"HALFWAY ROUND THE WORLD IN 30 DAYS..."
Sydney was abruptly a very different
world. We were both suddenly very
conscious that we had put Asia behind us and had returned to Western-style
society. It was a large modern city
with all that such a city had to offer.
We could stay at the Loud Shop just off Crown Street, which was an
interesting part of town. It seemed to
be the area that the artists and young activists lived in. As soon as the Loud shop opened at ten in
the morning, we were there on the doorstep carrying our heavy backpacks. Tiffy, an old girlfriend of Simon's who
managed the shop, wasn't there. But we
met Rose who showed us where we could sleep amongst stacks of clothes in the
flat above the distinctly funky shop.
Of course it was the first time that we seen a Loud shop and the clothes
that we'd worked on for so long actually out for sale to the public. There was always great secrecy about the
clothes in Bali and we were never allowed to wear them there in case they were
copied. But out in the shop which had
minimal lighting, a floor strewn with confetti and god knows what else, they
looked a bit sad and tacky. Or perhaps
we'd just seen them too much. Probably
we'd seen too many clothes, which looked a lot too similar, or perhaps Loud
saved their best clothes for their English outlets. But Rose, an attractive Italian, was a lot of fun and soon had
us settled and fed. Then she arranged
an itinerary for us that first day.
We met up with our Swedish friend Maria
from Bali and she showed us some of the sights. Inevitably we checked out the famous Opera House which was
actually as original and interesting as it always seemed in the photos that
we'd seen. People were very friendly
and Sydney seemed to be a very international city. Rose took us out to a pub to hear her boyfriend's rock band,
"Inside Out", play that night and we were exhausted by the time we
got to sleep back at the Loud shop.
There was a lot to see and do in Sydney. We rode the Monorail, which made a short loop around the city
and took a boat ride around the Harbour.
And our new pal, Rose, took us to hear another good new group, a folksy
duo called "Club Ho". But
our stay in Sydney was to be very short and after only a few days we caught a
bus up to Brisbane. This was a
fifteen-hour trip along the coast, which gave us a chance to get a good look at
urban and rural Australia.
My first impression was that the
country resembled America -but a rural America circa 1970. It felt like a drive through Ohio,
Illinois and Kansas and that we were passing through a landscape from a bygone
era. Perhaps we had wandered down one
of those elusive blue highways. We
were met late that night by our friends Geoff and Liz whom we'd spent time with
in Kovalum, India on our previous trip.
They whisked us off to their house in Ashgrove, a suburb of Brisbane
where we had arranged to stay for a few days.
They were an easy-going couple who had just bought land in the country
and dreamed of leaving the city for good.
We did some sightseeing with them and even drove up the Gold Coast to
Mooloolaba and Caloundra, two small resort towns. Our friend Phillip came from Mooloolaba where his family had run
a caravan park for years and where I had often in the past written him
letters. It was strange to finally be
there only to find Phillip long gone.
On our third day in Brisbane, we looked at the great public Art Gallery
and got caught in a rain shower, which broke a three-month drought.
And then it was time to move on
again. We took an early morning bus
back down the coast to Byron Bay, a notorious hippie community on the
furthermost Eastern tip of the whole continent. We stayed in a Backpacker's Hostel and borrowed bikes to cycle
out to the lighthouse on the cape where we watched dolphins playing down below
us in the water. Byron Bay could have
existed in California, with its health restaurants, its bars with live music,
its little galleries and shops and its heavy beach scene. It seemed to be mostly a long-haired crowd
in the town but I think that I was looking for something more different, some
place less Americanized and "new agey". We had had plenty of beach time in Bali all that past summer
after all. But we also got to see
another small part of this enormous Continent. By now, I think we knew that the real Australia lay far away
outside of these coastal urban areas in the hidden outback places where the
clocks ran on dreamtime. That's where
the real natives of this huge country lived and where the landscape was
exciting and alien. Some day I'll go
back there and make the visit to Australia that I ought to have made.
We got back to Sydney after a long
ride in the bus, which broke down sometime during the night. We had to watch awful videos for hours
while a replacement vehicle was rounded up and came out to rescue us. As we drove South down the coast, we
realized that the shadows of all the high-rise hotels along the famous Gold
Coast were actually throwing their shadows across the beaches and blocking off
the sun for most of the day. Japanese
investors were buying up beach property as fast as they could but were
destroying any charm that that stretch of Australia might once have had. Next time, we would just have to go
October 15th found us
flying East into Auckland, New Zealand.
