I started the day I met other non-axe murdering campers in Australia much like other camping days. If you’ve been reading this blog you know the routine. Up around 7am and out of camp in Kyogle (Kigh-ooooo-gul) pretty quick. That campsite bugged me, so close to the tracks that I woke every two hours through the night from train whistles. In the morning the birds were murder, non-stop with that chirping that seems so cute and ‘local’ the first few mornings. Not this morning. My late arrival and later evening organizing photos, writing and, oh yeah!, eating left little time for sleep.
Nothing shakes off the surly mood like hot chocolate! Into Kyogle proper I propel, first hunting for wifi and then, realizing not even the library has any, I succumb to my need for a first breakfast. First breakfast is usually light and this morning I wanted hot chocolate. Only a few cars lined main street in Kyogle with most shops still barred up well beyond 8am. Not Peter’s. Peter’s bakery was wide open which around here means no doors either, just open to the street with tables gently jutting onto the sidewalk, beaconing me inside.
Hot Chocolate! It was lovelyishious. Am I boring you yet? Are you wondering where the non-aex murdering campers from Australia are?
It turns out they were along the Mann River. I chose this National Reserve in my normal ‘wake up and pick a place on the map’ method. It read well in the New South Wales National Parks ’09 Guide; “[The Reserve] extends into a rugged and largely untouched landscape…which offers plenty of solitude.” Solitude and me tend to get along. But truth be known, I still like camping around some people part of the time. And today I was most interested in actually camping socially. You see, I had contact with people here and there and chatted for a while, but I was looking for someone(s) to sit around the campfire with. Someone to have a worthwhile conversation and preferably someone from Australia so I could learn a bit about this fine country.
Evidently those locals are known as Allison, Paul, Debbie and Michael. They were camped at Mann River when I arrived about an hour before sunset, deftly avoiding the kangaroos and wallabies on the road to the river. And they weren’t the type of campers I was, oh no. They had large caravans (trailers) by Australian standards that blocked them off from my camping site. But when I stopped and climbed out Allison waved over to me and gave a friendly, “Hello!”. Ok, maybe, just maybe, they were ok. I admit that that first “Hello” was enough to break the ice for me.
As much as I write about my traveling life here on the internet and share things like the fact that I was now many days away from clean laundry or a shower, I’m not always an extraverted, walk-right-up-and-meet-people kinda guy. When by myself I often keep to myself. But be warned: once the ice is broken I cotton well enough to most folk. Lucky for me, I was out of matches and thick with wine.
I walked over to their circled wagons right on the banks of the Mann River and gave a pre-emptive, “Hello” as I rounded the first LandCruiser’s front bumper. Maybe I’ve read too many Louis L’Amour books (note use of the word cotton previously) but I am a firm believer in not entering another’s campsite unannounced or uninvited. It’s rude and a good way to get shot. Ok, not in Australia, but in the Western USA it’s a possibility if it’s late at night and beer has been flowing. I digress.
I needed matches. Later, I’d find I didn’t in fact need to borrow matches (the rental company supplied them, bundled with the wash rags), but for now I thought I did. Grabbing a bottle of wine as my preferred form of currency in New South Wales I asked if they’d be interested in a trade. My bottle of Shiraz for a match. Just one. They had a good laugh, either at the offer or the American accent, and not only gave me a box of matches but also asked if I wanted a beer. Not being a fool, I accepted (it came complete with a beer cozy!! These people know how to camp!) and eased into the normal introductions and “what are you doing here” questions.
After cooking up dinner at my campervan I returned with my pot of spaghetti as they had the only picnic table I could find on the river. It’s a small campsite at the Mann River with only one other caravan nearby. We sat and ate our respective meals and began a long night discussing travels, taxes, The Southern Cross, health care, families. Life.
We also joked about how, when you meet people on the road and especially in remote areas, you often first think of them as axe murdering maniacs. It became a running joke. And truly, you don’t know the measure of strangers until you have a chance to sit with them for a while and pick their brains. In the end, I truly believe none of the four I met are axe murderers, really. Campfires and wine (and beer and rum) usually suss out a person’s true nature.
In the end, the new company became new friends. And for me, that is one of the best parts of travel. My encounter, some might say by chance, some might say by fate, could have been nothing other than what it was. And it’s made me enjoy Australia more than the day before.
PS, guys, since I know you’re reading this, I figured out why my initial thought about the Southern Cross (Crux Constellation) didn’t jive with my belief that it marked, in its middle, the southern celestial pole. Read the linked Wikipedia article above and it explains how wrong I was. And now it all makes sense why the Crux moved around each night, unlike the North Star. Every day, learn something new.