Ouse. Years from now I think we’ll all still be telling strangers of our time in that small farming town (say “Ooze”). But first things first, you need to know how we got there:
The magnificence of the night before did little to mask the misery of the morning. It was the 25th of January and we were packing up our campsite near Mt. Field National Park. We had all frozen during the night and the clouds that covered the sky only spelled more trouble later.
There were two walks we did in Mt. Field National Park, one to the Russell Falls and the other a circuit including the Tall Trees walk, Horshoe Falls and Lady Barron Falls. The three waterfalls weren’t particularly impressive, or maybe it was just that after having seen so many, falling water had lost it’s allure. The walk was rather nice, though, taking us through a dense forest filled with some of the tallest Eucalypt trees in Tasmania (and, the world, of course).
We left National Park, and the national park, and headed west towards the remote town of Strathgordon, passing through Maydena to buy overpriced groceries and some lunch. I had a nothing-to-scream-about pie, but the owner gave us the extra chips left over in the bag after making Jake’s fish & chips, which were quite good. The cook was a friendly German fella and he and Steffen exchanged a few words about where they were from. He also gave us advice on what to see in the area, such as some caves, and where we should go in Tasmania, especially to pick up girls.
The weather got worse as we drove west, becoming cold, windy and cloudy. We stopped briefly near Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park to see the caves our German chef friend had told us about, and though not called Remarkable, they were equally un-Remarkable as the Remarkable caves near Port Arthur. On the other hand, the walk through the rain forest to see them was very enjoyable. With all the rain, the rainforest was healthy and we took in the fresh air and smells as we strolled down the easy boardwalk path.
Back in the car, the dark skies, soothing rocking motion as Steffen barrelled down the curvy B61 Autobahn-style, and sound of rain on the windshield must’ve been our lullaby, because each one of us soon dropped off to sleep. When I awoke, Steffen was asleep too. Uh-oh. Fortunately, though, we weren’t on the road anymore. Apparently, Steffen had also gotten tired and pulled over to get a bit of shut-eye.
We resumed our weather-cursed journey to Strathgordon, ignoring many tracks along the way due to the rain and wind outside. When we reached, eager to do some camping and hiking, we discovered that the beach was packed with caravans, the sky saturated with rain and the temperature had dropped to @#$%-ing cold. Celsius. And I’m still trying to adjust to not getting things in Fahrenheit so don’t ask. We went to the only accomodation in town to see if they had any beds available.
Strathgordon, from what I saw, was this inn. I didn’t see a town center or any other place of business during our short time there. In fact, I’m not sure it actually is a town. And, as usual, no traffic lights either.
The inn didn’t have any bunkhouses available, only offering a room with one queen-sized bed for $90. Apparently, there was a fishing competition happening in lovely Strathgordon that same weekend, and the place was booked up by fishermen, hence the packed campsite too. We even turned down the generous $10 “Fisherman’s Discount” the owner offered.
Miserable and weary we drove to the only attraction in Strathgordon, the Gordon Dam.
Years ago, in order to harness the hydro-electric potential of the water-logged area, they decided to flood part of the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park and Lake Pedder. This was a very controversial move, pitting naturalists, native Tasmanians and beach lovers against Forestry Tasmania and the Australian Government. In fact, the world’s first Green Party was formed to oppose the damming project. The battle raged on, and of course, the hippies lost. Unfortunate, as both Jan, the Hobart hostel owner, and Mechanic #3 in Campbell Town told us, Lake Pedder was home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world (and this time they meant it!). Recently, scientists have been studying the remnants of the old national park underneath the water and have discovered that much of the ecosystem has survived and the rest would be easily recovered. The movement to save the area, this time posthumously, has been revived, though usually only in small forms of public consciousness.
The Gordon Damn was an impressive feat of engineering at a towering 140 meters. Right after we reached the bottom of the endless stairs which took you to a walkway on the damn, it started to hail. OK, JesusAllahBuddhaKrishnaAlRoker, this is really starting to piss us off. I snapped a couple quick ones and sprinted up the stairs to the car.
The drive back along the B61, through Maydena and the generous German fry chef, through National Park and the national park, was plagued with questions about what in fact we were going to do with ourselves that night. First things first: escape the storm, find a campground and a pub where we can watch some tennis.
The drive from National Park through Glenora, Bushy Park, Rosegarland, Gretna and Hamilton reminded me of the title of a Gorillaz song: Every Planet We Reach Is Dead. Sometimes we wouldn’t even find a supermarket in the town. And never once did we see a farmer working in the fields, small child playing in the yard or a dog curiously, yet passionately, licking himself. Only the cows and sheep were left to live for them.