It was a cool evening, I remember and I didn't really get much sense of
the capital city of the country. We moved
on early the following morning, taking a bus down through a lovely rolling
green countryside to Taupo, which lay, by a great lake in the center of the
North Island. I had family there and
had come a long way to see them.
We were met by Cousin Roland, the
aforementioned master baker in the Sunderland of my youth. His daughter Carol had immigrated to New
Zealand as a schoolteacher, years before.
Eventually she had met and married Basil and they had settled in Taupo
and raised a family. When he retired,
Roland had come out to live nearby with his wife who had died some years
before. I had vivid memories of going
to visit this branch of the family in Sunderland in the NE of England as a
young boy and watching cousin Roland bake his famous meat pies. The experience stayed with me and no doubt
lead to my being a good baker and enjoying baking a great deal. Being able to bake has been a useful
talent during my years in America. I
have always been able to find work as a baker and it's a useful skill to have
when you go to visit people.
Roland was rather elderly and a
little frail following a stroke but drove us around to Carol's house and then
showed us the Home that he lived in.
Taupo itself was a small town with a fine view of extinct volcanoes on
the far shore of the lake, the highest of which were snow peaked. We had a very nice time meeting my
long-lost relatives. We really had to
get to know each other for I hadn't seen Carol in more than thirty years. I liked Basil at once. He was a slow speaking farmer who now
operated heavy machinery and was somehow incredibly familiar to me. I had vague memories of Carol and found that
she hadn't changed all that much. She
had stopped teaching and now worked for the local newspaper as a
proofreader. They had three children,
Ian who had dropped out to live and farm with a Maori woman, John the tearaway
and Kim who had trained to be a teacher but wanted to be an artist and to
travel. We immediately felt very
comfortable with the family. It felt
as if I had in some way stepped back through time to make a connection with my
long abandoned family and English roots.
If Australia felt like America, New Zealand, with its green landscape,
its farming and its gently paced lifestyle, made me think of the England of my
On our second day in Taupo, Walter,
who was Dutch and the local radio weatherman, came by and carried us off to
climb the snow peaks that we could see across the lake. We drove to the foot of the mountain, then
climbed the steep path that wound its way through the forest on the lower
slopes and finally up across the loose rocks towards the summit. Walter was pretty entertaining. A professional mountain guide and ex-school
teacher, he was determined to teach us something on this hike. He told us the names of all the trees and
plants that we passed, which would have been alright if he hadn't started to
test us rather formally on the way down to see if we remembered all the
information. Fortunately Catherine had
a more retentive memory than I and managed to satisfy his questions.
Our climb up the mountain was really
wonderful. Above the stone path, we
found ourselves amongst bubbling hot mud pools and streams where steam burst
out of the earth at our feet. There
was a pungent smell of sulphur in the air.
New Zealand was apparently full of these areas of intense volcanic
activity. Once again I was reminded of
my childhood when I had seen such thermal activity in East Africa. I remembered boiling eggs in a thermal
pool in Uganda on a picnic with the family.
We eventually reached a cabin high on the mountain with a spectacular
view of the whole region and had a rest and a bite to eat up there. We climbed up beyond the hut but soon found
ourselves in deep snow and as we were only wearing sneakers, were forced to
turn back. It was a good
twenty-kilometer hike by the time we got back down to the car and we took
Walter for a hot tub in Taupo when we got back.
The following day was Carol's
birthday and I gave her a "Tiger Lily" batik, which she had framed
immediately. We found ourselves taking
over the cooking and kitchen work at the house which was pleasant after so much
travel and so many restaurant meals.
I gave a slide show and a little talk about art and being an artist to
Kim's little art group, "Exposure".
I remember emphasizing the fantastic freedom and excitement I
experienced as a professional artist but balanced that with the lack of
security that every artist had to learn to live with. Learning to trust that somehow, work and money would always
appear sooner or later was what made living the life of an artist
possible. I told them that it was a
wonderful life, that I couldn't imagine living any other way but that it wasn't
for the faint-hearted. When I
suggested that they could make a living in a small town like Taupo putting on
music and dance events or organizing raves, they sounded a lot less convinced.
