Bali & Australia stories
In 1981, after two difficult years, I finally felt I had saved enough money from courier work, to go travelling. With the whole world to choose from, I was suffering from over choice. I wanted beauty and culture shock. My first thought was Mexico but I was quickly steered away from that by two friends who had been there and had had a dramatically awful experience. They were both well travelled but went through a chain of events, starting with a mugging and loss of all their possessions, that led to them being arrested and then used by the police to identify some men that were not involved in the mugging. I could write a whole story about what happened to them but it’s not my story to tell. So, not Mexico.
I was still a few months away from going anywhere as I needed to save more money. I had estimated that I would need a minimum of £2000 but more would be better. Whilst still courier driving, I was asked by a close friend if I would be interested in stage managing a cabaret that she was producing at the Drill Hall in London. It was a feminist show fronted by a very well known Australian singer called Robyn Archer. The contract would run for about a month and was reasonably well paid. I was intrigued and flattered by the offer. I discovered that I would be the only man involved in the production and I couldn’t resist this unusual chance to do something that was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. I agreed to do it. The friend that asked me to do it, had been a flatmate of mine whilst we were both at Central School of Speech and Drama a few years previously. She had come out as being gay at the time and was deeply involved in the feminist movement and gay rights. I had learned a lot from her and had become someone that she and her activist friends trusted as a heterosexual man and I was often invited to clubs and parties, where I would be one of only a few men [mostly gay] that were invited. It was a position that fell upon me rather than one I sought.
To the show. Rehearsals had gone well and I had got to know the cast and enjoy their company. I was particularly impressed by Robyn Archer and her producer/partner and they had already indicated that if ever I should go to Australia, they would love to meet up and show me the sights of Sydney. However, 3 days before we were due to open to an invited audience, I was told that the lighting operator had had to drop out. As the only person that knew the show, I was asked to step in and operate the large and very complex lighting system. During my time of working in the theatre, I had only ever done the most basic lighting operation and that was back in 1971 at Butlins, my first ever theatre job. Cabaret was a style of theatre that moved fast and required a lot of quick lighting changes, all of which that had to be set up whilst each segment was taking place. Let alone the changes that happened during those segments too. I pleaded with the team to try and find another professional but they said they had tried but failed. Apparently the lighting designer was going to teach me how to do something that would normally take a technician years to learn. Who was going to do the Stage Management? I couldn’t do both. They said that one of the production team would take that on. At least that job was largely common sense and could be picked up fairly quickly, but lighting… I went into meltdown and fear filled every corner of my being. For the next 3 days we did technical run throughs with the designer sitting next to me, filling in the gaps when I ran out of the ability to do what was required. It was a nightmare. To add to this, the two massive lighting consoles were to be located right in the middle of the audience. A bit like a sound mixer at a rock concert. All my panic and incapability would be acted out whilst surrounded by the audience. I felt very exposed and completely out of my depth. 3 days flew by, during which I was also expected to teach the stand in stage manager her new job. Theatre is often performed in a state of high, adrenalin fuelled, panic. But this was a whole new level. I was used to working around and being with neurotic performers forgetting their lines and entrances and exits etc. So it came as no surprise to me that nobody realised that it was me at the literal centre of things, that was the most panicked of all. And so there was a big shortage of empathy for me as I continued to blunder my way through the technical rehearsals. As we continued, I was assailed by angry performers asking why the blackout hadn’t happened when it should and why the spot light they were expecting to walk into wasn’t there on time. As an actor, I had enormous sympathy for what they were going through. The last thing you need when you are concerned about your own performance, is that the technical side of things isn’t reliable. It should be there to support you, not add to your woes. The tensions were unbelievable.
Into this febrile atmosphere the opening night, with invited audience of anyone who was anyone in the feminist and gay rights world, was upon us. About an hour before the show was due to open, I was called to the office to take a phone call. It was one of my housemates and ex boyfriend of another of my housemates, who had recently come out after a trip to Brazil. She had leant heavily on me during the period after her return and we had spent many late nights talking about how and when to tell her boyfriend about her circumstances. I did everything I could to support her. Anyway, he had rung me to tell me something I couldn’t get my head around at all. He was very nervous and said how torn he was between betraying her confidence and betraying me as a friend, but in the end he said that what he was about to tell me was monstrous and that he thought she had lost her mind. He said that she felt betrayed by me and that I wasn’t the man she thought I was and had been planning for some time to take retribution on me and tonight was the night she was going to do it. She was one of the invited audience. I had invited her and got her her tickets. We had been talking about the show for weeks. At home I hadn’t detected anything unusual in her behaviour. What on earth was going on? What form it would take and when, he didn’t know. I can’t begin to describe the spin that put me in. There I would be, the only man in the building, sat in the very centre of it all, surrounded by a massive lighting console, and she was going to ‘get’ me. I saw her arrive and take her seat at a large round table with a number of other women friends of mine. I decided to go and speak to her. I didn’t ask her why, but made it clear that I knew what she was intending to do and that as friends, surely we could talk about it. We could meet up after the show, privately, and resolve whatever it was she felt I had done. I then saw on her face one of the most chilling expressions I’d ever seen on anyone. Smiling broadly she simply said “I don’t think so”. “Please” I said but she just shook her head, as if in slow motion whilst continuing to smile and said “No”. I could see she was in a very strange mood and that nothing I said was going to divert her from whatever was coming. At the same time, some of my other friends at the same table greeted me and appeared to be quite ‘normal’. I just said “Hi” and that I hoped they would enjoy the show but I had to go as it was about to begin.
There were some whistles and boo’s from one or two women in the audience when they saw me, the enemy, sitting in their midst, but my good friend, the producer, made a point of coming over and sitting with me briefly and putting an arm round my shoulder. “Ignore the idiots” she whispered in my ear. “We love you”, and then departed. I don’t know how I got through the show, but I did. I felt a massive sigh of relief as the curtain came down after the final number and went backstage where everything was love and congratulations all round. Next up, the after show party. I was then kept very busy re-arranging the seating for the party, and having a few drinks. The show had been a massive success and everyone was in a great mood. I eventually went over to the table where all my friends were sat, they were full of congratulations and in a party spirit. All seemed strangely normal. And then I noticed some women I didn’t know come over to the table and stand around my ‘friend’. Before I knew it, she and a couple of these strangers had leapt up onto the table and were all pointing at me whilst ululating loudly like Middle Eastern women at a celebration. But this was a war cry. I looked around the table and could see shocked expressions on the faces of the other women I knew. They obviously had no idea what was taking place before their eyes and apparently directed at me. I could feel myself losing consciousness and tried to make a bee-line for the exit. As I reeled through the crowded room, with my brain buzzing, I somehow made it out of the building and onto the street, where I collapsed whilst gasping for air. A couple of friends had followed me in a state of complete shock and non-comprehension and helped me to regain some semblance of normality. They were full of questions. What, how, why? It took me some time before I could even begin to try and explain what had just happened. The main thing was, that I was not alone. They listened intently to what I had to say whilst holding me and comforting me. I spent the rest of that night wandering around London. Jackie, one of those friends, stuck with me through the night, helping me to come down and reassuring me that it wasn’t me that had gone mad. Something very disturbing had just happened and I was the victim of it.
