Byron Bay It Forward

Trip Start Feb 02, 2009
Trip End Dec 24, 2009

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

*Coming Up on the world's fourth most popular hat-related periodical*

Funniest two photographs of the whole trip; hilarious No Smoking sign caption AND dog in Pope-Mobile! Plus, Live performance of Orphan Crab song! And the usual travel-related drivel...

Hello again!

Our journey now moves into the uncharted waters of Newcastle and Byron Bay, up the East Coast of Australia. The weather is getting warmer and the grass greener as we go. In Newcastle I had the good fortune of knowing two friends from Sheffield whom I met while they were doing their trip around the world: Brook and Alex. They live there and were good enough to let me stay for four days or so. The hospitality of the folk here continues to amaze me. Newcastle is something of an industrial powerhouse in Australia. It provides around ninety per cent of the countries coal and is one of the largest ports for that purpose in the world. Nevertheless it has a beauty about it and the beaches and lakes are glorious. It was nice to get away from the overly trod backpacker spots and onto some real Oz. They showed me around the place, took me to barbecues and allowed me to stay in their comfy house where I enjoyed my first proper nights sleep in ages, away from the snoring and smell of hostel dormitories. Brook and Alex have a young Japanese fellow, Rioji, staying with them for six months. He is working at Alex's fathers piano making factory. He is hilarious and his beginners grasp of the language just makes him funnier. He laughs after almost everything he says and it's such an infectious laugh we all joined in. It's a real house of joviality and chatter and the television is rarely turned on which is a real breath of fresh air. Except when the cricket was on but exceptions have to be made.

To give the guys a break from looking after me I decided to get out and see some of the wineries in the Harrow Valley and booked myself onto a trip. I do like a drop of the white wine and was looking forward to some behind the scenes action and, of course, free samples. I expected about ten or twelve people to be on this, about average for a day trip, and was surprised when there were only two other people in the van as we set off from Newcastle. Our party consisted of me and two Danish lesbians. Now, I'm no expert at such things but this is not what I had been led to believe Danish lesbians looked like. Norwegian welders, maybe. The propaganda from Denmark seems to paint an altogether different picture. They were pleasant women, certainly, but they strongly resembled Art Garfunkel and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Looks are not everything and beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that but when you are promised so much and you get delivered something quite different it does rankle. Especially on a day spent drinking fine wines and nibbling on delicious chocolates in the heart of grape country. I'll leave it alone now.

The trip consisted of visiting five wineries, two cheeseries (?) and a chocolate factory. OK, chocolate factory may be pushing it a little and the image you just got in your mind's eye of rivers of chocolate, singing midgets and a rapidly inflating orange girls is wide of the mark to be sure. But they make and sell chocolates, they just do it with a little less pizazz than Mr W Wonka. We started at Drayton's, the largest wine producer in the area. They taught us that you should always start with a sparkling white wine to cleanse the palate. This should be followed by a dry white, then moving on to the sweeter whites, rosť, dry red, sweet red, desert wines and port. And all this at ten in the morning. It was certainly out of the ordinary but one of the beauties of the Round the World Trip is days of the week, even times don't really count like they do in the real world. It was a thoroughly entertaining day out and my new Danish friends recommended a place for me to stay at my next stop. The Arts Factory in Byron Bay.

After a fond farewell to Brook, Alex and Rioji I travelled the twelve hours North to Byron Bay. On my entire journey I have always been picking up bits of advice on where to go further on in my trip. Without doubt the most popular recommendation for Australia was Byron Bay. It's not hard to see why. It's a beach side community built like you expect Australian beach towns to be built. It's like a larger Summer Bay. There is quite a hippie feel to the place as well and this was re-enforced when I made my way to the Arts Factory. As if the name itself wasn't enough of a give-away the Arts factory specialises in housing arty types. Musicians, painters, actors and the like. It's a very groovy and free flowing sort of place and almost everyone smokes and wears a hat. Usually at the same time. I think you can imagine it for yourself. Hark at the flamboyantly painted 'Magic Bus' parked outside. Wow at the three hour group bongo lessons every morning and consider the shark-tooth jewellery on offer around the place. I'm sure you get the idea. But it isn't as pretentious as I originally thought it might be. By and large the residents, and some of them are very long term, don't commit the cardinal sin of the arty crowd; they don't take themselves too seriously.

Just after I arrived at the Arts factory I met Marcus. I was sat at the outdoor bar nervously watching the last day of the Ashes cricket. I was in no mood for chat after having watched nigh on twenty five days of cricket for it all to be made irrelevant and to be decided in just a few hours of nail-biting tension. Marcus came across, introduced himself and immediately struck me as a public schoolboy type and probably one of those who talks a good game regarding sport but actually knows very little. How wrong I was. Although Marcus is indeed a former public schoolboy he does know about cricket and is in fact German, not English as I'd supposed by his posh accent. He gained my friendship in two ways. First he told me his dad used to be the CEO of the largest chocolate company in Germany and once gave him a palate of chocolate as a gift (about the size of a bungalow apparently) and secondly, without prompting, he offered me equal shares in his stash of Castlemain lager. Bless him. Australia is a surprising difficult place to get booze. The bars often close around nine, the supermarkets don't sell alcohol and the bottle shops are really unpredictable and occasionally just won't bother to open. Therefore the offer of beer after ten O clock was a real godsend. This was but the first of his many generosities in my time in Byron Bay as he proceeded to introduce me to all the movers and shakers in the camp and even gave me tours of the place and surrounding area in his car. Marcus had been staying in the Arts factory for a couple of months so he really knew his way around. This meant I could quickly ingratiate myself with the 'cool kids'. If 'ingratiate' means stand near and laugh at their jokes too loudly.

