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Wonder, Thunder & Blunder Down Under

Wonder, Thunder Blunder DownunderMy first book, 'Wonder, Thunder and Blunder Down Under' is a Pom's eyeview of Australia and her colourful inhabitants. It is a diverse collection of true tales, some on how to survive living with Aussies, either in their own habitat or overseas.
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Some 30 years ago, an adventure hungry young journalist grew tired of being a Prisoner of Mother England and waved goodbye to his native shores. Like millions of lilly-white, naive Poms before him, he set foot on Australian soil to commence an amazing journey of self-inflicted transportation…… and survival! 

 He yearned for knowledge and was eager to explore and report on his new and very different world on the other side of the globe with his naivety leading to some hilarious and often dangerous predicaments.

The biggest threats to his survival came not only from the sun, the sea, the snakes and the spiders, but also from the larrikin Aussie men and the luscious Aussie women who saw him as a novelty; an English plaything to be toyed with, teased and….even tormented.

With his socks, sandals and spindly legs, he was introduced to such modern conveniences as ‘The Shower’, the Hills Hoist and the Wine Bladder, all of which he still uses, especially the bladder.

 The book recounts true tales of what confronted him as a Ten Pound Pom and how he in turn handled, or mishandled his tormentors.

‘Wonder, Thunder & Blunder Down Under’ thrusts the reader back almost forty years to an era when entry to the huge, arid continent was relatively simple and uncomplicated; to a time when Poms were deserting the Old Dart for compelling reasons; when Australia offered a future, hope, sunshine, space, a much better standard of living, plus, of course a magnificent adventure.

It highlights the amazing contrasts between the booming new world nation of Australia and its’ cobwebbed former Imperial Master.

The book attracted considerable publicity and is now being edited as an e-book.

 

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A taste of  'Wonder, Thunder and Blunder Down Under'.....

 

North, Up the Not So Pacific Highway

 

Safe from Bert and armed with a letter of appointment from ABC head office in Sydney, I was on my way to the blistering Jacaranda town of Grafton.

It could have been any town or city as it was all unknown, adventurous explorer territory to me. If Bert bloody Sutch wasn’t there - I was happy.

Dipping into my remaining funds, I bought a mapof New South Wales and a rusting sickly green Vauxhall Victor, then set off on my first Aussie drive, up the Pacific Highway to one of the hottest towns in the world.

Radiator leaks and flat tyres failed to deter me and by late afternoon I was considerably depressed because the highway had failed to honour its name and I had yet to see my first kangaroo, wallaby or Aboriginal - numbers one, two and three on my ‘must see’ list.

Suddenly, seven or so weary hours after setting out, I actually caught a lingering glimpse of the sea at Nambucca Heads. The Pacific at last!

Some photos to send home cheered me and on I motored upwards to a place just north of Coffs Harbour with the alluring title of Emerald Beach.

Before I’d left England some kind Aussie had told me: “If  y’ever get the chance to droive on the boich in Stralia, do it. Youse’ll never forget it mate.”

It was dusk and I was tired as the golden sands and gentle waves invited me towards the ocean. It was like a seashell to my ear - whispering “c’mon mate, c’mon.”

Those waves, with their pointy white peaks, were like a wicked temptress who knew I was a beach virgin, urging me to seduction. Their soft exquisite slapping and lapping promised fulfilment and relaxation.

It was a matter of yards before horror pounced. The tide was running in and my luck was running out. Sand and foam lapped at the bottom of my balding tyres and I quickly realised I was poised, if incredibly lucky, to float to Hawaii.

Bugger, I thought. Why oh why did I do it? I knew in my heart of hearts the sand could be soft and I might be at risk, yet I still wentahead and let my heart rule my brain. Would I ever learn?

The only solution was panic. For two or three minutes I screamed and yelled for help, but not another human being was in sight. Using a stick I found on the beach I rapidly etched ‘SOS’ in the soggy sand, just in case someone flew over; then I decided it was time to run like hell before I descended into it.

