Snakes as pets…

My father collected poisonous snakes for the Perth museums stuffed animal collection — this was back in the 1960’s when it was a preeminent thing to do. At that time most people didn’t think about extinction and animal rights. It was a time where there was still plenty of wildlife around.

There were oysters growing on the back islands at Jurien Bay that I loved to pick off with a screwdriver and eat.

There were plagues of emus piling up on the rabbit proof fence during times of drought.

Snakes were commonly seen both on our farm and at our Jurien Bay holiday home. As a child I felt connected to all that is— to all of nature and all that was natural—the human world seemed strange to me less pure, less honest.

I lived on a wheat and sheep farm that had its own petrol pump so that we had over sixty forty four gallon drums all stacked neatly up on a high platform.

On slow summer evenings the 44 gallon drums would herald the cool evening air with deep “boinging” drum like sounds as they cooled down — that was one of those sounds of my childhood…

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When they grew old some of the drums were used for BBQ’s others for foundations filled with concrete and others were used for snake “homes”.

When my father caught a snake he would remove the top from a drum and that would become the snakes home until it was time for the trip to Perth for the “freeze alive” position they would maintain in death with the help of taxidermy at the Perth Museum.

These snake homes were housed in our old garage where we fed the snakes and gazed down at them as they waited their fate.

My father didn’t only collect snakes he also collected marsupial mice, and other strange animals.

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His passion for animals exposed us to wild goats, a wild horse called Zany who was tamed and trained to be Polo cross player, mountain devils, echidnas and I remember once climbing a tree with my father, brother and the Barnes family to peer into a Wedge tale eagles nest. It was huge — all thick sticks — and a small area in the middle where the chicks would have lived.

At Jurien Bay we children would shake out seaweed rolls and collect the tiny blue ringed octopi and put them in a bucket and watch the blue become iridescent when they became overly stimulated.

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We had been told by our parents that they were deadly so we were very careful. In retrospect it must have been risky to pick up a seaweed roll to shake out.

I can only remember my parents saying that we had to put them back in the sea because they didn’t deserve to live in a bucket plus we didn’t know what to feed them.

My parents expected us to do as they told us — this was to respect wild life and respect out own lives.

My father was the animal person and my mother was a wildflower person — that is whole other story.

However, my father really had an attraction to snakes. He had learnt how to handle them and I remember that when he was catching a snake he would give us a running commentary.

First he would run after a great poisonous snake deftly lay a stick over the back of the snake’s head so that he could reach the tail without the snake striking.

He would be saying to us as though instructing us on “snake catching:”—“Put the stick close to the head then you have no chance of being bitten, now grab the tail like this!” — he would reach down to the squirming tail and adroitly grab it.

He would then release the head while saying “you have to be quick” and he would swing the snake around in a slow circle so that the momentum prevented it from reaching up to bite him.

Sometimes he would stop the swing and show us how the snake would start to bend upwards to try and strike his hand.

He would then calmly instruct us “Grab that wheat bag and open it”. Then he would bring the swinging snake over and somehow stop the swing and for a very quick moment hold it still over the opening of the sack — then drop it in the bag. The snake’s head was really close to us as we held the bag open — it was scary for us!

Quickly closing the bag the job would be done — another snake captured.

Other times he would lay the stick against the back of a snake’s head and then simply grasp the snake there. The snake would then wrap itself around his arm so that he had a sort of tourniquet around his lower arm. This was no problem with smaller snakes as they weren’t strong enough.

One day at Wubin Rocks he caught a huge black tiger snake and did the grab behind the head thing. The snake started to wrap around his arm and he realised that the snake was too strong so he squeezed the “throat” of the snake so hard that it died. I remember the limp and flaccid snake after this had occurred and thinking how quickly life could be completely erased.

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I have been around snakes since I was really young, and I remember an incident at home when I was a very young child.

Our farmhouse had a well-watered bright green lawn enclosed with a brick fence and this was a “safe” place for us to play. When I was about three years old and my brother Kim was about one a big black tiger snake came thought the opening in the fence onto the lawn we were playing on. I remember that we were both dressed the same — simply in a pair of underpants — Kim was curious and started to toddle over to the snake. I remember calmly leading him away. I called and my mother came out from the kitchen. She asked us to go inside and stay there. We went inside but could see her and the snake from the windows.

Mum got an axe and a stick and tried to whip it with the stick to break its back and then axe the head off.

I was really disappointed that I couldn’t be out there with her having all that action and excitement. She was balancing on top of the low verandah wall with her axe and stick as she tried to kill it.

We were calling out “Please can we come out now—we can’t see!” She was screaming “No!” I felt incensed that she would not let us out — it seems so unfair at the time.

Once she had killed it and removed the head we were allowed to play with the body to feel what a snake felt like, it was cool and smooth beyond imagining. When we asked my parents if we could play with its head my father did the commentary thing.; “Never play with a dead snakehead. The teeth could still release poison or have poison on them even although it is dead.

When I was in Grade one at Wubin primary school I took a whip snake in for show and tell. I had caught the whip snake on the verandah and put it in a glass jar with holes in the lid.

whip snake

A whip snake I had been informed by my father was poisonous but not enough to kill a child. This obviously made the snake “safe” enough to catch and I know that my parents would have helped me with the holes in the lid of the jar so they must have supported my show and tell snake.