In Hamilton we ran into our first pub, which was obviously closed and almost deserted save for a small car parked out front. I tried the doors with no luck, though I saw someone poke their head around a post inside. He didn’t make any motions toward the door, so I figured he wanted to be left alone.
The next town was Ouse, which also featured a hotel/pub, but this one had plenty of cars parked in front and the evidence of welcoming life through the windows. We parked and walked in, and immediately, we knew the rest of the day had radically changed.
Everyone’s staring at us, I thought. One lady — as I was later informed by Jake — shouted out to me “HEY BRO!”, except she elongated the last syllable of the word so it came out “BROOOO”, like a surfer.
We walked up to the bar and asked the bartender if there were any free campgrounds in the area. She was a young girl, no more than her mid-twenties, with a warm smile and cheerful attitude. She told us there were some showgrounds just up the road, past some farmhouses, and that people would often camp there when it wasn’t otherwise in use. I then asked her if she would put on the Australian Open for us if we came back. “Of course, no worries!”
As we walked out, my new friend exclaimed, “Aw! You’re leaving?!”. “Yeah, but we’ll be back,” I responded, much to her delight. Curiouser and curiouser …
Outside, as we got back into the car, there were two young guys smoking a cigarette and drinking their beers beside a pickup truck. They looked over at us and one said, “Hey, you fellas comin’ back for a beer or two?” “Yeah, we’ll be back, just need to set up our tents and eat.” “Yeah?! Great!” And immediately they ran back inside, to wait for our return. One of the guys already inside had been peeking out to check on us ever since we walked out the door.
Before we even pulled out of the parking spot, Jake was giddy with excitement. “Guys, this is going to be the greatest night ever! I mean, it might be weird, and it’s gonna be awkward, but we’re gonna have the best story to tell after this.” I, only a month into backpacking, hadn’t been granted such clairvoyance yet.
The “showgrounds” was a large circular field at the top of a small side street off the main strip. On one side, adjacent to the line of trees separating the grounds from a farm, was a sheltered picnic table with a BBQ pit. We set up next to the shelter so that the brick structure would block some of the westerly winds that had kicked up in the evening. Though the clouds had broken and allowed some sun to pass through, none of us doubted that it could be a cold, wet and windy night. There was grafitti on the table and shelter, as well as trash filling up the barbie. It was clear that the youth of Ouse liked to spend evenings here, drinking beers, writing on walls and lighting things on fire. We worried that we’d be disturbed at night by teenagers wondering who’s camping on their hangout spot.
After a quick meal of spaghetti-pesto-tuna, we jumped back in the car and headed back down to the pub. “You do realize that I’m probably the first non-white person they’ve ever seen, don’t you?”, I said, worried that the others didn’t grasp the unique corner I was backed into. “Yeah,” said Jake, “that’s why it’s gonna be awesome.” Fantastic. The Aussie Open is already taking a back seat to What Will Happen To Bj.
With a deep breath and nervous laughter we strode into the pub, and we were greeted as returning heroes. Everyone let out a big “HEY!!”, and all I could see were ear-to-ear smiles. A particularly redneck looking guy, who we all agreed later resembled the banjo player from Deliverance, started giving everyone high-fives, except at the last moment he’d yank his hand away, and erupt with laughter.
My admirer swaggered up to me with a beer can in her hand. “Heeyy sweetheart, howerr you doooin’?” She grabbed my hand and pulled me in for a big kiss on the cheek. I returned the smile and gave her a quick “Hi!”, but I think we were smiling for different reasons. I turned around to catch up to the boys when the banjo player, who we later learned was named Simon, stuck his hand up. Simon was several beers deep into his evening and his reflexes must’ve suffered the brunt of the damage since I managed to hit his hand before he took it back. This really excited him, and he shouted to our adoring audience, “This one’s quick! He got it!!” I’ll be sure to add it to my resume.
At the bar, Steffen took the first round and ordered 4 Cascade draughts. Before my beer even arrived, I was approached by a short, stocky blonde woman with a flush face and a mullet. She stuck out her hand and I took it, “Hi, my name is [forgot her name], and I wanted to ask you a question.” I nervously looked over at the guys, but they were immersed in a conversation between the three of them. I tried to take my hand back, but she wouldn’t let go. “Me and my partner”, she pointed over to the woman who had so warmly greeted me at the door, “want to have a child and we were wondering if would donate your sperm. No strings attached.”
