On Highway 1 Going North

It was on one of my now frequent trips into the far north of Queensland that I find myself walking out of the town of Gympie. To be honest, trying to remember how I ended up in Gympie is a complete blur. What I do remember is walking out of the town early in the day and not receiving any real human contact. Just the drudgery of forward momentum on highway #1. Don’t get me wrong, I loved walking, and on average I would walk about 25 to 30 K’s a day, when I was trekking on the highway route to exploration. I always felt that I had missed something worth experiencing when I had not interacted with my human friends.

In those days I was wearing a black cowboy hat with a surplus army jacket slung over my backpack. I also didn’t shave much and sported some kind of bearded stubble. It didn’t really make me an attractive proposition for a ride. But that was how I rolled back then, unapologetically. I didn’t mind at all.

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gympie queensland australia

The Ride Out of Gympie

As the afternoon was aging, I found myself heading quite a distance out of the town of Gympie and wondering by now where I was going to set up camp for the night. As those thoughts were maturing, a car pulled over. I couldn’t believe it. A pair of “Good Ol Boys” for some unknown reason decided to pull over and offer me a ride. Not the usual type of pick-up. The local “Red Necks” would usually snarl or throw beer cans, but not these two. Surprised when I looked into the truck cab at the visual and saw the pair, I just went with the flow and got in. Their friendly countenance and welcoming nature helped with that decision.

We got to talking and they mentioned that they noticed me in the morning when I was walking out of Gympie as they were driving in for their day’s shopping and a weekly trip into the Big City. Gympie isn’t a flyspeck on the map, but for these two good old boys it was the “Big Smoke”. They saw me on the way home, still walking after they had spent the whole day in Gympie, and thought that I was a real cowboy, willing to walk to where I was going rather than try and get a ride. I actually did want a ride but my demeanour and cantor must have conveyed the exact opposite. I guess I needed to project my need for assistance better. Maybe if I limped a little, wore a baseball cap and was clean shaven, I would have done better.

bringing home the cows

Bringing Home the Cows

After finding out that I was a free spirit and not the type to secure accommodation in advance, they offered to put me up at their farmhouse. I had never been offered overnight accommodation and without thinking, I simply agreed. The alternative would have been to try and find some space for my tent on someone’s sugar cane field or scrubland. So down we went into the winding backroads that bounced their way through the scruffy landscape and into what could barely be called a farm. More like 10 acres and a rickety wood-paneled house. My first impression was – “How could anyone be happy living in such isolation?” I was such a city boy at heart.

No sooner did we arrive and we were all herding the dairy cows into the barn to be milked. The son used a tractor as his horse and I was on foot whistling like a city slicker in the movie by the same name, to help guide these heifers into the milking shed. The dad, who I discovered was also the local school teacher, would do all of the milking while feeling the need to educate me on his masterful technique, as though I was being trained to take over the family business.

We separated the cream from the milk and after that, it was decided that we walk back up the hill and experience the sunset and witness the “Great lights of Gympie”. Apparently a spectacle to behold. When we reached the crest of the hill and as the sun was disappearing over the horizon, the father pointed to the city lights of Gympie and expressed his awe and admiration for this amazing spectacle. I looked piercingly into the distant horizon as though I was looking for what I thought was a little known phenomenon peculiar to the region. I stared for a brief while and thought, “what lights?”. Surely those two small spotlights that looked like someone was holding two flashlights on top of the adjacent hill wasn’t what he was talking about? Apparently it was.

He kept telling me how beautiful they were and I was struck at how such simple pleasures could mean so much when a person has an appreciation for the small things in life……two small white lights to be exact. I pretended to be as mesmerized with these twinkles of white light as they were, but honestly, I just didn’t get it and kinda felt sorry for the two and envious at the same time. How could they be so enthralled by something so innocuous and why couldn’t I appreciate the moment as they did?

trekking through northern queensland

After the sun had gone down and we had absorbed the transportive experience that was “The lights of Gympie”, we headed in to prepare dinner and settled down for some honky-tonk piano stylings by our heifer milking, school teacher/farmer dude.

Dinner was made. A staple of overcooked local Gympie grown beef with potato mash and boiled carrots, a feast to be sure, especially as this was my first meal of the day. I devoured it with great enthusiasm and with much more appreciation than I had for the phenomenal lights of Gympie. Dessert was a surprise – warm apple pie topped with the freshly whipped cream that we had just separated from the heifer’s milk, truly delicious and the perfect pairing to the main course I might add. What a delightful evening I thought to myself. These two were like old friends of mine and we had hardly known each other for an evening, hours in fact.

Our school teacher was also a piano player. I won’t say that he was a virtuoso but his raw stylings were in perfect harmony with the rustic ambience and shabby chic decor. It was a scene from, “The Man from Snowy River” and just as charming. I pretended to know the words to these songs but only mumbled in perfect time to these imperfect renditions.

trekking through northern queensland

I went to couch as they went to bed and we all slept contently after a wholesome night of companionship without the modern necessities of cable TV, internet, or electronic entertainment.  A night of truly deep sleep with a full belly.

I would never have guessed as I was trudging along the highway feeling sorry for myself that I would end the night like this. Kindness from strangers is a wonderful thing. Who could have asked for more?

trekking through northern queensland

The Morning and a New Day

The morning came and after another farm cooked hardy breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast accompanied by a rich black tea that was reminiscent of billy tea on a muster. I was driven back to the highway where we said our goodbyes and I was off on another day of trekking towards the Great Far North on Highway No.1.

What an unexpected experience. When I was trudging down the road the day before I could never have known how the day would end up. Really no one knows how any day will end and that’s a paradigm for life. No matter how painful a situation is at the time, it doesn’t mean the day will end that way or there will not be a good outcome. The hospitality by this father and son team is what I experienced and how my day ended. These two kind souls had nothing to gain by inviting me into their home and showing me such friendship and kindness. It truly speaks to the human condition when we can be free of suspicion and selfishness and simply embrace our intrinsic nature of community and hospitality.

We all enjoyed the experience and I’m sure that these two GOOD Ol’ boys experienced the GREATER joy of giving. It seemed natural to them and in a matter of fact way. If only we could all be so nonchalant about being good and kind and human.

I’ve never forgotten them even 40 years later.

trekking through northern queensland