The Karma of the Irish

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Generally, I report on things chronologically on these pages, but this post is an exception. This tale spans two months with a lot of things happening in between key points, and it's a lot more interesting when told all together. It's a story of loss, a story of hope, a story of one man's struggle for justice in a cynical, cynical world. And it's now the most overhyped story I've ever told. It is the story of the theft of my laptop (among other things) and how justice came to Australia, Canadian style, and I not only got my possessions back, but caught up with the lowlife that stole them. And it goes a little something like this...

It was a Wednesday night in Surfers Paradise. I had finally, after searching for a week, found a place where I could connect my laptop to the internet and upload the photos to my website. I was leaving Thursday morning so it seemed a good enough way to spend the evening. Well, not really, but it was overdue. So back I went to the Sleeping Inn hostel to get my cables and laptop. Everybody was there, getting ready to go out for the old Wednesday night pubcrawl and urging me to come out, too. I was in Australia partly to loosen up a bit and have more fun, and this seemed like a good time to not do the computer nerd routine, but then again my site was (is) really out of date and I wanted to do this now rather than later when it would fall irrevocably behind. But, eating, I spilled something on my shirt. Without really thinking about it, I changed shirts into my button up 'going out' shirt and my subconscious made the decision for me. So I said, what the heck, and got on the pub crawl. It was a good night, as by now I knew my roommates pretty well and that always helps. Only two stayed behind from our building, Johno, a kiwi, in the room next door, and Rob, from Ireland, who was in our room. Johno had no money and Rob had work in the morning. I got back from the pub crawl at 2:30AM and went straight to sleep.

The next morning I woke up, showered, and started to pack. "Hmmm, I thought I left my wallet in my backpack... oh well, it'll turn up". Then I thought I'd charge my phone while I packed since I'd be on the road. My charger's usually in a blue bag of cables, which I also couldn't find. I looked in the closet, on the shelf, under my bed, everywhere I could think to. Then I thought maybe I put it in with my laptop even though that was unlikely as it doesn't really fit in that compartment. I opened to check and my stomach dropped. My laptop was gone. And my wallet. My iPod. My watch. My camera. All my photos, videos, etc. Even my backups of my photos, videos, etc. Other things were there, however, including the pack itself and a few things that would be no good to noone. Whoever had stolen it had gone through a lot of time sifting through and picking out what they wanted. There was a $200 pair of sunglasses beside my backpack untouched and a camera sitting on the floor worth about $500. I woke everyone up in the room and nobody else was missing anything. Then I searched their stuff, and our entire unit. It didn't make sense that it was someone from outside. Someone from outside would come in, grab the bag and whatever else they could as fast as they could, and get the hell out. No, whoever it was knew that they weren't going to be interrupted, which would be fine if the thief knew we were all out on the pubcrawl, but of course Rob had stayed back. And, given that nobody else’s stuff was touched and mine was scavenged, they knew what they were going to find.

I called the police, cancelled my cards, called home, and tried to think clearly over the rising nausea. I felt sick and actually did find an alley on my walk back from the payphone to throw up. The stress and distress I felt were overwhelming. I have special software on my laptop that, when it's reported stolen, if it's connected to the internet it logs the IP address (that is, where they are which can be traced to an actual street address with police help). It also takes photos of the person using the computer and uploads screenshots of what they are doing on the computer. I called Orbicule, the company that makes the software, and I let them know my laptop was stolen as well. At this point the police showed up and wrote down what was missing for the insurance I don't have. They also wrote down everyone's name in the room except, of course, for Rob, who was at work, and Johno who started his job this morning. The two prime suspects, in other words. Their considered opinion was that it was a B&E because there was a door and a window left open, even though the door to the room was locked (I double checked before leaving) and had no signs of forced entry - and it's on the second floor, AND aside from a ladder there's no way to get to the window. Oh, and the fence they supposedly hopped to avoid the security camera? Well, I’m not exactly out of shape and I had problems with two free hands getting over it. Hmm.

The obvious problem with things being stolen by a backpacker is where they keep their new acquistions. Given that I'd searched everyone's stuff, the only other thing I could think of was cars. I searched them too; I was even waiting outside when Rob got home to search his van. Nothing. I was far too stressed to be thinking clearly and so I tried to relax myself and remember that life went on just fine the last time this happened in Dublin. I made baked apples and shared them with everyone, knowing that any of them might be the one that did it, but it gave me something to do and, I hoped, would make the thief feel all the more guilty. In fact, they pretty much all agreed that it looked like an inside job when we talked about it. I fleshed out the night with them - I was the first one back (aside from those that stayed behind), and the others made their way in not too long after me. The hostel staff, Rob, and the police were the only ones who seemed to think it was an outside theft. We tried to think of things I could do to get it back. Rob mentioned that there was a way to track if a laptop went on the internet (obviously I was all too aware) and called his friend to find out. "You have to have special software installed to track it that way," he later told me. My face fell. "I've never heard of that before." "So you don't have it installed?" "No, how could I? I didn't even know that was possible. I don't know why it wouldn't just come on the computer." At this point, he said to me something that would become pivotal in this. "Well," he said, "you have to believe in karma. Whoever would do something like this will have it come around. It might not get you your laptop and pictures back, maybe they’ll get hit by a bus or something else will happen to them all you’ll never know, but maybe it helps a bit to know that this will come back to get them." Oh, yeah. What goes around comes around, alright. I insist on it.

