When people ask how Linh and I met, the answer often elicits a condescending smile – at least until we provide a little more detail. The short version of this story is that I found Linh on Gumtree, but before you rack up a few ‘bargain price’ jokes you really need to understand the context (something I always try to tell my students – the context bit that is).
It all starts with a car. My car to be precise, a Mitsubishi Pajero SWB that I purchased second hand (also on Gumtree) not long after I moved to Perth, Western Australia, in July 2012. I put myself in more debt than I care to share through this forum (best guess: it rhymes with plenty, hive, strand) in buying the car, which was specifically purchased to be used as a 4X4 toy to enjoy the awesomeness that is the Western Australian landscape – an outdoor playground if ever I saw one.
Things went swimmingly for a month or two – weekend blasts on the Power Lines Track between Mundaring and York, beach surfing adventures south and north of Perth with my brother and friends – with a reliable and comfortable commuting vehicle for the nine to five working week. As the six week Christmas break loomed, however, my lax accounting skills and early thirties refusal to take responsibility for future planning conspired to ensure that any chance of an end of year jaunt to places far-flung and exotic was firmly quashed.
Enter Gumtree: where I found the solution to my financially based travel ban. I posted an advertisement inviting someone to join me for an exploratory trip from Perth, south to Augusta and then on to Esperance with a possible detour through Kalgoorlie and Hyden. Being Christmas, I was inundated with replies (three replies to be precise). This was splendid, but remember that I was travelling in a two-door, five seat vehicle that was really designed for two people rather than five. I got in touch with each of the prospective travelers and organized a meeting to ensure that I could travel with these strangers (and that no one was secretly a serial killer or similar undesirable type).
First I met Christine from Germany, who was teaching English at the time. Over a beer (the appropriate means of Gumtree connection) we decided that we could certainly handle a week or so together in an enclosed space. Similarly, I spoke to Ryan, an Englishman who would be passing through Western Australia and was looking for a means of travel through the south of the state. Having organized three members, I figured the trip was sealed and began to plan a pre-Christmas route.
One day later, however, I was contacted by another person interested in taking the trip: Linh. The problem was that Linh would be travelling with two other people; Kane (her housemate) and her friend Henny (whom she’d met at a hostel upon arriving in Perth about a month earlier). There was no way I could fit six people into the Pajero, so I had to make a decision: either cut Christine or Ryan, or tell Linh that I couldn’t take her or her friends.
The solution to this was – of course – to do the trip twice. Having solved the problem by giving myself an extra trip, I organized to meet this Linh and Kane. Again, over a beer. We decided to meet at The Lucky Shag and ensure things would work out. I arrived with my brother, Russell as protection and ordered a couple of pints as we watched the crowd, trying to spot two likely candidates. Eventually (and slightly late, I might add) two people who fit the descriptions Linh had sent walked into view. I still remember my first comment to Russell, “She looks ok, but I’m, not sure about the other one.”
Over drinks and snacks (Linh did not drink – the first strike) I learned that Linh was in Australia from The Netherlands to complete her Master’s Thesis in Criminology (smarter than me – strike two) and had arrived a month previous. Her companion, Kane was an Aucklander who was completing his PhD in Archaeology and was living with Linh. Henny (who could not join us) was from Ulm in Germany and was hoping to secure permanent residency in the country. After chatting for an hour, we agreed to take the trip in the week between Christmas and New Year and parted ways.
My focus turned to the impending pre-Christmas trip and I forgot about Linh and her friends until after Christmas. The first run of our trip went brilliantly and included a speed climb of Bluff Knoll born of Ryan’s insistence on beating the one hour thirty-minute time of some French travellers we met in Albany (my time was 59 minutes and 45 seconds; Ryan’s was about a minute faster; and Christine reached the peak at around the same time as I did). We also found a brilliant backpacker Hostel in Albany, 1849 Backpackers, that I have returned to a number of times since. The place was so great that Christine elected to remain in Albany until we returned after Christmas. Having lost one traveller, Ryan and I returned to Perth so he could make it back to the United Kingdom for Christmas, and I could spend the holiday with my family.
Once the festivities were out of the way, it was time to hit the road again and I was looking forward to making the second trip even more fun than the first. I’d suggested that we take a similar route to the first journey (which was the route I usually take, having made this trip many times now), but I’d met with some opposition, which concerned me a little. Unbeknownst to me, Henny, Linh and Kane thought we should travel to Kalgoorlie first in case we ran out of time. My argument was that we should leave the long legs for the end of the trip so we did not have to rush the many attractions of the South West.
The day of the trip dawned, the sun rose and the agreed pickup time of 6am came… and went. I woke not long before 6.30am to a phone call from Linh. She was asking where I was – the answer, 25 minutes away, asleep in my bed. I was late – a cardinal sin when travelling as a group. Surely this would be the ruin of the trip?
Obviously it wasn’t, but to find out what happened, check out part two of the story!