Turn it Off

What does a web designer/blogger/sms writer/flickrer do when he’s lucky enough to take a month holiday in Australia? Well, first he turns everything off.

Gratuitous Opera House Sunset ShotThat’s right. For a month I was 100% web 0.0. I wasn’t even carrying around a phone. I consciously and happily cut my electronic umbilical cord, and you know what? I didn’t miss it one bit. For years I’ve been sitting in front of at least one computer, with at least 5 different web sites open, with at least one phone within arm’s reach, more or less all day long.

Although I’ve now been back in Germany — and back to computers, web sites and phones — over a month, my feeling of electronic isolation has lasted a little longer. I just didn’t have anything that needed to be blogged about, couldn’t bring myself to upload anything and haven’t even sent more than a handful of text messages. But slowly my need for international acknowledgement from strangers — the heart and blood of web 2.0 — has grown, so here I am smackin’ the keys.

I could write a description of The Month Downunder, but like a description of any month, it’d get rather long, and like any description of a holiday you weren’t on, it’d be rather boring. The thing that makes any holiday experience stand out in my memory even years later are the people, so I’m just going to tell you three little stories about Australians.

Circular Quay Crazy Man

Although the weather left quite a lot to be desired during our trip, this day was a beautiful Sydney late autumn day: cool, breezy, but sunny enough to require sunglasses. We were doing the tourist thing, and had just returned to Circular Quay on the ferry after visiting Manly. A short guy in a greasy cricket cap, even greasier t-shirt and strangely pristine board shorts approached us, rubbing incessantly at the half-disintegrated towel over his shoulder. For anyone with no idea about Australian politics (aroung 99% of the world population), all you need to know is John Howard is the Prime Minister.

Him: “Where ya from, mate?”
Me: “We live in Germany, but I’m Australian.”
Him: “Yer an Aussie? Good on ya mate! Least yer not from Singapore!”
Me: “Erm…”
Him: “Ye from Sydney?”
Me: “Nah mate, Canberra.”
Him: “Ah! Canberra! Ye going there soon?
Me: “Yeah, in a few days.”
Him: “Good, good. Listen mate, can ye do me a favour?”
Me: “Erm… maybe? What is it?”
Him: “Can you kill John Howard for me?”

David & Shaun

DavidI must admit, I made one large holiday planning mistake. Back in ’98 when I lived in Australia, it wasn’t possible, to fly directly to Ayer’s Rock (known today by the Aboriginal name, Uluru) without difficulty. In the spirit of “don’t worry baby, I’ll take care of everything” I planned our short excursion to the Outback by booking a flight to Alice Springs, because that’s where you fly to if you want to see Ayer’s Rock. At least it was in ’98. Unfortunately we bought our travel guide after booking our flights, which is when we discovered a) Alice Springs is around 460 km from Ayer’s Rock and b) you can fly straight from Sydney to Ayer’s Rock. Long story short: we couldn’t change the flights, rented a car in Alice and drove the 460 km to Ayer’s Rock.

ShaunAlong the way we stopped at one of the few places there is to stop on the way, Jim’s Place, a combination pub, restaurant, petrol station, camping site, camel farm and home of Dinky the Singing Dingo (but that’s another story) at Stuart’s Well. While eating our burgers, two guys came out and sat at a table near us. I got to chatting with David (the photo above), and he explained in thickly accented Strine that he and his mate Shaun (with the hat at the left) were driving around in their beat up old van with three dogs, looking for work. David volubly described their travels and his resumé — truck driver, electrician, cattle hand, mechanic, miner and more. Shaun sat there and nodded occasionally. When I asked them if I could take photos, David made a few jokes and smiled for my camera. I asked Shaun “do you mind?” he just said “No worries. I’m immune to photography.” It took a moment for me to catch on. I asked him, “I guess the way you look every second tourist who comes by wants a photo of you, eh?” Shaun just nodded.

Wanna See My…

In southern Victoria, we drove through a small town looking for Gypsy Point, which is supposed to be scenic. After a few wrong turns on dusty roads, we found it. But, as with all secenic lookouts, once you’ve seen it, there’s not muich reason to hang around. We looked, it was indeed scenic, and we were about the get back in the car, when one of the guys fishing on a small pier nearby came over. From under his wide-brimmed leather hat he said, “Where ya from?” After confirming that we were indeed tourists, he asked “ya wanna see somethin?” and swung his small grimy backpack around to sit on his comfortably round stomach. What looked like two small sticks poked out of the top, which wasn’t too interesting, until he opened the backpack further exposing a plaid flannel shirt and a small black nose poking out between the sticks, which we suddenly recognised as feet. “She’s a wallaby, round six months old. Me mate ‘n’ I found her on a rainy night in our back yard. No sign of mum.” He set the backpack down and “she” crawled out and had a little look around. “She gets in bed with me at night, but won’t fall asleep until she can crawl up under me shirt. Guess it’s warm ‘n’ furry like mum’s pouch!” At that he laughed like an avalanche, “she” dove head first back into the backpack, and with a “Av a goo’ one!” he headed back off to his fishing. It all happened so fast and unexpectedly, we didn’t even think to ask her name.

(There are of course more photos, though unfortunately none of the crazy man or the wallaby.)