Great Aussie friends on the Great Ocean Road

Back in Hiroshima, we met John from Melbourne. Little did we know the effect he would have on our trip. He reminded us of an important lesson for travelers: if you want to make friends on the road, you have to talk to people!  It was John who started the conversation with us back at the Mazda tour, and he generously offered us a place to stay in the Melbourne area.

And that’s how we wound up in Riddles Creek, Victoria, a city north of Melbourne. Hanging out with John was a treat for us in many ways. For one thing, we were delighted to find out that he was born in Australia! Many people we meet are transplants from somewhere else, whereas John’s parents were born in Australia and raised 5 kids on 10 acres of land in Riddles Creek. John’s father, Hal, still lives in the family home, a classic rambling ranch with plenty of add-ons. At some point, Hal sold off his land and kept an acre for himself, including the out sheds, which mostly house his kids’ big toys, boats, etc. At the moment, John is staying with Hal, who could use his help a bit as he has a newly broken vertebra in his back.

We spent two nights in Riddles Creek and got to know the ways of a typical Australian family. Many homes do not have central heat; it comes via individual room heaters. Yes, they eat Vegemite, just spread it very thinly on the toast though! Dinner in these parts is called tea and many Australians enjoy a tea break mid-day, with a hot drink and scone. They shop at Target and K-Mart, and their two grocery chains are Coles and Woolworth’s. Most people have decent-paying jobs and get good vacation time. John is a firefighter. Everyone loves sports, mostly rugby, footy, cricket and netball. Delightful people really, just a wee confounding when they greet you with, “How ya going?”

When we first arrived in Melbourne, we thought we had a travel plan… but John had other ideas for us. He picked us up from the Melbourne airport and gave us a night tour of downtown. After a night in Riddles Creek, we woke to a lovely breakfast with Hal and John. Hal told us about his own travels in Australia, including driving all the way across the Outback, south to north. Twice. As we were planning our next move, John offered to act as tour guide and driver and take us to the Great Ocean Road. Oddly, it took us about 10 minutes to decide whether to do it. Thankfully we decided yes! (Do not decline an offer like that, right?) John’s friend Di joined us- she’s a lovely gal, with lots of energy and joy, working as a nurse, traveling and riding her horse when she is off.

We packed up and began our journey along the Great Ocean Road. This drive is popular with foreigners and locals alike, enjoying the rugged beauty of the raging ocean against ancient rock formations. Without a plan, except to have some fun, we headed out.

Australian hospitality was at its best, as John and Di showed us sites they had both seen many times before, yet loved all over again. They were kind and patient, answering our many questions about Australian ways. Of course we shared bits of Americana as well. We delighted over the big waves on the ocean, rock monoliths, crazy surfers, wild koalas and echidnas, glow worms, local cheese and each other’s company. We talked about hopes and dreams and agreed life was too short to live it unhappily or in fear.

Meeting people like John and Di is exactly why we want to travel the world. Getting to know people who are different from us, learning from them, teaching when we can and making connections. They may talk differently and call dinner “tea”… but in the end Aussies are you and me. “How ya going?” We are going all right!

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