A fellow school student reminded me of my show and tell snake in my adulthood and until that moment I had not realized how unusual it was for a five-year-old child to take a poisonous snake in a glass jar on the school bus.

My parents simply trusted their children to follow their strict rules for the handling of snakes, guns and cars and we did.

After show and tell the objects were placed on a shelf in the classroom until the end of the day when they were taken home (again on the school bus).

The whip snake sat there on the shelf until a curious class mate opened the jar and it got out and started to slither around the classroom of thirty-two young students aged between five and seven.

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I remember being a tad confused about what to do. This was because there was an adult in the room and adults usually did the “catch the snake” thing. I had only caught the whip snake when the adults weren’t present. I then noticed that my teacher — Miss Irvine — a 22-year-old Perth girl didn’t know what to do!

I caught it and put it back in the jar. I thought nothing of it until I was reminded of this much later in my life.

This story is actually about a special snake called George and a teacher and the feeling of unrequited revenge.

When I was about eight years old we were off on one of our yearly Christmas school holiday trips to Jurien Bay.

We had the second house ever built in Jurien Bay and went there for the whole of the Christmas holidays, Easter and often at other times. It was our second home away from the farm.

The drive was long because the roads were gravel and on the last couple of sand hills the road was a sandy track and we sometimes got bogged.

On a gravel road somewhere out from Eneabba where the trees and bushes were crowding in on the road a large snake slithered across in front of our car leaving that sinusoidal track behind it. Dad came to a quick halt jumped out of the car and chased it — grabbing a stick on the way. This was a “normal” occurrence when we spotted a snake or unusual animal.

He did the “trap head thing” then the “grab tail thing” and then the “swinging snake thing” and then came to a complete conundrum, as we didn’t have a wheat bag in which to put the snake.

My parents loved holidays — the longer the better — so they had picked us up directly from school. My plastic school bag was the next best thing to a hessian wheat bag.

We emptied out the uneaten rotting school lunches, schoolbooks, used tissues and other detritus that I had kept in it for the whole year.

Dad then dropped the six-foot long snake into the bag. Zipping it up was a tad tricky but it was managed.

So, the school bag with snake was on my lap for the rest of the long trip.

By the time we got to Jurien Bay we had named the snake George, and he needed a much better home than my school bag.

A very large glass jar was found and he was coiled into that and that is where he lived for the time he was “on holidays” with us. The metal lid had breathing holes punched in it.

He had been carsick in my school bag. I remember being a really upset because my school bag already had a disgusting smell — this was why I couldn’t eat my school lunches and now it was even worse. Maybe he was car sick because of the smell?

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George lived in his jar in the middle of the dining room table of our beach house for the whole of the school holidays. My father informed us that snakes respond to vibration so to keep him happy we talked and sang to him and we figured the more thumping of cards the better. “Snap”, “Galloping demons” and “Whist” were his daily entertainment. This was a time when playing cards, reading books and cooking were the things to do when not at the beach or riding our bikes.

We had an ancient dancing doll music box from my mother’s mother and we would wind it up and play it him endlessly.

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My father didn’t know what sort of snake he was so when we did the yearly Perth trip, George came along to be identified.

The Perth museum staff let us know that he was a non-poisonous Children’s Python. They didn’t need another specimen so George’s life was saved. With that information my father decided that he would become our new pet. While in Perth he purchased a breeding pair of mice and a home for them so that we could feed him. We then all went back from Perth to Jurien Bay.

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George displayed supreme patience in his glass jar. He really had no choice — for the rest of the holidays he continued to be entertained with our card, music, talking “vibrations”.

My father would take him out and play with him. He was tame by this time and would slither around my father and easily go back into the jar.

At the end of the holidays we all went home with George and he was given a beautiful snake home — a large box and the front glass was one half of a windscreen from a 1950’s car from our prolific rubbish dump that had many ancient harvesters, trucks and cars.

George became a part of our normal life.

On one occasion George slithered up a chair and then balanced on his tail up the side of a doorframe. He then poked around at the top of the door slowly manipulating it until it opened. He went over the top and dropped himself into the next room. If I hadn’t seen this with my own eyes I would have thought it impossible. I became to believe that snakes are very intelligent and able to sneak into the most difficult places.

Once a year in the August school holidays we would go to Carnarvon to visit our family from the Quan Sing clan. On the way home we would drop in to friends in places like Geraldton and Northampton. One family we visited had photographs of a little girl of about four all over the walls. We were later told that the farmhouse had a sleep-out where the four children slept. One night the young daughter had a temperature and was crying — she started to be really ill so they rushed her to the Doctor. She died without them knowing why. When they came back home they stripped the bed and there was a poisonous snake still in the bed. Only then did they find the tiny bite marks on her legs. The snake had managed to get into the sleep-out.

Infrequently we fed George baby mice and watched as he swallowed them alive and whole. We played with him and daily enjoyed his company—he was our pet.

One time when my father and we three children playing with him on the lawn a cat came close. Cats kill snakes so George had every reason to be scared and he was acting jumpy. I touched his tail and he must have thought that I was a cat — he flipped most of his body around and stuck at me. I did a summersault backwards and luckily missed a bite.