I was going to write a treatise on the difference between radicalism and extremism and how I got through the next couple of months, but you’ll be relieved to hear that I’ve had a change of heart. Suffice to say that it was a horrible experience and it effected me deeply. It did help me to make up my mind about what to do next however and within weeks, I had decided to join Jackie on a trip to the other side of the world. Throughout the long night of the ‘incident’, Jackie had been an amazing friend. During our perambulations, she mentioned that she was planning a trip to Australia in a couple of months and that she was going to have a stopover in Bali, why didn’t I join her…I was sold. Knowing that I would have a friend with me made the decision to go that much easier. In early January 1982, we set off.
Apart from the shear tedium of a long haul flight, it was pretty uneventful until we came in to land. Bali International Airport has one of those runways that sticks out into the sea. As you come in to land, it feels like you are going to ditch into the ocean. For someone who finds take off’s and landing’s terrifying, this was not a comfortable arrival. All was forgiven however as we stepped out of the plane and the tropical air hit us. Apart from the usual airport smells of jet fuel and diesel, the palm fringed runway left you in no doubt that you were a long way from home.
As we emerged from the airport, we both looked at each other and said ‘What now’? We knew that Kuta was the main tourist place. It was a world renowned surfing hot spot and I think we had decided on the plane that we would head there first and find our feet before possibly moving on. As we were waiting for a taxi, we were approached by a couple we had seen on the plane. They introduced themselves as Anthony and Hanna and said they had been here before and suggested we share the taxi. They were going to a place called Legian which is just along the coast from Kuta. They strongly recommended it as being less touristy than Kuta and that it had plenty of good hotels and facilities. They told us about the hotel they were booked into and suggested we go with them and see if they had any vacancies. It sounded rather more expensive than we had planned for but we were both keen to get settled and even if it was just for one night, why not splash out. Half an hour later we arrived. It was stunning. Comprising a reception building and all the accommodation in the form of straw huts or bungalows, generously scattered around the grounds and with all mod cons and within 100yds of the beach and scattered with palm trees…of course. The price? About the same as a decent B&B back home. How could we possibly refuse? Anthony and Hanna suggested that we get changed into our swimming gear immediately and go for a swim. 5 mins later, we reconvened under the palms and all ran towards the beach and into the surf. I’m a real coward when it comes to swimming in the sea, not because I can’t swim but because I hate cold water. I went to school on the Isle of White and the sea was freezing, in the five years I was there I probably only went swimming about 5 times. Even the Mediterranean was too cold for my taste. So, as we charged towards the sea on Legian beach, I was mentally preparing myself for cold water. The sea was always cold. And then we hit the water. It was warm, really warm. And we all started giggling and laughing like children. We were euphoric. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. Welcome to Bali!
There were so many wonderful things about Bali. The food was delicious, the transport system, by Bemo, a mini bus network that goes everywhere and carries anything, including animals, was exceptional and great fun, even cigarette smoke was ‘perfumed’ with cloves and became the defining smell of Bali…and last but not least, the people. After a day out and about, I would get back to my hut and massage my face muscles , exhausted from smiling so much. The shear beauty of the place, lush vegetation and scattered with temples, was breathtaking. The ever present sound of Gamelan music, strange to the western ear with it’s complex rhythm patterns and people [mostly women] walking around with temple offerings of flowers and rice in their hands whilst making beautiful hand gestures over them. A country who’s main ethos seemed to be about caring for people and the environment and with a love of beauty. How could you not love such a place?
For the next couple of weeks, the four of us travelled around, visiting temples and many of the obvious places of interest. Ubud was a favourite destination. It’s a small town with a reputation as an artist’s colony. It certainly had a unique charm. But for Jackie and I, one of our main preoccupations became trying to figure out Anthony and Hanna. They were an odd couple. He was short and skinny with ginger hair and from New Zealand originally and she was quite tall and rather attractive and from Holland originally. They lived in Surrey and he had made a very good living from doing landscape gardening, on quite a grand scale. She never quite revealed what she did for a living but had an interest in Art, especially sculpture. The thing that Jackie and I struggled with was their flirtatiousness. Anthony obviously fancied Jackie and Hanna seemed to have an ‘interest’ in me. When they discovered that Jackie and I were not a couple in the romantic sense, their interest was peaked. Jackie and I would spend hours trying to figure them out. They were married but Anthony made no secret of his interest in Jackie. She wasn’t the slightest bit attracted to him but this just seemed to make his interest in her more acute. It was a strange situation. We wondered if they had an ‘open’ relationship. On one occasion, I decided to test the water whilst out on a walk with Hanna. I told her that I found her very attractive and she reciprocated by telling me that she felt the same about me but that she couldn’t possibly act upon it as she was happily married to Anthony. I felt completely foolish and apologised, to which she responded by giving me a kiss on the cheek and thanked me for telling her. When I told Jackie about it she seemed relieved and we decided that their flirtatiousness was just a game of sorts. Strange.
One incident that stands out was when we were visiting the Monkey Forest. We were being hustled, for the first time, by a man who said he was a guide and the others decided we should engage him to show us around. I found this odd and expressed my dislike for this annoying man and let him know that I didn’t feel the need for his services. His response was to laugh at me which just wound me up and I asked the others why they wanted to take on a guide when it was quite obvious we didn’t need one. They just shrugged their shoulders and said I should just relax and let him show us around. They pointed out that by showing anger towards him I was breaking a cardinal rule and that anger was not an emotion that the Balinese recognised, which was why he had laughed at me. For the sake of a few pence, let him show us around. I felt foolish and relented. At one point we all sat down and watched the monkey’s and our guide asked us where we were from, When we said England he became very animated and said he had always wanted to visit England. I said that he would be very disappointed as it was nowhere near as beautiful as Bali. Anthony then said he had some photographs in his wallet of their home, would he like to see them. He got them out and showed them to the guide who seemed astonished at how beautiful England was and that I was completely wrong about it not being as beautiful as Bali. I was baffled by his reaction and asked if I could see them. It was my turn to be gobsmacked. The photograph showed a picture perfect thatched cottage surrounded by a beautiful, lush garden with a stream running through it. It was incredibly beautiful. I had to concede that, yes, it would seem that England was beautiful. It turned out that the cottage was once the home of Haley Mills and Roy Boulting. The actress, who was my childhood crush and her husband, the film director. And it was indeed Anthony and Hanna’s home. Suddenly our whole notion of Anthony and Hanna did a complete reversal. We couldn’t quite believe our eye’s. A couple of months after we had returned to England, we were invited to go and visit them at their home in the Surrey countryside and it truly was one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen. They had never boasted about their beautiful home and we had never quite realised how successful Anthony was in his landscaping business.
