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It’s the anal moralism of Australia’s legal system that I find absolutely frightening. This is pretty much a country without real problems — it’s probably one of the best places in the world — so the government inveigles itself into the minute aspects of daily life with a plethora of petty laws which regulate behavior as if to prove its legitimacy. 

From what I’ve seen, this is a society that has no pressing need for laws in the first place. The people here tend to be good to each other, they say please and thank you, and follow the golden rule perhaps better than any society I’ve seen in my 18 years of travel. 

But maybe this gives the government an insecurity complex. 

The Australian government is like those old people in the USA who sit around watching TV all day, getting a blown out of proportion impression about how dangerous the world is outside. What’s a big deal in Australia would be nothing in a country with real problems. 

Right now a major “problem” in Australia is that someone in government dug up this obscure law about how elected officials can’t be duel citizens, so now all of the political parties are investigating their opponents’ backgrounds, getting then kicked out of office one after the other. We’re talking about things like the discovery that some politician was actually born in New Zealand or another’s mother got him Italian citizenship when he was two that he apparently never knew about. 

Meanwhile, fucking Donald Trump is president of the USA, the UK voted to leave the EU, and Venezuela … does Venezuela even have a government anymore?

We have the Bloods and the Crypts in the USA and Australia has hooligans cutting the branches off of trees

The rest of the world has people blowing shit up and running crowds over with cars and people in Australia are calling the cops on tourists for taking photos of convenient stores

There are stretches of the US, Europe, and Latin America that have virtual parades of drug addicts walking down streets like zombies and Australia is doing saliva swabs and arresting people for smoking dope up to four or five days in the past. 

And the alcohol laws… well, we already covered that

Australia does not seem to realize how good it is — maybe they need to force their elected officials to take a mandatory sabbatical to see how fucked up the rest of the world is every once in a while. 

Countries with real problems tend to focus their resources on solving them — or they’re too fucked up to care — leaving everybody else alone. When I land in places like South America, Central Asia, or Southest Asia, I suddenly feel relaxed and free. Everything can be burning down around me but I can walk around without a care. I know they’re not after me. 

But when I come to Australia I live with a touch of apprehension that I’m going to break some petty little law and have to deal with some problem that wouldn’t exist pretty much anywhere else. 

We normally attribute the authoritarian label to countries with dictatorships, functioning monarchies, or unelected political leaders — i.e. fucked up places — not advanced liberal democracies. But it’s in the later group of countries that the ever-pervasive tendrils of the law often wrap up and restrain ordinary people the most. 

I’m getting out of here. 

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Australia Is A Zoo Without Cages

I don’t know why anyone would go to a zoo in Australia. The entire country seems to be one giant zoo … albeit one without cages. 

Many of the wild, exotic, etc animals of this country — that you would normally attribute to being the stuff of exotic pet shops — are incredibly easy to spot. You just have to show up and look around. Many seem to have very little fear of humans — some even walk or fly right up to you. Perhaps they know that they live in a country of muesili eaters.  

This was probably the thing about Australia that surprised me the most. Yeah, I know that the entire gamut of wild, colorful looking animals live on this continent but I didn’t know how close they got to human settlements. People and wildlife live together here. 

This surprise exhibited itself from the start. Day one on Sydney’s Bondi Beach, a brazenly colored parrot took a seat next to me at a picnic table as I was eating my lunch. 

I did the tourist thing, jumped up, cocked my camera, and let the photos fly. I then sheepishly looked around to see if anyone was watching me. Perhaps to my relief I saw some locals responding in the same way. I guess everybody appreciates parrots here. 

There are also these huge monitor lizards that get remarkably close to the places where people live. In my scant few days here I’ve already seen two. They were around four and a half feet long a piece and are easy to spot: you just have to look for the birds freaking out. Monitors eat eggs; birds attack monitors. 

There was also a cockatoo flying around Milton, beautifully colorful birds in the parking lot of Pebbly Beach, and mobs of kangaroos roving wherever they wish, hopping right into the centers of villages. 

This is the reason why you travel to Australia. No, this is the reason why you travel anywhere: to experience places, situations, and things that you’ve never experienced before. 

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Bicycle Luke Reunion

SYDNEY, Australia- “It’s been ten years since the last time we met,” Luke said as we met at the door of the Vietnamese restaurant in Bankstown. 

I couldn’t believe that it had been that long. But I did the math: the last time I met Luke was before I started making people — Petra is eight years old; he was right. 

When I arrived in Australia I made it a priority to find out what Luke was up to. He just happened to be in Sydney for an annual meet event for his work on one of the scant few nights I was there. Our paths coincidentally intersected again. 

