Australia - The East Coast
Like the USA, Australia is clearly far too big to be seen all in one go, plus the distances between anywhere and Australia and within the country are so vast that we will only try to bite off one corner this time.
We've booked the largest, most luxurious RV we can find. We're not as young as we used to be and frankly Economy class long haul travel and cheap hotels are not suited to our backs, so we'll go up front via Seoul and trundle round a chunk of Oz in this frankly huge monster.
We book 8 months ahead and get the most amazing deal out of Korean Air, half the price of everyone else and just fab, lie flat seats and all, amazing food (we even had warm cookies!), but quite where Tuesday went neither of us have worked out. Bloody good lounge showers at Seoul.
Two 10 hour flights back to back leave us disoriented but reasonably perky as we arrive in super-efficient Sydney Airport. Twenty minutes (I kid you not...) later we are outside with our luggage wrapping ourselves around a couple of nice hot coffees and looking for a taxi. Not like India!
Picking up the RV is super-efficient: they have our booking, we sign a number of forms and watch some videos we've already seen on Youtube, they throw us the keys and we drive it out of a very small parking space. I know, that's the first test to see if you can drive it!
Getting used to its size takes a little while: it’s wide and very, very long so needs a decent swing around junctions.
We shop for supplies at the last shop in Sydney and head South for our pre-booked beach camping ground at Coledale. This is a great starter site, and I even manage to reverse The Beast in first time. No one more surprised than me.....
That and unpacking leave us sufficiently exhausted for an afternoon nap, supper and an evening walk by the rocks before a well-deserved bed.
And of course we are awake at 3:30am....
Stirring until 5:50am when the sun comes up and we can reasonably have coffee.
Our neighbours at the camp site are so chatty we can’t really get going until 11:00am but thence to Aldi (taking up 4 spaces in the car park but no one seems to mind) and Woolworths for supplies then on to Kiama to see our friends Joycie and Peter via a gearbox malfunction and the local FIAT garage.... who managed to sort it (just as well I brought a toolbox or we’d still be there!).
They feed us all afternoon before we head for Gerroa, the only site (it turns out) we will ever see full. It trades on the fact that it is right on Seven Mile Beach.
What is fantastic about Seven Mile Beach is not the obvious fact of its length but the fact that beyond the very Northern end it is completely deserted. We walk a good chunk of it before turning in via the barbecue. Can't seem to stay awake much beyond sunset....
Next steps: we can’t go South because the A1 (the main East Coast road) is closed North of Bateman’s Bay due to the bush fires, so we will instead head for Canberra via Badgerees lookout, then we’ll be in Canberra for the weekend while we review where we go next week with the bush fires and so on.
Then we'll gently head for Melbourne and the Great Coast Road, but we’ll see how the fancy takes us....
So we head inland, as there are too many festivals and fires along the coast. Berry finds up face to face with our first too-low bridge. They did warn us about these.
A 7 mile detour and we pass through, over the A1 and up in to the hills to Kangaroo Valley (none seen), Fitzroy Falls (a dribble today, but pretty), and real Australia via Bundanoon to Badgerees Lookout, a campsite absolutely out in the sticks. with a stunning view over the river. Amazing sunset, nice to be away from civilisation with all mod cons......
All I will say about inland Australia is “pies and flies”!
Up at stupid o’clock before sunrise for a walk up the track behind us to look for kangaroos. Our camp mate Mac (right, mate....) tells us to carry a big stick in case the male attacks. I assume that’s the male kangaroo....
200 yards up the track in the fields are a whole family grazing peacefully, Does with joeys and watched over by a huge male.
And some kangaroos...
I’m sure will get blasé about them eventually but they seem pretty exotic right now.
Eventually we retreat for breakfast, shower and a good crap, and get going for Canberra, where we have a camp site booked.
Two thirds of the way Nessa checks and yes, Government House does not open at the weekends so that’s us buggered.
Governments are the same all over the world: lazy.
Instead we will go and see the space satellite tracking antenna at Tidbinbilla where the Apollo missions were talked to when Houston was the other side of the earth, takes me back to James Burke and flickery b/w images of Neil Armstrong muttering “Good luck, Mr Gorsky” (Google it: it’s very rude).
Of course like anything space-related they don’t let you within a mile of the hardware, but the dish still works and today they were talking to Voyager and some dodgy US spy satellite, apparently.
Then on to the Tidbinbilla nature reserve where we completely failed to spot any wildlife whatsoever, despite a sticky 2Km hike. God knows where the little bastards were, but next time I’m coming back with a loudhailer and a rifle.
They had corralled some koalas in to a tree where we could photograph them, at least. Very cute (until they bite you, allegedly).
And off to Yass via some wiggly and unsurfaced roads (the camper understeers on the slidey bits) where the campsite is the show ground and they were having a party so we grabbed a burger and exited to the riverside free campsite which is deserted because everyone has cancelled their camping trips because of the bushfires. Ha!
Knackering day: tomorrow we might have a rest and stay here. No meat pies yet, but we do have Timtam biscuits which are really nice.
Yass is an extraordinary example of an Australian town frozen in time: like looking back at the 1970s. Slightly surprised to see no groovy flares and bri-nylon flowery shirts. Proper butchers selling meat pies just like Mum used to buy in 1972, quiet roads without wall to wall parked cars, a real sense of community and absolutely not a single scrap of rubbish anywhere.
The roads were built in the 1920s and look like they assumed each house would require 20 car park spaces. So they built them all so wide the trees ended up surrounded by tarmac...
After a lazy morning we head for Canberra and park up at the equivalent of the NEC ready for our onslaught on the city tomorrow. Laundry and stir-fry dinner later, bed! Nice to have a day off.
Canberra: a civilised city.
Not too busy, carefully planned and it’s so nice to see roads being used the way they were intended to be used, not successively bodged over the years to accommodate hugely increased traffic volumes, as in the UK.
Clearly Australian highway design has been heavily influenced by the UK but they have gone their own way in terms of allowing entry and exit to the highway to/from the right hand lane of the highway. This is explicitly and expensively disallowed in UK highway design as “dangerous” but here it is used and works perfectly well.
Overtaking on both sides is thus encouraged as per the US, and the roads run more freely as a result with none of this hogging the fast lane we have.
Canberra public transport is all buses except for the recently-completed light rail project in from Epic where we are staying (think NEC), but only reaches the centre of town not (yet) Parliament House where it needs to go so taxis take up the slack (it’s too hot to walk 4K).
Parliament House is cool and well organised, and old Parliament House fascinating as they have left the PM’s office exactly as it was when they left in 1988; overflowing ashtrays and all!
Shades of the US Embassy in Saigon after the Americans abandoned it.
Thence to the War Memorial, where the exhibits are exhaustive but a little muddled (the Allied bombing of Germany is handled twice in two completely separate sections, and the Spitfire is in a different building from all the other aircraft; also the aircraft hangar includes for some bizarre reason a miniature submarine!).
And whilst the Huey helicopter diorama is truly remarkable the bookshop does not contain Neil Sheehan’s seminal Vietnam critique “A bright shining lie”... too critical, evidently.
Post-Vietnam conflicts are heavily slanted towards the peacekeeping aspect and the Post-Traumatic suffering of the troops serving in Afghanistan. Uneven, but worth seeing.
The wall of honour (with fallen poppy) is especially moving.
A really bloody good steak birthday lunch and home, to plan campsites for the next few days avoiding the wildfires, which have spread..... like wildfire.
Obviously Canberra is not real Australia: that is to be found further West.
We’ve been travelling in the RV for week now and so we’ve shaken down, worked out what is wrong with the bloody loo cassette (someone has damaged the spring-loaded cassette blanking plate by forcing it) and that we only need powered sites to charge my laptop (only needed for dumping camera images), my razor and the toothbrushes.
