Around Australia – Part 2

Hi everyone!
A quick and impersonal update, and I really do promise that I’ll get stuck into sending some actual personal emails now that I have my laptop here. Honest.

First off, Happy New Year! if I didn’t already txt you or pester you in some way already. I did my best to phone people from home but I didn’t get through to all of you, and ran out of credit eventually. Or didn’t have your number. Girls in Romania and Old Strec in Czech Republic, I did my best, but I can’t get through from Oz! I did my best.

Secondly, I’m leaving here in probably a week. As presumptuous as this may be, if you’re going to mail me something here, then don’t; I won’t get it after next Friday or so. I’ll send you all a new address as soon as I have one.

About the email
In the unlikely event that you don’t know where I’m at and what I’m doing, I’m sitting on my bed typing this email in a small hotel room in Donnybrook, Western Australia, where it is very, very hot. I stack boxes of fruit on palettes for a living, and in my spare time I hang out with Australians and Japanese, getting up to various odd adventures. If you didn’t get my last email because didn’t have your email address, and you want it, let me know.

Now, I wrote a lengthy and somewhat dry update about what I’ve been up to here (the luxury of having my own laptop here is that I can write loads of clever witty prose, spellcheck it, and then abandon it when I have some sort of brainfart about what I actually want to say to people) and then I decided that I have a better and more interesting idea. In the last 4 months I seem to have taken up to about 1000 photos – with my Canon film camera. However, now I have my laptop I can start using my digital camera again, so I took lots of photos for all of you, and instead of boring you with telling you, I’m going to show you where I’m at.

I’ll put it up on the web in some form very soon too, when I have time which, shockingly enough, has become a commodity in short supply for me thanks to trying to keep up with the various people I’m spending time with out here.

The interesting bit, especially for all of you
With any luck, you have an image with this email. If not, and you want to see it, check here:

(just put that line into your browser location field to see it)
Here’s what it’s about.
1. My room, since start of January.
2. In the hotel where I’ve been staying.
3. Donnybrook, WA, main street (also known as the South Western Highway).
4. South Western Australian countryside.
5. At the packing shed; Toby trying a smirk, with Erika and Keiko in the background.
6. At the hotel; Yoiji, Keiko, Sayuri and Erika at their favourite hangout.
7. Me, outside the hotel.
8. The phone boxes, where I try to call everyone from.
9. Me, enduring the sun near the phone boxes.
10. The Girls (Sámi, Erika, Sayuri, Keiko and Kanako) do the Reservoir Dogs thing in Donnybrook.
11. The big night out; Kerri, Amy, Clint and Leesa at the top of the lookout in Bunbury (the Australian Popular girls).
12. More Western Australian countryside; clouds, unusually.
13. At the packing shed; Erika messing, Keiko and Leesa.
14. At the packing shed; My office.
15. At the packing shed; Rochelle and Leesa making love to the camera.
16. At the packing shed; Rochelle and Leesa being contemplative.
17. At the packing shed; Toby hears a truck.
18. At Rochelle’s; Jeremy’s antique.
19. The railway line through Donnybrook.
20. Dusk, you and me and another packing shed in Donnybrook.

So, there you go. I took ‘em specially for you guys. It’s very much a snapshot in time, of what I’m doing and who I’ve been spending time with over the last week. Katherine, Sing, Shane, Markus, Ben, Sarah, Mick, Rafael have all headed off, Glen and Richard were here and have left again, George is heading off today. I’m not working with Ron any more. I don’t see too much of Evelyn and Paul these days, since I don’t work with them any more and they tend to do their own thing. Even Amy, who briefly seemed to take a shine to me seems to have disappeared and Leesa and Rochelle are dragging me around everywhere to show me the sights, along with Jeremy. It’s funny how quickly things can change, that way.

Fear not, I have photos of almost all of them; and I might even ask some of the gang for a copy or two of their digital photos.

