This ended up being one of the greatest highlights of my life. I met some amazing people, some of which I’m still in contact with, and had some excellent times. The kombi was party central everywhere it went!!
How and why it happened
This was a forced exile from S.A. that turned into one of the greatest adventures of my life! Back in 2000 I was involved in growing a lot of dope. I’d grown quite a bit with a mate for a couple of years, we went our separate ways and I started up on my own at home. I was approached by an acquaintance to take over one of his “grow” houses as he knew how successful I was. These boys were heavily associated with the criminal world. I won’t go into who they were or who they were associated with for obvious reasons. I was also doing a lot of work for one of the bikie gangs in Adelaide, refurbishing clubrooms etc. It was exciting times and drugs were flowing freely. For instance, once the leader had told one of his boys to “look after” me on a Friday night in the clubrooms. He pulled out an ounce of speed and told me I could use as much as I want and return the rest. This was typical. I remember being told by the leader of this bikie club that ” you drink too much Steve”. He was right!! The booze was starting its takeover bid on me at that stage. I was loosing control. I was getting slack with everything. I couldn’t afford to pay the electricity in the other grow house and the electricity was cut off. Disastrous for a grow house!! I couldn’t tell the guys because they’d left it all under my control. They needed to be distanced from the place. I had to borrow the money and have the power reconnected. I think that this is when things begun to become unstuck. About a week after that my house was busted by the cops. I was driving around the corner with my kids, who were coming for a weekend stay, when I saw my house covered in cops. I drove down the road and watched for a while. It was a rental property so it was time to bolt. I went back in the house the next day after they left to pack and noticed the electricity bill for the other house was on the kitchen table. Had they seen it? Two days later I was walking to the other house and sure enough, that was being busted. They’d seen the bill. Luckily, both times, I wasn’t in either house. Now I had to ring the boys and explain what had happened. They had to go into shutdown mode for all their other setups. They were not happy!! We met and they wanted me to take the fall for the house that was busted. Take the heat off them. There were over 50 plants in that house…. Jail time. There was absolutely no way I was going to take that chance. It wasn’t long before warrants for my arrest were issued. Time to get outta town fast. I played along with the boys until I could get organised to disappear. The motor in the kombi was buggered but I’d decked it out, for camping in, earlier as I camped in the warehouse I was growing in before. I organised a new motor to be fitted in about a day, packed up and headed into the wild blue yonder. Absolutely no idea what to expect or what I was going to do when I got “there”. All I knew was there was no way I was going to jail!
Now to the trip. I made a beeline out of the state. I had no drivers licence, I was on the dole, a limited supply of booze and Jack the dog.
At that stage I was mainly drinking cask wine, a staple for any serious alcoholic!. I headed west toward the Western Australia border. I think I made it there in about a day of non stop driving, sipping away on wine the whole way. One thing I don’t miss anymore is constantly being scared of getting pulled over by the cops. I was permanently looking as far ahead and behind me as I could, always looking for emergency escape routes. You could never just relax while you were driving. Maybe this was a good thing, It kept me alert to whatever was happening around me. Maybe if everyone didn’t have a licence, they would pay more attention to the road and road rules to avoid getting pulled over!!! The longer I was driving, the more I was enjoying it…. freedom, to a degree! Once I hit the Nularbor Plains I started to relax a bit. I was starting to take in the sites and enjoy them. One thing I noticed with my dog, Jack, was that every now and then he would howl. It took me a while to realise that he was only doing it at a certain time. It was when we were approaching a dead fox or dingo. When he started howling I knew we were getting close to canine roadkill. it really was freaky!! The Nularbor (means no trees) was an amazing place. when you look down into the Great Australian Bight, it gives you a whole new perspective on how big and awesome mother nature is. When you walk to the cliff edge, there is no fence, or any sign, you could just walk off into the ocean below. I had to keep Jack on a lead in case he went over. No photo’s can reflect how far down it is to the water. I was standing there, looking into the ocean below, and could see a heap of black dots in the waves. They looked like ants. I got the binoculars’ out and it turned out to be about 50 dolphins……absolutely breath taking!! Another time, while crossing the Nularbor, one of the road houses, just before the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, was full of semi trailer trucks. It was just coming on to dusk. I’d just hit the straight at my top speed of 80 kms per hour when I noticed in my rear vision mirror two trucks, taking up both lanes, catching up to me real fast. I pulled over!!! Turned out these trucks were “drag” racing each other because after the first two went past another two followed and then another and another. These trucks looked like they were only separated by a couple of centimeters. They must have been waiting for the all clear, from the other end, that there was no oncoming traffic. This was great to watch, but scary stuff! I bypassed Perth and kept heading north. I was travelling a lot slower now, to take in the sites, but mainly because I had to wait for dole payments. It worked out that I could travel 1oo kms. per $10.00 of fuel. I got to Monkey Mia, famous for its dolphins that come into shore to be fed. This was probably my first introduction to the rip-off tourist industry. They charged $10.00 just to get into the car park. When I got in there were tourist busses everywhere and a massive resort between you and the beach. You had to pay to get through the resort and then pay to feed the dolphins!! I got as far as the car park, turned around and left. I drove down the road a bit, found a dirt track which led to a beautiful beach and guess what? there were dolphins there. I couldn’t feed them but who cares, it was free!! I continued on to Carnarvon. While I was there I was told about a place called Quobba Station, about 80 kms north of town. As I said in my Pre-Recovery Trip page, Quobba is my favourite place in Australia. I love it!!