This means that with the assistance of the truly excellent Wikicamps app and enough dead cheap Optus data-only Aussie SIMs to drive the phones and iPads we need not trouble the paid for camp sites. This is a cheap holiday!
You can’t go West from Canberra, or at least not on roads that will support an RV, so we head North for Yass (again), stop for gas and diesel plus a Woolies food shop then out via the loo dump point (again) and the Police breathalyser random stop (lots of red-faced farmers in pick-ups looking embarrassed) to the freeway.
An hour later we’ve topped the Dividing range and the fields are looking less parched, the roads straighter and the fences going on for miles.
They must have straight fence competitions like ploughing matches because they really are laser-straight.
Near Albury we pull off and head for Lake Hume, which is low but still there. The free campsite is sparsely populated with a total mixture of cars, RVs and serious-looking bigger rigs than ours. Twin axles and 5th wheel couplings are the norm, my dreams of RV'ing around the US seem one step closer....
The whole removable loo cassette and dump point infrastructure is brilliant: our generously-proportioned bathroom allows poo’s any time (we haven’t risked a moving one yet, but it can’t be far off...), then we stop by a free dump point, often far removed from any camp site, remove the sealed cassette and flush out.
Somehow, the previous users managed to get quite a large stick stuck inside the cassette, you have to ask how they managed it or what they were trying to do? Anyway, it’s now been removed and the cassette becomes squeaky-clean whenever flushed.
Nothing worse than a smelly loo....
Many towns like Yass are marked as “RV-friendly” but actually we’ve found everywhere RV-friendly. There is a very well maintained and standardised camping infrastructure: free-to-use electric public barbecues and dump points with water supplies here would be vandalised immediately back home. I despair....
The naked earth is getting redder as we go West, I know Australia has the largest iron ore deposits in the world (Guinea has the second largest but it’s inaccessible and as I well know, bribery *will* be required).
This truly is Luxury living in the outback - we can have generous hot showers night and morning and have a big double bed with 2 double duvets so sleep like logs.
We have met the Synthesiser bird (sounding very much like early Human League experiments) and the trimphone bird, now they are joined by the daft punk bird. Others will, I’m sure, appear.
We’ve mastered the Aussie salute trying to wave the flies away and yes, we’ve had Kangaroo sausages (nothing to write home about there....).
Since childhood I’ve not really needed a music system: I have a very large music library in my head that always serves up appropriate music for the occasion. Ever since I arrived here it has been playing Kate Bush’s The Big Sky Meteorological mix (with the didgeridoo at the beginning) but today it serves up The Dreaming, Keep it open and get out of my house also by Kate Bush. Dark stuff.
In the Parliament House in Canberra it wouldn’t stop playing Diesel and Dust’s “Beds are burning” around the formal Apology to the Aborigines for not only stealing their country and killing very nearly all of them but then trying to write them out of history.
was an astute political move, but I’m not sure it really means much in the grand scheme of things: this remains a white country built by and run for whites, with politically-correct seasonings of Vietnamese and, for some reason it seems, Sikh Indians....
Last night we were awoken by the smell of wood smoke (the internal server plays "Indian Sunset" from Elton John's "Madman Across the Water") - the nearest out-of-control wildfire is less than 20 miles away and the wind changed in the night. Time to go West.
When we come back this way in 3 weeks’ time the fires should have burned themselves out. (fat chance, it turns out...)
We head further South West via increasingly straighter and more trafficked motorways, see our first cops pulling someone over (presumably for speeding, but it was a Nissan Micra so perhaps it was for driving too slowly...) and have a breather at a rest stop.
It’s cooler here (21deg as opposed to yesterday’s 38deg) and I can’t work out whether that is because we are further South West, lower, or if it’s just that the wind has changed.
After lunch we exit at Seymour, within striking distance of Melbourne. The dump point is in the middle of town, Aldi is in the next street (past the Huey-on-a-pole Vietnam memorial) and the campground is just across the bridge: sparsely populated but by a river in trees so the crickets are noisy to the point of saturation.
A bottle of Shiraz with lunch puts any thoughts of further exploration beyond hope, we plan Melbourne for tomorrow and retire for the rest of the day.
After a night disturbed by a caravan-load of persistent river mosquitos and flies (we did a serious clear out before we went to bed leaving a mass of squashed black fly and red-with-our-blood mosquito bodies in the sink but the survivors fought a war of attrition all night...) we depart for shopping in Seymour, where the extent of over-consumption of carbohydrates combined with a sedentary lifestyle among the young is evident; as in the UK dire warnings of a future diabetes time bomb could be realised.
Then we’re on the road: back past the Huey-on-a-pole, one more visit to the poo dump and under the motorway.
We’re going cross-country from here.
For some bizarre reason the glassware drawer has no internal compartments and the first bend leaving the Sydney office sounded like one of those Stockhausen concerts where they play all the instruments at once. Copious quantities of kitchen paper to cushion the contents has helped but we are accompanied on rough roads by the BBC Northern Symphonia playing “Cutlery and glassware” at full volume...... Come back Norrie Paramour, I say.
And poor David Bellamy is dead...... so sad, but he was 86.
All I will say is “dung beetles!”
The countryside of rural Victoria resembles small town Illinois but without the God. Small agricultural communities based around cattle and sheep farming, with a cultural nod towards Melbourne here, not Sydney.
Great community spirit, thrift stores, generous community-mown verges, lots of pick-ups (“Utes”, apparently) and all day we see just the one RV.
The further West we press the greener the fields, and the more prosperous looking the area becomes until it resembles Northern California.
We’re skirting Melbourne, aiming for the West End of the Great Ocean Road, but this is Melbourne commuter country and the train station car parks are packed. Hobby farms and Melbourne wealth.
We’ve found a Scout camping ground run by an ex-agricultural pilot (several hours of swapping stories later I fix his WiFi and earn a bottle of bloody nice Shiraz) which is simply swarming with wildlife so we’re staying a couple of nights. Our neighbour's camper is festooned with Christmas lights.....
Rather than braving central Melbourne in a huge RV we decide to let the train take the strain. Today is only around 20deg so may be a good time to visit; neither of us fancy walking round in 38deg.....
The RV won’t fit in the station car park at Riddell Creek but they have an unsurfaced free overflow car park, the entrance of which scrapes the hell out of the bottom of the RV. Screams from the passenger seat, but actually no visible damage on inspection. Phew!
Having navigated the borrowed Myki smart cards the train whips us into Melbourne for £4 each.
The loos have sharps disposals bins which is, I suspect, a statement of the level of intravenous drug usage among Melbournians, although imagining trying to inject anything on a rolling train invites visions of pincushions and blood trails up the wall.....
The two best suggestions on this trip, both from Alice and Kieran, have been local 4G SIMs and a Caxton stored-currency card. Both are cheap and work flawlessly, the Caxton is a contactless MasterCard we use for everything, although the ease of spending money without the discipline of receipts may account for the ease with which younger people get in to debt and fail to control their spending.
4G works fast and everywhere and it turns out that despite constant usage and vast amounts of photo shuffling we’ve only used 6GB of our 60GB in 10 days.
Melbourne is, like London, a mix of good and bad, busy and quiet, old and new.
We’re not great city people, but the free walking tour gives us a good introduction to the city of hot and cold.
Trapped between the hot deserts to the North and Antarctica to the South the weather veers wildly between 19-20deg and 40deg, often within one day, according to our guide.
The internal music server immediately serves up “Four seasons in one day” by Crowded House.
Impressions are that there are a hell of a lot of Asians, both of the SinoJap variety and of the brown IndoPak variety; girls seem to want to wear floaty dresses, huge quantities of tattoos, weirdly-dyed hair (green, anyone?), Dr Maartens boots like 1970s London, and have a “fuck you” attitude to walking down the street.