The boring bit, with the usual obscure in-jokes
In a nutshell, things are still going quite well here, though I haven’t been travelling now since the 7th of December; I’ve been staying in a place called Donnybrook (yes, it’s named after the place in Dublin – there’s an Irishtown near here too, apparently) which is 2 to 3 hours drive south of Perth in Western Australia. It’s small, and was voted Australia’s ugliest town a few years ago, after which little expense was spared to turn it into an exercise in bland modernity (something at which Australian town planners seem to excel). Incidentally, being voted Australia’s ugliest town is quite an achievement for all the wrong reasons, and I’m curious about how bad that could possibly be.

There’s not much to do here. I came here because I needed to work, and that’s what I’ve been doing since the 8th, with a few days off here and there until I started the job I’m doing now where I get weekends off too which is good because initially I set myself on working 10 hours a day, 7 days a week to maximise my earnings, but I quickly discovered that it’s a great way to go mad. This place has two pubs (which are both hotels too, one of which I’m staying in), a couple of supermarkets, a newsagents, a chemist (pharmacy/drugstore), a take-out (drink shop/off licence) and about 4 lousy fish and chip shops as well as some other stuff; as you can imagine, there’s not much going on. I’m not going to get into telling the big story now, but it will be enough, I think, to say that time can hang pretty heavy here if you have a short attention span or you need to be doing things that don’t involve drinking, sex, drugs, violence and driving very fast in residential areas (that’s a package deal by the way, and you can’t really pick and choose – get one, get them all. It’s a bit like a night out with Woodsie.).

So what have I been doing? Well, I started out by thinning apples. Now, people have been mailing me back and saying “Hey, that is great Kevin, you are picking apples”; guys, for the last time, thinning apples, not picking. It’s a big difference, and one you can only feel strongly about if you’ve been doing it for 4 weeks and start to care about stupid little things like that. It’s also (allegedly, because I haven’t actually picked any apples myself) a lot less work than picking. Thinning is where on a tree you have a bunch of say four apples, you take off the two smallest, the runts of the litter if you will, or damaged apples. And you do that for the whole tree. Quickly. For hours and hours, yanking off apples, and at the same time trying not to maul the tree while you’re doing it, and not damaging the remaining apples at all. It’s not very hard, apart from the incredible heat, it’s just mind-numbing work and after a few weeks you start dreaming about it, and waking up seeing apples and thinking about how long it will take to do those tree, and that’s when you know that you have to do something else.

At that point, I had started work in a different place from the first orchard, and just when I was starting to go mad, the owner decided to put me to work in his packing shed, which is what I’ve been doing for a few weeks now. I stack boxes. I run them through a taping machine which puts tape around the boxes and then I put them on wooden palettes so they can be put somewhere else. I actually kind of enjoy it because it’s a real physical challenge, believe it or not, and I’ve lost weight and become very fit. Damn I’ve got upper body strength now, I have the strength of a thousand Creaghs, and I can lift elephants. It’s quite an education to see how far I can push my body when the pressure is on (the other day it was 19 kilo boxes, doing that in a hurry is no joke). But the real education has been in dealing with people and seeing how I deal with something like this, doing this kind of work, week in, week out. I’ve learnt a lot about people management, and the nature of authority. I know most people have done this kind of work before, but I haven’t, and I can see where I’ve been missing out. Mr Skinner, if you’re reading this, send those guys off to a packing plant for two weeks and see what happens. You’ll be amazed. They’ll be able to stack printer cartridges without having a meeting or a hint of sending emails…

I have to admit that in working in the packing shed I’ve had a certain freedom in knowing it’s not something I’m tied to, I’m just ‘doing it for the laugh’ as it were, for experience, and if I screw up then it’s fine. I haven’t, because I’ve worked hard and done my best to stay on top of a job that you reach the limits of – in terms of learning – after about 3 weeks. That’s it, there’s not much more to learn after that.

There’s one thing I have to say, and that is that the next time you buy an apple, a nectarine, a pear, any piece of fruit, know this: the amount of care and attention that has gone into each one is quite simply staggering. From start to finish, from flower to final packed fruit, those things are treated better than the average hospital patient! Really, only the very best are packed, they are washed over and over, carefully packed, everything continuously monitored, and in fact when they go to Europe the controls are so tight that if you wear a bandage it has to be documented and signed in, and out again when you finish work. So, appreciate your fruit, many many people have worked very hard to bring it to you.

