Fraud in Australia: How Backpackers are Cheating the Government

Rampant fraud is occurring in Australia by backpackers cheating a broken system. In order to obtain a second year visa, backpackers are required to do 88 days of farm or regional work in Australia, however, many have figured out they can get the visa another way, by lying about doing the work.

A Backpackers Paradise 

Australia has proven to be one of the most attractive destinations for backpackers from around the world. This is because Australia allows young people (ages 18-31) from many countries to come for a year to work and travel. There are two types of “Working Holiday” visas, the 417 and the 462, depending on what country you are from. Both of these visas allow for a second year provided the holder does 88 days of farm or regional work. The vast majority of the backpackers I have interacted with are either on a second year visa or intend to get one. This can be used right after the first visa expires or can be used later, as long as the person enters the country before they turn 32.

When I was working in a hostel bar in Darwin, I interacted with literally hundreds of backpackers. I began to notice a theme, people would brag that they got their second year visa without doing their farm or regional work, or only doing a portion of it. Some told me they paid farmers to fabricate their work. Some said they just made it up or lied about how much work they did when they filed the application. Some said they used the information from friends or fellow backpackers when filing out the application. None of them seemed concerned with admitting to fraud.

At first, I was skeptical and thought it anecdotal, but the more I heard the more I wondered just how much this was happening. Backpackers in hostels talk. The conventional wisdom is you can cheat and will most likely not get caught. I have heard people talking about this in hostels all over Australia. Even if you get investigated there is no consequence to my knowledge other than getting the second year visa denied. I have only heard of this happening a handful of times, usually from people who seemed to actually do the work. I think there should be real consequences such as deportation and a ban for attempting to defraud the government.

Why Work for the Second Year Visa

The reason the government requires people to do farm or regional work is due to the fact there is a labor shortage. Australians, much like Americans, are not lining up to do agricultural work. The work is incredibly hard. Long, hot days in the humidity picking fruits and vegetables is enough to break even the strongest man. But the money is good. A friend of mine was working on a pineapple farm in Queensland making $22/hour, and only paying $100 a week for accommodation.

Now this is not to say there is not abuse. There have been reports in the Australian media about farmers under paying and abusing workers. This article, ‘I wonder how long you’ll last’: Backpacker exploitation goes even deeperdiscusses this. But the majority of people I have met who have done farm work were paid well and treated fairly. The government recently began allowing those on the 462 visa to do hospitality or tourism work in the Northern Territory or northern Australia as well to qualify for the second year visa. This is also due to the labor shortages in those areas.

The government has clearly set up an incentive for backpackers. Do the work we need done in Australia for 88 days and you can stay for another year. Australia is a great place to live and work. The wages are higher than other western countries. You can expect to earn at least $20/hour for unskilled work and often times much more if you are skilled or working in a remote part of Australia. The people are great and the lifestyle is laid back. So it is no wonder people who come here want to stay. But just how many of these people are gaming the system?

How Many Backpackers in Australia

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Tourism Research Australia, there were around 600,000 backpackers in Australia in 2016, with over 300,000 new ones arriving every year. This article from Tourism Research Australia gives statistics for 2015, Latest Backpacker stats from Tourism Research AustraliaThat is a lot of people.

Let’s assume that half of the 300,000 new backpackers entering the country intend to get a second year visa. Now let’s assume only 20% of them are cheating, that would mean 30,000 people are defrauding the Australian government every year. Considering how many people talk about this so openly. I would not be surprised if the real numbers were higher.

I have 3 ideas about why this is occurring:

  1. The government is not providing enough resources for proper oversight
  2. There is incompetence in the office that processes the second year visas
  3. The government does not care

My sense it is mostly due to number 1 and partially due to number 2. Governments and bureaucracies tend to be inefficient and this could be part of the reason this fraud is occurring. However, when someone applies for a second year visa it costs around $400, so maybe the government does not care. But they should, this program was setup to meet specific labor demands and allowing people to cheat the government is wrong. If they feel they no longer need people to do this work they should just issue people 2 year work visas off the bat or change the conditions for obtaining a second year visa.

What Does the Government Think

I contacted the office of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, to inform them of this and see if they were aware or had any comment. The lady I spoke with was very dismissive and condescending. She would not let me speak to anyone in the office about this. She did tell me I could provide written feedback to the office if I chose. I told her I would be writing a blog post on the topic. She did not have much to say about that.

I also contacted the office of the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Shayne Neumann. The person I spoke to in his office was much friendlier. We spoke for around 30 minutes. He said he had heard of this but was not aware or sure of how big the problem is. He did say that a lack of resources may be a factor of how people are getting away with the fraud. He informed me he would let the Shadow Minister know about my call and also see if this issue can be raised during the next set of budget talks.

Politics always plays a role in how governments work. But this is a total non-partisan issue. If ten of thousands of people are defrauding the Australian government, I can’t imagine why anyone would not want to see this is fixed. Not only does it encourage more people to do the same, it is an embarrassment to the government.

This issue needs to be brought out in the open and fixed. There are lots of people that work hard and do their 88 days of farm or regional work for a second year visa. It is unfair to them that so many people are allowed to cheat the system, and even worse, brag about it. I hope the proper people in the government are made aware of this and appropriate actions are taken to ensure that people coming to Australia are not allowed to get away with fraud. After all, these are not the kind of people Australia should want in their country.

Darwin Debrief: Two Months in the Northern Territory

Well it has been a month since I left Darwin. I could literally write a book about the two months I spent in Darwin. Instead, I am going to attempt to capture the essence of my Darwin experience in a long blog post. Enjoy!

Arriving in Darwin

I came to Darwin for a few reasons. First, the Australian government changed their rules on skilled worker visas when I was in Brisbane so I decided to forego trying to get that. Second, I wanted to see the real Australia and everyone kept telling me that was Darwin and the Northern Territory. They were not wrong. I bought a one way ticket from Brisbane to Darwin with no real plan. Luckily, a good friend of mine, Andrew, who I spent Christmas with has a friend living in Darwin. Little did I know where this would lead..

Andrew messaged me and told me to give Jock a call before I arrived. I called Jock and introduced myself. His initial reaction was, “Uh, who the hell is this?” After explaining myself he figured out who I was. I was flying in early Saturday morning and me told me he lived about 30 minutes outside of Darwin. I told him I would get a hostel and then we could meet on Saturday afternoon. I was happy to just spend one night in that place. There was a rager going on when I arrived. After a few beers I went back to the room to go to bed. Shortly after, an American girl and an Irish guy came in, very drunk. They went into her bed and began to have sexual intercourse as if I was not in the room.

The next day I met Jock. He picked me up around noon at the hostel I was staying at. He is one of the most Aussie blokes I have ever met. We proceeded to a pub in Darwin where we started drinking. After several drinks, we went to a pub across the street, where we ended up meeting some people he knew from back home. The drinking continued, Aussie style (this means we drank copious amounts of beer all day). I could not believe how hot Darwin was.

First day in Darwin

I ended up staying at Jock’s place for a few weeks. He happened to be going to America for 3 weeks for an archery tournament right after I arrived. But he had two days to show me how things get down in Humpty Doo, yes that is what the town is called. If you ever find yourself in Humpty Doo, go check out the Humpty Doo Hotel. The pub there is 100% Aussie.

A Brief Stint in Howard Springs

Jock lives in Howard Springs, NT. This is about a 30 minute drive from Darwin. He lives with 2 friends from back home who are working in the NT as well. They were out of town when I arrived. Jock is the kind of guy you want to have host you when you come to a new place. I had never met him before but he offered to let me stay at his place until I got things sorted. He also told me I could use his car while he was in America for 3 weeks. The car was a real beauty, he recently picked it up for a few grand after selling his truck. Let’s just say Kia has come a long way since 2001. The car was fine except at highway speeds the wheel needed to be turned 30 degrees to the right to go straight and it shook aggressively between 70-90 Kph. However, I was grateful to have a car (more on this car later).

A few days later I drove Jock to the airport where he was heading to America. I then began looking for a job in Darwin. I signed up with a job agency at a hostel and went all around Darwin looking for work. I also went to the docks several times looking for work on a boat but did not have any luck. One captain told me he would hire me if “this one drunk on his crew” did not show up for work but I guess he showed because I never got a call.

I drove back to Howard Springs later that day in the Kia. Jock told me he mentioned to his roommates that I was staying. I arrived home and was greeted by Anna, who was initially confused by my presence. I told her I was Jock’s friend from Alaska and that he said I could crash for a while until I get things figured out. Her fiance later arrived and I introduced myself. It was a bit awkward. Dylan and Anna were also great hosts. Anna cooked amazing meals every night and Dylan and I enjoyed a few beers when he got home. Dylan is a real unique Aussie character. He has these awesome dogs he uses for hunting wild pigs. They go out and the dogs chase a pig and corner it. The dogs are so fast they have to use GPS trackers to find them. Once they get there they go up to the pig and stick a knife in the heart. These things are huge and have massive tusks that can really injure someone.

Two Jobs in Darwin

Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I needed to find a job and get a place in Darwin. I checked in with the job agency and they told me the bar at the hostel was looking for a bartender. There were three of us that applied. It ended up being down to me and some Irish guy. We were each scheduled for a trial so the manager could make a decision. I came on a Saturday from 3-5 and killed it. Everyone loved me, I mean I am pretty high energy! After I was done the Irish guy showed up for his trial. I did not realize he was going after me. I stayed for a few drinks. I observed homeboy and he was very low energy. I was confident I would get the job. The next day the manager called me and asked when I could start. I started the next day.

Working at the hostel bar

During all of this a friend in Anchorage who works for the mayor put me in touch with someone in Darwin who used to work for the City of Darwin. Anchorage and Darwin are sister cities so I thought it would be a good idea to try and see if I could meet anyone who has a connection to Anchorage. The person was now working for the Darwin Festival, and as luck would have it they were looking to hire a development director to sell corporate hospitality packages to their sponsors. After an interview, they offered me the position. More on this later. I went from no work to having two jobs in Darwin less than 2 weeks after I arrived.

I was supposed to only work 3 days at the hostel bar and 3 days at the Festival until July, when I was supposed to go full time. However, the hostel bar needed me to work an extra day so I was working 7 days a week between the two. I was trying to find a place in Darwin to rent so I did not have to drive from Howard Springs. I ended up finding a room to rent from this Filipino girl while I looked for a place. Turns out she was living with her boyfriend and subletting her room. The two other roommates were also Filipino and in 10 days of staying there neither one of them said more than 20 words to me. I tried to talk to them but they did not seem interested. It was a pretty bizarre experience.