George had been scared before and had bitten my father. While my father was prizing George off this arm he did the commentary thing to educate us. He explained calmly that a snakes teeth angle backwards so that in order to get George off this arm he had to push his head towards his arm and then lift him off taking the angle of the teeth into account. I am guessing that he told us this just incase we ever needed to do that when he was not there.

George and my father became great friends to the point where George would slither into my father’s shirt and fall asleep around his waist and my father would forget that he was there.

I have come to believe that a kind and caring bond between people and animals is part of the evolution of the both parties. It seems to me that when animals are bonded to people who are loving both parties are uplifted and this is what I believe happened with George and my father.

Wubin at the time had this schoolteacher called Mr. Flynn. He had red hair and a famous temper.

He caned both the boys and the girls and even caned the child called Gordon who we had been told was spastic (Cerebral Palsy). Of course the cane would stimulate Gordon into a frenzy of spasm — such cruelty. Humans in the “good old days” were often not kind — it was the culture to not mention abuse or not act when abuse was noticed.

I remember the huge purple welts I would get when he caned my lower legs for being too loud when emptying the bins…

I was helping and I got the cane!

My parents dismissed my welts by saying I must have deserved it.

These were parents who didn’t hit their children, and yet they allowed this teacher to cane me. Like I said; abuse was not acknowledged for what it was.

I could never figure out adults when I was a child. Although my parents were intelligent and stimulating they seemed so devoid of joy and understanding. I still can’t figure most of them out — most seem to just be like robots doing what everyone is brainwashed to do, on their march towards the grave.

Mr. Flynn was a cruel man; yet it seemed to me that my parents were oblivious to his cruelty. I am guessing that when he first arrived he was OK but his cruelty built up over time?

When he went over to the teacher’s house for lunch we would often hear him shouting at his children and wife.

My parents would invite him and his poor bullied family out for dinner a couple of times a year and on one of these occasions the men needed more beer.

My father got into our Studebaker car and Mr. Flynn got into the passenger seat. I was in the back seat.

George was asleep inside my father’s shirt and as my father leaned back in the seat George woke up — by this stage the car was doing 60 miles per hour that is 110 kilometres per hour in today’s language.

George popped his head with his flickering tongue out between the button- holes of my father’s shirt and then started to look left and right as more of him came out.

The fantastic bit of this story for my nine-year-old self was that Mr. Flynn was petrified!

He opened the door to jump out of the car — it was a gravel road and the noise when a car door is opened at that speed was really something!

Dust; gravel, loud rattling noise; teacher panicking; me delighted!  Inside my head I was praying that he would jump!

Such is the mind of a child.

Unfortunately that was not to be because my father casually grabbed George and moved him away from Mr. Flynn and drove on.

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Nemrut Dagi to Dyrbarker 1982 – Turkey

After having a night with a Kurdish man with a gun threatening me all night I arrived that the small hamlet at the base of Nemrut Dagi feeling exuberant because I had survived.

Nothing like fear, where I didn’t know if I was going to be raped or shot or both to make me grateful for being alive.

Nemrut Dagi statues and the view!

The people of this tiny place were quiet, closed and they silently looked at us travellers with wide dark eyes. They didn’t appear to find our difference interesting they were simply suspicious of us.

It was as though they were afraid that we could contaminate their little dwellings. Perhaps in some way they were right?  We Westerners with our different clothing, greater size, different diseases and chemical smells were a bit of a stretch for a minuscule Turkish hamlet.

We went in to the small home/shop and ordered sweet black tea in tiny cups and waited for a lift to the next town. I was desperate for the “ladies room” so was shown outside into a hut that was perched on the side of a very steep hill. The floor of the hut was made from rough boards and in one board was a hole – this being the toilet. The toilet floor was the ceiling of a pig pen. The whole rickety structure was made from bush poles covered over with mud. Here and there were gaps so that you could see the pigs below and the people outside. It was most disconcerting to use the facilities with the pigs snuffling and fighting below for any “offerings.”  Squatting precariously over the hole in the floor I did wonder about the safety of the pigs, would they get sick with our Western excreta with our different germs? Luckily for the pigs we were a few days removed from many Western wonders so they may have survived.

I started to feel unhinged, the world took an unearthly feel, after a night of being on the wrong side of macho stupidity and now having my modesty challenged. Plus I was not used to pigs below me looking up at my most treasured place to see what I had for them. It all seemed a little too odd and my mind started to become unstuck and drift a little. It took some time to pull myself back together before I felt that I was solid again. Walking helped, and as this village had only a few houses therefore no restaurant or place to stay we walked out of town over an ancient Roman bridge and waited for a hitch by playing frizby by the side of the road.

Playing frizby with the locals while waiting for a hitch

We finally caught a hitch to the next town on the back of a truck half filled with large stones and rubble that shook and released large wafts of dust as we trundled and bumped along balancing precariously on the load. All the way to the next town we had a police escort. This man looked like he came from a movie, very good looking he was wearing an immaculate uniform with lots of badges and buttons. To complete his look he had the most modern mirror sunglasses.

This was juxtaposed with the miniscule bike and the beautiful hand made donkey bags on each side for panniers that were filled with green straw. He escorted us all the way to the next town and peeled off into a side street as we entered the first few houses of that place.

