35. Broome, Talk About Outback!

Singapore to Broome is just shy of 1600 nautical miles.

Daddy on ship to to BroomeI’m still trying to remember the name of the cargo/passenger ship which I boarded in Singapore for my journey south by southeast, back to Australia.  At some point I’ll remember it, I think.   

With limited room for passengers -similar setup to the first ship I worked on, the Lakemba- there was four of us to a cabin.  I bunked down, relaxing for the next 2 or 3 days.  And so began the continuing journey into my unknown future.  

Relaxing on the Indian Ocean coastline of Western Australia is Broome, over a thousand miles north of Perth.  Once the ship docked late morning at Broome I disembarked.  The weather was on the warmer side of things but I knew I couldn’t spend time sightseeing in this very different place, I had a bus to catch.

Although Broome is a coastal town, as I headed away from the sea, it was like being in a desert which really I didn’t know anything about (my comparison today would be like Palm Springs with sparse comforts), but I’d watched enough westerns to have an idea and I was starting to feel rather hot.  

Remember my last strong impression of Australia was all the big cities like Sydney, Adelaide & Perth and it was all a bit of a blow for me, I must say.  It wasn’t bad mind you but from what I was seeing, I was reminded of a John Wayne cowboy film and I guess I left that gun-slinging adventure back in my boyhood.  

Suddenly it didn’t seem so appealing to me anymore at least not in the same context.  Now as a young adult I think I was just wanting more bustle and bounce in my world at that time.  Of course I was certainly amused at what I was seeing; instead of cars, I saw horses.  

I remember thinking to myself silly comments as I watched the locals come in on horseback to the town for groceries, dinner or what have you and I watched curiously as they’d tie them up to hitching posts; wow they really do that.  Smile.

Yeah maybe the cowboy world wasn’t in the cards for this island boy after all.  I felt parched and dusty just watching these scenes unfold before my eyes, a mind game perhaps because I felt like it was blistering hot; true to a good western!

It was evening when I boarded my train that would carry me to Melbourne.  Here’s another, I can’t remember the name of the city where I caught that train from; good thing I wasn’t walking!  I was thankful that I had sleeper accommodations, even though the space was shared, it was comfortable, semi private and roomy enough for sleeping purposes.

It seemed that whenever I pulled up the shades to view the passing scenery I saw red rocks, little ones, big ones and sometimes very big ones.  Then there were the kangaroos who were jumping around all over the place, mostly in groups.  Anything smaller was a bit difficult for me to pin down as we were moving much too fast.

It was 1½ days on the train by the time we arrived in Alice Springs which turns out to be approximately mid point in the journey.  For some reason that stuck in my mind.  After 1900 miles traveling in a southeast direction from my beginning point and 3 days later, Melbourne greeted me at last.

Ready to really stretch my legs and breathe in some fresh air, I quickly sought out an information counter.  The lady attending to the booth was very friendly and helpful.

Crikey! The whole world is here.” she exclaimed.  She told me I would be quite fortunate if I was to find any accommodations at all, what with the 1956 Summer Olympics here and all.  

And then as though to let me in on a little secret, she suggested I look into the Melbourne YMCA.  She continued, “Listen mate, it’s only bed and breakfast; that’s only if you do get lucky enough.  You’d be smart to grab a taxi and do go straightaway.  Best of luck.”

I was able to catch a taxi and arrived not long after into the heart of the city.  I think the driver said something about being on City Road, knowing I was a foreigner.  Perhaps he thought I should be properly oriented in my directions.  I was hoping for at least the night’s rest at this point; a few more nights being a bonus.

The city was jam-packed with people unlike the sparse locales I had recently experienced.  Big city yes of course but more so crowded now, what with the games and all.

I was very fortunate to have found accommodations at the recommended YMCA.  I was set-up to share a room with a young student.  My bed and breakfast cost me A£3 per week, paid in advance and this YMCA became my home for the next 17 or so days.  

Yes I did try to see some of the games but I quickly learned that I should have purchased tickets ages ago.  I was fortunate enough to catch some of the games and especially the Hockey win by 🇮🇳 over 🇵🇰 when they took the Gold.