I foresee that in 30 years' time fashion will come round to “what the hell were we doing getting tattoos?” and laser removal clinics like my friend Neil’s will be even more of a licence to print money than they are now.
There are also a few aged white stockmen with bandy legs and compression bandages looking like lost sheep amongst the Asians, come to buy the wife a Christmas present.
She wants something made in Australia, so no chance there, mate....
To try to resolve the drug issue they’ve spruced up the alleys (laneways) in the last 20 years, filling them with approved graffiti and hipster cafés.
But this means they have banned delivery vehicles from them except in the middle of the night, so don’t think about living there, you won’t get any sleep!
Never have I seen so many man buns, hipster beards and poncey coffee bars. Jesus, it’s just coffee and milk you know?
Melbourne seems to have had a deliberate immigration policy of displacing the older, white, ex-British community with a younger, more Asian community.
The excellent and well-maintained infrastructure is still, however, very visibly managed by those older, white men, and the worry would be that once this generation has passed the baton to a more ethnically diverse generation the policy of maintenance and investment could slip.
See South Africa for where this could easily lead.
Ditto for the political leadership.
Melbourne has a thing about trams. Its anthem could be that bloody “ting” they all make. They have the old rattle’n’hum 1920s variety as well as the newer, Euro-variety.
I’m not a huge fan of trams which manage to combine all the worst things about both trains and buses, and I don’t see the fascination. Yet here they seem to have achieved some kind of critical mass and it actually does work.
They are free within the CBD, frequent and well-used, and use the same integrated Myki smart cards that the trains use.
Good transport integration: Oxford could learn a thing or two here.
So we head for home via the surprisingly confusing train scheduling system that apparently includes a station called “Sunshine” and reversing trains... when Riddell Creek finally appears *and* the train stops we breathe a sigh of relief.
The RV comes out of the car park with nary a scrape and dinner is served watching the kangaroos.
In the morning we depart for our loop to the West of Melbourne to line up for the Great Ocean Road. We’ve been warned this is wall-to-wall Chinese.
We spend the morning shopping in Sunbury then head West, in to even greener countryside. We can finally smell mown grass and the landscape resembles rural Berkshire in a particularly hot summer.
Lunch in Daylesford then shopping in Ballarat, a genuine old Aussie shopping town with a Myers department store, free 45deg parking on all the roads (like we had back in the 1960s before the councils got greedy) and real, honest to goodness independent shops.
Ice cream beckons......
Then we head South and the road abruptly straightens and just goes 20 miles without a bend. Nowhere for the cops to hide, but I’m not going to really open the taps, the BBC Northern Symphonia in the back will get very loud...
But a 5 Series BMW could really appreciate this.
Towards the end we actually do see another car, and unbelievably he flashes us: the universal worldwide unwritten driver signal for “speed trap ahead”.
Sure enough a couple of miles ahead we see blue flashing lights.
Now I know we’ve not been speeding but we stop anyway and the policeman, who is chatting to another motorist, just looks surprised and waves us on with a “no, you’re good mate: no worries”. Gotta love them.
A few more straight miles and abruptly within 300m we’re in a town. It’s like a Hollywood Western town where are all the buildings are just fronts.
We’ve been worried this free campsite in Winchelsea might be booked up but no, like everywhere else it’s us and two other RVs! And several hundred cockatoos, some bloody huge ants with a serious bite and trains with a mournful horn.....
Winchelsea’s huge river bottom cockatoo population noisily salutes the dawn like our cockerels used to before Mr. Fox visited.
But it’s a joyous noise and we were awake anyway.
Surprisingly, no trains ran through in the night so we slept like the dead. The campsite is virtually empty (where *is* everyone?) aside from some Chinese who extricate their RV from the parking slot via the most convoluted 8-point turn.
I’d have just driven out forward, which was clearly an option, but apparently that never occurred to them.
Following Breakfast and a walk up to Winchelsea’s Main Street (don’t bother) we run through our Pre-departure check list:
Alt Air CLOSED
...hang on, wrong checklist....
BEEEEEEP! We left the steps out
BAAAARRRRPPP! We left the slide outs slid out
BONGGGG! we haven’t done our seat belts up
Bloody smart ass Italian technology......
Eventually we leave Winchelsea past yet another random Police breath test. This time (I kid you not) they are breathalysing a woman riding a horse.
The A1 we’re on is a very nice dual-carriageway, freshly done, until we get 30 miles down the road to Colac where all the improvements suddenly stop like they ran out of money (not unlike the main highway North out of Manila, where the really nice concrete literally just stops, putting you on a gravel track) and we’re back to 1960s two lane blacktop.
We need to fill up the van and whilst paying for it and wandering around the shop we spot a spray can of what must be WD-40 or similar labelled “start ya bastard”. Only in Oz, I guess.....
The weather gets worse and we even get some rain as we trek South and West in to what I can only possibly describe as "Devon": rolling hills, green pastures, the smell of mown grass and cow shit.
Those first English settlers must have thought “ooh ar, just like home but a lot bigger” and told their relatives to come over. Fortunately they didn’t bring their bloody little high-banked lanes with them...
Finally the low hills settle down to flatter ground and we round a corner to find ourselves nose to nose with a round engine. This is an old Grumman Ag-Cat biplane they are using for sightseeing trips (but not for me at £180 for 30 minutes. Bloody Hell: I could hire a plane in Melbourne and fly myself down for that. Daylight bloody robbery...).
Next door is the sea, and we roll in to the grandly-named but rather run-down Great Ocean Tourist Park. Those cabins haven’t been touched since the 1960s!
Still, our pitch is clean and level and we just want power and water tonight. The laundry is 1970s American but the machines are efficient and apparently everything I’m wearing needs washing too so I’m back to the van in my underpants. SO embarrassing!
The 1970s retro-themed restaurant (well, actual 1970s is closer) outside offering “Meals 7 days” turns out to be a dingy Formica bar. We’ll have excellent Aldi pizza in the van instead, I think.
Apparently the weather has been 1970s British summers bad but is cheering up tomorrow and will be 38deg by Wednesday. Two weeks ago I’d not have believed it, but now I do: the day-to-day temperature changes here are just huge.
The following morning we are up and about early ready to leave this 1970s time warp of a town. We seem to wake up and need to go to bed early here, it must be some quirk of the jet lag.
The roads are still quiet (where are all the promised Chinese?) and we head East for the first time to visit the various rock formations.
Each car park has carefully segregated “long vehicle” sections perfect for RVs and caravans, they’ve really thought about this.
And each car park, as we approach the 12 Apostles, has more and more coaches full of Chinese.
They are dressed for visiting the surface of the sun, with hats and high necked coats, dark sunglasses and chalk-white sun tan lotion. Yes, we’ve got lotion on but this is ridiculous.
They all have mobile phone cameras, they all want selfies and they’re a pain the arse.
Malnutrition affects the eggs in a growing woman’s body, so your bone formation will be irrevocably affected by what nutrition your Mother had when she was growing up. No amount of good food you have when you are young will affect this. My mother lived on a farm so had eggs and milk despite the Germans trying quite hard to kill her, so I have good bones.
These Chinese do not: they have bandy legs from their Mothers malnutrition through the Mao years. You see, I did listen in history class.
Fortunately they are all in coaches from Melbourne on day trips so once we are East of the 12 Apostles (there are actually only 9) and past the fast road North back to Melbourne the road becomes quiet once more.
However the road, previously straight and flat, suddenly becomes steep and windy. Up and down and around we go, the BBC Northern Symphonia in the back working overtime as we swing this way and that.
Every few hundred yards are “turnouts” or long lay-bys you can pull in to in your slower vehicle-with-Northern-Symphonia and let people in Audi’s pass, without actually having to stop. The signs implore you to “Think about the vehicles behind” and so of course we do, as any good driver would.
