The hood was down, it
was late afternoon. There was an air of excitement over myself
and Hewie as we glided through the suburbs of Perth and
down on into the port city of Fremantle. Hewie was
running as well as the day he left Ballina. Like a horse who has
just won a horse race, I’m sure Hewie even felt in good
form. We’d made it to the other side of Australia! That may not
seem a great accomplishment and it isn’t – lots of people have
done the same trip. I tilt my hat to those who’ve done it on a
bicycle. But, at the beginning of the trip I had my doubts
whether Hewie could do it. He has proven me wrong, here
we were and I was jumping with excitement. We still had the
Nullarbor to cross, but I put that to that back of my head for
the time being and enjoyed the elation of the moment.
trip to Fremantle was back in 1969. I arrived on the suburban
train from Perth and found a beautiful city with majestic old
buildings. It looked like it had been transplanted there from
somewhere out of U.K. I’d returned again in 2001 to find that
many had been demolished for new buildings but much of the old
had been retained to keep the character of Fremantle. During a
walk around the town back in 2001 I wandered into the Fremantle
Hotel for a beer. The lounge bar had the feel of an old
captain’s watering hole from back in the days of sail. The dimly
lit bar with paintings and photographs of sailing ships and
yachts on the walls made for a quite and cosy atmosphere. It was
the type of pub that you’d expect to find in a city like Freo,
as the locals call the town.
My mind was
on the Fremantle Hotel as I drove along,, I was wandering if
they had accommodation or not. I’d not organised a place to
stay. When I arrived, my wish came true. They had single rooms
for $220 a week with television and something that pubs rarely
have in Australia and that was a telephone in the room. I walked
up the old carpeted stairway past old sailing ship paintings,
down the majestic hallway and opened the door to a pleasant
little room with white washed walls, a brass bed, a window that
overlooked the courtyard, a glimpse of the old Customs House
across the road and a view of the wharf, where a square rigged
ship the Leeuwin, a three masted barquentine, was
berthed. Hewie found himself out the back of the pub
under a nice shady tree. After being on the road and camping
since leaving home the simple luxury of my own room without any
bug, sand or heat was a godsend. I’ll admit it, I’m not as tough
as I thought I was.
Fremantle is a café city. Along
the main street, cafés and restaurants sit side by side all
seemingly doing a brisk business. It’s close enough to Perth to
be accessible and far away and different enough to give the
citizens of Perth a sense of being somewhere fresh. An escape
from their busy lives just up in Perth – they flock to Fremantle
to eat, sit in cafés and restaurants and
wonder around the
beaches, fishing harbour, museum and old port. A small pizza
open just a few doors down from the hotel. I’d
been hankering for a pizza with a bottle of red wine since
leaving Port Hedland. So the pizza restaurant was the first
place I headed for.
Next day I brought the old
computer up to the
room and set it up. But it wasn’t to be, it
was finished - kaput. I took out the hard drive and memory
chips and down to the garbage went what was left. I went down
the street and went on the search for a new PC
Satisfied with what they
offered me. I signed the papers, put the new box under my arm
and walked back to the hotel. I plugged it in and connected to
the net, and spent the next few days updating my web site. With
work out of the way, I then started preparing for this book and
started writing. The days were slightly cool. It was a quiet
location in the
back streets, the morning sun shone in the
window. I could see the yard arms of the Leeuwin if I
stretched a little. I’d found a great
place to write a book.
The first two weeks passed
quickly, but it was time to move again, but not too far. My
friend Chris was coming in from Sydney to spend two weeks
touring with me and Hewie, tasting wine and food in the
Margaret River wine country. So I moved to a double room with a
fireplace and a balcony that faced onto the old customs building
which is now part of the Notre Dome University.
Before picking Chris up at the
airport, I gave Hewie a good clean out, wash and polish.
I took everything out and swept out all the red dust, then tried
to put everything back in so that there would be more room for
her luggage. My biggest problem was the large three inch thick
piece of foam rubber that made up my bed. I thought about tying
it to the roof, but that’d stop me from putting the hood down.
Now that’d be a problem, how ever could one cruise around the
wineries dining on haute cuisine and sipping world famous wine
in a Morris Minor without doing it with the hood down. I
refolded it and jammed it down in between the front and back
I picked Chris up at the
airport and we drove out to the eastern suburb of Bassendean. A
friend of Chris’s had invited us over for lunch. We arrived with
the regulatory bottle of Chardonnay and Alison greeted us as we
pulled up in front of her modest suburban home. A big smile came
on her face when she saw us and Hewie.