Johno came back later and went out to buy a carton of beer - in spite of the fact that he had no money to come out the night before. When he heard about the theft, he also showed no concern that his stuff might be missing, though he also had a laptop, and was pretty blasé. That said, the guy working reception mentioned to me that Rob hadn't paid his rent in a while and had said he'd be paying it that morning before he left for work. Still, I couldn't rule out the possibility that it wasn't the neighbours. They were crackheads, after all, and could definitely see right into our room. The next morning they were playing the music quite loudly, so I wandered over casually to see if there was a party and, ostensibly, join in on the fun. I got invited in and had some glances around but the bedroom doors were closed. "Oh, this isn't too bad, what do you pay for a place like this? I'm getting tired of living in hostels... oh really, that's all? ... and how big are the bedrooms? ... wow, that's pretty good. Do you mind if I have a look?" And so it was that I had searched their house and found nothing. I stopped at all the neighbours and asked questions. I didn't have any other ideas I hadn't tried short of following them around, and I still wanted to be trying to sell my car while I waited. So I drove down to Byron Bay early that afternoon, but asked Chris to tell both Rob and Johno when they got back and saw I was gone that I'd gone to the police, they'd found a witness, and should be back any minute with them. Hopefully they'd do something to give themselves away. I mean, if it were me and I knew the police were coming back with a witness any minute, I'd want to be the hell out of there now. I might panic. So might they.

Unfortunately, Chris didn't quite get the reasoning for it and botched the message a bit, so that little scheme didn't bear fruit. I stayed in loose contact with Johno and Rob for a while and decided that short of following one of them around with the car, there was nothing I could do. The laptop might turn up on the internet or it might not, but I couldn't sit around waiting forever. I sold my car and flew to Darwin, making my way from there to Perth over the next month or so. I arrived in Perth on Sunday, October 14th. Tuesday, October 16th I received an email from Orbicule. The laptop had been connected to the internet at 2AM and you can't imagine my disbelief and jubilation at hearing from the laptop a month and a half after it was stolen. Orbicule had also sent the information to the ISP. I did a WHOIS myself and found that the laptop was connected to an Exetel customer's internet connection. Progress! Not only did I have my first lead in over a month, but the fact that the software was still on the laptop meant that - for the moment - whoever was using it hadn't found a way or need to wipe the drive completely.

I immediately called the Surfers Paradise police, even though they’d been CC’d on the email. After all, it had been like pulling teeth to find an external email address and the one I'd been given was for some officer who may or may not have been on duty that day. And, of course, he wasn't. Nor was constable Strang. I explained the situation and told them that this lead was pretty time-sensitive and all I needed was an email to the ISP to get the street address. Only the case officer could do anything, I was told. He was on that evening, so I left a message stating I had information on the whereabouts of the laptop and for him to call me. I then attempted to do some work for the police and called up Exetel myself to see if I could find out the physical location the laptop had been connected. It was difficult to get someone on the phone who understood what I was asking, but when I finally did they told me what I'd expect them to - they were quite happy to give the information to the police but couldn't divulge it to me. There was nothing left for me to do but wait for Constable Strang to come on shift.

Then I got another email. This one contained two screenshots of what the thief was doing on my computer as well as two photos from the built-in iSight camera of the person using my computer. I opened up the screenshots first. One of him creating a user account on YouTube that included a username of roconnor, date of birth, and a postal code that was for Southport/Labrador, a suburb just north of Surfers Paradise. Immediately, I thought "R could stand for Rob, and O'Connor definitely sounds Irish." I also noticed that he had kept my background the same, a picture of some soldier crabs in the Whitsundays. And the recycle bin was full! Maybe he had deleted but not wiped out my stuff. The next screenshot was of him in his email,, which further pointed to Ireland. And then I opened the photo of the thief using the computer. "You son of a bitch," maybe a little loudly for the internet cafe. Definitely Rob. And in the background, photos that appeared to be a hostel, with signs for returning plates, and others for the theme parks in the Surfers Paradise/Gold Coast area. I was convinced he was still there.

I called officer Strang just before 10 and was told that he was on beat, meaning on the streets. I'd left a message for him and told them this and asked that he please return my call regardless of the hour when he got back for lunch. He didn't. It went on like this for a few days, with me slowly getting to know the ins and outs of the Surfers police. A Perth officer mentioned that I should ask for the OIC (officer in charge) and at last I had someone, John Kubanko willing to talk about it. I explained the software and he sounded quite excited about this new way of catching crooks and promised me he'd look into it right now. At last!! Progress. I got a phone call from Sgt. Malone about 20 mins later and got another email address to send the information to and filled her in on the details. And that was it for almost a week. Admittedly, the Indy races were on that weekend and they were busy, but still I couldn't get any response at all, not even from John. I sent faxes and everything. Next week I managed to reach John and he explained about indy and said he'd look into it to see what had been done. He called back to get the correct spelling of my last name and I heard nothing and couldn't reach him for a few days as he was off.

