Ketamine, Poppers & Picking Pineapples in Australia

I learnt several things from my time in Australia 10 years ago, especially that you'd be better selling your arse than fruit picking...
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I learnt several things from my time in Australia 10 years ago, especially that you'd be better selling your arse than fruit picking...

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Back to Melbourne, from there I got the coach to Sydney. I'm not sure if it was this particular journey, I did many, but the first time you come down the hill from the North Shore, and see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House at daybreak is an amazing experience. We arrived at about 6am and I booked into the YHA, Pitt St. That didn't last long. That night I went out, apparently coming in from the YHA bar at 3am and pissing all over the other occupant's rucksacks is frowned upon. I woke up in the morning and could hear them whispering 'did he piss on our rucksacks early this morning?' 'why don't you ask him?' ' fuck off!' 'you do it!' I pretended to still be asleep until they all went out, then legged it. Brisbane was the next stop plus Byron Bay, the hostel there was disgusting, I booked into a shared room, and discovered that I was sharing with 'Crusties' the smell was beyond belief, so I promptly booked out and stayed in a hotel I couldn't afford. Call me arrogant, but fuck that shit.

(And I never really liked the Levellers.)

Then Noosa, Surfer's Paradise then back down to Sydney again. I booked into the Hotel Bakpak, Pitt St, and life began.

I walked into my room, 2029, and a 6ft 5 Indian looking guy and 2 blonde girls were in there. I dumped my bag, made my excuses and left, and halfway down the corridor, thought 'what the fuck am I doing?' and promptly went back. As history records, one of the blondes, Natalie, and me, had a bit of a relationship. All three were from Woking, and the two girls were in the room next door. This was November and people were settling in for Xmas so we gathered quite a group. Colin and Jack turned up and the party didn't stop. I was one of the only people who had a job, as a Telemarketing Executive, just over the Harbour Bridge in Willoughby. On my first day, one of the women managers in the small office said 'so you are another bloody Pom here to litter and ruin our beaches' I replied 'well we have to come here, coz all you bastards come over to London and take all the jobs' they liked that. So a tip kids, always insult Australians (but not too much). They actually like it, they appreciate honesty, you don't get much more honest than a Pom, but you really don't get someone more forthright than an Aussie. I loved working there, as everyone was such a character in their own way. When I got busted by my girlfriend in bed with another girl, I went to work hung over and freshly single and looking depressed, so when asked 'what's wrong?' I omitted mentioning the sleeping with another girl bit, just that I had split up with my girlfriend, then the women were cooing over me all afternoon in the office, giving sympathy, until I ruined it, One of the sales managers, Andy I got on with quite well with, asked me how did it all fuck up, and within earshot of everybody, I told him she had caught me in bed with another girl, sympathy turned into disgust, from the predominantly women based office. Whilst he was laughing his bollocks off, I was then called a complete fucking wanker, prick etc, from all the female office staff. Can't blame them I guess!

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So back at the Bakpak, nights had been getting crazier. When I initially moved in, there was another Indian guy, apart from Tom, living in the room, and it's only now I realised how much we were complete bastards to him. Poor guy, was in his fifties at least, working on the Railways, early start, just working to save money for his family, going home at weekends. We kept him awake all night, for weeks, and couldn't give a shit. He would beg us to turn the music down, so I came to a compromise, 'alright mate, tell you what, we'll keep it quiet, we'll put on Phil Collins', (Tom's CD by the way) He moved, but we did apologise to him, but he was in the wrong place at the right time (for us) girls in and out, condoms everywhere, usually Colin's. He was fucking this Polish girl a lot whilst the rest of us were pretending to be asleep, well she thought we were, and then we would suddenly get up, say hi, then go out. She freaked.

Colin's girlfriend was arriving from the UK or from somewhere, and the day before, he was like, 'have a look at this,' and pulls his dick out. It had gone purple and black, 'Jesus, put it away'! How he explained that one away I don't know. As mentioned earlier, I got busted by my girlfriend, who came into our room one morning, after a very heavy night. Unfortunately, I was in bed with another girl, Sian, or something, Natalie is standing there with her mate. Quick tactical thinking was required, but I resorted to 'morning babe? You alright?'! Colin, Jack and Tom were in hysterics. She wasn't. (This was the beginning of the disgust my female colleagues had for me at work.)

Next it was Jack's turn to come out with a classic. He was shagging this weird hippie girl, ugly as sin, she looked like a deformed muppet with dreadlocks, for about 2 weeks. One day, in the beginning of January, he saw the light, i.e. sobered up. 'You cunt, you could have told me she was ugly!' I explained that was actually offensive to the word 'ugly', he didn't like that very much, but got over it.