Living and Working in Darwin

I eventually found an apartment to rent in the city. My contract with the Darwin Festival was until September so I got a place with a 4 month lease. It was quiet and close to both jobs. I also bought an awesome 50 cc scooter to get around because Jock was coming back and I needed to return the car. I was leaving work one day and the car would not start. I figured it was the battery and got a jump. It started but was acting very weird. I took it to the mechanic and was told the harmonic balancer shattered. I had no idea what that even was. Anyways, to get this fixed cost over $600. Old mate Jock agreed to split this with me. Another day I was leaving work at the hostel one day and found a note on the car. Some Italian dude hit the car while trying to back out and left a massive mark on the rear bumper. This was all fully disclosed to Jock, who was cool about it all. Luckily this was a 2001 Kia and not a 2017 Cadillac.

Working seven days a week was hard but also fun. The hostel bar was great because I met so many fellow travelers from all over the world. British, Irish, Scottish, French, Italian and Estonian people, along with fellow Americans, just to name a few. There were some real characters staying there. I made some great and lasting friendships. There are many previous blog posts talking about some of the craziness that went down there.

The American crew

The only downside to working at the hostel bar was the way it was managed. We were constantly running out of the most popular beers and always short on other supplies. It was a small bar but we were doing great revenues. It was frustrating always having to tell people we were out of stuff.

The main street in Darwin is called Mitchell Street. It is full of bars and restaurants. Darwin gets wild during the dry season. The dry is their winter, it is hot but not rainy. During the wet season, it constantly rains and is extremely humid. There are way more people in Darwin during the dry. Every night was a party, the pup next to us was called Shenanigans, and it was lit. It was full from open to close. They had karaoke on Mondays and I used to sing every week. I don’t have the best voice but my stage presence is 100%.

There is a club in Darwin called Discovery. If you did not know you were in Darwin you would think you were in Vegas.This club is something else. Friday and Saturday nights there are something else. My manager at the hostel bar introduced me to one of the owners, Ross. The club is owned by 3 Italian brothers. It was an awesome place to party on the weekends.

The Beginning of the End

Working at the Darwin Festival was an interesting experience. I had never worked for a non-profit before. Let’s just say I am definitely a private sector guy. I was getting my job done but I never really felt like I was part of the team. I think it is safe to say some of them did not like my style. I decided to just do my job and work through the end of my contract in September. I was only part time at the Darwin Festival at first, I was supposed to go full time on July 1. Knowing this, I gave my two week notice at the hostel bar because I would not be able to work both jobs full time.

Things at the Festival did not improve. Without getting into all the details, let’s just say some people no longer wanted me there. I was called into the office by the director and told I was being let go. There is a huge back story here but based on the terms of my departure, I am not going to tell it all.

So, now I am in Darwin going from two jobs to no jobs. The hostel bar had already hired a replacement. I also had two months left on my lease at my apartment. I decided it was not worth staying in Darwin. I had a sour taste after what went down. However, I was not about to leave without having the full experience!

The Full Experience

Jock was back from a work trip and we were about to have some fun, Darwin style. I was about to spend the weekend with him and celebrate Territory Day. I had no idea what was in store. We spent a Saturday doing a jumping croc tour. Yes, you go on a boat and large crocodiles jump out of the water to get food being held out by the guides. It was freaking awesome. We also did a chopper ride after, which was very cool.

The next day was Territory Day. Territory Day is something between the 4th of July and Burning Man. Fireworks, drinking and partying non stop. The night sounds like a total war zone. Everyone is setting off massive amounts of fireworks. We bought a ton of fireworks and went to Jock’s mates house. The fun lasted all night. We kept hearing something that sounded like a mortar shell but with no explosion. I really wondered what it was. Not long after, the neighbors came by and invited us to their place. These people were as Aussie as it gets. One may wonder how they are still alive. However, one of them told me he just bought his third investment house on the Gold Coast. There is money to be made in the Northern Territory.

I asked him if he knew where those loud explosions were coming from. He said, “Nah mate it fuckin wasn’t us!’ A few minutes later he says to me, “Oi mate maybe it was us. Want to fuckin see something?” The guy then goes over to an oxyacetylene torch, lights it and starts filling up a large garbage bag. A few minuted later him and another guy walk way out into a field with the bag and a can of petrol. They reappear a few minuted later. They had poured zig zagging line of gas on the ground. They lit it and after 45 seconds, the fire hit the bag. The explosion was so loud and powerful it almost knocked me out of my chair. They assured me this was entirely safe. Later, they filled up a trash can the same way and lit it. Not much was left other than a few small pieces. We continued to party all night. My first Territory Day was one to remember.

Leaving Darwin

My time in Darwin was awesome and memorable. I will never forget the people I met and the experiences I had. But based on the circumstances it was time for me to move on. Luckily, I was able to get the lease on my apartment transferred to a British couple I had met at the hostel. I took a bus from Darwin to Alice Springs and then spent a day at Uluru (Ayers Rock). If you are ever in Australia, I highly suggest checking it out. It was an incredible experience. The drive down from Darwin was something else. I went down on a travel bus with some pretty cool people. We stopped to swim in some hot springs and stayed overnight at the famous Daly Waters Pub, a truly bizarre but extremely Australian outback roadhouse. It was somewhere between Chilkoot Charlie’s and Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn. I also highly recommend a stay over if you are ever in the region.

I then flew to Brisbane to pick up some clothes and items I had left at the house of this British chick I met on Tinder (there is a whole another story there). I decided to give New Zealand a go. Blog post on my New Zealand experience to follow soon!

Darwin susnet

 

 

 

 

Anchorage and Darwin: A Tale of Two Sister Cities

Anchorage has six sister cities, one of which is Darwin. Darwin is located at the top of Australia and is the capital of the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory is one of the most interesting and wildest places in Australia, much like Alaska is to the United States. When I came to Australia, I was drawn to Darwin much in the same way as I was drawn to Anchorage when I moved there in 2004. The remoteness, the ruggedness and the wild west perception to name just a few things. After spending two months in Darwin, I realized just how many similarities these two cities share.

The Differences

There are two major differences between Anchorage and Darwin, the climate and the animals. Darwin is in the tropics and Anchorage is in the subarctic. Basically, Darwin is hot and Anchorage is cold. The other big difference is the animals. Darwin, like much of Australia, has some pretty scary animals. These include sharks, crocodiles, poisonous jellyfish, deadly spiders and snakes and all kinds of weird birds. Anchorage has some scary animals too but at least you can usually see them coming. These include moose, bears, salmon, whales, beavers, and lots of birds. Of course there are other differences, Darwin is about half the population of Anchorage, but these were the major ones that stood out to me.

The Similarities

For two cities so far apart I was really taken aback by how similar they are. One of the first things I noticed was the people and lifestyle. Darwin, just like Anchorage, is very laid back. You don’t get that corporate vibe and you will often hear people remark about the yuppie and pretentious people in Sydney. The outdoor lifestyle is also a big part of each city. Both places offer unique and stunning scenery and people love going out to hike, fish, camp and hunt.

I was amazed at how fast I could meet people in the business and political community. Much like Anchorage, Darwin is a small place and most people are friendly and accessible, even powerful ones. I was even able to meet with Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim, who has been to Anchorage, to discuss the sister city relationship.

Meeting with Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim

Darwin, like Anchorage, is also a port city. Both ports are important for goods coming into the state or territory. Both cities are very far away from the major cities in their countries. The Northern Territory, much like Alaska, is huge. Alaska is just a bit bigger than the Northern Territory. Both also have very small populations for their size, the NT being around 211,000 and Alaska being around 740,000. Even though Darwin is smaller than Anchorage, both cities are home to about half the population of the state or territory.

Tourism

Another major similarity is tourism. Tourism is very important to the economies of each city. And strangely enough, their peak seasons are at the same time. People love coming to Alaska in the summer to enjoy the great weather and long days. People love coming to the Northern Territory during the winter (Northern Hemisphere summer) because of its location. Darwin has two distinct seasons, the wet and dry. During the dry it is warm while much of the rest of Australia is cold. This attracts a lot of people from southern Australia to Darwin to get out of the cold. Cruise ships visit both cities and people love driving up in RVs. Seeing RVs in the NT during tourist season is just as common as in Alaska during tourist season. Both cities are also home to international airports that are not only important to tourism but also cargo.

Military

Anchorage and Darwin are also both very strategic places for their countries. Anchorage because of its proximity to Russia and Asia and Darwin because of its proximity to Asia. Because of that both cities are home to military bases. Those bases are important economic engines for both cities. In fact, when I was in Darwin there were around 1,200 US Marines and Army personal there for training exercises. Many of them came to the bar I was working at and a few were stationed in Anchorage in the past.

The People

Much like Alaska, while in Darwin I observed there are three kinds of people in the Northern Territory:

  1. People who are born there. These are the minority in both places.
  2. People who are running from something. Maybe personal problems, maybe legal problems, maybe just starting over.
  3. People who come to make money.

Both Anchorage and Darwin are home to many folks who work in the natural resources industry. Alaska and the Northern Territory are both rich in natural resources like oil, gas and minerals. Because of that, the pay is higher than the other parts of the countries. Both places also have a high transient population.

Both places are also home to large indigenous populations. In Anchorage, Alaska Natives, and in Darwin, Aboriginal Australians. Anchorage and Darwin are both home to many indigenous people who come from their villages or communities. Unfortunately, both groups suffer from many of the same social problems. In fact, they are almost identical. Much work remains to be done in both places.

Having lived in Alaska for 12 years, I came to understand it was a pretty wild place. People work hard and play hard. But the two months I spent in Darwin made me realize just how wild the Northern Territory is. Drinking and partying are facts of life in Darwin. Mitchell Street, the main street in town, is always full of people having a good time at any of the many bars and clubs that can be found on it. One of my favorite events was jello wrestling at one of the pubs. It often ended with the women naked. I spent Territory Day, the one day fireworks are allowed in the Territory, with a mate who had lived there for two years. We purchased some serious ordinance and went to his place, a bit out of the city. The night got wild and it reminded me of spending New Years or long summer days at the cabin with my friends in Anchorage. But it was just getting started. We went to the neighbors house where they were filling trash bags with oxyacetylene and blowing them up!

My two months in Darwin were fun and memorable. Even though it is far from Anchorage, with a much different climate, it felt like home in many ways. The people, the lifestyle and the vibe between both places is incredible and strikingly similar. I could not think of two better sister cities.

Guy Loses it at Hostel Bar: The Difference Between Australian and American Policing

So it was just another Sunday working at the hostel bar, or so I thought… The day started off like any other. I showed up before 2 pm and opened the bar. People started ordering drinks and everyone was having a nice time relaxing under the hot Darwin sun. Nearly everyone who drinks at the hostel bar are people staying at the hostel. The bar is situated inside the hostel so unless you knew it was there you would not see it. We do get a few locals and visitors but because of the liquor license, the bar cannot advertise on the street.

