Trippin'

Trippin' is a collection of travel stories written by a young Australian writer. They talk of the humor of living a life on the fringe, the frustration of being down and out, and the stories of all the people he met along the way. The journey speaks to anybody who has experienced life on the road, or shares a thirst for the freedom that comes with spontaniety and transient living.

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1. The Welfare State

Occurred - January 2011, Dunally, Tasmania (Australia).

I have come to the conclusion that upon entering Tasmania everybody should throw away all of their money, cut up all of their credit cards, quit their jobs, apply for the dole, start doing bucket bongs and embrace teenage pregnancy. This is what everyone else who lives there seems to do and they all have a whale of a time, except for the fact that they never had money, credit cards or jobs to begin with.

We never intended to travel to Tasmania without money. One week prior, we had travelled to the north-western tip of Victoria and over into South Australia in search for any form of fruit picking work. It was January, and according to the harvest guide we could make a killing picking oranges. Little did we know that by 'making a killing' they had actually forgotten to say 'self-induced slave labour', so after 4 hours of earning roughly $3.50 an hour under a contractor we decided to call it quits and bust.

We retreated to the local pub in Waikerie and began calling up farms across the country for work. We felt hopeless, believing at the time that our dream to fruit pick around the country for 4 months may have come to an end after only 4 days. We pleaded with the harvest hotline that we were willing to drive anywhere in the country for work, ignoring the fact that we barely had enough cash to leave the state. After letting us know several times that there was no work, she somehow eventually gave us the number of a local apricot farmer in the south of Tasmania.

As naive as we were, we called him and confessed our hatred for contractors and wages that were low even by Chinese standards. He seemed to sympathise with us, at least partially - but it wouldn't have made any difference. At that moment in time he could've been paying $7 an hour and forcing us to sleep in a tin shed and we still would've hailed him as our saviour. We hung up the phone and told our friends across the table that we were headed for Tasmania. They were French, and made the cut as an awesome travelling couple when the man befriended us by asking us for weed on the street corner. We packed up the car at around 8pm and set out to drive the 755 kilometres back to Melbourne and catch the ferry to Tasmania 9 hours later.

Our first port of call once hitting the island was a small coastal town called Dunally. We had no idea where it was, and when we looked on the map we realised that it was actually on the other side of the state. Somehow we had just assumed that once we got to the island we would only be a couple of minutes away from everything that there was to see and everywhere that you could go. Sadly we were wrong - Tasmania was at least 400 kilometres in length and at that moment we were in what appeared to be the poorest excuse for a town this side of the country. It was lifeless, grey and built around huge slabs of concrete and rusted fishing boats, and went by the name of Devonport.

We arrived just as the sun was setting, and before setting up our tents we thought that it would be a good idea to walk around the town and ask random Tasmanians for advice, hinting at the fact that we definitely didn't want to sleep in Devonport. We met a teenager at the local Woolworths after we bought a 4 pack of sausages and a loaf of bread that was about to pass its expiry. I bought them, in true Tasmanian fashion, with the schrappers I found in my jeans pocket. He told us that he lived in a town called La Trobe, and that there were plenty of free camping areas scattered behind supermarkets and burnt-out buildings. He talked up the place so hard I couldn't help but imagine majestically green rolling hills and a luscious stream with something as crazy as a dolphin passing through it.

I wasn't actually far off. We rolled on into the main strip and saw the IGA that the teenager told us we could camp behind. It ended up just being a small patch of grass with two backyards on either side and a supermarket garbage dump only five metres away, but we didn't care. We hit the closest park BBQ, which was the cleanest thing I had ever seen and definitely shat all over any park in Frankston, and cooked up. The park backed onto a stream that looked exactly like the one in my mind, and when we looked closer we saw a Joey and a baby Platypus.

We rose the next morning and hit the streets looking for a bank to solve our money issues. This was truly a place that only Tasmanian retirees called home. The main strip was packed with old, white haired couples walking their beagles, probably just as they were on a lunch break from the local retirement village. The local bank was built into a red bricked house and inside were three smoking hot Tasmanian women.