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Asquith, then an aspiring DJ, lived in the room for a while, but once he was immersed in the club scene, he wasn't around so much. He got into Ketamine, the horse tranquiliser, and spent a lot of his time, having threesomes, and doing shitloads of coke as well. He woke up one day paralysed down one side, not sure exactly when that happened, he'd had a mild stroke. Not bad for a 26 year old! A diet of cocaine, Ketamine, Poppers, and Booze took its toll. He's alright now, young enough to recover, (and is still a Loon) He was one of the first people I met in the Bapak, and we spent all the first night just insulting everyone we met. He's obsessed with monkeys, and even had a hand puppet called Uncle Robin, which sounds weird, but it was like Keith Harris and Orville, but funnier.

My job which in the beginning, was to make appointments from leads, for people to have a free Kitchen and bathroom quote from our Sales people, continued to where I was recruiting and running a small team, training them and doing their timesheets etc. When I started I was sure that the Australian public would be far ruder than the English, when getting a telemarketing call. Not the case, virtually all were really polite, not one 'fuck off'!’ I did have two really strange one's though. I rang this woman, and did the usual spiel, 'you indicated some interest in a new kitchen', 'free, no strings quote', blah blah, and this one woman said, 'ah yeah, send a salesman round, I need a new kitchen, I don't like this one', I asked why, and rapidly wished I hadn’t. 'Oh, my husband committed suicide in there a month ago’! Then I came out with this, mouth before brain as always, ' how did he do it?' I didn’t even offer sympathy, the office who by now had picked up on the call, were looking at me in shock, and Aussie's don't shock easily!  'Ah, he hung himself.' I nearly came out with 'was he depressed'? But managed not to, (usually I don't have a filter) and so said, 'oh, I'm sorry, what day do you want the appointment?' after we sorted out details, and when I put the phone down, someone said 'jeez, you fucking Poms are worse than I thought.’

The second one, again, talking to a woman, was a few days later, same intro, then the bombshell, 'yeah I might as well spend my money, I've got terminal Cancer, (Oh fuck, not again!) 'So when's convenient for you then?' After those two, I would have been quite happy with just a simple 'fuck off.'

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Christmas was interesting, me and Colin were meant to join everybody else for Xmas lunch, but Christmas Eve continued until about 9am Christmas day. On E's and booze we both passed out on the floor, and woke up on Boxing Day. No one could or wanted to wake us up, so we missed the lot, my girlfriend wasn't too happy. We also woke up covered in vomit and cockroaches, which was nice.

Colin, who'd got the pills originally, then slept with the girl who sold them, from Scruffy Murphys pub, near the hostel, after I had told her about the Polish girl we had been watching him fucking. You can't say I don't help my fellow man sometimes!

On New year's eve, all of us with our four litre boxes of Stanley wine, watched the fireworks on the banks of the Harbour Bridge, Tom was the only one who got arrested, he jumped on a police van on the procession back into George Street. He got arrested by the Police, and driven to the outskirts of Sydney, thinking all the time they would just beat the shit out of him, but they just dumped him in the middle of nowhere and told him to 'enjoy your fucking walk you brown bastard,' some people are just so friendly!

The Bakpak was beginning to empty out after the New Year, though Tom carried on working there, and continued to help carry out the bodies found in rooms, down the fire escape, after people had checked in and overdosed 'The Beach' film style. Think he dealt with seven or eight in total, I saw one, walking past the room one morning when a body had just been discovered, it was not not pleasant, blood all over the gaff.

Around this time I suffered some mishaps. First, I was bitten on the elbow by a poisonous spider, not in the Outback or the jungle, as one might expect, but in Sydney of all places. We were out in some outdoor terrace bar in Darling Harbour, our mate Asquith was Djing there every week. All the beautiful people dancing away on comedowns all day Sundays, and us! I woke up the next day, preparing to go to work, and noticed that my elbow was swollen and beginning to hurt, I ignored it, as I had broken the same elbow 3 years previously playing tennis, and guessed I had just banged it the night before when drunk. By the time I got to work, I looked like I had Elephantitis, the Aussies in the office took one look and just said, 'get to fucking hospital now mate!' So I did, I was seen immediately and given various injections and drugs. They couldn't say what type of spider it was, at least 8 different types to choose from! I'd had a close call the doctors said, if I'd left it without getting any attention, it could have been fatal, they still wanted to keep me in on a drip and monitor me, but I refused, and left, arm in sling, with a mountain of severe prescription drugs, which gave me a week of throwing up and getting very acquainted with the toilet! Nice. Not as bad though as another English woman there at the same time, she'd been bitten on her face, it didn't look pretty.

