• Barbara Murphy-Shannon

Australia Chapter 5 -Tooooo Many Questions

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

To my surprise, John has decided to come on the outback tour with me. I’m not sure how I feel about it. In one way I’m happy he’ll be with me since this is the first time I’ll be on my own but, on the other hand, he might rain on my parade, and he might ruin my plans (if I had plans). I know he likes me but I'm not sure if the feelings are reciprocal because the whole of my existence is dedicated to staying in a state of bumfuzzle. John and I meet the group going on Rob’s Outback Tour and load up our ride for the next 14 days. An old white14 passenger Volkswagen van. I sit in the front seat next to our driver and guide, BIG John. BIG John must be 6’ 5” with broad shoulders and long, dark hair. I’m not sure about his ethnicity. He doesn’t look like the typical Aussie like John M., but he doesn’t look Aboriginal either. He reminds me of the Chief from the movie One Fly Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but softer facial features that never move. He’s a quiet man and only talks when asked a question. Introvert for a tour guide? Different. But I feel safe with him as our guide. He has a sense of confidence that’s reassuring and very laid-back when things go terribly wrong. He doesn’t get riled up or upset, just figures these things have a way of working out. I'm still not sure if this is a good thing or not? There are 12 people on the tour, plus me and Big John. There are 5 women and 7 men, all with distinct personalities and quirks that gave way to our new nicknames. John - Mitch or Mouth: a talker and a joker from Tasmania ME – Barbwire: known for having lots of energy Roberta – Berdie: Kinda looks like a bird, fun gal from the states. Lucy – Juicy: It rhymed with Lucy, she’s from South Africa and you might say a prude. Peter – Bashful: Shy guy but very nice from Canada. Fred -Freddy frog: Has a deep voice from France. Marty – Quads: Macho and biker size quads from Canada. Sharon – Nursie: Likes to take care of everyone John – JD: Too many Johns on the trip and Liz’s husband from Canada. Liz – LD: JD’s wife from Canada Rolf – Redlocks: Red hair and aloof from Germany. Bob - Mr. Gadget: The man could fix anything Nancy – Nicey: always nice to everyone all the time. I liked everyone but have my favorites, as you do with any group of human beings from different cultures, countries, political views, religion, sense of humor, and hygiene. It took about 2 hours to get out of Sydney. Our first stop is to buy food, gas, and beer…lots of beer. They drink mass quantities of beer in Australia and BIG John’s favorite is Four XXXX. He also tells time based on the number of beers he’s drunk. I’d ask what time it is?, and he’d respond with, “Well I reckon, this er numbah four, so it must be ahround 2pm. Ya want a coldie? We’re headed for the Blue Mountains. They’re called the Blue Mountains because of the blue haze that blankets the region when viewed from a distance set in the rugged region west of Sydney. Known for dramatic scenery, it encompasses steep cliffs, eucalyptus forests, waterfalls, and villages. We spent the first night at a very crowded youth hostel in Katoomba. Tomorrow we head for the city of Dubbo, the last town before the Outback. The Outback is a vast, sparsely populated area of Australia. The Outback is more remote than the bush, which includes any location outside the main urban areas. While often envisaged as being arid, the Outback regions extend from the northern to southern Australian coastlines and encompass several climatic zones, including tropical and monsoonal climates in northern areas, arid areas in the “red center” and semi-arid climates in southerly regions. Geographically, the Outback is unified by a combination of factors, most notably a low human population density, a largely intact natural environment, and in many places, low-intensity land uses. The Aboriginal people have lived in the Outback for approximately 50,000 years and occupied all Outback regions, including the driest deserts. Europeans first entered central Australia in the 1800s. To truly understand the Australian culture, you need to understand the history going back two hundred plus years when England would send their hard-core convicts to live out their days on the island. It wasn’t a simple place to live, but they had alcohol to keep them company. Around the 1840s, the natives were restless and realized they were missing something important—women. They brought the women over in boats from the poorhouses and orphanages of England. There were never enough to go around (women, that is). One can visualize only too clearly the frenzied rush on the Sydney harbor docks when the girls came bravely sailing in. The Aussie male has had a reputation of being a womanizer, bigoted, boring, and brutal with their past times being fighting, shooting, and drinking. Sign me up! When I spotted my first wild kangaroos, I screamed like a little girl. They were bouncing across the plain with their joeys (that’s a baby kangaroo) hanging out of mommy’s tummy in a smooth rhythm. They stopped when they heard the car, look our way, then continued. So cool. That night we slept in a woodshed because of the heavy rain that had fallen that day and the ground was too wet to set up camp. The woodshed was very rustic with wooden floors that creaked when walked on and smelled of dampness, dust, and old. There wasn’t any furniture, just space. I found a place on the floor, unrolled my sleeping bag, and crawled in. John came over and did the same. We were face to face lying on the floor, and he started talking and asking questions about my life. Weah ahah ya from? Wat’s yah family like? Dya av pets? Did ya go ta school? Wat did ya do fawr wawrk? This goes on for quite a while and so far, I’m happy to answer but then— BAM! "Can i ask ya wat 'appened in yah mahrriage?” Now that’s a question I have no interest in answering. “What’s that?” I say, playing it off as though I haven’t quite heard him. He asks again “Wy did ya get divawrced?” My mind wanders. I am on the beach with the sun on my face. I’m playing go fish with my grandmother. I think of my beloved dog Spooky, how he loved to chase car wheels. How sad that's what ended his life. Let’s recap. This guy has invaded my personal space and came on this trip without asking if it’s ok. Now he’s asking about something that’s none of his business. Asking politely, but still. I contemplate the question. It’s personal, especially given the circumstances . . . No, no, nope. Nopers. This will not stand. I don’t have to answer him. My mom fought for her rights as a gay woman in America. I will stand the fuck up—for myself, and for others who lack my courage. For once, I want to be proud of the way I handled things. I want to make my mom proud. And my grandmother. I turn to look at this buttinsky. I want to stare straight into his eyes and say this with conviction. In the darkness of this moldy-smelling cabin, I speak. Nay, I roar. “Yes,” I say. “Yes, you may.” John scooches over to me and puts his arms around me and gives a big hug. I pull back but he pulls me in but gently. What's this? Is he going to try to seduce me? Here! With twelve other people in the room. I think we should first go on a date, maybe have dinner…Stop! Should I seduce him? Stop! Maybe we should make out? Stop! I don't even know him. This back and forth conversation with myself goes on and on until I am mentally exhausted and agreed to disagree. Good Night!


This is a true story that chronicles my rebellious journey when I was 24 years old backpacking around the world looking for solace after the end of an abusive marriage (ok to escape). An intensely graphic and heartfelt memoir of self-discovery is about how getting lost can be where you belong, how traveling to new cultures and meeting new people helps you heal (they don't judge), find your voice and remember who you really are and want to be. It is certain to inspire anyone who has ever woken up in a life they don’t want to be in. Many life lessons and some bad decisions (sorry Mom) along the way. Buckle in! It's going to be a bumpy ride.

xoxo, Barbara