You can imagine my frustration, knowing that this little blip of hope was fading and probably gone because of some cars driving fast around Surfers. I called several times a day, and asked every relevant police department to look up the IP address for me, even back home. And I even knew the guy's identity, had a phone number for him, birthday, you name it. I'd tried everything I could think of and was brainstorming a way for some stranger to call him and discern his location without tipping him off. A girl he supposedly met at the bar? A call from "VISA" asking him to verify that he was making a purchase with his card on eBay - with the usual verification questions like, say, "billing address". All of the ideas risked tipping him off that I was onto him and the latter would probably be considered fraud even if I didn't do anything with it besides go after him. And go after him I would. I'd been in Perth for almost two weeks and divided my time between job hunting and Rob hunting with no progress whatsoever. I’d had my life on hold and was tired of leaving it to people who didn’t seem interested in crime fighting, so I took matters into my own hands. I booked a cheap flight to Sydney on Saturday October 27, as further tracking on the IP made it appear that the laptop may have been in Sydney, and regardless, I had to fly through Sydney to get back to Surfers. I had called a few hostels in Sydney trying to find out if any of them sold theme park tickets or if they even had posters up for theme parks and most of them had no idea what I was talking about, which I took as a pretty good sign that, no, they don't. He was in Surfers. I also called every hostel on the Gold Coast and none of them had wireless nor Rob O'Connor registered. I was worried this might tip him off, but I was at the point where I had to take chances. Still, I didn’t take the risk of calling Sleeping Inn, as I was fairly convinced he was in cahoots with some of the staff. Even if not, he was good friends with them and that was enough of a risk.

I also called someone else that had stayed in the room with me the night my stuff was stolen and that I trusted – Chris. It turned out Rob had just called him a week ago, out of the blue, and they’d not been able to talk long. So Chris called him back with a list of questions I had for him, subtly woven into the conversation. He couldn’t find out an exact address, but it turned out he was working in Gladstone, a small city an hour south of Rockhampton and about 12 hours north of Surfers Paradise. He also got the impression, though nothing was explicitly said, that Rob came back to Surfers from time to time and even to Sleeping Inn. The trail was warming.

I arrived in Sydney at midnight on Saturday and caught up with Diane over some wine. White wine, this time, just in case... I caught up with my friend Julian the next afternoon and the following day (Monday) went around to the Apple stores notifying them that a stolen Mac was possibly in the area and showing photos to see if anyone recognized him. The manager of NextByte promised to have the photos sent to every store in Australia (pretty good of them) and then I'd done everything I could in Sydney. I booked a flight for that evening up to Surfers Paradise.

On the shuttle bus to Surfers Paradise from the Coolangatta airport, I met a Canadian girl named Chelsea who I told my story to. We met for pancakes the next morning after I stopped in at the police station and found out that John Kubanko, the Office in Charge (OIC) was out of the office until around 2PM that afternoon. The two of us went to scout the Sleeping Inn hostel. I know that Rob has a lot of friends there and I didn't want to risk walking around, being recognized, and tipping anyone off. I'd shown her the photos and so she was going to look to see if she recognized either Rob or Mr. X or the background of the images where the laptop had been connected. Meanwhile, I went down the street to the neighbouring hostel and showed them the photos. The woman there recognized Mr. X as an employee of Sleeping Inn who drove their limo and also worked at Shooters, though she didn't have a name. Bingo! This was solid information and evidence that Rob was definitely in the area from time to time and, if Mr. X had bought the laptop, he was quite easily found as well. I met back with Chelsea as she finished her reconnaisance.

"You can see it from here, you know," she whispered, apparently as nervous as I was about tipping someone off. "See what?" "The place where they connected the laptop. Look up there, second floor, on the balcony." And sure enough, a life-sized poster of Shrek 4D, all the signs, everything I'd seen in the photos. The only thing missing was a fat ugly Irishman sitting and looking stupid. But I knew now we'd get him. I might not recover the stuff, but Rob O'Connor's days were numbered. Not for the first time, I found myself saying, “You son of a bitch!” too loudly. We went back to meet John at the police station and he ushered us upstairs into his office. I thought I might have to do some work to convince him that the police needed to handle this, but he was apologizing from the start. I brought him up to speed on all my investigation and evidence and he agreed that we now had plenty of evidence to nail Rob (and offered me a job). We were to come back at 4:00 where we'd meet a new detective he was going to assign to the case, one who had a computer background and had even installed this software on his own laptop.

