Rotten Apple

Mr and Mrs Wulf’s together with their kids are an industrious family, the afternoon I arrive at the giant Golden Gum Boot in Tully after burning off the cream filled bun of the morning; I am promptly coddled, fed and watered. It is the second day of their new cafe slash flouriest so they are already a busy bunch when I turn up at their door. I often think whilst I am waiting for my bouquet that I would love a coffee to pass the time but I’m not in need of a bouquet that particular afternoon so I settle for a coffee.

Tanu and Naomi are the in laws of my university house mate Georgia and are fantastic in taking this here stray off the road for a night. Having moved to Tully from New Zealand some thirty years ago they are well and truly Aussie’s now, or at least in part. I meet Tanu just before dinner and we crack a beer, on introduction I make sure I get a good grip for the hand shake. He gives the impression of a man who has been working with his hands all his life; my hands have my delicate little office fingers attached to them and could never compete with his farmer like grip strength but you don’t want shaking your hand to be like holding a limp banana skin.

I would have loved to impose for an other night, seen their daughters Espresso bar on Mission Beach and have a second dinner whereby despite their kind assurances that its fine I get too embarrassed at the fact that I’m still adding to my plate more rice and chicken some twenty minutes after the rest of the table has placed their cutlery together and I modestly stop at my third helping. I have to settle for just one night of fresh linen before getting back to it, after all I only actually left Cairns that morning. There is one last flurry of hospitality before I head south, I can barely close my panniers for all the fruit, a sammy (Aussie for sandwich) and a fruity shake….perhaps I have a scurvy tinge after fruit deprived Mongolia so they’ve packed me off full of vitamins.

I’m rushing down the Bruce Highway to meet a friend in Byron Bay, the likes of Mission Beach, the Whitsundays (the Australian answer to the Maldives) or Fraser Island are just signposts to me and that’s just to name a few. But I’m not in Australia for its great natural beauty or great experiences. I actually would have picked New Zealand as my third continent if it weren’t for my ex-pat friends and a few Aussie’s. Though I have heard that New Zealand is claiming to be a continent unto its self so perhaps I should tag on a few more months and cycle it anyways. I’m glued to this main road which is more a tour of cane fields, endless canes fields, rather than the coastal Australia I was expecting. Why couldn’t my friends have lived in NZ?

I’m at roughly the half way point and it must be said I could do with a bit of me time and a social. Ah well I might be missing the odd spot on the coast but isn’t spending time with good friends and meeting their newborns a great experience in its self? I suppose that would depend on the calibre of your friends, I have great ones. But I just wish this cycle wasn’t so god damn dull. Its either cane fields lining the road sides, at some two or so metres they obliterate any possibility of a view and when there is a view its just of dense bush country. It has its charm but ten days of it is a long time. I begin to loose the will to live after just a few days, gone is the excitement of Asia where every day has some new challenge or meeting.

I am starting to loose the love for this tour…..shock horror! To be fair I shouldn’t be rushing this stretch, I should be stopping for a picture or two and a daily dip. So I take the decision to hitch to the coast a touch further down, I intend to make up the miles in my week off at the end of this leg, I will day ride to and fro and make up the 300km I have hitched.

The town of 1770 is like every other sleepy beach town in Australia but can boast to be Cooks second landing spot after him first setting foot in Botany Bay a month before in April. And from Captain Cooks secondary landing spot I shall start afresh with Australia; for the remainder of this stretch to Byron I can do a more modest daily mileage, stop for a coffee here and there, get sand in between my toes and camp before dusk.

A few nights before I reach Byron I am winding my way through some stunning cycle country before a final and unexpected accent to the small village of Montville. The shadows are getting ever increasingly long as I make the climb and I start strongly thinking about campsites. Below in the lowlands there were glens a plenty but typically as soon as I start searching there is nothing. I’ve been caught out by the winter days, they are somewhat shorter than the long northern hemisphere summer evenings of a few short weeks ago; the more southerly I go the briefer they get and the colder the mornings; it was two or three degrees when I got up the other morning, but I’m in sunny Australia so I refuse to acknowledge the cold shiver silently for the first hour or so riding refusing to rug up.

I don’t trust the Australian driving in the day let alone after the sun goes down, so I decide to politely ask a few local land owners, preferably one, if I can camp on their vast acreage leaving nothing but a small squashed patch of grass in the morning. I would be seen but not heard. After numerous “polite” declinations I give up on the idea. I use inverted commas for the were cordial in their vocabulary but their demeanor suggested an alternative message. I’m told you can get a hefty fine for camping in parks or other public spaces but I will have to risk it for a biscuit.

I didn’t know what to expect when asking the public to open their lawns to me in a western country, I cant say a weary traveller has once knocked on our front door asking for water and a place for the night. I suspect it is not common practice to have such a request. But after travelling through some seriously deprived and struggling parts of the world where you are not only kindly welcomed, either to camp on peoples property but often given a bed or some precious floor space but that’s only after you have been given food from their small tables. To be fair try camping on a village green back in the UK and see how long before some bobby comes along and shakes your tent pole after reports were made that some vagabond or traveller is soiling the good village image.

The rotten apple, there is always one. Every night that I have camped in one of the deluxe public sites someone has invited me in for a tea; when fixing a puncture some fella did a u-ie and came to see if I was ok and had ever thing I needed; I get a few friendly beeps each day and the odd less friendly honk. A few people have had their pennies worth out of the car window as they have passed but there is always one absolute plonker. In general the driving is ok, if anything people are overly cautious giving be excessive space at the expense of the oncoming traffic. But a few mornings ago a revving car to my rear screeched past and a man lent out the window to shout “you fucking useless c**t!” (excuse his French) then furiously rolled up his window, manually; probably because he cant afford electric windows. What a numpty.

If I am guessing the pillock is a prime example of what they refer to down here as a bogan. A bogan is an unsavourily crass character, prone to drinking to excess, getting into fist fights at the weekends and losing money he can ill afford to the pokies; pokies are fruit machines and they are everywhere here, Australia is the biggest gambling nation in the world in terms of money lost per head. I’m sure we have all seen a few such types closer to home than we would like.

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