UNIVERSAL DHARMA

So Many Roads ~ THE LAND DOWN-UNDER

We enter on a new year as upon uncharted territory, which, of course, it is, as no-one's been here before. But is not this so with every day of our lives ~ in fact, with every moment? When we wake up in the morning, we cannot possibly know what awaits us in the day ahead, and this is why we need to be flexible, so that if the plans we make don't work out ~ as often happens ~ we can switch to something else without too much trou-ble. If we are not flexible, if we are too attached to our plans and ideas, if we live our lives like a train running along its tracks, we will miss so much along the way.

I had to go first to Sydney, then fly on to Adelaide, which had no international airport at that time. At Customs, I was asked to “Come this way, please,” to a small room where I was told to strip down to my undies. I had just come from India, and had all kinds of exotic visas in my passport, and my hair and beard were long ~ a typical dope-smoking hippie! My bags and clothes were carefully searched, but I didn’t have anything illegal so wasn’t afraid; I was a bit annoyed that I’d missed my connecting flight, meaning my folks would be wondering what had hap-pened and have to wait for the next incoming flight. The officer then took out a piece of hash and asked if I knew what it was. “Yes,” I said, without hesitation, “It’s Pakistani” (there are differ-ent kinds of hash from different regions, you see, identifiable by color and the shape it’s compressed into; I was familiar with some of them). As soon as I’d said it, I realized that my answer could have been taken as ‘smart-arse,’ and he could have falsely charged me with possession had he taken a dislike to me, but I was lucky again, and he told me to get dressed and was free to go. As I was leaving, I said, “I suppose this is part of the price to pay for freedom of expression”. He didn’t respond.

Everyone was waiting at Adelaide airport to welcome me, and I was soon on the way to what should have been my new home; but I was here only to see how they’d settled in, and tell them I’d be going back to India to become a monk. I had to stay for some time, however, as my money was gone, and I needed more, which meant finding a job. But as I said above, jobs weren’t hard to find; the economy was robust, and the Aussie dollar at that time was worth more than the greenback.

I got a job in a tailoring-factory not far from home, and was given a ride to and fro by Frank who was working in the General Motors car-plant nearby. And while I was there, I attended a rock-festival at Myponga, in the hills outside Adelaide. It was the last time I took LSD, and I had a bad trip, and was so disillusioned with the so-phony scene, that I went to a barber back in Ade-laide and had my long hair cut, as a mark of dropping out of it all; that was the last time I paid for a hair-cut.

I soon got tired of working inside walls, and left the factory to work in a vineyard south of the city; I enjoyed my three months there, but of course, it came to an end, and I returned to Adelaide, with what I thought was enough money, then made plans to hitch-hike to Darwin, as the nearest point to Asia. It was then that I came upon the address of John, who I’d met in Iran and traveled with as far as Kabul, and was surprised to find it was just down the road from where I was, less than half-a-mile away! I immediately went there ~ it was the house of a friend with whom he stayed ~ and was told that he was in hospital, recover-ing from the malaria he’d picked up in India, but that if I cared to wait, he was expected home any time. And sure enough, he came within a few minutes, surprised to see me there, of course. How strange!

Well, he was also unsettled, and funnily enough, was also plan-ning to go to Darwin, where he’d arranged to meet the girl he’d married in England the year before, so, needless to say, I had a companion for the 2000 mile trip through the desert. It was April, coming to the end of Autumn, when, saying goodbye to my par-ents, we set out, taking the train ~ the only time I was ever to do so in Oz, as it turned out ~ for the first 200 miles, then getting off at Port Augusta to hitch-hike. It wasn’t long before a huge semi-trailer stopped and picked us up; the driver, a friendly Cornish-man by the name of Ted Timms, was going right through to Darwin and was willing to take us all the way, without charge. We settled down for the long ride, but it was rather slow, and by the time we’d passed through the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy, with mounds of earth thrown up by men in their eager search for gems, and arrived at the way-station of Woomera (near the American-built rocket-base), we were only too keen to accept the offer of a ride in a Land-rover driven by a young American. Thanking Ted, we transferred our stuff and moved off down the track at a much-faster speed.

We were soon to regret our change of ride, however, as this American was clearly mad. He had earlier picked up a guy from Yugoslavia whose company he was probably quite glad of, but now he had others, he began to make fun of him quite unmerci-fully; he was also very drunk by then, as he’d downed, alone, almost a full bottle of whiskey since Woomera. John and I looked at each other, and I was rather scared. Then, this fellow decided to stop, far from anywhere, and you can drive for hours along that thin dusty trail through the heart of Australia without seeing a single habitation, and there was almost no traffic, so he just pulled off the track, and lit a fire. He then took from the Rover a high-powered rifle and started firing aimlessly into the air, and no doubt feeling brave with this in his hands, he turned on the Yugoslav, who ran, terrified, into the bush; fortunately, he didn’t shoot after him, as he might have done. He then decided to drive on, and told John and I to get in (we’d been standing uneasily by during all this), but I protested, saying that he couldn’t leave the Yugoslav out there, and that if he did, I would stay, too. Well, he didn’t relent and call the guy back, so I took my bag from the car, and they drove off, leaving me to call out to the Yugoslav, but he must have gone far away by this time, and there was no reply; I don’t know if he heard me or not, but I didn’t see him again, and have no idea what happened to him.