Within a few minutes of running and within an inch of a heart attack, I spotted a man leaning on his garden fence that directly overlooked the beach.

He was unbelievably wrinkled with a corrugated face and arms to match; melanomas jumping off his skin and a bald head and a droopy white mo.

I placed him at about 75 in the shade and maybe 90 in the sun; for that clearly was where he had spent most of his life. Without moving a muscle or his lips, he mumbled: “G’day son, what yer runnin’ from?” 

Between gasps I told him I was running from the tide and that my whole world was in my old car and at risk of being swept away.

“You a Pommie?” he enquired, slightly raising his head while continuing to pick his fingernails..

“Yes…...Yes I am …..but please can you help me…I haven’t got long. The tide is coming in fast,” I urged, stupidly pointing out to sea as if he didn’t know where it was.

“Which part of the Old Dart are you from son?” asked the ridiculously relaxed old man, “I went to Pommieland once yer know.”

“I’m from near London….please can I tell you later, “I said anxiously and perhaps a little curtly. “Please tell me where I can get help.”

His deep set eyes looked a little sad and in need of company and all he wanted was to chat about his British adventures. Rotating his body about one degree for every one of his years, he raised his thin, almost skeletal arm, and directed me a further 100 yards along the beach.

“See that place with the huge palm tree stickin’ above the rest….that’s Bluey Foster’s” he said, “if e’s at home e’ll help yer. E’s got one of them four wheel things that’ll pull yer clear.”

My legs were itching to run again - as fast as possible to Blueys.

“Thank you very much indeed,” I said, shaking the old man’s hand too fiercely as I saw him wince, “thanks again Sir.”

“Which part of London?” said the old man as I walked backwards.

“It was Essex actually…. a little village called Doddinghurst,” I shouted as I began to run yet trying hard not to be too rude.

“Doddy what mate?” came the reply.

 

It was too late. I had been rude and was now flat out as I yelled one last thank you to him then scrambled over Bluey’s rickety pickety fence and sped up the overgrown semi-tropical garden to some French windows.

As soon as I raised my hand to rap on the glass, a horrific deep growl spun me around so my back was flat against the door. A split second later another gutteral growl came from within.

To my front was a Bull Mastiff foaming at the mouth. To my back from inside the house was Bluey, also foaming and demanding: “Don’t move or eel eat yer. Oo are yer and waddyer want in my back yard?”

Between threatening lunges from the slobbering canine I managed to tell Bluey the old man had sent me to him as he might able to help with my car - my sinking world.

Bluey  was a very large, rotund man with shocking ginger hair and an even more gingery beard. He had indeed grown to resemble his dog, including to the point of dribbling. The resonance in his voice was a mere octave away from that of his pet called ‘Grunter’.

Beer-bellied Bluey called his dog off then grabbed some keys from a drawer and surprisingly briskly stepped outside and slapped me firmly on the back.

“You’re in the shit mate…let’s see if we can pull yer aht. Come on, jump in me ute and we’ll see what we can do,” he said with the smile of authority and power.

Grunter leapt into the back of the vehicle and we drove the mere two minute trip back to the beach. As we went, Bluey stared piercingly at me; raised his eyebrows and asked: “Do you like Bull Massives?”

“No,” I said truthfully and still shaking, “aren’t they called Bull Mastiffs? “I asked, instantly regretting it in case he was offended by a know-it-all young upstart.

“You can call em what yer like sonny, but they’ve always been Bull Massives to me,” came the response.

Suddenly we were doing what I’d been told to do - driving on an Australian beach - but this time in a four wheel drive with its own winch.

Bluey took one look at the dilemma, confirmed I was “in the shit” but reassured me that despite the cruel Pacific Ocean lapping half way up the hubcaps, he could save my car and my dignity.

“You Pommies,” he said with a laconic grin, “What made yer do such a stupid thing mate?  I suppose some Aussie told yer to try it?”

Bluey and the winch rescued me from disaster; from the temptress; from those whispering seductive waves that had indeed deflowered me; deranged me a little; and threatened to decease me!