When I asked him about where he had trained to become a landscape gardener, he replied that he hadn’t. He said that he had managed to get a job doing the heavy lifting for a friend on a landscaping project and had decided that he could do what his friend did, but without the heavy lifting. After he had finished that job, he just started putting in quotes for other job’s he knew about and eventually had one accepted. He had taught himself the language of landscaping and simply bluffed his way into convincing the client that he could fulfil the contract…and he did. The contracts got bigger and bigger and he ended up doing large corporate landscaping projects. It sounded extraordinary but it seemed to be true. A few day’s later, he asked me what I was going to do when I got to Sydney. I said I wasn’t sure but that I’d need to find some kind of work fairly soon as my funds were getting low. Out of the blue he said that I could always get a job as a hairdresser. It seemed such a random suggestion. I said that I couldn’t possibly do that as I knew nothing about hairdressing. He said that neither did he but that when he first arrived in London from New Zealand, he was so desperate for work that he applied for all sorts of job’s he had no experience in. One day he applied for a job as a hairdresser and managed to persuade the salon owner that he had experience and was taken on. Incredibly, he somehow managed to do the job by befriending one of the staff and pretending he was a bit rusty and asking her for advice all the time until, very quickly, he had enough knowledge to do a passable job. This man seemed to know no limits when it came to bluffing his way into doing things he’d never done before. He had no self doubt. He could do anything. And the proof was in the fact that within a few years of arriving in the UK, he had made his first million. I would give anything to have a fraction of his self belief. I was just relieved that he had put his skills to such benign use. It doesn’t bare thinking about how, with different life choices, he could have been quite a dangerous person.
One of the things about travelling to beautiful places is that they’re not always the easiest places to write or talk about. You just find yourself repeating words like beautiful, stunning, enchanting, peaceful, incredible etc, etc… and that’s boring. It’s the things that happen to you or particular encounters you might have had that make it interesting to talk or write about. Bali was one of those places. Anthony and Hanna were interesting but apart from the above, we just spent our 2 weeks there travelling around the island visiting one beautiful place after another. It’s a small island and easy to see all the highlights. I wish we had seen more cultural events. There are particular dances I would like to have seen. But just being there seemed to be enough for a 2 week visit…and very soon, it was over and it was time to move on. And so, to Australia.
Upon arriving in Sydney, there were two things that struck me. One, the heat was oppressive from the moment we stepped off the plane. Two, the guy we were staying with, and his friend, who had come to meet us at the airport, immediately wanted to know the score of a particular football match back home. Not realising that we had just spent the last couple of weeks in Bali and both assuming that we were interested in football. On the drive into Sydney, it became immediately apparent that I wasn’t their sort of man or they mine. From that moment on, they talked almost exclusively to Jackie, who they made no secret of liking and rarely addressed me. Oh dear…not a good start.
Andy was the ex husband of a mutual friend of Jackie’s and mine back in London. Carol was a very successful magazine editor and knew everyone and had access to everyone. If she liked you, she would do anything for you. When she heard that Jackie and I were going to Australia, she said we must stay with Andy. They were still on good terms and one phone call later, it was all arranged. She hadn’t told us much about him other than he was in publishing and that he had a large house in Glebe, a very desirable suburb of Sydney. What she hadn’t told us was that Andy was the editor of Mayfair, a soft porn magazine.
My immediate thought was, ‘Out of the frying pan, into the fire’. I had left London partially to escape the fiery politics of feminism and here I was, being hosted by a soft porn publisher. I had made plans before leaving London to meet up with Robyn Archer and her partner when I arrived in Sydney. How would she respond to my host? She would know I was here and would be expecting a phone call from me. I felt I needed to explain this to Andy and tell him a bit about the events that occurred during her show in London. Having told him, he immediately responded with ‘I know her, she’s a friend, you should invite her to meet you here, it’s been a while since I last saw her’. My mind was boggled. How could this be? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint but there was no hellfire and damnation, no drama. Robyn and her partner came to Andy’s house to pick me up. They came in to say Hi to Andy and were obviously good mates and after about 15mins, whisked me away and took me out for a lovely meal. End of story. I chose not to highlight the bleeding obvious and just assumed that they did things differently in Australia. I left baffled but relieved.
We were in Sydney for about 3 weeks and most of it seemed to pass in a bit of a blur. There seemed to be a lot of alcohol involved. I’m not usually a big drinker but as I’ve said above, in Australia they do things differently. There was still a certain awkwardness between me and Andy and to try and make that easier, Jackie and I would take him out for meals from time to time but this presented me with a bit of a financial problem…I was rapidly running out of money. Before embarking on this trip, I had roughly worked out that half my budget would pay for my return flight and the rest [about £1000] would see me through a fortnight in Bali and see me good until I could get some work in Australia. Which I was assured would not be difficult. This was going to be a test in survival. The bottom line was that if all else failed, I had my return flight paid for and I could just come home. I tried to get acting work through an agent Andy had introduced me to but he was a commercial agent and kept sending me for castings for TV commercials. What I discovered very quickly was that being English was a big problem. Not only was it a problem in the acting business but there seemed to be a bit of an ‘Anti Pom’ attitude generally. A rather dramatic example of that happened one evening in a restaurant we were eating at. There was a guy with his girlfriend sitting at the next table to ours who seemed to be very agitated about something and that something was us. After about 10 mins he stood up and declared, very loudly, that he wasn’t going to sit next to these f—ing Pom’s and stormed out. I make no apologies for the thinly veiled swear word as it’s an indication of the vehemence with which this man spoke. And, spoiler alert, there’s more to come later. We weren’t being loud or overtly English but Andy explained that for years there had been a growing resentment towards Brit’s who seemed to come to Australia and pick up the best job’s and get, or expect, preferential treatment. This turned out to be especially true in the film and television business where, to lend credence to any film or TV series, British or American actors were drafted in. There was an Australia for Australian’s theme growing in that area and I can’t say I blamed them. What they didn’t seem to realise was that that had been happening in England too. Certainly in the 50’s and early 60’s. It was just poor timing for me.