The first time I me Luke was on the side of the road in the remote countryside of Hungary. I was riding this beat up old ten speed across Europe and the guy unexpectedly popped out of some bushes at my side riding some nice, slick touring bike. Two long distance bicycle travelers were suddenly riding side by side in the middle of nowhere. It would have been too awkward not to become friends. 

Vagabond Journey readers know this guy well. He was our bicycle travel correspondent for a couple of years. 

But now I must report that Bicycle Luke’s bicycle is now sitting in his garage with two flat tires. After extended bike journeys across Europe and Southeast Asia, he got what he needed out of it. 

There is nothing like bicycle travel to make you want to do something else with your life. You just sit out there say after day, peddling and thinking, peddling and thinking. Thinking about what? Your life. 

The interesting thing about Luke is that he has this special ability to focus on big goals for the long-term. 

Everybody is a dreamer, a few of us are doers, but it’s incredible rare for someone to be able to be both for an extended duration of time to achieve a goal. 

Years and years ago Luke told me about this financial scheme where you save money in a certain type of account for X amount of years, building up a pot of X amount of dollars, and then you could live and travel off the interest indefinitely without ever really needing to make money again. He told me that and I said, “Wow, cool.” But he a actually did it. 

While Luke’s original plan was to save this money so he could travel around the world on the proceeds, he changed course and instead bought a farm in this beautiful valley north of Sydney. 

He transformed the place into a venerable compound, building all kinds of houses, starting an aquaponics operation, fields of conventionally farmed vegetables, and all kinds of animals. He also has a couple of French guys out there for some reason.  

The intent here is to not only be self-sufficient but also to be profitable enough to expand, do whatever he wants, and, above all else, live well. 

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WANDANDIAN, Australia- I saw the words “Wandandian,” written on a convenient store and I snapped a photo of it. The name sounded like that of a Chinese quicky mart, and I write about such things. This was just a gas station on the side of the highway that I stopped at to get a cup of coffee, and I didn’t know yet that the village that I was in was called Wandandian, not the shop.

However, that has little to do with this story.

After I snapped the photo the convenient store worker — a young Indian guy — came storming out asking why I took a photo. I figured he was just bored or curious. So I told him what I do.

But then he became a little aggressive.

“You have to ask permission to take a photo first. You can’t just take a picture of something without asking permission. This is very bad. This is very bad,” he began, acting more like I robbed the place than merely snapping a photo of its exterior.

Was this guy serious?

I asked him. He was.

“You should know that you can’t just take a picture of something. That is illegal,” he kept going.

I disputed his claims that taking a photo of a building from the side of the road was a legal offense.

But he kept going on and on about my “crime,” distracting me from pouring my much needed cup of coffee.

He then demanded to see my credentials. I informed him that he was a clerk at a quicky mart in the middle of nowhere and that I would do no such thing.

“Then we have a very big problem,” he responded. “This is a very, very big problem.”

He wouldn’t shut up. I decided to end the irritating exchange.

“If it’s illegal to take a photo then call the fucking police.”

He really did.

I told clerk to go fuck himself and left before the police could arrive … if they would even respond to such a call. I’m sure that even the cops out in Wandandian have better things to do than give spiteful/frightened/underachieving/bored/douchbaggy immigrants a momentary big man fix.

No, I didn’t get my cup of coffee.

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What Australians Think Of Their Kangaroos

KIOLOA, Australia- Positioning the kangaroo as some kind of mascot for Australia is like using the giant sewer rat as something to represent New York City.

In Australia, kangaroos are giant hopping varmint that shit all over the place, transport ticks, eat all the grass, and get hit by cars.

National symbol be damned. From what I can tell, the people here can’t stand these animals — at least those who live where they regularly roam.

“I hate em,” one guy told me who ran a convenient store in Kioloa told me.

“We just wish we could get rid of them,” another lady there said.

Before coming to Australia, I wasn’t aware of how closely Kangaroos live to people here. Entire herds of them storm through towns, going where they want and doing what they please. Few animals can claim more dominance over human settlements than kangaroos.

They come in and take over.

And there is nothing that anybody can do about it other than just wait for them to finish up whatever they’re doing and hop away.

“Sometimes a bunch of them block me in my house and I have to go out and throw my shoes at them,” a local lady told me. “But it doesn’t do any good,” she admitted. “They don’t move.”

“Does anyone around here eat or make leather out if them?” I asked.

“They do in the central parts of the country but we here haven’t gotten us used to how they taste yet. I just wish we could get rid of them all.”

