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've 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 the back of my head for the time being and enjoyed the elation of the moment.
My first 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 quiet 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 wondering 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 restaurant was 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 came 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 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 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 seats.
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 Alison
“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 India.
“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 future.
“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.
Bunbury’s 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?”
“Five dollars thanks”
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 rubbish.
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 our room.
“Breakfast will be served from 6.30 in the dining room,” she said.
“Will that include crispy fresh bread rolls, slices of Dutch cheese and filter coffee like in Holland?” I asked. She smiled at my hopefulness.
“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.
Margaret River 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 wine.
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.
From Margaret 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 south. 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.
The evening 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.
“This bloody 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.
“You’re lucky!” he 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 here.
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 it deserves.
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.
With the 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 me.
“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 asked him.
“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.
“Nope, we’ve 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 pub.
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 reverse.
I checked into Lodge 101, which is cross between a B&B without the breakfast and a backpacker hostel. Many 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 cash.
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!