One of the things I had wanted to do in Sydney, was to contact my closest friend from boarding school. Pete had moved to Australia on the very generous emigration scheme that the Australian government had set up in the 60’s. He left shortly after we’d finished at school and from our brief communications, I’d gathered that he’d been very successful in starting a business in furniture manufacture. I rang him and he invited Jackie and I to dinner at his house in the Paddington district of Sydney. When we arrived, it was immediately obvious how well he’d done in Australia. His house was quite beautiful. It was a much sought after Victorian terrace house with wonderful exterior iron work and balconies. We hadn’t met for 14yrs and had a lot to catch up on. He was in a long term relationship and his partner had cooked an amazing meal for us. But things took an awkward turn during dinner. First of all, Pete talked about his business and it became apparent that his factory was just that, a factory. They churned out very cheap furniture and the thing that made the whole operation so profitable, was that he employed illegal immigrants. He had no qualms about it, that was how you made money in Australia, apparently. He had become the worst kind of capitalist. Paying his staff slave wages and producing a poor quality product that probably fell apart after a year or two. I had to bite my tongue. And when Jackie changed the subject and asked him what I was like at school, he shocked the living daylights out of me by saying I was a bit of a bully. If I’m being honest, I think I knew that that might have been the case but Pete had been my closest friend and as I remembered it, what I did, he did. When I first arrived at the school, I was brutally bullied and I think, as a result, I went on to become a bit of a bully myself. It is the complete opposite of what I became after I left school and I think I had succeeded in pushing it to the back of my mind and even reversing it. I have never resorted to violence, either in thought or deed, since leaving school. For Pete to come straight out and say that, sent a chill through me. I could imagine some of the boy’s that I might have bullied saying that but for someone who I considered a good friend to say that shook me to my core. Jackie, who had known me for some years was speechless, that was not the Chris she knew and she immediately came to my defence. But the damage was done. I just fell into silence, deeply hurt. The evening continued on a polite level but when we left, I was relieved. I didn’t like who he had become and it transpired that he didn’t like what I had once been. We never met or spoke again.
So, apart from eating out a lot, Jackie and I sought out some lovely beaches and got to know Sydney a bit. Swimming in or near Sydney was a very different experience after Bali because when you had swum out a certain distance from the beach, sooner or later you would come up against shark nets. A chilling reminder of what lurked beyond those nets. And the sea was a lot cooler than Bali. And from big threats to small threats. For a few days I offered to clear some overgrown bamboo plants in Andy’s back garden. It was back breaking work, especially in the oppressive heat. Whilst digging up these bamboo’s, I uncovered an old outside ‘dunny’ [Australian slang for an outside toilet]. On one occasion I needed to use the toilet and when I lifted the lid a small spider scuttled away. I’d heard about the lethal Funnel Web spiders that could kill with one bite that lurked in toilets, so I went in the house and told Andy about it. He came down to take a look and sure enough it was still there and he confirmed that it was indeed a Funnel Web. He immediately called a pest control company and they came and sprayed the toilet with some noxious chemical and advised me not to use the ‘dunny’ again. Lovely! We had a great day at Carnival and I somehow ended up on a ferry going round the harbour in circles and met Steven Berkoff, the very acerbic and outspoken British actor. We were both rather the worse for wear on alcohol and ended up having quite a fiery exchange about, guess what, British actors in Australia. He was in Sydney doing a world tour of his new production ‘Greek’. I admired his very forceful and ‘in-yer-face’ acting style but he wasn’t a very nice person. I think we just agreed to disagree and went our separate ways. There was an interesting ‘nearly’ encounter with another celebrity during our first week when we heard about a free concert being given by Dame Joan Sutherland in the Botanical Gardens. I won’t repeat it here as I’ve already written about it in my ‘Future Shock’ story but lets just say I had a certain confusion between two famous opera singers and nearly created an embarrassing situation for myself. From the sublime to the ridiculous. One of the things Jackie and I enjoyed doing when we were in town, was going to Woolworths. They had a great air conditioning system and in the sweltering heat of Sydney, it was somewhere guaranteed to cool us down. Sometimes it’s the small incidental things that you remember.
By now my finances were becoming critical. The two weeks in Bali, although not extravagant, had cost a lot more than anticipated and the time in Sydney had ended up being way beyond my humble budget. That £1000 had virtually disappeared and I had about £200 left! And so we decided to head up to the Hunter Valley where we had heard there was plenty of work picking grapes. Jackie’s finances weren’t as desperate as mine but she had plans to go back to Indonesia at some point where she was going to meet up with her boyfriend and do some more travelling there, so she also had to keep an eye on her budget. Apart from anything, I think we were both keen to get out of Sydney and Andy’s hair. We both felt we might have overstayed our welcome. So we bade farewell to Andy and Sydney and caught a bus to Newcastle and then on to the tiny hamlet of Sandy Hollow in the Hunter Valley, where the vineyard was. Sandy Hollow was a one horse town. A dirt track with a few houses either side of it, a bar and a convenience store/shop. The only exciting thing that happened in Sandy Hollow was the occasional ‘Road Train’ passing through, kicking up clouds of dust in it’s wake. It couldn’t have been more different from Sydney.
The vineyard owners farmhouse was just a few hundred yards back down the track on the outskirts of Sandy Hollow. We and some other travellers from the bus walked down the track and went to see the farmer. He offered us all work that would last a few weeks depending on how many people turned up in the next few day’s. The picking would start the next day when we would be picked up by a tractor at 5.30 am and picking would cease at 2pm, by which time it would be too hot to continue. The pay was minuscule and the accommodation consisted of a field for camping [Fortunately Jackie and I had been forewarned about this and had purchased a very cheap tent in Sydney, but not sleeping bags. We wrongly thought that it would be too hot to need a sleeping bag. This would prove to be a big mistake], a barn with a toilet and 2 wash hand basins with cold water [Not drinkable]. Food and drinking water could be purchased at the shop up the track. Talk about spartan. It didn’t take us long to work out that we would barely have enough money to feed ourselves. To add insult to injury, the farmer was a really miserable so and so with a take it or leave it mentality. We had few options open to us. Having travelled many miles to the middle of nowhere and with little money left, we seemed to be stuck with this rather grim situation. We pitched our tents and decided to wander back up the track to buy food in the shop, which was not cheap, and to go to the bar and console ourselves with a beer. There were only 2 kinds of beer, light or dark but at least they were cold, very cold. We chose light and sat there trying to adjust ourselves to the realities of our new circumstances.
