FINALLY I can post something new! I’ve just spent about two weeks obsessing about my broken screen. Well, here’s a brand new story from my (partly) brand new computer. Oops, I had thought it’d be a short one… but now that I’ve copied the text from my blog file I can see it’s as much of a monster-read as the previous ones were…
So as I said, time for some stories from my trip, and this one, I think, is my favourite. I hope you’ll like it too.
I mentioned that I was staying at my friend’s Johnny’s. Well, the thing is, Johnny actually lives at someone else’s flat, so to avoid overstaying my welcome and also to actually see something, we agreed that I’d take some trips around Victoria. Wilson’s Promontory, being one of the celebrated National Parks and apparently gloriously beautiful, seemed like an obvious choice, so I decided to go there on Sunday and come back on Wednesday, which should have given me plenty of time to explore and enjoy the landscape.
But there was one problem. Lodging. Not having a camper van or even a car is a serious setback in Oz. Hard to believe, but there were simply no hostels around the area. After a long research I located one – ONE – in the town of Foster, about 30 km from the Prom, and they could offer me a bed for 2 nights, but not for the Sunday-Monday one.
In the end I decided to wing it. Get on the bus, get off somewhere on the road, find a place to stay and make my way to Foster on Monday. This is how I ended up in Korumburra – a tiny town with, supposedly, some beautiful gardens and a brewery. That immediately drew my attention, but let’s be frank: it was mostly about the name. Korumburra? Try pronouncing it in the Polish way and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
So I got there about 3 or 4 pm, stood on the bus stop, looked around – and nothing. No hostels or campings made themselves immediately obvious. I went to ask at the petrol station. The lady there didn’t know of anything, but she sent me across the road to a cafe run by a local lady called Heather, who should know about things like that. I followed the advice and entered Heather’s. A couple of locals was sitting at the table next to the door, another two or three people at the back and there was one ex (or maybe not so ex) hippie-slash-hobo hanging around. Heather was walking to and fro along the long counter.
‘Be with you in a minute, just need to fix up some coffee for these people’, she said and I nodded, my attention distracted by the formidable display of pies and cakes. The couple next to the door relocated to a table outside together with their fatter-than-tall black pug.
‘So, what can I do for you, luv’, said Heather eventually (I love English for all those luvs, darlings and honeys it’s peppered with. So unlike the formality of Polish – otherwise the most kick-ass language in the world, of course. Maybe except for Hungarian or Finnish). I asked if she knew of any cheap accommodation. Immediately she chucked everything and started leafing through the yellow pages, murmuring to herself and me:
‘Cheap accommodation, umm… well, there are no hostels, but there’s a camper van field with some cottages and rooms to rent… lemme see… Yes, here it is! Let me just call them for you and see if they have anything for tonight, all right?’. Before I had time to protest that I could just walk there and ask, no need to trouble herself, she was on the phone: ‘We’ve got this Polish backpacker here, she needs a place to stay for tonight… Uh-oh… Mhm…’. She hung up. ‘Sorry, dear, they’re booked. But there’s a little B&B up the road, and also a hotel right on the corner, you should ask there.’
I said I would and ordered a coffee plus a piece of carrot cake and (just to silence my guilty conscience) a mushroom pie – might as well have some sustenance before I go. Heather took to preparing my order and simultaneously started to ask about my business in Burra. I told her it was a stopover and that I chose it because it seemed like an interesting little place.
‘Yes’, she agreed. ‘It’s small, but there are some things to see. And we even have a local writer here. See that guy over there?’, she pointed to the man sitting outside with his partner and dog. ‘That’s his book over there on the shelf. It’s really good! He’s a very nice person, you might like to talk to him.’
I nodded non-committally and took from her a tray with my coffee and the absolute most generous, biggest, massivest* piece of cake, the memory of which still brings a tear to my eye.
