Saturday, November 25, 2006

13th - 21st November (Chilling out in Oz)

Most of our evenings in Port Macquarie are spent drinking and chatting. In the day, we generally sit around the Ozzie Pozzie yard, drink tea and discuss what we are going to do with the day until around midday when we usually go to the beach, swim, attempt to bodyboard, attempt keepie ups with the haki sack, read, chat and laze around. On the way back to Ozzie Pozzie we might pick up some food and a couple of cheeky beers.

I did manage to get away for a bike ride one day, the free bike was hard work and I attempted to do a fairly large curcuit only to find that the free river ferry crossing only ran in the morning and evening so I had to come back without seeing the winery and Koala petting zoo. I did see my first kangaroos in a field though.

A new member of the group is Kevin, a 30 year old from Bolton who has an 18 year old girlfriend that he has been with for 3 years, this is a source of constant amusement to the rest of us.

After 'a quick pint' at the macca on the way back from the beach turned into a quick skinful, we picked up a slab and went back for food. When the beer ran out we drank some left over goon (red wine) from a goon bag. Rhys mentioned the war once or twice in front of a few germans and then passed out on a sofa so that I could play human buckaroo by balancing a load of books on his head.

There isn't loads to see or do in Port Macquarie, but what there is (for example, the rainforest centre) I would have liked to see but was too busy enjoying myself.

I took the greyhound to Coffs Harbour as I had already bought the pass while Rhys and Rich made their own way there. We met up at Aussitel backpackers which is bigger and livlier than Ozzie Pozzie with about 80 mostly younger backpackers. Preparing food in the kitchen is hard work. We signed up for the punch night and drank our fill of vitamin c without getting even a little squiffy. Punch night included entrance to a club later where they had a wet t-shirt competition (which I only stumbled upon whilst looking for Rhys) and a foam filled dance floor.

The next day was the tea marathon, the weather had changed from super hot to icy cold winds so we sat at the hostel, drank tea, chatted and played cards. I did manage a short trip to the botanic gardens with a french and german girl that we befriendeed. Ended up staying up chatting with Rhys until 02.00 about everything from family feuds to abortion (without any alcohol!!!)

Rhys picked up his bacpack and thumbed his way out of Coffs Harbour. The weather is good again so Rich and I stayed another day, we walke to Muttonbird island which juts out from the mainland and gave us some excellent views, it was incredibly windy and the waves crashed against the rocks with amazing force. At one point Rich got quite close to the edge and just after he moved away a massive wave came up and crashed down where he had been stood. After a nice lunch we hired bikes, along with Thomas (ze very tall german who claims that germans don't have mullets!) to see the famous big banana. Not exactly a highlight of the trip!

Rich and I booked a dorm in Belongil beachouse, Byron Bay which is described in the lonely planet as 'aimed at a slightly more mature crowd', despite being quite immature we felt a bit old for the Aussitel kids. As with Port Macquarie, I felt like I hadn't really seen much of Coffs Harbour and I didn't manage to contact some people there who I met in North Vietnam and had offered to put me up which was quite bad.

I arrived at the beachouse after Rich and was surprised to see Rhys who had phoned Rich to find out where we were staying. We are a 15 minute walk from the centre of Byron Bay in a place that is apparently quieter and cheaper than the places in town that are full of 'schoolies'. More of the same daytime activities at the beachouse and on the nice close beach. The free shuttle bus took us into town where we were planning to buy food from the supermarket, but a quick beer turned into 9 and that was the end of that idea!

Rhys had planned to move on the next day but had missed more than half of his back with sun cream and was in agony, Rich despite being dark already was also a bit burned and the pair of them stayed out of the sun for a day while i went for a walk along the beach towards town. The town end of the beach is busy with schoolies and the pleasant town is quite full of them as well. Later met Rich and Rhys for a couple of beers but this time managed to go to the supermarket after. Back at the pad I made a nice chicken and veg stir-fry and discovered that blackbean sauce and goon mix very well. There was plenty of food and I got merry on the goon.

The next morning we made a fantastic full english breakfast. I took the shuttle bus to town and walked around the coastal trail and light house which took most of the day and had some amazing views, at one point i could see the ocean through 270 degrees. In the evening we drank and went to a club that I can hardly remember but I do remember how full of stars the sky was when we walked along the beach back to the hostel.

Friday, November 17, 2006

12th - 13th November

An early start and a six and a half hour bus journey got me to Port Macquarie for 13.30. I hadn't expected a great deal from this place, just a useful stopping off point. At the small and friendly 'Ozzie Pozzie backpackers', the friendly chap who picked me up from the bus station introduced me to some backpackers who were hanging around and I met more later. He also gave me a quick tour of the beatiful, small and laid back town in the minibus. I took a free bike hire to the Koala hospital and rode along the lovely coastline to the supermarket, back to the hostel where I cooked my snags on the barbie. In the evening a few of us went to 'the Macca' where the bands were loud and average at best, the atmosphere was great and we talked and drank until late.

Among others, I have made friends with Rhys, from Melbourne who is mostly hitching his way around the country and will eventualy get married in Perth where his fiance is waiting. He says hitch hiking is easy and has been picked up by an 18 year old girl and an old woman! He is good fun and laughs at the word 'Jubblies' and Rich from Reading who is also a good laugh an adrenaline junkie, skydiver and a bit of a smooth operator.