I caught these in a local pub on a television set.  That was pretty exciting all the same, knowing I was actually right there … only not there.

In between I had some time to think things over and I figured I would station myself here and then call for Hemma.  Australia.  England.  Either way I would make a go of it.  

And it would still mean I was out of Fiji and we would live our life together, away from interference.

 

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*Had LBM stayed till the 31st of October, he very well may have seen the Duke of Edinburgh arriving that day on the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Stopping off first in Singapore, he too was on his way to Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, to open the Olympic Games of 1956

33. Stalemate – a New Game is in Order

One day and much to my surprise, my mausa (maternal uncle) showed up and yes, right here in Bombay!  He came in from Fiji with an associate of his and was just wanting to visit … hmmm.  I couldn’t help but to wonder if my brother had something to do with this.

We spent just about every day together.  We weren’t perfectly alone as this associate (tagalong rather) was always with him.  Jittu would go off and do other things with his family while mausa and I did whatever it was we did, going around here and there, eating this and that and basically sightseeing.  

This associate of his I felt very strongly about.  Though it wasn’t my place to voice my opinion of this person I was not at all pleased with his attendance.  I felt sure he was along for a free ride; not once ever did he offer to pay for anything.  

There was just a certain air about him.  But I never asked my mausa about him because who knows, maybe it was some sort of payback or … well that’s why I won’t assume.  I still didn’t like it.

One day mausa came to my hostel to pick me up as was the usual and we went for lunch.  Afterwards we enjoyed a nice drive, not looking to see anything in particular.  He then told me he did not like Bombay.  He was ready to head towards home going first through Singapore and then Australia.

He said I should go with him as his guest.  I was very happy for that gracious invitation of course but I did not wish to return to Fiji.  I’m supposed to be on my way to London.  I gratefully thanked him for his most generous offer and reminded him that I must make my way to England.

He did understand and just before he left, he pocketed me some money and yes I will admit it was a big help to be sure.  Then he was gone.  

Imagine this: neither myself nor Jittu were locals for one and the population of Bombay, never mind the rest of the Indian subcontinent was already astronomical.  Looking for work, the percentage of competition for any one position was completely overwhelming, Why do you think Jittu and I sold movie tickets?   

After my mausa’s departure, Jittu and I returned to doing whatever it was that we were doing … hanging out in Bombay and ultimately closing our season of friendship.  We went on for a few more weeks.  Jittu gave me his contact information for back home in Africa.  

I had no way of knowing how much longer the Suez Canal would be closed and when would I really be able to afford a flight to London.  These flights’ price tag remained well, sky-high as this was really the only way to England at that time.  I had to make a move though and I knew I must leave India and my bond with Jittu behind.

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With the Suez Canal not reopening until March of 1957, which of course I didn’t know at the time, I would’ve been in India for a few months more and most likely homeless and hungry, not knowing how much longer I could continue selling movie tickets.  I had to make a move.

 

31. I Need A Ship to England, Not A Buzzard’s Flight!

There was an international crisis* in the Middle East, now in full swing, which heavily involved the Suez Canal – 1956

While it certainly may seem like I’d been miles away from my quest for transportation to London well, you’d be half right.  To be sure I was distracted yet the thought process of ‘how to’ hadn’t left me for very long at any given point.  I often thought of Hemma and what she might be doing at that very moment.

Strolling past various shops and businesses on my everyday walks about the city, I took notice for the first time, a travel agency.  I must’ve missed it the times before when walking by; talking busily with Jittu no doubt.  At any rate I thought I could enquire in there about a ship to England.  I went inside.

I was greeted by a nice young man who introduced himself as Parwez.  I told him of my need.  ‘One ship to England please!’  Feeling as though I were about to enjoy a cup of tea, we got comfortable in our dialogue of information which began with basic questions about what I needed, my budget and possible travel dates.

This man was of a gentle disposition.  In a more casual tone of conversation I came to find out he was a Parsi fellow and before I knew it, I believed I’d made another friend.  

He told me he’d keep watch for something which would suit my needs and my wallet.  Parwez suggested I should return to his agency in a few days to see what’s transpired from his research.