We were dusty tired and hungry so went directly to a restaurant for a feed.

In Turkey the restaurants are immaculately clean, and they ring with the sounds of cooking bouncing off the tiles, laminex tables and chairs and concrete floor. We found such a place and ordered our food. As we were waiting young boys came to our table and asked us for money and sweets. They were about eight years old with all the cheekiness of that age, eyes sparkling with the idea of Western money and goods. They joked around and jostled as they asked for this and that, and we joked back.

Suddenly the boys scattered. The restaurant owner charged after the boys and caught one. He threw this child to the ground then repeatedly kicked him. The child curled into the foetal position to protect his vital organs and had his arms clasped over his skull to shield his brain. We were all catatonic with surprise, and by the time our brains switched on again, the abuse stopped as suddenly as it started – we were all still sitting with our mouths hanging open—stunned into immobility.

The restaurateur walked back into the restaurant and apologised about the boys harassing us and we just sat there in our stunned silence.

The Turkish at the time had one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world, and yet they were rich in the ways that I believe matter. Their food was always fresh and wholesome, people — well, the men — because the women were hidden away in the houses — were cheerful and frequently laughed as they whiled time away in the coffee shops, smoking cigarettes and drinking pungent coffee.

The people and this included the women if I was lucky enough to see one, were dignified and graceful, their bodies loose and easy as they walked and held hands with their friends.

So, this culture of refinement and beauty with sudden bursts of unconscious violence lulled me from moments of exquisite enjoyment and over to shock and back again within moments.

Later in the day we hitched a lift in an large old truck and headed East, I was siting in  the wide cab looking out at the wheat fields. In the late part of the afternoon we found ourselves at a wide smooth flowing river – the Euphrates. We asked to stop and got out. Again no restaurants, hotels or anything. Just a beautiful wide river with an endless sky above.

The Euphrates River with the goats coming down to drink

Here was moisture in the bleak dryness of the rolling countryside. Strangely there were no trees on the banks. It was as though the water just poured down from the mountains and somehow prevented the germination of seeds. We asked the truck driver to leave us there on the stark banks with the huge sky. From horizon to horizon was a prairie of grasses and undulating hills. A herd of  goats bleating on the other bank, with their hooves raising puffs of dust that hovered over them as they jostled around and meandered down from the grasses to drink. We were the only humans the whole time we were there and a vast stillness settled over me.

Late afternoon sun camp

The Euphrates river spoke to me of a history unimagined as it flowed through a wide sky and gathered the energy of the wind as it softly played with the flaxen grasses on each side of its banks.

Myself and Peder bathing in the Euphrates

The banks of the river were a chocolate brown mud so we peeled off our clothes and had our first wash for a couple of days, splashing in the river and savouring the icy coolness. We then decided to have a mud bath using the mud as soap to grind away our sweat, and romped around in and out of the water getting cleaner as we played.

Having a Euphrates Mud bath. The equivalent to a modern day spa.

The mud was glutinous and dried on our skins to a pale shade of beige. Claus took off his socks and they became a magnet for the little creatures of the earth. When he returned to put them back on they were covered in ants such was our state of personal hygiene before the swim.

Socks that attract ants

The next morning after a sleep on the banks of the Euphrates River we were really hungry and caught another lift to another road workers camp. Here they provided us with a wonderful fresh breakfast of warm Turkish bread, olives, feta cheese, tomatoes and tea.

Turkish Breakfast at a road workers camp

Peder and Claus wanted to go one way and Ron and I decided to go to Lake Van in Eastern Turkey to see Mt Arafat/Ararat famous because of the biblical story of the great flood.

I was really keen to see Mt Arafat and Ron also wanted to go so, I made the choice to travel with Ron.

We had to hitch as there were no buses in this part of the country. Soon, I found myself sitting next to the truck driver and Ron sitting next to the door. All through the three hour trip the driver kept missing the gear stick and “accidentally” groping me on the knee, with his hand getting higher with each grope. I would roughly brush his hand away each time and scowl. When I mentioned to Ron to change places he informed me that I was just being neurotic and chose to stay where he was.

I was feeling that Ron was an additional difficulty to deal with along with the Turkish men. Although he didn’t try to sexually harass me his inability to understand that this behaviour impacted on my safety was emotionally wearing.

I was in a hyper-vigilant state with every nerve straining and my adrenal glands pumping out adrenaline to keep me alert. I could smell the pungent smell of fear wafting up from my arm pits, as the adrenaline laced sweat dribbled down my sides to my waist. My face felt like the blood was drained out and there was a heavy cloud over my heart area as we drove along, I was feeling that I wanted to be anywhere but in the present.

Typical small town in Eastern Turkey

Finally we came to a small town and had lunch before getting a lift with three men who were going to Diyarbakir in their sedan car.

They put me in the passenger seat and Ron was in the back with the others. This time the “whoops I missed the gear stick” charade was even more obvious as there was a large distance between the gears and my legs. Again I was rough and rude not knowing another way to deal with this game. Around lunch time the driver pulled off the road and followed a twin rutted track by a stream to a picnic area and stopped.

Opening the door the heat and silence of the place hit me with a vengeance —I stood by the car wondering how lunch would be.