We told them of our dilemma (the short end of it being that we had none but were meant to have $50 from Jake's Dad to bail us out and get us to Dunally). We told them that we had spent our last dollar getting the ferry over, and then continued to flirt mildly with them, hoping that we could convince them of giving us money that didn't exist. But as dire as it all seemed, miracles can happen in Tasmania (at least in La Trobe). Somehow, after only 5 minutes, a crisp $50 bill from the register was just handed to us. We were stunned, and even though I am not religious in any way I still secretly thanked whoever was responsible. We burned out of La Trobe faster than we had entered, fuelling up at the local station and continuing our journey further south.

After several hours of driving through narrow, pot-holed streets we eventually passed Hobart and entered into the wider plains of Tasmania where the population significantly drops. We arrived at Dunally, a backwards country town called home to at least the farmer we were working for. The main street was dead silent. It was like there had been a town evacuation that we hadn't heard about. All of the people that you would usually see bustling down the streets on their way to work or stopping to get their morning coffee were replaced with small amounts of litter and dust.

We pulled into the town petrol station, expecting somebody called Greg or Tony to fill up our tank. It was one of those stations run by an elderly couple, with the 80 year old wife working behind the counter, selling hard candy with home-made signs to local kids. They were probably the same kids you used to see selling lemonade out the front of their suburban houses, though in Dunally I doubt the woman had reversed the 'e' on the sign for no logical reason.

We pulled around to the dirt car park to buy a meat pie and a Big M and somehow began a conversation with the only person that was lurking around. He was an old dude, and instead of walking around he was slouched in the passengers seat of an old, rusty, beaten up ford falcon. I know that we were both secretly wondering what the hell he was doing there.

His name was Gary, which was one of two possible names that he could have had in a town like this. He sat quietly, drinking one of those pint sized beers. He had it all over himself and was clearly trashed. But he wasn't quiet for too long. Once we began to chat, and let's be honest there was only one topic we could talk about and that was the petrol station we had all somehow found ourselves in, he really fired up. It was if he had been waiting 10 years to talk to somebody about his cheatin' wife (or ex-wife).

Funnily enough, he also knew the farmer we were about to work for. He said that he was a stand up bloke, and would care for us as if we were his own. He also added that if we ever needed to get off the farm for any reason we were always welcome. But sadly I could only assume that this had been what he said, or at least meant to say. I could barely hear him with the amount of spit that was flyin' out of his mouth. He only needed to mention something about 'needin' a wash' and we were out of there as fast as we had arrived.

As we continued our journey further into the town we saw, in order of appearance, 1 small-time bakery; 1 small-time pizzeria (we had connections to free food here but unfortunately the goods never eventuated); 1 general store (where all the townies bought their food at highly inflated prices); and 1 pub with an attached bottle-o (but no attached drive-thru which surprised me).

Without knowing too much I got the feeling that everything and everyone in the town had a specific purpose. There was probably one single bar tender, whose job it was to supply every drunken goon with alcohol being harder than the one policeman whose job it was to stop it (even though he was probably written off in the pub corner). These guys probably also knew the town fire-fighter, the town farmer, and the town petrol station assistant (who we had already had the pleasure to meet). We found out a little later that Geoff (the farmer that we were about to work for) had a 16 year old son who was already too well known to not get served in the local pub. This was because the bar tender (1) had already dealt with him trying to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels at 14, and (2) was personal friends with Geoff and knew what kind of shit would fly down if he was served.

From that moment on Jake and I joked that perhaps the townsfolk would swap jobs from time to time, just for a laugh. The conversation of a typical Tasmanian couple would probably go down something like this:

'Darell, where you goin' boy?!' Cheryl screams from the kitchen.

'Just gonna go be copper for the day hun. Got me gun today and Larry gave me his copper clothes.' Darren replies.

'Thought you were gonna be fire fightin' today Daz!?'

'Ner. Gary took me gear for that, f***in' c***.'

As we drove over the town bridge and down the road that led to Geoff's, we realised that these were our first impressions of the town. They literally had 4 shops - 2 for food, 1 for petrol, and 1 for grog and smokes.

Eventually we reached our destination. The farm, situated on a large property over 2 hectares, was run by Geoff and a few close friends. Every year, from December to February, they would work all day long to pick and pack every apricot from the million trees they owned. Neither Jake or I had picked any fruit in our lives, except for the oranges a few days earlier. Jake seemed to think that he had picked apricots on a tree at his Gran's house, but I'm not sure if I believed him.

