It was time to move on. Gary, a friend I had made at the dam, and I said goodbye to Blowering Dam and headed northeast towards Sydney and the Gold Coast looking for sea and sun.
The further north we went the hotter it became. Just outside Surfers Paradise, our chosen destination, we saw an interesting road sign – Koala Crossing.
The Koala is the only mammal, other than the Greater Glider and Ringtail Possum, that can survive on a diet of eucalyptus leaves. They are found in a range of habitats, from coastal islands and tall eucalypt forests to low inland woodlands. Koalas are docile and somewhat slow moving.
The only areas in the world, apart from zoos, where Koalas live are in the Australian areas below. The only time I had ever seen a Koala was at the London Zoo when I was young. Working for a tour company in Surfers Paradise gave me an opportunity to hold one of these cute creatures.
Welcome to Surfers Paradise. What a change from the cold temperatures of the dam!
Surfers Paradise was a bustling tourist destination with some very interesting ideas. Attractive young “meter-maids” would patrol the streets during the day and, instead of handing out tickets, would put coins in the meters which were about to expire. A nice touch in many ways! Today the meter maids’ services appear to have turned controversial with credit card use at meters.
“Gold Coast meter maids have gone from feeding meters to feeding hungry beachgoers, with the launch of a controversial new takeaway food delivery service straight from the shops to the Surfers Paradise sand.
The app-based ‘Maid to Order’ service is up and running despite warnings from the Gold Coast City Council that it could be illegal, and threats to fine or even jail the gold bikini-clad tourism icons.” (Greg Stolz, Gold Coast Bulletin, January 26, 2016)
Gary and I parted company after a month or two in Surfers as he couldn’t find a job. I managed to get a commission-only job working for a tour company which sold cruises to North Stradbroke Island, still a big tourist attraction today, and tickets for a jungle tour. Each ticket cost Australian $5 – which was worth a lot more money then!
Selling around 20 tour tickets a day, 6 days a week, gave me enough to break even on my monthly expenses and beer, preferably XXXX Pale Ale.
A group of us met at the Beer Garden just about every evening to rest for a couple of hours before hitting the disco clubs until 1-2am. Nancy Sinatra’s “These boots were made for walking,” was my favorite song at that time and still takes me back to the Surfers Paradise Beer Garden whenever I hear it.
Surfers Paradise Beer Garden in the 1960s
My modus operandi was to approach people on the street or to sell while lounging around a swimming pool at lunch time. The hotels were also a good source of customers, particularly honeymooners. Believe it or not, tour companies had not yet started promoting their services in hotels and the hotel managers were receptive to my efforts.
One of the trips I sold was the jungle tour, the highlight of which was the “orchid man.” This is the story I will never forget.
The travel agency owned a small bus that was driven into the Lamington National Park, a rainforest slightly southwest of Surfers Paradise. On these tours, the ultimate destination was a visit to the “orchid man.” I was supposed to be the guide and was expected to sell more tickets to other attractions whilst on the bus. It was a day trip and we left the coast, the sea breezes, and the 80° weather for the humid, steamy 95+° heat of the jungle over rough roads. The bus had no air conditioning! The lush jungle was virtually impenetrable either side of the dirt road.
Our first stop was for morning tea on the edge of the jungle. We sat outside and were immediately joined by hundreds of slow-moving green-eyed horse flies. You had about 5 seconds to swat them away before getting a nasty, stinging bite. We did not have insect spray and this was our welcome to this beautiful but not necessarily friendly environment.
After our brief stop, we drove down the jungle road for about 40 minutes. The “orchid man” was a national expert who hunted for rare orchids in the jungle and propagated them. The information we were given about this man was that he was a little eccentric. His wife had died and he lived alone with his orchids deep in the jungle. Ever since losing his wife, he had taken to dressing in her clothing. This day he wore her bra stuffed with socks under one of her low-necked dresses. It was a truly bizarre sight and we tried not to stare or comment. We had been told to refer to him as “Julie” which was his wife’s name.
It became apparent to us that not only was he incredibly knowledgeable about orchids but also an extremely nice person. Unfortunately, there was one man in our group who was very rude to Julie and mockingly asked him, in front of us all, why he dressed the way he did. I had never been so embarrassed. Julie quietly ignored the question and carried on with his tour. The insensitive idiot was ostracized by the group from that moment on and had an uncomfortable ride home.
It was a very lonely, hermit-like existence for Julie apart from his weekly visits from our touring company. His humble acceptance of himself and his willingness to share his knowledge made a deep impression on me. I often wondered if anyone looked after him in his old age or whether he died alone amongst his orchids.
In tribute to Julie, here are some of the orchids found in Australia, not necessarily just in his area.
Orange Blossom Orchid (Sarcochilus falcatus)
The Queen of Sheba Orchid (Thelymitra )
Donkey Orchid (Diuris)
Flying Duck Orchid (Caleana Major)
Here’s to you Julie! Thanks for the memories!