Quobba was still untouched by local government or tourist bullshit, It was still a local secret. Don’t tell anyone about it!! This place is awesome. I met a girl there, Sue, that was traveling with her 5-year-old son , Aarron, their great big dog and an amazing rat named Matilda in an old Denning bus with a 4 wheel drive being towed behind. We ended up traveling together for quite a while. I was only going to stay in Quobba for about a week. I think we stayed for 3 months. This place consisted of, and in a very compact area,
a section of massive cliffs with king waves crashing against them, the ocean was a deep vivid blue, blowholes that shot jets of water 20 or 30 meters into the air with a huge explosive sound. Just around the corner was a tiny island you could walk across to, at low tide, on a reef of oysters. You were allowed to take as many oysters as you could eat. On the island was an eagle nest that looked like a mini volcano erupting from the ground, it was about 2-3 meters high.
The island and the reef sheltered a beautiful sandy beach that was perfect for snorkelling. Colourful tropical fish were everywhere in the sheltered waters, you weren’t allowed to fish but you could feed them. A “shanty” town had formed, amongst the sand dunes, by locals building tin shacks to holiday in. They even had bogus street names and two “suburbs”, Upper Quobba and Lower Quobba. Occasionally I would sit on my deck chair, which I’d perched on Sue’s car trailer. and, jokingly, do some whale watching while sipping away at my glass of wine. One day, in the distant, I could see water shooting upward from the ocean. I got the binoculars out and sure enough it WAS a whale!! I didn’t even know whales travelled in that part of Australia. I spotted them a few times again but they were so far out you couldn’t see much, even through the binoculars.
Sue and I decided to travel together for a while, she had some business to attend to back in her home town of Hopetoun, a small town south of Perth, on the southern coast. Sue was renting her house out while she was travelling. Her house was an older place with large open living. It was a two-story fibreboard building and the amazing thing about it was that it actually had a lift in it! Apparently the previous owner was disabled. Sue wanted to catch up with a few of her friends while we were there before we headed off on the next leg of the journey. Sue “warned” me that one of her friends was a lesbian. That’s all she told me and I couldn’t work out why at the time. Big deal, she was gay!! When we got to her place and she answered the door, I had to do everything to hide my surprise. Sue failed to tell me her friend had a full goatee beard and moustache that was thicker than mine. She ended up coming camping with us one night and she was a great chick!
Before we got to Hopetoun, we stopped in at her brother’s place in Yanchep, just north of Perth. We spent quite a bit of time there. It was while we were at her brothers that I re-decked out the inside of Sue’s bus. Not far from her brothers, was a place called Two Rocks where there was a great beach that we went swimming at quite a bit. You had to get to it by driving through a resort that was built by Alan Bond. (the entrepreneur who went both broke and to jail). Sue also had a sister, Ann, that lived with her boyfriend, Steve, in Perth. They were house sitting for a friend of theirs who was in jail. The story of this friend went like this….. He was worth a fortune from owning a boutique type cinema that showed the same cult type movie over and over again. He also owned a drive in theatre. He was gay and went overseas, regularly, to buy heroin for his boyfriend. (I think he may have been a bit of a dealer as well) When he returned from one of his trips, he was busted. The cops went through his house and found a heap of cash, about $20,000 but only $10,000 was ever declared in court. His house was excellent. It had a full theatre setup, pool room and great big in ground pool out back. We had many a party there. One of the best nights there was on a Skyshow night. Skyshow was put on by a local radio station, I think, every year. There were a heap of fireworks set off from barges, on the river, set to music. On this particular year, they had organised fireworks to go off from the top of buildings around the city as well. We decided the only way to really enjoy it, was to drop a trip before the show!! It was amazing, I swear the last one that went off, fanned out so far, it nearly touched my nose. It didn’t, but it sure as shit felt like it!! It was while I was in Yanchep, staying with Sue’s brother and his wife, Lina,(I think) that I was told I had a guardian angel. Lina was an Indian (curry type Indian) and she saw a picture I had hanging in my van. It was of an Indian squaw (cowboys and Indians, Indian) that I’d had for ages. I’d seen this picture years before, while I was in the picture framing business, and loved it. I had a large print of it, framed, in my house and when I was going to travel I had a small copy of it made, framed it and stuck it in my van. For some reason I couldn’t be without it. Lina asked “who is that?” I replied ” I don’t know but there’s something about it that captivates me” Lina then said, in no uncertain terms ” that is your guardian angel!”. I’ve since had her tattooed on my arm.