I slept there beside the track that night, confident that if no-one else came by that way before him in the morning, Ted Timms would soon be along, and sure enough, he was, and picked me up again. This time I stayed with him for the rest of the way, and reached Darwin nine days after leaving Adelaide. That was quite a trip, through the Red Heart of Australia, most of it ~ over 1400 miles ~ dry and dusty desert. Right in the center, however, a surprise awaits the weary traveler: the oasis-town of Alice Springs, where there is abundant never-failing water, and con-sequently, lots of trees; it was so refreshing to see green again after those long days of browns and grays. Of course, we halted there for a while to refresh ourselves with some cold beers be-fore heading on. We stopped at night to sleep along the way, Ted in his cab, and me on the ground alongside; and I’ve never known such peace and solitude as in the Aussie desert, and such clear skies, free from haze and pollution, wherein the stars shine so brightly that I felt I could reach out and catch them.

Two hundred miles south of Darwin, the topography changes from dry and dusty desert to tropical vegetation, and in the tran-sition-stage you come across huge clay monuments, some up to 5 meters tall; these are magnetic-termite-mounds, raised by these industrious insects which never see the light of day, along a north-south axis, replete with their own air-conditioning system which maintains an inside temperature that varies very little year-round.

Now, Darwin is a frontier-town, so to speak, and quite unlike the cities in the south ~ Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth ~ and because of the heat and humidity, what Aussies call ‘laid back’. There were people from many countries ~ Islanders, South-East Asians, Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, misfits, drop-outs and people who couldn’t ~ or didn’t want to ~ make it elsewhere; and also quite a few hippies; there was plenty of color here.

I met John again, and he told me what had happened after we parted. Apparently, the American had displaying increasingly-wild behavior, and before they got to Alice Springs had wrecked his Land-Rover driving it without oil, John had taken the rifle, smashed it against a tree and had beaten the guy up, then hitched another ride to Darwin and got there soon after me; what happened to the American after that, I don’t know; we didn’t see him again.

Anyway, John’s wife came out from England and they rented a caravan, but I don’t think they stayed together very long; he wasn’t the type to settle down and remain faithful to one person. And I got a job in an army-base doing odd-jobs; they employed unskilled people like me to use up the year’s budget, so they could claim the same or more next year. There were some pretty weird people working there, apart from the soldiers (and myself, of course); one guy in particular, from England, who we nick-named Bootsie because of the boots he wore, with the soles flapping off them (we were required to wear footwear other than sandals, so we rummaged around in junk-shops for some-thing cheap, and Bootsie had clearly got his there extra-cheap, or maybe found flung away somewhere). He was a really droll kind of guy who never had much to say, and didn’t care what anyone thought of him, but was expert at finding his way out of work; one day, the sergeant in charge of us found him sanding something with the wrong side of the sand-paper! Then there was Old Sid, much older than the rest of us, who was kind of a hobo; we never did learn much about him, as he kept pretty much to himself; but he was inoffensive.

We were allowed to eat in the canteen (or mess) there, at 35¢ for lunch, and the amount and variety of food was staggering, and for us, so good, although some of the soldiers used to com-plain about it. All this while, I was camping on a beach named “Doctor’s Gully” with a German guy I called Jo-Jo, who was easy-going and went along with anything I did. After work, we would shower at a public toilet-and-shower block not far away, and cooked our evening meal on the beach ~ rice, beans and various vegetables. Saturday evenings we would gather with a few other friends in a pub named ‘The Vic,’ and get drunk on beer. After one such gathering, as we made our way somewhat unsteadily back to the beach, we heard the sounds of a party coming from a house set back a little from the road, and the song, “Show a Little Kindness” playing. We danced up the driveway thinking to join the party ~ how incorrigible we were! ~ but there was a bouncer at the door who came out towards us when he saw us coming, so we danced back down the path, “You’ve got to show a little kindness”. I was never violent when I was drunk, just merry and stupid!

Then, we used to have parties on the beach ourselves, with big fires, and were joined by some of our friends like French Chris, Austrian Fred ~ the same Fred I’d traveled with from Amsterdam to Copenhagen in ’69; we were surprised to bump into each other on the street one day ~ and Aussie John, who stayed in cheap hotels rather than with us on the beach, or in a house on McMinn Street known as ‘the Flop-House’, where many travel-ers stayed and shared the rent; we used to get together there, too, at times.

Before going to work, Jo-Jo and I would stow our gear in a large wooden box we’d found on the beach and had buried up to the top in the pebbles against the cliff, and covered the lid with more pebbles to conceal it when our things were inside; we felt secure to leave it like this. It was an isolated beach of mostly stones and little sand, so few people came here. The jungle came down the slopes to it, and we sometimes saw snakes and monitor liz-ards; at night, too, the vegetation would come alive with small hermit-crabs, millions of them, rustling among the leaves.

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