The next time we met, Parwez informed me there weren’t any ships going to London at this time due to the current crisis.  What?  “Well, yes and no.”  The Suez Canal had become off limits for the ships in the wake of turmoil between England, America and Egypt over the control of the Canal, or something like that.  

I must’ve appeared to have fallen into a jar of pickles.  He continued, “Probably others as well but it’s no good my friend, not right now, I’m sorry.”   

In this fact he added, ships weren’t traveling to Europe at all, unless one took the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.  The difference of nearly 4,000 nautical miles with a price tag to match was not an option.   

I of course could take an aeroplane however that too carried a steep price tag … I seriously wasn’t going to sell that many theatre tickets!  It didn’t take long to exhaust whatever options there were.

I trusted Parwez to be a fair and honest man so when he looked me straight in the eye and said, “My friend you are here in Bombay for a loooong time!”  I knew this statement to be true.  My heart sank.  

Chin-up!  I’d just had to find another way to leave India but I wasn’t so sure which direction I would be heading next in order to do it.  

Leading up to this point in my life, I realized I had become a bit plucky.  I had youth on my side and I was gaining confidence so I took more chances to make sure my life would become anything but dull.  I held my determination and I just knew I’d come up with something.

I’d still drop in every now and again to visit with Parwez at the agency.  Hoping for some surprise news of travel?  Maybe.  

Going about my business still exploring around Bombay, there was a particular place where I noticed some really large birds; I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen them when I first arrived in the city.   Maybe I wasn’t looking up?  

At any rate it was on a hill where these giant birds swooped, soared and called out their eerie cry.  They kept to this particular spot up there and needless to say, I was intrigued.  

As Jittu and I rode through town in an auto rickshaw or a bus we witnessed this spectacle, seemingly often if we were looking that way, and eventually concluding that we must find out what was going on up there.  

Neither one of us had a clue and we just wondered about it between ourselves.  We didn’t know these giant birds were vultures deeply involved in a feeding frenzy.

One day while I was having lunch with Parwez and for whatever reason, I suddenly thought on the birds so I asked him about them.  He smiled, then looking a little more serious he said, “Matter of fact, I do know.”  

He then went on to illustrate a spine-tingling scene.  Parwez told me what we saw up on the hill was a sacred and private Parsi cemetery.  It was a fairly tall circular structure made of either brick or stone, I can’t remember which and it was the custom of his people to place the dead bodies in there; exposed!

Seeing my puzzled expression, in order to help me grasp the full picture he was painting, he used the phrase ‘open tables’ in order to help define the word he then used; he called it a Dakhma.  I shouldn’t have asked!  Now this will haunt me for goodness knows how long.

🌞  Here they would decompose at the mercy of the sun and be devoured by those scavenging birds; unique system indeed.  I was horrified in fact but I listened anyway.  Oh boy!  I couldn’t wait to share this with Jittu. 

Parwez described to me how the Parsi people’s precept is understood; as the deceased body is deemed unclean and therefore would be polluting nature; offensive to at least 3 of the natural earth elements.  

It was all very disagreeable to my ears but I did my best not to react in any way as with Parwez being Parsi, I did not wish to offend my new friend.  

I certainly could not deny that the world had something new to teach me each and everyday.

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*As you know I am not here to discuss bygone accounts of the world and such.  I share my own narrative so I will merely point out that this course of history and a few others, did indeed affect my own story to some degree and that’s why they’ll show up periodically throughout my memoirs.

Parwez       once again a fictitious name for a true character.

on a hill       came to recognize as Malabar Hill: the very same hill where I’d view the Queen’s Necklace from the Kamala Nehru park.  Of course the cemetery was at a different location of this hill.

private       as in not publicly accessible for photos, curiosity or kicks, nor did I think anyone would want to just ‘visit’ for the heck of it; I knew I didn’t want to see it.

unique system       Not too long ago while watching a travel documentary, I saw that the people of Tibet and a handful of other Chinese provinces did something similar; they take their dead higher up the mountain, chopping the body into smaller, bite-sized pieces (for wild mountain animals) for nature to be fed.