|A Diary of my overland journey from England to Australia
By Steven Abrams
Note. This page is text only for the time being. Photographs and graphics will be added at a later date. If you email me, I will contact you as soon as the page is updated.
Darwin, Northern Territory.
Tuesday 8th April 1969
The flight from Timor was really enjoyable. We had a wonderful Australian style meal and we felt so elated that we could probably have flown without the plane. We made a bumpy landing at Darwin Airport just after 3 o'clock local time and when the stewardess said "Welcome to Australia" the five of us cheered.
Immigration was no problem really. In 1969 British passport holders were entitled to enter and remain in Australia for as long as they wanted without any restrictions, but because we had been in the Far East for some time, we were compelled to have a medical before we would be allowed to stay. We were initially only admitted for 30 days, and we has to go to Darwin hospital for a free medical within 7 days. They found nothing wrong with us and three weeks later when we got the results of the medical we took our passports around to the immigration office and received a big round stamp that said "permitted to remain in Australia"
Coming in from Timor the Port Health Officer was concerned in case we had caught malaria. There is no malaria in Darwin, but conditions are ripe for it to start and they are paranoid about anybody having malaria in case a mosquito bites them and it spreads. For that reason we were all asked if we had been taking anti-malaria tablets. Louis and I had both been taking them weekly since we first arrived in India. The port health officer asked us which kind of tablet we had been using, but we didn't know, so he asked to see them. We showed him the roll of tablets the chemist had given us in England and he examined them carefully. He said that he didn't recognise that make and took them away to show a more experienced colleague. He came back with his colleague and asked us what other medication we had with us, so we showed him our diarrhoea tablets. The both examined them and then they both started to laugh. The second health officer handed the diarrhoea back to us saying "They are you malaria tablets, the other things are diarrhoea tablets". For the last 5 months we had both been taking a weekly dose of diarrhoea tablets instead of malaria tablets. Thankfully neither of us had gone down with malaria, probably due in a large way to our insistence in sleeping under a net every night and generally keeping ourselves covered up as much as possible at night. But mostly we had been lucky. It only takes one infected mosquito to give us malaria. Because we hadn't been taking anti malaria tablets the port health gave us both a course of tablets to take over the next week.
We then had to go through customs and they completely emptied our cases and checked everything. They weren't looking for drugs, but they were looking for any insect eggs or wooden items that could contain boring insects. Danny had bought a bamboo water bottle from one of the natives in Oecusse and customs confiscated it and put it into quarantine. One thing I will say, they were very polite about the whole thing and they did help us to re-pack the bags again afterwards.
All the formalities over changed some money and walked out of the airport onto the main road and started hitch hiking. A few minutes later the immigration officer who had let us in came along. He picked us up and took us right into the centre of Darwin, dropping us off outside the post office in Knuckey Street. We collected our mail and then went to try to find somewhere to stay. After living so cheaply in Asia, Australian prices were quite a shock to us, but one that we had expected. We found a small hotel, but they wanted $10 a night and we considered it, but decided to keep looking. They let us leave our bags there while we walked around. We had heard that we could rent a room in a private house for about $20 a week and we asked around and were give a few addresses to try. We eventually found a house a short walk from town on the corner of Smith Street and Whitefield Street with decent looking room going at $20 per week between us.
That night we went out for a meal and had steak and chips for $1.35 before going back to our room for an early night so we could get an early start the next day. We felt like screaming out loud YIPPEE! WE'VE MADE IT! Now we would have to find jobs and start working to replenish our funds to travel some more.
Oh, and in case anybody is wondering, the parcel we sent from Singapore arrived safely about a week after we arrived in Darwin.
That is the end of the diary. On the journey out to Australia I kept quite a comprehensive diary, but once I arrived in Darwin I stopped. Even during my later travels around Australia and onwards, I didn't re-start my diary, something I now regret. Maybe I will eventually get around to putting down on paper my recollections of the rest of my trip, but they will be nowhere near as detailed. Just for the record, here are some statistics that I compiled.
From Liverpool to Darwin we travelled a total of 20,448 miles (32,717 km) and hitched 181 lifts.
We spent £235:1:10 made up as follows:
Prices displayed are in pre-decimal pounds, shillings and pence. The sum in brackets is the nearest decimal equivalent. At the time £1 sterling = US$2.40, the rate was set by the Bank of England and did not fluctuate
The journey from Liverpool to Darwin took 6 months and 5 days, (187 days) and we celebrated 4 different New Years. (Jewish, Civil, Chinese and Balinese, though to be fair, the Jewish one was just before we left)
Looking back on this diary I now realise just how much the world has changed. In recent years I have managed to re visit India, Malaysia and Singapore and the changes have been so great that it has been like visiting completely different countries.
British passport holders no longer need visas to visit Thailand or Indonesia, but the do need visas now for Turkey, Pakistan, India and Australia. If anybody had asked me the most unlikely country to have political turmoil in 1968/9, I would have said without doubt sleepy Portuguese Timor. Yet the genocide and upheaval that took place there only recently has proved me wrong.
Nowadays the overland route East can go through the former Soviet Union countries and even China, something unheard of in the 60s and 70s. At the time of writing Afghanistan remains extremely dangerous to transit or even visit, but hopefully in the near future things will change for the better. Even Nepal hasn't escaped trouble with the recent shooting of the Royal Family there.
Lonely Planet has now become the backpacker's bible, and for anybody contemplating any sort of trip, their web board at https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree is a must. It is a vast improvement on the 'grapevine', though I am sure the grapevine in its original form still exists among travellers as backpackers pass information to each other by word of mouth.
I am now well into my 50s, but still fondly remember all the travelling I did when I was in my early 20s. I envy the youth today for the ease of present day travel, yet I pity them because very few of them really experience the joy and frustration of getting down to the basic level of travel that we undertook. There, I am now beginning to sound like my father, it happens to us all one day. Just about everybody who can spare a few thousand pounds (or a few more dollars) can afford a round the world ticket and do the whole thing in a month or two at most, but fly over all the really good bits on the way.
I have said it a number of times throughout this diary, but please email me and let me know what you think. Even if it is just to say what a load of junk. If you recognise yourself then definitely email me.