Saturday, 3rd January 1987
At 8:30am, accompanied by Victor, I travelled back to Kings Cross and to the Backpacker’s Hostel. By 9:30am I was installed in a bed there.
I was in luck as they allocated me a bed in the three-room flat that was separated from the main hostel and had its own entrance.
The flat was designed to be occupied by four people. It had a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen. The bedroom had 2 bunk beds and a small dressing table. The little kitchen with equipped with a cooker, fridge and sink. The bathroom had a toilet, and both a shower and a bath. The only thing that was obviously lacking was a television.
The other beds were taken by an English lad from Portsmouth, Mike a Canadian from Vancouver and a Dutch guy. All had been in Australia less time than I had and all had been around the country a lot more than I had. A brief trip to Katoomba was all I had to show for my 4 months so far.
After a long time thinking that going back to Kings Cross and going back to a hostel was a retrograde step, I soon began to change my mind. As I settled into the lower of one of the two bunk beds, I decided that it wasn’t bad at all. I was now in a much better, cleaner and hopefully flea-proof environment. I was also 15 minutes closer to Kodak.
Best of all, I felt like a traveller again. I didn’t think the job at Kodak would last more than 2 more weeks, so as I listened to my roommates stories of Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, I imagined me going to all those places myself very soon
I spent most of the afternoon back around Braemar watching television. We had Indian food and then went to see the film Heartburn in the evening. It had Meryl Steep and Jack Nicholson in it. It wasn’t the best thing she has done I suggested to Sean and Josie and they agreed with me. We all hummed the catchy Carly Simon theme on the train back though.
Sunday, 4th January 1987
Sunday was a beautiful day. Kings Cross, as I had almost forgotten, always had a particularly strong stench on a Sunday after the exertions of the night before.
I did my laundry in the morning and then went off again to Braemar in the afternoon to say goodbye to Declan and Josie who were leaving on Monday morning. The trip to Perth was back on again. We sat and watched the first episode of Sons and Daughters together at 7:30pm and then I bid them both an emotional farewell before returning to Kings Cross.
Monday, 5th January 1987
At work there was a lot of catching up to do, so they told us to come earlier the next day at 5am.
In the evening I went to the Greater Union Cinema on Pitt Street to watch The Mission with Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. It was fantastic.
Tuesday, 6th January 1987
I got a taxi with Victor from Kings Cross to Annandale and we arrived just before 5am. The driver forgot to put the meter on and we got away with paying 5 dollars which wasn’t at all bad. We worked until 7:30pm which was great for the finances but it all but knocked me out. I fell asleep almost as soon as I got home.
Wednesday, 7th January 1987
We were back on a normal 6am start but we did overtime until 5pm. In the evening I went round to Braemar again and sat and talked with Simon, Jez and Sean.
Sean suggested we should go to the Hunter valley on the weekend and Simon and I readily agreed. Being in the hostel had given me itchy feet. The Hunter Valley was not far but at least it was out of Sydney.
Thursday, 8th January 1987
We worked overtime again until 7:30pm. I went back to the hostel and talked to Phillip the Dutch guy about his flower arranging business back home.
We popped out to the main hostel next door and chatted to some Swedish girls for most of the evening.
I tried to phone Braemar 3 or 4 times but I finally realised that they had had their phone disconnected.
I noticed that although I was still covered in flea bites they were gradually disappearing.
Friday, 9th January 1987
There was no overtime.
I clocked off at 2:30pm and went back for a run to Birkenhead point. It was a pleasant little shopping area with an interesting maritime museum that housed yachts, including round the world yachts, and told the story of Captain Bligh and the Bounty, Captain Cook and the Endeavour and the beginnings of the Australian Navy.
I had dinner at Hare Krishna with Victor and then popped round Braemar to try and see if the trip to the Hunter Valley was happening or not.
It certainly was happening and we discussed the trip over a case of Fosters.
Too tired and drunk to bother going back to Kings Cross I fell asleep on the sofa.
