I’ve been asked a few times how come I was in NSW and then now I’m suddenly back in Tasmania.
As you may know, I’d been touring in NSW since late February. Wagga Wagga, Orange, Dubbo, Tamworth, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie – all were excellent, loads of fun.
In Newcastle things started to change. Nothing to do with the place, but the changes I’d been largely able to ignore in rural cities and towns became more obvious. Less traffic, fewer people on the streets.
I was probably not the only one to think that everything would blow over in a matter of days or weeks at the most. I had advance bookings right up until the end of the tour, plus a vague plan to move to Sydney, so I kept on going.
Precautions seemed sensible. I asked that everyone who saw me showered thoroughly and changed into clean clothes before visiting me. I insisted they washed their hands when they came into my room, and I made kissing optional, even though I enjoy it immensely. After all, I was living in hotel rooms, I didn’t want anything brought in.
Disaster struck in Newcastle in the form of a person who’d quite clearly ignored my requests. He brought four bags with him, and looked and smelled as though he’d been living on the streets. When I asked him to leave he abused me on his way out. I lived in fear that he would complain to the hotel management, but nothing was ever said.
Then Sydney. I’d been booked out until the day I arrived, then bookings began evaporating faster than dew in the morning sun. But I still met a few lovely people there.
The mood had shifted in just a few days. People stopped thinking the situation was a brief inconvenience and were starting to think it could be something serious.
But I persisted, and went to Wollongong. I stayed in a 60 room motel, of which maybe 6 rooms were occupied. Most of the shops were closed as was the local hotel (except for the bottleshop). A couple of clients covered my costs, which was just as well, as I’d already booked and paid for my accommodation.
A kind client put me up in Canberra for a couple of days. The world was approaching the surreal. The Hume on the way down was all but deserted. As a Tasmanian driver, I found myself coping with the traffic, so it wasn’t all bad. Canberra had an end-of-the-world vibe about it. In a shopping centre I heard a young woman on the phone say, “I’ve invited a few people over but nobody wants to come!” And I chatted with a woman in a gift shop who said it was her last day of work, after that the owner was going to close the doors.
Back to Sydney, to a flat I’d found on Gumtree, still with the aim of staying on there. The flat was a disaster almost from the start. The car space was too small for my car. The flat was up two flights of steep stairs, and once inside, many of the appliances didn’t work. The bed was less comfortable than a park bench and the couch was almost as bad. But I did have beautiful views of the Harbour.
Worst of all though, I’d seriously miscalculated how far out it was. I was still getting queries about bookings, but no-one was willing to travel that distance. Quite honestly, I couldn’t blame them.
On the Monday morning I phoned the local council about a parking permit which my new landlord had assured me would be easily available. It wasn’t. I’ll pass up the chance here to have a rant about minor bureaucrats (and landlords), but let us just say they were less than sympathetic. I managed to find a place to store my car, but it involved a lot of travel to get it there, then more travel on public transport to get back to the flat again.
Could things get any worse? A flat with nowhere I could sleep comfortably, and my car at the other end of the city?
Yes, they could.
I thought perhaps I’d find another place to stay, one with parking. This proved to be impossible. Former AirBnbs were available, but owners wanted huge bonds. All casual accommodation had closed. I’d attempted to give my landlord as much notice as possible, and he’d arranged for someone else to move in – on the Wednesday!
In two more nights I was going to be homeless.
Rumours were circulating that the NSW/Victorian border was going to be closed.
On the Tuesday morning I realised the situation had beaten me. I was having visions of living out of my car in the bush somewhere. I bought my ticket back to Tasmania on the Spirit. I went back to Hornsby to collect my car. I returned to the flat, packed up the car (many treks up and down those bloody stairs) and left around 5:00 p.m., normally peak hour traffic but quite manageable under the current circumstances, even to me.
My goal was to reach the Victorian border, at least.
Tasmanians aren’t generally used to the sort of long distance travel Mainlanders take for granted. I had my thermos of coffee and my chocolate biscuits. I stopped regularly and walked a little. but mainly, I drove.
There weren’t many cars on the road. Most of the traffic was semitrailers. At one stage I was in the middle of a convoy – 5 semis behind me, 5 in front of me. Another time a semi overtook me then started behaving strangely – braking, indicating. I’d slowed right down and I think the driver thought I was going to sleep at the wheel. I probably was.
I stopped driving at half past midnight when I realised I was so tired I was hallucinating. I slept in the back seat of my car in an area where the semis pull over. I was surrounded by them, plus one solitary camper trailer. I slept for a couple of hours, dozed for another couple, then kept on driving. I’d stopped 35km short of the border, which was, after all that, still open.
I found another rest area and slept a while longer.
At dawn I drove over an overpass into Wangaratta for fuel and breakfast. The rising sun illuminated the mist on the paddocks. It was so beautiful I wanted to cry.
Melbourne traffic was even more manageable than Sydney’s, much to my relief. I’d organised to stay at a friend’s place in St Kilda for the afternoon. I showered and got into clean clothes. We watched a movie and ate takeaway chicken and chips. The world felt almost normal.
The Spirit usually boards around 7 p.m. There’s time for a glass of wine, a pleasant dinner, perhaps a movie.
That night it sailed at 10:30 p.m. The bars were closed, there was limited food. I was one of 59 passengers. Only one car deck was in use.
It’s the first time in over forty years of crossing Bass Strait I haven’t had a drink on board. Probably won’t hurt me. I found my cabin and passed out, waking only briefly when the ship passed into rougher waters outside Port Phillip Bay.
On Thursday, 2nd April, I arrived back in Tasmania. We drove off the ferry and were ushered to a secure compound to park our cars. We were given a little time to pack a bag for the next two weeks, then directed to a bus and driven to Launceston.
And here I am, in a rather nice hotel/motel, feeling as though I’m in an old people’s home already. This evening’s meal was accompanied by a form and a letter about our release next Thursday. The food is adequate. I can buy a bottle of wine from the hotel, so it’s not all bad.
I’ve seen very few people. I talk a lot on the phone. I write these blogs.
There was a time not all that long ago when my world was changing on a daily basis, sometimes even an hourly basis. At least I can now plan as far as next Thursday.
Things are looking up.