What were you doing in September 1999?
Me? I’d just turned sixteen, and was lying on the floor in my mother’s hallway, staring at the front door, wondering how I’d ever make it to the other side again. How I came to be that unstable mess of flesh and thought is something you probably don’t need to hear, perhaps I’ll get around to that later. What I want you to hear though, is what happened after I picked myself up and made the call to leave. Leave that floor. Leave that house I grew up in. Leave the state I’d barely begun to explore and hitchhike my way up the east coast of Australia. And leave, I did.
My mother saw me leave that morning, a bag in one hand, a guitar (formerly owned by a member of the band Goanna, I’ll have you know) in the other. I didn’t tell her where I was going, because, well, I didn’t really know at that point. But I knew I was out of there. I remember telling her I was spending the night at a friend’s house, and that was the last we spoke until about a week later. I wore a bandana with the confederate flag on it, a pair of jeans and something resembling a tee-shirt. I had a notebook and pen, a sleeping bag, some basic toiletries and the general idea that I knew people up north. By the time I called my mother at the end of that week, nothing that I took with me remained. That’s probably a good thing, because as it turned out I didn’t need any of it to survive. I didn’t. And I survived. Rather well, if I do say so myself.
I slipped a note in my “friends” mailbox and headed towards the city. There’s not a lot of traffic heading interstate at 11am on a weekday, but I found the guy who was about to hit the Hume (not my planned exit route, but you take what’s on offer, trust me) and in the passenger seat I hopped. We drove past my grandparent’s farm and he pulled off the highway onto a plot of land where he lived with his mother. If I thought I was in a bad way at 16, this guy was 30 if I was a day, and let me tell you his situation was ten times worse. I think he took me solely to meet his mother, just to prove to her that he could actually bring a female home, and after a feed and a nice chat with her, I slipped out quietly as he dozed on the couch. The mother smiled at me as I walked out the door.
I made it all the way to Parramatta on the next leg. I just so happened to be walking along the Hume when I saw a truck blow out about fifteen tires and went to check it out. The semi that came to that truck’s rescue also graciously came to mine. We drove through the night Mr. Awesome truckie giving me tips along the way. “Always stick with us love, we’ll never do you harm.” And right he was. Every truck he passed on the way called out over the CB, and he’d return with “yep, got a little lady here, gonna get her as far as I can before I go back.” I think that was more for my benefit than anything, just to reassure me that if he was in fact going to rape and kill me, at least he was leaving a trail a mile and a hundred other truckies long for the cops to follow. Smart man, that one. I must have drifted off, because the next thing I remember was waking in a depot in NSW somewhere near Parramatta Road. As Mr Awesome truckie pulled out to go back south, he dropped me off on the embankment, and left me with the advice: “If they haven’t got a radio, don’t get in. Don’t trust anyone that seems too nice, and stay away from the bikes.” Clearly a well-travelled man, that one.
I spent the day rambling around Parramatta, and when I had the place sorted (in about ten minutes flat) I realised I had nothing to do, nowhere, and no direction in which I intended to go. I dumped my stuff down a ditch about four blocks from a hotel and began to just walk around, to just see what came my way next. His name (not his name) was the Academic. We met incidentally outside the hotel and he took me to lunch. He apparently owned a series of warehouses and spent his days reclaiming… Things. He’d find broken… things, and take them back to his warehouse and fix them. I wonder if that’s how he found me. Regardless, by the end of that evening we were in the hotel doing… things. I remember I had a tube of mints with me, and I was sucking them down like nothing else. He thought I was asleep, and I heard him going through my clothes, muttering to himself about “You silly kid.” as the clear container of white pill-shaped mints rattled to the floor. I’m not sure exactly what he thought they were, but I saw the opportunity and took it. Oh, if only that hotel had cameras (it probably did) — I would have been up for performance of the year. I rolled about, “high” as fuck, until he freaked out, threw a 50 dollar note my way and ran, saying something akin to “We never met, you don’t know who I am.” Touché, Academic. And nor do you know me.
I didn’t want to stay the night in that hotel, even though he’d already paid for the room, so back I went to my ditch and slept happily on the side of Parramatta Road, snuggled contently against my guitar for the second last time. The next morning (7am exactly, it was) as the traffic began to build I began to walk north again.
There’s not a lot going on in Parramatta, well, there wasn’t at 7am on a September morning in ‘99, anyway. I spent six hours walking and not one truck was going my way. I know now why that was — because most interstate drivers don’t go that way. If they’re going north, they take the Princes. I was probably lucky to have scored Mr. Awesome truckie in the first place. Maybe I should have just gone back with him to Melbourne…
The one truck that did stop wasn’t a semi. And I did actually have to stick the thumb out to get him to stop. My intention was to just get as far as I could with him and run the second he stopped for the night. But when he did stop, it was in some godforsaken town before you hit the fork where you either go North, or keel in towards Nimbin. I knew he wasn’t going that way, and given that he’d not touched his radio all day, when he pulled in to this shitty truck stop in wherethefuckamilong-something and went straight for a room, I knew this was not going to end well. For him, that is. I cautiously followed him in there, knowing exactly what would happen next. My only thought was how to get out of this situation. As it turns out, creepy though he may have been, there’s nothing like telling a bloke you’re a lesbian to drop his wang faster than you can say “impotence”. Word to the wise, if they don’t think you’re going to enjoy it, most (even the creepy ones, apparently) men in that situation won’t keep trying, although I was glad that the nail scissors I’d taken with me from home hid neatly enough in my palm that he never noticed I was holding them the entire night. The moment I heard him snoring, I ran the fastest I have ever run the fuck away from there, and as if Mr. Awesome trucker heard my calls, his brother Mr. Still pretty damn Awesome picked me up, and the journey continued.