On the next night they held a Talent Show. Well, I thought to myself, talent I don't have but an ability to make a fool of myself without much forethought I certainly do have. What's to lose? Ten or so people will get up and it'll be a laugh. It didn't quite pan out like that. For a start I hadn't realised just how many performers were staying here. At a guess three hundred people stay in dorm or tent and about half of them perform in one way or another. We had twenty five or so acts in the show and they were all very good. Well, one guy did an incredibly slow version of Fake Plastic Trees that was inadvisable but him aside they were all top notch. And then I walked on and tried to make a bit of a joke of the competition and said that the Chilli Con Carney I'd eaten that evening wasn't behaving so my performance may be effected! Pause for laughter... That didn't go down too well. They obviously took this quite seriously. So I told them I'd assumed this would be a bunch of bad ventriloquists acts and ukulele songs and was really impressed by the high standard. The crowd seemed to spend too much time concentrating on the first half of my sentence. They heard (and from an outsider who'd only been there about twenty hours); “From the look of you bearded hippies I'd simply assumed you'd all be talentless wastes of spaces and I'd win your poncey talent show without even trying. I hope you enjoy my song, y'all have a great night!” I did my old favourite the Orphan Crab Song and it went down quite well. Not the raucous applause, cries of encore and carrying at shoulder hight around the town in jubilation I expected but they seemed to quite like it. Even though it was far from my best performance of the song. Probably because there were quite a lot of people watching – around a hundred or so – so my nerves were up, and I hadn't played the guitar for six months, and the guitar I borrowed was rubbish and the Chilli Con Carney I had that evening...

Next up was the mouthwatering prospect of three days and two nights upon the sun-drenched paradise that is Fraser Island. I'm not even that big a fan of Fraser, well the first five or so series were great but then with all the guests stars and what have you it all turned into a high-camp farce. But I was willing to take a look at the Island anyway. Even if Daphne's brothers did have the worst mockney accents of all time; “Ello vere Dafnee”. And they were supposed to be from Manchester. I'm still a bit raw about that. The aborigines used to call Fraser Island Paradise. That's the literal translation. And you can see why. The entire place is sand with several fresh water lakes dotted amongst the hundred or so kilometres of land. This made moving around a real task and we had the Sand Rover Mobile to help us do that. We still got stuck a few times mind. On my trip were nine strangers. But, as they say, a stranger is just a friend you haven't shared a room with or become intimate with all their disgusting habits yet. There was Viv and Claudette, two Irish lassies on a long weekend break from working in Melbourne, Claudia, a German girl on her holidays, and four French girls who didn't mix with the rest of us so I had to make names up for them. It was their own fault. They were; Pointy French, Biggy French, Curly French and Ginger French. I'd explain why but it would belittle both of us. And probably the French girls too come to think of it...

Finally there was the only couple on the tour who, but of course, shared a three bed room with me: Will and Annie. In fairness to them they were absolute peaches the both of them. Although Will concerned me initially by dipping bread into his coffee at mealtimes. A habit he defended by saying “everyone in France does it.” I told Will this was by no means an invitation to go carte blanche. If we were to take up all the outrageous things our French cousins did as part of their daily routine we really would be in trouble. I fear this rant was a little lost on him though as his English isn't great. Will is from Columbia, looks the spitting image of Rowan Atkinson and to his credit he never once tried to shoot me or sell me drugs. He's studying English at the same college as Annie, a Taiwanese girl, in Brisbane and has to stay with a sort of foster family for the duration. He told me that even though he's twenty six years old his foster 'mum' insists he be back from college at six thirty every evening, can't go out during the week as he “should be studying” and under no circumstances can he go canoodling with women! That would just put him off his learning English. He argued the only reason he stayed was the food. I said; “Willy, my good man. If I were you I'd tell her she can shove her room and board right up her ...” “No, no” He interrupted “You've just got to taste her beef casserole. Seriously.” And he gave me a, well, serious look. That must be some casserole.

Over the three days the ten of us, and our driver Andy, visited creeks, lakes, beaches and rocky points. We were staying in a really nice hotel type arrangement and they made the mistake of letting us have All You Can Eat meals. As a group of backpackers who haven't had a square meal since we left home the idea of All You Can Eat is quite something. I ate so much the first evening I was still full at midnight. I felt physically sick but couldn't stop eating. Like the scene in the Simpson's when they take a ton of sweets from the Candy Fair and they just have to keep going well after eating had stopped being enjoyable. We were all like this for three days. I had one meal consisting of two bowls of soup (with bread rolls, of course), Ham and Cheese pasta bake, carrots, green beans, peas, baked potatoes, gravy and sweetcorn. I then had the lasagne with all of the above greens and whatnot again for seconds. Apple pie was for for afters along with some fruit. I then had the lemon meringue pie and cream for second afters and two cups of tea. They had to fork-lift me off the premises.

The trip was exhausting but fun and we had a real community feel going by the end. I then returned to Brisbane for a day to prepare myself for the next leg of my journey; New Zealand. As the Flight of The Conchords boys say; Better then Old Zealand. But for confirmation of that tune in next time...


Dan. x.
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