranded at the side of the road for two hours. Eventually we were rescued by one of the driver’s new colleagues and dropped off in Franz Joseph. The driver thanked our rescuer and said he’d see him tomorrow. I couldn’t help noticing a pause before he agreed.

© Tom Coote May 2010

Shadow Trails
Adventures in Dark Tourism by Tom Coote
Publisher: Wicked World (Hardback) 2017
Sam North review

Witty, well observed, nicely photographed with striking images these are adventures in hell and I for one am happy that Tom Coote is willing to go there on our behalf so we don’t have to.

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