“You came all the way in that!
You must be a good mechanic or else it’s still a good car,” was
the first thing she said.
Alison was in
her late fifties so she knew that Hewie was a Morris
Minor because her uncle had one. Chris looked at me then looked
back at Alison. She wasn’t sure if Hewie was really that
good or if I was really a good mechanic. I’d never talked to
Chris about working on Hewie. Nor had I often talked
about mechanics. She’d never seen me working on him. We’d done
many trips together in Hewie and he’d always acted well
with a lady present. Before I could say anything Chris said to
“I think it’s
probably a good car”
Before I opened
my mouth to blurt out the fact that I did know how to work on
cars and have put many hours into making Hewie reliable,
Allsion had taken over the conversation.
“These old cars
are so reliable,” she said. Before I could think of something to
say Alison said.
“Anyway, let us
open that bottle of wine and have some lunch. I don’t know about
you but I’m hungry.”
So, once again
that old myth that old cars are more reliable than new ones is
allowed to continue unchallenged. We lunched on cold meats,
cheese, bread and salad. Alison is a nurse, but when the
discussion got onto travel she told us she’d traveled
extensively in her earlier years leaving home back in the mid
sixties at 22 years of age she’d travelled by herself through
“You must have been one of the
first Hippies to land in India?” I asked her.
“I wasn’t a Hippie. Most, if
not all the others were Hippies, I was the only one with hair
rollers in my backpack,” she said.
“I visited India a few years
ago. I loved the place and hated it the same time. I arrived
there from Europe in a nice clean starched and ironed shirt. My
shorts were ironed with the appropriate crease down each leg.
This lasted about a week. It was the monsoon when I was there.
Whenever I left my hotel room it’d be raining. Or, had just
stopped raining and the sun would be out, the humidity would be
200% and the temperature about 50C in the shade. I’d arrive back
at the hotel soaked in perspiration or covered in mud or cow
shit, generally a mixture of both, plus a bit of human shit
stirred in. Now don’t get me wrong - when I was there I cursed
the place and the people. I got so sick with an acute case of
Deli belly that I had to go home a week earlier. I just couldn’t
recover while I was there. I had no energy. But when I got back
home and started to recover I thought of visiting the place
again. The colours, the smell of curry, the people, I can’t wait
to go back again,” I said
“I was there for nearly a year.
I actually got engaged to an Indian army corporal but chickened
out and moved on to Europe and the U.K to find work. Come in the
lounge room, I’ve got some slides of India,” she said.
Alison’s slides were the
highlight of the day. In some of the slides she was all dressed
up in sixties fashion styles complete with a sixties hair style
standing next to Indians dressed in colonial style army
uniforms. One of the slides showed a view overlooking Calcutta.
It appeared to be taken from inside a half finished building
looking down onto the street.
“That’s where I stayed while I
was visiting Calcutta. The builders would arrive each morning
and here I’d be sleeping on the concrete floor with my hair
rollers in” she said.
“And I thought that I roughed
it when I went travelling!” I said.
After two weeks in Fremantle I settled my
bill on the 3rd of November and promised the manager
of the Fremantle Hotel that we’d be back, hopefully in the near
“You’d better call before you
arrive next time. The rooms are soon to be handed over to the
Notre Dame University for student accommodation. But if you
arrive during university holidays we might be able to find you a
room,” he said.
“That’s a sad end to a great
place to stay. Well at least you still have the bar open, I’ll
stop in for a beer,” I said.
“”Don’t worry. That’ll still be
going. See you then.”
With Hewie packed to the
roof with our luggage we headed out of Fremantle and down into
the city of Bunbury. We found our way through the suburbs and
onto the main road south, then ran into a strong headwind, but
continued on. We were ripping along the four lane road at about
50KPH, but we eventually got there.
beginnings stretch back to the 1840s when the town prospered due
to hundreds of whaling vessels in the area. After whaling
finished came the shipment of karri and jarrah timber which was
cut and milled in the hinterland. Today the city remains a major
port for the shipment of wheat and timber.
I first visited
Bunbury back in 1969, arriving on a train from Perth. The train
pulled into the station which at the time was in the middle of
the town. I remember looking out on the right hand side of the
train and seeing an inviting sandy beach with clear blue water.