This would NOT work in Britain: British RV and caravan drivers are a mean-spirited bunch and they would, to a man, take great pleasure in not pulling in to let others pass.
“I’m doing a sensible speed down these roads in my grey Peugeot, I don’t see why these people should go any faster....”.
The scenery rapidly becomes breathtaking, the downhill sections a matter of man-mastering-gearbox to give the brakes a break and finally we roll in to Johanna Beach campsite.
Once parked (in the wrong slot, allegedly) we visit the unbelievably empty beach (bugger me, the waters cold) and view the non swimming-friendly waves.
Good for surfers, apparently, but no one is here today except some people who have *walked* from Glenair 10 miles down the coast. This is clearly impossible as it is all cliffs between here and there, these people must be the cast of the new “Lost” series, Antarctic drug smugglers or aliens. Intriguing.....
My sister came this way 20 years ago when communications were a little more primitive. She spent a lot of time in dingy Internet cafés using “modems” (remember the noises? I installed and tested so many I could tell by the noises what speed connection you had...) to connect to “the Internet”, typing diary entries on insanitary keyboards using bizarre country settings by the light of those horrible buzzing fluorescent lights.
Nowadays of course it’s all a lot easier: iPads to type on, omnipresent 4G, typing by the RV with a beer. Jo: I salute you.
We return to the beach full of Oz lager and Nessa’s most excellent rice bolognaise to photograph the sunset and notice two people surfing. One comes in leaving the other out alone. How safe is that?
However, he gets in safely as the light fades and we trundle off for a shower and well-deserved bed. However, for the first time since leaving central Sydney the 4G is insufficiently strong to upload the pics (although it does get e-mail with a lot of round and round of the little spinner). So we’ll have to delay sending until we reach civilisation the following day, at Lorne where we even have FM radio for the 1st time since Yass.
They don’t go big on FM radio transmitters like America does, with 2000ft high masts (I know they are 2000ft tall because I nearly flew in to one in Florida last year), so the reach is poor and once a few miles out of town the entire FM band is just static, the AM band empty too except for those high-speed Morse transmissions you wondered about when you were young. I did a bit of research and it turns out they are agricultural computerised data logging systems in remote locations such as boreholes reporting on weather and water depth back to a central location. Every day's a school day...
However, 4G is good everywhere so it’s easier to stream the local radio station via Tune in Radio on the iPad then Bluetooth to the main cabin stereo, which seems a convoluted way of being told the local agricultural dealership is having a sale.
The Great Ocean Road is very pretty but best, by far, done West to East rather how most people do it, East to West.
I reckon there was 50 times as much traffic going in the opposite direction to us: mainly coach loads of Chinese.
What is it with the Chinese and the Great Ocean Road? It’s not difficult to drive it, even in a 44 ton RV like ours. It’s a bit wiggly but it was widened in 1973 and for difficulty doesn’t rate anything like as bad as the Amalfi Coast road. Now that’s narrow.....
Half way down we break at Lorne, very much like Polzeath but nicer: fewer people, no parking restrictions, less run-down.
About half the town is camping sites but despite all the different names they’re actually all run from one office. And there’s 4G again, and even free WiFi (slower than the 4G). Civilisation!
After an afternoon walk around we settle down for an “over the yardarm” G&T and I think my pouring hand must have slipped because the rest of the evening is a pleasant blur. I know we went out to a very nice restaurant and had a very nice bottle of wine but I also know I went for a wee in the Ladies loo and we had to prop each other up giggling on the way back to the caravan.....
We wake up in the morning feeling a bit rough but a long 7:00am run up the beach helps massively. The light at that time of the morning is just amazing, and it’s really quiet.
Shower, breakfast and we’re off via the dump point. Damn we’re good with the poo, now we’ve mastered getting no splashback.....
I’ve noticed that virtually all Australian houses have tin roofs. It must be massively noisy when it rains. They just love their corrugated iron.
Also their rain, when it does come, must be torrential because the storm drain infrastructure is massive.
Everyone we meet with an RV seems to be German. I know this is not a scientific survey but we haven’t yet met any other English people, except those that migrated across in the 60s and 70s as £25 Poms...
We could go North, then East via Melbourne but there’s a ferry across the mouth of Port Philip and we’ve got a date with it.
"Loads of time to spare" we think, but have not calculated visiting a chocolate factory (yum!) and getting stuck behind a Chinese family in a Hyundai.
We are driving an RV which is meant to be the slowest thing on the road, but these guys are driving 15kph below every speed limit and we just haven’t got the power to pass them safely.
They have a huge tail of cars behind them and our GPS ETA is getting dangerously close to not-catching-the-ferry time but at long last we get to turn right and they go straight on, the roads empty, Nessa puts the pedal to the metal, the Northern Symphonia gets loud and the ETA starts to come good once more.
We make the ferry with 2 minutes to spare, and as we step out of the van I can smell hot brake linings....
This roll-on roll-off ferry has an interesting way of docking: no ropes are involved. They’ve got enormous rubber blocks on the quayside and they just ram the ferry head on into them, then leave the engines running full chat forcing the ferry in to the blocks as they unload and then reload before slamming them in to reverse and pulling away. Thus a 120 vehicle ferry can be run by 3 people...
None of this Dover-to-Calais “the vehicle deck must not be accessed during the crossing” nonsense, you can either be with your vehicle or upstairs where the loos, restaurant, gift shop, massage parlour, blackjack casino, hypermarket and full size football pitch are.
The run across the bay is smooth and half way across the captain tells us that if we look to our left we’ve got dolphins. A couple of pairs are riding the bow wave and the water is so clear it’s like they’re on top of the water. They stay with us for the remainder of the crossing until we slow for Sorrento harbour and they drift off, bored. Not something you see every day.
Departing the ferry it’s a cool 26deg but 10 minutes later as we climb up the hills behind the port it is 38deg; the temperature differences here are crazy.
It’s wine country all the way to the Leo foreshore campsite and looks profitable.
We’ve found another type of bird to add to our list: the breakbeat bird, a call like a trance bass line.
After an afternoon spent on the beach, a lovely home-cooked supper and a hot shower in the squeaky clean shower block we sleep like logs.
Up early, we depart for Phillips Island and head for the koala sanctuary which is terribly sweet but the koalas are hard to see and almost always asleep, so we head for our camopsite at Cowes.
Phillips Island is weird: it is very much like The Isle of Wight (hence "Cowes", "Ventnor" and for some reason "Rhyll") because looking North is like looking up The Solent towards Southampton. It's very pretty and slightly alternative, and the bloody sandflies are a pain in the arse....
We head for the Penguins Parade at sunset, a wonderful nature show featuring very small or “little” penguins coming in from their daily fish, up to 30Km offshore to their burrows amongst the rocks and tussocks behind the beach.
European settlers brought dogs that virtually wiped these penguins nesting sites out until it was designated a natural park, fences raised and the penguins protected. Now it’s a huge tourist attraction, and purpose-built viewing areas and a really swanky visitors centre funds rangers who are slowly rebuilding the colony (until Chinese super-trawlers start stripping the Bass Strait of every form of aquatic life form from 5mm outside the 12 mile limit, that is...).
The penguins return from the ocean across the beach and past the viewing stands, including a glass-sided semi-buried VIP section allowing your eye-line to be at the same height as the penguins.
The issue is that the penguins get blinded by flash photography and as 99% of people don’t know how to turn the flash on their phones or cameras off they have had to blanket ban photography, which given the numbers of Chinese with mobile phones there just busting for a selfie-with-penguin is no mean feat.
A bloody shame for those of us that can handle a camera, though.
