Well that was my last night in the kombi I’m sad to say. I had a little sleep in and then got to packing up, properly, as in so everything didn’t fly about again on the drive back to Melbourne. I also popped into the petrol station, I was sure the tyres were fine but I’d be annoyed with myself if I got a flat on the drive when I could’ve checked. If only I’d known what was ahead.
I punched Station Pier into the GPS, selected the first option and managed to take myself off the highway and through a succession of roadworks, wrong choice. Eventually I was directed back onto the M1, a mere 200 metres later I had no power. The road was flat and I was in second gear going nowhere fast, I dropped back into first, still nothing. I thought having just turned onto the M1 that it would be a good time to give up before I got too far along. There seemed to be enough space to pull off safely, just. Glad I checked the tyres, fat lot of good that did!
RACT membership was procured prior to leaving Tasmania, I’d already used it once from the driveway at home to see if some bright spark could give me low beam lights, they couldn’t. It didn’t matter, I had park and high beam if I was desperate but neither would help me now. Once on the phone I was told that due to my location I would have to be towed, it wasn’t safe to have it assessed where I’d pulled up. Fine by me I thought as the trucks whizzed by – the kombi shaking in their wake.
A half hour passed by during which time a white Lexus pulled up behind, I didn’t think for a minute my Ultimate Membership afforded that kind of service, I was correct, they just needed to get something out of their boot.
David arrived shortly after, “Just leave the keys in the ignition and jump up into the cab.” I must’ve been a tad flustered so I took off with the keys.
“You didn’t listen to me” he said. And I promptly handed them over with a sheepish grin, or it was meant to be a grin, it might have been a glare.
David towed us to the nearest suburb, dropping me and the kombi right beside a Repco Service Centre just in case the RACV mechanic whose presence was imminent was unable to assist. David left, Daniel arrived. Daniel thought it could be the fuel pump. I mentioned I knew the timing was out then butted out and sat on the grass to observe proceedings. Fortunately I thought to mention that the secondary battery was in operation – powering the fridge – he recommended I turn that off so I did. Back in position I continued to watch and ask what were no doubt considered annoying questions, for example; “So what do you think it is?” “Do you think I’ll be able to drive it to Melbourne?” “My phone is nearly out of battery, can I charge it in your van?” Then he touched the battery, sparks flew and he bounced backward a little.
“This isn’t right,” he said. Moments passed and a solution of sorts was put forward. “I am going to disconnect the batteries, I suggest I organise for you to be towed to Port Melbourne where you connect the batteries and drive onto the boat, then disconnect them again.”
“Okay” I replied, “you’d better show me how to do that properly so I don’t electrocute myself.”
“Okay” he said with the lead in his hand directing it toward the terminals, which, upon impact sent more parks flying.
“Okay this is no longer an option” he said, “you’ll have to get pushed onto the boat.”
And so David returned. Not before the ham took centre stage again having to be used up as the fridge was no longer in operation. I made a sandwich in the van alongside Repco whilst on hold to the Spirit of Tasmania to notify them there would be a slight change of plans. David pulled up by my window, “Leave the keys in the ignition shall I?” I asked.
“That’d be good” he laughed.
We were 90kms out of Melbourne so with a fair drive ahead I was glad to discover David had a wicked sense of humour – and a cord long enough to charge my phone as I continued to use it. He’d worked previously as a speed camera operator. He’d applied for a supervisor’s position with this company – little did he know it was supervising a stationary camera. Unless you’ve had your own experience in this job, or know someone who has you might be surprised to learn it’s not at all cushy. There are people out there who will use their time to torment these individuals, there ultimately to ensure our safety on the road. The stories would make your hair curl, so much so I’ve decided against sharing them in detail, but think faeces and firearms and get frightened.