We were back at 4:00 where we met with constables Adam Allanson and Michael Denien, Adam being the computer expert and Mike the guy I'd finally emailed all the evidence to. I brought them up to speed and they loved every minute of the story. All the while, police officers were coming and checking out all the evidence I'd been accruing and asking questions about this software and whether they could install it on their computers. I filled out and signed a report with Adam while Chelsea helped the slightly less savvy Mike create a proper report on their new computer system, linking in the photographic evidence and so on. We discussed strategy, thinking that a dual sting of Rob's place in Gladstone and Sleeping Inn was the best way to get both Rob and my things and then took a break for dinner. Chelsea and I went out for dinner to celebrate - at last, this was what I'd been wanting from the day it was stolen and now I knew an investigation was underway. Then I went back to the police station to meet the detectives at 8 and we talked a bit more. They were going to go to the hostel and see what information they could find on Rob O'Connor's whereabouts, since we didn't have an exact address in Gladstone.

I didn't hear back from them that night, which might be just as well, as Chelsea was soon to leave Australia and had never had goon. We partied with the Germans in my room and went through 4L. I left a message with them to ring me the next afternoon and I went shopping with Chelsea in the morning, thinking we might see a movie. There was nothing really intriguing playing, and so she went back to her hostel and I to mine. I was just coming up to the Islander (the hostel I was at and a much better one than Sleeping Inn for an extra $1/night) when my phone rang. Adam wanted me at the police station ASAP. I turned and speed-walked to the station wondering what it was but thinking they must have got a lead on Rob's location in Gladstone and were about to commence with the dual-sting operation. He met me in the lobby and we got into the elevator.

With a poker face that could take the pot in a high-stakes Vegas match, he said to me, "We've got your stuff." Just like that. Absolutely serious. It had to be a trick, I just didn’t know why. “Uh, what?” “We’ve got your stuff back. Some of it. It’s upstairs.” I laughed nervously. I’d spent two weeks on the phone trying to get someone to even send an email and then the day after I show up in person they’ve got it back? “Are you testing me? Am I supposed to have some sort of reaction here?” And the elevator door opened, and there was my blue bag of cables, my computer in its distinctive case, my camera, all sitting there on the desk. I think that shocked is the only way to describe my reaction to this. And then all of a sudden I was meeting a sea of people I’d talked with on the phone weeks ago. Sgt. Malone, the guy at reception, everyone was coming in to meet me and see if it was indeed mine. There was no doubt from the moment I saw it. No iPod, true, and my wallet long gone, but there is was sitting in front of me. I really don’t remember everything that happened in the police station other than that Adam was in a rush as he had Rob in the other room for interrogation. I didn’t ask to see him. I didn’t want to. I left and about halfway down the street it hit me, spreading a big smile and causing me to jump in the air and shout some random noise, to onlookers’ amusement.

And so the story ends on Halloween with one giant trick or treat. I had a bit more of a chance to talk with Adam later that evening. They had enquired at the hostel the previous night and found that Rob was coming back the very next day to Surfers Paradise. So they were there when he arrived. “You’re Rob O’Connor?”, officer Allanson asked? “Yeah.” “My name is Constable Karma, and you’re under arrest.” I don’t know if he really said that or not, I don’t really care. It’s what he will say in any story I ever tell. Rob had the stuff on him and confessed not to stealing it, but to knowing it was mine and stolen and keeping it for himself – and deleting my photos. Riiiight. That’s why my iPod headphones were in my computer case. Plus all the coincidence of him being the one in my room. Unlucky for him, the penalty is the same for possession as it is for actually stealing it. And speaking of possession, when they got his confession, he suddenly had to use the toilet. Another, more thorough search turned up some drug and drug implements, which he also was charged with. “Karma really bit me in the ass, this time,” he told the officers as they pulled a baggie of narcotics from an inner-leg pocket. Of course it did, Rob. I insist on it.

To Catch a Thief Photos

The Perthect Storm

Friday, October 26, 2007

It had been a long time coming. I'd been planning to come to Perth even before I left home. I'd been planning to first fly from Surfer's Paradise back when Kirsty left in September, then to travel from Darwin to Broome through the Kimberly and fly to Perth from there, and finally to travel from Broome to Perth with some backpackers over two weeks and THEN arrive. And now, October 15, I'm here - a month later than my initial plan, procrastinating as always but getting the job done. And that's my next step: the job. After our night out last night at the Shed, it was time to get to work. But I also had to make DVD copies of all our photos for everyone on the trip. I walked into town with Ken, opened a bank account, got some blank DVDs, and popped in at Hays consulting to see what my first steps in the great job hunt should be. Resume? Check. University degrees? Somewhere at home but hopefully they can be found. Portfolio? Um. Yeaaaahhhh. I met back with Ken at the hostel and we started burning up DVDs like nobody's business. At 5:00, I met up with Nathalie, Julian, Greg, Kenji, and Ayumi (codename: Yummy) for some casino schenanigans. We grabbed the train out there, but Yummy didn't bring her passport or any ID. All she brought was her diving card. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, but I took her back to her hostel and picked up her passport with her.