One day, we drove over to visit with
their son Ian and his -it transpired- Maori princess wife. Ian too was pretty familiar to me and I
thought that he would have not have felt out of place in the mountains of West
Virginia. He had several young
children and they all lived in a very hand-made house on a plot of land by a
river. The house was patched together from
various different materials and the family was obviously surviving on very
little money. They all seemed to be
very happy. Ian was attempting to farm
the land, had a few animals and a lot of rocks to deal with. So I found myself "cousie bro'"
to a real Maori princess and wished the family all the luck in the world,
knowing that they would need it. Ian
was trying to do something very difficult, I realized, in making a union with a
very alien culture to his. At the
same time, he was trying to become self-sufficient on his little farm, which in
itself would be no mean feat. I
realized too, that the immigrants who had settled in New Zealand, had treated
the indigenous people, the Maoris, much better and with far greater care than
in any other colonial situation. In
Australia, for example, we had seen very little sign of the original Aboriginal
inhabitants of the continent and tales of their bad treatment and the
prejudices held against them were legion.
But in New Zealand, we saw many more Maoris, many more people of mixed
race and any prejudices seemed to be kept under wraps. The New Zealanders had kept many of the
Maori place names too and most towns and street names were of Maori origin. I suppose that, as a late colony, they had
had more time to learn from the lessons and mistakes of other colonies.
I had a friend in Christchurch on
the South Island, a New Zealander called Peter whom I had met in West Virginia
and having come so far, I felt that we had to go down and visit him. So we left before dawn one morning and
hitchhiked rather easily down to Wellington, the capital city. We had to wait a little while for the four
o'clock ferry but crossed over to the South Island by early evening. We were lucky and caught another ride down
to Christchurch just as the light was fading and we were wondering where we
were going to spend the night. The
landscape we passed through was lovely, green fields and rolling hills with
enough sheep to send even the heaviest insomniac to sleep. It was a fertile, still relatively
underdeveloped country and I hoped it would stay that way.
We got into Christchurch at
midnight, were picked up by Peter on the steps of the Cathedral in the town
center and whisked out to his house in New Brighton by the sea. He lived in a group house with his
girlfriend and her children. I had
known him on Lobelia Road, West Virginia when he had worked at the Snowshoe Ski
center and had kept in touch with him by mail for a few years. Now he was working on a graduate degree in
History and at coming to terms with a new relationship and an impending
In retrospect, we probably showed up
to visit him at a very bad time. He
was obviously distracted by his changing circumstances but did his best to give
us a good time. Peter drove us high
up a hill outside the city and we climbed up rocks to get a panoramic view of
Christchurch. The city had a great
museum and art center and put me very much in mind of a southern English
College town with its old buildings, book and antique shops, small galleries
and narrow streets. The New Zealand
accents further reinforced the South England similarities. Catherine and I got around by bus and made
long walks along the beach in New Brighton.
It felt strange to be in a rather familiar situation but remote from
anywhere, right out at the edge of the world.
For New Zealand felt -and was- very far from anywhere else. To the East, one would eventually find
South America and to the South, nothing much lay between Antarctica and
us. As if to remind of us of that
fact, the weather suddenly turned very cold and wet. We were reminded too that we would have to be North in Hawaii in
less than a week. Peter took us out
for a final day of sightseeing in Arthur's Pass to the West, where we walked
around in the woods, saw incredible waterfalls and lots of kookaburra
birds. We also visited Gricklegrass
Commune, a hippie community where he used to live. We were shown around the large farm and all the gardens and
buildings and took a wonderful sauna there.
We could have been back in West Virginia quite easily.
We left the following morning after
too brief a visit. We ought to have
left ourselves more time to visit and explore the west coast of the South Island
where the most spectacular scenery was apparently to be found. We hitched back to Picton easily and caught
the mid-afternoon ferry back to the North Island and Wellington. There we were picked up by some
construction workers returning from a job in the south and driven up to Otaki
where we arrived just as the light went.
Here we experienced the famed New Zealand hospitality that we had often
heard about. Ian, the boss of the
little company, invited us back to his home to eat and sleep. It was a great night for we had a barbecue
with all the family outside and then crashed in their spare bedroom. Ian seemed to expect nothing of us except
that we talk a little about our lives and travels. People always appeared to be eager for outside information for
there was always that sense of being cut off from the rest of the world in New
Zealand. It's about as far as you can
get from anywhere else.
Another easy hitch took us back to
Taupo the following day. Our last days
in Taupo were spent trying to deal with the cold wet weather, which had
suddenly arrived, and hanging out with the family there. Probably because we were vegetarians and
Carol didn't know what to feed us, we found ourselves doing all the cooking at
the house. I knew that we had to move
on before we both put on too much weight.