Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lies, Deceit, and Another Ocean: This is Australia

Lightning can strike anywhere, and when it strikes the face of a cliff, it heats up any moisture in the cliff and causes the fluid to expand cracking and exploding the cliff from the inside. This usually triggers a portion of the cliff to wildly fly out, then down onto whatever soon to be ruin may lie below.

I left Margaret River in a flood of tears and uncertainty. The pack of bushdogs had broken up. Flo, the French roofer was the first to go, leaving in the middle of the harvest rush because he had been told he would have steady employment in Perth as a roofer, which is his trade. After spending most of the money he had earned during the grape harvest just to get to Perth and find lodging, this "steady work" that Australian employers so often promise ended up being two days of cleaning gutters, and two weeks of waiting. Fed up with this ill treatment, deceit and false promise, Flo headed north to the banana capital of the West, Carnarvon, where the last I heard he had steady but underpaid work picking bananas.

The second to go was Ben, a budding historian from Philadelphia. Having saved some picking grapes and washing dishes, Ben left when most others wisely left Margaret River when the harvest really started to slow down in mid-March. He posted a few ads on the internet offering his services as a chess or social studies tutor in Melbourne, packed his bags, and hitchhiked across a continent. It took him a week, but he made it and is now working in a kitchen getting good hours.

Then Erik left the bush. He bought a car, added a bed, and lived in that. Erik is French and holds a degree in oenology. The day after he arrived in Margaret River he interviewed for and got a job making wine at a nice winery. During the heyday he would return from work carrying liters of wine from his estate. Passing it around, Erik's offerings were some of the few opportunities we had where we could actually access the product we woke up at 4am to harvest. When he left the bush and moved into his car it brought the number in the camp to three: Cris, Maarten, and me.

And the weather turned grey. Being in the bush had been fantastic, a fairytale! You wake up to birds chirping, with the sun out and bright but cool under the eucalyptus canopy. When it became too hot we went swimming, either in the Indian Ocean or the Margaret River itself, jumping from trees, swinging from ropes, living with no rules and no responsibilities: itinerant laborers on the edges of society. But in the cold and the wet none of this is possible and there is nothing to do when you don't have a house and you finish work at 10am. I became feverish to leave, and posted ad after ad on an internet ridesharing site looking for a ride across Australia to Adelaide or Melbourne that would have room for my bicycle. Finally I found it, in the form of Edward and his white Toyota Camry. Then I only had three days left, and the prospect of leaving all my friends to go to an unknown city with winter approaching filled me with a leaden dread of loneliness.

I second guessed my decisions so many times in those last few days. Cris and Maarten, the only people in Margaret River who had managed to save a decent amount of money would be buying a car and driving North, away from winter, and into one of the most remote coasts on the planet. With its red cliffs meeting blue ocean, the northern coast of Western Australia would certainly be beautiful, and it would be a continuation of the spring/summer I had started back in March 2011. This made my plan, which was to go to Melbourne where it would most certainly be winter and where I knew no one, seem ridiculous. I was set though. I was sick of these harvest jobs, where you grovel and beg for these jobs where you hardly make anything and get treated like a part of a machine. I had applied to a job teaching wilderness education in the mountains North of Melbourne, and I was on step 4 of a long application process, and things were seeming good. This is the logic that took me across a continent (the first time I've ever traversed a continent by land and not been on a bicycle!).

So that day came, and I piled all my stuff into Edward's Camry. We drove across the nothingness that is the Eyre Highway, and I got dropped off in Tailem Bend, just past Adelaide on the shores of the Southern Ocean. It would be a ten day ride to Melbourne, highlighted by the Great Ocean Road for the last 350km.

My lonesomeness quickly deteriorated to joy as I dove into my old familiar routine of riding a bicycle all day. The limitless freedom was a breath of life into my time in Australia, and I met friendly people, who treated me like a person! I saw eagles and emus, koalas and kangaroos. I camped next to the ocean; I camped at a winery; I saw a comet through my newly purchased binoculars. Things were good., but this is Australia. While at a wine tasting in the Coonawarra, I got a call that I couldn't get that job that I had already done several interviews for doing the wilderness education because they didn't take people who had my visa. That's ok, I understood that reason, and I appreciated the honesty. Then a few days later my bike finally broke down big time: after 17,500km my rear hub had disintegrated.

I cracked the cone on the hub, which holds the bearings in place. Luckily I realized this when I was at a standstill and not going my average 322kph uphill. Luckily, I was only 12km outside Warrnambool, which is the first city where you can get a train directly to Melbourne. Ironically, it's also where the Great Ocean Road starts, which is one of the only things I had heard about doing in Australia that I had planned on doing. Sometimes, someone rolls the dice for you.

I went to the Warrnambool Art Museum-which has some great stuff, especially the painting of the lady fishing with a massive urn of wine at her feet-saw some skateboarders get arrested for bashing up a ledge, and got on the train. I arrived in Melbourne last Sunday night and stayed at a couchsurfer's house, David, who welcomed me in without even a day's notice given my emergency circumstances.

My first day in Melbourne I got a job at a bike shop, or so I was told. “Consider yourself hired,” were the exact words Phil uttered after my trial where I built two bikes. “I'll call you in a few days to tell you your hours.” After not hearing from Phalse Phil after five days, a gave him a buzz and, “Oh, sorry, the position's been filled, mate, no worries.” is what he said. No worries indeed, Phil, that's a nice cheap epitaph, hope you enjoyed the free labor.

So here I am, winter's fangs sinking in, looking for work in Melbourne. Exploitation, deceit, lies, and illegal wages are my expectations. I've already got some stuff lined up, in a factory packing roses for Mother's Day. Maybe I should have listened to my mother.

Despite all this, Melbourne is AWESOME, full of color, people are unique and original and unafraid. Ben is here, and we laugh about having rooves over our heads. There are rumors of friends coming out here to join me, and Good Beer Week starts May 12, and I might even have a job in a brewery during that week, but I don't believe a SINGLE WORD of that until I see it.


  1. Nice entries here. I read them all. It sounds like you are living an idyllic youth, regardless of all your reservations. This is your adventure. And I say "Wow!" All of us here are thankful that you didn't listen to your mother. And I'm hoping that you go back and ride that Great Ocean Road. Just ride it.

    Nice. Keep writing.