Relieved, I was happy to tell Mr. Still pretty damn Awesome about my trip so far, and where I was going, which he immediately relayed over the radio. “What, and they never offered you anything?” His incredulity was nothing short of amazing. “Here.” He said. “Have a whack of that.” Fuck Nimbin. I’d always wanted to go there, still, if getting to Brisbane meant I was safe, but speeding off my tits, so be it. And no — he simply offered. I never once felt obliged. But, damn, did I feel FUCKING GREAT ABOUT IT!
I’d like to tell you more about that last stint, but frankly, uh… It, passed kinda quickly. Before I knew it, there we were in sunny Brisbane, three days after I’d left mum’s house. I was young, I had a guitar and was safe and happy. I had no plans whatsoever and nothing to lose by being there. Or so I thought.
I wandered around the Queen Street mall, and struck up conversation with a lovely young man who was just sitting there, doing nothing. He was from Melbourne also, and he had a crew of mates that he hung around with. Turns out, all these guys did was ask people for money (nicely, of course) and once they had enough they went and bought booze. The addition of a young, friendly, and well-spoken young lady ensured that the amount they collected on that particular morning was well above their normal takings. Yeah, I’m good when I want to be. Especially when it comes to talking. So we had booze, and lots of it. Enough so that a mere six hours after I’d farewelled Mr. Still pretty damn Awesome, I was hanging with these young guys underneath the Story Bridge, chilling, and drinking XXXX. I’ll never touch that shit again.
We were drunk, so goddamn drunk. I don’t even remember what time it was, only that we’d consumed a lot of XXXX and it was dark by the time she came screaming down to this little hideout me and three guys were drinking in.
“Hey — YOU!” she screamed. “You been hanging with my man!”
“Umm..” I told you I was drunk. “Probably? I only just got here today?”
A black boot with white laces collecting with my head was the last thing I saw. I have a vague recollection of tumbling down the side of the rocky embankment (Google it) and that was it.
The harsh white of the hospital burned my eyes as I came to. The nice young man who’d welcomed me (and probably her boyfriend too…) was holding a bleary eyed vigil by my bed. This was back in the days when they used to hang that clipboard at the end of the bed, and I reached for it.
HIGHLY INTOXICATED — REFUSES TO GIVE NAME OR ADDRESS.
Good girl, I thought. At least I held firm, even when unconscious it seems. I can’t remember fellow Melbournian’s name, but he stayed until the police came, and gave them his side of the story. Away from me, but I was glad that there was someone else to validate that I hadn’t just thrown myself off the damn bridge. After I’d given my account, the police said they think they knew who she was (black boot with white laces on a chick apparently a dead giveaway) and that they’d be back later. Fellow Melbournian said he was going to check out the pawn shops for my guitar, and that he’d also be back.
Alone in that hospital, I’d never needed a cigarette more in my life. I didn’t even have the clothes I was wearing the previous day, so I sauntered out to the smoking area, where I met Mr. Pacific (not his nationality). He took one look at my face, and the multiple lesions all over me, and immediately I could tell he’d decided he needed to take care of me. I think I reminded him of his own daughter, maybe… He was there to see a friend, but within ten minutes I was on the back of his motorcycle, heading up the Gold Coast Highway to his houseboat. I stayed there for a few days, drinking his wine, screwing his mate next door as Mr. Pacific went to work during the day, and would be waiting there as he returned to apply aloe vera plant to my wounds.
When I was mended enough, physically, I decided to call my mother. That’s a lie, actually. Mr. Pacific insisted on it, once he’d found out it had been a week since we spoke. He shoved the phone at me and I made the call.
What happened from there is a completely different story, but that week was something else entirely. I learned about people. How to work them, how to take advantage of every situation I could. Having the shit kicked out of me may not have been the best welcome to Queensland, but the events leading up, and immediately after it, will stay with me forever. Just like I imagine the scar in the middle of my forehead will.
Every time I look at that scar, I won’t think of the bitch that kicked me, or the men that tried their luck with me. I’ll remember the awesome Trucker Brothers (not related, duh), the friendly face that waited for me in hospital even though he didn’t need to, and the forced phone call from the Pacific Phone.
People can be arseholes, sure. But attached to every arse is a way to get rid of the shit, and I’ll forever be grateful to the little hairs I met along the way that made sure the shit went where it was supposed to, and that all I got from it was good.