Saturday, 10th January 1987
At about 9am Sean, Simon and I climbed into the Peugeot and the three of us set off. We stopped at the hostel to collect some of my stuff and then drove up over the Harbour Bridge heading north. This was only the second time I had been beyond the borders of Sydney in four months.
We passed through Hornsby, Gosford and onto the picturesque Pacific Highway and to the Entrance. The Entrance wasn’t much more than a glorified beach inlet and a funfair but we paused there for a delicious charcoal grilled chicken and coleslaw lunch.
We continued on past the biggest seaboard lake in Australia, Lake Macquarie, and on towards the second largest town in New South Wales, Newcastle. We bypassed Newcastle and 160km from Sydney we turned on to the New England Highway.
We took it as far as Branxton and then headed down a road to Cessnock. Suddenly the car showed signs of breaking down. We quickly diagnosed this to be a lack of fuel in the tank and luckily found a BP garage just in time on the outskirts of Cessnock. We were in Cessnock for 3:30pm.
The Hunter Valley is, of course, famous for wine production. Sean, being an expert, wanted to see a bit of the production process. All the vineyards that were scattered around the lower hunter valley around Cessnock had the same set up; they offered free wine tasting in small glasses in the hope that tasting would lead to sales.
We set off late in the afternoon to do a tour of as many vineyards as we could. Over the next three hours or so we visited Lindemans, Tulloch, Brockenwood and Hungerford Hill. Lindemans was the most interesting as it had a little museum attached and we were able to taste the raw grapes straight off the vines.
At each place we followed the same routine. Sean had enough detailed knowledge about wine to convince them we were serious about buying. He entertained them with his fluent wine speak. He just sipped and often spat out what he sipped. This was just as well as he was driving us around.
Simon and I gulped down as much as we could and made banal comments like “That’s nice”, “That’s really nice” and “That’s nice as well”. Although we couldn’t get much wine in one go, by the end of it all we both had a fair old “glow” on.
We found a caravan for hire in a campsite just outside Cessnock and paid 23 dollars for it. There was a double bed and two sofas. We tossed for it and I won the double bed. We showered and shaved and headed off into the town.
Cessnock was a dull little place and there wasn’t a great deal of choice for food. We ended up in a Chinese restaurant. It was staffed exclusively by Australians but despite that they turned out a very decent meal including a delicious chicken and cashew nut dish.
The bottle shop, like the rest of the town, had shut at 8pm, so we took out a box of Lindeman’s from the Wentworth Arms, the local dive, and headed back to the caravan.
Sunday, 11th January 1987
We were supposed to vacate the caravan at 10am but we only finally woke up at 9:50. We hurried as much as we could but they were threatening us with extra charges as they almost threw us out at 11am.
The heat was quite stifling that morning and it must have been in the 30’s. We headed straight back on the wine trail and went to McWilliams at Mount Pleasant, Drayton’s and then back to Branxton and the Wyndham Estate. Sean continued his education and studying of the wine, but Simon and I didn’t drink as much as we had done the day before.
In fact I started to feel guilty about drinking the free samples when we obviously no intention of buying. My curiosity had been aroused too. At Wyndhams I bought a book “Understanding Australian Wine” for $3.50 and tried to read it in the car as we bumped along the dusty tracks that led to the wineries.
We had lunch in Musswellbrook at a Pizza place and then headed off to the Rosemount vineyard. We got talking to the lady behind the counter and discovered that she was from Cornwall in England. She had lived in the Hunter Valley for 7 years and had no regrets about leaving the UK. Sean started to talk to her about the wine and for the first time I began to listen to every word. I stayed silent but back in the car I started to check some of the things she had said about Chardonnays in my book.
At the last place we visited, Arrowfields, there was a charming young couple behind the counter. Once again I listened to the conversation and surprised myself and Sean to become the only person to actually purchase wine on the whole trip. It was a bottle of Chardonnay and I paid all of $2 for it. It was supposed to go well with particular types of fish. Simon and I drank it out of plastic cups in the car on the way back.