Juice on the other hand, is apparently the sausage-style dirty secret of the industry; the juice you drink is made from the rotten left-overs from packing (not entirely true, I think, but who knows) and when you see ‘protein’ listed as an ingredient of juice, that is dead insects and rats and stuff. Allegedly. They certainly don’t make juice from the good fruit, and that’s a definite fact.

The stuff that comes next
I have a relatively clear idea of what’s next, which is that I’m going to make some plans and then try to stuff them up as badly as possible over the coming months. Which is to say, the plan is that at the end of February I’m planning on heading to Melbourne via Perth, Kalgoorlie and Adelaide, where I’ll be catching up with various people en route. Which of course is asking for trouble already, but trouble is good, because then interesting stuff happens.

I’m going to hopefully stay in Melbourne for up to three months, living the authentic Australian city life experience, and we’ll see what happens next. I might stay for a bit longer, or I might clear off, and I’ll see when the time comes. I’ve said to some of you before how although I like Australia I felt that the novelty had worn off. This is still true but I think that I could basically like anywhere if I stayed there for a while; it doesn’t take much to please me. I don’t know what that says about me.

Longer term, the notion of going to the Czech Republic to eat Burek for a couple of months has crept into my head, and maybe trying out Romania pizza for a while too. But that’s talk for 2005, almost definitely. Damn, that’s England, The Netherlands, Spain, and whatever else too, and I’m not getting any younger. I could do with gathering some moss.

Some observations and addenda to the last email
First off, I’ve been learning some new Australianisms. Here’s one: “Aw, hey”. Actually, the important bit is to stick “hey” at the end of a sentence, often for no good reason, though it really means “take note of the preceding statement” – “We need to get a move on, hey.”, or “I hit me a roo, hey”. It’s roughly equivalent to “’ey” which is more common. You can do the same with “, but” at the end of a sentence which means that what ever you said disagrees with whatever was said before. Another good one is “Bloody Oath!” (“my Oath” is the polite version) which means “I agree strongly!” or “Yes, that is very true!”; “So it is hot today” – “Bloody Oath it is!”. Some of the older ones still use “dinkum” too – “Reckon he was dinkum an’ all, ‘ey” which means “I believe his opinion may have been correct”. Oh, and let’s not forget the term ‘ethnic’, as in “aw, I were down there gettin’ to the river, an’ I reckon I were dinkum an’ all, but there were this ethnic bloke there an’ he were gettin’ all wet, ‘ey”. “Ethnic” means of Latin European extraction, and more specifically means Italian – there are a lot of Italians here, but don’t forget that Northern Europeans ‘discovered’ Australia. Since I know that Miki and Roxana are planning on invading Australia at some point, I suggest you practice those with people you know. A good piece of advice is to leave your mouth open and make no attempt to form any sounds with your lips (use your nose instead) for that authentic sound.

I can’t wait to get to Queensland, which the Sandgropers here consider to be a bunch of inarticulate Neanderthals. Apparently, even by Australian standards they are very hard to follow, but since they don’t say anything of any consequence it hardly matters. Allegedly.

Speaking of invasions, I’ve discovered here that Saddam Hussein is responsible for world terrorism, and also even more disturbingly that if it wasn’t for the Americans protecting world democracy then the Indonesians would invade Australia tomorrow. Because, there are millions of them.

I’ve discovered Kilkenny beer; I know this will sadden and distress some of you but I might find myself liking it even more than Guinness. It’s good stuff.

They can be pretty racist down here. When someone sets about you, or mugs you or wrongs you in any way at all, then they immediately assume that the person who wronged you was Aboriginal. Without fail. As I told some of you, I was ‘mugged’ in Perth for a dollar by some guy who was very likely a junkie (it would have been quite funny, since it was a somewhat bizarre incident, except I had no idea if he really was going to cut my throat, leave me dead in an alley or something for the sake of a dollar). Around here the reaction, straight off, was that he black fella. Err… No, he was a strung-out white guy.