The Turkish men produced some lunch and a bottle of red wine. They handed me the wine and asked me to drink deeply and did the same with Ron. Immediately I knew what they were trying to achieve as they handed the bottle between the two of us.

I don’t drink when I am feeling unsure so I just pretended to drink, but I noticed Ron taking some large gulps of wine, and realised if Ron became drunk I would be even more vulnerable.

I was in an out of the the way place with four men and my only chance of safety was the potentially drunk Ron.

I was now at the stage of my relationship with Ron where I didn’t spare any conversation on niceties. I warned him that if he got drunk and I was raped then I would also implicate him. This would mean that he would spend his time in a Turkish goal waiting for the police to charge him.  The threat of his trip being ruined got his attention.

Together we decided that the safest tack was to get them drunk and then they would be less focused.

From them on we just pretended to drink from the bottle and the Turkish men drank the rest between them. A worry fraught hour of passing the bottle backwards and forwards and it was finally empty, and we observed three very tipsy Turks giggling away as they shared with us the delicious fresh food. Every now and again they would huddle together talking softly. Another hour later the food was finished and quite suddenly two of the men came over to Ron and flanked him entwined their arms with his and lead him away from the car through some trees — within a few seconds I was left alone with the driver.

Ron didn’t compute what was happening I believe that he just thought that he was very popular and easily went along with the guys.

I immediately moved to the other side of the car as as the driver approached me, he kept moving around the car to get closer to me and I repositioned myself to stay at the diametrically opposite side.

“Cat and mouse” with me as the mouse.

I was screaming for Ron to return and felt that if he could return I was probably safer.

Ron heard me and came back shocked at the sight of our game. At this stage we had stopped for over two hours and the afternoon was getting late, and we still had to drive to Diyarbakir. The Turkish men must have decided that it was all too hard and so we all piled back in the car, this time with me in the back next to Ron and a door, away from prying hands.

Typical road side scene in Eastern Turkey

I imagined the haven of Dirabakir for we had heard of its bus stations, restaurants and hotels. I thought it would be a place where things were a little more Westernised and we could relax. No more hitching, cadged meals or sleeping on riverbanks or mountain tops. A place big enough where the male harassment would be less due to the worldliness of a large town.

In the later afternoon we arrived with the dusk giving the town a soft presence of dusty streets and the tinkling sounds of crockery and children playing. The three Turks let us out in the main street and wearily went their way.

We were dirty, tired and irritable so with our heavy packs we went looking for a place to sleep for the night. We found that Eastern Turkey was very different from the Western area.

At the first hotel they would not hire separate rooms for each of us and they would not hire us one together. They would not tell us why.

The next hotel we asked for two single rooms and they asked if we were married.  We said that we were not married and then they told us to go they didn’t take unmarried women.

Ron and I were both tired and feeling a tad stressed about the hotel room hire by this stage so we made a plan to tell the next hotel that we were married.

Finally at the third hotel we were given a huge room with two single beds. The bathroom consisted of an enormous draughty room with a cold water tap in one corner and a dank hole in the concrete floor in the other that was the toilet.

The furnishing of the bathroom was a small bowl that you filled with the tap and poured either over yourself or down the hole. Both rooms were very clean and painted a light lime green — the ceiling, walls, doors and thankfully they left the floor a concrete grey.

We were off the streets for the night and the relief was palpable — our tiredness and stressful day was catching up on us and after

The next day I wanted to look around town because Diyarbakir is on the edge of the Tigris river and I wanted to go and have a swim in the Tigris. I walked down to the rivers edge onto a wide jetty, it was a relief to get away from Ron. I have always found time alone and exercise a great stress relief.

Although I was dressed modesty people frowned as I walked along alone, I noticed that there were no other women walking alone in the streets, I was one of a kind.

At the edge of the jetty there was a man who was with three young sons between the ages of 5 and 8 and as I stood looking at the Tigris. The children picked up fist sized stones and threw them at my feet. They stung and hurt, the man who was with them just quietly watched as I flinched at the pain of being stoned.

I quickly left the jetty area so that meant no swimming in the Tigris at Dirabakir.

I decided it would be safer to go to a shopping street so walked down a busier street that had shops each side. The shop keepers sitting in the doorways in the morning sun.

As I walked along the men and male children all looked at me suspiciously and frowning at me as I went by.  There were no other women in the street. A teenage boy of about 17 years old picked up a stone and threw it at me and it stung as it hit my upper back. Almost immediately many of the young male children in the street did the same and within a few moments I had large stones hitting me in the upper back, lower back, calves and feet. They put a spin on them so that they really stung as they hit and sort of veered off due to the spin on them.

In retrospect I realise that they could have made brilliant cricketers in India or Australia.

For a moment I didn’t know what to do and the crowd of male children was increasing by the second. I decided to just challenge the biggest one of the group and turned around and ran after him screaming at him to stop.

Like a burst of a firework the boys scattered in all directions. A shopkeeper then ran after the teenager I challenged. He threw him to the ground and repeatedly kicked him in the head.

I just got out of there as fast as I could while the boys were distracted from me.

That afternoon I got the first bus to Ankara and then a flight to Istanbul

Seeing Lake Van would have to wait for another time.

