Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

Australia 2


Well, here we go, the end of an era, perhaps...

Firstly, I'll tell you my exploits in the last couple of weeks since I last wrote.

Actually, before that I should tell you more about Nick, as he feels that his part as counsel in my exploits has been glossed over. Furthermore, he has promised and given me signed and witnessed documents that he will never try to get money out of me for anything I write about him.

In reality, Nick's help was invaluable as he did tell me how to get the rabbit out (with a carrot), though he could not explain how it was not a traumatic experience for the rabbit or the recipient. He has also been helpful with objective information about parts of Australia, many of which he had actually visited, most of which he had at least heard of, a handful of which he could spell. Most beneficial however was, his assistance to me venting my spleen about my atrocious travelling companions. He actually advised me to run over Jan repeatedly and make it look like an accident. It was too late for that. Then, that if I attacked the ungrateful Stephanie with an adjustable spanner, I would get away with it, whereas the axe that had been my first choice, would have been no end of trouble. Again unfortunately it was too late, as I had moved on, but it left me prepared for a possible next time. I feel privileged that a man with such a busy drinking schedule has taken the time to assist me as he has. If he regains control of his hands and can therefore put an X on a piece of paper, Nick is likely to become the first honorary member of Alcoholics Unanimous, when the organisation gets out of the pub and starts existing as more than a concept. Nick has also paid me to ask that if any of you know of anyone, who might find an alcoholic Australian, avid AFL aficionado, with a general lack of rhythm attractive, to send their photos to him, care of Lonely Planet, where he can put them in an upcoming wildlife book.

Now, after that nonsense back to my story. Which picks up from where I left off in Port Douglas. Port Douglas is in the far north of Queensland, on the East coast of Australia. The reason for my being there was essentially two-fold. I had been told that the diving on the Great Barrier Reef was better the further north one was, so being based out of Port Douglas was best. Secondly, Shantel, who told me that, lives there, so it would be nice to see her again.

When I got to Port Douglas I was tired from the long drive (3,200 km or 2,000 miles) from Coober Pedy. I decided to check in to a hostel, making it the first time since leaving the state of Victoria, a month earlier, that I would not be sleeping in the car. Actually I was very comfy in the car, as it converted to a queen sized bed in the back, with curtains etc. and there was always a public shower at a roadhouse or where-ever. It was time to be re-introduced to humanity though. At least that was what I thought.

My first night, I went out until the early hours of the morning with some folk from the backpacker where I was staying. It was not a particularly great crowd, nor a particularly good night. Considering that the average age was somewhere around twenty-one, consisting of almost entirely vacuous people, it also made me a feel a bit old. Thankfully, I got to know a better group of people over the following days.

In Port Douglas over the next couple of days, I sorted some things out, relaxed and also went to Shantel's birthday party, which had a much better crowd. Shantel was then able to get me a discount with the company she works with as a marine biologist, so after a few days taking it easy, I went out and finally dived on the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is big, it is bloody huge, that is why they call it great. It is sometimes referred to as the biggest living thing on the planet, which is not entirely accurate as it is made up of lots of living things. It is more than the equivalent of an underwater Amazon rainforest. It is a huge area that is packed with massively varied marine life. That is part of the problem. As a marine / ecological phenomenon, it is incredible. As a dive spot, it is quite good. I think this is an appropriate spot for an analogy. When viewing land-based wildlife, it is generally best to go to an oasis or watering hole, where the wildlife congregates in a smaller area and is more exposed, than to visit a jungle where it could be anywhere it chooses. In the jungle there is more wildlife, it is just difficult to see much of it. The same could be said for the Great Barrier Reef, it is a fantastic ecosystem, though not necessarily the best place to see the fishes, although I did see lots of nice ones.

Following from the dive trip on the outer barrier reef, I then went on the Low Isles trip, a more sedate cruise with some nice snorkelling with turtles etc. Shantel was actually on this trip, in her capacity as marine biologist and so conducted informative tours etc. and gave me free drinks from behind the bar.