9th-11th November (Sydney)

The YHA is a big place over 9 floors, the room has two bunk beds and is big and clean enough. Despite the number of people staying here it doesn't seem as easy to meet people as I'd expected, the people in my dorm come and go at different times to me, I creep out every morning as they are still in bed. Over the next few days I do loads of walking, take loads of photos and my feet are killing me. An art gallery with some exhibits by Nelson Mandella, an observatory, the opera house, harbour bridge, botanic gardens, a ferry to Manly and back to get good views of the harbour, Sydney tower observation deck, 'sculptures by the sea' along the beautiful Bronte to Bondi beach coastal walk on a blisteringly hot day, and a ten dollar haircut (not skinhead this time!).

I even went to the opera house playhouse to see a play called 'The Hospital'for 35 dollars; now I don't consider myself to be an expert critic of the arts but this was the biggest load of old tosh I have ever seen! With a made up language and ridiculous dances, I clapped politely at the end and left in shock. While sorting out my rucksack on my last night to leave in the morning, I found an unopened bottle of red at the back of the locker, forgotten by a previous occupier, with no glasses and no friends, I sat in the tv room and drank like a wino straight from the bottle. I enjoyed the sights of Sydney but was alone the whole time, which was hard after my good time in Melbourne and Merrigum, thankully this was about to change.
2nd-8th November (Down on the farm)

I had an excellent time in Melbourne, Karen and Christophe were very hospitable and it was so nice to be with friends, it was like a relaxing break from travelling, so thank you Karen and Christophe for making my first impressions of Oz so good. My next stop was at a dairy farm about 2 hours north of Melbourne at a place called Merrigum (near Shepperton), I had met the farm owners, Glenn and Linley when i was in India and they had been nice enough to invite me over. So for the next few days i was treated to more friendly hospitality and fun on the farm.

Whilst I was at the farm, some of Glenn and Linleys family members came and went, their daughter Shelley, her partner Lance, sons Darcy (3) and Finley (18 months) were around for a while, and another grandson Nathan showed up for a while. Everyone was very friendly and it felt like I was getting a real slice of Aussie family life. Glenn reminds me a bit of my old grandad, he is a bit of a grumpy old man who complains about all the noise the kids make, he has a strong accent so that sometimes I have no idea what he is saying but I just know it is funny. He refers to everyone as pricks!

My typical day at the farm started at 05.30 when i would get up to milk the cows (Glenn had already herded them over to the milking shed by this time), wearing my overalls, boots and essential peaked cap i would put the suckers on and off of the cows as they lined up in the shed. By about 07.00 the artificial insemination people would turn up and stick a hand up a couple of cows arses (they are a NZ couple on a working holiday and gave me a contact address in NZ within 5 minutes of meeting me). We would wash down all the cow shit off the yard (I am highly trained in this area), feed the youngest calves some milk and watch as they greedily suck at the rubber teets, feed some grain to the older calves, then head to the house for breakfast. During the day there may be some odd jobs for me to do; i learnt how to drive the tractor and shifted a load of hay bails which really made my hayfever flare up but was great fun. Shelley took plenty of photos and video footage of me at work. Paul and John, my country bumpkin cousins would be impressed to see the townie at work, covered in shit and sneezing like mad! Around midday Glenn and I would have a couple of stubbies with lunch while sitting in the shade of the back garden. Afternoon milking was around 15.00 and I would use one of the motorbikes to herd the cows towards the shed. More beers and food for the rest of the day - bliss.

One day we went to Echuca, the oldest inland port in Oz, where Glenn, Linley, Shelley, the kids and I went on a paddle steamer, had a picnic (with beer) and some ice creams.

One day, i skipped the morning milking but went with Lance to chop firewood. Lance taught me where to make the cuts and wearing leather chaps I chopped a tree down with a chainsaw and managed to make it land roughly where i was aiming.

If Linley's scales are correct I have lost three quarters of a stone since I started traveling, I'm pretty sure I'll be putting weight back on in Oz though.

There is quite a lot of time to think on the farm, this is the kind of thing I think about: Isn't it strange that over thousands of years the cow has evolved with udders and milk to feed it's young and that over several decades man has evolved a massive industry with hi-tech machinery in order that we instead of the calves benefit from this evolution? Also, with artificial insemination and selective breeding, we make sure that future cow generations will be fatter, have bigger udders and produce more milk. Some cows have teets at eye level when I am in the pit, some hang lower, some are down below my chest level and very close to the cows hoofs. Rather than stooping down to see what I am doing, I have to feel for the teet with my index finger at the rim of the sucker. Some teets are so thick it is a struggle to get them in the sucker, some so small that the suckers don't want to stay on. Sometimes the cow fidgits and tries to kick but their movement is quite restricted and it is quite easy to move your hands out of the way - the bigger danger is the shit and piss, the peaked cap is indispensible! Oh, and I did bang my head so hard that I had pain in my neck for 2 days. Yep, there is a lot of time to think!

As Glenn says, being a dairy farmer doesn't take a genius, but he does have a lot to think about; to buy or sell cows, field rotation and irrigation, breeding, disease etc. Australia, is facing another year of drought, there are very many vast areas of brown dry fields and farmers going out of business or killing themselves, Glenn is lucky he still has a reasonable supply of water for irrigation and I think he has a pretty good life. There is a fair amount of time available to 'sit back and lick your ears' as Glenn would say.

After giving some serious consideration to hitching to Sydney, I booked a 4000km pass for the greyhound bus costing 620 Aussie dollars (about 2.5 dollars to the pound) and booked three nights in Sydney's central youth hostel association(YHA) for 105 dollars. The first few hours of the journey were flat and mostly brown fields but gradually became more hilly. About an hour from Sydney I saw the first housing estate with two storey houses.