Having selected a section of wall/window to look through two damned little Chinese kids push in front. I’m not a miserable person, I can look over their heads. But they then start chatting over the commentary so we can’t hear, and the fact that they are there apparently gives the mother carte Blanche to push in front of us as well to get to the window.
In the end I have to push between the mother and the kids to re-establish my window place. She eventually backs down, gets herself and the kids out of my face and they go monopolise a spare section of window, there are plenty available!
Anyway that’s the long story but the point here is that Chinese tourists are making a bad name for themselves around the world now they have enough money to travel. For generations they were dirt poor, farming rice and experimenting with totalitarianism except for a select few who drove about in Zil limousines and randomly ordered famines and massacres.
But that’s all changed: the sleeping dragon has awoken and because basically everything is now manufactured in China their middle class has emerged and their balance of payments is such that they are desperate to facilitate the invisible import that tourism represents.
So the Chinese have become tourists, like the Russians before them.
And with no better manners.
Living in China must mean a lot of elbowing to the front, because that is what these people do the whole time. The Australians can’t stand them in their coach load hordes.
But the fact is that they represent disposable income to an Australian tourist business and so cannot be ignored, any more than Paddock IT cannot ignore (even suspect) Russian money, Arab and Jew alike.
Business, the great leveller.
China is displaying its sharp elbows abroad in the South China Sea as well, turning the Spratley Islands in to actual military airports and trying to annex half the area.
Japan, The Philippines and Indonesia have interests there but none have any military muscle.
The US talks loud and sends ships but is outgunned out there.
Anyway, I digress. The penguins are super-cute (but stink and are noisy little buggers), only a few Chinese are asked to leave and we return to our beachside site for sleep.
An early morning run down the beach is bloody hard work: the sand is soft and each step takes more energy than normal. Knackering!
Now we’re off to the southernmost part of mainland Australia: Wilson’s Promontory. But first to empty the dreaded loo cassette. Normally this goes well but today, unbeknownst to us, the dump point is blocked and it overflows half way through our emptying session.
Oo er, Missus. There’s poo everywhere....
Australia is expecting record temperatures and fires today but to put things in to perspective the fires are localised and expected, the populace used to the temperatures which are only a couple of degrees above what they have normally: it’s not the immediate disaster you read about on the news, Australia is not burning end to end.
Shopping today has to include tinsel for the van and “ho ho ho” hats for us. After all, it is Christmas...
Given the lack of FM radio coverage outside the towns I am hugely impressed at the 4G infrastructure, which maintains almost continuous coverage all the way to the southernmost tip of mainland Australia.
I suspect this is partly safety-related but means that both on the road and in the Wilsons Promontory National Park we can have any radio station we want thanks to the Tune in Radio app, an iPad and Bluetooth which allows streaming to both the stereos (including external speakers) in the van.
Wilsons Promontory is beautiful but very hot, even at night, and quite windy, but we swim in the sea and it cools us down. There is lots of surfing here.
It is so windy in the night the van rocks and the next door neighbours’ tent roof blws off. We see him in the morning and ask if it is OK.
“Nah, it’s buggered”.
Got to love the Australians for telling it like it is.
A long blustery walk to Squeaky Beach (yes, that’s its name, the sand squeaks beneath your feet) and back via the fish and chip shop for that well known Australian staple of cod n chips. Bloody good actually.
Can’t recommend MMM FM of Melbourne more highly, excellent music.
After a couple of days there we head North then East through the greenest, lushest part of Australia we've seen. This is South Gippsland and is wealthy agricultural country, like England but just bigger.
We take the RV down a long un metalled road: the corrugations really make the Northern Symphonia
in the back work hard, before we finally arrive at Reeves Beach, a remote little free campsite on 90 Mile Beach. And 90 Mile Beach really is something: it stretches off in to the distance in both directions and is utterly deserted. Wow.
On Christmas Eve the crisis erupts: The TimTam biscuits have out.... What will we dunk in our tea?
Having been beset by incorrect connectors on our Gas bottle and (worst of all) a Squeaky door crisis we are in no mood for compromise.
Woolworths is immediately raided and there are now enough TimTams of varying flavours to see us through Christmas....
Seaspray camp site hosts us over Christmas. Shrimp and lobster tails on the barbie plus a bottle of Oz fizz with Xmas hats and a long walk along the beach, the weather clears to high 20s sun so a long sleep in the dunes follows, then.... a swim in the sea to wake us up.
Not often that happens.
By Boxing Day we’ve had enough beach: the bloody sand is in our shoes and our shower and the bed and our knickers: we’re off.
We’ve had an invitation to stay at a winery that also does a decent lunch, so once more back to Sale and on to Bairnsdale (don’t bother) via the Importantly-named A1.
This turns out to be a 2 lane road with occasional overtaking lanes.
This is the main Melbourne-to-Sydney road!
Lots of RVs and trailers but vanishingly few lorries, I don’t know how they get anything delivered?
Oz roads are odd: the vast majority are really quiet: we’ve been on roads and not seen a car in either direction for 20 or 30 minutes at a time.
We expected to be constantly pulling over to let cars past but actually they all drive pretty slowly so we can keep up with them.
The authorities campaign “Towards Zero Accidents” which unlike the UK evidently consists of someone doing real “why are people having accidents?” evidence-based policies aimed towards preventing drunk driving and people falling asleep.
Despite huge “we are enforcing speed limits” signs we haven’t seen a single mobile or fixed speed camera anywhere - we have seen random breath testing, though.
I think the UK Police need to take note: speed cameras don’t prevent accidents. Poor road design and inadequate roads, booze and tiredness cause accidents (along with ineptitude).
The winery serves great lunch and is in the middle of nowhere. Despite our concerns that as it is now holiday season it will be full it turns out to be completely deserted except for us.
We taste all the wines and apart from a drinkable red we have with our meal I don’t think we’ll buy any to take away.....
They all go home at 5:00 and we’re left alone under the amazing stars in an empty winery garden on the top of a hill. Nothing but birds and things rustling in the trees. Paradise.
We’ve seen enough beach caravan parks now so we bypass Lakes Entrance and head for the South East corner of Australia, turning inland at Orbost and up to Bombala which is on a surprisingly high plain (2100ft).
We’ve seen enough National Parks full of trees now so we don’t need to keep stopping but it is interesting to pass through areas that have had bush fires.
These are a necessary part of the forests cycle, so this whole crap about them being caused by climate change is fake news. They do grow back.
Bombala is a rather sad little place: exactly half way between Sydney and Melbourne it was once a contender for the national capital but lost out to Canberra. All the Aussies think Canberra is a waste of time anyway. They’re very rude about it. Anyway, poor old Bombala got bypassed by the big motorway down past Canberra and now it’s dying.
It's the Aussie arse end of nowhere. Only still vaguely surviving because it’s on a truck route between the South coast and the East coast. The trucks need to get across the Bombala river and this offers the only opportunity.
There are hopeful-looking truck parking stops everywhere but no, they don’t stop. Every time one changes gear going out of town northbound the town dies a little bit more.
Like rural France, rural Australia is dying by degrees: the youngsters are going to the big cities for jobs and stimulation, the drought has knocked the heart out of the cattle industry and the train line from Bombala to Canberra closed in 1986.
State money has given them a nice park from which to view, apparently, the duck billed platypuses (but we didn’t see any) and a brand new very nice outdoor pool, where the entire populace seems to be.
It being 38deg outside, we lower our bodies in to the waters and steam duly arises. Aaaaaarrrrrhhhhh.........
The plan was to stay in Cathcart, 15Km out of town but when we got there via a wonderful old wooden bridge, max load 42t (!) the campsite simply didn’t exist so we returned to the only sign of life in Bombala: the packed-out campground.
What are all these people doing here?