Neither Jackie nor myself were experienced campers and during our first night at the campsite, we learned some very painful lessons. Firstly, at night in the outback, the temperature plummets. It was freezing. And secondly, the ground was rock hard and not conducive to a comfortable nights sleep. Neither of us got any sleep at all. We almost welcomed the 5.30am start. At 5am, we went around the campsite trying to find anyone with the means to boil some water so that, at the very least, we could make ourselves a cup of coffee. And so to work. About 10-15 of us clambered into the trailer, pulled by a tractor, which transported us out to the days picking. Nobody spoke and everyone looked ragged. A team leader quickly showed us the ropes and secateurs were handed out. In other vineyards, pickers were payed by the bucket and the care taken with the vines but here we were just encouraged to pick as fast as possible with little or no attention to damage done to the vines. It was a quantity over quality operation. The vineyard was vast, covering many large fields and the amount we picked in one day barely made a dent in the overall task. At first it was really chilly but by 7.30 or 8am, the temperature was beginning to soar. We quickly became covered in grape juice and the whole insect population of Australia came to feed. It was seriously unpleasant. Every couple of hours, a team leader would appear with a container of drinking water, much to our relief and the only other sustenance was grapes. We ate loads of grapes. The team leaders would walk up and down the rows of vines and berate anyone they felt was not picking fast enough and would carry away the full buckets to be tipped into a large container. I’m reluctant to draw the analogy but in so many ways, this was slave labour in all but the beatings. It was appalling.
By 2pm the temperature had climbed to around 100 degrees and we couldn’t get away fast enough…followed by a cloud of flies. When we got back to the campsite, there was a queue for the two basins so that we could wash ourselves and our clothes down. We hung our clothes out to dry, ready for the next day and made ourselves something to eat. There was a surly atmosphere around the campsite and conversations about conditions were taking place everywhere. There were also some departures. Those of us desperate enough to remain decided we had to speak to the farmer. This was intolerable. When I was a student, I had got a job picking hop’s down in Kent. There was a similar atmosphere regarding conditions there too but the hop farmer was intransigent. I had been voted by the pickers to be our spokesperson and my conversation with him hadn’t gone too well. He did agree to make some minor changes to our conditions but said that I was to become the team leader for a slight increase in wages as long as I improved productivity and monitored the pickers behaviour. This was not a good situation to find myself in as my fellow pickers now saw me as the enemy. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. When, that night, some of the pickers decided to get very drunk and to commandeer two tractors to ‘play’ at charioteers in one of the fields, guess who got blamed. They had wrecked both tractors and the farmer was incandescent. I was returned to the ranks…much to my relief. At least I was reinstated as friend not foe. So here I was again and again everyone on the campsite was suggesting that I became their spokesperson. I told them about my hop picking experience and they promised not to hold it against me if something similar happened. So I and a couple of supporting fellow pickers, went up to the farmhouse to have a word or two with the farmer. He just went into a rant about ‘commie’ Brit’s and how they always caused problems. He told us that things had always been this way and that pickers in the past had always coped, why couldn’t we? What did we expect? There was no way he could magic up the showers we had asked for and he explained in no uncertain terms that ‘If we didn’t like the conditions, we knew what we could do’. It was a ‘fait accompli’. End of conversation. When we returned to the campsite and told the others how the meeting had gone, there was distinct slumping of shoulders and dropping of heads. Nothing was going to change and we either accepted it or we voted with our feet. Some did.
By the end of that first day, our ranks had been reduced by about 6 pickers. Mostly Brit’s with their own transport. However, later that afternoon, replacements arrived and in some numbers. They were told what had happened earlier but seemed unfazed. It rather confirmed what the farmer had said, there would always be people prepared to work for next to nothing in such conditions. Suddenly, the population of Sandy Hollow had grown exponentially. And when most of us walked up to the bar later there were even more people [all men] that had also appeared out of nowhere. Apparently they weren’t here to pick grapes but were from a nearby ‘portacabin city’ for railway workers who were building a new railway into the bush. These guys were hard and rough and were very well paid. They were also hard drinkers and by the time we arrived they were drunk and lively. Sandy Hollow had taken on a very different complexion. They immediately seemed to view us as ‘sport’. We sat as far away from them as possible on the roadside but they were determined to shout abuse at us, quickly identifying some of us as Pom’s. The atmosphere became quite threatening and there was one particular guy who seemed to want to ramp up the volume. Staggering between the metal tables and eventually homing in on the table that Jackie and I were sitting at with about four other pickers. He towered over us and lunged forward, slamming his fists on the table, spilling all our drinks whilst shouting ‘I f—-ing hate you f—ing b—–ds. Why don’t you f–k off back to your f—ing country’. He turned towards his mates to make sure they had all seen and heard his verbal assault and bowed to their applause and laughter. We rescued what was left of our drinks and just sat there stunned and silent. There was no way we were going to respond. He staggered around with an threatening air for a while and then, to our absolute relief, he went back to his mates who all seemed to think he was hilarious. An already bad day had just become so much worse. When we later went inside the bar to talk to the barman about what had just happened, he tried to assure us that it was all bluster and that our none response was the way to go. We asked if there was a policeman in Sandy Hollow should it happen again, to which he laughed and said he couldn’t remember the last time a policeman had come here. He assured us that these guys only came here every few day’s and they were just ‘enjoying’ the novelty of having strangers to poke fun at.
