The team met up back in Australia ready to be reunited with Hannah for the final leg…
“Criiiikey!” yelled the leathery old man.
I had been in Australia for less than fifteen minutes and `already ticked off half of my mental list of stereotypes. There were fully-grown men wearing baggy singlets and backwards baseball caps playing eighties arcade machines whilst sun-bleached mulleted kids tore around and an aborigine with a huge white beard wandered past in a daze.
All I needed now was a guy in a hat with corks hanging off it, a boxing kangaroo and a lovable rogue to tell me, “that’s not a knoyfe maate!”
The ship carrying our car had been delayed again and although Leigh and Paul had postponed their departures from the beach paradise of Bali I had decided to stick with my original flight and come over to check out Darwin, Australia’s most northerly city and home to about 130,000 people from sixty different nationalities.
Old Model T chassis – probably in better nick than Hannah
I was staying with a very nice Couchsurfer called Paula who cooked a delicious Kangaroo stew and told me about life in the far north as we walked her dog around streets which seemed unfeasibly clean and ordered after our months spent in India, China and Asia.
I borrowed a bike and a spent a pleasant few days exploring the little city on two wheels. I even stumbled across our shipping company and popped in to ask when we would be able to get the car.
“The ship is in on Wednesday,” they told me, “just pop down then”
Coincidently this was also the day Paul and Leigh arrived and so, laden down with rucksacks we walked down to the docks, rather naively expecting to be driving away that afternoon.
We were soon hammered with a harsh punch of reality when we were told the container still needed to be unpacked and we might, possibly be able to get the car back “sometime next week”.
We could hardly believe it, especially after all the previous delays but had no choice but to go and check into a hostel and haemorrhage money whilst we discovered exactly how expensive having a minimum wage of £10 an hour makes everything in Australia.
Thankfully after some gentle nagging we persuaded the shippers to get the car out and inspected on Friday. I had just read a news story about two Bangladeshi men who had sneaked into a container to smoke a crafty joint and accidently been shipped over to Singapore. One of them soon died of thirst and the other arrived barely alive. The story was really driven home as I found myself pushing Hannah out of the sweltering metal box under the beating sun after the battery had predictably gone flat on the sail over.
As it is essentially a huge island populated with a load of deadly creatures, the Australians are understandably very serious about maintaining their uniquely isolated ecosystem and quarantine is a very big deal. We had all heard the horror stories about tourists being fined hundreds of dollars for accidently bringing a banana into the country but our case was slightly different and we were rightly worried about Hannah’s filthy innards.
Flat battery… obviously!
We had spent days cleaning all of our stuff and washed the car at least four times over in Malaysia. We had even paid through the nose to get the whole container fumigated in Singapore in an attempt to finally wipe out the various nests of ants we had somehow acquired in India but in the end it was a little bit of mud that undid us.
The quarantine officer literally took less than a minute to tell us that we weren’t coming in anytime soon as he felt under the rear wheel arch and came back with fingertips covered in dirt.
Now the car would have to be cleaned ‘professionally’ for us at the extortionate cost of $75 an hour and to rub our noses in a little more we were told that they wouldn’t be able to get it done until at least Tuesday. It was going to be a very expensive wait.
We’ve been stuck in worse places!
Although the place we were staying did have a hot tub it also cost more for one night in a grotty dormitory bed than we were used to paying for a full week in a private room back in Asia, so we racked our brains for options. I had met a local woman on the plane over from Singapore and she had invited us over to her house for dinner so we thought we’d cheekily ask her if she minded us camping in her garden for few days. But this suggestion was immediately torpedoed when we realised that our tents were still stuck in the car, along with most of our other possessions, in fact we had been living out of hand luggage for almost three weeks.
We got the bus to Bernadette’s anyway; the offer of a meal from her son, an award-winning chef, was too great for us to resist. Unfortunately he had not actually been informed of his dinner guests (and after working all day probably didn’t fancy cooking for three random English guys who crashed his house) but Bern cooked us up a delicious meal.
On hearing of our situation, within a second she invited us to stay at her place, use her car whenever we liked and go for dinner with her friends. She really was an absolute life-saver and we all thought of her as our adopted Aussie mum, especially after she cooked us an absolutely amazing roast, the first one in nine months.
Relaxing with a G&T at Bern’s
We spent a few days watching TV, lazing around, seeing the sights, giving some talks to the kids at the school where Bern was the head teacher and even catching an AFL “Footy” game in the savage heat and humidity.
Next Tuesday came and we shuffled down to port for the second inspection and nervously followed the inspecting officer around as she directed a guy with a jet-wash to clean off some still stubbornly dirty nooks and crannies before finally passing us and freeing Hannah. This was not before we had parted with the better part of a thousand dollars in cleaning charges and fees and even more annoying for two reasons. Firstly, all the dirt, seeds and other crud they cleaned off the car just blew into the sea and portside anyway and secondly when we mentioned we needed to change our oil the officer, Holy Environmental Protector of Australia™, just suggested that we drive into the Outback and drain the old oil straight out into the dirt.
Now all that stood between us and the open road was the small matter of getting the car registered and insured so we could legally drive on the Ozzy roads. After a bit of a wild goose chase around the various offices, not helped by half the city being on lockdown due to President Obama’s flying visit we found ourselves undergoing an unwelcome roadworthiness test. Anyone who has even skimmed any of the blogs will be aware that roadworthy is probably not the best way to describe Hannah and it was no surprise when we were presented with a comprehensive, two-sided list of what we needed to get fixed before we could be issued the necessary paperwork. This included front brakes, back brakes, flat battery, flat spare tyre, welding and of course, the windscreen that was in a bad way after an encounter with the over enthusiastic car washers in Malaysia. Apparently any cracks longer than ten millimetres needed to be repaired. As you can see from the picture ours were slightly outside this limit.
BBQ with Bern’s freinds: great food and company
As it was now Thursday this meant another weekend of invading Bern’s house and another load of delays pushing us ever-closer to our 10th December Sydney finish date.
Alas the call of the open road proved far too strong and after studying our carnet documents and some forum posts we figured that posts on online message boards are always completely accurate. With this in mind we somehow convinced ourselves that we were legally covered and decided to start the drive over to Cairns and get all the work done there.
Back on the road!
So with our dodgy brakes and spiderwebbed windscreen we said our final goodbyes and thanks to Bern and drove off past the parked up Air Force One and into the vast Outback.
Next time: Thunderstorms in the desert: typical ITOM luck, Machete Motors, diving and the East Coast!