Rhodes to Malatya – Turkey 1982

Me in Greece

In 1982 I travelled alone through Greece for a month stopping off at islands along the way and finally I ended up in Rhodes. One afternoon I was walking by the Rhodes harbour talking to the locals and one boat owner said that he was leaving for Turkey in a few hours and would I like to come along. I just decided in that moment “yes” that would a interesting. I went back to my room packed my tiny bag and so on a whim I took that boat to Ismir thinking I would stay a few days.

Istanbul Children

Little did I realize that 6 weeks later I would emerge from Turkey so exhausted, exhilarated, and my world view completely changed.

A couple of hours later I embarked a boat which was a tiny fishing vessel that had the cargo of four tourists. There was a very naïve English couple, a nervous woman of about 50 years of age of indeterminate race and myself. We all sat on the edge of the boat and chugged down the Ismir Korjezi enthralled by the scenery. The sea was smooth and glassy—barely a swell and the many islands that were covered by a dark green healthy forest that rose steeply out of the water. I don’t remember seeing any villages or signs of civilisation along the Korjezi, just the earth in her glory. On that boat trip, I effortlessly enticed myself to stay longer in Turkey. After a few days I knew that I had found the best travel that I had experienced on this trip to Europe so far. After spending time in India, Nepal and South East Asia, Italy and Greece seemed tamed and civilised and the culture not too different from home with our many Greek and Italian immigrants.

Turkey was the East and it oozed a sense of adventure, the thrill of not knowing what the next moment would bring and sheer physical beauty—a combination not to be rejected. I knew little about Turkey except that it was the gateway to the east at Istanbul.

As a child I had always looked at Turkey on the large world map in our farmhouse kitchen in a remote corner of the world called Wubin in Western Australia. I have always been intrigued by the name.  I had wrongly assumed that the county was named after a huge clumsy bird. Maybe now I realise that it is around the other way?

The port of Ismir was quaint. There were restaurants at the water’s edge, where the few tourists ate fresh, healthy food that had maintained the organic life force that could be tasted and felt. Inside my simple but clean hotel, women held meetings in the stairwell, and smoked large fragrant cheroots. Being in the stair well was like being in a place of worship. Shafts of light would catch the “incense” of the cigars smoke that curled slowly up from the perfumed cheroots that casted shadows on the women whose heads were covered by beautifully crafted muslin scarves that had intricately beaded trims. When I entered the stairwell they would stop their quiet muttering and quietly watch me with large liquid eyes that appeared to have a silent mind behind them.

The men met in the coffee shops filling them with the smoke of small thin cigarettes and the aroma of Turkish Coffees. In Turkey at the time it seemed that men and women had completely different lives. The first morning after my stair experience I went to breakfast by the ocean. I chose a table next to the water and after a few moment the young English couple joined my table. They ordered “Standard Breakfast” from the menu and sat back waiting for what they imagined was bacon, eggs, chips, sugary cereals or what ever the English eat for breakfast. They were given a Turkish breakfast of the freshest warm Turkish bread, feta cheese, olives and zinging tomatoes accompanied by strong black coffee. As many inexperienced tourists do, they reacted as though slapped on the face by the waiter and stood up as though to have a fight! I sat back laughing as I watched the Turks smile, gently whisk the offending meal away and take the order for a bland cardboard beige coloured “English breakfast”.

There were so few tourists here that the waiters were not jaded by this experience yet. The other tourist from the boat joined us and the three of them spoke about their escalating fears. They decided to take a bus straight to Istanbul. I decided to travel south alone.

Me inside a raided tomb in Fetyheri Southern Turkey

The bus service in Turkey is excellent, clean, and efficient with little extras such as the provision of fresh water. The local custom is for the driver to look after any stray women. As a stray I was given the seat behind the driver. At rest stops the driver made sure that I was served and would order for me, all very confronting but pleasant for me. When I arrived at my destination they gave me instructions of where to find accommodation and generally acted as unpaid tour guides. The Turkish gypsies find the bus service so good that they have thrown away their previous mode of transport and could be seen at the bus stations with all of their possessions wrapped up in huge cloth bundles waiting for a bus to their next destination.

I traveled south and then east finding Turkey absolutely wonderful. The people were friendly without being overbearing, the scenery, the food, cleanliness, culture, antiquities, buildings—all magnificent. Because I traveled alone I had many little things that I did to make myself feel safe. After all, I was in Turkey alone and none of my friends or family on knew where I was. If anything happened to me—well—that was not to be thought about. I would always make sure that my bus arrived at its destination during the day so that I had plenty of time to find accommodation when it is light and therefore safer.

Turkish homes in the Cappidoccia region

After a few days of travel I arrived in the Cappidoccia region; a place where the past residents carved out cave homes from the soft rock of fairy mushroom or (depending upon your Freudian analysis) penis shaped weathered sculptures . Each home had very small tunnel entrance where you had to crawl on your hands and knees to get in or out so in the past was safe from invaders. In many of the homes there were rock carved church rooms with wonderful artworks in them weathering away as the soft rock buildings fell to the ravages of time, vandalism and weather. In the past the Cappidoccia region of Turkey had a Christian heritage.

Me on a Church Alter – What was I NOT THINKING?