Port Douglas is also very close to the Daintree Rainforest. Supposedly the world’s oldest rainforest. I went for a bit of a walk around Mossman gorge, which was pleasant, though half the walks were closed for maintenance, so it was brief.

After leaving Port Douglas, I drove south down to the small town of Ayr, where I arrived with a deluge of cars going to a concert. I had a look to see what was going on and it transpired it was free, which was around the amount I was prepared to pay. I went in as a hip-hop duo called ‘End of Fashion’ finished there set (the end of The End of Fashion, in a fashion) and Jay and The Doctor, the MCs of the event made me (and the several thousand people around me) aware of what was going on (I think I was the only one who didn’t know). It was a concert hosted by ‘Triple J’ a national radio station, on which Jay and The Doctor are DJs. The night had been brought to Ayr because a bloke called Maggot had won a competition to bring it there. I was not informed what the competition was, but presume it was something like ‘Most unwanted child’ or ‘Most ridiculous name’. Whatever it was, Maggot was the man responsible for what was going on around us.

After enough blathering from the strange haired ones, the stage was prepared for Shihad a hard rock band, who came on and performed their stuff. I wasn’t that enamoured of it and the lead singer’s diatribes between songs were so laced with expletives that even Paul Keating might have found it slightly excessive. Particularly considering the audience, as the age range was quite disparate, with the majority sixteen to thirty although there were some very small kids, others looked like they were entitled to a free bus pass and some looked like they were not far off getting a telegram from the Queen. The older contingent were at least as enthusiastic as the younger ones, throwing their Zimmer frames aside in order to boogie with the best of them.

Shihad left, possible with part of my eardrum and we were subjected to more inanity from the duo with the worrying hair. Then they introduced The Hilltop Hood consisting of MC Pressure and MC Suffer with DJ Da Breeze. It would be easy to dismiss them as another white hip-hop group, so I will.

That night, at the place where I stayed, there were lots of kangaroos hopping around, something I did not expect to see too much of on the East Coast.

My reason for being in Ayr was to go and dive the S.S. Yongala, a ship that sunk off the coast almost one hundred years ago and is rated as one of Australia’s best dives as it is an underwater oasis (according to my analogy above), where prolific marine life has congregated around the artificial reef formed by the wreck. The dives were very good and I saw guitar and tawny sharks, bull rays and lots of other fish, some of them in great schools. The Yongala is an extremely popular dive site, but most people follow the crowd and take one of the many boats from Townsville, which take three hours to reach the site. Going from Ayr, with the only operator there, we were there in half an hour so had already surfaced after our first dive, before any other boats arrived.

It was around this time, I met Colin Ricketts an unfortunate name for someone using his legs so much, walking around Australia in order to raise money for ‘Kids with Cancer’. His walk would be around 15,000kms, he estimated. We chatted for a little while, as he wanted some information on some of the places I had come through and I was curious about his exploit. He had a converted baby’s pushchair with all the stuff he needed, that he would push along in front. So far, he had walked from Adelaide, (leaving at the beginning of January) via Melbourne and Tasmania, up the East coast to Townsville, and the more tricky part was about to begin, as he headed first north to Cairns then back to Townsville and west through the outback and I could sense a little understandable trepidation about what lay ahead. He seemed like an amenable easy going bloke and I wished him luck as he started his days walking. At last look, Colin has gotten as far as Charters Towers, a little west of Townsville. If you are interested, his website is http://www.startanewlife.com.au/ where you can check his progress etc.