We came back on the Putty Road which was a twisting turning road that was inland and lead from the Hunter down towards Sydney. It was bumpy and twisty but I managed to fall asleep in the back of the car. The Putty Road came into Sydney at Windsor and then we drove past Castlehill (where Declan and I had worked at Amway) and headed onto the Paramatta bypass to reach Kings Cross at 8pm.
We had a celebratory meal of steak salad at the Rex and reflected on a great trip. It had spurred me on to make more of an effort to get out of Sydney at weekends and I promised myself I would try and get out a lot more. I said goodbye to Simon and Sean as they left in the car and I walked back to the hostel.
Back at the hostel, I found that the English lad and the Dutch lad had moved out leaving Mark the Canadian. Mark and I had now been joined by two more Canadians, meaning the room was now 75% maple leaf and 25% union jack.
John and Al were both from Vancouver. They were my age and were travelling together on working holiday visas. They had just arrived from the airport and obviously had the usual first night apprehension about life in Sydney. I gave them the details of Drakes and told them not to worry, but not to accept Buttercup Buns if they could avoid it.
Monday, 12th January 1987
I got up as usual at 5am and worked from 6am. There was to be overtime all week so I knew I needed to get early nights in.
I went to an early showing of “Room with a View” at the tiny State Cinema and I really enjoyed it. I was in bed and asleep by 8pm.
Tuesday, 13th January 1987
We had problems with mosquitoes in the room and we bought some coils to try and deter them.
Wednesday, 14th January 1987
We heard there was somebody else in the Dennison Street house. We still heard nothing about the bond being returned and were starting to think it was probably lost.
Thursday, 15th January 1987
I started to run a bit more. I knew I had to make more of an effort as my diet and exercise regime was a total disgrace. After work I ran from the hostel out past Mrs Macqaurie’s chair to the Opera House and back. I found it quite inspiring running in such a beautiful setting.
Friday, 16th January 1987
I ran after work again and made a plan to get out of Sydney for the second Saturday in a row.
Saturday, 17th January 1987
I got the 7:12am train from Sydney Central to Lithgow. After a week of 5am starts, getting up at 6am didn’t seem too bad. I passed the train journey with a copy of the Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. As I looked out at the sunny mountain scenery I was quite pleased to read the temperature back in London was -7 degrees.
I arrived at Lithgow at 10am and got directions to the Zig Zag railway. It was an 8km hike. It was pleasant enough except it was getting a bit hot and it was all up hill.
The Zig Zag railway was a preserved steam line utilising a now bypassed section of old track that climbed the hill in a series of reverse inclines; hence Zig Zag. It was a short ride but the steam locomotives and the coaches they pulled were beautifully restored.
After I was done with the railway I decided to hitch to Bell or Katoomba. I was just thinking about putting my thumb out when a yellow Ford Laser stopped and a middle aged American couple asked if I wanted a lift to Katoomba. I jumped in and we set off for a beautiful scenic drive past Mount Victoria and a stop at an antique shop in Blackheath. They were from Arizona and we talked a lot about the Grand Canyon and my trip to the USA.
Once in Katoomba, I decided to return to the Scenic Railway that I had seen on my visit a few months before. It had two elements to it; a cable car and an incline railway. I boarded the cable car and it went out across the valley. The ride was unusual as it just went out to the middle and then came back.
After a glass of wine in the revolving restaurant, I boarded the steep-inclined funicular ride that went down into the valley at angle. It claimed to be the steepest railway in the world. I descended and then ascended and then descended once more.
Now on the floor of the valley, I started a bush walk across to the other side. It took me about an hour and the only people I met the whole time were two lads from Bristol coming in the opposite direction. It was a beautiful place and a tremendously satisfying walk. At the other side I climbed the 1,000 steps to Echo Point and spent a few minutes there talking to an Australian girl dressed completely in white and carrying a guitar. She had done the walk too and we sat and congratulated ourselves.
The lady in white went off in search of a drink and I stayed contemplating the beautiful view. I was eventually joined by two lads from Melbourne. One was training to be a priest and the other, I was amazed to learn, worked for Kodak in the Melbourne factory. We worked out that I must have been unpacking some of the same items he had packed.