David, like most drivers in Melbourne has a GPS, not with an American voice, his wife is Irish but doesn’t have an Irish accent, his GPS does though. We were so busy talking, or maybe I was busy asking questions and trying to keep in the game when it came to paying out on one another that he missed a turn and we went through St Kilda. It’s probably not every day a pink kombi rides through St Kilda on a tow truck. Never mind that though, as we approached a roundabout where we were to correct this error his Irish lass spoke above us, “Take the turd exit,” she said, quite seriously as I lost it.
Moments later we entered the freight yard at Station Pier. The last time I’d been here was with Dad, I was twelve and we were headed home having driven from Brisbane. It was ironic really that this trip should end in this way. We came to a stop at the boom gate and were greeted with a few questions of our own.
I explained the situation and the guy jumped on the radio to confirm what I was saying, the lady on the other end says, “But the boat’s not even here yet.” I began to wonder who he’d called, no, the boat hadn’t docked yet but this was the freight yard. Freight of all manner rocks up here and parks until it’s time to be loaded, I knew this, I’d sat here with Dad all those years ago. The man decided to leave her out of it, and gave us instructions himself. They were priceless.
“See down there a bit?” he pointed, “go that way and go up the second bit.” He then gave me a high vis vest, just in case. In case of what I wasn’t sure. I still have it though. We moved off and laughed as we headed ‘down a bit.’ We were approaching another man in a high vis vest who was waving his arms about madly, “You’ve come up the wrong bit” he bellowed. We could barely keep it together – this was making our day.
“I’d have taken you for free today if I could, this is hilarious” said David.
We did a turn and went down the other ‘bit’ and let the kombi roll off next to the only other broken down vehicle. An MG. This was quite significant to me, why, because when Dad returned from his year on the road in the kombi he purchased one, and he loved it, it was British racing green.
The day was finally coming to an end but as David drove me out of the freight yard and suggested he drop me as close to the terminal as he could I declined.
“Over there will be fine,” I said pointing to the London Hotel where I’d eaten dinner with Dad some twenty one years ago. Walking in with my gear I was guided to a table in the corner by the fire where I could put my bags and relax. It was time for a beer, Dad would’ve had one after all. It tasted so good after such a long day. I sat by the window writing some notes, watching the boat dock, people stroll by and patrons share a meal and a laugh among friends. The London Hotel has come full circle from my memories all those years ago but the exterior was the same, in shape if not in colour. It was good to be there. So good I stayed for a meal. And another beer.
As the time approached 7pm I gathered my gear and walked over to the terminal to check in, this time I had an internal cabin and once I found it I settled in for the evening quite content and incredibly sleepy.
Tip: Don’t drink a whole bottle of water before an hour’s drive, you never know if that hour could turn into five. Later, after hanging up from the Spirit of Tasmania I noticed I’d positioned myself in the middle of an ants’ nest. Avoid that too.
Track: Asgeir – In the Silence
Where had the morning gone? Such a novelty was it to not have to be anywhere!
Let me tell you a little more of Dad’s time on the road. I mentioned briefly he was in Canberra for a while, it was here that he got his heavy combination licence. After working in the old Parliament House as a plasterer and having had enough of the cold they moved North to Queensland. Sitting in the pub one afternoon discussing options for work and staring out the window at nothing in particular Dad’s mate said as a joke, “Here comes a job for us!” The circus had arrived in town. The next day they were on the payroll, medial jobs generally but Dad was in charge of carting the elephants between towns.
Then he got the sack; they came to him one day and asked him to dress up in a cap and jacket and go around selling peanuts, he refused and that was that. The next morning they went to collect their pay and ran into the ringmaster who said he’d talk to the woman in charge as he didn’t want them to leave. “You’re the only two blokes around here who know how to work”, he said.
She wouldn’t change her mind so they went on their way, returning only to sit in the front row at that evening’s show.
The morning had passed me by and it was now lunch time. I drove the kombi up to the point to take in the view and watch the surfing. In haste yesterday upon discovering I’d eaten 18 degree ham I’d inadvertently threw it in the freezer section. This was to be the first time I’d ever been able to say that eating a sandwich was refreshing.
