Obama was in town, there were soldiers and police on every corner, our taxi was not technically road-legal and the windscreen was spider webbed with cracks. We tried desperately to look cool and not draw attention as the cab slowly pulled out of Darwin, catching the smallest glimpse of Air Force One in the tiny airport.
It was like a shopping centre just for us!
Hot, humid and with the definite air of a frontier town to it, Darwin was one of the most hospitable places we had the pleasure of visiting. However, ahead of us lay at least five days of solid driving through the famous Outback. Ridiculously hot and unrelentingly inhospitable, stories were always surfacing about tourists going missing out there.
The roads were good though; the scenery unexpectedly green and bushy and the engine was running well. Stocked up with three days worth of water and supplies, we camped in a national park with famous swimming holes. We rose at sunrise for a quick dip in the clear waters, nervously avoiding the deep black bits for fear of the Crocs. Although apparently there are none in the area, as soon as someone mentions it, you just get that little bit nervous and make up excuses as to why you’re sitting in the shallows…
WATCH OUT FOR CROCS!!!
Australian birds are stupid (I’m talking about the ones with wings… obviously. Shame on you for thinking otherwise!). I can now comment with a fair amount of authority of bird behaviour around the world as a 1992 Black cab drives toward them (although this is hardly the best specialty topic for Mastermind). Whereas most birds fly out of the way, Australian birds fly straight up and hover around Cab windscreen height, blindly waiting to be hit. We think Leigh hit a small one on the drive to the camp site, but without stopping to search for evidence it can’t be proven. As Johno was driving out from our camp spot, a much larger bird decided to play chicken (no pun intended) with the cab. There was a screech of brakes (or there would have been if they worked) and a momentous thud. Johno and I in the front seats rose from behind the dashboard, where we had instinctively ducked, to find our previously cracked windscreen was now well and truly smashed. The culprit, a ‘bush pheasant’ about the same size as an English pheasant lay, very dead, by the roadside.
Fortunately the driver’s side of the screen was clear, but with the nearest town about 100km away, and the chances of them having a spare London taxi windscreen slim, we were forced to push on to Cairns in an even worse state.
Night camping in the bush brings out all the ghosts
Until you have driven in the Outback, it is impossible to really get a grasp on true desolation. The sheer size of the country is palpable; the roads are straight and go on for as far as the eye can see, blending into a hazy mirage when they meet the sky. A dead wallaby or Kangeroo litter the roadside every few kilometres, mown down by the huge ‘roo-bars’ on buses and road trains. The heat pounded down as we drove for about 12 hours every day. Stopping, camping in a rest stop and repeating. The process was only interrupted by the odd ‘road train’ every few hours 50 meters long, four articulated trucks bolted together and thundering along at 70mph. These monsters are just downright intimidating, especially as they cruise faster than our top speed and overtake on roads only wide enough for them, shoving us into a nerve wracking battle to hold line with half the cab on the road and the other in the dust. Every day we drove through scorched desert scrub, every night a huge thunderstorm raged. This was typical luck for us. Rain in the desert; yet again we cursed our bloody single-skin pop-up tents.
Bushes in the Bush
It was Friday night in the middle of nowhere, but by picking up two hitchhikers (two girls, each carrying their body weight in beer, so the decision to stop was not a hard one) we accidentally stumbled on the biggest party for a thousand miles (around 30 people). The entire workforce from a mango picking farm had the day off and were taking full advantage of it! The workers were travellers from all over the world, letting their hair down from their job, menial as it was, it paid well and allowed them to extend their visa for another year because they had done the mandatory agricultural work.
Leigh ‘n’ Char
We arrived in Cairns having not had a shower for six days, exhausted and smelling so bad we feared people would start throwing change at us soon. All was good though. A few months previously we made a mad dash through Bangkok at dawn to find a TV station to do an interview with Australian morning TV. We had got horrendously lost, but the interview resulted in an email from a chain of hostels called Base. These guys assured us a place to stay in all the major towns. They also promised brilliant parties and mentioned that they were in need of wet T-shirt competition pourers… as three red blooded twenty-somethings, this offer was hard to decline.
Table = Dancing
We turned up to Gilligan’s, one of their sister hostels, got put up in a brilliant room and finally washed. Leigh’s girlfriend was flying in for the final few weeks, so he collected her from the airport, Hannah was deposited with Brando the Mechanic at Machete Motors, we met up with some friends from UK and we all went to the pub. The pub turned out to be a very energetic bar in the hostel, so when a particularly good song came on (the Mighty Mighty Bosstones), some of us (mainly me) got up on the table and danced like a tit. The bouncer was there within second and I clambered down looking sheepish:
“Where do you think you are, The Woolshed?”