As I was sitting down, I started considering my options. I could wing it and crash somewhere in a field or at the petrol station. I could be tough and have a long nightly walk towards Foster. I could do what a normal person would do and splash out (albeit with heart braking at the state of my account) on a room in that hotel. The choices were – well, not exactly limitless, but quite varied. But before I made up my mind, I was approached by the aged hippie who had been hanging around.
‘That couple outside has a question for you’, he said as I looked at him distrustfully. ‘Only I told them about your situation and they said they can put you up for the night if you want.’
Quick internal conversation between the Good Polish Gal Self and the Crazy Adventurous Chick Self: You don’t know them at all! Yes, but these people here know them, they’d now where I am. Yes, but you’d have to be nice and stuff, and what if they’re boring or something? Well, why would they be? The guy’s a writer, there must be something we can talk about! But you wanted to go and hike at night, there’s your adventure! Oh, come on, you don’t believe you’d actually do it, do you? Yes, but… Oh, come on! You always get a chance for crazy experiences like this and then you back out because you can’t be bothered. Come on! Live a little! Be spontaneous! You know you’re going to regret it if you don’t do it! Well… okay, okay. I’ll do it.
‘Like… really?’, I asked the hippie just to make sure.
‘All right then… I think…’
He led me to their table and thus I made my acquaintance with Geoff and Lynn.
‘We have a spare room at our farmhouse. It’s a bit far, if you want to go sightseeing, but you’re welcome to stay.’
I said I didn’t mind and they left me to eat my monster of a cake while they went to walk the dog. The hippie – who, by the way, turned out to be Heather’s husband, the builder of the cafe and a very nice man too – kept assuring me what lovely and kind people they were, so when they finally drove over to pick me up and I got in the car, I was feeling great about my spontaneous decision.
And then suddenly my brain started catching up. We drove outside the village and exchanged some remarks, had a few laughs, but not too much. It seemed like my hosts were not generally very talkative. This in itself makes me feel awkward as I’m extremely talkative myself and don’t like too much silence in the company of strangers. I took out my phone to let Johnny know – as I promised I would – where I’m spending the night. Oops. No reception. I’m cut off from civilisation. This discovery did not make me feel reassured.
We arrived at the farm and my misgivings increased. It was a run-down little cottage, probably quite charming in full sunshine, but it was a late and cloudy afternoon and my impressions were slightly sinister. I know, I know, I hate myself for being so prejudiced, but that’s how I felt – and I have only one word to offer by way of explanation.
You see, I don’t usually watch series like “CSI” or “Bones” or whatever. But while I was crashing at Johnny’s couch, he decreed that he must make me watch “Dexter” with him. Which he did. We had watched the last episode of season 4 only the night before. And if you know anything about the series, you’ll know that it’s not a story to incur one’s trust towards strangers. So with that in mind, I entered the little house and, as is my wont, veered towards the bookshelf to check out what my hosts’ interests are (also to find a convenient subject for a conversation).
The first title my eyes fell on was: “The Witness of Jehovah”. The second: “The Real Gospel”.
Oh. My. Lord. – I thought. – They’re in a cult and they’ll cut me open with a sickle! Don’t stand with your back to them! Check if your room has a lock!
‘Tea?’, asked Lynn, completely ignorant of my inner panic. I took the cup and stood by the fridge to inspect the fridge magnets, which were depictions of scary and deathly puppies and kittens. I did not trust their cute appearance. One second a puppy, the next: a blood-thirsty hound waiting to rip your throat off. I lifted my eyes and there was Geoff, standing in the door and looking at me (LOOKING! The villain!). Okay, that seals it, I thought. Lynn seems quite unthreatening, but he will kill or rape me!
I produced my phone and said pointedly: ‘Right, I’ll go for a walk and give my friend a call. He made me promise I’ll let him know where I’m staying. He’ll probably start panicking about the idea of me staying with THE LOCAL WRITER on a REMOTE FARM in KORUMBURRA.’ Of course I wasn’t going to intimate to them that my cellphone had no reception and thus I was cut off from any possible help, if help had time to find me in this wasteland.
