Back to Travel Tales Page or New Zealand - Poor Knights Islands

I arrived in Aus clutching a 12 month working holiday visa, and, running short on cash, had to get back to some semblance of normal life (as normal as it can be living in a rat-infested city-centre hostel surrounded by 18-yr olds), and work to fund the next stage of this trip. After three months, things eventually came to a state where it wasn't possible to grit my teeth and ignore the rudeness of my sociopathic bully of a boss any longer, and the time to move on arrived.

With this exception (and even there, it is practically an unwritten rule to get fired from at least one miserable temp job while backpacking!) Sydney has been wonderful - three months have passed in a blink.

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Particular huge thanks to The Manly Beach Saturday Morning Dive Crew - Strike, Ralf, Julian, Birdo and company; The St Andrews University Scottish Culture Society (Sydney Branch) - Lindsay, Neil and Karen; and the Kings Cross Pub Quiz 'Team with No Name' - Helen, Greg, Joshi and Simon. Special thanks to Helen, for renting me her lovely garden shed in Leichhardt for several weeks.

Thurs 17 Aug. Sydney - Canberra.

Shortly after getting to Australia, I won a hostel pub quiz, prize a ticket to Melbourne on 'Oz Experience'. For those unfamiliar with the company, this is basically Club 18-30 on buses. They take a scenic, indirect route, stop at lots of photo opportunities, book you into hostels each night and generally make adventure travel as unadventurous as possible. Still, I'm not one to look a gift minibus in the mouth, not even a brightly coloured minibus named Bart.

As it turns out, there are a great bunch on the bus, with none of the 'lager lout with rucksack' type that give the company such a bad name, and I'm not even the oldest on board. There are just two boys, and thirteen girls (including Amber, our somnolent, horizontally laid back driver/guide), but Ian and I do our best to hold our corner.

South of Sydney, spend hours driving through Eucalypt forest, stretching unbroken further than several English counties. Pass a Kookaburra in an old gum tree. Didn't look like he was laughing, but he may have had a bit of a patronising chuckle at the paintings on our bus.

No wonder the small Australian country towns we pass are so neat and orderly. Crowding in on the town boundaries are vast miles of brutal wilderness. And this is the most densely populated corner of the continent.

Fri 18 Aug. Canberra - Alpine National Park - Gelantipy.

Gentle morning sun melting thick frost, Canberra looks exactly like a 1920's vision of a perfect city of the future. This is no coincidence, as the city was laid out according to a 1920's design for a perfect city of the future. The boulevards are wide and tree-lined, Parliament House under it's grass covered dome fitting into the landscape so well that arriving after dark last night we managed to drive round it twice without realising.

Opposite Parliament house, the 'Aboriginal Embassy' consists of a couple of painted portacabins and a circle of tents surrounded by spears stuck into the turf, one for each year of white rule. The heartfelt protest belies the early morning peace, as the sun melts the frost on the manicured lawns into barcodes of green and white. 'Sovereignty never ceded' is the banner daubed on the walls.

After crossing the Snowy River and the Australian Alps - there is no good reason why it should be a surprise to find snow in Australia, but it is - on dirt tracks perched on steep hillsides, and rickety wood bridges, we stop for the night in an outward bound centre. The scout camp atmosphere is reinforced by a night nature 'ramble' consisting of piling onto a couple of smelly matresses in the back of a pickup, and squelching in the cold through cow-pats and mud.

The illusion of being somewhere in the Lake District last until the roving searchlight picks out a kangaroo, bounding effortlessly over a fence; a Possum, shinning up a tree; a couple of Wombats, surprised during an 'intimate moment.' Apparently, Wombats aren't keen on company, even their own kind, so we may have just blown these two's chances to get laid for some while - sorry guys!

Sat 19 Aug. Gelantipy - Gippsland - Phillip Island.

The Penguin Parade on Phillip Island is supposed to be the second most popular tourist attraction in Australia (behind some big red stone somewhere in the outback) and there are certainly many more tourists than penguins tonight. The tiny Fairy Penguins waddling up the beach and into the bushes as dusk falls don't seem put off by lights and silhouetted crowds of murmuring and ahhh'ing humans. Very cute, but 'virtual nature'.

On to Travel Tales - Tasmania.

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