Even the main Imperial Hotel (every town has one) is closed. The sign says “open 12:00 till late” (I love that: no “Time, Gentlemen, please?”) but it isn’t.
Apparently the owner is away in a Melbourne and will be back “one day” but no one knows when. I am slightly surprised he didn’t just leave the doors open and an honesty box behind the bar when he went...
The other pub (there’s always another pub) is open and full of blokes with pints: very London circa 1978. If you went in and ordered a G&T you’d be thrown out. “Nah poofters!”.
All the other shops are closed and most are for sale. Like the UK, the high street here is under threat from Amazon. The side streets display visions of past glory: a cinema (now a gym), a closed café proudly displaying distances to Sydney and Melbourne, even a garden centre but it’s all gone.
The following morning we awake late, look out and the campground is empty.
We did not hear these people leave. Are they ninjas?
We depart North and within 2 miles it feels like we are seriously remote. Even the 4G dies, and this is a main road.
The grass is very yellow and the rolling hills go on and on.
Until suddenly they don’t and we’re back in the trees, as far as the eye can see. That was sudden.
Our road ends and we can turn for Canberra or for the East coast.
The last leg of our journey, interrupted by the bushfires, is intended to be up the East coast so that’s where we head, worried that now it’s holiday time it will be busy, and busy means not very relaxing: we’d far rather be on empty roads.
This road is very busy with 4x4s pulling small rugged caravan trailers but they all travel at the speed limit plus 5kph, unlike the 40mph brigade at home, and there are regular overtaking lanes so there is no frustration.
And then with no warning this fast, straight road through the trees turns sharp right and plunges off the edge of the world.
The bush fire smoke inhibits our view but this is one serious cliff.
For about 10 miles we’re down to 2nd gear and I’m trying to save the brakes as the curves get tighter and tighter. No one is going any faster than us, they all have trailers and I can smell hot brakes, although it’s not us.
Abruptly it stops and we’re at the bottom, so we can stop in a lay by and check the brakes. Ours are fine, but the 4x4 next to us with the boat on a trailer smells horrible.
The temperature is now 38deg and we can see about 200 yards in the bush fire smoke.
Our fires app tells us there is a raging fire where our road joins the coast road, and a few miles later we see Police cars. They’ve closed the main road South.
We’re fine: we’re headed North, but a large jam has built up and everyone is headed back up the road we have just come down.
Because no one is coming up from the South the road is very quiet but the visibility is still yuk and we can smell the smoke.
And now we meet our first fixed speed camera: heavily labelled, it’s on a bend you’d be suicidal to even approach the 100Km/h speed limit rounding. They do seem to have a more practical approach to road safety here.
Turning off, we head for Bermagui on the coast.
The smoke clears and the temperature drops as we descend, from 38deg..... to 22deg. Blimey.
Bermagui has a famous salt water rock swimming pool, it must surely be heaving and impossible to even approach on a holiday Saturday, car parking and entry must be expensive and of course there will be H&S notices everywhere?
Nah, none of it. This is Oz.
There are some people there, but it’s not massively busy, there’s a massive car park you could get 100 RVs in, no entry fee, no lifeguard, no H&S, excellent free loos, showers and steps, benches.
It’s very refreshing and incredibly clean.
Before we came out I asked an expat Aussie I know about things being busy during the holidays and he said I needed to understand that there’s an awful lot of Australia and really not that many people. Things would get busy but not to the point you couldn’t get there. He was right.
To Lunch, I think. We have a beautiful fish and chip lunch and a bottle of wine. The clouds look threatening and the ensuing storm is so sudden and the wind so strong it knocks my wine glass over.
Off to the ice cream shop for pudding then 5 mins South to our campsite. We’re told to batten down the hatches, a serious storm is coming through. There is thunder, there is lightning, there is... a pitted latter of rain but not much more, then the sun re-emerges. That wasn’t a storm.......
Our little field campsite has a complete lack of 4G or TV so an early bed tonight, we’ll re-emerge tomorrow.
The following morning we return to the blue pool and meet the locals who decry the state the tourists leave the pool in. I mean, who would poo in a pool?
Northbound now, we pass through touristy beach sites and finally meet Australians in large numbers; they seem to congregate in the beach campsites and surf or play on the beach, no one goes inland.
Up until now the road North of Bateman’s Bay has been closed due to bush fires which is why we went West. This has just reopened but the smell of smoke lingers and the visibility is not good. Finally we reach where the fires were and it’s devastation.
We’ve booked in to a farm stay in the middle of this area and whilst Jodie is open for business, her homestead very nearly burned to a crisp. Her and her 8 (!) kids had to evacuate and when the Rural Fire Service allowed her to return the kitchen garden and fences were burnt to a crisp. Her house was blackened but staggeringly survived. Her neighbour over the hill was less lucky: it all went up......
Now all her camp visitors have cancelled, except us: the crazy Poms.
Ever since we arrived in Australia (four weeks ago!) we’ve been hearing about the raging bush fires but we’ve not really come close to one, bar smelling smoke from one many miles away. This is about to change, dramatically.
We leave Jodie and head North in to the smoky countryside, turning off for the Pretty Beach community where you can see fire damage right up to the houses, and signs everywhere thanking the *volunteer* rural fire service: the “Fieries”, for saving their lives, houses and communities.
It’s all a bit “Butlins” here for us, so we’ll head North to Ulladulla for some shopping and lunch by the quayside.
The traffic, for the first time in Oz, is awful: There is a single set of traffic lights in the middle of Ulladulla which has generated an 8 mile long traffic jam.
Ulladulla badly needs a bypass, but I suppose this is peak holiday season and the rest of the year I suspect two cars and a kangaroo pass through each day......
Everyone we meet wants to stop and chat once they know we’re Poms. A good proportion are £10 Poms: UK emigrants from the 1950s to the 1980s when Oz was desperate for (white) people and subsidised ship or air travel to Australia provided you stayed at least 2 years (most did).
One lovely couple we meet live in North Ulladulla and want us to come home with them for the night, stay on their property and have dinner with them, which is very kind (they also say for Gods sake don’t eat in the fish n chip restaurant we were about to enter, but instead walk 50m up the hill to their other one..... it’s apparently better).
And it is.
We have a farm stay booked near Milton, North of Ulladulla, in a little place called Yatte Yattah. This is off the beaten track, in the middle of the woods. Sounds like a good idea, huh?
The place is down a dirt track and we see a snake on the road in. We’re the only people there, everyone else has cancelled, and whilst the lady owner and her dogs are delightful, it’s extremely hot, and not a little smoky.
Still, the views are great and we snooze the afternoon away before knocking up pork in mushroom sauce for supper.
We’ve tried very hard to keep abreast of the bush fires and they have, thus far, been small, localised and under control.
However the NSW traffic website now starts to show the A1 between us and Nowra (the only bridge out of the South East corner) as "will be closed" tomorrow.
Looking more closely, it’s already closed in 4 sections where we have just been, whole communities are cut off...
Nessa and I look at each other and decide that we would prefer to re-evaluate the whole bush fire situation from the North side of the planned road closures, at Nowra, leaving right this moment.
“Do not drive at dusk” be damned: if we hit a kangaroo, that’s tough.
We leave a note for our hostess, pack up and 5 minutes later we’re out through the gathering smoke and heading for the main road. Google Maps says the road is already closed 15 miles ahead, are we too late?
As the empty road North gets darker and smokier, the trees press in closer on both sides and we get more and concerned: are we about to run headlong in to a fire?
At long last tail lights appear ahead: a line of cars and 4x4s travelling at some speed (which tells you something about our speed...).
And the Google Maps road closure? There’s nothing there. Phew.
As the road twists and turns up and down through the trees, I can’t believe this: a Fire Brigade a water tanker with lights flashing comes up behind us. I didn’t know trucks went that fast?