I walked back in to Katoomba and had a vegetarian pizza and salad at “Tony’s eats”. I then went to the station to catch the 7:11pm train back to Sydney. The lady in white was already on the platform gently strumming her guitar. We got on the train and we sat together. She was a musician from Broken Hill and was off to Sydney for an audition. She was a really interesting character and we talked the whole way back.
I got back to Sydney Central at 10pm and went back to the hostel. I fell asleep quickly but was woken up at 12 by John and Al bringing back a couple of drunken Danish girls.
Sunday, 18th January 1987
I went round to Braemar early and got there just in time. Simon, Sean and Guy were just loading up the car about to set off for a trip to the coast. I was invited to come along. The destination was Watamala Park just south of Crounulla. It was a beach combined with a lagoon.
It wasn’t a particularly sunny day, but I spent most of it on the beach trying to sunbath. There was a BBQ and we put sea snails on it and had them with salad.
Sadly the day ended in tragedy. There was a rock above the lagoon and Simon, the daredevil in our party, joined a group of guys who were jumping off it into the water below. It was quite high up and we watched from the beach below as Simon jumped safely into the lagoon and then swam back towards us. The next guy to jump was clearly hesitating but his friends were pushing him on. In the excitement he lost his footing and we watched in sheer horror as he fell, hit his back and then his heels on the rocks on the way down and disappeared into the water.
A few people dived into the water and pulled him free. Another group of people got a boat to the centre of the lagoon and brought him to the shore and put him on a piece of wood to use as a stretcher. He was alive but almost unconscious. There was no phone at the lagoon so somebody was sent to drive off to find a phone and get help.
Simon, Guy and I helped carry him on the stretcher to get him clear of the lagoon and to a safe place. We waited for the ambulance to turn up and then returned to Braemar quite shocked and with our spirits dampened.
Monday, 19th January 1987
The story from the Lagoon made the Herald and the Telegraph. The victim had been eventually flown to a Sydney hospital and was being treated for spinal injuries.
Tuesday, 20th January 1987
There was no overtime at all this week so I made the most of it by returning early and watching a films at the cinema. I saw the Mosquito Coast and the Assam Garden. I preferred the Assam Garden and thought Deborah Kerr was excellent in it.
Wednesday, 21st January 1987
We contacted the consumer claims tribunal about the non-return of our bond. They didn’t hold out much hope for us.
Al, John and I went to the Old Vienna tavern where Mark the Canadian from our room was working as a bar man. We had a few drinks. As I got to know Mark, Al and John a lot better I decided that I was quite lucky to have them as roommates.
Thursday, 22nd January 1987
I woke up on time for work but accidentally fell back to sleep again for an hour. I decided to cut my losses and just call in sick. I knew they weren’t particular busy there and when I phoned the manager he certainly didn’t seem particularly bothered.
I went into Sydney and did some clothes shopping. I got some new swimming trunks and jeans but then was at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. Then I remembered the voucher for the zoo and decided to try that. I got the ferry over and spent a guiltless afternoon wandering around the koalas, kangaroos and other animals.
I have never really liked zoos but I found Sydney quite impressive. It was pleasantly landscaped and the diving American eagles were especially impressive. I walked back via the attractive suburb of Mossman.
I spent the evening at Braemar. It was Heather’s leaving party. A low key affair attended mainly by Swedish people. There was a large ice cream cake from Haagen Daaz which was particularly good.
Friday, 23rd January 1987
I made sure I got into work on time.
I got back to find that Mark, Al and John had decorated the room with posters. It was becoming homely and more like a little flat than a hostel.
I went for another run to the Opera House and was pleased to complete the distance in a quicker time. I was beginning to feel fitter and I was pleased.
I decided to get out of the city once more. I decide that I wanted to do a bit more exploring on my own and stay away for a night. I looked at the map and I decided to go and visit the capital of Australia; Canberra.
It was less than 200 miles to Canberra.
I planned to hitch.