How It All Started

Not long after the bar opened, a guy who I have never seen before showed up. He told me he was from Brisbane and was in town for work. He was not acting out of the ordinary and was very friendly. He ordered some beers and shots for him and some people he met at the table where he was sitting. The one thing that stuck out about him was his sheer size, he literally looked like Mike Tyson in his prime.

He was sitting down talking to some of the people staying at the hostel. I was working behind the bar and noticed he was starting to get more loud and aggressive. At one point he took his shirt off. I thought to myself this guy would absolutely destroy me in a fight. I was keeping an eye on him because he was new and starting to annoy some of the hostel guests.

There were a group of Aussies drinking at a table near him. I did not see this but apparently he started messing with one of them and then put his arm around his neck, supposedly as a joke. The guy got mad and told the guy to leave him alone. This is when I got involved. I went over and told both of them to calm down and take it easy. The big guy said it was all a joke, apologized and the said the smaller guy needed to calm down. The smaller guy took some offense to this and suddenly things got out of hand. The big guy lost it and started saying he would fuck him up and called him all kinds of names. I got in between them and told the smaller guy to walk away and tried to calm down the big guy. I then told him he had to leave because of what happened. He refused and said he was going to keep drinking.

He got increasingly aggressive and kept berating the other guy, and then began to mess with other people. I told him again he needed to leave but he refused. I went over to reception and told them to call the police. I eventually convinced him to walk with me to the other end of the hostel, away from everyone else. He agreed only if he could bring his beer. I told him that was fine, thinking the police would be there soon.

I was trying to talk him down but he got increasingly more aggressive. He was pretty drunk at this point, the only thing making me feel somewhat relieved if we got into a fight. Ten minutes go by and still no police. He then tells me he is going back to where all the people are. I told him he could not do that. He started to lunge at me and cocked back his fist like he was going to hit me. I put my hands up to block it. He started laughing and said he was just messing with me. I did not take it like that. He then tells me he was going there and if I did not move out of his way I would be sorry. I said, “Do what you gotta do man but you can’t go over there. You need to leave right now.” He starred at me and said, “This is because I am black isn’t it? Why don’t you treat the white guys like this?” I told him it had nothing to do with his skin color but everything to do with him trying to start a fight and the way he was acting.

By this point, 15 minutes had gone by. My adrenaline was jacked from constant fear of being hit by this guy. We were standing next to the pool and I kept thinking if he tries to hit me I will either push him in the pool or try and get my arms around his neck to choke him out. The pool option seemed much better. He told me he promised to not bother anyone if we could go to a table closer to where everyone was but no one was sitting at. I decided this would be the best option because I thought he would calm down and the police would surely be arriving soon.

We get to the table and he calms down a bit. A few of my friends from the hostel came over to try and help out. Then an employee from the hostel walks over and, for whatever reason, triggers the guy. He starts asking the employee for his ID and starts to get really mad. The guys shirt was off and there were veins bulging out of his arms. I told the employee to get the hell away from the situation. Now 20 minutes had gone by and still no police. I make a decision to leave him with a few other guys and go over to reception and tell them to call the police again and say things are getting out of control. I go back out and he says if the police come I will be sorry. I said that if he just leaves now there will be no problems. He again says he is not leaving and then asks me to have a drink with him. I told him no. He then grabs a jug of beer and starts to chug it, drinking nearly all of it. He then challenges me to do that same. When I told him no he started to get very upset. During all of this he was harassing other customers sitting by the pool and saying things to some women, like “Let me see that pussy girl!” I told him to knock it off and reminded him he promised to behave if I let him sit at this table.

The Police Arrive

Finally, when I think things were really about to get out of control, 2 uniformed police showed up, a man and a woman. I informed them that I asked him to leave and he refused. They calmly told him that this is a licensed premises and then he has to leave. He again refused and told them there was no problem. I was standing right behind the female officer when all of this was going down. They told him if he left now there would be no further problem. Nearly 5 minutes go by and they are still trying to get him to leave calmly. They then inform him that he is under arrest for failing to leave a licensed premises. He gets very angry about this. I told him to just listen to them and things will be fine.

At this point the male officer charges his taser, I really thought things were going to go down. He also got on the radio and said he needed backup. Then the guy lunges at the female office, she backs up and nearly trips over a pool chair behind her. I kick it away to give her some more room. I was ready to get involved if he would have hit her, and many of the guys around would have too. Then, 3 plain clothes male officers enter through the back gate. They are all wearing body cameras on their chests and all looked like Rambo. Once these guys arrive there is no more talking.

They all take hold of him and inform him he is under arrest. Then the most bizarre thing happened, he started crying. Seeing a guy that big cry when he is arrested is definitely odd, especially after how tough he had been acting. He was not exactly complying but at this point he was overpowered. Once cuffed, he told one of the plain clothes officers, “Fuck you cunt!” The officer replied in a serious tone, “Watch your mouth, you understand me?” He seemed to understand that. He was then taken out of the hostel.

My Thoughts

When the police arrived and started talking to him, I gave it 30 seconds before they took him down. This is my American view of law enforcement at work. There was a large black man not complying, we all know the result of that. After 5 minutes of talking to him, while he was not complying I was, frankly, shocked. They maintained a calm, professional yet alert attitude. I was so amazed that this guy was not on the ground being cuffed. Even after he lunged at the female officer, they remained calm and in charge. I do believe if the plain clothes officers would not have shown up when they did he may have gotten tasered, and deservedly so.

I have been in Australia for 6 months now. I have seen many cops on the street in different cities and also witnessed this experience. I don’t know if they have better training or maybe they are not as worried that everyone has a gun, but they are definitely more approachable and less threatening here. I can say one thing for sure, the scenario I described above would have certainly played out much differently in America. The sad part is it does not have to.

A Forgotten, and Hard to Believe, Alaska Aviation Story: The Trials of Flight 8

I was fortunate to spend Easter in Australia with my old boss Scott at his home. I worked for Scott for almost two years in Alaska before he sold the business and moved to Australia. I liked working for Scott for many reasons, one of them was because we were able to talk aviation. Scott used to be commercial pilot for Reeve Air, an old Alaska airline. He flew the Lockheed Electra, one of my favorite airplanes.The Electra was the first large turboprop airliner built in the United States. My dad flew in the Navy and my grandpa flew 50 missions on the B-17 over Europe during WWII. I soloed in a glider when I was 14 and got my private pilot glider license when I was 16. Aviation was a big part of my childhood.

Scott and I on the beach in Noosaville

Alaska is one of the great aviation places in the world. Stories of the pioneer Alaska bush pilots are incredible. If you have lived in Alaska long enough you have heard, or maybe even been part of, an incredible or hard to believe aviation story. It was on this chance meeting with Scott that I was able to hear one of these almost forgotten stories.

While drinking some nice scotch and talking about aviation in Alaska with Scott, he told me a story about an Electra that occurred before I was born. I could hardly believe this happened. He went and got a book about the history of Reeve Air in Alaska and showed me an article that described what happened. With the permission of the author, Gary A. Lintner, I am sharing this incredible story. I searched the depths of the internet and could not find it so I have transcribed it below. Enjoy!

 

The Trials of Flight 8

Written by Flight Officer Gary Lintner

June, 1983

When the aircraft finally came to a rest we just sat there for a moment. It felt great to be down in one piece. I had not been out of my seat in over seven hours so I was ready to leave. Capt. Gibson gave Gerry and me a big smile and said, “Well boys, I think we handled that like professionals, so why don’t we leave here looking like professionals. Put your coats, hats and ties on please.” I agreed 100%.

It had all started earlier that afternoon. It was truly a rare, beautiful day throughout southcentral Alaska. Shortly after takeoff from Cold Bay, en route to Seattle, we noticed a very slight vibration in the aircraft. The Lockheed “Electra” was under the command of Captain James S. Gibson. I was the co-pilot and Gerry Laurin was our flight engineer. In the back, taking care of our 10 passengers, were flight attendants, Wendy Kroon and Victoria Fredenhagen. The 1,500 mile flight, almost all over water, was planned to take five hours.

A Reeve Air Lockheed Electra

The vibration persisted during the climb. Capt. Gibson tried various climb speeds and a cycle of the landing gear. Nothing seemed to have an effect on it. Wendy Kroon came up front to say she could feel the vibration in the back of the airplane. We were beginning to get a little concerned. Capt. Gibson went back to look at the propellers from the forward cargo area windows. When he returned, Gerry and Wendy went back to take a look. While Capt. Gibson was gone I noticed the vibration getting worse. When he sat down I pointed to our control columns. They were starting to shake. This really had our attention. Capt. Gibson gave it some thought and finally said, “Ya, the heck with it, let’s turn a . . .” BANG!

A violent lurch accompanied the loud bang; followed by a rapid decompression. The cockpit immediately fogged up and it became extremely quiet. It was dream like. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I grabbed my control and looked out my side window at the number four engine. It looked awful! The propeller and about half of the reduction gear box had disappeared.

When I attempted to level the wings the wheel seemed frozen. I saw that Capt. Gibson was on the controls and also having a great deal of difficulty. He engaged the auto-pilot and the aircraft responded, not well – but well enough for now. We expected the airplane to come apart and start tumbling at any moment.

I yelled to Capt. Gibson that we had lost number four. He pulled the shutdown handle and said, “Ok Gary, declare an emergency!” I fumbled for my microphone and tried to bring my voice under some semblance of control. Finally with tremulous voice, I said the words we all hope we will never have to utter. “Mayday, Mayday, Reeve Flight 8 is Mayday. Does anyone read me.”

I received an immediate reply from our company Flight 92. Capt. Andy Livingston and Frist Officer Jon Bergstedt flying a Nihon YS-11. It was extremely good to hear from them. I quickly gave them as much information as I could at the time. Gerry Laurin had come back into the cockpit and reported the propeller had cut through the belly. He and Wendy had been knocked down but were unhurt.

Capt. Gibson told us to settle down and let’s assess our situation. We knew that we had some control cable damage: just how much we didn’t know. The big red Elevator Boost Off light was ON. That was not good. The auto-pilot was barely able to control the aircraft. It was difficult to descend. Gerry informed us that we had lost the “C” electrical bus because of an apparent generator fault with number two engine. This still gave us essential electrical service. The hydraulic and fuel systems looked undamaged.

Suddenly the whole aircraft shuddered like it was stalling! This really scared us. I checked the airspeed, it was steady at 210 knots. The shuddering soon quit but it sure had our attention. It felt like a tail flight control was just flopping in the breeze. We wanted a visual inspection of our tail real bad.

I called Flight 92 and told them about the shuddering. We began working on an intercept immediately. As the shuddering continued we began to suspect that it may be caused by an auto-pilot “glitch.” We couldn’t be sure until Capt. Livingston looked us over.

Wendy Kroon came back up front and said she had actually seen the propeller come off! It had opened a hole just a few feet from where she had been standing, and she could see the ocean below from 20,000 feet. She was pretty shook up so we told her to sit in the jump seat and get on oxygen.