My flabbergasted expression must’ve given her the impression that I didn’t quite understand her, so she repeated herself. “You know, cause we really want to have a child, so were wondering if you wouldn’t mind donating your sperm for us. No strings attached.” She kept saying that, as if I was seriously considering it, but was dismayed at the possibility of a long-term relationship. She still wouldn’t let go of my hand, either, and I kept looking back that the guys, neither of them witness to the SNL skit unfolding just a few feet away.
Searching desperately for a funny, converation-ending thing to say, all I could manage was to look at my watch (meaning, twist the now-inseparably conjoined mass that had was my hand in hers so I could read the time) and chuckle, “Now? Isn’t it getting late?”
She finally said “Why don’t you think about it and let me know.” Will do.
I slowly turned and faced the bar, stared blankly at the wall and took the first, but lengthy, sip of my beer. Jake finally glanced over his shoulder at me, and upon seeing me shaking my head, looking astonished, flicked his eyebrows up to find out what was going on. “That woman over there just asked me to father a child for her and her life partner. No strings attached.” I earned his full attention, and he swung around to get the story. He then quickly turned back around and told Ben and Steffen. The three of them were in stitches. Jake looked at me again, “Told you. I told you! This is gonna be great.”
The bar’s small size only magnified the effect of a jukebox blaring out country music from the US. Also mixed in were pop favorites like Enrique Iglesias’ “I Can Be Your Hero”, to which we were treated four times that night. Simon and the others would stumble around loudly and incorrectly singing the chorus.
My future baby-momma got more drunk and she would often go behind the bar and pour herself drinks. This behavior will have to stop if we’re trying to conceive. I think she was trying to land herself a job at the pub, because she would try to show off her bartending skills to the manager by serving others drinks. We also got the distinct impression that they wanted us to stay longer, since she also whispered to the landlord, asking him if she could give us free beers. “Come on! If we give them beers they’ll stay!” And yes, she did buy us a round.
When it was my turn to buy a round, Tamika poured us the drinks, but gave me a smile and placed a finger to her lips as she ignored my attempt to pay. Hm. Another free round.
I headed to the toilet to reconnect with reality for a bit, and when I came back, Jake turned to me with a smile on his face. “We’ve been invited to a house party up the street.” “We’re going, aren’t we.” “Of course!”
As the pub crowed dwindled and the group headed to the house party, conveniently at the residence of the mother of my unborn children, we considered buying a couple six-packs to take with us. Steffen was the most reluctant to go and Ben was rather indifferent, but in the end we all realized that there was no way around it. We had been invited to a house party in town of about 100 rednecks. The rules of backpacking were clear in this matter, we had to go.
Since the town is about as large as one wing of a shopping mall, Tamika walked us from the pub to a small house at the top of a hill. The same country music was blaring from the detached garage, and a roaring fire had been lit in a barbeque pit outside. Even Mr. Iglesias had joined us for two more renditions.
It was a true rednextravaganza. It was about 11 at night, but little kids were running around, chasing small dogs. In the garage, some of the town folks were revving motorbikes and talking about modifications they had made to the engines.
Everyone there was incredibly friendly and easy to talk to. Tamika told us about her dreams of going to Paris and New York City. She said she planned on taking a baby-step to Melbourne in a few months. And whenever possible, she goes into Hobart to do her shopping, just to get out of the stifflingly small world of Ouse. I was talking to one woman about her motorcycle, and how she had taken an 800cc engine and put it into the frame of a250cc bike. Jake was talking to her husband about the work around the town, which was mostly cattle farming. The man, who was seemingly the most “normal” of anyone there, was a harvester on a farm down the road. In the middle of the coversation, he threw his hand up, “Yep, cut my finger off a couple weeks ago”, revealing a hand with only 4 fingers and one stump. Even Jake was a little thrown back.
Around 1 AM, we called it quits. My soon-to-be lesbian-partner-in-law and Tamika somehow arranged a date for coffee with us in the morning, around 10 or 11. We quietly agreed to try and make it down, shuffled in the car (which Steffen and Ben and retrieved from the pub), and headed back to the campsite.
As we prepared for bed, none of us said a word, not for lack of trying, but because we just couldn’t find the right ones. Later, Ben suggested that I should’ve asked how much they were willing to compensate me for the service, and all three of the guys scolded me for not taking the opportunity to father an entire empire in the middle of Tasmania. It was tempting to think that in 20 years I could return to find a town of young men with mulatto skin and dark-haired mullets, but the story alone was enough for me.
These are the experiences that companies like Adventure Tours could never package and sell, the ones you get only when you meet a group of people who are willing to take you into their homes, open their lives and treat you as one of their own. Whereas in Sydney and Melbourne you could walk from one end to another without speaking to a single person, in these small towns no one is a stranger, and everyone’s a friend. Or, in my case, fresh stock for the gene pool.