It was a hot summer’s day. I left the train and went over for a
swim. I clearly remember the white sand and the crystal clear
blue water. I went swimming in the shorts that I arrived in and
swam out into the middle of the lagoon. On the swim back I saw a
bank book floating in the water. I swam over and retrieved it –
it was mine! I opened it up. Most of the entries had been made
using a biro pen but some had been made using an old fountain
pen. These debts and credits were running down the pages. I swam
back to the beach and opened it up and allowed it to dry in the
sun. Once it was dry enough I took it over to the
Commonwealth Bank in the town. The bank clerk looked at it,
felt the dampness then opened a few pages to see where the ink
had run. He looked me with a disgusted look on his face. How
could anyone be careless with such a valuable item as a bank
book. He gave it back to me and said that it would be alright if
I just let it dry a bit more.
“While I’m here
I might as well take some money out” I said.
“Do you have an
invisible signature in the back of the book?” asked the clerk.
“Sure do” I said
“Sign here then”
as he handed me a withdrawal slip to sign.
“How much would
you like to withdraw sir?”
He walked to the end of the counter and
held the last page of my bank book under a blue light which
showed up my invisible signature. He carefully checked my
signature on the bank book against my signature on the
withdrawal slip then looked up and called another clerk over to
do a double check on the signatures. They nodded at each other
and the clerk came back to where I was waiting.
“That’ll be alright sir” as he
marked in a withdrawal of five dollars into my still damp bank
book and then handed me a five dollar note. Remember it was 1969
and ATMs hadn’t been invented.
When we drove into Bunbury, I’d
forgotten that I’d been there before. We stopped in a park next
to a lagoon. We set up the camp table and boiled a billy of tea.
I ran across the road to a bakery for some bread and cakes. On
the way back I had a sense of déjà
vu. I recognized the railway station which I arrived at back in
1969 which had now become a bus shelter and tourist office.
Everything started to fall in to place. The park where we were
sitting was once the beach where I’d swam some 35 years
previously. The clean white beach had gone and a stone retaining
wall had been built in its place. I walked down to the wall and
looked down into the water. What was once clear blue water was
now a horrible green colour. The white sand at the bottom had
also gone. The once white sand was now covered in a layer of
green moss, a few broken bottles and a few other pieces of
We finished our
lunch and headed through town and out to the coast and drove
along the coastal road a few kilometers. There were numerous
motels, not being sure which one to pick, we stopped at one
overlooking the beach called Faulty Towers. We were greeted at
the reception desk by an attractive Dutch woman who showed us to
be served from 6.30 in the dining room,” she said.
include crispy fresh bread rolls, slices of Dutch cheese and
filter coffee like in Holland?” I asked. She smiled at my
“No, sorry. We
used to serve a Dutch breakfast with rolls and cheese but it
just didn’t go down very well. The few Europeans who come here
liked it, but the majority of our guests are Australians. They
want cereal, Vegemite, toast and instant coffee or tea” she
said. The famous character, Basil, never made an appearance and
if there were problems with the motel they never showed their
ugly heads. The Faulty Towers Motel in Bunbury, Western
Australia, is a complete irony compared to the Faulty Towers in
the TV show.
We continued on
to Busselton, then down into Margaret River and found a room at
the Forest Edge Motel.
up until not so long ago was somewhat of a depressed area
relying on timber and cattle. Then someone came along and came
to the conclusion that the climate resembled that of Bordeaux in
France. They planted some grape vines and that was the start of
a wine industry. Now the Margaret River area is around number
one on the Western Australia tourist must see list. But there’s
not all that much to see. The town has some craft shops and a
few restaurants and much of the surrounding area around is
similar to the rest of the south western tip of Western
Australia. But the name, Margaret River goes with top Australian
wine making. If you buy a bottle of Margaret River wine on the
east coast and take it to a restaurant or dinner with friends
and mention that it comes from the Margaret River region you’ll
be assured by everyone that it’ll be a good bottle of wine, even
before opening it. Before the Margaret River myth started it was
the Hunter Valley. Anything from the Hunter valley had to be
good, even if it tasted like sour vinegar. The large majority of
wine in Australia is produced in South Australia. These wines
also win prizes in Europe, but South Australia is on your back
door if you live in, or close to, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane,
so there is no myth as to the quality of the wine. It’s just
I don’t own a
home with a cellar, neither does Chris, so neither of us are
good customers who come in, sip on a couple of expensive wines
then order by the case. Instead, we went into the wine tasting
rooms, tasted all the wines available then headed for the dining
room for a hearty lunch and a single glass of the wine which
most took our fancy while we were in the tasting room.
