It’s forty years since we returned to Oz.
The memory’s still quite clear: adventures and
Exotic places, so they seemed to lads
From here. I’ve thought of Martin much this year
As he and Kristin suffered far beyond
What any loving parents should. Good friends
We were, preparing for a year away
In Europe – worked as labourers to raise
The cash, then took a KL charter flight
To London; we had student terms, at Guys.
I found a flat in Golders Green, just me
And three nice British girls; they all had boy-
Friends, more’s the pity. Soon we purchased bikes
On Jersey – very cheap; no tax was paid.
So blue and shiny were our Hondas, not
So big but quick enough – would get us all
The way to south of India. But now
We had to do our time at Guys, three months
As student dressers, then I worked for cash
With Mr Ellis, transplant surgeon. Told
A wopper lie to Mum and Dad, who thought
We had a car. I motorbiked up north
To Scotland, met my cousin Sandy Muir.
So cold was London; strike by miners, fought
To bitter end with Mrs Thatcher, froze
The pipes and stopped the heating – little flat
Was dismal. London still a wondrous place –
I took art classes, went to Ronnie Scott’s,
Saw concerts: Barenboim and Ashkenazy.
Met Peter Jamison – a priest he soon
Would be, though young like me and full of fun;
I found it hard to fathom. Said goodbye
To Martin, crossed to France. My God, ‘twas rough,
The Channel; never so much heaving have
I seen. Then found a room at uni – ‘gai
Pari’ I loved, if one may love a city.
Made friends, Jean-Luc et al; took classes, art
Again, life-drawing, left bank,so,so cool.
Provincial rides to Chartres, Mont St Michel,
With bread and cheese and wine and friends. Got
Sick with rotten mussels, spent a week in bed
In Hotel Dieu by Notre Dame. The bum
Is overdone in French healthcare, so I
Was glad to leave and head for Spain. Knocked off
The bike in Barcelona, needed care
And bandaids, on to Italy – the long
And mighty autostrada – what a blast!
But not much fun when tunnel lights were out.
The Germans seemed less friendly; well, I had
No spoken Deutsch. Reached Munich, Martin got
There too; so good to meet once more. It was
Olympic Games time, tense and way too dear,
So north we rode to Denmark, crossed the strait
To Norway. Bjellands housed us well in fine
Motel, so grand the breakfasts; met Dad’s friends
The Overlands – young Dag would visit us
One day in Oz. Rode north round fjords blue
And steep, across to Oslo, loved the skill
And joy of Gustav Vigeland’s sculpture park.
Then made for Stockholm, found a vacant block
Where Swedish girls we’d met in Melbourne sent
Us. Damn it all, what cheek! I followed up
A pretty Fin I’d met in Paris; she
Was not so keen. It gave me pause to think
That travel bums are not attractive – that’s
My story anyway. We took a boat
To Poland, followed western border south
Through cities bombed and barely fixed from World
War Two. Quite poor it seemed, and cafes sold
Tripe soup – not nice at all; but girls were blond
And pretty, borders tricky, bribes were sought.
We entered Prague in seas of Russian flags
And tanks – invasion still was fresh; rode straight
To battlements of Hradny Castle, heard
Purcell’s great trumpets from within. The fear
Was obvious among the Czechs. The cold
Of winter fast approaching, south we rode
To Yugoslavia; saw Klimt’s great work
The Kiss in gallery by the Dneiper. Greece
Looked warm and beckoning – we camped on beach
Called Asprovalta, fixed the bikes to start
The ‘hippy trail’; our friendship grown from shared
Endeavour, more to come as Asia loomed.
We crossed the Bosphorus, and there we found
Another world. Odd sounds and smells bizarre,
Bazaar. In Istanbul the great Blue Mosque,
A Turkish bath, halva and petrol cheap,
So cheap. We rode with other travel bums
And some were rootless, always on the move.
A Black Sea crowd of hundreds mobbed our bikes
Which still looked bright and shiny. Mountain kids
In Eastern Turkey stoned us, who knows why?
Tehran remains a blur of traffic hell.
Afghanistan so poor and smoking hash
The national pastime. In Kandehar
We sickened – dreadful bug, and all the rest
Were sick as well. We crossed the desert, made
Kabul, and tried the hospital, but now
Was Ramadan, and all Afghans just hawked
And spat; we found a clean hotel and soon
Got better. Rode for Kabul Gorge where I
Fell off the bike, was weakened by that bug.
Rode on to Khyber Pass, a lawless place –
Kalashnikovs were everywhere, so down
To Pakistan we sped. I hit a goat
And locals wanted money; copper judged
The bike was damaged too, so nil to pay.
We reached Lahore – the border closed, so stayed
In bishop’s palace one long week. We’d met
The priest in charge. The Christians copped so much
Abuse from Muslims, but they stayed and kept
The faith. I met an old school mate when came
The day to cross the border – how ‘bout that!
Next came the Punjab; wedding guests we were –
It seems that foreigners brought honour. What
A mighty party, golden dowry, old
Brass band and lots of noise and fun. Then on
To Delhi, message waiting, had to head
For home – through central Indian riots, learned
To dodge illegal tolls. Madras at last
But striking docks and venal clerks meant long
Delays. With luck, a flight to Singapore.
We sent the bikes by ship and hoped they’d make
It back to Oz. They did. I caught a ship
To Melbourne, met young John and Katy, who’d
Survived a freakish London accident.
At last we docked in port of home, and there
Were Dad and Mum in cabin dark at four
AM – a big surprise! And that was that.