With the back window of the kombi open I could see for miles, an older man and his wife strolled by and he doubled back to chat. He had lots of questions and when his wife arrived realising after a time that she’d been walking alone he was still going.
“Did you ever think you might be annoying people? she said. “I know you were a dairy farmer and probably talked to the cows but you weren’t taking up their time.”
“It’s okay” I said, “I don’t mind.”
So she took up where he’d left off. “So you’d have come over on the boat from Tasmania, how did you find that?” she asked, not waiting for a response as she pointed over to her husband.
“He’s bloody hopeless on a boat, gets seasick, but then I don’t like flying, that’s why I don’t go back to Tasmania often, I was born there you know. Did you use the rest of the duco paint to do your toenails,” she asked pointing at my feet which where dangling out the back of the kombi, “they’re the same colour!”
I wasn’t sure which question to answer first, but to be honest I’m not sure she was after one!
We talked a while longer, or they did while I laughed happily at their witty banter, now a fine art after 50 years of marriage.
“Come on then.” she said to her husband, “I’ve got to go, my corns are hurting!”
I was still laughing as they walked off, together this time.
I hopped back over into the driver’s seat a short while later and made my way back to camp. As I came down from the point and drove along the esplanade I could see movement out the corner of my eye. I turned to look and there she was, this lovely little old lady standing on the footpath waving madly with both hands, arms raised above her head.
Tip: Give people your time, you never know who you’ll meet, what you could learn – or how much laughter you’ll share.
Track: Major Lazer – Lean On.
No surf today but I was still up early though bleary eyed at 7am. After crawling over the big WAECO fridge and into the front seat so as not to wake up the whole camp with the kombi’s sliding door I shuffled off to the shower block.
I thought I was seeing things, two other brightly coloured kombis were parked alongside, roofs popped and their occupants seemingly still fast asleep. Fresh from the regulation four minute shower I set myself and my laptop up in the back of the kombi to write. Moments later my new neighbours emerged from the two vans, one by one, all seven of them. There was one guy and six girls, what unfolded could easily have formed the first episode of a budget series of the Bachelor.
The girls headed off for breakfast and a surf leaving the Bachelor in his tracky dacks and a rather feminine looking crocheted beanie. He’d set himself up in a camp chair and earbuds in, phone dialled spent the next two hours on a call covering more topics with whomever was on the other end than the Geelong Advertiser. I couldn’t tune him out and I’d tried hard, this conversation and his expert opinion was being broadcast to all the powered sites in the general vicinity.
When the girls returned his expertise shifted to skateboarding and providing in depth lessons, at this point I think I dozed off. When I came to, a large camper trailer was being backed into number 20 – the site between mine and the other kombi’s camp. If it weren’t for the kombi’s tinted windows he’d have seen a big smile spread across my face because this monster was going to absorb half the noise acting as my own personal sound barrier.
Washing day was the Chinese laundry equivalent. It’s quite amazing the places you can find to hang things, the big truck like steering wheel was perfect for a couple of pairs of jeans and various other fixtures were utilised for the smaller items.
Order had been restored, that was until my newest neighbours daughter manufactured the most brilliant tantrum, her parents were the benefactors and orange juice, or lack of was the cause.
After eating lunch, the usual, rye bread with ham, tomato, rocket and cheese I realised the fridge had turned itself off, or more likely my handbag had knocked the plug loose from the cigarette lighter socket. I’d just eaten ham that according to the fridge’s current temperature was a balmy 18 degrees and had been for how long I wasn’t sure. I figured in two to six hours I’d have more of an idea.
That time passed in a writing haze and I was ready for dinner so my 18 degree ham hadn’t done any harm, the fridge was now back at the correct temperature and I settled back for another quiet night in.
Tip: It took nearly the same time to walk to the supermarket as it did to drive, much less hassle why hadn’t I thought of this earlier!
