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Reports

Sunday, 24 March 2002
Coffs Harbour --> Murwillumbah , Mid-north Coast, Australia

Today I made a 300 kilometres distance to Murwillumbah, up north the east coast. I got a lift from three young dudes in a painted Combi and they drove me all the way to Byron Bay where I hitchhiked further to meet up with sugar cane farmer Syd Brown and his wife Marion.
At night we discussed politics, world situation and the current affair about Australian immigrants.

For me it looked like four days in one dag, but it sure was an interesting one!

I had a Sunday morning Muesli breakfast with Carol, while Allison was still asleep. Carol got really frightened a bit when she discovered a hazardous redback spider in kitchen, just near the sink where sheíd been standing all the time. A little bite from this spider can make you seriously ill or even kill you within one day. She caught the little bastard and let it go outside.

After breakfast I connected my laptop again and did some writing. Around eleven Allison had waken up and I was ready to get going to my next destination again.

Carol insisted on dropping me off on a good spot of the Pacific Highway, and while leaving Coffs Harbour I saw the townís biggest tourist attraction, the Big Banana, in a flash.

I thanked Carol and Allison for having me as their company for yesterday and today and started hitchhiking.

Today I had to go all the way to Murwillumbah, a place up north, inland of the Gold Coast, only some 300 km (!).

While I was just putting on some sunscreen I was picked up by three young dudes in a Volkswagen Combi. They were on a break towards the Surfers Paradise (a town on the Gold Coast) and bought the minivan together for 800 dollars and painted it in the colours pink, blue, yellow and silver. It was like Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, but they were the Kings of the Coast.

It was pretty hilarious to be in the company of three 18-year-olds and their live currently existed out of partying, surfing and women. And they were thrilled to have me, the guy from TV, in their own car! It was even videotaped with their little camera.

They were heading all the way to Byron Bay today, some 230km up north, and that was perfect for me. Halfway they stopped to have a break and something to eat at a Thai restaurant along the highway. Here they let me sign their car, put me on the roof for a photograph with them and even helped me out with a plate of fish and chips! Those guys were really fun!

As they were heading to Byron Bay on a coastal drive and I had to go to Murwillumbah through the Pacific Highway, I said goodbye to them at a crossing in Ballina, a busy town at the mouth of the Richmond River.

I had been with them for almost three hours and we drove through misty weather, rain and had the most beautiful sunshine which made it quite warm in the packed combi.

But what a traffic jam there was in Ballina! I walked to a roundabout and saw police officers blocking the road to the highway and redirecting people in their cars. It ended up that the Pacific Highway from here up was closed due to a fatal car accident up the road.

I ended up hitchhiking again, but had to make a detour along the coastal drive, via Byron Bay. And which guys did I meet again, coming out of the traffic jam? Exactly! So I stepped into the three-dudes-van again and joined them all the way to their destination in Byron Bay, passing rapidly expanding small towns on the coast and the dramatic headlands at Lennox Head.

Byron Bay is a town I have heard about a lot. It is one of the most popular holiday spots of the east coast, and features almost every backpackerís itinerary. Despite the moans of the long-time locals that tourism is over the top, the atmosphere remains pretty laid-back, as I noticed when we drove through one of the main streets of colourful Byron Bay.

But I was not going to stay in Byron Bay, even while everybody told me I should not miss it. But I just donít have an invite in this alternative-cultured town with its superb beaches and famous wave-breaks below Cape Byron. I just had to move on and saw it in a flicker.

From Byron Bay I had to hitchhike the 6km back to the Pacific Highway and with all the detour traffic it was quite easy. One man took me along and dropped me on the highway (where I had to get my anti-insect poison very fast again) and got picked up pretty fast by a man who had to go up to the town named Tweed Heads, right on the Gold Coast and on the state border of New South Wales to Queensland.

He dropped me of on the main street of Murwillumbah, where Marion Brown picked me up as she was one of my hosts for today. She and her husband Syd had seen me on TV and just loved my idea of travelling on the hospitality of kind people. They immediately signed in on my website, but are both still in an argument of when I was on TV, last month or earlier this week. I donít know, I wasnít here yet then.

Syd is a sugar cane farmer in Murwillumbah, which is known for its banana and sugar cane areas in the broad Tweed Valley. Everything around me look green and big trees and endless patches of sugar canes are ahead of me. In the hazy distance I can see the dividing range of this valley and I proudly saw Mount Warning, named by Captain Cook (him againÖ).

