methow grist 2011-2014 archive
Bill Hottell hitchhiking toward Sydney, Australia in 1969. He and Diana eventually caught rides for over 2000 miles.

Northern Territory & Queensland
An excerpt from Bill Hottell's unpublished memoir

When was the most intense feeling of pure freedom? For me it was hitch-hiking across Australia riding on the back of a flat-bed truck.

After many months of roughing it through Africa and Asia, Diana and I were ecstatic to arrive in Darwin, Australia, where we could drink the water, eat the lettuce (never touch lettuce in a third world country unless you want to contract amoebic dysentery), eat ice cream and possibly even understand the local language. The first day in Australia we sat down and devoured an entire half gallon of ice cream at one sitting. But the joy of speaking our own native tongue was a terrible disappointment. The first place we stayed was Bachelor, a uranium mining camp near Darwin, where the locals spoke a variety of English that was totally unintelligible. They might as well be speaking Amharic or Bambara.

Beggars can't be choosers. Sometimes the free ride meant a hard seat in the open back of a flatbed truck.

The hitch-hiking adventure began when we left the “English speaking” town of Bachelor. We headed south into central Australia and turned east toward the Great Barrier Reef. A traveler could go hundreds of miles in the outback and see almost no cars and no people. So we stood with our backpacks beside the desolate road for long periods of time. This did offer ample opportunity to feel the vast silence of the Northern Territory. We waited and watched while no cars drove by, but finally caught a long ride with a Danish immigrant who was driving from town to town looking for a job. Eventually we hitch-hiked for well over 2,000 miles.

The barren, wide-open spaces were occasionally broken by a little town about every ninety miles . . . Tennant Creek, Mount Isa, Julia Creek.

The Australian outback is not the best place for car trouble.

Somewhere in the middle of Australia’s outback we caught a ride on a very long freight truck, a trailer flatbed. When we jumped onto the empty flatbed I leaned against my backpack, felt the wind blowing through my hair and just relaxed to watch the countryside pass by. The desert landscape was drifting lazily by when suddenly a large flock of snow-white cockatoos appeared flying along side us to the north. I had only seen cockatoos in cages, so it was exciting to see the exotic birds flying as free as the wind.

At that moment, flying across the outback on an open truck, breezing through the air as free as a bird, I felt the exhilaration of pure freedom so intense that I can still taste it today. Nobody in the world knew where the two of us were, no parents, no relatives. I had no responsibilities or obligations, no nine-to-five job. I had no deadline except to get back to America within a year or so.

Caught in the act - Diana feeds junk food to a local resident.

That was the feeling of freedom that Tom Sawyer had yearned for when he played hooky from school and ran with Huckleberry Finn.

Diana and I eventually arrived in Sidney where we stayed with friends for five weeks in Wooloomooloo, but the most exciting time in Australia was riding on the truck out in the middle of nowhere. I was a cockatoo soaring across the open spaces of Queensland. Tom Sawyer would have loved it.

Autumn 1969