As I headed south along the East Coast, I decided to go to the town of 1770. There were a couple of reasons for this, one was that a couple of people had told me they liked it, the other was that I was and am still not aware of any other town in the world that is a number. The number was from when Lt. Jim Cookie, landed there, on May 23rd to be precise. As I headed towards 1770, there was a roadblock and a park and ride scheme in effect. I thought that it all seemed a bit busy for a little town until I spoke to a family who had just recently emigrated to Australia from the UK, who told me I had arrived to witness the annual festivities they have to commemorate the landing of Lieutenant Jim (remember that is pronounced Left-enant, being a Brit). The festivities consisted of one of the shortest and probably the least spectacular carnival procession in the world. Several vehicles idled past with a few folk on the back and then they stopped after a couple of hundred metres and that was that. There was then an almost interminable repertoire from the local dance school. I am sure that the respective families were proud of their children etc, but it did not make for riveting viewing. The aboriginal dancing and explanations were much more interesting. Then came the bit that everyone had been waiting for, the re-enactment. People excitedly gathered on the beach to watch as a skiff with several folk in period sailors outfits rowed ashore then inspected the area as though it was entirely uninhabited, as opposed to the hundreds of people who were in actuality crowding around the actors, taking photos and many shouting “Hello Captain!”, although he was actually only a lieutenant at this stage. The actors attempted to comport themselves in a manner befitting someone from the eighteenth century and slowly made their way to the stage, where they pretended to read some speeches. Then they suddenly burst into a song and dance routine that was utterly bizarre and incongruous, though one of the better dances of the day – which really wasn’t saying a lot. I decided that would be more than enough for me and left, to head further south.

The next real stop for me was Fraser Island, which involved a short ferry ride over. I had gone around a number of backpackers on the mainland to see if anyone wished to accompany me, as I thought it would be more fun for me and a lot cheaper for them. I had no takers though, apparently most people have pre-booked their tours.

Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. This would make you think that it is probably a lot of sand and a few palm trees. Actually it is very fertile, with a rain forest and several freshwater lakes. Apparently, there is enough fresh water under Fraser Island to fill Sydney harbour four times over, that is a lot of fresh water.

I got the first ferry of the day, leaving just after seven and headed straight to Lake MacKenzie. There are very few sealed roads on the island, only around a couple of the resorts. The rest of the tracks are proper four wheel driving, sandy slippery routes up and over the island, criss-crossing it in order to access the various points of interest. Lake MacKenzie is probably the most popular spot on the island, thankfully most of the people do not get up early, so when I got there, I walked down to the lake from the car park with a couple of Kiwi blokes, to see the lake with an absolutely mirror surface, clearly undisturbed for hours at least. The ripples as we dipped our toes in the icy water, seemed to bounce back from the sides, permanently removing the perfectly still sheen we had first witnessed. After a little while there, others turned up, spoiling the tranquillity, so off I went to Lake Wabby. This involved a bit of a walk down through a forest to the lake which is slowly receding into the sand as a big dune encroaches on it. I went for a brief swim and then had the uphill walk.

Taking advantage of the tide, I decided to take The East Beach Highway up to Indian Head. This actually implies I went on a sealed road, in actuality, The East Beach Highway, also known as seventy-five mile beach (actually only ninety two kilometres, fifty-seven and a half miles) is just a beach. The sand is mostly compressed enough, so it is almost like driving on a road, however from time to time a loose bit reminds you to pay attention. The strange thing is, it is classed as a highway, with the appropriate speed limit and road rules. There are even regular police speed checks, despite there actually being no road, signs or demarcations, things are often a bit strange in Australia.

At Indian Head, I took some time to take in the views and observe some of the fish in the clear water below. Sharks and rays were clearly visible from the cliffs above the water, with dolphins splashing just a few hundred metres away. I then headed back down the highway to Lake Allom, set in lush forests, where long-necked freshwater tortoises are easily seen. From there, I decided to go to Woralie, run by John and Peter, the closest thing left to traditional owners. They are both part aboriginal, though John is blonde, he has the features and general appearance of a light skinned aboriginal. Peter however looks almost middle-eastern, though with more pronounced cheek bones. There was a third Australian, Chris, there to help them out with some construction work they were doing. Over the past ten years they had built the area into a basic campsite with a fair amount of potential. By their own admission, they did this at a pace that suited them. The pace was somewhere between a hiatus and a semi-permanent holiday. There was another group, four Irish, two Swedes and an Israeli, who had rented a car together to tour Fraser Island. We made a fair social grouping and a little later, Pabap and Narawi, a couple of semi-domesticated dingoes who choose to be semi-resident at Woralie also joined us.