Pioneer settler and cattleman Joshua Bray first noted the name Murwillumbah in 1863 as his recording of the Aboriginal name for the local tribe and tribal lands between the Rous and Tweed Rivers, but it was not until 1868 that the first vessel appeared on the local Tweed River.

Marion took me along to some friends of the family, also sugar cane farmes, where Syd had been playing tennis and did some swimming this Sunday afternoon. While having a drink and some crispy chips on their veranda, they interrogated me about my lifestyle.

Pretty soon I was taken to their Queenslander style home, just outside of Murwillumbah, overlooking their cane land.

Marion and Syd were both busy preparing a chicken boiled in red wine stew with veggies and oven baked potatoes, while I had a quick hot shower to rinse of all the dirt of on-road hitchhiking, sunscreen and insect poison.

We had dinner in the dining room.

And thatís when the conversation started.

I told them about my adventures and about all the people I have met. Syd said I was doing something mighty unselfish, as I totally depend on the kindness of others. ďYou put humans to a test in a very good way.Ē His eyes were blinking and I could just see he enjoyed their company today.

I got in a great discussion with Marion about the Australian immigration policies and politics around them and told them what I have learned about the media and how the people in the world now know Australia. And itís not about the immigrants coming in; itís mostly how the immigrants come in.

Most immigrants arenít really planning to immigrate, just like in many European countries, but are also refugees. And refugees, people who flee from a war or a suppressing culture donít stand in line for a visa. They have lost most of what they have, mostly also parts of their family and enter Australia by boat, before ending up in camp in the desert.

Lots of Australians think the immigration should be more controlled, because it might be a big country here with a huge sandpit here, but the resources for the people living here arenít that big.

The Australian folks like to protect the employment and politicians say that Australians should get jobs first.

I think many Australians donít really know why a refugee flees a country and comes to the beautiful and very-organised Australia. Of course the country offers interesting health care and unemployment help, but trust me, a refugee is already happy if they think itís safe.

And of course, by being here quite a while, awaiting a residential visa, the refugees/immigrants roll into this organised system of health care and well-organised help.

I canít blame Australians for buckling up for that, because the new coming people havenít paid any taxes for the services like the Australians have done it for years.

So, in one way the Australians are absolutely right in their protection of resources, employment and common care, but they should also realize (and this counts for really every other country on our planet) that wherever you live, you never live alone. Some people will always need help, other people give help and thatís how we (mostly) can live together quite well. Havenít we?

Of course there are refugees/immigrants asking for a visa to stay here who have been refused in other countries and want to try their luck in Australia, but it doesnít mean they are all like that.

And it is a very common thing for refugees to have their identities disappear. If your family at home is still in danger, you donít want to hurt them by telling everybody who you are and where you are from. Itís ordinary protection, because their families at home can be killed if the wrong people get to know that information. So it is not to give the authorities at the immigration offices a hard time with unidentifiable people, itís just a precaution thing that I think every refugee carries along.

I know this, because my girlfriend Irena is a refugee from Bosnia. Here family escaped from that country in 1991 and got welcomed to Netherlands. She speaks fluently Dutch now and you wouldnít think she comes from southern Europe where times have been severely tensed.

And I have met enough asylum seekers in the Netherlands, as the little village I used to live in, suddenly got an asylum centre with 3,000 refugees. You should have seen the faces of the Calvinistic village society of that time. They had only seen black African people on TV only and started protecting themselves as good as possible and had a big mouth against it all.

But truthfully, they just didnít know who they were protecting themselves against at all...

I donít want to see things too black and white, and for the world population: donít believe everything the media writes, tells you or wants you to know only (trust me, governments are good at that). Because it can be the right footage for a TV-report, or fill exactly those empty two columns in the newspaper. There is always more behind a story than you would ever know if you wouldnít imagine it. Also with Australian immigrants.

Syd had a fun night as Marion and I just talked away, also about the South Africa situation at the moment and how things go in Netherlands.

Syd is one of the few people that probably got me and understoods how my life is and what it is mostly about. I meet people every day and every day I interact with them. As they feed me with interesting information, they get to know a bit about my culture and background.

Syd wrote a message on the messageboard too:
ď[Ramon] is an exemplary guest; easygoing, tolerant, flexible and totally without expectation. On top of this he is prepared to participate and provoke discussion on a wide range of topics and as you can imagine he is good at it. His stay was our gain.Ē

Ainít that a big compliment from them!

At the end of the night, it was enthralling to see Marion iron my clothing after having washed it all, while Syd was looking up The Netherlands in a world atlas. Probably it was an inspiring Sunday evening for all of us.

Good night Murwillumbah!

Ramon