On the way back, the trains started running less often and we actually didn't board until 7:50 when our tickets expired at 7:48. Whatsmore, we both bought concession passes because the machine only takes change and I didn't have $5 of it. And sure enough, the police were checking the train. I continued my conversation to Yummy though I saw them coming. Act cool. Act cool. I was so busy trying to think what to do that I repeated myself twice, but if they noticed they must've assumed it was because Yummy's english wasn't so great. We were nearing the stop and they were scrutinizing the ticket holders of the people behind us. I stood as the train looked to be getting near to our stop and told Yummy we were off at the next stop. Still she seemed to have no idea of the danger we were in. The officers finished with the row behind as the train slowed down to stop. I nodded a friendly and non-chalant "hey" to them and they walked right past us to some characters at the other end of the train before it could stop. We exited safely and entered the casino. Whew. My first gamble of the night had been a very lucky win. Would my luck hold?

The answer is yes. For awhile. Well, actually, no, then sort of, then no no no, then yes, yes, yes, and then "ah". I started with $50, down to 30, back to 60, down to 15, up to 90, down to 50 and it was time for a snack. Then I lost that 50 and a few $5 chips besides on roulette before walking out the door. But it was a good fun night and while I'd love to have left even, I had a lot of fun playing roulette with everyone else (although when they were all watching my winning streak in blackjack, that was fun too!). The next day, more errands. I made copies of my resume and met a fellow there who had married a Canadian girl from Ottawa and was moving back. We chatted about life in Australia for a bit and I mentioned that I was job hunting and he said to come with him, he could probably help with that. Unfortunately, he works for hospitality and retail, but it might be something for the short term. For the moment though, I want to keep my focus on getting a good/well-paying job. I went back to Hays and Focused, another recruitment agency and then met up with Nathalie and Julian to see Nathan Kaye. He plays a didj that actually telescopes to change key as well as lap steel, an electronic kick drum with his foot, and singing and beat boxing. All at once. He could play the didj and beat box through it at the same time. I actually loved it so much I bought his EP. He's probably as good as Xavier Rudd in my humble opine. I also met Erica, the daughter of some friends of my parents, who invited me to the show, and a fellow toonite. It was nice to reminisce of places back home with someone over here.

All in all, I was in Perth for two weeks. Greg (Frenchy), Nathalie, Julian and I went to King's Park one afternoon and hung around, taking photos, throwing our 'frisbee', doing somersault contests, you name it. It's quite a pretty park with nice views of the Perth Skyline, so we hung around until a little after sunset to get some nice photos before walking back to the hostel. There were also plenty of nights out. I caught up with Fiona, who I drove down from Brisbane to Surfer's Paradise the day I sold Betsy. We hung out and listened to the musician do a great job covering Neil Young (once he found out I was a canuck - he had a harmonica and eveything, really great!). I tried to meet up with Emma, who I travelled around Scandi with, but it never did work out unfortunately. I'll get down to Freemantle when I come back, though, and pay her a visit.

And I did catch up with one of the guys I traveled Scandi with, Daren (AKA Dazza). He hasn't changed at all, hilarious and the stereotypical Aussie. We went to his place and he showed me his beer fridge, complete with three kegs and two taps. And he brews beer, I should mention. Which we drank quite readily, and I was very impressed. His girlfriend came home and then drove us to his friend's (and the bottle shop) for a BBQ. On the menu, a couple nice lamb chops! Mmmm! We got a cab to Northbridge and met up with some friends of mine at the Brass Monkey before heading to Black Betty's. It was a fun time there for sure, though it wasn't long before I got a phone call from my mom and went to the lobby so I could hear her. "You can't stand there". Who knows why not, but I went to the outside foyer behind the bouncer, where I also wasn't allowed to stand. "You have to go out there." Riiight. And then I can't come back in. Why can't I just talk on the bloody phone for two minutes? And then I was kicked out. Nice.

But there were plenty of nights out. Indeed, too many. Aside from the big night out with Daz, there were a couple with people from my hostel. Every Wed night, the Mustang Bar has a $5 BBQ including a pint of beer. It's two sausages and a 'steak', a few potatoes, and some salad. Not bad! Thursday, the Euro Bar does a free sausage BBQ and $2 middies of Toohey's New. And we tried to go out everytime one of our Broome Gang left Perth. The biggest of those, for me at least, was Greg's last night. I had just worked from 7AM-4PM that day - oh yeah, I got a job! I work on a construction site for the moment while I'm looking for something better. $20/hr which is almost nothing, but definitely still better than, and I was digging a trench most of the day to reroute the storm drains. So I was pretty beat, but I came out for a beer. And then people started buying rounds. Two more beer, and I didn't want to leave without buying a round too, so another one. I was sitting beside Tanja, a really cool German girl, and we were having a good conversation, and the next thing I know, we're all heading to the Deen and it's getting late. And another drink or two. A bit of dancing. And it's 4:30 in the morning by the time I get to sleep. Up again at 6, it was an early morning and I went to work. The other guy I was working with didn't show, so it was basically just me onsite with the site manager. I worked until 4 trenching and spreading sand and finding some pipes and cleaning up the paving stones. And I was asleep that night by 10. As far as other work, no luck finding anything I can do as an engineer without a sponsorship so far. Mining work as an EE seems to be difficult, and I haven't had a call back from the agencies looking for labouring work for me. But for now the construction job should suffice.

