David: “Ahh, Australia. I was young, free, single and suntanned and thanks to a limited understanding of the world of exchange rates, I was broke.
It was the heady days of 2002. Everyone still loved Tony Blair, England’s Golden Generation of young footballers were (apparently) destined for greatness and I had jetted to the other side of the world to party away my fading youth. Bondi beckoned and I had it all sewn up.
Having saved a princely sum of £1,000 I’d calculated, if I was suitably prudent, I’d be able to enjoy Sydney for six months without working. As it turned out, I drank, ate, smoked, pissed, slept, partied, cried, laughed, screamed and puked through it in three-and-a-half weeks.
My options were scarce. Plead on the phone for money from home (tried, failed) get a job nearby with accommodation thrown in (found, sacked), find a lovely local lady to take me in (fantasised, unrealised). There was one option left. Fruit picking.
With a basic wage, cheap lodgings and suppers on site (notwithstanding the flies, the heat, the snakes, the crocs…) picking fruit in Australia isn’t the worst thing in the world. But getting there is. Farms are hundreds – sometimes thousands – of miles away from the nearest city. The only way I could get from my hostel on the tip of New South Wales to my destination in the Queensland outback was to hitchhike. For days.
My adventure started slowly. I waited by the right service station. And waited. And waited. For six hours, I jutted my thumb out at moving cars. Finally, a big, double-freighted Road Train slowed. Johnny picked me up and said he could drop me pretty near my destination. (About 450 miles away as it turned out.)
I was so relieved I didn’t spot much about the roomy space at the front of the lorry. My driver was cheery, chatty. A good egg. Strangely, I felt we were doing each other the favour; I needed the lift, and he had someone to talk to on the long haul north.