Our accommodation on the farm itself was actually breathtaking. We were given this small, completely self-contained cabin about 50 metres from the house and had a beautiful view of their personal peninsula. The tide went out so far that you could run 500 metres out, dodging all the small crabs that lived there. In the distance you could see a few small islands, most of which we visited at some point. A little can definitely buy you a lot in Tasmania.

Despite the the fact that the accommodation was free, we had to share it with two older men so the awesomeness of it levelled out. The two men were called Davin (I think), and Colin. Colin had been in the fruit picking game for decades, but spent far too much time watching low quality DVD's instead of getting off his arse to get a proper job. I think Davin was just escaping some post-divorce/wife death hardships.

Davin wore, at all times, those typical Australian hard-yakka short shorts and the matching khaki shirt. He looked like the crocodile hunter, only if he passed away I don't think there would be a national mourning. It was his daily routine to rise, drink several cups of strong coffee and smoke a few dozen rolled cigarettes before work each morning. He sucked them down at a ghastly rate. He is also probably the only person anyone will ever know that takes smoking breaks in his sleep. He would go to bed at 11, rise at 2 for a cig, go back to bed, rise again at 4 for another cig, and then rise at 6 (with another dart) and go about his day.

Like this wasn't enough, there are a couple more things to be said about Davin. One afternoon we were filling out our tax forms so that we could get paid and so forth. As Jake was putting his completed form into the pile with all the other forms he noticed something funny about Davin's. The first letter of his name had appeared to be crossed out several times to allow for a new letter - G. Davin or Gavin? I don't think he was even sure of it. The following conversation went like this:

'Hey, so is your name Davin?' I said, confused about the whole deal.

'Yeah, it's Gavin,' he replied.

Enough said. I was as confused as I will ever be. I'd hate to think of what it was like for him, especially when trying to remember his log-in number for Centrelink.

But the comedic styles of Davin didn't stop there. One night in the cabin something happened, and I must say it's probably the funniest thing I have even seen. It was around 2am. Jake, Davin and myself were all asleep in the one room. I was on the top bunk, Jake was on the bottom and Davin was on a double mattress on top of a single bed-frame. I have no idea why he wanted to do this because all it meant was that one half of the mattress flopped off over the side. But as it happened, Jake and Davin were in line, height wise, with each other. In the middle of them was a glass bedside table. There was nothing except a few toilet rolls on it. But the night was dead silent. It was dark, but Jake was sort of half awake because he could never sleep due to Davin's snoring. I was sleeping, but awoke to a great smashing sound.

'DUDE, MIKE, ARE YOU OKAY?!' Jake screamed.

'Yeah dude, I'm fine - I'm up here.'

'What the fuck was that then?'

'Owwwwwwwww...' moaned Davin.

Okay, so what had just happened? Had Davin just fallen and landed face first through the glass table? Yep. Did the glass table shatter into hundreds of pieces? Yep. Was Davin dead?

'Hahaha... Oh dude, are you alright?' I said as seriously as I could.

'Hahahahaha... Davin? Hahahaha... Shhh don't laugh, man... Hahahaha!'

'Yeah boys I'm right,' Davin muttered. 'All good, nothin' to see 'ere.'

As manly as one could sound in a situation like this, Davin tried his hardest to get back to sleep and forget that him falling face first through a glass table in his sleep had ever happened.

With the exception of the two teenagers that Jake and I spent our time with on the orchard, the youth of Dunally didn't seem to be any more intelligent than the likes of Davin. We had met Jase and Tristan on our first day, with Jase being the son of the farmer who owned the farm and Tristan being the only friend of his willing to work for him every summer.

Tristan lived at home with his single mother, who on his birthday forgot to buy him any form of present. He told us that this happened more often than not, and as a result would usually spend his birthdays at his mate G's house getting ripped.

Jase actually wanted to be a doctor, but with the sheer fact that he had been smoking 40 cigarettes a day (even when he was 16), I don't think he's in making great process. He told us that he would usually smoke 10 before school, 5 at recess, 5 at lunch, and 20 or so between 4pm and bed time.

Although this was probably a complete fabrication, I couldn't fathom the idea that this kid was physically able to do something like this. I have a friend back in Melbourne called Dan who once smoked 2 packs of Peter Jackson 30's in one night, and here Jase is smoking 20 less cigarettes everyday. Regardless of the whether or not he was telling a complete lie, I secretly respected him on account of how ludicrous the story was.

