February 27, 2010
Adventures always begin at dawn.
Or, to be more precise, standing in the Belfast rain at four in the morning waiting for the bus to Dublin Airport with Colin and our enormous film crew of Matt and his mate Gareth McGrillan.
“Everybody got everything?” said Matt. “Passport, ticket, money, driving licence?”
“Driving licence?” I said, realising two things simultaneously: that I had left it on the hall table, and that I was just about to ride 15,000 miles around a country with no proof that I was capable of doing so.
Still, at least for the first time ever I had insurance, courtesy of Adelaide’s Sam Geddis, who met us at the airport with his wife Gloria.
Although it was six in the morning, Gloria, in a dazzling triumph of style over grim reality, was wearing an outfit which wouldn’t have looked out of place at Henley Regatta.
We took off, and for the first half hour I pressed every button on the entertainment system and kept coming back to a tone-deaf mullah chanting the Koran.
Just as I was about to become the world’s first Church of Ireland fundamentalist terrorist and attack the stewardess with the remote control, I gave up, read the instructions and found the Western classical channel.
I mean, no harm to Mohammed and all that, but Bach does far better tunes.
I watched Memoirs of a Geisha then listened to Eurythmics’ Greatest Hits, which made me feel a strange combination of Japanese and young again, then curled up as best I could and tried to get some sleep.
It seemed like I had hardly nodded off before we were landing at Melbourne.
“Good day, sir. What’s the purpose of your visit to Australia?” said the red-headed immigration official at the airport.
I knew he was bluffing, because I’d read enough guides to Oz and Twisting Throttle, Mike Hyde’s hilarious book about riding around the country, to know that Aussies didn’t talk like that. It was a test, like when the German officer said “Good luck” to Gordon Jackson just as he was getting on the bus in The Great Escape. And I was up to the occasion.
“G’Day, Blue. Hair gamay. Well, me and me mates here, we’re going to ride a couple of Triumphs from Adelaide through Crow Eater and Mexican country then up through Banana Bender land and beyond the black stump to the Never Never, then down through Sandgroper territory and home.
“And where are you planning to stay, sir?”
“We’re going to ride to the end of the arvo, mate, maybe having a few Vegemite snackies on the road, then stop by a billabong, roll out our swags, whip on the Speedos, go for a dip, keeping a good dekko for salties, shout each other a few stubbies of Fourex grog from the Esky in the back of the ute, then get a few snags and yabbies on the barbie, have a yabber and a last slash down the dunny, then get our heads down on the nearest gibber and nod off under the stars rapt with the warm fuzzies.”
“You coming the raw prawn with me, mate?” he said.
“Nah, it’s fair dinkum, mate. Ridgi Didge, straight up, cross me heart and hope to die.”
He thought for a moment, then reached into a drawer and passed a form across to me.
On the top were the words Australian Citizenship Test, and below the following questions:
1. Do you understand the meaning, but are unable to explain the origin of, the term “died in the arse”?
2. What is a “bloody little beauty”?
3. Are these terms related: chuck a sickie; chuck a spaz; chuck a U-ey?
4. Explain the following passage: “In the arvo last Chrissy the relos rocked up for a barbie, some bevvies and a few snags. After a bit of a Bex and a lie down we opened the pressies, scoffed all the chockies, biccies and lollies. Then we drained a few tinnies and Mum did her block after Dad and Steve had a barney and a bit of biffo.”
5. Macca, Chooka and Wanger are driving to Surfers in their Torana. If they are travelling at 100 km/h while listening to Barnsey, Farnsey and Acca Dacca, how many slabs will each person on average consume between flashing a brown eye and having a slash?
6. Complete the following sentences:
a) If this van’s rockin’, don’t bother ?…”
b) You’re going home in the back of a ?
c) Fair crack of the ?
7. I’ve had a gutful and I can’t be fagged. Discuss.
8. Have you ever been on the giving or receiving end of a wedgie?
9. Do you have a friend or relative who has a car in their front yard ‘up on blocks’? Is his name Bruce and does he have a wife called Cheryl?