We stayed in
Margaret River for three days and visited a different winery
each day for lunch then back to the motel for an afternoon nap.
Such is life.
River we headed down into Cape Leeuwin and the small town of
Augusta in the extreme south west before returning to Bunbury to
farewell Chris on the train back to Perth from where she flew
back to Sydney.
I saw Chris off
at the station then spent another night in a motel in Bunbury
with my PC connected to the internet updating my web site. Next
morning I drove out onto the South western highway and down to
Bridgetown for the annual Blues Festival for the weekend.
I then continued
on through to the old whaling town of Albany in the far
I’d always expected Albany to be cool, overcast, with the
occasional shower. That was exactly
how it was as I drove into
town. I reached into the back for my leather coat and pulled a
pair of jeans on over my shorts. I stopped by the replica the
brig Amity which bought the first convicts and settlers to
Albany in 1826. I then drove around to the Albany Backpackers
which was the old London Hotel down close to the waterfront. I
settled in here for two days, enjoying the cool days and nights
and cooking my own meals in the kitchen.
before I left Albany a south westerly gale blew up. The wind
blew so hard for the next two days that I was able to sit on an
average speed of nearly 45 MPH. Hewie just flew along,
the hood acting like a small sail. As I drove I was thinking
about the next leg of the trip which was across the Nullabor
plain. Will I be lucky enough to have this wind blowing this
hard from behind, pushing Hewie along? I stopped at a
service station at the town of Ravensthorpe and was filling up
when a Toyota Landcruiser towing a large caravan pulled up next
to me. The driver got out and started filling up with diesel.
wind is giving me the shits, I’ve had it all the way across the
Nullabor. I’ve been using about a third more diesel than I
normally use. Heard any whether forecasts?” he said
“I’m headed for
Adelaide, I’ve got the Nullabor ahead so I’m hoping the wind
will stay in the same quarter” I said.
“Why don’t you
just pull over for a day or two and let it blow itself out.
There are some nice places around this part of the world that
deserve a few days, beachcombing and fishing” I suggested.
“I normally would but we’re,
headed to Perth for our daughter’s wedding” he said
We both looked upwind as a gust blew down
the main street, bringing with it dust and leaves. There were
two pubs in the town where I enquired about a room for the night
but they were both full. Just out of town at Mount Desmond was a
copper mine, so any accommodation was quickly snapped up. I went
down to the local camp ground and pitched my tent for the night
and then headed up to the pub. The special was pumpkin soup. I
ordered a bowl and out come a bowl of hot water that I’m sure
someone had just dipped a slice of pumpkin into. They should
have been more truthful and just called it what it was – pumpkin
tea. A mining town - there certainly weren’t any bargains going
Camped next to
me where a couple who told me
they were in their late 70s. They
came across to Kalgoolie on the train. They’d brought their car
on the train, which was an entitlement offered to them after
buying two first class tickets. They didn’t have a tent and just
spent the night in their car. They were up early the next
morning, headed in the same direction as myself.
It was a short run down into
the seaside town of Esperance the next morning. People had told
me that Esperance had the most beautiful beaches in Australia.
They were right, because of the white sand and clear light blue
water near the shore and dark blue out further. It has to be one
of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve seen anywhere in
Australia. I drove along the coast line taking picture after
picture in an attempt to get one of two good shots that would
give the crystal clear beauty of this piece of coast the justice
Esperance didn’t come into
existence until 1893 when a port was established to serve the
Coolgardie gold fields further north. Up until then the only
European settlers were itinerant whalers and sealers who lived
in rough shacks along the coast. But the town as a port didn’t
last long. The coming of the transcontinental railway quickly
put a stop to that. Attempts were made to open the country to
wheat but this failed due to salty environment and the lack of
the trace elements in the soil, drought and the great
depression. In 1949 the situation improved when it was
discovered which trace elements were missing from the soil. Once
this was discovered, the area was fertilized and quickly became
a large producer of wheat, cattle and sheep.