Sue and I were heading out of Perth toward Hopetoun and we decided to stop at a pub for a few too many “farewell to Perth” drinks. We were going to camp in the car park. There were a couple of other backpacker girls in the pub as well and we all ended up drinking and playing 8 ball together, the girls were very friendly! Sue went back to her bus fairly early because of Aarron. I can’t remember even getting back to my van but when I woke up Sue and the bus were gone. She wouldn’t answer her phone. Turned out Sue had a crush on me and got really jealous of the two girls at the pub, bugger!! I headed off in the direction we had planed and sure enough Sue was parked about 20 km down the road. She wasn’t happy so I had to kiss and make up without the kissing and “making up”. Sue was a great girl but not in that way! We continued on. After we had finished what Sue had to do in Hopetoun we were making our way across The Nularbor when Sue suggested we stop at a spot just out of Norseman, called Dundas Rocks.
This was an old gold mining town. Not much left of it now but you could see the ruins of the old stone buildings and there was a lot of “bits and pieces” left lying amongst the dirt. There were, however, lots of mine shafts dotted amongst the trees and bushes. You had to be careful where you walked. There was the odd gold prospector, that had re-staked claims, but you kept your distance from them. You didn’t want to turn up dead,down the bottom of an old shaft, If you know what I mean!! The original miners had built a rock wall across a heap of sheet stone to form a dam. The water would run down the hill and pool in the man-made dam. It was their only source of water. Now the dam is used by wild horses, you see them most mornings, coming for a drink. I did go exploring a couple of the mines with another guy who was camping there as well, found no gold but it was fun anyway. We did find a heap of really old machinery at the bottom of one shaft and just beyond the machinery, it looked like the shaft disappeared down to the centre of the earth. Even with torches we couldn’t see the end of the shaft, just blackness. We didn’t venture any further, spooky!! I did find some very small bits of gold around the mounds of dirt at the top of one mine. I think we stayed there for about a week. I also used this place as a “hide out” on one of my return trips but I’ll cover that further on. This was yet another amazing part of Australia.
Sue was starting to get pretty serious about our “relationship” so when we hit The Nularbor I made an excuse that I had to make a hasty return to Adelaide and I’d hopefully catch up with her there. We did, after a couple of months and luckily she’d found a boyfriend.
I didn’t want to hang around in Adelaide long, even though it had been about a year since I was there. The next leg of my journey took me to the river land in Victoria. I decided to have a try at fruit picking. I found an orange orchard that needed my help!! I’d never done any fruit picking before. It can’t be that hard. I managed to pick, probably, the worst run orchard in Australia, I think. I found out later that the orchard was owned by two family’s that were in the middle of some major disagreement. They didn’t give a damn what was happening to the orchard. There were a few “gun” pickers there, who were making good money. I think we were getting $20 a bin. (big wooden crates) A good picker could easily pick 10 bins or more a day. I was struggling to pick one! It turned out that the foreman, a 20-year-old kid, was putting me in rows that had already been picked by bad pickers, and getting me to clean up the mess. I found this out eventually because he told me that if I picked one bin, I could write-up two. The bins would be collected by him during the day and we had to go up to the shed to write on a piece of paper, how many bins we’d done during that day. Because there was no owners there, no checks were made. Once I’d worked out how the system worked, (or didn’t work) I naturally took advantage. I’d park my van in a row, music blaring and drink wine all day, under the shade of an orange tree, with Jack the dog. I’d pick a bin and wander up to the shed to put down 2 or 3 bins for the day. One day three guys turned up with a Ute, to do a few days picking. These guys were great pickers, they’d do 15 to 20 bins a day. The Ute kept disappearing during the day and return in an hour or so. They left a few days later with a pocket full of cash. It turned out what they were doing was pinching bales of hay from somewhere, with the Ute, filling the bins with the bales and then topping up with oranges. Brilliant… No wonder Australian fruit is so expensive in our supermarkets!!! There was a family also picking there that I got along quite well with. Noel and his wife, Mary and their 20 or so old son, Grant. They had a caravan they were staying in, on site, with me. Turned out Noel and his family travelled Australia, fruit picking. They were based in Mundubbera QLD. The oranges were coming to an end and Noel suggested I followed them back to Munduberra. The season was about to get started up there, so I followed them up. On the last day of picking in the orange orchard, I picked no bins and put down 10…..I got paid for it!! Not proud of it now though.