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Secondly, after an all day session with a friend Brian, a fellow Londoner, (I'd rowed with girlfriend Natalie earlier) I went back to my room, at that time I was in the top bunk, not a good idea. Climbing onto the top bed, I promptly fell off, and directly hit the edge of the wooden bedside table with my face, splitting my nose and eyebrow open. Most people have had head wounds at some point in their life and will know how much blood pisses out, (so you can imagine it.) I was so drunk, I just tried to clean my face, and then passed out.

I was woken up later in the day/night, no idea, by hysterical crying and a load of people all round me, girlfriend and roommates etc. They had initially thought I was dead, I was covered from head to waist in blood, there was blood all over the furniture, my bed, the walls, mirrors, it looked like a gruesome murder scene. Back to hospital again! They recognised me and a nurse said, 'jeez, you're accident prone'! She had a point.

Thirdly, (It never rains but it pours...) I'd been waiting for some money to be transferred from England, working out at about $3,000 Aussie Dollars, I received it, and went to the nearest pub naturally. I woke up in a toilet cubicle with the 3 grand in my lap, I must have been counting it. Lucky escape, the fucking door wasn't locked! My new found drinking mates obviously thought I had left, and had gone, but remembering that they were going to Darling Harbour, I staggered down towards there from the city centre, taking a shortcut I knew. This put me in a pretty deserted area, a bit dodgy. Sure enough a group of what looked like a mini Ali G convention, surrounded me, demanding all my money etc, the usual, Christ, not again! For once in my life I 'd already had a sensible idea when drunk. After waking up in the toilets, I had put $10 and all my loose change in my pockets, and put the rest in my money belt I used to use when I was a tourist guide, which was strapped underneath my jeans, rendering it invisible and undetectable (I hoped) so, when they pulled their little penknives (I swear these kids were all about 14 years old!) I pulled all the money from my pockets and threw it at them, and said 'here, this is all I’ve got, I'm back off to England tomorrow, fucking take it', they did, and thankfully pissed off.

Eventually, around March, 2001 Natalie left, and feeling too depressed to stay in Sydney, I went travelling up the east coast, including Brisbane, where I had a reunion with Natalie, it didn't go well. She broke my heart actually, but let's not get too over dramatic about this. A friend from the Bakpak was up near Bundaberg, the home of 'Bundi' Rum, which is lethal by the way, so I headed there. He was living in a worker's hostel, i.e. a backpacker place for people who had run out of money, the daily job being picking pineapples, literally slave labour. 5am start. I thought life couldn't get any worse .

I was wrong there.

I lasted precisely 20 mins. We were ferried out in minivans, hungover, to these fields inland in the middle of fucking nowhere. We basically had to wade through pineapple bushes, cutting the pineapples out and putting them on a conveyor belt which was in front of us being pulled along by a tractor. You had to keep up with it, the bushes were sharp, and to top it all off the farmer was standing there, shouting 'c'mon you fucking cunts, faster you dickheads, fucking pommie wankers' etc. I lost it, I stopped, and he came bounding over, 'what the fuck's wrong with you fucking fairy'? Blah blah, I took took the gloves off, threw them in his face, and told him to go fuck himself, and started walking off, he's screaming 'get back here you cunt' I just carried on going.

It had occurred to me I had no idea where I was, only that we had been in the minivan heading inland for an hour. No matter, I wasn't going to put up with anymore of that shit, ever. Sometimes I think I have an attitude problem. I carried on walking through fields and dirt tracks, and about two hours later, I found a concrete road, I'd already run out of water, and it was becoming baking hot. Not looking good! What else I am going to do? I carried on walking, figuring it's got to go somewhere. Finally as in Houston a long time back, luck turned my way, although the glare of the owner of the working hostel, who'd been out looking for me, after being alerted by Hitler that I'd fucked off, would not make it feel that way! It was the first vehicle I'd seen, he picked me up, and took me back to the hostel. An agreement was quickly made that I would leave on the next coach. There were no arguments there! that was due early evening, so I spent all afternoon getting pissed in the Hostel bar, playing pool. I headed back to civilisation, Sydney. Never ever think that going fruitpicking in Australia will be an adventure, even if you are broke. Try begging, selling limbs, your body/arse etc. Anything, it's less degrading. I didn't even get time to say bye to my mate, hiya Russell!

This is an extract from Life In The Harsh Lane: The Nine Lives, Mishaps, and Adventures of a Nobody. You can buy a copy by clicking here