“What’s that?”I replied. This was an odd bollocking from a bouncer.
“The pub where everyone dances on the tables.”
“WHERE’S THAT???” everyone replied in unison.
It was around the corner and bloody brilliant. They even had shelves for your beer at table dancing height.
We had made it to Cairns, all the hard sections were finished, and all we had to do was drive to Sydney. We were on the home straight and in a jovial mood. This was allied with the near-confirmation of new sponsor getting onboard and the chance to extend the trip beyond Sydney…
Great Barrier Reef
We did some interviews (again involving a 4am start for breakfast TV), we fulfilled our dream of diving on the Great Barrier Reef and Brando called a few days later. He’d had a good go on the brakes and steering and his mate has replaced the windscreen. We swung by to borrow his welding gear and gave Hannah a make over. It was Saturday, so Brando finished work by midday and settled back with his mate, ‘Fat’ (or Stan to his mum), and two fridges full of beer. 100% Aussie. By evening all the work on the cab was done and we were all kicking back, listening to great stories about wrestling crocs, the fact that Fat’s heart is the same size a horse’s, tips on how to fly through a car windscreen and use your face as a brake and how not to get bitten by a shark whilst snorkelling. Fat had had enough after about eight beers, drove home and was soon replaced by Brando’s annoying Neighbour, an ageing woman with far too much willingness to share personal problems with people she had just met. I successfully avoided her by chatting with Brando about his daughter. He showed me a picture of her when she was a few hours old
“what’s she holding”
“that’s her fust twennytwo, mate”
“yeh, but it’s owwnly a smaall one, she’s only liddle…” my face must have expressed what I was thinking
“It’s not loaded” he quickly reassured me.
I wasn’t reassured.
Meanwhile Annoying Neighbour cornered Johno and asked in the kind of way that indicates that you don’t have an option
“dya wanna see moiy cats?”
“Daaant worry, aam not gonna rape ya”
So with an invitation like that, he was over to hers, meeting her cats and being deafened by her sound system, on which she perpetually played Johnny Cash at full volume. The old couple next door, aged somewhere between 90 and 105, started shouting for it to be turned down. After shouting at each other for a bit, she turned it down a fraction and left it playing as they came back to Brando and I. The granny fixed Johno with a disapproving stare as he walked away with Annoying Neighbour.
“I know what you’ve been up to, don’t you try and deny it”
He returned to us, scared and blushing.
With toy boy accusations, Annoying Neighbour getting even more inappropriately with her sharing as she cracked another pre-mixed Jim Beam and coke, and with Brando falling asleep, it was time to leave.
This guy made even Johno look weedy
Dutch Alex and his Daughter
We collected the cab the next day and Brando wouldn’t take any payment, so we placed a few crates of beer in his fridge. He was a genuine Australian and a hero through and through. We headed South with two new passengers, Leigh’s girlfriend Char and Lila, an old friend from University who happened to be in the area. We had received an email from a Dutch family who saw our cab in Cairns. They lived at Flying Fish Point, an hour or so South and they were planning to drive back to Holland along a similar route to us and asked if we could come to dinner. They also mentioned that he was a chef and we were only too willing swing by. We rocked up, and had a delightful evening eating and talking about the real nitty-gritty aspects of overland travel. It felt good to recap the challenging parts of the expedition with people who had it all before them, especially so close to the end of our trip.
Ten months on the road and still sane…
The man at the bar at Magnetic Island said it was free drinks for ladies…
Sad to say good bye, we headed off south to Magnetic Island for a couple of nights, and then spent a night with some good friends from home who had just relocated down under.. We stopped at 1770, where Captain Cook had first landed in… 1770, surprisingly enough!. My parents were staying there, so we met them, which was nice as I hadn’t seen them in ten months, but soon we were back on the road, headed to Brisbane.
QUT Press Day
One of our most invaluable sponsors was our old university, Aston, who had supplied us with a workshop, support and money. On the day we left the campus, the Dean from Queensland University of Technology, a partner institution in Oz, happened to be there and promised us a big welcome if we ever made it to Brisbane. Unlikely as this sounded nine and a half months earlier, we rolled into Brisbane and QUT had arranged a press event in the town centre and a celebration including all the tea and scones we could scoff.
Johno gets arty
“Don’t look up my feathers”
This jovial mood was carried over when we received an email, finalising a new deal with a new sponsor. At the flat of Corrie, (one of my oldest school friends, who now lives in ‘Brissy’ and works down the mines) the lads and I finalised the contract with Get Taxi:
We were not finishing in Sydney. We are now circumnavigating the World!
Next up, the arrival in Sydney, the new Sponsor, the new plan and the new route