Mundubbera soon became FUNdubbera. Noel and his family lived in a big permanent caravan, in a caravan park, on the outskirts of town. I ended up camping there as well. It wasn’t long before I found work at the largest packing shed in the southern hemisphere, The Golden Mile. This place was huge! Because I was working flat out inside a factory, it proved to be a challenge for my drinking regime. We started at about 6.00 in the morning so I had to get up at about 4.00 am to get enough booze into me so I could start the day. At lunch time I would bolt out to the van to “check the dog” and top up the booze level. I could drink 2 litres of wine followed by mouthfuls of mouthwash and take the dog for a quick walk, in 30 minutes!! This packing shed was a real eye opener. One day dump trucks were taking loads of avacados out to the back paddock and just tipping them onto the ground. The reason? they were ripe!!! Another time I noticed about 20 large wooden picking bins, out in the open paddock, full of rotten oranges. I wondered why they were there and hadn’t been dumped. Eventually a huge truck from a very, very well-known Aussie fruit juice company, came and loaded them up to take to the juicing factory. Needless to say, I haven’t bought that brand since, mind you, they probably all do the same thing.
Back to the caravan park. It wasn’t long before I started meeting some of the most amazing people in my life. They were from all walks of life, from all over the world and all ages. The whole lot of us got along so well. It was like we’d known each other for ages. It was as if the stars had lined up, and this group of awesome people all met in the same place, at the same time. It was meant to be!! (maybe a bit of an exaggeration but you get the drift) Some were working at the same packing shed as me, and others were working at different farms and orchards around town. Mundubbera was a huge fruit and veg picking and packing area. A must for most backpackers, from all over the world, to stop at, and earn some cash for their Aussie adventure. There were also a lot of Australians doing the picking circuit for one reason or another. They all had a story to tell and that’s what made it so interesting. There was a huge community kitchen and everyone would bring in whatever it was they were picking and share it around. There was always a huge assortment of fruit and veg for everyone. Every fortnightly Friday night was “payday millionaire’s” night at the “top” pub in town. There were only two pubs in town, the top pub and the bottom pub.
One for the backpackers, pickers and packers and the other for the locals. It was always a great night. The local mobile kebab van had it sussed, he’d pull up right out front of the door, at closing time. During the week he’d pull up out the front of the caravan parks and let you get kebabs on credit, if you needed to, till pay-day. He was a real character and his food was excellent, he must have made a killing.
Among all the amazing people I met was a pommy couple, Matt and Justine. I think they were on a twelve month journey, tenting it, around Australia and weren’t far into the trip when they ended up in Mundubbera. We got along right from the word go. Just was the party animal and Matt was the sensible one. I don’t think much has changed in 15 years!! They’re still together, in England, and have since got married and had two kids.
We did a lot of partying together in Mudubbera and ended up traveling together, or catching up, for most of the rest of their stay in Aus. We still talk and I love them dearly! You’ll hear a fair bit about them from this part of the trip. I also met a couple of kiwi’s. Trent, who met the love of his life, Rosa, in Mundubbera and is now married and living with her in Iceland and Tyne, a young fella who ended up travelling, on and off, with me for quite a while. We still talk as well. There were so many others, Paula, a late 20s, Aussie, salt of the earth, hippy type girl. She was tenting it in another park, worked at the same packing shed and a top, top girl. Annie, a 50ish girl who was escaping from her abusive husband and trying to start a new life. She had a cabin in the park and also worked at the packing shed. There were so many others, from all over the world, but I cant remember all their names. There were many impromptu music nights, where people, who didn’t know each other, would get out whatever instruments they had brought with them, bongo’s, guitars, flutes, etc. and jam together. Others would get out their fire sticks and put on some amazing shows.