The final thing that has occupied a lot of my time was that I got an email that my laptop had - finally - been connected to the internet. Now I had an IP address. The Surfer's Police were also emailed, as was the ISP. All that needed to be done was to get a request from the police to the ISP and we had an address. Sadly, this was not easy to do as the Surfer's Police are not exactly sitting on the cutting edge of technology. In fact, even getting an email address from them was difficult at best. On top of that, everybody kept referring me to the officer who filed the police report. You know, the one who never returned my calls, was always on patrol and couldn't be reached. Finally, I got a hold of the OIC (that's cool-person talk for Officer in Charge), who seemed excited to get this very unprecedented means of capture working for them. He talked to the section head, Sgt. Malone who then called me back and had me email her the evidence I had including photos of him using my computer and creating an account. They were supposed to let me know they had received the information, which I also faxed to them just in case, but I heard nothing. Subsequent calls were not returned and I couldn't do anything but try to reach John Kubanko (the OIC) again. I finally did get a hold of him, and he promised to look into it, and he did call me back to confirm the spelling of my last name, but I didn't hear from him after that. And of course, he had three days off. It went on like this for the entire two weeks I was here, and finally, I decided I had exhausted all possibility of the police actually doing their job and decided to head out myself. And incidentally, I also talked to local police, Sydney police, Brisbane police, anyone I thought might be able to help a bit. I called Uncle Russ at home to see if he could send an email for me and he asked the Computer Crimes department to look into it, but again, nothing. So, I'm heading to Sydney to take care of it myself. In fact, my flight leaves at 4 this afternoon.

Perth Photos

A Long Way Down

Sunday, October 14, 2007

We left Broome just after nine by the time we’d made some stops. Our group, this ‘we’ I spoke of, seems pretty good and adventurous, but I guess that’s what you’d expect from a bunch of people who answered a poster on the hostel wall. Greg, the organizer of this southbound adventure to Perth, worked with a company called All-Terrain Safaris doing trips across the Kimberly. Normally, as the wet season sets in, the vans get shipped back to Perth by train for service and storage, but he wanted to meander down the west coast. He struck a deal with the tour company’s owner that he would fill the bus to pay for gas and extra stress on the vehicle, and he could take anyone willing on the adventure. An open itinerary, estimating about two weeks to Perth, stopping whenever and wherever the mood struck us, veering off the beaten tourist path anywhere possible, and with some experienced guides and surfers. Estimated retail price: about $2000. Actual cost: $450 plus any food, park, and accommodation costs (which totaled about $200). If it seems to good to be true, you understand my hesitation to give my money all up front.

But it was true, and I was on a bus that morning, and after a few stops, it was off to… the middle of nowhere. One of Greg’s friends, Johno, had flown up from Perth and took some photos out the window of the plane – a little ‘advanced scouting’ if you will. So we took an overgrown track and cut across fields in the middle of nowhere to wind up in the most spectacular and isolated place. There was a massive expanse of pristine white beach, with no sign aside from a washed up buoy that any man had ever set foot here. We stood on red cliffs with moon pools below, looking on it in awe. A little further up was a tidal river that in low tide looked like a brown Whitehaven beach. Hermit crabs were scurrying everywhere and we set up camp. Greg caught a mudcrab, we watched the sunset, had dinner (including mudcrab), sat around a huge fire telling jokes, and our first day ended with fifteen of us asleep on the beach… only 14 would be there when I awoke in the morning.

That’s because Johno was already up and around, of course. People weren’t disappearing. At least not yet… we left (all 15 of us) with apparently no idea how to find the road or civilization again. At several points in the journey we weren’t on any track at all, just driving across the open savannah in a direction we hoped was southeast. We hit a path, drove past some cattle stations (we had to be careful as we were quite possibly trespassing at this point), decided to head to the beach and drive up it to 80 mile beach, hopefully arriving at a caravan park before running out of fuel. It would be a close call to be sure. We found a road that looked big enough to take us to the highway, then, after a stop for fuel, 80 Mile Beach! I was feeling lazy and we couldn’t really swim because of catfish, rays, and jellyfish, so I actually went for a very short jog. As extensive as the beach was, there were people fishing along what seemed the entire stretch. One of the more experienced ones had caught something so we watched him wrestle a big ray. Mike, Greg, and I kicked the soccer ball around, Nathalie and Greg played an improvised version of Connect 4 with red and white shells, and we drove to the middle of nowhere with a gift of some fish from our fisher friend. On through some really cool terrain, then we got camp set up in the middle of nowhere once more, then Johon and I made some sauce for the rich fish (featuring French onion soup mix, thanks Johon!), and the day was won.

Our first stop the next morning was Marble Bar, the hottest town in Australia. It once went 120 days without the temperature dropping below 40 – day or night. At 9AM, it was 36 degrees in the shade… bear in mind it’s early spring. There are a couple of pools that are pretty dry and dirty but regardless, more of the group went for a swim in Marble Bar pool. Then, after a bit of a chat about the old gold mine with a local, off to Karijini National Park, where we’d spend a couple nights. I played my new harmonica with Karin and figured out O When the Saints and then I learned some body slapping from her and a beer game from Julian. Leave it to the Germans.

