TO THE TOP The Tale of a Man From Lorne
There once was a man who lived in Lorne. Working as a toilet cleaner, in charge of seven public toilets along the foreshore, he found himself a bit bored.
The summer had been tough and one day, he formed a fantastic idea.
“Why don’t I hitch to Cape York, the very top of Australia?” he thought.
Yes indeed a great plan, from one end of the country to the other. Adventure? Tick. Challenging? Tick. Required equipment? Minimal. Tick. Cost? Low. Tick. Time frame? Six weeks. Tick. Photo opportunities? Tick.
On a rainy day in Lorne, he left with just a small pack, cleanly shaven and hair short, with a friendly “I won’t kill you” smile fixed to his face. That man was me.
The people I met were varied, though thankfully none posed any danger. Some were lonely, some wanting petrol money. Others were intrigued, and some were just kind hearted. But mostly they were lonely and bored on the never-ending road.
One guy’s ashtray was very full, as was the floor and half the seat. This man had a bad back, a cat and a wife who was blind. A woman who picked me up talked of a lost love, and a sad life. Then there was the man who kicked me out after less then one hundred kilometers, claiming to have lost his freedom.
Another woman was crying because she had lost the key to the church hall. I shared a slab with 2 bricklayers on their way home, and got too drunk. I played two-up in Broken Hill, and got hit on by a much older woman.
The “horse trader” picked me up with his two kids and we shared ice-cold cokes from the esky while I learned how to trade a car for a house, then buy 100 more.
I stayed in grand old outback pubs for twenty bucks a night, but spent more in the bar. When I went to bed on these nights: the sounds, smells and shared bathrooms took me back to another era.
In the mornings, I enjoyed coffee on the wide, cool verandas, overlooking the nothingness and “the everything”.
The route would take me through Western Victoria, the Mallee, into outback NSW, outback Queensland and up and up and up. It would involve over 70 lifts including cars, motorbikes, trucks, dozers and even a helicopter; and whole lot of walking.
When camping I had a plastic tarp, sleeping bag and “mossie” net. Looking back in years to come I would regret the lack of a pillow. My sleeping bag cover would be stuffed with everything from sand to spinifex, but nothing ever felt right.
A man picked me up one day going to the dentist, and the next lift my ride was coming home from the same dentist. One travelling salesman who picked me up after a week of sleeping rough told me I did indeed smell, though it was not that offensive… Honesty.
For 6 weeks I wore the same shorts and rotated two t-shirts. Boots were long discarded in favor of thongs. On the Old Telegraph Track in Cape York I walked over 100 kilometers in these thongs. And although already thin, I lost 15 kilograms on the journey.
Some of the lifts were rough fellows, as were some of the girls. But rough didn’t mean they were nasty. Eventually they would open up and tell their story, which always fascinated, and there would also be constant acts of kindness towards me - places to stay, stops for photos, some even driving hours out of their way to see that I was safe and on the right path.
A few of my lifts didn’t want me to go, and offered to share my mission. I didn’t want to offend, but this was a journey I needed to complete on my own. It was a time to reflect and to plan my escape from the hose and brush.
So, on I went, feeling better and stronger each day. The sun was always warm, the adventure constant. As I got closer to my goal, I slowed the pace a bit and enjoyed the splendor of the environment. The outback was amazing but harsh, with long stretches to travel.
Once in the Cape York area; a paradise was revealed. The bush, rivers, people and wildness were enchanting, though I had a few run ins with locals when a pack of wild dogs followed me late one afternoon. I’ll never forget the fearlessness of the Alfa in that pack, the snarling and hatred in the eyes.
I spent that night alone in the bush fearing it may be my last. A blood-curdling howl in the night sent a chill still there to this day. I saw plenty of snakes too but kept my thongs clear; and a dingo followed me for two days. A terrifying walk across a river mouth also tested my resolve, and around the next bend I came across a bigtoothed beauty sunning on the rocks.
After five weeks on the road I reached my goal, the tip of Australia. No anti-climax. In fact, I felt good about it. So good I didn’t want to go home.
There are too many highlights to share: from tearing down a dirt road in a chopper, to walking the Telegraph Track and swimming in croc free rivers.
But it’s the rides and the friendliness of everyone who played a part that I’ll remember the most.