But for me and my family, these kangaroos have been one of the main highlights of this Australia jaunt so far. We are not yet used to seeing them free in the wild, and we are pretty intrigued by the fact that we can walk real close up to them and watch what they do. My wife especially likes the joeys in the pouches. This is a new experience for us, and such new experiences are one of the driving forces behind moving over the world … and we are sure to leave before we get sick of them. Ah, travel.

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Rather than traveling far and wide, sometimes I go for near and narrow. My Australian travels were contained to New South Wales. However, New South Wales is a massive place that’s significantly larger than Texas.

During these travels I stuck mostly to the beaches. The South Coast is basically forests meeting the sea. Perfect.

The beaches themselves are as though designed by some beach connoisseur. Wide open, ringed by forest, soft sand that goes out deep into the surf, some crags and rocks on the sides for style, translucent blue water, a lack of people [winter], “undiscovered” by any sort of developer.

Here are some photos of Pretty Beach and Pebbly Beach. Click on the thumbnails for larger versions.

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The Australian Shame On You Tree

ULLADULLA, Australia- I went to a look out over a bay. Someone told me that I could see whale parts sticking out from the water from here. It was beautiful … and all that. But I didn’t see any whale parts. What I did see though was a permanently placed metal sign notifying the public that at some prior date, an extended amount of time ago, someone had vandalized a tree at that spot.

It took no imagination to conjure up what the crime looked like, as the assaulted tree was left in place right next to the sign.

It was a mid-size tree that someone sawed some of the branches off of.

If I had to guess at a motive, I would say that they more than likely wanted a better view to see whale parts sticking up out of the bay so they removed a few branches from the tree — which was kind of planted right in the way.

As I looked back and forth from the sign to the tree I was absolutely astonished. The weathering on the metal sign and the aging of the wounded tree led me to believe that this had happened a long time ago — like, five to ten years ago.

This wasn’t a notification to alert the public of a recent crime, but a permanent public shaming campaign. It was so everybody who ever visited this spot could share in the good people of Australia’s antagonism for whoever it was that would commit such a heinous act.

It seems to me — an American — that the problem could have been better solved just by planting a new fucking tree. Or by removing trees from that spot completely because it was made obvious that at least a portion of the population doesn’t want them there.

By putting up permanently affixed sign and leaving a hacked up tree in-situ they essentially created more of a public eyesore than the original act of vandalism ever could. It’s the equivalent of someone scrawling into an ancient monument or natural rock face the words, “Asshole was here,” and then the government erecting a giant blinking sign pointing to it.

Who wants to see that?

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To Kioloa: I Almost Ran Over A Kangaroo

KIOLOA, Australia- I almost ran over a kangaroo. A group of the bastards hopped out in front of me as I was driving down the South Coast of New South Wales.

I guess that’s how you know you’re in Australia.

We rented a car for eight days for like $170 and headed south from Sydney. We ended up in a $40 per night cabin in a place called Kioloa. It’s basically a trailer park flung out on a beautiful beach for people retreating from the world.

Herds of kangaroos flow through the place. They get so close that I’m told that you can walk up and pat them. There was a giant monitor lizard sunning himself out in the open when we arrived — “We know where he is because wherever he goes the birds go crazy,” the lady at reception told me. There is a tree by the pool that has an opossum living in it. There are birds that look as if they escaped from a zoo or exotic pet shop. There are people who are just hanging out, fishing, enjoying the beach — although it’s winter here and is not warm enough to really swim.

I don’t really have internet access in Kioloa. No WIFi, no mobile data. Two days with no internet. I have no idea when the last time I experienced this was. I feel like I’m floating on a raft out at sea. It feels oddly good. There are no emails to weed through, no chatting app messages to respond to, nothing to upload, nothing to check. There is nothing to do but hang out with my family and write.

My wife really likes this place. This means something, as she hardly likes anywhere. While I’ve grown used to seeing her look out on places with grimaces of scorn and disgust, here it’s something completely different: she’s all smiles and shrieks of joy. She likes the kangaroos; she likes the wide open, sparkling, primitive beaches; she likes the people, who smile and laugh when they talk with her. She walks around here confident, not insecure or on guard to defend her self-respect as she often is in Asia. She’s relaxed. Australia has not let her down.

I unexpectedly found myself having a vacation.

We have two modes of family travel:

A) Lifestyle travel, where we stay in a place for a month+ and basically live a normal life. I travel around and do my work, and my wife and the kids do their daily routine.

B) Vacation travel, where we travel for fun — like on a vacation.

