Hitchhiking & wild camping Australia’s east coast

Australia

** I’d like to acknowledge the First Nations peoples of Australia, their elders and their ancestors: custodians of the land that I have been travelling through.**

Imagine a place where dolphins play amongst surfers in the waves. A place where parrots squawk above you and pelicans sit on shores. A place where kangaroos hop into gardens for their breakfast of grass. A place where koalas sleep in eucalyptus trees. A place with thousands of kilometres of perfect beaches. This is Australia’s east coast.

In my first post about Australia I talked about the country’s bloody colonial past, and in future posts I will talk about its problematic present. But for this post I want to talk about Australia’s clichés. Australia is so much more than its stereotypes, but you might not know it if you only visit the east coast.

As a young child, I imagined Australia to be a place of deadly snakes, with tarantulas hiding inside toilet bowls. How does Kylie Minogue go to the toilet? I used to think to myself. (Kylie was my hero). Australians don’t give a damn about snakes, though, and lots of people on the east coast walk everywhere barefooted. Although we see four dangerous snakes (a few death adders and a red bellied black), we find that its much more common to find frogs. They’re everywhere, at least when you get out of cities.

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This kangaroo hates humans (hence the tongue gesture!)

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Pelicans are a common sight. To grasp just how huge these birds are, compare this pelican to the sea gulls standing next to her!

We hitchhike the whole coast, roughly 4000km, from cooler Melbourne to the rainforests up in Cape York. We sleep on beaches, waking in the mornings to find surfers catching waves, or in national parks, where the kookaburra’s laugh wakes us at dawn. I feel peaceful when I’m in nature here, walking through eucalyptus forests, or camping in the sand dunes.

“How are ya? Great place to camp!” a surfer says to us as we crawl out of our tent on Ballina beach. He strikes up a friendly conversation. Throughout our time hitchhiking and wild camping on Australia’s east coast, we meet equally friendly people.

I can’t imagine this happening in Europe. When wild camping in Europe I’m wary of people’s reactions to me and try to stay as hidden as possible. On the whole, European people are fearful, and sometimes even disgusted, by those who are a bit different, who don’t pay for a piece of grass just to lay their head. The mentality in Australia couldn’t be more different.

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A typical east coast beach

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Camping on Dunk island

 

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Camping somewhere on the cassowary coast (turning a blind eye to the ‘no camping’ signs)

Australians are, however, fearful of hitchhiking. Despite this, hitching the east coast proves to be relatively easy. Almost every driver tells us about the backpacker/hitchhiker murders that have happened in the past. Whilst these murders were horrific, they were twenty-five years ago. The 2005 film Wolfe Creek, based on the murders, sensationalised these terrible events, and Australians seem to be both terrified and fascinated by the killings. I can’t quite work out why it is the drivers who are fearful of hitchhikers, when it was never the hitchhikers who did the killings…

“I need to tell you just how dangerous hitchhiking here is,” a woman says as she gets out of her car in the dark to talk to us. “There are hoons who drive around looking for hitchhikers to prey on. I really feel that I need to warn you about it.” Hoons! I feel like I’m in Neighbours! Nonetheless, she immediately invites us to stay.

Invitations into people’s homes become a regular occurrence. In all my years of hitchhiking, I’ve never received as much warmth as in this country.* Until now, it’s been the Middle Eastern countries that have been the most hospitable. I always assumed that it was partly because these countries are more community-based, less individualistic, and less capitalist. But here we are, in a capitalist country, and Chris and I are invited into so many homes that we begin to lose count.

There’s Ness and Tim who meet us on a Sydney train and take us in. And Glenn, who takes us on a tour in the middle of the night to search for wombats, as we’ve never seen any. And then there’s Bruce and Jenni, who chat to us for five minutes on the street then invite us to their house to stay. There’s the guy that we meet at the vegetarian section of the supermarket, who then arranges for us to stay with his friend, Phil.

And then there’s Leslie, who meets us briefly then asks us to keep his dog Toby company whilst he goes away for a few days. We end up staying with him for about a week.

“Life is all about the people you meet,” Leslie tells us with warmth as we finally leave his home.