The area is now
becoming a popular holiday destination. I was there in the low
season so had no problem in finding a room at one of the local
pubs for three nights. The young woman at the reception desk
told me that she’d give me their best suite, complete with
television and telephone for the price of their cheapest. That
sounded good enough for me, so I took it without first checking
the room, something that I almost never do. While I was walking
across the courtyard to the room I thought that I should have
checked it first. When I got there I was right, the place was a
dump! Stale cigarette smoke lingered in the room that smelt like
it hadn’t been aired in months. The bathroom was full of mold. I
spent much of the time sitting in front of my computer. At least
the telephone line worked and I was able to connect to the
internet. When I’d get sick of staring into the screen, I’d head
out in Hewie for a tour of the local area or a run down
along the soft white sandy beach. Then back to the PC again.
business out of the way, I got back down to the business of life
again. I got the grease gun out, jacked Hewie up in the
car park and slid under and gave him a greasing. Considering the
room was such a dump, I didn’t feel guilty in doing maintenance
on the car in the parking lot. I cleaned up the spark plugs and
filed down and set the ignition points. I even came close to
changing the oil but decided it’d be too much of a messy job in
the car park behind the hotel.
I set off the next morning and
on the way out of town I stopped in at a service station to fill
with petrol. I asked the mechanic could he change the oil for
“I’m full up today mate, can
you bring her back tomorrow afternoon about three?’” he said.
I kept moving
and headed out of town north towards Norseman. The countryside
quickly left behind the green of the coastal strip and I was
soon back into the dry, dusty, red soil again. Two hours out of
Esperance I stopped at Salmon Gums. This small town is half way
between Norseman and Esperance. It was probably a big town back
in the days of steam on the railways. The old pub is the main
centre of town. On the southern side of the pub were a few shops
but they were all vacant and what was left of the furniture
inside was all covered in fine dust. There was a hardware store
which appeared to also be the local fuel depot. Everything was
closed even the pub. On the other corner was a handicrafts shop,
which was open! I pulled over and prepared my lunch on a park
table and seats under a stand of gum trees. I had the billy
boiling on my gas camp stove when a Volkswagen Kombi came into
town and parked beside me. They were a couple from Queensland
who were on their second trip around Australia in their 1976
model Kombi that they’d had fitted out as a camper. I was always
under the impression that air-cooled Volkswagens weren’t the
best vehicle for doing long trips around Australia in. They
convinced me that I was wrong. Properly maintained and driven
gently they assured me that Kombies of any model could go
anywhere. I was impressed that they’d been around twice. I was
even further impressed when he told me that he didn’t know
anything about mechanics and didn’t even know how to setup a set
of ignition points.
“What about spark plugs?” I
“Oh yes, I take the spark plugs
out and clean them often, but anything else I take to a
mechanic” he said.
“Have you ever had any problems
on the road,” I asked.
never had a problem. We drive everywhere at an average of 40
mph. Other cars and trucks sometimes get annoyed with us, but
what the heck. I just wave them on.”
That afternoon I arrived in Norseman, the
last town before the start of the Nullabor plain. I stopped by
the tourist office and picked up some info on where to stay, eat
and buy petrol on the way across. I stopped by the general store
across the road from the Norseman Hotel to pick up some food.
While doing the shopping I met up with another couple of
travellers who were stocking up for their trip across the Nullabor. We continued our conversation across the road in the
We’d just bought
our drinks and sat down when a young woman walked into the bar
in the nude. This is life in Western Australian mining towns.
Although it’s such a hot
climate, just the heat I’d imagined
would be enough to bring all the miners into a pub, let alone
naked women. A little while later our naked lady disappeared out
the back door and this
time came back dressed in her underwear.
A little while later she again disappeared and then comes back
fully dressed. Western Australia, I learnt has a law that
prohibits strip tease. The way around the law is to do it in
I checked into Lodge 101, which is cross
between a B&B without
the breakfast and a backpacker hostel.
Most backpacker hostels are grubby places, while B&B’s are
spotless but they’re expensive considering you don’t get your
own toilet and shower. But Lodge 101 was cross between both and
the woman who ran the place kept it spotlessly clean and tidy.
She lived there herself, different to many backpacker places
where you may only see the owner when he arrives to collect the
The south westerly gale that
blew me across from the west coast had calmed down to a light
easterly the day I arrived in Norseman. But this light breeze
didn’t last long. The next afternoon it was blowing a strong
breeze from the east - a head wind. I decided to wait it out at Norseman until
the next low pressure cell moved in from the west bringing with
it a westerly wind - hopefully. But this westerly wind didn’t
arrive. I sat at Norseman for three days reading whatever I
could get my hands on and listening to whether forecasts, hoping
I’d get a fair wind. Finally after three days the forecast came
over the radio that the south easterly would moderate to a light
breeze and that another low was moving in from the south west.
It was time to go!