Track: Alabama Shakes – Don’t Wanna Fight.
The alarm went off before 6am, it was cold and dark and the snooze button glowed offering an extra five minutes. But I knew how that worked, five would become twenty and I’d be late. I started the kombi extra early on this day, we both needed warming up before we headed down the road to Bells. There’s a routine now, it takes five attempts to start it of a morning, three if you’ve been away a while and only one if you just stop long enough to get petrol or dash into the supermarket because you’ve run out of chocolate.
In a show of gratitude it made it up one of the more unlikely hills in third gear, caught up in pure disbelief I flew over the crest of the hill we’d just conquered and bumped along at great speed, 70kms an hour.
I took my place in the paddock and walked up to the ticket office and on down to the beach. It hadn’t warmed up much, four layers of clothing were required but bolstered by the warmth of a hot chocolate I was feeling pretty toasty!
I met more lovely people who gave me their time for a quick interview and a photo. No matter the weather The Rip Curl Pro event is a great day out for everyone. A couple of families were sitting in the sand in front, the children made castles in the sand, or igloos – hard to tell. They were laughing and playing happily, not an iPhone or iPad in sight. Their parents clapped and cheered as Stephanie Gilmore carved up the wave. Many had cameras trying to capture the moment, others chose to capture themselves pictured forefront of the moment. It was at this point I overheard a little girl nearby say to no one in particular, “Prince Harry doesn’t like selfies.”
In the final between Aussie Stephanie Gilmore and Hawaiian Carissa Moore waves proved elusive on the incoming tide, Gilmore was unable to find a back-up score to her heat-high 8.77 and Moore edged out the six-time world champion by 14.00 points to 13.27.
On the hill before the stage was a life-sized sand sculpture of a Jeep, one of the event’s sponsors. It was roped off but for one little boy the temptation was too great. His Mum was lined up alongside to get a coffee and in the space of seconds her young man had made it onto the bonnet and up onto the roof. “Get of it get off it get off it.” She said in a hushed yell, the tone you use when you need to make yourself clear but don’t want to draw attention. “What do you think the rope’s there for?” I’m not sure he would’ve known the answer before this moment but as his bottom lip trembled and he slid down off the Jeep I figured he’d probably have more idea next time.
Back in town that afternoon I made a quick stop at the supermarket and a slightly longer less appealing stop at the local Dentist for an appointment I’d made whilst standing on the beach at 8am that morning.
At camp I wrote and looked through the photos from the day, I made a salad for dinner and later in the evening opened a bottle of red wine to have a glass for Pop whose anniversary it was. There was but one hindering factor, I had no glass. I did however have a pocket knife and an empty water bottle so I got to work cutting the base off to form what could only be described as the poor (wo)mans Riedel glass.
Tip: Pop rivets aren’t the most reliable way to secure the handles in the ceiling required to push up the pop top roof. One down, one remains.
Track: Circa Waves – Fossils
The idea of this little journey has been to experience kombi life for myself and tell what I know of Dad’s time on the road as I go. Dad worked whilst travelling but certainly had some fun along the way too. For me the fun side was going to be The Rip Curl Pro at Bell’s Beach. I’d wanted to go for as long as I can remember and today was the day.
I got some air at the petrol station, a little more over the crest of the hill on the way into Bells and paid the $2 to park in the paddock. I grabbed my camera pack and joined the crowd heading for the ticket office. They ran both semis, Adriano de Souza and Josh Kerr in heat one and Mick Fanning and Nat Young in heat two and then the final! It was surreal to watch, the atmosphere was electric and to see an Aussie ring the bell at the end of the day was quite a thrill!
During the day I did some vox pops (comes from the Latin phrase vox populi, meaning “voice of the people” – I didn’t know that, lacking in Latin) for an international surf magazine. It added to the whole experience for me. It was fun to go up and talk to anyone in the crowd and hear their thoughts. No matter the age everyone had a great love of Bells and the Rip Curl Pro, and why wouldn’t they? It was truly something else.