During the course of the evening we had some songs and explanations of aboriginal traditions and folklore, Peter demonstrated the clap sticks and John played a little bit of Didgeridoo as we sat around the campfire with a few beers. Amanda, one of the Swedes decided to show us her fire-twirling skills. I am sure there is a better name for it, but I don’t know it. Essentially she has a handle attached to a metal wire in each end. At the other end is a spherical gauze that is dipped in Kerosene, then lit, then twirled. She would spin them round her head, from side to side and back and forth. She was actually quite good at it all, at least she was when she was sober. It was when she decided to give it another go, when she was well under the influence that it became a bit more interesting. It was impressive that she did not severely injure herself, as she repeatedly mismanaged her twirling, within a short time, she had black marks on her bare legs and arms. After this Chris, a man proud of his alcoholism and several sheets to the wind decided that he would have a go at this, despite having no previous experience. This developed into one of the funniest things I have seen in a very long time, as he repeatedly struck one of the burning orbs against his face, back, head and just about everywhere else on his body. Chris also decided to have a go at breathing fire, unfortunately as he had previously demonstrated in the most incontrovertible manner, what co-ordination he may have when sober, had completely disappeared. This meant that sometimes he forgot what he was doing and drank the kerosene, as opposed to spitting out a flame. He also burned his lips quite badly. He would then resume the fire-twirling despite weak protests from John and I. Both of us were sitting cross-legged and weeping with laughter, wanting Chris to stop for his safety, but finding it so hilarious, we were actually almost powerless to present a proper front. The fact that he himself did not turn into one big ball of flames was something of a miracle, particularly when one considers the amount of alcohol and kerosene he had consumed. Somehow we all survived the evening, though there were some close calls as either Amanda or Chris would inadvertently let go of one of the twirly things and it would fly at us like a miniature comet, with all diving for cover.

On more serious side, it was interesting to talk to Peter about his experiences being part aboriginal. Although to most people, he would not appear aboriginal, apparently he regularly suffers racist abuse from Australians. He said that Australian holidaymakers on the island will often call him a nigger or even throw empty drinks cans at him. It all sounds a bit incredible, though unfortunately it does apparently happen at times. It is important to remember that Australia has an unfortunate history hen it comes to indigenous rights. It was only in 1967 that a national referendum actually bestowed citizenship upon the aboriginals. Before that, despite being the original occupants of the continent, they could not become citizens and were denied all rights.

Between the nineteen thirties and mid-sixties, there were the stolen generations. In its most simplistic form, it was when children were taken from their parents, who were not there legal guardians, a role fulfilled by the state, in order to civilise them. The state would take children from their families, effectively severing all social and cultural links they had and then dump them into an environment that rejected them. They could not settle successfully in white society and often did not know which clan or even what area of the country they originated from. This person effectively became dejected and rejected from aboriginal and white society. Often they would become vagrants, probably alcoholics, perpetuating the myth of their incompatibility with any society.

Going back only slightly further, it was not uncommon for people to kill aboriginals without even the slightest recriminations and often with a bit of a tacit official endorsement.