We stay with people whose houses look like they’re from the set of Neighbours, with perfectly manicured lawns. We sleep in expensive apartments, ramshackle houses and caravans. And we meet numerous people who say, “I’ve only got 100 acres!”

And, of course, there are the activists and ecologists who we meet along the way. Those standing up for Mother Earth and for First Nations People’s rights. Those that we share a special connection with. Alan who fought fracking in Bentley; and David and Lindy and hundreds of others demonstrating against what could be one of the biggest coal mines in the world.

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Activists opposing the Adani coal mine in Bowen

After hitchhiking the entirety of eastern Australia, we prepare to leave the comforts of the coast behind to hitchhike the Outback. “It’s dangerous!” “You’ll get stranded with no water!” “It’s impossible! There’s no cars!” We have been told again and again by well-meaning people.

So it’s with some trepidation that we begin our adventure into the Outback. We leave the hippies, activists, surfers and vegan cafes behind and venture into the land of rodeos, right-wingers and live cattle exporters.

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Stop the Adani coal mine! Join the fight! See Stop Adani and FLAC

*I travel through Australia as a white European. Australia is a country with lots of racism, so others may have a different experience to me.

A big thank you to our friends in England who have arranged for us to stay with their lovely Aussie families. A special thanks to Dor and Terry, who looked after me for a whole week in Brisbane when I was sick.

 

 

 

 

 

Learning about Australia

Anarchism & Activism, Australia

** I would like to acknowledge the First Nations peoples of Australia, their elders and their ancestors, custodians of the land that I have been travelling through.

Throughout my blog posts about Australia, I will refer to the original people of this land as ‘First Nations people’, ‘Aboriginal Australians’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’. I asked a few people which term they prefer, and these were the preferences. The term ‘Indigenous’ was not liked. First Nations Australians often refer to themselves as ‘the mob’, too, and this term is often used by their friends and allies who are of European heritage.**

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As a child of the 80s, I was in love with Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan. I spent my dinner times transfixed by Neighbours and Home & Away and I cried my eyes out watching Charlene and Scott’s wedding. An impression of Australia was implanted into my brain: a vision of a blonde-haired, tanned, surf-loving nation.

At school in England, we learnt how the ‘hero’ Captain Cook sailed around the world and ‘discovered’ Australia. There was no mention of the most ancient continuous civilisation on Earth who had lived on the land for 65,000 years before the British came. And there was never any criticism of the ‘Great’ British Empire.

I didn’t think much more about Australia as I grew older. Why would I want to travel to a country that was just like England, only hotter?

But then I discovered the words of Australian journalist John Pilger, and the beautiful songs of Xavier Rudd. Between John’s articles and Xavier’s music, I gained a new understanding of Australia – a country with one of the bloodiest, falsely-told colonial histories of all time. A history where white Europeans committed genocide on a massive scale. A history of racism, land theft, concentration camps and apartheid. An attempt to completely wipe out the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.

And so I travel to Australia to inform myself more.

Chris and I hitchhike to Canberra, the soulless capital of Australia. We’re here to visit the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a protest camp which has existed for forty-five years. We want to educate ourselves by talking to some of Australia’s Aboriginal activists.

We’re welcomed warmly and invited to stay the night.

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The Aboriginal Tent Embassy

We’re told about the hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, with hundreds of different languages, most of which are in danger of being completely wiped out.

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The AIATSIS map of Aboriginal Australia, attempting to represent all of the language or tribal or nation groups of First Nations people of Australia

We quickly learn that Aboriginal Elders are referred to as Aunty or Uncle.

“Australia is one big cemetery,” Uncle tells us. “Our mob are buried everywhere. But they weren’t given proper funerals; they were just buried where they were slaughtered.”

When Britain colonised, horrific massacres were carried out throughout Australia, and the perpetrators went unpunished.

Chris and I hitchhike to Myall Lakes national park and come across one such massacre site. The murders that took place here are given just one sentence on the national park’s information board. This is one more sentence than usual in Australia, which commemorates white Australians’ First World War Anzac deaths in every single town.

“By the 1920s, there were perhaps 21,000 Aborigines [left] in the whole country and governments and the press waffled sanctimoniously of ‘smoothing the pillow of a dying race’,” says John Tully in Green Left Weekly.

