The Norman Bates-type motel that I was staying at looked a little better in the daylight. It was just a two-mile drive down a gravel road to reach the Twelve Apostles. I arrived before many people, which gave me time to admire the scenery.
The Twelve Apostles is the main reason people drive The Great Ocean Road. The pillars are believed to be over twenty million years old and are made up of limestone. According to this site, “Until the 1960s the formations were called the Sow and Pigs – Muttonbird Island being the sow and the stacks the piglets. Then, in a flash of marketing brilliance, they were renamed the Apostles. By some divine intervention, the name soon evolved into The Twelve Apostles – even though you could only see nine at the time.”
The formations were beautiful. The blue-green ocean was so violent that waves crashed against the pillars and the sand. There was so much force that the waves created a foam-like covering on top of the water.
The lookout points are on top of the cliffs. In one section, you can look back and see the curved cliff on the mainland and all of the layers from the ocean to the top of the cliff. The land was so sculpted that it looked like someone took a spoon and scooped it.
The website goes on to explain the history of the apostles, “At 9:18am on July 3, 2005, one of the Apostles had its last supper. Onlookers reported that the stack shimmied and shuddered a bit, fractured and then imploded before sliding into the ocean. The 12th Apostle (known as Judas) went from a magnificent 50 metre stack to a pile of rubble in seconds. On 25 September, 2009, another rock came crumbling down. Although not as dramatic an exit as the Judas, this small formation eroded due to weather conditions. Located out the back near Razorback Lookout, this was the most recent Apostle to have fallen.”
When I got back to my car, more people were arriving. I was happy that I was ahead of the tour buses coming from Melbourne. Along the road, there are several other stops: London Arch, London Bridge, and Loch Ard Gard. Each site required a quick walk down a dirt path from the small parking lots. Signs of poisonous snakes warned tourists.
The southern part of Australia isn’t that far from Antarctica, and the waters are harsh. There are rocks in the water, powerful currents, and cold temperatures. Many ships have crashed in the area over time.
One sign read, “Only two of the 54 people on board the Loch Ard survived. 18-year-old Eva Carmichael, one of a family of eight Irish immigrants, and the ship’s apprentice Tom Pearce. After the ship went down, Tom drifted for hours under an upturned lifeboat. When the tide turned at dawn, he was swept, bruised and battered, into this gorge. Shortly after reaching the beach, he heard cries from water and saw Eva clinging to a spar. Tom quickly swam out and struggled for an hour to bring her to the beach. He sheltered her in the cave and revived her with some brandy, which had washed ashore. Then, exhausted, they both slept.” They were both recused the next day when Tom searched for help.
All of the rock formations were unlike anything I’d seen before. The clouds above created a powerful scene. It was cold outside, and the wind was powerful.
I kept driving and eventually stopped at a cheese factory for a sandwich and a coffee. I needed to get to Adelaide to start my next house/cat sit. Once The Great Ocean Road ended, the road curved its way through tiny towns. There was nothing around for most of the drive except the farms. I even struggled to find a gas station. I left the state of Victoria and entered South Australia.
The last couple of hours of the drive was on a straight, flat highway with barely any cars around. The speed limit was 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour). It was starting to get dark outside, and I was worried about hitting a kangaroo. Many people warned me that driving at dusk is risky because that’s when kangaroos are the most active. I sped up, hoping to get to Adelaide before it got too dark.
All of a sudden, a cop car was flashing its lights behind me. I panicked because I had no idea how speeding tickets are handled in Australia. Once I pulled over, and the officer came to my window. He sternly told me that I was driving at 128 kilometers an hour (79 miles an hour). I didn’t argue or say anything and handed him my license. I didn’t know if it was an option to “talk my out” of a ticket. Then, he asked me to blow into a breathalyzer. I’ve never been asked to do that and even though I hadn’t had any alcohol in 48 hours, I was nervous.
The officer walked back to his car, and I sat there, getting more and more frustrated. The entire time that I had the rental vehicle (four days), I had driven the speed limit (or below) because I was still getting used to driving on the left, and the roads were curvy. It was the first time I was on a straight, flat highway, and the car didn’t have cruise control. I hadn’t seen a police officer until that moment (and he came out of nowhere).
