Ivan Milat was an Australian serial killer who was convicted of the backpacker murders in 1996. Milat, commonly known as the "Backpacker Murderer", assaulted, imprisoned, robbed and subsequently murdered two men and five women in New South Wales between 1989 and 1993.
Our parents were adamant that there would be NO hitchhiking. In fact, they went as far as to say that if we were even considering hitchhiking, to call them and they would wire money immediately.
We decided to hitchhike anyway...
Blame it on being young?
I always had a cunning plan, of course. I was in possession of a very small and very simple, Swiss Army Knife... and I carted that thing around everywhere with me. As I was a devout nail biter at the time, it was near impossible to eject a blade with stealth, ease and speed, should any situation require its immediate emergence. Nonetheless, I felt safer in possession of this dull, wee penknife.
... well... as per the norm, when anyone is traveling with me, we managed to find ourselves in a bit of a pickle...
Thumbs out to bum a ride, just outside of Coff's Harbour.
It was HOT. We were hot. The pavement was hot. Our backpacks were hot... and heavier than usual. We had been sitting on the highway, waiting to be picked up, for what seemed like an eternity.
Destination: Lennox Head / Byron Bay.
A few cars had pulled over and offered us rides, but they were either; going the opposite direction, had a full car of furniture (no word of a lie), or seemed like crazy people. We were picky... sometimes... but getting less so, as the day rolled on. Finally, a man in an old (rather run-down) blue Mercedes Benz pulled over onto the side of the highway, rolled down his window, and yelled, "GET IN!!! We don't want the ice cream to melt!"
It was an odd thing to say... but...
A quick glance at each other and it was decided.
We took the opportunity to get out of the heat and accept the ride.
He was a bizarre man and the entire journey was jammed full of red flags. We should have bolted after the first... but for some reason, we remained in the vehicle, ever hopeful that all would end well. Perhaps we didn't want to be rude...
1. He turned off the main highway and onto a secondary road. (major no-no in hitchhiking)
2. The reason for this detour? He knew a great place just up the road for a delicious milkshake and a meat pie.
3. Then he decided we would all go visit his friend, Jesus. Lovely man, apparently, who lived somewhere up in the sparsely populated outback of northern NSW.
4. He told us that he was the scariest thing the devil ever saw.
Once off the highway AND the secondary roads, he drove for about 45 minutes on back county dirt roads... over cattle guards... through ranch fencing... and getting further and further away from the main road, civilization and our destination.
The red flags continued...
5. He told us that the only reason that we felt slightly uncomfortable driving up all these abandoned dirt roads was because... recently there was a battle of the supernatural forces. Due to their fighting, they ended up being trapped in another dimension. It made humans uneasy.
6. He told me that I was a warrior and Jan was an angel (mostly, due to the fact that Jan was in the back seat... and also quieter and more compliant while all of this odd conversation was happening. I was getting freaked out and started to call him out.)
7. He told us that we didn't have anything to worry about because... and get this... he wasn't a stranger, he was the Earth-Star Ranger.
He repeated this a LOT.
It was getting freaky...
It was too much. We had gone too far.
Finally, Jan started screaming "STOP THE CAR!!! STOP THE CAR NOW!"
He did, and we (and our packs) vacated immediately. He tried relentlessly to get us back into the vehicle, with the promise of Jesus living 'just up the road' and how we'd be greeted with tea and an assortment of cakes in a lovely garden.
We were having none of it...
Bye Bye Earth-Star Ranger.
He drove off in one direction and we started walking in the other...
..... into the middle of nowhere.
The Earth-Star Ranger circled back a few times, each time trying to tempt us back into his vehicle. He even brought Jesus with him at one point. Jesus was a long-haired, hippy man, dressed all in white, billowy clothing, beckoning us to his garden paradise.
"No, thank you," we replied each time, maintaining a facade of pure confidence and
independence. "This is exactly where we want to be!"
I remember us trying to give the impression that we'd been in the car too long and just really needed the exercise... like... "a lovely walk will do us a world of good!"
All the while, my hand tightly grasping my tiny, dull knife...
Once he'd gone away again, we decided that it would be best if we got off the road. That decision lost appeal when a large brown snake crossed our path - less than a mere 2 feet in front of us. Not sure what freaked us out more - the highly venomous snake or the Earth-Star Ranger?
I am sharing a couple Google Maps, so that one can see how far off the mark we were taken, and how far off the map, we were stranded. Even today, Google Pegman is unable to land on the road we were on. Middle Creek Road, Kangaroo Creek. But one can zoom in to see how sparsely populated the area is... and was...
