poem: 1972


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.



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