In John Pilger’s book A Secret Country, he gives examples of how chemicals such as strychinine and arsenic were used to murder First Nations people:

” A Queensland Government report described the effect: ‘The niggers [were given]…something really startling to keep them quiet…the rations contained about as much strychinine as anything and not one of the mob escaped.'”

Aboriginal people were used as slaves, and women and girls were abused and raped:

“White settlers often found no reason to spare Aboriginal men, boys and children. Aboriginal girls and women, however, were often kept for sexual pleasure. Research uncovered “stories of girls as young as eight who were kidnapped and raped and infected with syphilis. Teenage girls were kept for sex and chained up at night to stop them running away.”

Children were forcibly snatched from their families by white people supposedly ‘protecting them’. These girls and boys were often physically or sexually abused, forced to speak in English and raised to be of European heritage. These children are known as the Stolen Generations. Aboriginal children continue to be taken from their homes today.

Our travels take us up to far northern Queensland, to Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. Over three days, different dance groups compete with each other to win the competition. The festival is not an event that’s staged for tourists. Rather, it’s a First Nations peoples’ event, and outsiders are privileged enough to be allowed to attend.

The festival is a sharing of cultures, dances, songs, stories and, most importantly, the passing down of knowledge to the next generations. Four year old children dance with Elders in their sixties. We watch the dance of the cassowary, the eagle, the willy wagtail.

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Laura festival is also overtly political and Elders talk about the colonisation of their nations, the mining of their lands and their connection to country. Many of those speaking on stage talk about “culture survival.”

The group from Coen performs a dance called Shacklelands, where the performers dance with chains around them. A Coen Elder woman explains the significance of the dance:

“There was numerous genocides [on our land]. The people left behind were chained like dogs and held at gunpoint. With this performance we were looking for empathy, so we trained with real chains.”

Other dance groups, such as Mapoon, talk about being forced from their lands and into Christian Missions. A Mapoon Elder tells the audience:

“A lot of the countrymen here can relate to Mapoon. They might’ve had family that were processed there and then taken to other communities. It was one of the first Aboriginal Missions in Queensland…In the late 1800s the mission was formed in Mapoon.”

Other communities performing at Laura festival were also removed from their homes by the British and taken to areas where they had no connection to the land. In Queensland, aboriginal people could be forced to live in reserves right up until the early 1970s.

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It’s not just the Elders who speak out at Laura festival. A young woman, Leilani, from an indigenous youth climate justice network called SEED, stands on stage:

“We’re trying to give our mob the capacity to maintain our connection to country…There are mining companies here right now. [Mining giant Rio Tinto sponsors the 2017 Laura festival]. They are still contributing to climate change. They are bringing in infrastructure that’s ruining our country.

She then says something that resonates with me:

Without our country we don’t have our culture. And without our culture, what are we?”

In much of Europe, capitalism has destroyed our connection to nature, to country, to our cultures. In England, our culture is consumerism. There is a sense of urgency within First Nations Peoples of Australia to revive their culture before it is lost forever. It’s a privilege to witness it.

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Camping on Western Yalanji country at Laura festival

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On the road from Laura festival with our friends Marenn and Josiah. Josiah’s dance group, Lockhart River, came joint first place.

To learn more:

Films:
Utopia, a 2013 documentary about Australia by John Pilger. You can stream it on Vimeo.
Rabbit Proof Fence, a 2002 film based on the true story of three Aboriginal children who were stolen from their families.

Websites:
Creative Spirits
Stolen Generations Testimonies
Grandmothers Against Removals
Aboriginal Tent Embassy

Books:
Magabala books, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander publishing house
A Secret Country by John Pilger
Because A White Man’ll Never Do It by Kevin Gilbert
Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. The film of the same name is based on this book.

Media organisations:
CAAMA
Koori Mail

 

 

Hitchhiking Japan: some tips

Hitchhiking, Japan

I’m always a little bit nervous when hitchhiking in a new country, especially where there’s a language barrier. But Japan is great to hitchhike! People know the concept (pronouncing it ‘hitch hike’, emphasising the space between the two syallables). We also saw some Japanese hitchhikers.

To hitchhike, you do the same as you would in western Europe, and stand with your thumb out. Sometimes we used a sign, sometimes we didn’t.