Bells had turned it on weather wise and by the time of the presentations I was regretting the beanie I’d jammed on my head hours earlier as the sun beat down and the crowd heaved. We’d all trudged in an orderly fashion back up from the beach and more and more people were joining the growing crowd for the presentation.
These days everyone can be a photographer of sorts and as Adriano de Souza and Mick Fanning made their way out onto the stage every arm in the house shot up with a camera in hand. We all snapped away like a hoard of amateur paparazzi hoping one of the twenty seven ‘hope for the best’ angles was the right one to at least get their face in a shot. It would also be helpful to find that the camera had chosen to focus on their faces too and not the heads in front of me.
The crowd poured out into the paddocks and as I was walking I remembered a story about a particularly hot day Dad and his mate had experienced somewhere in New South Wales. Kombi’s aren’t known for their cooling systems, they were sitting in shorts with the windows down and still roasting. Even their essential esky of cold drinks was suffering. It was at this point they decided they’d make use of the split front windscreen so they pulled over and prised it open. They thought this was the ducks guts flying along laughing like fools with the wind in their hair. That was until the bugs started smacking them in the face! As I type this the ‘flying along’ bit has me curious, I wonder if that’s only on a down hill run because that’s the only time I’ve felt I’ve been flying along!
A procession of bumper to bumper cars slowly made their way out through the gates. Not me though. I wasn’t going to sit idling in line, I was in no hurry to leave. Instead, I had lunch in the paddock, in the kombi. It was during lunch I realised that the sliding door that didn’t lock and never had decided today was the day it would give it a go. I couldn’t get out, aside from climbing out over the front seats so it was timely that a couple from the Central Coast should walk by – I gave the them a handful of keys and they got to work setting me free.
Once back at camp I set out a chair in the sun to write, lost track of time and gave no thought to dinner just popping over the road again for another burger. The rest of the evening was well spent watching the previous night’s episode of Wonderland on my laptop snuggled up in my sleeping bag.
Tip: Get someone one to proof read your blogs, the showers here do not turn off ‘aromatically’ they turn of automatically.
Track: ACDC – Hell’s Bells
My alarm went off sometime before 7am because the plan was to head to the Rip Curl Pro at Bell’s Beach but the conditions weren’t great and the WSL called a lay day. I felt obliged to conform, lay day it was. Once I found my way out of the caravan park, directed by a resident camper in his checkered flannelette PJs I took a drive out to Bells anyway for a look, continued on to Angelsea and dropped into Jan Juc on the way back. It was there I noticed the kombi could do with some petrol. Back in Torquay I fuelled up and went in to pay, on my return I realised I was without the keys. I thought I’d put them on the bowser when I was filling up but they weren’t there. The man who served me didn’t have them either. I asked him twice.
I began to get concerned. They weren’t anywhere I could see. I’d turned my handbag inside out, nothing. They weren’t under the seats or under the kombi. After twenty minutes of frantic searching they showed up, at the bottom of a pack back. Seems I might have lobbed them into my handbag on my way in to pay and missed.
I’d worked up an appetite. Rather than head back to camp I drove up to the cliff-top car park to take in the view and watch the local surfers out in the water. I made a sandwich and propped myself up in the back of the kombi to write and listen to music. The kombi windows are tinted and this, it turned out, was a great source of amusement! People passing by would stop to have their photo taken alongside the kombi but none were aware there was anyone in it. For the most part I kept it this way but when two surfers showed up in brightly coloured wetsuits and set up their GoPro I thought I might need to capture this scene myself. Handstands were followed by other manoeuvres and lots of laughter, they were without doubt the most creative photos this kombi had featured in!
Not long after it began to rain, I settled back in to write just as there was a knock on the window. I opened the door and an older gentlemen informed me my back left tyre looked a bit deflated. I was now too. Back to the petrol station!