And so life in Sandy Hollow continued. Jackie and I somehow managed to make our tent more comfortable by begging and borrowing blankets and getting some straw to put under our ground sheet. As we weren’t being paid by the bucket, we also slowed down our picking rate and just spun the day’s out and stopped working whenever we spotted a suspect spider, the Redback [Like the Funnel Web, extremely venomous] being our most frequent visitor. The flies we could do nothing about. When we had had a particularly testing day, we treated ourselves to a burger at the store. They were home made and without question the best burgers we’d ever had. They had a magic ingredient that none of us had ever encountered before, or since. Beetroot. A big fat slice of it along with the usual cheese and salad. They were addictive and we would spend money we could barely afford but, like a drug, they just made the day feel better. We also still indulged in one cold beer at the bar. On a quiet day, it was a great place to hang out but unfortunately every few days, our friend from portacabin city would show up with his mates and repeat his absurd performance of slamming our table and hurling his expletive laden abuse at us. By now we knew that first of all, we needed to grab our drinks as he approached and then just let him have his fun whilst completely ignoring him. After the first two weeks, he must have realised that we weren’t going to offer any resistance and then one day he approached us, slammed the table as usual but then said, ‘I was just fooling mates, I f—ing love ya’ and then went on to explain that it was all a joke, which of course we already knew but not in the way he meant it. He then told us about his travels around the world where he and his mates just ‘raged’. It turns out that ‘raging’ was another term for getting very drunk. By this time he had taken a seat at our table whilst he listed all the countries he and his mates had raged in, including London. Earls Court to be precise. When we asked him what he thought of London, he replied that he didn’t know because he and his mates had just stuck to Earls Court where there was an Ozzy enclave. So, for better or worse, it now transpired that we were his new best mates. Suddenly a new reality struck us, we were now going to be subjected to his mindless stories of every Ozzy enclave around the world where, rather predictably, he had just raged. He then insisted on buying us all drinks and as a parting gesture, put a large paper bag on the table full of ‘weed’. ‘I know you guys are payed crap, so this might help you get through the day’ and then returned to his mates. Blimey. None of us knew quite how to feel about this sudden turn of events but I think we felt marginally better about him and his radical change of personality. Did we want to hear his stories? No was the honest answer but from that day on he insisted on buying us drinks whenever he came to the bar and on one occasion tried to convince me that I should apply for a job with the ‘train gang’. I was sorely tempted. The pay was astronomical and apparently the portacabin’s were really comfortable, air conditioned and with showers. By comparison with our conditions, luxury. BUT, could I really live and work with these guy’s? The answer was obvious.
I must confess that the ‘weed’ was very welcome but by our fourth week, Jackie and I had decided to move on. She wanted to visit some friends she had previously said she would stay with and I had contacted an old friend who lived in Melbourne. He, Greg, who was from Australia but had lived in London for many years, said that I would be very welcome and he had plenty of decorating work lined up and he would welcome my help. It was time for us to go our separate way’s. We always knew that this day would come and it was both welcome and sad at the same time. She had become friends with one of the Brit’s at the farm and they were going to head back to Sydney together. Barbary, it turned out, was from Brixton and lived just round the corner from where I had been living and we knew people in common. It seemed bizarre that we’d both travelled to Australia and met for the first time, when it was quite conceivable that we had probably gone to the same parties and gatherings in London but never been aware of each other. They were heading back to Newcastle to catch a bus and I was going to hit the road and try hitching to Melbourne. My finances, that had been desperate when we had decided to go grape picking, were now virtually zero. I was now subsisting on a wing and a prayer. I just needed to get to Greg’s and earn some decent money.
For reasons it’s hard to explain, I felt sadness upon departing Sandy Hollow. The appalling conditions at the vineyard, the oppressive heat, the super abundance of insects, our dreadful ‘friend’ with his twisted sense of humour, coming away with even less money than we had arrived with, the lack of wildlife [I had hoped to at least see a Kangaroo or a Koala Bear but the only wildlife I ever saw, were dead Wombats and Goanna’s by the roadside], and last but not least, the fly that seemed to follow me everywhere [I was convinced it was the same fly] and gave cause to much hilarity amongst my fellow pickers as they would often see me walking up the track swatting, what to them was an invisible fly, and me audibly f ing and blinding at said fly. As with the high you get when a migraine ends or an injury stops hurting, I felt high on the absence of grape picking and Sandy Hollow, but I knew I would never forget it. There was one other reason why I’d never forget Sandy Hollow. During that final week, I realised that I had lost my gold signet ring. It must have come off whilst picking, due to the slippery grape juice. My Uncle had given it to me on my 21st birthday, it had been my Grandfathers before him. I was particularly fond of my Grandfather and I felt really bad about losing it. I decided there wouldn’t be any point in telling the farmer about it as it was very small in comparison to the vast vineyard and I didn’t even know which area I’d been in when it had came off my finger. So there will always be an important part of me in Sandy Hollow. The other consolation we had from leaving, was that Jackie and I weren’t the only ones that departed that day. About 10 others, all of whom had also decided that life could only get better elsewhere, also left. By doing this, we decimated the farmers workforce. Served him right.
Jackie and Barbary got a lift to Newcastle on the coast and then onwards to Sydney and I got a lift to Dubbo and then onwards to Waga Waga. By the time I got to Waga Waga, it was already quite late but I was determined to get as far as I could and continued to try and get another lift. Eventually a guy did stop for me but said he could only take me a short distance, about 50 miles [thats a short distance in Australia]. That was better than nothing, so I thanked him and 50 miles later, on the outskirts of a small town, he dropped me by the roadside and bid me good luck and farewell. I had absolutely no idea where I was. It was now about 1am and there was no traffic whatsoever so I climbed a grass bank by the side of the road and made myself as comfortable as possible to await daylight and hope for some increase in traffic. I must have dozed off, but at some point I was aware of voices below on the road. As I looked down, I saw two scantily dressed women tottering on high heels and a man in a nasty, shiny, synthetic suit. It was a strange sight. They were walking as fast as they could and the man kept turning and hustling the women along…they were obviously in a hurry. I climbed down to the roadside to follow their progress but saw no reason to engage with them and they quickly disappeared from sight. About 10 to 15mins later I heard a car approaching and decided I shouldn’t pass up any opportunity to get a lift and as its headlights hit me, I stuck out my thumb. The car, that was being driven at some speed, screeched to a halt. It was a Fiat Cinquecento, arguably the smallest car in the world. As I walked towards it, a window was rolled down and I could see three very large Hells Angels squashed inside. The one by the window immediately asked me if I’d seen two ‘prossies’ and their pimp. I said I thought I had, about 15mins ago. They asked which direction they were heading and I pointed in the direction the three strangers had gone. Then, as an afterthought, he asked me where I was going. I said I was trying to hitch to Melbourne or anywhere on route. He looked at his mates and they seemed to agree that I should get in. This involved the front seat passenger getting out and me squeezing into the back next to the third man, with my rucksack on my lap. An already very crowded car was now bursting at the seams. They then explained that they would drop me off by a main road that would be much better for getting a lift to Melbourne on, but first they had to find the two ‘prossies’ and their pimp and immediately turned the car round and headed off in the direction I had indicated. They seemed very agitated and somewhat distracted. Too distracted to even acknowledge that they had a stranger in their midst or to ask me anything about myself. I was now, it appeared, part of a hunting party on a mission.
