Km 14753 – Nelson, New Zealand
Australia: an early end of our journey? This thought comes to our mind as we think about the past two years of our travels and what has impressed us most. We have spend a very long time in Asia (from Turkey to Indonesia: 21 months) and Indonesia has been and intensive and humanly wonderful ending of our time in Asia.
Now we are in the middle of it. Of the West. And that although we have cycled East the whole time! We are in the middle of capitalism. With expensive supermarkets and overweight people. With never ending product choices. With mega shopping centres. With huge houses up to the ceiling full with stuff. Almost no one expects us to take our shoes off when we enter a house. A lot more meat, wheat and milk products. Drinking water from the tap. Trash bins full of food. Hot showers in bathrooms with dry floors (in contrast to the Asian wet bathrooms). Individualism. Public toilets and barbecue stations as well as real tourist information centres. Bicycle lanes. Lowered kerbs. Service, the right to return your purchased good and quality controls. Big cars. A lot more naked skin. No more communication problems, because we speak the local language. And still – we have less touching spontaneous encounters with people. On the one hand, because we don’t look like foreigners any more – we could even pass as Australians. On the other hand, because it is not that unusual any more to travel by bicycle (even though most people just go for a couple days/weeks).
But mostly, because the people belong to a different culture. A culture where less people excitingly wave to us and spontaneously invite us for tea. A culture with more stress and more superficiality. Less time, to spontaneously have a chat with a stranger. Less smiling faces. The way to the smile seems a lot further. A culture of wealth and abundance, but also the fear to loose that. A culture where racist statements are made – publicly.
Australia is similarly „estranged“ (Erich Fromm) as today’s European culture. We therefore feel as if have arrived back home culturally. What we feel is called Reverse Culture Shock.
Most Australians have European ancestors who have settled here several hundred years ago. In 1606, at first the Dutch „discovered“ Australia. 1788 the British colonialised the country to bring convicts. The human history of this continent does begin 50.000 years before the arrival of the Europeans though. The original inhabitants of Australia, the Aborigines, suffered a lot from the arrival of the Europeans. They died because of new diseases, horrible massacres and partly where even hunted and shot like animals. Furthermore, there was forced adoptions (removal of indigenous children), assimilation programmes, suppression and discrimination. Not until 1992, plentiful land expropriations by the Europeans were admitted to be illegal. Not until 2008 did the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, issue an extensive public apology.
A return from the 21st century to the traditional (and sustainable) way of life of the Aborigines is difficult to imagine. Water sources are polluted or have totally vanished. Forests have been cut down, the environment of many animals has been destroyed and some of the cultural techniques of the indigenous population have been forgotten by now.
Ironically, the Aborigines, as well as their art, their mythology and way of life is used as a publicity to promote tourist destinations. That is the case, not only but especially regarding the Uluru National Park – also known as Ayers Rock. This small mountain is a holy place for the Aborigines and has been exploited as the Australian symbol for the tourism industry since.
Despite Reverse Culture Shock and more scarce spontaneous encounters as in other countries, we still find the open minded and helpful people – but often contacted them before through hospitality exchange networks. Therefore less spontaneous, but just as lovely: amongst other encounters we stay the complete first week with Giulia (Italy) and Sylvain (France) in Darwin. A super start in the new country. Especially since I am sick (sinusitis) and need to rest and acclimatise before we can continue. The four of us get along really well and Giulia and Sylvain take us to Litchfield National Park the next weekend – a real highlight with high waterfalls rushing down into blue pools surrounded by deep green nature. Paradisiac.
Because of the summerly heat, my ill health and a booked ferry to Tasmania, we decide to hitchhike the 3000 km to Adelaide. We only have to wait 10 minutes for our first ride to Katherine (300 km). Beginner’s luck. For the next leg to Tennant Creek (700 km) we have to wait 3 hours until Ken takes us. Ken drives one of the notorious Road Trains – a huge truck with up to 4 trailers and up to 53 meters of length.
As we stand at the gas station in Tennant Creek, we just don’t get a ride – for the first time on this journey. From morning till afternoon (approximately 7 hours) we wait and keep talking to people – but nothing happens. At least: as I talk to some friendly people who would like to take us if their vehicles weren’t super packed and full, I receive 50 $ at first and then later 5 $. Just like that, from strangers. The Australians collect plus factors.
And then he comes – the long hoped for ride. A chaos team with a pick-up and a trailer. The trailer still needs to be fixed (approximately 3 additional hours), but from the beginning on we can count on Stuart’s and Chris’ word to make some space in the totally packed vehicle. Stuart and Chris are craftsmen, who set up and repair water tanks in the whole country. Soon we politely nod and smile, but don’t understand much, since Stuart’s accent is so difficult to understand. But his blue eyes which look at us from under the grey hair and the weathered face, tell us, that he is a good soul. Chris, the younger legworker, talks about an unsuccessful relationship, his children who grow up far away with their mother, his „biological father“. He can say „blood and honour“ in German which – together with his tattoos in German type writing (among others his family name across his shoulders) – doesn’t really imply that he grew up in an ordinary middle-class family. Prejudices are out of place here though. He is a kind and funny guy.
Since it is already evening as we start moving after the trailer has been repaired, we camp 100 km out of Tennant Creek next to a couple stone formations (Devil’s Marbles). The two don’t even think of paying the camping fee and early in the morning we leave towards Alice Springs. A tire is broken and has to be filled with air from time to time, with the help of a compressor sitting on the loading space. This is true hitchhiking.
Nevertheless, even more impressive for us is Australia’s nature and animal variety. We encounter animals and landscapes that we have never seen before. You can already see a couple of pictures here. We will write more about this in the next blog entry though.