Capt. Gibson continued working with the auto-pilot, trying to get some kind of proper response. It was a real learning experience. The main turn control knob would give about five degrees of left bank when turned full left. When it was turned just slightly to the right the aircraft would roll rapidly right but didn’t want to stop. To stop it, the knob had to be turned fully left. Even with that the recovery was very sluggish. The pitch trim wheel had little or no effect on the elevator. The rudder was frozen solid. It wouldn’t budge! The trim tabs were all frozen in place.

We eventually arrived at 11,500 feet. We went off oxygen and prepared to level off. I’ll never forget it. Gerry reached up to adjust the power levers. He moved them, but the horse power gauges remained constant. He moved them again. Nothing. The engines were frozen at cruise power! I couldn’t believe it. All we had was either cruise power of OFF. This was real grim.

I relayed the latest news to Capt. Livingston. I could tell from his voice that he knew exactly the situation we faced; without variable control of power, it would be very difficult to land. Most pilots have given some thought to landing an airplane with control problems. However, most of these thoughts have included using engine power to help with pitch control. We wouldn’t have that!

We finally joined up with Flight 92 about 40 miles northeast of Cold Bay. It sure felt great to see that YS-11 slide in next to us. They soon raised our spirits further with the news that our tail flight controls all looked good. This was good news. They confirmed that the damage appeared to be confined to the belly only. Everything else looked good.

As we approached Cold Bay it became apparent that we would have to use the fuel cross-feed system. With the number four engine not using fuel, the right wing was getting heavy. We hoped the system would work. Gerry went ahead with the cross-feed procedure while we anxiously waited. It seemed to work ok! This meant that we didn’t have to land immediately. That was good because we needed lots of time.

With a minimum of crash rescue equipment available at Cold Bay, we decided to proceed to King Salmon. The airplane was now under fairly good control with the auto-pilot. The occasional shuddering continued but was becoming routine. We had 210 knots at 10,000 feet. The three remaining engines and all other systems were working normally. We had plenty of fuel, even at these low altitudes, for many hours of flight.

As we headed towards King Salmon we began to feel better about our situation. The weather was beautiful. The airplane was running well, and we assumed, it would continue to do so as long as we didn’t mess with anything. We started to entertain the idea of going on to Anchorage. It would take us about two hours. Our Flight 92 escort had been exchanged for a Coast Guard C-130. So we had lots of professional help close by if we had to go down en route. After much deliberation it was decided to proceed to Anchorage.

Our time en route was spent in constant conversation among ourselves and company dispatch, troubleshooting our damages systems. They had all the technical manuals out and were poring over them. We sure needed the help. At Homer we were joined by an Air Force Rescue C-130 so we had even more excellent assistance available if things got dicey.

It was good to see Anchorage again . . . even from 5,000 feet with no apparent way down. The weather was perfect, with calm winds. Now it was time to start experimenting with our controls and systems. We didn’t look forward to it but we had to know what was available to us. The consequences of wing flap and landing gear extension would be critical. We couldn’t stand much pitch change at all.

During the next two hours Capt. Gibson experimented with many combinations of auto-pilot, flight director and brute force. We had hoped to get enough control with the auto-pilot to actually land the airplane. Unfortunately it didn’t look like it could be done. Capt. Gibson had made numerous practice approaches, remaining at 5,000 feet each time. The auto-pilot just didn’t have the fine control we required.

Things were not looking too good. A belly landing on the tidal mud flats around Cook Inlet appeared as a definite possibility. The thought of what would happen to our belly was not too appealing. Capt. Gibson was exhausted. He asked me to fly the airplane while he talked to the company on the radio.

By this time Capt. Gibson had found that a combination of overpowering the auto-pilot with muscle gave a pretty good turn. I tried the same thing. I was amazed to find that I had good aileron control! I tried some elevator and actually got some good pitch response! I checked the auto-pilot and it was off. How or why I don’t know. I was excited. I immediately informed Capt. Gibson. We both got on the controls and, with the additional muscle, it got even better. We had five degrees of bank, either way, and about one degree of pitch. The rudder remained frozen.

We were all thrilled. We finally felt confident that we could land the airplane. I think our stranded flight attendant, Wendy Kroon, was happiest of all. She decided to return to the rear and help Victoria prepare the cabin for landing. With Gerry’s help up on to the seat armrests Wendy made her way across the “gash” and back to the rear.

Now it was time to see if the wing flaps and landing gear would work. We didn’t look forward to this at all. With a firm grip on our control wheels, Gerry moved the flap handle slowly to the “approach” position. The pitch change was very slight. We then lowered the landing gear. It worked perfectly. Things were looking up.

With the landing gear down and three engines running at cruise power we soon ran into a control problem. The aircraft wanted to turn to the right. It took all three of us on the controls just to hold the wings level! The only remedy was to raise the gear. We did this and again they worked perfectly. Now we knew, with our available horsepower from engines one and three, we could execute a safe go-around. That made for a safe approach.

Our last major item to accomplish prior to the approach was to shut down the number two engine to slow the aircraft. This would still give us electrical power until one and three were shut down. Gerry pulled the “E” handle. The engine spun down and the propeller feathered up perfectly. This was a real relief. This meant that the other engines “should” do the same. If one didn’t, it would be a wild ride.

We advised everyone that we would be making an approach with a possible go-around. At 5,000 feet, and 25 miles out we got on the localizer course. The aircraft was handling well with both of us on the controls. When a bank was required Capt. Gibson would call out which direction and how much. I would then follow through.

We intercepted the glide slope and lowered the landing gear. Our airspeed stabilized at 170 knots. Too fast! We crossed the threshold and Gerry called 175 knots. Capt. Gibson said, “It’s no good boys, let’s go around. Gear up.” Gerry raised the gear handle and we waited anxiously for the lights to go out. When the did I checked the airspeed, 140 knots, and rate of climb, 150 feet per minute. We were slowly climbing in real good shape.

That was just for practice; now we knew how to land. We climbed to 1,000 feet and turned on a wide downwind. We didn’t want a bunch of excess altitude. This approach would be much flatter, using the landing gear more for descent control. We wanted to maintain about a one degree glide slope and planned to touch down “on the numbers.” The only hard part would be judging exactly when to lower the landing gear.

We turned about 15 miles out and “eyeballed” the runway. When it looked good we lowered the gear. Our airspeed settled at a perfect 146 knots. That was just fine. We figured 160 knots would be the maximum allowable. We touched down and Gerry pulled the “E” handles for engines one and three. They immediately shut down. That was a big relief! Now it was just a matter of staying on the runway – and stopping.

We stayed on the center line for quite a while but slowly started drifting to the left. Capt. Gibson yelled for me to get on the right brake. I gave it all I had but it didn’t seem to have any effect. Our speed hadn’t dissipated very much so we were a long way down the 10,900-foot runway. When the left main wheels went into the dirt it pulled us hard over to the left. We saw the ditch coming up. Capt. Gibson yelled, “Brace yourselves.” Just as the nose wheel started down into the ditch we came to a rapid stop. My god but that felt good.

Guy Goes Full Psycho and Threatens to Blow up Hostel

You definitely encounter some characters and odd people at hostels. The one I work at is no exception. I got a job as a bartender at a hostel bar in Darwin a few week ago and it has been both fun and interesting meeting people from all over the world. The vast majority of them are cool and interesting. Everyone has a story. But once in a while you come across a very odd person. I had such an encounter last night.

Before He Went Full Psycho

Last night was very busy for a Monday night. We did pub trivia with people from a bigger bar we partner up with. There was this really odd guy who kept asking me if he could pour his own drinks. I told him no. Later I was out retrieving glasses and ran into him. He asked if he could get another beer. I told him yes, when I get back. I returned to the bar a minute later to find the guy behind the bar, pouring himself a cold beer. I told him, “Mate what the hell are you doing? Get the hell out of here!” He acted like it was no big deal. He had also placed money all over the area where the beers get poured. I told him he was cut off.

I did not see him again until I was closing up. I went upstairs to retrieve cups and found him sitting by himself at a table. He told me he really needed medical grade marijuana and asked me if I could score him any. I told him I was not his dope man. I closed up the bar and went to the bar next door for karaoke Monday! I sang “Forever in Blue Jeans” by Neil Diamond, one of my personal favorites.

Going Full Psycho

I showed up for work the next day to open the bar. I started hearing about some guy who went full psycho the night before. I immediately thought it was the guy I had encountered. Getting behind the bar and pouring himself a drink was not enough for this guy. Turns out he was just getting started. He was definitely on something. Apparently he turned on the gas on all of the ovens and threatened to “blow the mother fucker up!” This was seen by a few people. He then threatened to jump off the balcony (which is only about 20 feet so he would have probably just broken his ankles). His next move was to throw his phone, hard drive and most of his possessions into the pool. I only wish I would have been there so I could have done a citizens arrest on this wacko.

I guess his next move was to go to his room and get some rest. There was an American girl in his room who told me what followed. Apparently psycho likes to sleep naked. He told her to go get his phone out of the pool or else he would show her what he is all about. He said he was in the Israeli Defense Forces and knows how to kill people and that he would kill her if she did not get his phone. He also uttered fuck America. She pretended to be asleep, very frightened. If he would have told me that I would have said, “First off mate your military service was compulsory. Second off do you have any idea who bank rolls all of your defenses? America buddy!’ Granted he was probably so high none of it would have mattered.

I keep picturing this guy going full psycho while I am singing Neil Diamond at karaoke next door.

At this point the police were called. They showed up and arrested him. That should be the end of the story but it’s not. Apparently he was released in the morning. The guy working at the hostel says he came back to check back into his room. They told him, “Mate you need to leave, you can’t stay here anymore.” He began to laugh and told them they could not do that. He was informed that yes, they could in fact could do that and they would call the police if he did not comply. He responded, “Call the police, they are my friends. We went on a walkabout last night.” He also mentioned that he wanted to brush his hair. He eventually did leave. But psycho is still out there somewhere. Hopefully he slows down and lays off the stuff he’s been taking. Never a dull moment in Darwin.

Oh, there were a bunch of American army guys at the hostel bar last night. They were cool as hell. Lucky thing for this wacko he pulled this shit after they left or else I’m sure this would be a much different story.

 

 

A Tale of Politics, Treachery and Sexual Harassment in Alaska

The story below is written by Cean Stevens. In this she talks about her 2016 run for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian and the craziness that ensued. Little did she know that running for the senate would lead to a downward spiral of sexual harassment and treachery.

I met Cean in 2012 when we were both running for the legislature. She is one of those people you meet and don’t forget. She is a hard worker, intelligent and very principled. We became friends and saw each other a lot at political events. It is too bad she had to go through this but I am glad she decided to share her story. I want to thank her for letting me share it on my blog.