He must be empty, surely? No, he’s sloshing water out of his top valve and he is *overtaking* us all. On a 2 lane road. In the dark.
We’ll let him go: his need is surely greater than ours.
At last the road straightens out and the lights of Nowra appear; we’ve made it.
Nowra Showground is not, as we dreaded, packed with refugee campers, so we settle in gratefully with power (air conditioning!) and sleep like logs.
But it’s not over: we awake to news that today is going to be 35deg (remember that figure...) and windy. The fires to the South of Nowra are going to be fanned, then the wind is going to reverse and blow them straight in to Nowra via the showground.
Looking South the smoke plume towers high in the sky, the air smells of smoke and the forest leads right up the heavily wooded campground.
We’ll walk down the hill and do our washing after breakfast. Hey, it’s only.....35 deg.
By the time we reach the launderette we are soaked so load the washing and repair to the air conditioned coffee shop while it runs, then it’s back up the hill to the RV.... with a huge bag full of wet washing.
As we walk up we amuse ourselves with the houses in this street that have all been converted in to businesses. Down here is ante-natal care, a little further up is the GP, the pharmacy, then the drug dependency clinic, the pain management clinic, the physiotherapist clinic, the dementia clinic, an old peoples’ home, and as we reach the top, yes...... (and I’m not making this up) the funeral home.
We stagger back to the caravan for a long, cold drink. Looking out at the forest next door, the smoke plume has now turned an angry, flickering orange, and the wind is picking up. Should we really be here?
Ten minutes later, and much against the wishes of our neighbours who want to celebrate New Year tonight with a couple of crazy Poms, we’re packed up and moving North. With relief we pass over the bridge North and turn East for Shoalhaven Heads, as far away from the fire and as close to the sea as we can get.
We can’t get on to the beach at Shoalhaven Heads for free so we give it a miss and head for Seven Mile beach day use area, thereby completing our circuit: this was where, 4 weeks ago, we turned off the coast road to go inland to Canberra.
The temperature is by now 45deg. I’ve never been so hot, the a/c in the van is having little effect and we need a swim. The sand is scalding but the water is soooooooo welcoming.....
After a swim we repair to the beach for a snooze. The sun is bright and the clouds far away to the South.
Suddenly the wind reverses and picks up until the sand is blowing in our faces, the sun goes behind the clouds and the temperature drops... to 24deg.
Everyone runs off the beach; the whole world goes brown, the sun must be shining through the smoke that’s now blowing up from the fires South of Nowra. I’m glad we’re not in Nowra!
We contemplate spending the night here ("No overnight camping" be damned) but there’s no TV signal and we’d prefer to be well informed so we head North for Gerroa.
At the top of Gerroa is a headland car park with a “No overnight camping” sign. Our theory is that the police have better things to do tonight than police this, so we settle down....
And watch with growing horror as the news shows us the towns and villages we have been through in the last few days all going up in smoke: Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Orbost, Bega, Cobargo, Bermagui, Moruya, Batemans Bay, Conjola.
In lovely Bermagui they were all evacuated to the beach. It is scary watching places you visited just a few days ago being burned out.
We celebrate the New Year with some amazing fish from Ulladulla and a couple of bottles of really good Australian fizz, watch the Kiama fireworks a few miles away and turn in early.
New Year's Day Dawns cool and cloudy, it’s the 1st of the month: invoicing time. Thanks to the Internet it’s as easy doing it here, on a headland with all the doors and windows open, listening to the waves crashing against the shore as it would be at home in cold, dark, gloomy, wet, depressing England.....
We have lunch with our friends Joycie and Peter in Kiama, then off to Jamberoo for the night, where apparently they have a proper Oz pub. Maybe a pie tonight?
Apparently charities in Australia are being overwhelmed with unusable donations, so have invented a new slogan: “If you wouldn’t give it to a mate, don’t donate!”
Jamberoo is in a lusher area, away from the bush fires and they have a neat little free campground. It is the archetypal Ozzie village: sports ground (with well-maintained wicket, of course), a bowlo (bowling green) they use in the arvo (the afternoon), croquet green, tennis courts, supermarket and pub, very much like a rural Irish pub, with separate dining area.
Australians like their “order here and I’ll give you a pager” system: the pager buzzes when your food’s ready and you go and pick it up. This saves on waitresses and time and the steak is excellent.
Australia is an egalitarian, classless society full of community spirit and love of country. We’ve rather lost that in Britain: had it beaten out of us in the 1970s by the unions and the strikes.
This manifests itself in strange ways: roads in Britain are rubbish tips, everyone throws things out of their (German) cars the whole time, the benefits entitlement attitude, the whole “I’m going to inherit my parents council house” attitude, the whole benefits system which has given up trying to improve people, the politics of envy: if you’ve worked hard and actually achieved something you are to be taxed extra and abused for it.
Tall poppy syndrome: a lack of aspiration.
There is little vandalism in Australia, very little graffiti except in the inner-cities where they do have an intravenous drug use problem.
Like London, there’s a whole suburban sub-culture in Sydney where every corner store is run by Indo-Pak or Sino Asians. They’re super-clean, super-helpful and always open. And all the taxi drivers are the same, but they are less sulky than Londoners.
In fact they are all unbelievably happy to have you on board, they want to know where you’re from, if you’re having a good time and they always recommend somewhere that turns out to be amazing. We usually go with these recommendations even if they mean we don’t do what we had originally planned: for reference watch the film “Yes Man” with Jim Carey.
We’ve concluded negativity and a closed mind are the enemies of life.
Unlike London, we never smell urine or see dog shit on the streets, public drunkenness we have not seen (well, we did experience it a bit but I blame it on that rather nice bottle of red we had in the restaurant...) and whilst there is an acknowledged homelessness problem, there is also a well-publicised community effort to resolve it.
There aren’t Rumanian professional beggars in doorways or sleeping rough in the central business district.
Post-Brexit, The UK government needs to get very, very tough with this whole “sponge off Britain” attitude, and these people must go home at once.
We start to see bush fire refugees turning up in car parks. It is normally illegal to camp overnight in car parks but at the moment no one’s going to mind...
We meet several of them including a family on the beach (who say they knew we were Pommies because we had proper chairs on the beach and the biggest RV in the car park).
They were trapped near Bermagui for several days before being escorted out in convoy by the fire service through such dense smoke they couldn’t see the car in front. They were having a breather on their way back home to Western Sydney.
Their caravan was parked next to our RV and we gave them our remaining beer and TimTam biscuits. Their food had run out and the comms links between the affected areas and the rest of Australia had dropped so their bank cards wouldn’t work and neither would the cash machines.
The people in the caravan next door are Batemans Bay residents forcibly evacuated by the fire service who have lost their house and 3 businesses. All their possessions are in the caravan. Yuk.
Our friends give us dinner in Kiama (a lovely, lovely town) and they are hosting evacuees from South of Batemans Bay on their way to relatives in Sydney. They reckon their house went up the previous night.
We have a couple of days on the beach at Gerringong (uncrowded, safe, loads of car parking) then drive the RV back to Sydney.
The main motorway in to Sydney changes very abruptly from a 110Km/hr limit to a 60Km/hr limit and the cops are there in force: we miss getting a ticket only because I’m already slowing down for our final diesel-and-gas stop.
Then it’s back to the RV compound where, as at the start of the rental, the process is quick and efficient. They look at our tree damage at the back and shrug... “she’ll be right”.
We’ve left it cleaner inside and better maintained than we found it, but the outside is filthy and covered in ash.
We'll miss our luxurious mobile apartment with slide-out.
And another example of community spirit: our RV check-in guy was desperate to go and help out the people in the bush fires and genuinely very upset that his job wouldn’t allow him unpaid leave to go and volunteer.
