Invasion day

Australia with flagWhen the implications of the scheduling of our trip dawned upon me, I couldn’t imagine anything more unAustralian than flying to New Zealand on Australia Day. We had an appointment with a bbq, beers and the beach at Killy for the sweet tunes of Triple J’s hottest 100. It would have ticked a lot of boxes. Yet we were giving all that up, opting for jandels, chillybins, hobbits and trum in Choicebroland. Sam Kekovitch would be bloody outraged. But the more I thought about it, the more appropriate the timing of the trip seemed. After all, it was  Invasion Day that we were leaving on. The day when the nation pauses to celebrate the arrival of a bunch of criminals, miscreants and misfits from the motherland.

It is apt to indulge in some self-reflection on our national holiday and that is what I did on the flight across the ditch. For mine, there is a lot to love about the Australia but also a fair bit to loathe. On the up side, we have deep-fried dim sims, the black death and incredible beaches. Our haphazard ethic brew has given us great coffee, amazing food and an interesting cultural mix. There is tremendous goodwill, people lend a hand when things go bad. There is a willingness to help friends and strangers when times are tough. Australia has tolerance, understanding and opportunity.

However, in many respects we still have a long way to go. Forgotten amidst all the chest thumping, flag waving celebration about the lucky country we often gloss over a fair bit: since the arrival of Jimmy Cook and his crib many of the locals live in third world conditions in one of the most prosperious nations on earth; there are 1003 children in our detention centres, having never been convicted nor committed any crime. There is racism, bigotry and ‘Two and a Half Men’ rates well. We are too piss-weak to stand on our own two feet and become a republic. What’s more, booze is expensive and the joint is a bit of a nanny state.

There are some pretty glaring black marks but at the end of the day I haven’t been anywhere else that I would rather live. I am proud to be Australian and I am taking that Australianess to New Zealand. For too long those damned kiwis have been crossing the ditch and taking all our unskilled jobs – in construction, hospitality and multimedia. I will strike back. I will buy Australian lamb. I will insist on getting five stars instead of four inked on my Southern Cross tattoo. I will make Sam Kekovitch proud.

Thumbing a ride

Thumb hitchhikingIt’s not often that I have occasion to hitchhike these days. However, a couple of weeks ago, after a day spent cringing my way through our inept Ashes campaign at the MCG, I had occasion to pull the thumb out and hitch back to Wonthaggi. I got home quite easily, although it got me thinking about how few people you see hitchhiking these days.

Having decided that the beach was a fair more appealing prospect than the cricket, I caught the train from the city out to Pakenham. I then walked past the racetrack, across the bridge and over the freeway overpass. It was there, on the road to Koo Ree Wup, that I stuck my thumb out in an appeal to passing traffic.

I did a lot of hitching when I was a kid; whether it was thumbing a ride out to Cape Paterson after school for a surf, or hitching home on the weekend during my time at Uni. I never used to have trouble getting a lift but standing there in Pakenham with four-days growth and a lot less hair than I once had, I realised that I had become a skeezy old hitchhiking weirdo. Nobody in their right mind would consider inviting me into their car. Or so I thought.  It turned out that I only had to wait about five minutes before a beat up Toyota Hiace full of Romanians pulled over. Ma, Pa, Nanna and the kids, all on a family outing.

“Where you headed?”
“I can take you as far as Koo Wee Rup.”
“That would be great, thank you.”

And off we went. I soon discovered that they picked me up because they were Christians; something to do with doing a good deed and converting the heathen masses. Regardless, we had an interesting chat about life in Romania under Soviet rule compared to life as a newly arrived immigrate to Australia in the 1970’s.

They dropped me off on the other side of Koo Wee Rup with god’s blessing and having learnt something. Standing on the South Gippsland highway, it wasn’t long before my next ride happened along in the form of Matt and Sars Ingram. The unbridled fear evident in Sars eyes when she realised that Matt was pulling over to pick up a hitch-hiker confirmed my intuition that I was indeed a weirdo.  But during the next 45 minutes spent reveling in the domestic bliss that comes with sitting between two toddlers I got to thinking about the way in which perceptions of hitch-hiking have changed.

I have always been surprised by the range of people that are prepared to pull over and offer you a ride. There was the truck driver with an insatiable speed habit, a mum with four kids in tow, a former AFL player, a young woman driving by herself at 1:30am, a middle aged plumber who picked me up at 7:15am and spent the next twenty minutes driving at 150km/h alternating between slagging off his ex-wife and taking long swigs from the piss-warm long neck sitting between his legs. Then there was the overweight homosexual man who looked to me for love. I guess I was bit more touchupable when I was younger but hitchhiking also seemed far more acceptable back then.

These days it seems that it is a pursuit confined to unemployed, unwashed, middle aged losers who can’t drive because of their third drink-driving conviction. There is an ingrained level of mistrust associated with those standing roadside and a perception that it is dangerous (the Belanglo murders probably have had a fair bit to with this). Those perceptions are not without merit but I have had some wonderful conversations and some noteworthy experiences whilst hitching. On each occasion, I made it safely to my destination courtesy of the kindness of a friend or stranger.

So the next time you are rattling along the highway and see a punter thumbing a ride consider giving them a ride, you might be pleasantly surprised.