The campaign manager is Michael Chambers

The replacement candidate is Joe Miller

Former Alaska Libertarian Party chair is Terrence Shanigan

It’s All In the Name of Liberty: Diary of an Alaskan Coup

Cean Stevens

While contemplating whether or not to write this article, I decided to google sexual harassment of senate candidates. The search results were always the same – She’s disgruntled. She’s working for my opponent. She’s upset because she was passed over for a promotion. She’s trying to extort money from the campaign.

But this article is not just another narration of sexual harassment. It is also the dirty side of our governmental system that everyone seems to know about but that no one on the inside has been able to cure. I ran for office because I think the everyday, ordinary person is not well-represented in today’s political realm. In our history, serving your country as a Statesman meant that you served a term or two in Congress and then returned home to your normal job. But politicians today are overwhelmingly “career politicians.” Meaning that their main concern is getting re-elected instead of being a voice for their communities. As a small business owner I have always been big on hard work, personal responsibility, and people doing what they say they are going to do.

How It All Began

Several years ago, after much contemplation, I decided to step into the political arena with the hope of making a difference. I quickly discovered there are unexpected obstacles along the road and that while I was approaching this race with integrity, not everyone else is inclined to do the same.

In 2012, I decided to run for the Alaska State House. I was shocked to learn that the people really in control of everything are the staffers behind the scenes. I also got to experience firsthand all of the reasons why the average person doesn’t run.

Running for office requires a major time commitment, a large financial investment, and poses a significant strain on your family life and business. There is an overwhelming amount of political paperwork with looming deadlines and potential fines attached. There is research involved in learning everything that is pertinent to the position, your opponent, political strategy, voter base and more.

In 2014, I stepped up again with a better understanding of the responsibilities and sacrifices required. I was honored to receive the highest percentage of votes of any Libertarian running for higher office in the United States. Receiving this news spurred my conviction to continue to be involved in politics.

Running for US Senate

In 2016 I was approached by multiple members of the Alaska Libertarian Party (ALP) to consider running for US Senate. In Alaska, there are only four recognized political parties, the Republican Party, Democratic Party, Alaska Independence Party and the Alaska Libertarian Party. The highest seat up for election determines ballot access for the recognized party. In order to retain ballot access, the party must obtain at least 3% of the popular vote. This race presented a whole new set of unforeseen challenges.

The differences between a federal race and a state race can be compared to the differences between kindergarten and college. Financial disclosures, advertising regulations and reporting requirements are all extremely complicated and difficult to understand. Fines with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), for example, are much greater than state fines and there is absolutely no leeway in deadlines. Just one of the FEC instruction manuals is 96 pages long and is arduous to navigate through. I knew that I was going to need a great deal of help from volunteers and election experts in order for this to be a viable campaign.

Besides the candidate, the most important position in a campaign is the campaign manager. A man familiar to me and the party, whom I considered a friend, stepped forward and volunteered pro bono, to take this position, exclaiming, “It’s all in the name of liberty!” His credentials seemed sound. He had been effective going door to door in one of my previous campaigns and had served as the chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party. According to his verbal resume’, he was the “number one political activist in the state of Alaska and no one in state politics would make a move without his deciding influence”. He also spoke of his relationships with sitting legislators and that his contacts would be vital for my campaign.

I approved his role as my campaign manager. I felt grateful and fortunate to have his supposed “expertise” but quickly learned that nothing of value is ever really free and free it was not. Little did I know how great the costs, consequences and repercussions would be from accepting his volunteered help.

My first campaign meeting was exciting with many politically connected individuals in attendance. The energy in the room was alive with support and ideas. I left the meeting feeling strong and confident about the vision and the direction of the campaign.

The Nightmare Begins 

It wasn’t very long before the purposeful segregation and control started. Within a few weeks, my vetted campaign manager started to display a domineering attitude. He subtly worked to isolate me from any outside input. This behavior was orchestrated by my campaign manager who is supposed to be a candidate’s subordinate – but who is too often not.

Immediately he insisted that we spend every waking hour together. His ego demanded constant far-fetched compliments from me in exchange for doing what was asked of him. This abusive chore left me feeling mentally drained. He required compliments and expressions of gratitude about his artistic abilities, who he knew and how scholarly he was in comparison to the average person. If I had failed to fill my compliment quota, I would be penalized. He would cease speaking or responding to me, therefore it was a necessity to rack my brain for new compliments to use daily.

Every time I tried to schedule another meeting to get input from anyone outside the campaign, he would negate the idea or agree to schedule it and never follow through. It became very frustrating to act as a director of my own campaign around his manipulations. The more that I tried to make independent decisions or seek outside feedback, the more he would become indirectly manipulative and controlling which made me feel bound by his demands.

Despite being frustrated, I told myself that this is a typical consequence of pro bono help. I was still under the assumption that his spoke of credentials were actually true. In politics, firing a campaign manager mid election could leave my campaign dead in the water. It could potentially reflect poorly on me or my volunteers. I tried to tell myself that his resume warranted his massive displays of ego and that if I could just deal with his attitude for a few more months, I would be able to achieve my goal of representing my state.

Nevertheless, I found my stress level increasing by leaps and bounds daily. When I talked with him about my professional concerns, he began suggesting that he be allowed to physically release my tension with back rubs. I was shocked, massively uncomfortable and repulsed by the idea of him touching me. I changed the subject, as women are conditioned to do when confronted with unwanted advances. Instead of backing off, he became bolder. He began sending me lewd text messages and telling me how beautiful I was. When I would voice how inappropriate his words were or remind him that I was married, he would in turn punish me by refusing to complete important projects, would cease speaking to me, miss important deadlines or threaten to quit the campaign. I had no idea what to do or whom I could ask for advice. As campaign manager, he had complete personal control of all my campaign accounts, my financial data, contact lists and advertising. By this time, he had insured that all my files were on his computer and that he had access to my email.

Within weeks, a day did not pass that he did not share his desires with me. Yet as a candidate for public office, in the spot light of so many high-profile issues, I would think about the tremendous amount of support that I was garnering and the people that had donated their hard-earned dollars to get me elected. Just as significant, pulling out of the race would instantly jeopardize the 3% our party needed for ballot access. My sense of duty and my belief in my own resilience would keep me in the fight with my focus on the desired end result. I had to hold on.

Inwardly, I was overwhelmed by the damaging position I felt that I had put myself in. The pressure and stress grew as I started receiving photo shopped pictures of myself from him where my breasts had been grossly enlarged and other highly inappropriate “doctored pics.” Text messages stating that I turned him on. In one message he sent he said, “why didn’t I meet you 24 years ago and knocked you up!!” – Spelling was not his forte.

I can confidently say that no one wants to receive these messages from a subordinate more than a quarter century their senior. In another message, he aggressively said, “You told me you would let me know what you were doing today…Did you? NOT!! The real truth is that I hate being away from you at all”. The campaign and my dreams wavered in the balance. I was tired but not defeated, confused but driven. All I wanted to think about was my hope to see the campaign through to the end, to win in spite of, if not because of this ‘professional’s’ behavior. Once the campaign ended, his existence in my life would be over.

The Nightmare Continues

The problems rapidly escalated when we started traveling to remote destinations. I was scheduled to attend fairs where I had purchased booths to interact with the people in our state’s communities. Lodging and accommodations were very limited for these engagements and I found myself in some precarious situations out of town desperately trying to maintain my personal space. The final straw was on one of our last trips when he started telling me that, “when we won the election, we were going to be living together in Washington, D.C. in the same house!” I asked him where he thought my husband was going to be and he said, “Oh, he’s not going to be around!”

This was what really shook me up. I realized that my campaign manager was crazy and not remotely in touch with reality. That night, I started inquiring into his behavior through colleagues and friends, consequences for my professional life be damned. I looked more closely at internal campaign emails. I quickly discovered that he had been actively attempting to sabotage my marriage for the last four months. Still on the campaign trail and stuck in a vehicle alone with him for thirteen hours, I decided that enough was enough. I had to get away from the sexual harassment and break free from his manipulations and control. I was resolved to no longer allow him to jeopardize my marriage or my health.

We had two more events to attend. I made my mind up that after they were over I would put as much distance between us as necessary to protect myself. Unfortunately, he had arranged for accommodations at the next eleven-day fair and I learned that he had lied to me yet again. He had assured me that our sleeping arrangements consisted of multiple rooms to choose from in his friend’s home since hotel accommodations were non-existent. It turned out to be a basement space with two sleeping bags side by side on the floor.

Staying true to my resolution I informed him I was flying home to work on mandatory FEC reports. He became hysterical and started physically crying, demanding that I stay. He was enraged by my decision and once again threatened to quit the campaign if I left.

I returned home to regroup and focus on my priorities. Soon after, one of my supporters was kind enough to offer me a room for the next event. I was mortified to learn that when my campaign manager had spoken to her, he implied that we should be put in the same room and that it wasn’t a problem if there was only one bed. This particular supporter was Christian and told him that was inappropriate and was not an option. His request left me embarrassed beyond belief. When I expressed my horror at what he had said and alluded to, he laughed. I immediately made my own arrangements for accommodations to guarantee that this would be the final time that I would be faced with this situation.

Our working relationship was unbearable and my opinion of him was considerably damaged from all the lies, the ineptness, and the realization that his qualifications were merely delusions of grandeur.

Honestly, at this point I was terrified. To protect myself from him, I was preparing to embark on a bare bones, grass roots campaign, single-handedly, with two months left until election day. This seemed like my only option, and was the exact fear that had been strategically dangled over my head for months by my so-called well informed, well connected, political maestro. Who, in all actuality, was just a calculated sexual predator operating under my communities radar.

The flip side was that the primary had just passed and the results were well above my targeted percentage. My perseverance had paid off. The candidate field had narrowed considerably and there would be more focus on my race. The last and largest event on my campaign schedule was days away and I had made my decision to do it alone. I was inundated with calls and texts from my campaign manager begging to attend, but I was done and told him his services were no longer needed. Unbeknownst to me, calculating, premeditated subterfuge was getting ready to surface.

A Bizarre Turn of Events 

One week prior, before I finally fired my campaign manager, I had been contacted by (at then) current chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party with a game changer. Day one’s news left me in a state of panic. A high-profile person that had previously run against my incumbent opponent was threatening to run a write-in campaign for my seat. The Chair offered to act as a liaison between myself and the other politician. He was trying to persuade me to make contact but I was pissed, to be quite frank. ‘Contact’ would have implications on my race not only for the large block of voters that I needed, but also for any potential donations I might receive. I voiced with clarity that I felt my opinion would not matter. Ultimately, it was this person’s choice to run or not and it was out of my hands.

