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Reports

Monday, 26 August 2002
Bendigo --> Benalla, Victoria, Australia

This morning my hosts Lauren and Craig had to leave home very early. Normally Craig had to be at his work at 7.30pm, but he arranged it a bit so he could drop me off outside Bendigo around 9.30am.

It thanked Lauren and Craig for their hospitality and generosity and started hitchhiking as soon as the dust of their sports car had set again.

It took me quite a while to get going. I was getting from Bendigo to Benalla today and there isn’t really a straight road going there. First I had to get to a town called Elmore, where I had to get on the road east to Shepparton. In Shepparton I had to go further east again, towards my destination Benalla. Maybe it was good that I started my day travel this early.

A small hour later I caught a ride with a man named Mick, who was driving a big van filled up with rags (clothing cut to pieces) covered in plastic packages. I dropped my stuff on top and sat on the passenger’s seat.

As soon as Mick found out that I was a traveller from The Netherlands he told me a fascinating story!

“I once had a Dutch girlfriend,” he said.
“Oh really?” So it was over now. Go on.
“Yeah, she was a callgirl, you know.
I used to pay her for you-know. I called her and she’d come over. But after a while, she kept coming back, you-know. She asked if she could stay at my place. That was okay for me, I didn’t have to pay her for that you-know. But I have two small kids of my own. She could stay, but drop that job she was doing. That was fine. And soon she found a job as a car cleaner. I was happy.”

“One day she complaint. She said she did not have enough rags to wax the cars off. So she sat at home cutting pieces of clothing we got together from various places. You-know, to wax cars with. She made all kinds of rags of old clothes and her company was realy happy with that and asked if she could continue with making those rags. And that’s when I figured out we could make money out of selling rags.”
“Selling rags?”
“Yeah, you-know, every car cleaning business is always short of rags, so we figured out we make rags and sell them all to those businesses. I was selling the bags of old rags and she was cutting clothing all day. But it isn’t fun to do, with scissors you-know. So I decided to start an official company and we bought a cutter, you-know a big machine to cut clothing with.”
“But where did you get all these old clothing from?”
“Oh, from all kinds of places. We even had a deal with the Salvation Army, they send us a container of old clothing and we just paid a nice price for it.”
“Sounds things were going good!”
“Hell ya! I was covering the entire state of Victoria, selling rags everywhere. It was a gold job! My girl would sit at home with that big cutting machine and we were making good money.”

“One day, that was a few years ago, she said she wanted to leave me. Yeah, we had a bit of a quarrel and she decided to leave.”
“But what about the business?” I asked.
“Yeah, well that is where I discovered I made a huge mistake. Big one! The company was on her name on paper, I wasn’t even mentioned as a business partner. So it ended up that she took off with everything and left me stranded with nothing. Nothing, you hear?”
“Yes, that’s bad.”
“Oh very bad. She took over the entire business and cut her rags and sold them herself through all the contacts I had made all over the state. I mean, I had over 300 clients!”
“So what did you do.”
“I became miserable. Ended up drinking, smoking, got on drugs and all that shit. But I did however found out that it wouldn’t work out like this. I had to do something. So one day I called a company in Melbourne that made rags and told them my story. And I told them I wanted to sell their rags and I had proof of enough experience too.”
“So you started selling rags again. Good!”
“Yeah, and I visited all my former clients again. To some I told exactly what had happened with me and that lady. To others I told them I had been sick for a while. And slowly they all came back to me for their rags. Because they had known me since the beginning.”
“And what about that lady?”
“I took over all her clients, my own clients before she took over, and she has some big problems now, I tell ya.”
“I believe so.”
“It was the perfect payback.”

Ending up with a call girl in your home doesn’t exactly have to end like in that movie Pretty Woman; it can take you up and down as you just read. But if you are smart enough, you can always be the winner.

“And you-know?”
“What?”
“I have a new girlfriend now.”
“Really?”
“She is a callgirl in Melbourne.”
“Oh.”
“She is staying at my place and I don’t bother about her job.”
“You learned your lesson?”
“Indeed.”


And that was about the time I arrived in the one-horse town Elmore. Mick dropped me off at a petrol station as he continued up north. I thanked him for the ride and started hitching east again.

From Elmore it took me over an hour to catch a ride, but I was lucky when the silent man Steve took me along. He was driving around with whitegoods, like washing machines and televisions and had to do some drop-offs in Shepparton.

We were halfway when we discovered that one of his double back tyres got flat. It damaged the truck a bit underneath and he continued to drive slowly to Shepparton because he didn’t have the right tools to change the wheels himself.