As he nodded goodbye, Bluey glanced backwards at me and shouted through his ginger lips: “What part of England are you from?”

“Doddinghurst” I yelled back, to catch a final glimpse of him and to hear a fading voice say: “Doddy what…..where the hell’s that?”

Grunter - or it may have been Bluey - let go a final growl as the ute disappeared and as I promised myself ‘that’s the last time I ever try that.’

 

My water-logged Vauxhall felt nothing like a Victor, but it dutifully chugged on, northwards to Grafton. However, not so far away from Emerald bloody Beach, another strange but less alarming thing happened to me, in a very dark forest in a place with the wonderful name of Woolgoolga.

While I’d seen hundreds of kilometres of dense gum forests already on my journey, the trees of Woolgoolga appeared more dense that most, yet tucked within them, adjacent to the occasional but not very often Pacific Highway, was a welcoming roadhouse.

It stood out because it was now a very black night and the roadhouse lights were flickering with promises of a warm welcome and a hearty meal. I’d just suffered a terrible beach experience and was in dire need of an Earl Grey and some baked beans on toast.

“How can I help yer luv” said the amiable, middle-aged waitress who scratched the inside of her left nostril while shuffling half-cooked oily chips about in a metal basket, “What would yer like darlin’?”

“Oily chips and baked beans on toast please,” I replied, looking around for a suitable table.

“Won’t be long luv. Take a seat and I’ll bring it to yer when it’s done,” she added, pointing towards 20 empty tables.

For years I’d trained myself to always sit facing out so I’d be aware of what was going on and could monitor the world around me.

Comfy and hungry I looked out to see exactly nothing, but could hear kitchen noises that suggested my beans and chips were suitably underway.

Suddenly - out of nowhere - all hell broke loose. The peaceful almost transcendental evening air was filled with weird, horrific banshee noises echoing through the jet black forest. Ghostly laugher permeated my being and I was terrified. I thought I must have stumbled onto a Hitchcock film set. It was like a simultaneous outburst of lunatic laughter from a dozen asylum inmates, with each one desperately trying to laugh and cackle more loopily and noisily than the others.

I sprang to my feet and dashed to the counter calling for the waitress who soon emerged with both eyebrows and a ladle raised in surprise at my fervour.
“What’s the matter,” she enquired.

“What the hell is that?” I asked.

“What’s what” she replied.

“That bloody scary noise…what is it,” I begged to know.

“Oh that,” she said, “that’s a few little birds called Kookaburras. They won’t hurt yer darlin,” she added: “they only eat meat, but don’t worry….they don’t like the taste of Poms.”

Those few cuddly, feathery birds, which I later learnt were close relatives of the British Kingfisher, created the most amazing crescendo and, in my years in Oz to come, I developed a passionate love for what I was told were these ‘first birds of the day.’ I guess they were also the last, but I was mildly hurt they didn’t like Poms.

With a replenished stomach and with Woolgoolga and the Kookies behind me, I motored on into the scary night until suddenly, I found myself halted by an official roadblock.

In my headlights I saw the silhouette of a man limping slowly towards the rear of the station wagon parked ahead of me. Wearing a leather hat and a very long leather-

looking coat, the man appeared agitated at being disturbed from whatever he’d been doing before two vehicles disrupted his nightshift and forced him from his hut.

 

All I could see written on the roadblock gates were the letters    ‘…. ck Checkpoint’.

The missing letters of the first word were obscured by the vehicle ahead.
I watched curiously as he rummaged through the back of the wagon, then addressed the driver.

My mind flashed to a movie I’d once seen….. a World War Two film with British  agents disguised as Nazi soldiers attempting to get home from Vichy France and having to present false papers at a German checkpoint.

My Aussie acquaintances back in England had never warned me about this. In fact they’d told me the war was over and only Darwin had been seriously affected.

“Get out of the car and open your boot,” were the next words I heard as the irritated man’s nose protruded slightly through my open window and he flashed an intensely bright torchlight around the inside of my car.