Aside from spending a lot of time with Jason and Tristan and getting to know probably a little too much about their lives in Dunally, we were also taken along to the day of the Triple J's hottest 100 where a huge party in was taking place. Aside from Australia Day, which I would have loved to spend there only because of the sheer hilarity that would have ensued, this day was reason enough to party. The bucket bong pulling area was down back, the speakers were set up high in the garage, and all the cars were brought into the front yard so that we could put sofas on their roofs. I think, for memory, I also saw some people wearing Australian flags as capes which initially made me think that it was Australia Day at the time. I now just think that it was probably 1 of 2 days in which they expressed their national pride. The countdown - the epitome of Australian culture. Songs like 'Sex on Fire' and 'Knights of Cydonia' - which aren't even Australian songs in the slightest - gave them more than enough reason to celebrate.

Jake and I were actually pretty excited because we hadn't drank or partied in a few weeks. The only exception to this was a time when we were stranded on one of the islands on Geoff's personal peninsula. We had decided, stupidly of course, to let his 16 year old son drive us out there on a makeshift boat. As fate would have it the weather turned to absolute shit and we became completely stranded. As any normal person would do in a situation like this, we decided to get drunk at 9am. We got Jase absolutely obliterated, resulting in him throwing up through gaps in the rocks swearing 'f*** youse c***s, I just haven't drunk in awhile'.

In true Tasmanian fashion we bought a few casks of goon to celebrate, and went around talking to whoever looked remotely attractive. With this plan failing quickly, Jake and I were stuck talking to a girl that was an apparent stalker of Jase. We had heard about this girl before and saw her from a distance when she would rock up to the farm uninvited, hoping to talk to Jase.

But despite the fact that she was his stalker, as humorous as that already was, we found out on this particular day that she was also pregnant. Not only that, but as she preceded to tell us how she found herself in this predicament she was actually struggling to hold a half filled Jimmy and coke in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The short end of the story was that the father was a 19 year old mechanic from down the road. She just happened to be an 18 year old high-school drop out, and the conversation that we couldn't stop ourselves from having with her was as followed.

'Don't you think that you shouldn't be drinking or smoking?' Jake said bluntly.

'This is me first drink and ciggy of the day,' the pregnant girl replied.'That's aight isn't it?'

'But how many months pregnant are you?' I added.

'7 Months - but me other mate is 5 months. Both kids got the same Dad.'

Despite the fact that Jake and I had next to no knowledge about pregnancy, we definitely knew at that point that this chick was not doing it correctly. And not only that, the sheer possibility of the father knocking up Jase's stalker and then thinking that it would be a rad idea to knock up her mate 2 months later is something that could only happen in a backwards town like Dunally. But at the time neither of us were really shocked, mainly because we had already spent a fortnight with Jase and Tristan and every other local that was attached to them and had accepted that everything in the town needed to be taken with 10 grains of salt. It just seemed inevitable that a story like this would have come along.

So eventually 2 weeks passed and we were paid for our efforts. Extensive rain and hail stones were beginning to ruin the crops, so for the last 5 days we all had to spend every hour in treacherous weather. Luckily Geoff's hot 50 year old wife, Jan, provided us with hot chocolate and let us come in for coffee and tea - retrospectively a common beginning to a mediocre porno.

We packed up the car with two checks for $800 in our pockets and blasted out of Geoff's driveway as fast as we had entered. Despite the fact that we had actually formed a little home for ourselves during that fortnight, we were ready to move on. Jase was drawing us into his small-time existence more and more everyday, and Jake told me that I had actually begun saying c*** in my sleep from time to time. I've always known that once I begun saying this word unconsciously that it was time to move on from where ever the hell I had found myself.

But even when weighing up the positives and negatives of the situation, Dunally will still remain as the absolute mecca of binge drinking, drug abusing and teenage pregnancy – at least in my mind. We both held our heads high for Geoff and his son as we burned out the front gate and onto the highway. Even if they were living in the heart of a backwards town, they took us in as two of their own and made us realise how we would have lived if we were born in rural Tasmania. But luckily we weren't, and with the benefit of having a car and living the free life we left Dunally unscathed – at least not physically. Our only concern at that moment, as we pulled out onto the main the strip, was that we would see Gary lurking around, sipping on another pint sized beer and offering us a shower. But we had no time for that – we were still following the harvest trail for all that it was worth.

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