For the next hour we drove round the suburbs of this town. Their plan seemed to comprise of driving up and down roads without an obvious plan. In other words, their plan was that they had no plan. From time to time they would go and knock on the front doors of their friends houses to see if any of them had any news of their prey. It must have been about 3am by now and presumably these friends were tucked up in bed asleep and unsurprisingly none of them had any updates on the whereabouts of the target group. As we drove around aimlessly they explained why they were pursuing these three people. Apparently, they had all been at a mates stag do earlier and part of the evenings entertainment had been the obligatory strip show. The two women they were pursuing were the said strippers and their ‘manager’ had gone round selling raffle tickets during their performance. The winner of the raffle would get to go backstage afterwards and be ‘entertained’ by the strippers. But guess what, when he went backstage afterwards, they weren’t there…they had done a runner. I have to assume these three men were drunk and the driving certainly reflected that but they still seemed very determined to track down their quarry. At one house, the two in the front, without any logic, decided it was the guy in the back’s turn to go and knock on the next door and wake up some sleeping person. This was all becoming so tedious and I began to wonder how much longer they were going to continue this pointless quest. Once the guy next to me had crawled out of the car, I realised that I had been sitting, with a considerable amount of tension, in the same scrunched up position for quite a while so I took the opportunity to stretch a bit and adjust my sitting position. It was then that the whole situation took a very sinister turn. I had had my feet on something lumpy which I had assumed was a tyre changing jack and I leaned down to move it, but it wasn’t a tyre changing jack, it was a double-barreled sawn off shot gun. I now just wanted to somehow extricate myself from this whole situation. It was already surreal but now it was very dangerous too. When the guy got back in, they seemed to realise that this whole mission was failing and they were losing heart in it. I took this opportunity to suggest that perhaps they should just drop me off at the next main road. They seemed to have almost completely forgotten about me and my reason for being there and as they came out of their single vision trance, they acknowledged that they would do just that. About 5 mins later they came to the road they had mentioned originally and let me out. To say I was relieved would be a gross understatement. They wished me good luck and drove off. They had been completely courteous towards me throughout this whole episode and if it hadn’t been for the sawn off shot gun I would have just seen it as a rather tedious and slightly surreal situation. But that gun changed everything. As I sat by the roadside I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened if we’d found the three escapees. It didn’t bare thinking about.
I estimated that I was probably about half way to Melbourne by now. The whole trip by the shortest route was about 500 miles and I was now desperate for it to be over. My luck was in, the next car that stopped for me was going all the way to Melbourne. He said he was sorry but he wasn’t going the shortest way, he wanted to take in part of the coastline as he hadn’t been down this way before. I said that suited me fine and told him what had happened during the night and that I didn’t mind which route he took, I was just glad to be with someone who wasn’t carrying any weaponry and wasn’t hunting down two ‘prossies’ and their pimp. He laughed and off we went. I don’t remember anything about that journey, I think I may have fallen asleep because it’s a complete blank. The first thing I was aware of was the coast and how beautiful it was, and then we were in Melbourne. This guy that had driven me all that distance was a gem. Not only had he got me to Melbourne but he then insisted that he take me to Greg’s house in the suburb of Hawthorne. I didn’t even contribute to the petrol, I’d explained how broke I was as soon as he picked me up and he said that that wasn’t a problem as he was on a work trip and his company were footing the bill. I think he just wanted the company but I wasn’t even that. I said I couldn’t thank him enough and I was sorry that I hadn’t been better company. I got out and he drove off. I went and knocked on the door and someone who wasn’t Greg answered it, I introduced myself and he said that they were expecting me and that Greg was out working and would be back shortly. He showed me to a spare room and said to make myself at home and would I like a drink. A few minutes later I was in the back garden sitting under a lemon tree, drinking coffee and smoking a joint. For the first time since arriving in Australia, I felt relaxed and welcome.
An hour or so later, Greg returned and joined us in the garden. He said he’d just been to take some materials over to the house we were going to be doing a decorating job on. He seemed pleased to see me. After a very edited telling of my trip so far, he asked if I’d like to see where we would be working and what the job was, it was close by. I was relieved to hear that we would start working the next day and said yes, lets go. I jumped in his pick-up truck and 5 minutes later we were at the house. It was very different from where he lived. It was a large Victorian house with all it’s features intact and from the outside, in a very good state of repair. It was grand and rather beautiful.Before I tell you about the job I should explain how I know Greg. He was a friend of John’s, my housemate in Brixton and they worked as handy men together. They did house repairs and renovations. Nothing too big or too small. They were always busy and like most builders, often had more than one job on the go at a time. They had both been to Art School at St Martins and like so many artist’s or creative’s, couldn’t or didn’t want to make a living from Art. They both had very long hair and enjoyed consuming lot’s of cannabis. As a consequence, they were terrible business men and weren’t very good at making money from their building exploits but they were really nice people. They also had a side project. In the back garden of a friend of theirs in Dulwich, they were building a cutting edge, ocean going Trimaran yacht. It was an extraordinary project. They and a third friend had been working on this project for a couple of years in their spare time. It’s three separate hulls were under an awning that had taken almost a year to build in itself. It was the ultimate hippy dream. Once finished, they planned to spend the rest of their lives sailing round the world together. They hadn’t decided what they would do to make a living but they were all really handy and knew they could survive in almost any situation and as a last resort, they would always have the yacht as collateral. On paper, it would be the fastest yacht of it’s kind. I don’t know who it was that designed it for them, but the plan’s were vast and complex and like the emerging hulls, a thing of beauty. They may have been dreamers on one level but what they were building was completely real and epic. They were brilliant and self taught carpenters and when it finally emerged in it’s separate parts a few years after starting the project, it was a thing of beauty. I was one of about 30 or more friends who helped them to carry the three separate hulls out of the back garden and through about three of their neighbours back gardens and onto a very large truck at the front of the house. It took us all a day to get all three hulls out of the back garden and loaded on the truck. I recently discovered that two really dear friends that I knew in the mid 80’s as part of the extraordinary ‘Mombasa Road Show’ theatre company [See the separate story about that], were also part of the crew of people on that day. Somehow, John and co had managed to secure a yard on the Thames for next to nothing, where the assembly of the hulls would take place. There was a 2 or 3 month time limit on this yard, so the assembly had to be completed in short order. They started to put the three hulls together and 6 months [don’t ask] later, it was complete. There is just one interesting fact that I’ve neglected to mentioned…none of them knew how to sail! It was around this time that Greg chose to back out of the project. I don’t know why and I don’t think he ever fully explained his reasons, certainly not to me. He returned to Australia. When the hulls were finally assembled, they had to leave the yard and float the boat down the Thames to a creek where the fitting out would be done. A crane was rented and the boat was lifted into the river. There were about 10 of us that had the honour of floating down the Thames on it’s maiden voyage. There were no sails at this point so I assume a motor was involved. John had started to get some sailing and watercraft lessons but I think he’d found someone with experience to guide the yacht down to it’s new moorings. The important thing was that it floated and was waterproof. It was no longer a dream, it was real. Extraordinary!