When one thinks of the political plight of the aboriginal in Australia, there are distinct parallels with Apartheid South Africa or the institutional racism that existed in the USA. The most pertinent difference being that the proportionate population of Aboriginals is only about one and three quarter percent. It is interesting to see how history is written to suit the white sensibility and so the aboriginal contribution to Australia is generally dismissed. Even when they have won in a white arena they are often forgotten more easily than if they were white. Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, is a Wiradjuri Aborigine. Evonne was the first female Aboriginal Australian to achieve prominence in a sporting endeavour. She won 90 professional tournaments and was a finalist in 18 Grand Slam events. A five-time Wimbledon finalist, Evonne faced some of the greatest women tennis players in history such as Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, proving to be their equal in every respect. She won Wimbledon twice, the Australian Open four times and the French Open once. Still, most people if quizzed would be surprised to hear that an aboriginal had ever won Wimbledon, let alone twice.

After the fireworks of the previous night, the following day was quite sedate. I got up early and went to see The Pinnacles, a colourful area of sandy cliffs and then went on to the Maheno wreck, picturesquely rusting on the beach, gently lapped by the surf. Next off I went to Eli creek, where I could see eels and fish swimming in the creek. The walk around the rainbow gorge was nice and gave a good opportunity to see birdlife and some coloured dunes. After visiting the unimpressive Lake Birabeen, I decided that my work was done on Fraser Island, so headed back to the mainland.

On my drive south I stopped off in Nambour to see the big Pineapple, which is as it sounds a very large pineapple, there is not a lot one can say about a forty foot pineapple, except that it is definitely big and it is a pineapple. Almost sated culturally, with that experience I thought surely Nambour cannot offer more, yet Nick advised me to check out the Ettamogah Pub. After finding it, I wondered what the blue buggery I was doing stood outside a rhomboid pub, with strange models around it. I went in to try and find out what the story was. Apparently it is the most photographed pub in the world. It is a replica of the pub from a cartoon series by Ken Maynard. I had a look at a few of the cartoons and they weren’t funny. I called Nick to find out what had possessed him to recommend the place. He had no idea either.

Onward and southward I went, stopping briefly in Brisbane on my way down to Byron Bay. Byron Bay is a nice little beach town with a chic bohemian feel. It was once the secret spot for the artistic community. Now it has grown up and become more commercial, although it hasn’t completely sold out.

Nimbin, a little way in land never grew up. It is a strange little village with the feeling of a commune. It is also home of the Mardi Grass festival. As I got out of the car, an old bloke came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy some weed, showing me several bags he had, all of them about the size of a VHS tape. I declined and headed up the street, where several other ancients also offered to sell me quantities that could keep the average student halls stoned for a week. Some of the shop fronts were painted psychedelically, as were some signs etc. I headed into the HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) embassy, effectively a museum to Marijuana, hemp and all the uses of the plant, historically, medically and its practical uses as a fibre and more. The information is surprisingly well documented and researched. Adjoining the museum is the Hemp Bar. No alcoholic beverages are served, but everyone still seemed to be having a good time though. I took some time to peer through the thick smoke to watch a confusing game of chess and chat with some of the regulars and the ‘barman’. As I walked back out along the main road (with some inexplicable food cravings), I stopped at the Estate Agent’s window to see what sort of places were for sale. Curiously in many of the advertisements, it mentioned “good crop yields from garden” or similar. I have an inkling that this is not a reference to a healthy vegetable patch. It was interesting to see that at one end of the main street was the police station and at the other, the court house, yet I doubt that they trouble themselves with the trade and practice so blatantly taking place there, despite it being illegal in the state of New South Wales to sell, own or grow marijuana.

With enough time spent in Nimbin, I decided to see another of Australia’s most celebrated sights, in Coffs Harbour. The Big Banana has been around for over forty years and a theme park has been built around it. After a couple of minutes of looking at an oversized fruit, there is not a lot more to do but leave, so I did. Still further south towards the nations capital, Canberra.

