He was the first person to say “gidday” and the last person to leave camp. For this ‘ole timer’ life on the road is not about how far you go, where you park or what style of van you pull but about who you meet and what your willing to stand up for.
I met, lets call him Jack ….. just west of Jackadgery (Grafton), a couple of weeks before the Christmas rush. His warmth overshadowed the harshness of his appearance, worn by the elements of our extreme weather and a tough existence travelling the back roads around Texas (Australia) as a young man.
It was early morning and our introduction to each other covered a broad array or topics from social standards, sexual harassment, employment benefits, raising children to eating bush tucker, escaping the ‘law’ and solo travel. We did all this in about 10 mins.
His latest home is small, basic and wirery, a little like himself but under the exterior lies many a story and an open heart or for the van an open floor in sections. He renovates on the go, resourcing from whatever he finds and tries to buy as little as possible, except for the tobacco he rolls every few minutes.
The chair I sat on while we talked was made from an old milk crate, his kitchen scavenged from commercial dump sites and his bed the remnants of what looks like should be at the garbage tip. I was too scared to ask.
I call him Jack because his story was so interesting that I forgot to write it down. It also seemed insignificant at the time. Our exchange was of mutual admiration as we waffled on through the haze of late afternoon sun and smoke.
He left home when he was 16, a swag he made in one hand and a bag of groceries his grandmother gave him in the other. Its all he had. He walked for the first 3 years, picking up work in cattle, gas and railway stations. He believes even now if people want to leave the cities to escape the madness of working just to own a home (that is stuck in one sterile place) then there are opportunities galore.
Jack believes you learn to let go of things you once held important on the road.
“She takes it from you but gives back a freedom you wont find elsewhere.”
He finds it hard to communicate the experiences of his life but knows his happiness can be shared by anyone, willing to give up takeout food, designer clothes and luxurious beds. Waving his scrawny arms and exhaling a puff of smoke, I let him off the hook with answering anymore questions to get a tour of his home.
Inside everything has a purpose, gas burner, small fridge, cupboard for clothes, some archaic music stereo and some pictures. I couldn’t see any food with exception to a bag of dirty half sprouted spuds in the corner and some noodles in an opened packet on the table.
The only time Jack became elated was when he told me about the photos on his wall. I had found his weakness. Memories.
He talked about his past love of cars and an old friend whom he no longer talks too, pointing to each car and old friend as he shares.
Freedom for Jack is about not being a slave to the system that pushes you to work all your life to own things. Things the planet cannot keep making. Things that slow you down.
Travel safe my friend and see ya at Texas some time.