There is a very sad postscript to this story. Some months after I had returned from Australia, I heard that John and two other guys I didn’t know, were sailing the yacht to Spain and had got as far as the Bay of Biscay when they got a weather warning of an impending storm . They anchored the boat out at sea and boarded their tiller to get them to safety. The following day they returned to the yacht to discover that the storm had got it and it had sunk. Gone. It was an absolute tragedy. It wasn’t insured because they couldn’t afford the insurance. The only positive in this very sad story was that they weren’t on board when it sank. I had lost touch with John by the time I returned from Australia because our friendship had become soured because of what happened at the Drill Hall at the beginning of this story. When I next spoke to him, it was some years later and he had got over it. He was a man of few words and didn’t enlarge on it. It was just one of those things…best forgotten.
Back to Melbourne. The owner of this house was away so Greg had key’s and he let us in. The owner was a TV producer and had given Greg instructions as to what he wanted and Greg had arranged a fixed price for the job. And the job was to redecorate the entrance hall. As we entered the hallway, I took it in. It was large and dark due to it’s oak panelling and Greg proceeded to tell me the brief. The owner wanted all the oak panelling to be painted pink and all the panels to be in filled with mirrored glass. I gasped and expressed incredulity. It was a massive job, not to mention the bad taste. Greg’s response was that if that was what he wanted, that was what he’d get. Apparently, this TV producer had recently fallen under the spell of some Guru and it was he that had suggested this tasteless transformation. The oak panelling was creating a negative vibe and had to be changed apparently. Greg told me what he had quoted for the job and that it had to be completed in two weeks. I was aghast. In my humble opinion, the job would take at least a month, thus halving any earnings from it and the quote included materials, which he’d also completely underestimated. Paint, mirrored glass panels, adhesive and rental of a scaffolding tower. Not to mention acres of sandpaper to transform the rough oak panelling to a silk like surface for painting. And then it all came back to me. The reason he and John had never made very much money from their building projects in London, was that they always underestimated the jobs they did. They seemed to think that that was the way to secure contracts. Undercut the competition. Perhaps, but not to the extent that you’ve ‘undercut’ yourself. When would these guy’s learn? It would seem Greg hadn’t learned that lesson yet, after all the years he’d been doing this kind of work. I’d done a fair bit of decorating work myself and had learned quickly to be realistic when quoting and if possible, to quote an hourly rate and promise to come in on time. Or as near as humanly possible. As much as I took pride in my work and usually came in on time, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. But then, I always had the final payment to look forward to. It helped to fund any number of theatre projects.
And so the daily grind began. For the next 4 weeks [I was right], we slaved away at the job. We worked very long hours in the heat of an Australian summer and were exhausted at the end of each day. Greg had also agreed a final payment upon completion, with a small advance to cover materials. That advance had disappeared before we began, so Greg was eating in to his savings too. After 2 weeks, the owner returned and Greg tried to re-negotiate the whole deal with him but he wasn’t a very nice man [A bit like the farmer in Sandy Hollow] and wouldn’t budge. ‘ A deal’s a deal mate’, was his response and Greg had to acknowledge that he was right and that it was all his fault that he’d got it so wrong. To add insult to injury, and boy were we injured, he was really cross with Greg for not having completed the job on time. If you go to the pictures under ‘Travel’, you will see a photograph of Greg and I laying on the floor of the hallway. That was around the third week and we’d done well to get the mirrored glass in place but we still had second undercoat’s and the final pink top coat to go. Throughout the job, Greg was subbing me on a daily basis with just enough money to get through each day. And when we finally finished, there was no money left out of the final payment for either of us. It had all gone. What a disaster. Greg was mortified and couldn’t apologise enough, but I had now overstayed my visa and had had all I could take. It was time to call it a day on my Australian adventure. I rang the airline and booked my return journey. Greg’s housemate, who had partially supported us throughout by cooking us meals, then offered to lend me some money so that I could stop off in Bali on my way home. What a star. He didn’t have much but I calculated that £50 might just be enough for me to live very humbly for 3 weeks. And so it was. I returned to Bali.
As I’ve said before, writing about beauty and having a wonderful time, is much harder than writing about bad experiences and having an awful time. There’s no drama in it!
Three weeks in Bali by myself taught me one big lesson. I could travel alone and still have a rich experience. Perhaps our first visit had shown me, amongst other things, that it could also be done on a tiny budget. In fact Bali was the perfect place to do so. I didn’t need swanky accommodation. A hut just back from the beach with a bunch of finger bananas and a thermos of black tea on my doorstep every morning, at a cost of about £1 per night, still felt like luxury in that setting.
For the next three weeks, I travelled all round the island [except for the western end that nobody recommends] and saw so much. Because the island is so small, I could catch Bemo’s all over and still return to my hut in Kuta by evening. I ate Gado Gado for my main meal of the day. It is basically a dish of cabbage, which doesn’t sound very exciting but the Balinese have a way of making such a cheap meal taste delicious by adding their ubiquitous hot peanut sauce and other simple embellishments on top, to make a poor man’s meal into something I looked forward to every day…and a glass of fresh fruit juice to go with it. At a cost of about 50p.
I would hop on and off Bemo’s at will and then just wander through the landscape of jungle and small settlements. I would often find I had wandered into peoples gardens because there was often no definition between the two. And, as often as not, they would invite me to sit with them and they would share food and drinks. I soon learned that my acting skills came in handy as a way of communicating using mime and generally clowning about. They always seemed sad when I indicated that I had to go. I was sad too. Their generosity and welcoming spirit was extraordinary. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every day was full of joy and beauty. It really isn’t surprising that the first sailors who set foot on Bali, didn’t want to leave. It was the worlds first tourist resort! Which makes it all the more surprising that it still, hundreds of years later, has that unique culture intact and is just as welcoming. There are busy areas and towns of course, but the essence of what first attracted people to go there, hasn’t changed, which is a tribute to the people and their culture.
It’s hard to get your head around how all this is possible on an island not much bigger than the Isle of Wight, but it’s true…and I hope it’s still true! It certainly helped me get past the difficulties I had in Australia and I eventually flew home fully restored and ready to face the next phase of my life.