Speaking of music, one night in an amazing national park, that we went to regularly, not far out of town, something I will never forget happened. The park had this massive gorge running through it. It took quite a while to walk down to the riverbed so it was very deep. It had massive, colourful, stone cliffs on either side. The river wasn’t running so there were pools of water scattered around the rocky riverbed. The land scape looked prehistoric with huge boulders scattered here and there. It was awesome. I met this Greek, backpacking girl at the top pub one night and we decided to stay at the gorge overnight.
Later in the evening, we could hear someone playing a bongo drum, in the distant, on the other side of the gorge. He stopped for a moment. Sirena removed a tiny flute thing from around her neck and started playing this amazing music from it. It looked more like a whistle than a flute. The guy playing the bongo responded. These two people, who didn’t know each other, who couldn’t even see each other!, were playing this beautiful music together, from one side of the canyon to the other!!! It was one of the most amazing, beautiful, unforgettable nights of my life. I only saw Sirena for a couple more days (and nights) before she had to move on. That was one night that, hopefully, will be etched in my mind forever.
The work ran out at the packing shed and I got laid off. No surprise, it was seasonal work and it was “last on , first off”. I found work almost straight away, picking asparagus. It was coming up to the end of the season so I was the only picker on the small farm. Asparagus is a weird growing vegetable. It grows from a huge bulb that is just below the ground. You have a basket attached to a belt on your hip. The picker is permanently bent over with a long handled blade which is used to cut the spears just below the ground. At the height of the season, the asparagus grows so quickly that when you finished a few rows, you could go back to the beginning and start again. Two pickings a day from each bulb!! It was basically a hobby farm with a small vineyard as well, owned by a Dentist, David. They also processed the asparagus on site. The dentist had made all the machinery they used to process his produce. David had a big house on top of the hill, overlooking his “kingdom”. Next to the packing shed was an old farmhouse where the “caretaker” farmer, John, lived. I think he was the original owner of all the land and sold it to the dentist but was asked to stay on as caretaker. John had a heap of dogs, one of which, an old fella named Fred, looked really deformed in the head. It looked like it had had a stroke, one side of his face drooping and only one eye was working. I had to know what the story was. A young guy, Paul, who was helping out on the farm while John was away, explained what had happened. Very sad but it goes like this…. A couple of years ago John decided he had far too many dogs. I think he may have been catholic and didn’t believe in doggy birth control. John took the oldest dog, Fred, out to a paddock to euthanize, the farmers way, by shooting him in the head. Quick and clean. John shot the dog, the dog dropped and John left. That was that! A week later John heard wining at the front door. When he went to see what the problem was he thought he was looking at a ghost. FRED WAS BACK!! Somehow, Fred had survived the bullet through the brain, with some side effects, and returned home. John’s days of euthanizing dogs were over!! Fred got plenty of hugs from me after that.
Work was running dry in Mundubbera. There was a slow exodus of backpackers moving north to Bowen. The next seasonal picking area. After attending court for two drink driving offences, committed two days in a row, and having had it adjourned, it was time for me to leave town as well. A group of us from Mundubbera camped in the same caravan park in Bowen and went in search of work. It took a while but eventually we got work in a tomato farm. Our job was stringing the tomato vines to stakes. There were four rows of string, each about 30 cm above each other, from the ground up. The first and second string were ball breakers!!
Our foreman and his wife, Tom and Henny, were kiwi’s who lived in Bowen and had worked there for years. They were a fantastic, kind and mellow couple. Henny had had a stroke a few years earlier and Tom had to teach her how to walk and talk again. She seemed completely normal. Henny would walk down the rows with me and point out different weeds and say “that’s called Pooha in NZ, we eat that”. She named a few weeds they ate in her homeland so I pointed to a tomato and told Henny “that’s a tomato, in Aus, we eat that!!” She got the joke! I did try her pickled Pooha and it was quite good. I think we call it Milk Thistle here.
While I was camped in the Bowen caravan park, I had a visit from the police. They recognised the rego number of the Kombi and were following up a warrant that had been issued for my drink driving offences in Mundubbera. I gave them a false name and some bullshit story about buying the Kombi. They weren’t too bright because they didn’t even ask for ID. The offices said they had to go back to the station and check it out. As soon as they left, I bolted. I camped at the stringing fields and when I explained to Tom and Henny what had happened, they immediately offered to let me camp in their back yard. I took up the offer. Matt and Just came as well. As I said earlier, they were a great couple!
TO BE CONTINUED
©Steven Court 2015