We did some great hikes through Karijini’s many gorges the next morning, Oct 4 and our fourth day already. We walked up and down Fortescu Falls, swam in Circular Pool and the almost perfect Fern Pool. We did even more hiking in Karijini on the 5th, making our way down Hancock Gorge which is probably the reason Karijini is as famous as it is. Hancock was a great hike right down a waterfall into Kermit’s Pool. Some of the climbing was pretty treacherous, maybe 3 cms of ledge and a 20m-30m drop, but it was worth the vertigo. Julian and I explored further down to a place called The Chute, which is a nice visual description of the place. It was like canyoning in Switzerland all over again! But soon we had to leave and make our way to Exmouth. Yesterday, the game was anyone who used the words “beer”, “mine”, and “sorry” had to do 5 pushups, situps, or jumping jacks (I probably did about 50). Today, it was writing numbers on the wheel and when we stopped, the number on the ground had to pick a dare from the hat.

The trip to Exmouth was not a short one, and we stopped in Tom Price for a taste of ‘civilization’ and supplies for dinner. It turned out we didn’t need it after all, as we hit an emu on the road which gave us all a jolt. Johno (who else) ran out and carved it up for dinner while a few of us did some repairs. So dinner tonight was free from nature, roasted in the fire and pretty good considering it was roadkill. Check that one off the list, another first. Those keeping score will be happy to know that I had my first shower since Broome that night, too.

Our sixth day came too early, probably because of the party late the night before, and I had my second shower to wake up. So fresh! I’d wanted to stop in Exmouth, which we made it to by midday, and do a SCUBA dive, but there were only five of us interested, and Greg figured we’d have just as good a dive out of Coral Bay. Plus, we were already running behind schedule, almost halfway done and far from halfway down, so fair enough, but I was kind of choked since this was one of the main things on my list. We drove through a canyon en route to Exmouth that reminded me a lot of Drumheller back home, up to the tip of the peninsula, and down along the beach until we found a great site for camp. We set up shop and I BBQ’d some steaks, which were pretty good if I may say. Better still, though, were the chocolate bananas cooked in tin foil on the coals. You leave the skin on, slit the banana, shove chocolate in there, and voila… tastiness!

We spent the next morning in this little cove just outside the Ningaloo National Park – or so we thought. I went for an early snorkel and the surge was wild. The reef itself wasn’t so great as the beach were on is used to launch boats it seems, but it was nice to get up on a beach and snorkel. I took my harmonica and went for a walk up the beach, playing for about 30 mins or so and I felt very carefree doing that. I’m getting attached to it, I guess. When I got back to camp around noon, they were packing things up instead of getting started on lunch. We apparently slept somewhere that was no only in the park (though just barely) but also not a campsite (double oops). So we were off towards Coral Bay as quickly as we could. On the way, though, we found an absolutely STUNNING beach, probably my favourite beach in Australia after Whitehaven. Naturally, we stopped. There was a long sand spit that formed an island, overlooking a bay and some of the most turquoise waters I’ve ever seen. From the sand spit, Ningaloo Reef was not only close, but walkable, and pretty unspoiled. I ran (well, hobbled – I’d sliced my toe on a rock that morning) down the spit with my camera and attempted to capture it. Then I waded into the water with camera in tow and saw a big rock that seemed to be moving towards me – sure enough, it was the biggest stingray I’ve ever seen. It almost could’ve passed for an albino manta. Another suspicious rock caught my eye, and sure enough – turtle! It bolted when I stopped to take a photo, but I got a Bigfoot-style blurry one. And this was just walking in the sand!

We were so delighted by Windermandy beach, as I later learned it was called, that we stayed the night. The reef was likewise delightful, some amazing blue coral. The shallow water really made the colour stand out, too. Meanwhile, back on land, Johon caught a shovel-nosed shark and another fish, though we had tacos for dinner. That was after Greg got our bus stuck in the sand and we spent 30 mins getting out. So, it was a fun-filled day, and the halfway point of our trip was passed. October 8th, we finally made it to Coral Bay, not before getting stuck again on the beach track en route. Finally, a hostel, a bed, and sadly, Johon was in our room. No escape from the snoring menace. I booked a dive for the next day, and then walked down to the beach to snorkel the closer part of the reef. It was a great swim. I left my stuff at the rocks, walked up the beach and into the water, and came back with the current over the next hour and a half. So peaceful and a great reef for being so close to land. We had dinner and enjoyed the hostel bar’s happy hour and Jenga set before calling it a night.