‘Sure’, said Geoff. ‘And we’ll just go and pick up some (sinisterly…) FRUITS’ (bah bah bah BAAAM!).
So off I went on my walk, and the peace and quiet of the surrounding landscape successfully silenced my fears. When I got back, we had a bit of a chat and watched an episode of BBC’s “Cranford”, whereupon they were further appeased. I have to admit, if they had any grounding in reality, it would probably be the first time in history of criminal records that a pair of serial murderers would have a video library consisting of adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Oliver Twist”.
But then came the bedtime and with it the atavistic fear of darkness must have kicked in. I realised I had about 6 hours of possible violence attempts ahead of me. After that it would be 4 am and time to get up and go with Geoff to the milk farm where he worked. Why I thought that he’d kill, mutilate or rape me at night but he’d be perfectly safe to go milking with, I have no idea. I was fully aware of how ridiculous I was being. If they wanted to harm you in any way – I kept telling myself – why in the world would they have waited so long? They could have just do it and be done with it hours ago. It’s not like anyone would hear me! Still, I admit it with shame, for the first time in my life… I slept with a knife next to my bed. Just. In. Case.
After an hour, when all sounds ceased, I started to relax, but at this moment the wind started blowing so hard I thought it would rip the roof from over my head. In this state I made it till 4 am, when I heard one knock on the door. I got up and wrapped myself in a few layers of T-shirts and Johnny’s windbreaker to fend off the cold (Australian summer – not necessarily as hot as you think!). I had survived. My faith in human hospitality and kindness was fully restored and I could now face the cows.
Geoff lent me a pair of old shoes so I wouldn’t walk on the manure in my sandals and we drove off in the light of the paling Southern Cross. When we arrived on the farm, the cows were all in their little corral, waiting their turn to get on the milking platform and have their udders plugged into the sucking devices not wholly unresembling those things that the machines in Matrix used to suck the energy off humans. The obtuseness of their bovine eyes did nothing to challenge the image. The only emotion a stranger like me could get out of them was distrust, because they backed off every time I came near. I walked about the farm, watching the sunrise, playing with the dog and counting the cows left for milking. When there were about 10 left, I went back inside.
‘Would you like to try and get it on one of them?’, asked Geoff, showing me one of the sucking thingies. I thought the cows looked annoyed enough, without me trying to handle their nipples, so I refused and stood by as he plugged them in and in. Suddenly I felt something moist on my cheek.
‘I think I have some cow dung on my face’, I said.
‘Sure you do. Wait, I’ll get it for you’, said Geoff, taking out a hankie. ‘Happens all the time. Don’t worry, it’s just an off-shoot. That fella over there had all of his back showered’.
Eventually it was over. Geoff dropped me off at the bus stop and went back to milk his own cows. And so we parted, without me getting a chance to thank the still sleeping Lynn and at least offer them both a cup of coffee by way of a thank you. Manure on my camera, sleep in my eyes, I went and had my morning toilet in the petrol station loo, like a real tramp. I checked the buses and decided to drop in at Heather’s to say hello and have some breakfast (oh, eggs and bacon, how I had missed you in China!).
‘Hello, you!’, said Heather when she saw me. ‘My husband saw you about an hour ago at the bus stop. He came in and told me: “So she survived”.’
‘It would seem so’, I agreed. We both laughed and started talking like old friends.
‘By the way’, said Heather at one point. ‘I made some cappuccino by mistake. Would you like it, honey? On the house, of course’.
This, then, is my tale of some honest Ozzie experience. Thank you, Geoff and Lynn, for taking me in – and if I offended you with my suspicions and stupidly wound myself up, it’s because your trust and hospitality in accepting a complete stranger under your roof were absolutely uncommon in this day and age. All the best to you and your pug.
And if you, Readers, happen to stray into the little town of Korumburra, make sure to drop by Heather’s, have some of her amazing and heart-attack-inducing cakes and say hello from a Polish backpacker she made feel so welcome.
*Yes, it was so massive it deserved an actual violation of grammar.