Day two delivered another phone call from the Chair saying that the politician had spoken with national donors. The donors informed him that he would not be able to get substantial donations while running a write-in campaign, but if he ran on a party ballot, he was guaranteed at least six figures in donations. These were just crumbs to a giant backroom bread trail.

I asked him what he was getting at and he remarked that he knew I had been having problems with my campaign manager for quite some time… and if I was willing to step aside, the new player in the game could take my seat in the race. I was shocked and furious. I exclaimed that the spoke of politician is not even registered as a libertarian!

He rapidly assured me that they had it all planned out and that the politician was actually, very libertarian.

My mind was reeling around this proposition. Could I actually walk away after all of the personal and financial sacrifices I had invested? My intuition was screaming at me that there was more happening here than what was being presented. I tried to sleep on it, but by day three I had been repeatedly contacted by the Chair conveying urgency. There was an impending deadline for the transition to take place if I would agree to it. It became impossible to find the silence I needed to make a methodical decision.

At the Alaska State Fair, where I had a booth, I was receiving an enormous amount of support and feedback. According to the Chair, the replacement candidate had more money, support, better name recognition, and volunteers that could take our party further than I could. I avoided phone calls and tried to push back the anxiety while attempting to make a responsible decision for the party and not myself.

Several days later, still without consenting to the transition, I was being pressured with a list of actions that had to be executed immediately. While continuing to gather more information to help make this wrenching decision, I started working on this list, knowing that I could back out at any time.

The first of which was to present this idea to the Libertarian Executive Board to gather their opinions. The Chair took this opportunity to inform the Board how Libertarian the replacement politician was. I expressed to the board that my campaign was out of money and that I had recently fired my campaign manager. Even though, I was sure that the campaign was successful enough to garner us the 3% that we needed for ballot access, I had been convinced that the replacement candidate had more resources, support, money and the ability to win. The question was could he take the party further than I could?

I resigned myself to stepping down even though every fiber of my being was telling me not to. I could not escape the feeling there were sinister things going on behind the scenes. The Board voted to accept my withdrawal.

Immediately, the Chair took it upon himself to start emailing me resignation letters to use. The letters were suspiciously worded very similar to my former campaign manager’s rhetoric and I told the Chair that I thought my ex-campaign manager had written them. He assured me that they were not speaking and that he had written the letters himself. I was adamant I would not have anything to do with this switch if my former campaign manager was involved in any way.

Three days before the deadline I met with the replacement candidate. I was assured face to face that his beliefs on issues had evolved, that he was very Libertarian and that I would be an integral part of his campaign because he needed the strong foundation that I had built. He expressed his and his family’s gratitude for allowing him to take my place and was looking forward to working together. I repeated to him that I had been having a great deal of trouble with my former campaign manager and that if he was involved at all, I would not be. He acknowledged my concerns. Although I had constant nagging skepticism over my decision, I reluctantly agreed to resign and pull out of the race.

Over the next few days, I was bombarded by the Chair with more sample resignation letters and requests that I state in the letter that I was pulling out for personal reasons. It is a well-known joke in D.C. that the only acceptable reason to leave politics is for “family reasons,” which ironically means that political forces are happening behind the scenes.

I declared vehemently that I was not going to lie on what was probably the last communication with my loyal supporters and neighbors. I spent considerable time working on my resignation letter and the next day I went to the Division of Elections and officially withdrew. Almost immediately upon publishing my announcement, I was engulfed with negative outrage, disapproval and shock from the voting public.

I instantly regretted my decision and wished I had trusted my instincts. While my character was under attack, the messages of indignation, questions of why and disappointment flooded every aspect of my life, whether asleep or awake. I had to begin ridding my home and working space of all things that reminded me of the experience with my campaign manager and a political position that I had worked so hard to win. I cannot express how difficult this was for me. I started to remove the campaign materials, agendas, calendars, and strategy lists from my space. There were logos, signs and literature everywhere that needed to be stored as well. I started to sift through the accumulation of eight months of research and hard work that had been the sole priority in my life.

In the process of cleaning up and purging, I was horrified to come across the root of what my gut was trying to tell me all along. The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies, right? My supporters felt betrayed, because they had been, just as I had been by my campaign manager and my party’s Chair.

What had been left behind on my home computer was evidence of an absolute collusion between the current Chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party -since formally removed- and the former Chair-my campaign manager, scheming to convince me to step aside for the new candidate. The collusion and double-crossing had started weeks before I was ever approached with stepping down. I also found scathing character assassinations filled with lies and deceit that my campaign manager was sending out to individuals who were supporting my campaign- and to the very politician who took my place. While harassing me from his role as my highest level professional assistant, he had actually been apprising people that I was pulling out of the race weeks before I had been approached with the idea. It’s hard to articulate how sick this treachery left me feeling or how physically ill I felt processing these events.

Conclusion 

People that know me know I am not the type of person to lie down and pull the covers over my head when things get tough. Making the decision to expose others involves risk factors and there are implied rules when telling the truth in politics, especially when some would say this is not considered proper material for public anecdote. So, do I tuck the facts away to protect those that lie? How do I portray the utter creepiness and disgust that I dealt with on a daily basis? How do I sort through the collusion and back stabbing? Will this at least caution others to whom they are dealing with?

I chose to divulge the truth because I am a person of principle and I hope that by reaching out, I can help others navigate some of the swamp that surrounds our elections. I made a terrible decision to choose my party over my principles- it’s a mistake I will not repeat. My seat in the race may have been taken, but my dignity hasn’t. Nor will I ever again have to feel sequestered by manipulation or sexual harassment.

The trepidation has left now and all that remains is the truth of the deeply structured, dirty games that some people think is the proper way to conduct politics.

I implore anyone who wants to enter our current political realm, to always choose principle over party but most importantly to trust your instincts. After all, it’s all in the name of Liberty, isn’t it?

A Day at the Australia Zoo

One thing I knew I had to see on my Australia adventure is the Australia Zoo. I could not leave Brisbane for Darwin without spending a day at the zoo. Growing up Steve Irwin was one of the most exciting characters on TV. I always looked forward to seeing him on talk shows and watching his television programs. And of course him saying the term he made famous – crikey! He used to always talk about the Australia Zoo and how much he loved the animals. When he was tragically killed in 2006 I remember how upsetting it was for so many Americans. He was a true ambassador for Australia.

The zoo is only about an hour drive from Brisbane or two hours by bus and train. Luckily, I met an English girl who just moved to Brisbane for work and she happens to have a car. I told her I wanted to go to the zoo and invited her along. We headed out around 10 am. My excitement was not fully unleashed until I had my standard vanilla latte. We arrived at the zoo around 11 am, greeted by a huge picture of Steve Irwin at the entrance. I was like a kid in a candy store. The admission price was $59 AUD and it was worth every penny! I was really hoping to meet Bindi Irwin but I was told she is with her mother and brother in America for the Steve Irwin Gala Dinner, just my luck.

The two animals I most wanted to see were, of course, crocodiles and kangaroos. But the zoo had a lot more than that. I was immediately greeted by an employee holding a huge snake. I was not allowed to hold it but was allowed to pet it. The day continued with all kinds of animals. Some of my favorites were a Sumatran Tiger (who tragically went blind but has a great home at the zoo), Kangaroos, Tasmanian Devils, Cassowaries, Giraffes, Camels, Wombats, Red Pandas and many more! The zoo has many of the awesome animals native to Australia but also many native to Asia and Africa.

We also attended one of their famous shows at the Crocosuem! The show included many different types of amazing birds that were trained incredibly well. They would fly and swoop over the audience and then fly back to their trainers. The Macaws and the South American Condor were the most impressive. And of course the best part of the show was the crocodiles! They slowly swam out and eventually came on the land. At times the trainers were no more than 10 feet away. It was somewhat comforting to learn that crocs are much slower on land than in water but it did not make it less scary seeing them so close! It is hard to describe the sheer size of these reptile beasts. They also jumped out of the water to get food  – propelling half their bodies out of the water!

Playing with and feeding the kangaroos was my favorite part of the zoo. Approaching them in the wild, as I have learned in Australia, is a very bad idea. The big ones can go on their tail and kick with enough force to brake ribs. They also have a huge claw in their kind legs that can gut you right open! The ones at the zoo are friendly and tame. You can buy “roo food” for a few dollars and feed them. I even managed to get an awesome roo selfie.

Another great part about the zoo is the staff. They were all incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. I spoke with one guy who has worked there for 15 years. He knew Steve Irwin and said that Steve knew the name of every single employee. The zoo employees hundreds of people.

If you are in or around Brisbane, I highly recommend taking a day and visiting the Australia Zoo. It is definitely worth the time. And who could pass up on an opportunity to play with kangaroos!

 

Bolting from Brisbane

It is 1:15 in the morning in Brisbane as I am writing this. I am listening to Queen while enjoying some vodka. I have been thinking a lot lately about what I want to do with my life. Truth be told, I have been thinking a lot about this since before I came to Australia in December. I came here for an adventure but also to escape. Escape from what exactly – monotony, routine, lack of adventure? Yes, all of those things and more.

I have been away from Alaska over four months now and have learned a lot about myself and what I want out of life. Yet, I still don’t know exactly what I want or what I am running from. I spent the last four months in Australia pursuing a path of finding professional work and getting a sponsored visa, which would eventually lead to me obtaining residency. However, the Australian government just announced major changes to their skilled worker visa scheme as well as residency and citizenship requirements. I had a great job lined up in Brisbane but due to the changes the job fell through. Based on all of this, I have decided to forego seeking a sponsored job in Australia.

The last three weeks in Brisbane have been a lot of fun. I met some cool chicks on Tinder including an Aussie doctor, an Aussie nurse and a super legit English travel agent. I spent Easter weekend with my old boss from Alaska, who showed me an awesome time. He tried to teach me to surf, which means he surfed and I tried really hard to not get punished by the waves. I met up with a crazy Canadian girl I met a year ago with her friend at the Krispy Kreme in the Manila airport. We ended up hanging out a week later in Bangkok and have kept in touch since. She is a real maniac and high energy, just like me! Turns out she was in Brisbane this week with her husband helping his cousin move. She messaged me on Facebook and we all met up. We had an awesome time. But my place is not in Brisbane.

I recently purchased a one way ticket to Darwin. I leave Friday night. I don’t know what to expect other than heat, crocodiles and a friend of my mate Andrew who has offered to host me for a few days after I arrive. I do know that I am excited to go to an adventurous place with no expectations other than finding a new adventure and not worrying about getting a sponsored visa. I have spent the last four months pursuing something I thought I wanted but it has become clear to me that is not my path here.

I plan to look for work in Darwin or somewhere in the Northern Territory and see where that leads me. It is hard to say where I will be in the next few months, let alone the next few weeks but I am excited for the next step in my journey. Where will I end up next – New Zealand, Nepal, Russia, India, back home to Alaska? Possibly any of those, possibly none of them. Only time will tell. The best part about traveling is not knowing where you are going, but rather not knowing where you will end up.