With my hands in the air, I walked crab-style to the rear of my car and unlocked the boot. Too scared to speak in case I gave myself away as a British spy, I kept a close watch on the man in leather who turned his head directly at me, stared long and hard into my innocent eyes and asked: “Got any bananas, pears or grapes with yer.”

I’d been expecting ‘your papers please’ or ‘you will be shot’….. but nothing about bananas.

“No….why…are you hungry?” I replied.

“Cheeky bleeding Pom….it’s me job,” he replied gruffly, “No fruit or grapes at all then eh?”

“No, nothing at all, honestly,” I said nervously, “but why do you want to know?”

“You‘re Poms never know the bleeding rules,” he snapped. “You lot are nothing but bloody trouble.”

I wasn’t sure if Poms were nothing but bleeding trouble in a general sense, or simply in the middle of the night at roadblocks.

“I don’t mean to cause any trouble,” I reassured him, as I finally caught a glimpse of the missing letters on the gate. ‘What are ticks?” I asked.

Begrudgingly the old man explained, then opened the ‘Tick’ gates for me to pass through. I’d escaped enemy territory; was proud of myself and felt deserving of a medal.

As the Vauxhall spluttered on towards Grafton, I reached beneath my seat and produced the late evening snack I’d purchased at Woolgoolga - the yummiest banana I’d ever eaten. If it had a tick in it, it was a bloody delicious one.

 

Just half an hour later, Grafton was in sight as I swung my faithful vehicle left off the Pacific Highway and over a high, long bridge with several significant sudden kinks to it. Grafton at last. My home to be - not so much among the gum trees but definitely among the glorious purple Jacarandas. What adventures, pleasures and pains awaited me here?

Like all young adventurers before me and since, my heart pumped with excitement.

I soon found Prince Street and not long after tracked down the Crown Hotel where I was booked in. The imposing wooden building - set overlooking the mighty and beautiful Clarence River that I would soon get to know well - had that cosy evening pub buzz and murmur.

Key in hand, I lugged my belongings up the wide staircase and along the narrow corridor until room 18 stopped me.

The sparse room was clean, airy and at least twice the size of my Balmain hovel. Narrow French windows opened onto a covered verandahh that ran the entire length of the hotel. There was a cupboard, white lace curtains, a worn Persian rug covering half of the wooden floor and a slightly stained sink with hot and cold running water. It was comparative Heaven, especially after the day I’d endured.

After a quick bounce on the bed to check the springs, I opened the creaky French windows, edged out to the verandahh and leant on the railing.

The stench of other people’s beer and cigarettes greeted me and I could see movement below where a line of cars and utes were parked, all facing the building at slightly different angles. The Virgo in me urged me to track down the owners and ask them to re-park their cars at precisely 90 degrees, but that would be silly and not exactly my best introduction to the town.

From my vantage point I realised that every now and then a youngish man would carry a drink to the passenger window of presumably their own vehicle. A hand would reach out and take the drink; a few words would be exchanged; then the man would disappear back into the bar.

I wonder what that’s all about? I mused. Must be they leave their kids in the car and take them a soft drink every now and then? I suggested to myself.

Then it dawned on me that each car below that had been delivered drinks contained a pair of female legs, forward of the passenger seat.

“They’re not kids,” I told myself firmly, “they’re girls…they’re the girlfriends.”

What a strange custom. How odd, I thought. Why would the girls be happy sitting alone outside the pub while lover boy was inside getting pickled with his mates? It wouldn’t happen in England old chap.

But for every negative there’s a positive. I now suspected this was the status quo outside every Australian tavern or drinking hole.

So it followed that a veritable smorgasbord of yummy, lonely Aussie ‘Sheilas’ was perhaps always to be found on a Friday and maybe also a Saturday night, sitting alone in cars outside Aussie watering holes, bored witless and in need of entertainment.

So many pretty little maids….. all in a row. Rich pickings if you dare, thought the fearless little Pom.

 

 

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Copyright © Spencer Ratcliff 2015. All Rights Reserved.