Canberra is a bit of an odd place. Like Brasilia, Islamabad and Washington D.C., it was a capital built somewhere to suit and settle a nations conflicting political interests. In this case, the rival cities of Sydney and Melbourne both wished to be the capital of the recently created commonwealth of Australia. To appease both sides a compromise was found in some sheep paddocks. There, the national capital was to be built, partway between both Melbourne and Sydney. The site was known as Kamberra, an aboriginal word for meeting place. Numerous other names were submitted, amongst them: Democratia; Federatia; Eucalyptia; New London and Shakespeare. The compiled names were even sillier Engirscot or the particularly demented and unpronounceable Sydmeladperbrisho, made from the first letters of each of the original state capitals. Thankfully the powers that be decided to settle with the original name, although apparently Shakespeare was a close second.

With the name and location decided upon, all that was left to do was design a city. The designer was to be the successful entrant from an international competition. An American Walter Burley Griffin whose proposal involved the creation of a false lake amongst other things. Going around central Canberra, it does have the feeling of being designed as a showpiece. The National Capital Exhibition further illustrates the point with dioramas and laser shows.

The centre piece of the whole thing is Parliament Hill almost on top of which is the new Parliament House. The reason that it is almost on top, is that a lot of the hill was put back on top of the building, so there is actually a lawn where a roof would normally be found. All a bit strange, but things often are in Australia.

I visited the Parliament House and was impressed not so much by any grandeur, although it is quite grand, but by its informality. There is some security, although it is not over the top or intrusive. One can wander around most of the place unmolested. It is only when going into one of the chambers whilst they are sitting that one has to go through much security and even that is done in quite a friendly way.

As I learned a bit more about the history of Australian politics, I found that it was actually quite interesting. Really, Australian politics has had a lot more peculiar incidents then most countries. They had a Prime Minister who went for a swim and didn’t come back. Harold Holt, went for a dip whilst PM, no-one knows what happens then, he just didn’t come back and a body was never recovered. Some say it was a riptide, others a shark, some say he simply drowned and the conspiracy theorists claim he was abducted by a submarine. I find that one implausible for the simple reason that his absence on the international stage made about as much impact as a sponge against a steel door. Then there was Francis Forde who was PM for a week. When the previous Prime Minister John Curtin died, in 1945, Forde took over but a week later his party decided they didn’t want him, kicked him out and Joseph Chifley got the top job. The one that people still talk about though was when Gough Whitlam was fired by Sir John Kerr, the Governor General, the Queen’s representative in Australia, who had actually originally been appointed by Whitlam. He was replaced by Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, whilst new elections were organised. This was seen by many Australians as too much meddling from the crown, despite the incompetence Whitlam had exhibited. The populace felt bitter that Kerr could fire someone they had elected, sticking Fraser in office. Then in the elections that followed they duly elected Fraser with a landslide majority. Australian politics, interesting and strange. Anyway, after touring around the building and going for a walk on the lawn / roof, I decided to head for the National Museum, about which I had heard good things.

The National Museum is quite new and a lot of investment has clearly gone into it. It does at times look like some people had some interesting ideas and then a guy with a big chequebook and a disinclination to see what the money was going to be spent on. That is not to say it was wasted, though it could perhaps have been better spent. Apart from the very good displays of Aboriginal and colonial history, the overall feeling is more that the designers wanted to create a fun place for children to go. Our Place is a strange medley of a disjointed Australian road map, with ‘Home’ written in many different languages all over it, dominoes, a Braille representation on the walls and various other things including a symbolic last straw. Thankfully there was an ‘Explainer’ on hand to do just that for me. It was all a bit more like an adventure playground merged with modern art. Something else that seemed even more pointless was Kspace, where you can design a home of the future on the computers there. That is a home for the spatially challenged, who like to defy the laws of physics.

After having had a good look around the museum, I went back to Parliament to watch Prime Minister’s question time. It promised to be a good one as the government had a couple of contentious issues to deal with. One was what was to happen with the Tran family, an illegal immigrant couple who had just had a baby. There had been all sorts of conflicting reports, from the government itself, what was going to be done and this was being exploited by its detractors. More than this, the government was seeking to introduce an industrial relations bill that would limit peoples opportunities to seek redress for unfair dismissal from their employers.