Thanks to everyone who has been following my blog. More to follow folks!

How I Ended up at a Remote Australia Cabin with Another Alaskan

The best part about traveling is you never know exactly what kind of adventures you will find. If you know me, you know those adventures can often times be high impact – and frightening for those reading or listening. The following story is no exception. This is the story of how an Alaskan guy I met in Sydney and I ended up in a remote Australian cabin, at times fearing for our lives.

How It All Started

It all started, strangely enough, with a call into the Mark Colavecchio radio show. I called in about a month ago to check in and give Mark an update on my Australia adventure. We had a good chat and wished each other all the best. This was very early in the morning for me as Anchorage, at the time, was 20 hours behind Sydney (18 now after daylight savings time; it was 19 for a while because there is a 2 week gap in the countries daylight savings time, I know it’s weird). Not long after the call I got an email, the subject line was Australia. The following is a portion of the contents of the email:

Hi Jeff,

I don’t know you from a bar of soap but am always interested to hear your calls on the radio.

My wife Jacqueline and I are a couple of ratbags who moved here from Australia 3 years ago. We have some land and a cabin west of Kempsey NSW near a town called Bellbrook and miss it incredibly.

I wondered if you were up for a unique free homestay in the cabin for up as short or long a time as you want? (That said, we will need it in August for a 2 month visit)

It’s 11 k’s from the nearest town and off grid. I’d like to know what condition it’s in and have someone do general maintenance, lawns etc without getting run over by the cattle, washed out by floods and bitten by the worlds deadliest snakes. I will also want loads of pictures.

Anyway if you are up for it, get back to me and I can send more details. It’s remote, hot and the cicadas will burst your eardrums – sounds appealing doesn’t it (remember the snakes)? It is also on a creek and is an amazing place to chill out. 

regards,
Torsten 

I thought it sounded like an awesome opportunity. I called Torsten to chat more about it. I thought the name sounded familiar and after talking for a few minutes I realized I actually met him once in Alaska. When I was working at GCI one of my clients was going to make some substantial changes to their network and Torsten was their IT guy. We met once to discuss their needs. I remembered he was Australian. At the time I was contemplating going to Australia and we chatted a bit about it.

I told him I was interested in going to the cabin but was not sure when I could go as I was looking for a job and the cabin was pretty far from Sydney. I mentioned that, however, I was contemplating getting out of Sydney and heading north but not sure when. I told him I would keep him posted.

Not long before the cabin email I had met this awesome Alaskan cat in Sydney named Tim. We have a mutual friend back home in Anchorage who connected us. Tim is quite a character and very different than me. We got along straight away. He had been picking fruit in northern Queensland but was traveling around and ended up in Sydney. He was crashing at the place I was staying. I mentioned the cabin opportunity to him, he was interested but also a bit skeptical. He said it sounded rapey. I agreed but told him I knew the guy really well, which was, well not exactly accurate.

Some time went by and I decided to get out of Sydney. Tim wanted to leave too because he needed to complete his 90 days of farm work up north so he could extend his visa. We agreed to get out of Sydney and head north (There is a whole different story about this really fucked up living situation we were in that involved a gypsy lady and a lot of drama. This was part of the reason I wanted to get out of Sydney but that will all be in a future post). I was going to a friend’s wedding in Dominican Republic and Tim was finishing out some construction work so we agreed to leave on April 1.

I got in touch with Torsten and told him the plan. We exchanged emails about the cabin and what he wanted us to do. He told me we needed to meet this guy who does the cabin maintenance so he could lead us out there. It is so off the grid it is nearly impossible to find unless you know where it is. This is when we began to contemplate the what ifs… I got in touch with the guy and told him when we would be in town to meet him.

Leaving Sydney

Luckily Tim has a car (the real reason I invited him). This thing is a real beauty. A beautiful, gold, 2001 Ford Escape with about 1/3 of the options. It is missing the CD changer and only has 270,000 kilometers. The middle console is, for some reason, not completely attached to the floor. The car dealership who sold it to him told him it was “mint!” A great deal at $3,000 AUD ($2,250 USD). Tim had driven this thing all over Australia, the only reason I was confident we would make it.

Tim was staying with me and the gypsy lady but they had a major falling out and drama ensued. He left the place a few days before we were scheduled to head out so he had to pick me up the morning we were leaving. Luckily she was not home as she said if she saw him again she would, “Lose it on his American ass.” Tim arrived and I quickly packed all my stuff in the Escape, which turns out was a very appropriate name for the car.

We headed out of Sydney, putting it all in the rear view. We stopped in Singleton to see my mate Andrew, his wife Kristen and their two kids. Andrew brews his own beer and he had a cold one waiting for me. He was nice enough to let me use his printer so I could vote by email in the municipal election back home in Anchorage. We relaxed there for a few hours and then continued on our journey. Andrew and the wife were a bit skeptical about the cabin. They wished us luck.

Arriving In Kempsey

It took around nine hours to get to Kempsey from Sydney after stopping to see Andrew and getting some supplies. Tim had gotten accustomed to sleeping in the Escape but he was not too excited about sharing it with brother bear, he started calling me that for some reason. I suggested we get a hotel so we can get a good night sleep. We rolled into Kempsey around 10 pm, the place was dead on a Saturday night.

We drove around looking for a hotel. We pulled into one, no one seemed to be there and it looked like the Bates Motel, so we got the hell out. We settled on the Kempsey Motor Inn. We parked at the entrance and walked in. We were greeted by an older gentlemen as a younger Thai man scurried to the back. His name was Robbie. Describing him would be a challenge but let’s just say he’s the kind of person you never forget. He was surprised to see two Alaskans role up to his place at 10 at night. He told us he rad recently bought the place with his partner and was getting it fixed up. Remember the partner.

We got a room with two beds, the honeymoon suite was not available. We chatted a bit with Robbie while, in the Aussie way, he messed with us. I asked him how many people live in Kempsey? He responded, “Oh about twenty-five thousand (pause) five thousand of which are blackies!” Tim and I were like uh, come again? One thing I have noticed in Australia is when you get out of the city and into the country people have few reservations about making openly racist comments. He then said because he liked us he was going to upgrade us to a better room. Tim commented, “Because of easier access to the peep holes?” Robbie responded, “Nah mate, because it will be easier to slit your fuckin throats while you are sleeping!” He said it in a joking way but we were still like, damn we are in it now.

Before we went to the room he walked us back to the restaurant so he could sell me a few beers. The restaurant was locked up. Robbie opened it and took us in, it was something right out of the Shining. He sold me a few beers. As we were walking out, the ice maker in the back kicked on and Tim was like you need to zip tie them up better next time. Robbie then started telling us how he had lung cancer and liver failure. He looked really healthy, I asked him if he had treatment. He said doctors don’t know shit and he was cured from sea cucumbers. We pulled the car around and settled in for a nice sleep before our trip out to the cabin.

Heading To The Cabin

We woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to go. Well Tim woke me while he was unpacking and organizing the car. Dude is an early riser. Robbie was monitoring the grounds in his golf cart. He is quite the engaged innkeeper. I went to take a shower. As soon as I turned on the water the shower head shot off at a high speed, almost smacking me in the head. I called Robbie and asked if he could fix it. He came in hot with tools and a replacement. He was telling us about a time he visited America. I interrupted at one point to ask a questions and he yelled, “Jesus Christ mate, typical fuckin American, can’t shut the fuck up.” Again, this was in a joking way but was still full on. He added, remember he is a Kiwi, “The worst people in the world are Australians. Except for fuckin Americans!” I think he liked us.

We got packed up and went to check out. Tim and I had the suspicion that Robbie was an old queen and the younger Thai man was the partner he mentioned. I had to confirm this. As we were checking out I asked about his business and his partner. Like a business partner or a life partner? He was like, “Yeah mate, he is in the back making fried rice.” I have some gay friends and have gotten pretty familiar with some of the terminology in the gay community. Robbie would best be described as a daddy. He wished us a good journey and we headed off to meet Rob (different guy) who would take us out to the cabin.

We went shopping for supplies and then met Rob. Rob has been doing maintenance and taking care of the cabin for years. He is very Aussie. Unlike me he is not a talker so I did most of the talking. I rode out with Rob and Tim followed behind. I was telling Rob all about my life and Aussie adventure. He told me about his business and family. I probably did 90% of the talking. We stopped at a pub in the closest town to the cabin, Bellbrook. Bellbrook is a very small town, population 356.

After a beer we headed to the cabin. This was no simple journey. There had just been major rains and parts of the road were washed out. We crossed a concrete bridge, the water had subsided but days before the bridge was nearly unpassable. There were cows and bulls everywhere, all free range. We had to stop 5 times so I could get out, open cattle gates, let the cars pass and then close them. After about 30 minutes I was thinking damn this really is remote. We got to a point when Rob stopped and engaged 4 wheel drive low. I saw a steep ravine and thought no way that is the road, it was. I was worried about Tim and the old Escape making it up but it handled it like a champion. The top of the ravine lead to an almost unrecognizable road that was camouflaged by high grass. After about 5 minutes and another gate we arrived at the cabin.

Road to the cabin

Rob had recently been out and mowed all the grass, which saved Tim and I a lot of work. The cabin sits at the bottom of a picturesque valley in a temperate rain forest. Rob showed us around and helped us get settled in. There was a complex power system consisting of solar panels and many large batteries. There were propane tanks for cooking and heating the shower water though we could not figure out how to heat the water. Torsten had built a nearly self sustainable cabin in the middle of nowhere. Two large water tanks filled up with rain water and the solar panels and batteries provide power – well kind of.

Once Rob had shown us everything, including a dead black snake, he left us to fend for ourselves – but not before giving us a nice gift. He and his wife prepared a gift basket for us containing lots of food, medical supplies, some beers and a bottle of top shelf Australian Bundaberg Rum! The medical supplies were in case we got bit by a snake or spider. Things were starting off well. Rob drove away leaving Tim and I to get settled in.

Cabin Life – The First Day

The cabin sits in a truly magnificent place. It is so remote that all you hear are the noises of nature, in this case the creek behind the cabin and all kinds of animals, mostly birds. This was the complete opposite of the bustling city of Sydney. I was happy to be in the wilderness and away from the craziness of Newtown and the stress of looking for a job.

Cabin sitting in the valley

We arrived around 3 pm so there was plenty of daylight left. We unpacked the Escape and got settled in. One of the first things we noticed was a stuffed fake person sitting on the porch in a rocker. Torsten had mentioned that “Gilbert” would be happy to have some company, which I thought was an animal. This was Gilbert. The bed and couches were covered with sheets. There were rat or mouse droppings scattered throughout the cabin. The place has not been lived in for years so that is not unexpected. We decided a full cleaning was in order – but that could wait until morning. We had a list of work Torsten wanted us to do, we would tackle all of the work the next day. Torsten wanted me to call him when we arrived so he could walk me through a few things but he sent an email saying he would be at a party and unavailable the day we were arriving.