At camp I found I had a new neighbour. He’d parked a tent in ‘my parking area’ and I knew my cord wouldn’t reach so I backed toward his tent on angle. I hoped no one was in it for fear they’d pass out with the exhaust fumes. This friendly neighbour later noticed my predicament and came over with a brand new extension cord he’d bought. I vowed to return the favour and not park nearly as close the next day.
That evening I popped over to Bottle of Milk for a burger and then next door to the Blackman’s Brewery to write some notes and enjoy a glass of wine. Dad’s mate had told me about their first meal in the kombi; they’d had a couple of beers in the pub first and then it was time to test their set up. They had a portable gas stove, a gerry can for water, a tucker box of food and an esky. They bought some chops on the way back from the pub and had them with eggs and tinned peas. It had been Dad’s job to open and cook the peas – tough gig. They washed everything and packed it all away and then looked at each other with a look of ‘what now?’ Much the same feeling I was experiencing at about 8pm each night!
Tip: Four minute showers aren’t long, they switch off automatically at four minutes. Timing is crucial so as to have all tasks completed in the allocated time. For example one does not want one leg covered in soap nor any conditioner remaining in hair. One did.
Track: Klingande – Riva
After three hours sleep the sound of the longest wake up call ever wasn’t overly welcome, who wants a continental breakfast anyway at that hour when there’s a perfectly good Egg and Bacon McMuffin to be had en route to wherever you’re going!
By 6.30am I was off the boat and pulled over by the London Hotel entering Torquay into the Google Maps app while the kombi idled noisily. Then I was on my way, slowly.
Dad’s mate had said. “It was such a good feeling leaving Melbourne, with nothing before us except the idea of good times.” I was leaving in a similar frame of mind and couldn’t wait to experience kombi life for myself. It was ideal to be on the road early and not long before I was approaching the Westgate Bridge. I tired not to think about how I would deal with breaking down on any of the 2582.6 (to be precise) metres of this monster. But the pink kombi took it in its stride, though still in no great hurry.
In Torquay I found my powered site at the caravan park with ease, after all it was daylight. Later that night would be a different story entirely. I backed the kombi in the pouring rain up nice and close to the caravan alongside so my power cord would reach the pole. Fortunately for them they were leaving because I’d left a gap that would cause a suburban tussle for the boundary title if we were anywhere else.
The weather wasn’t favourable but inside the kombi was warm and cosy and where I chose to write (and help myself to a few, maybe 5, squares of Lindt sea salt caramel chocolate) until dinner time. At this point I reached lazily for my phone and Google mapped the walking distance to the local pub, 7 minutes. This I could manage.
I ordered a meal and a glass of wine and continued to write whilst debating whether the laughter from the next table was more reminiscent of kookaburras or galahs. I then overheard this: “I’ve just paid off my $5,000 loan. I was paying $33 a week over seven years.” I promptly grabbed my phone to calculate this. It totalled $12,012 in repayments. I truly hoped it wasn’t for a car, one possibly only worth a mere $500 seven years later.
The walk home should have taken the same time as it did there. It didn’t, it took half an hour. I got lost, and cold! The caravan park is huge, dark and a maze of roads. There are also large toilet blocks scattered about, all of which are numbered. I saw toilet block #4 four times, toilet block #3 twice and toilet block #1 also twice. Toilet block #2 was near the kombi, but I wasn’t. Not for quite some time.
Dad and his mate lived for a time in their kombi at a caravan park in Canberra near Black Mountain. It was cold and the middle of winter, sometimes a memorable -4 degrees. The kombi van would be dripping with condensation of a morning, but they’d spend the nights warm. They’d screwed a radiant bar heater to the ceiling of the kombi, it’s little wonder they didn’t burn themselves! Still others in the park were said to have looked over with envy each evening as the white kombi glowed inside with warmth.
Tip: Take a torch to dinner.
Track: Beach Boys – Surfin’ Safari.