The debating kicked off with some jovial cross party criticisms and empty retorts from cabinet ministers and their shadow members. Then John Howard, the Prime Minister took the floor and I finally understood why he was PM. The man is a master of political debate, making sure he didn’t answer what he didn’t want to, until he was well prepared and could make the opposition look incompetent. He was assisted in this by very capable cabinet ministers and well drilled back benchers. It was all quite enjoyable and Kim Beasley, the leader of the opposition, who can seem eloquent and erudite in interviews seemed tongue-tied and amateur in debate, the speaker even had to instruct him with regard to procedure. It was informative and interesting to see how someone who seems like a nice bloke can lose out so comprehensively to someone who generally appears to be an arsehole.

After Question Time, I headed to the Australian War Memorial, actually more of a war museum, detailing the involvement of Australia and its armed forces in conflicts from the Crimea to Korea and more. Although interesting in parts, the information concentrates almost completely on the Australian (and sometimes New Zealand) in conflicts. This seems a bit parochial when the reality is that Australia has generally been a minority force amongst others. Not wanting to reduce what has often been a vital and valorous role, though I think it is fair to say that Australia’s part in the World Wars was as part of a collective, not as a solo crusader as it seems at time wandering around the various well presented displays. The Memorial is a combination affair, with museum and chapel, a tomb for the unknown Australian soldier, an eternal flame and so forth. At the end of the day, a lone piper played a lament by the eternal flame, before disappearing dramatically into the chapel, where the doors seemed to magically close behind him.

I then wandered along Anzac parade to look at the various monuments to Australia’s fallen. They range in architectural and artistic style. Some are to commemorate different campaigns in which the servicemen and women have been involved, others were to remember a specific part of the armed services and their fallen. The only mention of The Gulf Wars though, was on the memorial to service nurses. I wonder whether there will be any monument for Australia’s fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq recently.

Despite the intellectual fodder on offer, Canberra’s most lasting memory for me will probably be its public toilets. When I used one, I was impressed to see that Braille had been put on all the various electronic devices that opened and closed the door, flushed, dispensed soap, water and activated the drier. It would have been a lot more impressive though if they had not put protective clear Perspex over the Braille, thereby turning it into nothing but a taunt to the visually impaired. Some idiot somewhere I am sure that it would be a good idea.

I decided as a final part to my trip to visit the Snowy Mountain area. Amongst the mountains there is Mount Kosciusko, Australia’s highest. I started my drive of the area around the picturesque Lake Jindabyne. From there I headed upward towards the mountains themselves. I got to see some of them through the clouds before the mist fell like a curtain and my visibility was reduced to very little. I then had an unpleasant drive through the mountains, the only good bit being when I got to see mountain kangaroos and wallabies hopping out of the mist from time to time. That was it for me and back to Sydney I headed, where I met up with my friend Sophie and took it easy for my last couple of days in Australia before boarding the long flight back to London, where I am now.

The car I bought did well, without too many complications and the distance I did in it was quit epic. By the end of my time I had done twenty-four thousand kilometres (fifteen thousand miles). Put another way, that is enough to have driven from Canberra to London, then continue on to Buenos Aires. That is as the crow flies, but still a bloody long way. On my trip I had a good time, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I saw most of the things I wanted to and enjoyed myself. Now, I think I am at the end of my travels. Not that I will never travel again, but I do not plan to do so in the same way I have been for some time. I have seen more places than the average person and have been fortunate to do so. My experiences have enlightened me, made my life richer and provided an unparalleled education. There has to be a time though when things change. I have intended for some years for it to be about now. I will probably be going away again in the foreseeable future, but I will be doing so for work, more than pleasure, which is not to say that I will not be enjoying myself. I think now is the time that I take more of an interest in a profession and career. We will have to see how it works out.


That should mean that you will be saved from my newsletters, at least for the while.



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