Torsten has s small TV and DVD player with a full selection of 23 DVD’s. Tim and I decided to make dinner and watch a movie. The sun had set and the temperature started to drop. It actually got quite chilly at night. We made some awesome burritos and sat down to watch one of my favorite movies, Burn After Reading, that Torsten happened to have. About fifteen minutes into the movie, boom, power out! Some of the lights and fridge still worked but everything else (TV, power outlets) was dead. I went outside to the cabinet with all of the electrical equipment to have a look. My knowledge of electricity is right up there with my knowledge of Arabic – I know it is a language and know one or two terms. I had no idea what I was doing.

I came back inside and told Tim I had no clue what to do. Tim came out to have a look, we tried “resetting” all kinds of switches that resembled fuses. That did nothing (I know shocking) so we went back inside to brainstorm. Torsten was unreachable, the only person I could call was Rob. I looked at my phone and there was no service. Tim and I looked at each other with worried faces, all of our jokes about what could happen seemed to be coming true. I was not really scared but let’s just say I was a little paranoid. Tim went outside and retrieved a hatchet and a large metal pole in case shit went down. I walked away from the cabin and got a bar of service. I rang Rob and explained the situation. He said, “Sorry mate no idea what to do.” I thanked him and said it was no big deal.

Tim and I started talking about our decisions to come to Australia and the time we had spent together in Sydney. Then out of no where Tim said, “What if a bullet just ripped through the back of my skull and I slumped over?” Not exactly what I wanted to hear. I joked and told him I would poke at his dead body and say, “Tim, you okay buddy? You taking a nap?” We decided if the attack came then we were going to grab the weapons and head out to the bush. All of the noises did not help to calm the nerves. We eventually fell asleep without being murdered.

Cabin Life – Day Two

We woke up to a cloudy sky and light rain. The power was still out. I called Torsten to let him know we arrived and also to see if he knew what could be the issue with the power. He was not sure but gave me some ideas on what to do. Luckily two of my best mates in Australia are electricians so I decided to call my mate Andrew, who we had visited days before. I met Andrew 10 years ago in Germany while I was backpacking Europe and we have stayed in touch since. I explained the situation to him and he talked me through a few things. I sent him an email with a picture of the cabinet (which took 5 minute to send) and he responded with one sentence, “Damn that looks messed up.” I called him back and asked what he thought. He asked me how far the nearest hospital was. I decided to forego playing electrician. After all we did have some lights and the fridge was working. Later I got an email from Torsten suggesting I reset the inverter, IT 101! I did and it worked, the power was back! Well for a while.

Some of the work Torsten wanted us to do required a shovel, which we could not seem to find. We also wanted to clean the house and did not have any paper towels or cleaning supplies. We decided to go in town and get some supplies at the general store. We were careful to remember exactly how to get back. I was on gate duty again.

The general store looked exactly how it sounds, an old building with “General Store” written on the front. We walked in and were greeted by a lady that was right out of the movie Deliverance, Aussie edition. She was hunched over and wearing thick glasses. They did not have a shovel or much of what we needed. The shelves were stocked with what seemed to be only one of every item, except what we needed. The lady asked us where we were staying. I remembered Torsten asked me to pick up his mail from the general store. I told her we were staying at Torsten’s place and asked for his mail, which she gave to me. She then said, “How long you boys staying up there for?” Tim looked at me with a concerned facial expression. I said, “Oh well we could be leaving any day now…” Tim tried to buy some napkins but she said they were running low so she cut the napkin bag in half, gave him half and kept the other half. We paid for the few items we found, went to the pub for a beer and headed back. Luckily the pub had a shovel we were able to borrow.

We headed back for the cabin, nearly careening off the road at one point. I was on gate duty again. We decided the next time we drive out is when we leave, or when we were escaping an attack. The first thing we did was dig out the ground at the main gate. The gate was getting stuck and could only open about 3/4 of the way. With our combined shoveling skills the gate now opens all the way. We then went to the cabin and spent a while doing a deep clean – which was much needed. Later I noticed the power was out again. I tried to reset the inverter bu it did not work. I started to suspect it was the batteries. Torsten had mentioned this could be the issue. Once the place was all cleaned up it was time to take a shower. Because the hot water was not working we settled for the next best option, the creek. The water was a bit chilly but also very refreshing. If anyone had seen us they would have probably thought this was a Brokeback Mountain situation.

We went back to the cabin and started on dinner. Tim had noticed that some of the food we left outside had been rummaged through, what could it have been? I fixed myself a nice rum and coke, sat on the swinging chair on the balcony and continued reading The Fatal Shore, a great book about Australia’s convict history. The sky was full of clouds and there was a light breeze as the sun was setting. The evening was looking to be pretty quiet, or so we thought…

After dinner we lit a fire in this very old, steel wood burning stove. It had “PITTSBURGH” etched on the front. A relic from the booming days of the American steel industry. It took some trial and error figuring out how the flue worked but we eventually got it – the stove worked great. Tim went outside at one point to take a piss. When he was heading back in I heard him yell out, “Ahhh!” Apparently he forgot about old Gilbert sitting on his rocker and had a little scare.

We were enjoying a nice fire and a quiet evening when, suddenly, we heard something scurrying outside. Tensions rose, what could it be? We looked at each other not sure what to do but knowing we had to check it out. We went to the door and had a look outside, we did not see anything. I opened the door and saw something small moving at the edge of the deck. It was a possum! Tim had a run in with a possum a few months back when he was camping and told me they are not scared of people. Tim went outside and the thing seemed to have no fear of him. He got a banana and broke a small piece off. The possum climbed up the ledge, stood on its hind legs and reached out with its little hands and grabbed the banana. The possum was not scared of us at all. We named him Sylvester.

Cabin Life – Day Three

The sun rose to a cloudless sky. The morning chill quickly disappeared. We had a long day of work ahead of us along with a bush walk up the mountain (we would call it a hill in Alaska). Tim cooked a lovely breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast and avocados. If you have not tried Vegemite before let me just say it is an acquired taste, and I have definitely acquired it. We finished breakfast and geared up to complete our list of work.

I went to check the inverter and noticed the voltage was way up. I switched it on and asked Tim to go inside and check, it worked! I came to the conclusion that the power issue was in fact the batteries not holding the charge. When the sun was hitting the solar panels everything worked, when it went down, lights out. Torsten actually suggested Tim and I go to Kempsey, pick up new batteries and replace the existing ones. I told him I would probably either kill myself or burn the house down. That will be a project for old Torsten.

As I was playing with the inverter I noticed something right above my hand. It was a spider that was upside down and covering some kind of sack. My hand had been inches from this thing the whole time. I jumped back and yelled for Tim to come outside. I showed him the thing and he was like what the hell is that! We decided it had to be dispatched but could not agree on who would do it. We decided on rock, paper, scissors. Now this is a game I have played a lot and mastered so I felt pretty good about it. In what could only be describes as an anomaly, Tim and I threw identical symbols like 20 times in a row. I could not believe it. He eventually beat me.

I grabbed the shovel, nervously moved it close to the spider and smacked it. It fell but was not dead. I kept smashing it until we were confident it was dead. I have no idea what kind of spider it was but it had two very identifiable fangs. The sack hung and oozed out some kind of fluid, it must have been baby spiders. We removed that and disposed of it. So happy I did not get bit out there, it could have been a real disaster (They say if you get bit to try and kill or get a picture of what bit you so they know what serum to give you. They also say to remain calm, lay down and wait for medical personnel, yeah right)

Tim and I completed a variety of tasks ranging from replacing the tarp covering the BBQ pit (luckily no snakes in there), removing an incredible amount of grass and roots from the water tank filter and cleaning and organizing the property. We finished all the work, had a nice lunch and prepared to set out for the bush walk.

We headed down the road and started up the mountain. It was a fairly steep climb and Tim is mister hiker. I was following along, breathing a bit heavy, as Tim looked like he was taking an afternoon stroll. At one point Tim grabbed his leg and yelled out, “Fuck! What was that?” I thought he got bit by something but it was actually a bush he brushed up against. He said it stung something horrible. I thought he was overreacting and told him to chill out. He had a few more of these run ins and I continued to think he was being a baby. That is until my leg brushed up against a Stinging Nettle! If you have never been stung be one of these things before I don’t recommend trying it. The bush releases some kind of toxin on your skin and it is incredibly painful. Tim was not messing around. The pain lasts for hours but eventually goes away.

We posted up on top of the mountain and looked around at the incredible beauty of the rain forest and valley. A large part of the mountain looked like jungle and was completely covered by trees and a canopy. Growing up I always imagined Australia as desert but I have come to learn it is a lot more than that. Other parts had grass fields as far as you could see. It was quite a sight. We headed back down, careful to avoid the Stinging Nettles. I wanted to go into the bush but we were not dressed or equipped for that.

We got back to the cabin excited for our last night. I had a nice dip and wash in the stream as the sun was setting. We cooked our last dinner and watched the sun set for the last time at the cabin. I lit another fire and continued reading The Fatal Shore and thought about how things will go when I get to Brisbane. Sylvester the possum came by again and enjoyed some oats and fruit we left for him. I enjoyed a few more rum and cokes in front of the fire before heading to bed.

Leaving The Cabin

We woke up at 7 am to another chilly morning. After a filling breakfast we packed up the car, secured the cabin and headed to Kempsey to meet Rob. I needed to give him a few things and also wanted to take him for breakfast as he had been so kind to us. We met him at a local diner and told him all about the cabin adventure. The power issue, the spider, the possum. Rob seemed quite amused by our story. We thanked him for being so accommodating and headed north for Queensland. We stopped in Coffs Harbor to have lunch with my mate Scott. I met Scott on the same backpacking trip in Europe I met Andrew on 10 years ago. They were traveling together. It was great staying in touch with them over the years and even better spending time with them on my Australia adventure.

Selfie with Tim and Rob

We left Coffs Harbor and headed for Brisbane. I had a few leads on some jobs in Brisbane so I decided to give it a shot for a few weeks and see what happens. On the way up I checked Gumtree (Australia version of Craigslist) for a room to rent. I came across a room in a suburb of Brisbane and called the number. The guy was looking for a long term tenant but after a little Landfield charm I was able to negotiate a shorter term arrangement. We arrived in Brisbane around 8 pm an headed towards his place. Eddie is Brazilian and an all around cool cat. He is in several bands and teaches music. He even invited Tim to stay on the couch that night. Tim headed north to look for farm work while I got situated in Brisbane. We wished each other all the best on our new adventures. This marked the end of one chapter in my Australian adventure and the beginning of a one.