Into the Past: Coolgardie, Western Australia, August 1973

Henk, the kindly hostel warden

Henk, the kindly hostel warden


Take heart, faithful readers (and I am frankly astonished and gratified by how many of you are out there!): travel resumes this month. Because I have not yet landed a job, and did not book a full teaching schedule for the first months of 2010, the pace will be slower.

While you wait for almost-real-time updates to resume, come with me to past travels. From time to time, I will post vignettes like this one . . .

It’s August 1973, and I am seven weeks into a 13-week round-the-world foray. Since July 1, I have already hitchhiked 4,400 miles in Hawai’i, New Zealand, and Australia. Several days earlier, on a rainy morning in Adelaide, South Australia, and on a whim, I decided to hitch across to Perth, on Australia’s west coast, 1700 miles. George and his ’62 Holden station wagon got me 1100 miles until it conked out in the middle of nowhere, and we caught a tow, 50 feet of rope separating us from a huge dump truck. I said goodbye to George and made it to Perth the next day. Was feeling pretty full of myself. Had a good look ’round, and two mornings later I stuck out my thumb for the return to Adelaide (a promised ride all the way never showed up).

It was slow going. I only made it 348 miles that day, to Coolgardie, an old mining town, with, happily, a youth hostel. It was dark when I arrived, and the front door was locked, so I tapped on the kitchen window. Henk let me in. He was retired from the Dutch Navy, and could not really explain how he ended up as the warden (as they called hostel managers back then) of a youth hostel far from the sea, in a dusty little town. I was the only guest, and Henk was happy to see me. He offered eggs to fry and bread to toast, and refused to charge me the full overnight price of A$1.50. Henk said, “I am old but I keep a very clean hostel; I am a good warden.” Indeed.

Henk refused my offer of a glass or two of Swan Lager at the nearby Hotel Denver, so I ambled off for a couple of cold ones before collapsing.

Next morning, I snapped Henk’s picture in bright morning sun, and resumed thumbing east. The day was no more productive than the previous one, and in steady afternoon rain I crossed to the other side of the road, and headed back to Perth. Got a ride all the way with a friendly engineer-geologist from Shell Oil, who brought me to his house, provided a bed, and drove me into downtown Perth the next day.

I bought a ticket on Ansett and flew back to Adelaide. After four years of what I described back then as “hard-core hitchhiking,” I got stranded. Luckily, I still had my travel-agent credentials, and I copped a 75% discount.

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