10. Does your family regularly eat a dish involving mincemeat, cabbage, curry powder and a packet of chicken noodle soup called either chow mein, chop suey or kai see ming?
11. What are the ingredients in a rissole?
12. Demonstrate the correct procedure for eating a Tim-Tam.
13. Do you have an Aunty Irene who smokes 30 cigarettes a day and sounds like a bloke?
14. In any two-hour period have you ever eaten three-bean salad, a chop and two serves of pav washed down with someone else’s beer that has been flogged from a bath full of ice?
15. When you go to a bring-your-own-meat barbie can you eat other people’s meat or are you only allowed to eat your own?
16. What purple root vegetable beginning with the letter ‘b’ is required by law to be included in a hamburger with the lot?
17. Do you own or have you ever owned a lawnmower, a pair of thongs, an Esky or Ugg boots?
18. Is it possible to prang a car while doing circle work?
19. Who would you like to crack on to?
20. Who is the most Australian: Kevin ‘Bloody’ Wilson, John ‘True Blue’ Williamson, Kylie Minogue or Warnie?
I took it from him, sat in a corner for half an hour filling in the answers carefully, then brought it back. He studied it just as carefully, then nodded his head and put it back in the drawer.
“Good on ya, mate,” he said, reaching across and shaking my hand. “Sludder.”
“Sluddermay,” I said, picking up my bag and preparing to walk away.
“Oh, just one final thing…”
My heart froze. Was everything to fail, at this final hour?
“Do you have a criminal record?”
I sighed with relief, and reached into my bag.
“I didn’t think it was necessary any longer, mate, but I brought this just in case,” I said, handing him a CD of Daniel O’Donnell’s The Christmas Album.
He took it gingerly from me, then tossed it into the bin.
“That’s crim enough for me, mate. Hope she’ll be apples for ya.”
I shook his hand again for good measure, and was just walking towards the exit when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I froze, fearing I had been caught at the last minute for only pretending I liked Vegemite, only to hear the familiar voice of Colin, as if from a distance.
“Wake up mate. We’re landing in Melbourne in 10 minutes. You all right?” he said.
I looked groggily around, and realised we were still on the plane.
“Aye. I just had this mad dream that we’d already landed,” I said, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
In the end, the officials at the airport took a cursory glance at our passports, wished us a good stay in Oz, and sent us on our way.
Switching our water down the plughole setting to clockwise and the intonation at the end of our sentences to Up rather than Down, we stepped out of the terminal into the balmy heat of a Melbourne evening.
We found a hotel, checked in, and three things happened in quick succession. First of all we looked at a map and discovered that Australia was very big, and that the events we’d planned for the first few days, namely lawnmower racing and a big salt lake drag racing event, were so far away that it would take us most of the three months planned for the trip to get there.
And one of Matt’s brand new high-resolution cameras refused to work.
There. With nothing to do and no way to film it, we did the only thing possible: cracked open the bottle of Bundaberg rum Colin had bought at the airport, had a mug, and went to bed.
Whereupon I dreamt that Sam was sitting at a desk in the shallows of a Scottish lough interviewing a large white water rat while someone sailed by under a scarlet parachute.
I did try sanity once, but it didn’t agree with me.
By the time we got onto the plane for the short hop to Adelaide the next morning, I had become convinced that the Australian Government was putting Prozac in the water, since every single person we had met since we arrived had been unfailingly cheery, optimistic and helpful. Including the drug sniffer dog at the airport.
It was an impression confirmed by the fact that among the duty-free items for sale in the Qantas in-flight magazine was a guitar, presumably in case everyone on board fancied a good old sing-song.
However, that discovery was not the highlight of the day. It was not even stripping off and picking up the back-up vehicle which the chaps at Wicked Campers had painted up for us with an inspired combination of bike adventure graphics and rude quotations.
No, it was the moment when we collected the keys of two Tigers from the Triumph dealer in Adelaide, starting up the engine and hearing that sweet hum which had been all the way from Chile to Alaska on my previous adventure and was again in this moment the sound of freedom and the open road.