The hotel I chose was really just someone’s home with a few spare rooms. I put my pack down and went to wash. There was one other guest, an English female traveler called Sharon. Sharon was short but large and twenty-three years old. The previous day she had been brutally raped. Before I had time to even meet her such was her angst that she pulled down her shirt and showed me the strangle marks around her neck and the many dark fingertip bruises on her breasts, around her neck and upper arms.

I felt sort of numb to her experience as I couldn’t imagine it. At the same time I intrinsically knew that she was alone and frightened and very much needed someone safe to take over her life for a few days as she recovered. At least enough so that she could make her way home to England again. I happily did this for her. I enjoyed her zany sense of English humour and was also feeling alone after traveling for a few months by myself. Sharon and I traveled again together in Egypt the following year, but that is another story.

Learning how to spin in the kitchen of the homestay

In my travels I have found that many men in third world countries can fall in love and want to marry single Western women within a few moments of seeing them. The Turkish men were no different. It is amazing how the hope of a passport in to the Western world can make a woman so desirable.

My travel diary. A photo of one of the men I meet that day.

Me being butch around the Men

OMG I am so grateful that FB was not around at the time to get me arrested.

Turkish women were not to be seen much on the streets so most of my interactions were through the men. My desirability as a potential passport was an advantage and the men would show me around sites, and introduce me to the customs of the culture.

I handled these interactions so that I became a sort of “token” male, a kind of female that you would not want to marry. I did this by being forthright, in their face and  “male” in mannerism. I sat as they did, drank coffee with them and used worry beads.

If they made any sexual references I would tell them that although lewd talk is OK in Turkey between men and women and that in Australia a woman would slap them on the face for saying such things. At the same time I would go to slap them on the face and just miss them by centimetres. This would shock them and they would assure me that it was not a Turkish custom. After that they would treat me with the utmost respect trying to make up for their social blunder. The men would then do everything to convince me that the Turkish people were really honourable and didn’t treat women that way.

From the Cappidoccia region I traveled to Kaiseri, where the dry dusty desert plain abruptly turns to huge snow covered mountains that appear to have no foothills.

Kaiseri

Kaiseri is in the wind shadow and therefore desert, it had a huge Turkish carpet bazaar where people from the world over came to purchase intricately hand knotted rugs.

It was Ramadan so not the time of the year when the carpet buyers were there.

Ramadan provided some challenges as few restaurants were open and I often had to buy fruit for a meal. The Turkish people in the odd restaurant that was open would be kind enough to make me a cup of tea and sometimes even prepare some food. I was sort of unconcerned about the Muslim thing about not eating during Ramadan, OK everyone told me about it  but it just didn’t gel as it seems so unlike anything I knew about.

I was only in my 20’s.  As I have become older I realise that this is the thinking of the majority of people of that age we simply see things as they are and don’t get too caught up in the details if they seem weird.

I just embraced the differences that made sense to me and this shaped me for life. Travel gently opened my mind to cultural stupidity and wisdom in my own culture as well as the land I was visiting.

At the carpet market I wandered around the tiny dark stalls looking at the carpets and inquiring about the manufacture and symbolism of the designs but not buying as I had no inclination to add a carpet to the weight of my back pack.

After a few days I decided to travel further east. Before I took the bus from Kaiseri to Malatya I checked the timetable to see what time it would arrive. It said that the arrival time was one o’clock in the afternoon so I bought a ticket and got on the bus. The bus drove through the desert where the soil was blandly tan, seemingly infertile and parched.

In contrast to Greece where the buildings are bright and the clothing is dull. Turkish rural buildings were dull, mud houses that blended in with the soil yet the people dressed in primary colours with flowing scarves and coats, the clothing providing the only colour in the landscape.

There were horse-riders galloping, pounding over the hard surface with streams of dust flying from the hooves. Children played by the road with simple toys and women worked at fetching water and tending to goats. All of them dressed in primary colours.

In the middle of the day we drove by a river that cut a bright green gorge through the brown landscape, the source was from the snow on the distant mountains.

I found myself sitting next to a young Turkish man who was in Army fatigues. After half an hour he politely started a conversation; “What is your name? Are you married? Please write to me. Here is my picture—you may keep it. Will you marry me? I love you” at this point he went to touch me on the very upper thigh. He must have been watching too much Dallas on TV for he assumed that his verbal marriage promise immediately gave him rights. I jumped up and said aloud in Turkish. “Bad Man!. You can see my Turkish was limited. This caused a furore on the bus and I was safely placed in the seat behind the driver. Dallas the soap opera was on TV in Turkey at the time, so it was no wonder that the Turkish men had such a weird impression of Western women. I used this to my advantage and reminded the men that I was from Australia and I was not an American. I felt slightly guilty saying this because I was sort of suggesting the American women were like the characters in Dallas.

By mid afternoon we were driving through a grassed and lightly treed area; the bus broke down. It was really broken. The driver and conductor tinkered way and the other men and I got off the bus. It was peaceful, with bees and other insects buzzing, a gentle breeze was caressing the pale green bushes and the whole ambience was of absolute serenity. The men wandered away, they went and picked flowers.

The women stayed and sat quietly on the bus, not even speaking among themselves. It appeared to me that they were conditioned to stay and forfeit the experience of movement, picking flowers or the simple pleasure of walking after sitting for five hours.