Let’s just unpack that for a moment: you’re an RV customer service guy in Oxford and some Cornwall villages flood; would you be upset you couldn’t go down there *unpaid* to help?
Bloody Hell, that’s community spirit.....
Then Uber to our amazing Aparthotel suite which even has a washing machine and tumble dryer so we simply wash, dry and iron absolutely everything before re-packing, minus several pounds of sand.
Now: to explore Sydney.
Opal stored-value travel cards (think: Oyster) in hand, we head off to the fish market for lunch.
It’s stinky hot today: 35deg but Doyle’s the restaurant serves us Lobster Mornay and Chips in a cardboard box and frankly it’s better than I’ve ever had. The fish shops are immaculate and the multi-cultural mix of shoppers are seriously buying.
Then on to Circular Quay which, confusingly, isn’t circular (although the next bay along is).
This is the beating heart of Sydney: approached via the observatory for the best bridge views it’s the central train station, central ferry station, cruise liner terminal, harbour bridge and opera house all in one, right next to the central business district.
Well-organised, spacious, safe, clean, efficient and popular, our Opal cards work on the boats (and the buses) so we jump on the $2 Manly ferry for the best harbour views.
And they don’t disappoint either out, or back as the sun sets over Western Sydney.
The Manly ferry runs every 20 minutes and takes 30 minutes or so.
It’s an unapologetic copy of the Star Ferry in Hong Kong harbour, with double deck load/unload ramps and can load or unload 1000 people in less than 2 minutes. I know: I was timing it.
A double-ended boat, it never has to turn round: very efficient.
Manly would be a cool place to live if you worked in the middle of Sydney: commute by ferry and walk to work.
It has 2 beaches and is at the mouth of Sydney Harbour so one is harbour-side, great for swimming and paddling; the other out on the ocean and great for the Aussie obsession with surfing.
The idea of riding waves with a waxed wooden (later fibreglass) board came from Polynesia originally via Hawaii but Aussies swear blind the aboriginals were doing it thousands of years ago and have quite taken it as their own. The rest of the world knows the truth....
So after room service pizza and a long, exhausted sleep we’re off to Bondi Beach, the epicentre of Australian surfing culture via a breakfast café, the Sydney Botanical gardens and the central business district. Fortunately it’s cooler today.
We’ve been advised to have lunch at the Icebergs restaurant overlooking Bondi Beach but by the time we arrive it’s packed out. We’ll never get a table, surely?
“No worries”: a kind waitress finds us a couple of seats at a table inside, and by the time we’ve ordered at the counter, got our pager and had a beer a kind couple are vacating their terrace table, wave us over and we move out there, overlooking the Bondi Action.
This clearly calls for a celebratory bottle to wash down the Barramundi and chips. Two people on a four chair table is an invitation here, so within a couple of minutes we’re chatting to a Sydney girl and her friend who’s come over from Manchester and is worried about the bush fires.
The wine bottle is definitely defective as it disappears remarkably quickly, so we head for the beach.....
The surfers are really terribly clever, but do fall over a lot. The Bondi lifeguards are legendary, so we’ll paddle and get our picture taken with one then head for ice cream on the front.
The weather has turned a bit crap: cloudy and windy, so we’ll head back to Circular Quay then home to pack. Ironing and packing completed (amazingly we’ve used everything we brought with us) we’ll return to Circular Quay for night shots and supper.
Public transport in Sydney has benefitted from considerable investment and the underground trains are huge, double-decker and very smooth, integrating neatly with main line trains, trams and ferries.
London is slowly getting there (although see my earlier notes on trams, and quite how a 2 year delay and a £2bn overrun on Crossrail can ever be allowed to happen I don’t know. I mean they didn’t actually hit any major snags...
I’d like to make an introduction here: Crossrail Team, this is Microsoft Project. You’ll find it helps. A lot. I can’t see that team being allowed to build HS2.....) but Britain suffers from an institutional attitude of a lack of investment. Not just in public infrastructure but privately, too. Too much is bodged, maintenance falls behind, investment fails to keep pace with increasing need or advances in technology.
I think it is be related to our endemic culture of late payment meaning companies are constantly pushing a month's turnover uphill. The whole super-fast broadband thing is a classic case in point: 15 years ago someone very senior in Openreach took the attitude that he didn’t see why people needed faster Internet just to load their porn more speedily and his shareholder returns were more important.
OfCom failed utterly to hold Openreach’s feet to the fire by steadily upgrading the Universal Service Obligation’s minimum acceptable broadband speed year on year to force full fibre provision, and feeding-in funds as required.
Until 2018 when they panicked and set it at the dizzy speed of 30Mbit, which is reachable using Openreach’s 2008 technology.
The lack of fibre investment has been, in all but rural Oxfordshire, catastrophic for Britain as a whole and Openreach in particular: BT (who own Openreach) have seen their shares crash and Openreach faces irrelevance in 10 years unless they pull their finger out.
But I digress.....
Sydney Harbour looks fantastic at night, and we don’t get to bed until midnight, for a 5:00am start. We can sleep on the way to Seoul....
So what did we learn about The Land Down Under, The land of Bruce and Sheila, where (according to Colin Hay) “beer does flow and men chunder”?
Was Barry Humphries right when he famously remarked that Australia has “Sydney, Melbourne....... and 2 million square miles of absolute bugger all”?
Our pre-conceived ideas were wrong: we have met Australians.... and they are us.
We never had a bad meal, and the coffee was always good, no muddy hot water Nescafé instant due to the Italian post-war immigrants.
And maybe that’s the key: everyone knows they are an immigrant. With the exception of the aboriginals everyone has come here to start afresh, to throw off the old world baggage and be idealistic, and of course there is no history of slavery so racism is simply not an issue, the brown and the white and the yellow all have the same Oz twang, the Government has very carefully ensured immigration is restricted to those with the right skills and a desire to work. And it works; it’s a very nice, civilised country.
Yes, by the way, Barry was right.....
great litmus test of a nation's character is their flag carrier’s Airline safety video.....
Virgin Atlantic is a tongue-in-cheek mash-up of cinema styles, from Yellow Submarine psychedelia to cinema-noir underlit 40s Bogart.
Air France is full of pretty caricature-French girls, beautifully dressed and choreographed, lots of tongue-in-cheek jokes and sultry looks-to-camera.
Korean Air is basically an extended boy-band pop video full of interchangeable androgynously-styled teenage dancing boys, long shots of them staring dreamily out of aircraft windows in to, for some unfathomable reason, outer space.
Futuristically-dressed female flight attendants minister to their various needs (although not, I suspect their actual desires which would be a bottle of Jack Daniels, some poppers and a quickie in the First Class loo) whilst explaining the various flight safety details inter-cut with their synchronised dancing in the corridors.
At one point, these boys even become American negro rap artists, obscene finger gestures included. No, I didn’t understand that, either.
Then suddenly, for some reason known only to the producer, the boys are now flying the aircraft (spacecraft?) from a futuristic cockpit using GameBoy-style controllers and they are whirling through space (or is that just the camera angle?).
I mean really: would you let a boy band anywhere near the controls of a spaceship? Their random and contradictory control movements, the fact that they’re not strapped-in, their lack of flight control instruments and the fact that they’re singing whilst flying, in direct contravention of IATA sterile cockpit rules, indicate they’re not doing a terribly good job.....
Help, where do I get off?
What is it with Koreans and their loos?
It beeps when you sit down on the (vaguely-disturbing-though-I’m unsure why) heated seat; it beeps when you get up; it then flushes before you can do your paperwork (I can’t do a lift-the-buttock job); it has a console more suited to a light aircraft than a bathroom, if you select “clean” it does a cross between a colonic and a hair dryer (deeply, deeply disturbing) and *worst of all* there is no manual flush....
That’s all, Folks!