Waiting times were similar to in Europe, ranging from three minutes to three hours.

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Hitchhiking at the exit of a rest area. We have a sign which may or may not say ‘west’!

Moss & monkeys in Yakushima

Japan, Walking

The mountainous island of Yakushima is said to be 90% covered with forest. 90%! Because of this, Chris and I board the oldest, rustiest and cheapest ship in Japan’s waters and sail to this fairytale place.

Yakushima has actually been extensively logged and replanted. However, some old-growth forest still remains, and two-thousand year old yakusugi trees live on. They silently watch Japanese walkers who come for a two day holiday: a brief break from their sixty-hour working weeks.

Hiking in grizzly bear country: Daisetsuzan national park, Hokkaido

Japan, Walking

 “Remain calm and ready your bear spray,” I read on the Bear Smart website as we go up up up in a cable car.

“BEAR SPRAY? What bear spray?” I moan at Chris. “No-one told us to carry bear spray! Do they sell it in the tourist information shop down there? WE NEED BEAR SPRAY!”

But it’s too late. The cable car is already taking us up through thick clouds, leading us to the trailhead of our hike in Daisetsuzan national park. My phone loses signal as I frantically search online for what to do if you don’t have bear spray.

Hiking the Dewa Sanzan in Honshu, Japan

Japan, Walking

Japan is a hiker’s paradise, and the Dewa Sanzan (the three mountains of Dewa) is a  pilgrimage route of the aesthetic Shugendo religion. Shugendo pilgrims and Japanese hikers can walk all three mountains – Haguro San, Gas San and Yudono San – although many non-religious hikers choose to walk just one or two of the mountains. Each mountain has a Shugendo shrine perched on the top.

The first mountain of the pilgrimage, Haguro San, is an easy walk, involving hundreds of beautiful stone steps.

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Walking the hundreds of steps between Japanese cedar trees up Haguro San

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Shrines at the bottom of Haguro San. These shrines weirdly worship the deities of mining, nation-building, fisheries, and national prosperity, to name a few. To me and Chris, this is contradictory to the little we have learned about Shugendo

Hitchhiking Honshu, Japan

Hitchhiking, Japan

Tokyo is surely the most capitalist, consumerist city in the world, and is not a good introduction to beautiful Japan. Billboards and lights scream at people to buy stuff. Trains are crammed with adverts whilst people are transfixed with smartphones. Everywhere I turn, there are women who  look like film stars. Looking perfect is seemingly important in Tokyo.

The gaudy lights of central Tokyo make no sense to me. They seem out of place in a culture with such beautiful ornate art, shrines and intricate wooden buildings.

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Tokyo

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One advert says “life is beautiful.” Not in central Tokyo.

Hikes on New Zealand’s south island

New Zealand, Walking

We spent our last couple of weeks in Aotearoa (New Zealand) hiking some astoundingly beautiful routes in the regions of Mount Aspiring, Fiordland and Aoraki.

The hiking trails that we did can be linked up (via a bit of road walking or hitching) to make a longer trail. At the bottom of this blog post is a hand-drawn map of the routes showing this.

Here’s a brief review of the trails we hiked.

Hiking the Te Araroa Part 5: Reflections on the hike

New Zealand, Walking

I have been walking the Te Araroa hiking trail in New Zealand. This post covers the section between Lake Tekapo and Lake Ohau. After this we decided to quit the Te Araroa two-thirds of the way down the south island. Below I talk about our reasons why we quit, and I reflect on my time on the Te Araroa and whether it was a good hike to do.

You can also read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 of our hike.

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Hiking the Te Araroa in Aotearoa (New Zealand): part 4

New Zealand, Walking

I am hiking the Te Araroa, a long distance hiking trail which spans the length of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

This blog post covers the following sections of the trail on the south island: Rakaia river to Rangitata river; Rangitata river crossing;  Two Thumb Track. (We did not attempt to cross the Rakaia river on foot, and we met no other hikers who did this). You can also read part 1, part 2 & part 3.

Rakaia river to Rangitata river

Rivers rivers rivers. I can’t remember when we weren’t walking through rivers, streams or creeks, and today I’m sick and tired of it. When was the last time I had dry shoes? I can’t remember.