Turkish man with flowers.

After many hours the bus was repaired and the men and I got back on with bunches of flowers that the men exchanged among themselves. Each floral gift was accepted after a ritual of bending forward, smelling the fragrance and eye contact.

Due to the break down we arrived in Malatya at dusk. By the time the luggage was unloaded it was dark. The moon was covered by the earths shadow and there was no street lighting.

The driver was preoccupied with the broken bus and I didn’t know which way to go to a hotel. I can feel and smell the bus station now – decades later – men in coffee shops were sitting on low stools where the lighting was golden and dull. There was the sounds of murmuring as they drank thimbles full of brown tar like coffee. The smell of the freshly brewed coffee wafted down the street and the night air was still and warm.

I stood looking at this scene seeing the wonder of this culture and at the same time worrying about getting a safe place for the night.

Within minutes of getting off the bus I was surrounded by a group of men—perhaps about 15 to 20 of them. They followed me as I looked for a hotel. I asked them to leave and I was ignored, so I walked down the road in the direction I hoped would lead to a safe room with my entourage.

The first hotel was painted pale green; the paint had a polished sheen and had gone brown in the places where people placed their hands; around the doors and at the counter. The group of men who had followed me waited at the door as three of them showed me to the desk. I asked for a room and the price. It seemed reasonable, so I asked to see the room. The manager and a small group of men showed me up three flights of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a roof. On the roof were two very separate rooms, like cells. One room was open and I could see a dirty iron bed. There were no windows—a bare light bulb accentuated the cell like appearance. Outside the door was a long bench and the excess men sat there as I perused the room, it was obvious that they are showing me a prostitute’s room. I declined this offer and asked to see another hotel.

This scenario was repeated twice more. Each time I become more desperate, I could smell my fear as my body reacted to my situation. I was wondering if I could find a safe room for the night. Finally, I demanded to see the best hotel in Malatya. Once again the group of men escorted me to another hotel. It looked better, the paint was clean and the manager was kind. The manager told the men who have been following me to the front desk to go away. Ahh…  I started to feel safe at last. There was a man at the front desk that took the key that was offered to me, picked up my pack and took me to the lift. On finding the room he unlocked a spacious modern hotel room. It had a bathroom, telephone and two large clean single beds. I accepted.

The relief of finding a room flooded over me. The “porter” put down my pack and started to tell me that he loved me. The one line that the Turkish men learn in English is “I love you”. My experience is that it is more of a sexual reference or a plea for freedom from poverty than an emotional statement. I was not bowled over by this love at first sight, so walked to the door and said in my best Turkish “OUT!” When he did not seem to understand, I repeated it louder and louder.

The manager arrived. The “porter” slunk away so quickly it was almost as if he became a ghost that wafted quietly past me and disappeared into the ether. The manager walked into the room. He was very business like. Apparently the “porter” was not an employee of the hotel, he was just another guest. I was not to have men in my room, and as I had broken this rule I had to leave immediately.

I was just a business like. I was not going out into the street; nothing was going to influence my decision. I looked up my Turkish dictionary for the phrase “no men!” Every time he said anything I just repeated this phrase. He objected and told me to leave, picking up my pack and putting it at the doorway. I picked it up and placed it back on the bed. I stated with more impact; “No men!” Nothing was going to get me out of that room. This rather boring conversation continued for at least 20 minutes until after leafing through the Dictionary again I stated “No men, you go too!”  He then said; “You can stay”. With that he picked up the keys, left the room, and locked me in.

At this stage I did what I thought was best; I sat down, my body started to shake with exhaustion and I burst into tears due to a mixture of fear and relief. This focused energy on the present, and allowed my subconscious mind through to finally have its say.

My mind and body were so busy concentrating on the doing of crying that a solution popped into my mind as if by magic. Of course, there was this wonderful bathroom with a huge lock on the door, hot water, a deep clean bath and lots of time on my hands. I would have a long hot bath and then? Who knows?

I stacked a few chairs and a cupboard against the outer door and then ran a bath until it was deep and steaming. I traveled with only one change of clothes so washed my clothes every time I washed myself. They dried as I dirtied the other change. I undressed and threw my clothes in to the water with the idea of getting us all clean at once. I had invented a great security system for my traveler’s cheques and passport. I had sewn pockets into my skirt on the inside that could be pulled out when I needed them. This left me unstressed about the rest of my possessions as I figured that if I had money and a passport, I could buy the rest.

In my frazzled state I threw my skirt and thus my passport and travellers cheques into the bath. I quickly pulled it all out and as I opened the soggy pages of my passport the photograph fell off.

Australian Passports in those days simply had a photo glued on with what I found to be water based glue. This stopped my crying, and I fell in to a state of shock, got into the water and laid there for about half and hour—numb.

After the bath, I picked up the telephone and asked to be let out of the room. A young boy arrived, opened the door, handed me the key and I was free again for the evening.

Little did I realise that this was just the beginning of an adventure that played out over the next week.  I innocently blundered my way through the Turkish peoples land as I travelled further east, not realising that my ignorance was dangerous and that the Turkish culture had no idea of how to deal with a young Western woman travelling alone.