My wife and kids put up with a lot of shit that results from my work travels. Either I’m gone all the time or they’re being Shanghaied into going to these remote, often unappealing nowheres. So once a year we take a real vacation.

I’m not sure how it happened. The plan was to spend a month each in an array of countries across Asia where I could do my work. It was supposed to be a bout of strict lifestyle travel. But then I did a couple of stories about AirAsia and inadvertently saw on their homepage a promotional fare from Taipei to Sydney for $170 …

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Sydney McDonald’s Rude Awakening

SYDNEY, Australia- I woke up in Sydney this morning and made my way to the McDonald’s down the street. I looked out at the translucent blue waves rolling up against Bondi Beach and thought about how nice it was going to be to sit over there sipping my morning coffee.

And then…

$5.

What?

$5

“I just want the normal, cheap McDonald’s coffee. Not your expensive McCafe shit.”

But I couldn’t get the normal, cheap McDonald’s drip coffee that has been served to coffee drinkers all over the world for generations because, here, it no longer exists. It’s either expensive McCafe shit or nothing.

I chose nothing.

Apparently, when McDonald’s noticed that nobody was going to their idiotic little McCafe booths — what moron is going to go to McDonald’s to get an overpriced cup of coffee when they could go to a real cafe for the same price? — they started depreciating their normal, cheap coffee in an attempt to force the customer into buying the more expensive alternative, essentially rolling the McCafe into the normal food ordering area.

Fuck that. I’m not going to spend US$4 for a cup of coffee — especially a McDonald’s coffee.

This makes me oddly sad; not because I didn’t get my coffee but because McDonald’s cheap drip coffee was like a global institution. The stuff really isn’t bad — actually, I like it better than Starbucks — and there is multiple generations of people who go to McDonald’s each morning just to get drink it. McDonald’s is the cafe of the working class, not the cafe of the cafe class.

I believe I’ve made this prediction before, but by 2027 McDonald’s effectively won’t exist. They don’t know who they are anymore.

Someday I will tell my young daughter:

“There used to be this place called McDonald’s that was everywhere all over the world that served these things called egg mcmuffins and had cheap $1 coffee that everybody drank every morning.”

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Staying In Bondi Beach, Sydney

SYDNEY, Australia- Australians really surf. For some reason, I thought this was some kind of stereotype. Like Chinese people eating dogs or German service employees being rude. I knew that maybe some people would be surfing, and that it was an activity that a portion of the population enjoys, but the view from my travels down the east coast so far, it seems as if surfing is something akin to riding a bike everywhere else: everybody seems to be doing it. There are surf boards in doorways, on the tops of cars, and I have like a 100% affirmation rate when asking people if they surf.

Australians really surf, Chinese people really eat dogs, and German service employees really do have a higher prevalence rate for being rude. But of course you can never notice any of this because stereotypes are not true.

My first glimpse of this surfing inclination came in the Bondi Beach area of Sydney. This probably isn’t a fair analysis, as this is one of the main surf beaches of the city. But what really struck me as something interesting, was that Australians don’t just go out, float around in the waves, stand on their boards for a second and then fall down, like everybody else in the world, but they can actually surf — like, they really stand on their boards on top of a wave and ride it. They can even do that fish tail-y move and ride down inside the wave with the water going over the top of them. Really, they can actually do it.

This seems strange to say, but I’ve been on surf beaches all over the world for years and I never seen someone actually do it before. On Bondi Beach I got that strange feeling that you get when you see something AFK that you only previously only ever saw in the movies. You don’t really believe it even though you’re looking right at it.

I don’t surf, and, honestly, I have zero interest in doing it. Seems boring to float around in the water for 15 minutes just to try to do something cool for 10 seconds at most. I’d rather just walk around … doing anything else.

Bondi Beach was a good introduction to Australia. The place was, to put it basely, nice. There’s this nice strip of shops that flank the beach. The beach itself is grade-A. The sunrises:

The only damper on my time there was the fact that our AirB&B host didn’t give us all the keys for the locks on the door and we locked ourselves out. He was out of town, and, apparently, the key to the door knob lock doesn’t exist. He didn’t bother giving us a warning. We had to call a locksmith. It cost $130. He said he would pay for it but hasn’t done so yet. What he can’t pay back is the entire half a day of travel that I wasted dealing with this bullshit.

When AirB&B works, it’s incredible; when it doesn’t, it can ruin an entire visit somewhere. It’s really the landmine of travel. Every once in a while you’re going to step on one and it’s going to blow up your entire fucking day.

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