Yup, October 9th and still going. I told you it was a long way down. I went diving this morning with Ken, Greg, and Ayumi (AKA Yummy) on the Ningaloo Reef. We saw some beautiful stuff though poor Greg couldn’t equalize and had to stick to snorkeling. A green turtle, nudi branch, sailfin catfish, giant moray eel, grey/black reef sharks, and a loggerhead turtle to boot. After diving, I got some much needed laundry done and filled out postcards I’d bought ages ago to send home. There’s a bay where the sharks breed nearby, so I crossed some hills to the beach and walked along. Due to my unorthodox approach (just me and the snakes!) I had the walk to myself, the value of which cannot be understated when traveling in a group and particularly with an iPod loaded with music I haven’t had a chance to sing along to in almost two months. So I walked to the shark nursery alone on the beach enough to listen to most of Crane Wife and Gossip Diet on the way. There were plenty of sharks in the water coming quite close to shore. I waded in to about knee height to get a good shot as they’re not generally dangerous but three sharks coming right towards me made me take a nervous step back which definitely scared them off and they never came close again no matter how still I stayed.

I walked back more conventionally along the beach and went for dinner with the Japanese contingent. The girl at the counter was very friendly and she gave us two family-sized pizzas and a seafood basket to share for $14. We met the rest of the group there and went back to the hostel where schenanigans including Twister, some pool throw-ins, and some friendly Germans ensued. Still, we did manage to leave by 9AM the next morning for the big trip down to Monkey Mia. For the first time since leaving Broome 10 days ago, I had 20 mins of cell phone reception passing through Carnavon and we stopped for a thermal bath at Peron Stationm, but otherwise the drive was uneventful. Oh, and since the peninsula is part of Project Eden, an effort to remove all non-native animals and restore decimated populations, we passed the fence that keeps the dogs, foxes, cats, etc out. Where it crosses the road is a sensor that plays a recording of angry dogs barking to scare them away. Supposedly it actually works.

Monkey Mia the next morning greeted us early as we staked out a place on the beach to meet the bottle-nosed dolphins that regularly come by. It was pretty cool to get so close to them. Cooler still, Greg got us a good rate on a boat trip out to sea for some dugong, dolphin, and hopefully whale action. We went out on a catamaran and our lot sat in the boom net off the stern which was really fun. We did spot some dugongs and dolphins also, well worth the $30. Back at the campground, the neighbour’s kids played some footy, soccer, and gymnastics with me and then we headed off down the peninsula. We stopped at an ocean park with a tiger shark, turtles, highly deadly sea snakes (which we petted, and no, they still had their venom). It was nice and interactive. We also stopped at the stromatelites, the oldest living thing in the world and what they think first produced the oxygen that made life as we know it possible on earth. They’re basically rocks that breathe, but I did get in trouble for walking on some in spite of a whole beach full of them for miles. Oops. We camped, as is tradition, in the middle of nowhere again, and man are the nights ever getting cold! I should’ve stayed in Broome. We played a pass-the-apple game and Greg passed around an emu egg made of pudding, we saw moons in spoons, and after a few cans (that’s right) of wine, sleepy time.

Our first and second glamorous stops in the frigid morning of October 12 were an abandoned lead quarry and then smelter. Then, off to Kalbarri National Park for a couple walks in the gorges, a walk to Nature’s Window, and lunch. The flies here are ridiculous. The park is amply supplied to provide no fewer than 100 buzzing, landing, and crawling on every visitor. And apparently, one of our guides has seen them 10 times worse in summer. No thanks. We went, after some great walking, to the town of Kalbarri where they weren’t as bad and swam in the cold river, then sat on the beach where I’m writing this now. Or at least, I was. I traded Perfume (an excellent read, by the way) and At Play in the Fields of the Lord (also very good) for two Michael Crichton novels. Incidentally, I read Air Babylon which was fast and surprisingly entertaining, in a single bus trip. When we got to camp, we found some more entertainment in piling up the swags and taking photos doing stunts, flips, and gymnastics. Another reason to love swags. We went for some fresh seafood for dinner and it was fantastic! $10 got us grilled Perch, fried Emperor, prawns, calamari, rice, salad, and fries, and it was all great. It was completely BYO, so families would come with their eskies, maybe sit around the fire, and eat fresh fish. Like a beer garden for fish. They also had a piano and it didn’t take much alcohol or convincing for me to give it a play.

If Kalbarri impressed me the day before – and it did – I liked it all the better the following day, October 13, and our last full day on tour. Just south is a beautiful, no, gorgeous trail that runs along dramatic cliffs plunging into the roaring turquoise Indian Ocean for 12km or so. As well, a few terrific surf beaches with what are said to be some of the best waves in the world. I don’t doubt it. Talk about a playground! We stopped at one beach tucked between the cliffs, though Nathalie and I spent the entire time playing on the rocks taking funny photos of each other. We made the Pinnacles that night just in time for the sun to go down, and had a late dinner in Hangover Bay, where we polished off our remaining alcohol. And soon, we were in Perth, and I was jumping off the bus to my hostel, one of the only ones to have booked ahead – and lucky for me, most of the rest of the group wound up in a hostel ridden with bedbugs. Accomodation is scarce here. So ends my last real road trip in Australia, but the adventures are far from over, as you are soon to see.

Road to Karijini Photos
Karijini National Park Photos
Coral Coast Photos
Kalbarri and Pinnacles Photos