Since we’re on that subject, here’s an interesting one for you all: I went to see an exhibit in Fremantle, which is to Perth as Bray is to Dublin (in other words, likes to think it’s a separate town but they’re only fooling themselves) and this exhibit was about the history of the discovery of Australia. Now, native Aboriginal history aside, Australia was found, and named (it means ‘Southland’), by the Dutch; the English, as much as they like to feel ownership over this part of the world, were very much last on the scene. The thing that really got my attention was the interesting fact that they already very much expected Australia to be there. This informed guess was quite an old one. The Greeks, as clever as they were, had hypothesised that since there was so much landmass up North, and what with the world being round and all the rest of it, there would have to be something down below to compensate for it all, and of course it would have to be made of gold and be really very impressive, which apart from occasional interference from the Church, had everyone’s attention for quite a while. The Dutch were a little disappointed after they found it by bumping their ships into it a few times (and those stories are worse than most horror movies) and worse still finding that the locals didn’t have any interest in trade (you can’t eat or drink coins, after all). Unlike the later British, the Dutch were a bit let down by the whole experience and decided to continue bothering the locals in what is now Indonesia and Malaysia instead. The maps are astoundingly accurate, given that they did them with crude instruments in the 1600’s, although it’s also interesting to see what they didn’t map and how they filled in the blanks.

I’ve been pretty well behaved out here and to be honest, it’s starting to piss me off. I’d like to be an extroverted asshole sometimes, but I just don’t seem to have it in me. The whole Jekyll and Hyde thing that I found in me in Kalbarri and on the way there seems to have evaporated like it was never really there… That’s not good, because this is a great place for reprehensible stuff to happen; I just seem to attract the kind of good-natured people (more specifically – since I’m being a little obtuse here – women) that just don’t bring that out in me, and now if I’m in a situation that could get interesting I just get intimidated and shut up or back out. Also as Kenny pointed out helpfully I’ve got an (entirely inadvertent, honestly) thing about “other people’s girlfriends”. I have a theory (Neil would be proud of me) about this which is a story for another day. So, no action in Donnybrook, WA. I’m not drinking much either, which is good. A couple of pints on Friday nights, if any at all.

I think I’ll call it a day for one of my ‘objectives’ here in Australia, at any rate. I just couldn’t be arsed barking up the wrong tree any more, or worrying about it. Some very expensive therapy when I get home will have to do the job (as if this trip wasn’t expensive enough already). Roll on 2005, whoo!

By the way, it looks like it’s 1 all to me and Liam right now. While he was wrong about whether or not I’d actually get my shit together and go to Australia (frankly, I’d have put my money on him being right too), he was right on the matter of me lugging around a big expensive camera. The little, battered digital camera which takes very low quality photos has still got it all for spontaneity and creative shots, and if I had any money to burn at all I’d get a better one. The big Canon is good but really not great for social situations and portability. So, a stunning return to form for Mr Furlong, and doubtless he’ll be right about all sorts of stuff in the coming months.

Out of steam
Right, that’s it for now. I’m still sometimes homesick, since of course I miss everyone back home, and having a consistent social environment. I didn’t think it would bother me as much, but it’s just a sense of disorientation. And there’s more than a few people that I’ve met for the first time in the last 6 months which I miss too. It’s amazing how a small decision can have such an impact on anyone’s life, but I haven’t looked back.

Photos on the web as soon as I can get myself organised; first things first, I have to organise my cv and all that good stuff, I have to get my site up and running in some form or fashion, and of course send out a few emails. Bear with me.

If you want a postcard, send me your address! If you don’t want any emails from me, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do. If anyone’s been fighting over me, great! Send me the photos ;-)

More soon, miss you all…

2 Responses to “Around Australia – Part 2”

  1. Alex Says:

    well well, Mister, I’ve been living in Queensland for quite a while (1 year to be exact) and I’ve seen not just Brisbane during that time, but to call most of the Queenslanders Neanderthals is an exaggeration, as they are more civilised there than in some other parts of Australia.

  2. kevintel Says:

    Now, that’s not fair – I was quoting the Sandgropers in Western Australia there; “I can’t wait to get to Queensland, which the Sandgropers here consider to be a bunch of inarticulate Neanderthals. Apparently, even by Australian standards they are very hard to follow, but since they don’t say anything of any consequence it hardly matters. Allegedly.”

    Of course I found them all to be delightful and witty people ;-)