TO THE TOP The Tale of a Man From Lorne

Outer Edge - - Contents - By Si­mon Wil­liams

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.

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