We eventually came across, what appeared to be a small ranch, located a fair way off the dirt road. There was a trailer on the barren piece of land, but to us, it was an oasis. It represented sanctuary, the possibility of accommodation and/or a ride, and hopefully, a cold glass of water!
We were not 6 feet up the driveway, when an angry farmer emerged from the front door with a rifle.
The rifle was aimed at us.
The conversation went something like this;
"Get OFF my property!"
"Please help us! We just got dropped off by a crazy man and we need to get back to the highway!"
"Get OFF my property or I'll shoot the both of you."
At this point, we were backing up as quickly as our burdensome packs and awkward, terrified footing would allow, yet still desperately pleading our case.
"We're stranded out here and we really need help!"
"NEXT TIME TAKE ANOTHER ROUTE!"
Sound advice... to be fair...
Next time, we would, most definitely, take another route.
As that had been the only residence we'd encountered on this road, we kept walking, certain that we'd lost our one and only chance at escaping this nightmare.
We trekked on...
... and on...
We trekked on down this dusty, go-nowhere road... hoping for refuge, rather than realistically thinking that we might find it.
We passed a couple driveways that seemed to lead up and into the grove of trees, but chose to ignore their potential, as we were still slightly shaken up from our previous encounter. So far, all the local residents seemed either creepy, eccentric, venomous or hostile.
It got to the point where we started to overheat and became too exhausted to continue. At this point we did come across anther driveway. The various eucalyptus and gum trees worked to essentially camoflauge the small path, and we probably would have failed to even notice its existence, had there not been a small mailbox adorning the entrance.
One word was written on the side of the mailbox.
It was daunting, but we had no other choice than to take another chance on getting back to civilization. It was going to be dark soon, and neither of us was properly equipped to spend a night in the Australia outback. Before venturing up, we hid our burdensome packs behind a large boulder, out of the eyesight of any vehicles passing by. We hadn't see Jesus and the Earth Star Ranger in a while, but there was no telling when they might return again.
Up we went...
The driveway winded up through the thicket, the trees providing us a much appreciated shaded cover. As we neared the top of the driveway, the sun eventually broke though again, and we found ourselves looking upon a very small, very charming cottage.
It was an idyllic setting. Surrounding by a variety of vibrant and lush fruit trees and various perennials, the cottage represented everything tranquil, picturesque, comfortable and cute.
Mesmerized by this fairytale-like cottage, and it's perceived promise of salvation, we sauntered towards it, captivated. Of course, due to our new-found fascination, we somehow managed to forget all we'd encountered thus far on our days adventures, and discount any previous lessons learned from Hansel and Gretel.
Elsewhere was beckoning us.
Spell bound as we were, the dream screeched to a halt instantaneously when a large, full grown, naked man suddenly appeared in the door frame.
He was as shocked to see us as we were him.
This was our introduction to Tom.
Pam, his wife, stood behind him... equally as naked. Tom and Pam were nudists, living off the grid... and as luck should have it, Jan and I had managed to stumble upon their au naturel, private paradise.
First instinct was to turn around and run back to where we had stashed our backpacks, and then just keep running from there... but fatigue prevailed over our initial spook, and we stuck around. Naked people triumphed over Jesus, the Earth Star Ranger, the brown snake, the dirt road, the insufferable heat and our exhaustion. Naked people might have a cold drink inside this idyllic little cottage... and that was all we really cared about.
Pam and Tom threw on some clothing immediately and invited us inside their home. We graciously accepted and headed in, without so much as an ounce of hesitation.
They were lovely.
They provided us with as many cold drinks as we wanted, as well as lunch AND the offer of dinner, accommodation for the evening and a ride into town the following morning.
As much as they lectured us on the dangers of hitch-hiking, they were familiar with Jesus, who they described as an eccentric, yet harmless man living down the road. Both of them agreed that our days adventure had the elements of both odd and terrifying, but assured us we probably would have been ok had we ventured into his garden for tea earlier.
Like Jan and I, Pam and Tom were travellers and excited to share their holiday stories with us. Their vacations were slightly different though, as they tended to frequent places that catered to those of the more nudist colony variety. Their entire collection of photo albums were made up of pictures of naked people on boats, naked people at temples, naked people at pubs, naked people in fields... and so on.
That evening, after dinner, they showed us to the room where we would spend the evening. Once in bed, there was silence between us as we looked back on how our entire day had unfolded.
That's when we both bust into peals of laughter.
Both of us, keeled over in the fetal position in our beds, tears streaming down our faces, shaking with convulsions ... in the absolute hysterics of laughter.
What a day.
You can't make this shit up...
....... and yes, we did get breakfast & a lift into Grafton in the morning.
We were safe.