With 70 km/hr we arrived in Shepparton where he dropped me off at the Beaurepairs work station. “It’s just a ten minute walk to the edge of town from here,” he said and I thanked him for the ride and started walking down the main road.

My third right today got me to Benalla. The driver was a supervisor of the water management from Canberra and he was on his way all the way to this Australian capital city. He’d stay overnight at a hotel and arrive there tomorrow.

“So you tell people not to use too much water during this upcoming dry season?”
“No, I would get myself killed if I would say that to the farmers! I am with a team of supervisors of the big Murray River. We look at the health of the river and how this is balanced between the need of the nature and the requirements for humans who rely on it. This year we didn’t have much water, so it’s not going pretty well with the river. I basically consult the locals about this problem, because if you don’t consult them and make government decisions, they end up playing deaf.”

I got to the three-horse-town Benalla somewhere in the afternoon. Before I knew I was on the main street. “Is this it?” I asked. All there was, was a main street. It must really be a small town, because I also saw only one Kentucky Fried Chicken. Mostly a main street is covered in all sorts of other American fast-food franchises. One KFC told me enough.

I called my host in Benalla and within ten minutes it was Mick Plex who picked me up. He and his wife Jodie run a backpackers hostel just outside of the small town. “Actually we don’t call it a backpacker anymore. We call it low-budget accommodation now. After that fire in a backpacker’s hostel a few years ago, the backpacker’s got a bit of a bad name. That’s why.”

At the Trekkers Rest hostel I was welcomed with a cup of coffee from Jodie. “We don’t have many guests of us in our kitchen, so you are very special,” she laughed.

Mick explains me that these kinds of barracks like here were built for the engineers that once built this road here. Every few kilometres there would be a bunch of barracks for the workers, with offices and places to sleep. “We took over this place after we travelled Australia for over three years. It is tranquil and remote and we get many visitors from all over the world here.” A map on the wall at the reception shows me where all international visitors came from.
“Three pins only from the USA?” I asked Mick.
“Yeah, we just put these in for fun.” Great Aussie humour, haha.

I was shown around the hostel and – as it is winter now – I noticed I was one of the few people staying here. I saw a man watching TV in another barrack, but that’s all. Walking down the rooms gave me the feeling as if I was walking through an office. On both sides of the hallway were small rooms, now containing Internet computers, a table tennis table in the next and a TV in another. And it would go on like this. (Turn off the lights and I might imagine that I am sneaking in a real office building.)

I was given the family suite, which contained a big 2-persons-bed, two bunk beds, a small fridge (empty of course), a television and an en-suite bathroom, with a bath!

After a bite of lunch with the Plexes in their kitchen, it was okay for them that I would take an afternoon nap. I was very tired as it felt that I had already experienced an entire day before I got to Benalla. And they were busy enough themselves.

I slept until it was dark outside and around 6.30pm I got back to Mick and Jodie again in the private area of the hostel. Next to their kitchen was the warm living room, where their little daughter Warren was crawling around on the floor and the Simpsons were on TV.

Jodie had asked earlier what I wanted to eat for tea (dinner). I answered that that choice was totally up to them as I am – as a guest – in no position to make demands about what I want. That has been my philosophy about anything since I started my travels. It’s up to my hosts whatever I eat or whatever happens.

But Jodie insisted, so I decided to go for Macaroni Bolognese. Just because it had been a long time ago since I had macaroni Bolognese. “I am just very bad with the meat,” Jodie said. “I hope it works out fine.” I wondered what the problem was with baking minced meat until it is gold brown, but when she told me that Mick is a vegetarian I totally understand it.

And it ended up that it was a good macaroni that Jodie made especially for me for dinner. We watched television during dinner and talked about their hostel.

The fun facts:
“As we are the cheapest place for accommodation in town, we frequently get visits from the police,” Jody told me.
“Really? Why?” I asked.
“When they have picked up a homeless person, or somebody got off a train without a ticket or any money. Then the police sorts things out for them for a night. The police will arrange with the Salvation Army that he gets some money to stay here.” It was clear to me now. And I also know where the Salvation Army gets their money from now, haha.

When I used their reception phone line later that evening to do some work, Jodie told me that some strange people might appear at the desk this night. “They are doing some auditions in the conference room, so don’t be scared if they are trying their acts with you.” Fortunately I stayed very quiet at the reception.

It was also getting very cold again. In my bedroom I had turned on this big heat blower on the wall, which warmed up the place to comfortable temperatures, however that machine made a loud noise. A blanked covered my legs and feet at the reception.

When it got too cold to continue typing stuff, I retreated back to my room for a good night sleep.

Good night Benalla!

Ramon