The police officer walked back to my car and handed me a ticket for $438! My jaw dropped. Speeding tickets in the U.S. are around $70. I hadn’t gotten a speeding ticket in almost 20 years. Being unemployed, a $438 fine made me feel like I was going to have a heart attack. I tried to explain to the officer why I was speeding, but it was too late, he had already written the ticket. He told me they were out there that day because someone had died on that highway earlier in the day.
I pulled away, trying my best to adhere to the speed limit. It was challenging without cruise control, a straight highway, and a car that runs super smooth. I was so angry with myself. Every time I do something that I feel good about to save money (like house/cat sitting), I do something stupid like getting a $438 speeding ticket — one step forward and two steps back.
I would go on to find out that Australia has speed cameras all over the country. Some states, like Victoria, will give a ticket for going two kilometers (1 mile) over the speed limit. In the U.S., most places have a five-mile grace before they give a ticket. The year prior, I had driven over 16,000 miles around the U.S. and Canada and never once got pulled over. I don’t drive recklessly.
I was told by an Australian friend who is in law enforcement that I didn’t need to pay for the ticket because I didn’t have an Australian driver’s license, and their system is not connected to visas. I was worried about the ticket (and not paying) impacting my visa status, and I didn’t want them to deny future entry. However, I took his advice and didn’t pay within the 30-day window. They mailed the citation to my parent’s house in the U.S., and it jumped to over $700 (due to late fees).
An Airbnb host in Darwin three months later said that not paying the ticket could indeed result in denying my re-entry into the country. I called the phone number on the citation that was mailed to the U.S. They said the fine was now up to almost $1,000 because I hadn’t paid within 60 days. I panicked and explained that the ticket was mailed to the U.S., and I was still in Australia. That allowed me to fill out a form for $25 over the phone, explaining that the ticket went to a location where I was not located. It reduced the ticket back to the original $438, and I paid it.
For the rest of my time in Australia, I drove the speed limit and let people pass me if they didn’t like it. Most Australians follow the speed limits because of the number of cameras everywhere. In the outback, many backpackers speed, but I just kept my cruise control on (I had a different car by then). I wasn’t about to get another ticket.
By the time I arrived at my house/cat sit, it was 7:00 pm, and it was dark outside. My hosts were Elizabeth and Steve. Elizabeth appeared to be in her 60s, was fit, and had short gray hair. Steve seemed to be in his late 70s, was thin, and had gray hair. He was born in Canada, grew up at a prep school in England, and has been living in Australia for decades.
My hosts were vegetarian and made me an Indian meal with chutney while we got to know each other. Steve’s occupation before he retired was teaching deaf children how to live and survive. Then there wasn’t much of a need for that, so he went back to school (while continuing to teach) and received a degree in music. Steve taught high school music and became friends with many of his students. He was a character, and I pictured him being a funny, wild teacher. One time, Steve took students on a camping trip. He was opinionated and pointed out how he wouldn’t be able to do something like that nowadays because of people’s fears.
Steve talked and talked while Elizabeth occasionally chimed in. They got married when Steve was 40, and Elizabeth was 30. He explained that they don’t have children, and he never wanted them. He said, “I’ve had that discussion with many women over time, and I never wanted children.” Elizabeth spoke up, “We always said if kids came along, we’d handle them.”
Elizabeth counseled kids from households that had parents who were addicts. Her work eventually shifted to working with any troubled home. She also played the french horn, and she had a concert to perform the following day. They told me, “We used to have money and no time. Now we have time and no money.”
Steve and Elizabeth showed me their old, small house. There were some large cracks in the walls from an earthquake years ago. Their furniture was old, and the house only had one bedroom. They showed me where I’d be sleeping until they left – outside in a converted shed that Steve built in the 90s. It was an office with a desk and a pullout couch. They had a portable heater too.
Sebastian, the cat, was black with yellow eyes. He was pudgy and roamed around the backyard during the day and came inside at night. They feed him dry cat food but also cut up raw red meat for him. Steve had already cut up a lot of meat and put containers in the freezer so that I’d have enough during my week-long stay.
I went to bed and couldn’t stop thinking about my speeding ticket. Why wasn’t I more careful? I knew I needed to let it go, or it would eat at me for far too long. I tried my best to let go of my frustration and focus on the positive things in my life. It’s often a struggle for me not to continue beating myself up when I make a mistake. But I’m aware of my thought patterns and am doing my best to change it.
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