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"Not only are his photos wonderful, but he's not short of talent with the pen either. His stories are frank yet delicately respectful of even the most contrasting of personalities, and he has the most impressive talent of extracting from almost everyone their full name, origin and life story ... seems he was a born hitch-hiker" -

Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Sometime around the end of 1993, while living in Scotland, I came up with the idea to hitchhike around Australia photographing everyone who gave me a lift and writing about each hitch.
It was another way of doing the 'around Australia' idea and, in the process, meeting and photographing Australians (mainly) in one of their most personal of environments, their car/ute/van/truck.
Sitting in my flat in Edinburgh, I often wondered what I was doing uprooting myself and moving back to Australia to do this. I'd never hitched before and had no idea where to begin or what to do.
The fear of the unknown was scary enough but, if I didn't do it, the image of me as an old man looking back on what might have been, scared me even more. I knew that if someone else were to do it, I'd never forgive myself. What's more, a good mate and fellow photographer, Ian Waldie, always threatened that if I didn't do it, he would.
All these reasons were incentive enough for me to end my five-and-a-half year association with Scotland in February, 1998, and return to Australia. I knew I would be embarking on the most challenging, apprehensive, amazing time of my life - and I was right.
My journey lasted for eight months and 11 days. Officially, I did it in 53 hitches. Unofficially, I did it in around 70 hitches but some were too small to worry about. All were fantastic.
My budget was $30 a day (accommodation, food - everything) and my hitching route was as follows: around Tasmania (anti-clockwise), Melbourne to Cape Tribulation to Uluru to Melbourne (footy finals) to Darwin to Perth to Melbourne.
My longest wait - 5 hours, shortest wait - 5 seconds, longest hitch - 2 weeks. I hitchhiked over 23,000km, the equivalent of over halfway around the world.
As Ollie, Amiee and myself approached Melbourne on the afternoon of December 11, 1998, the emotions brewing inside me were a mixture of sadness and satisfaction. Sadness, because it was all over. Satisfaction for the same reason.
Eventually these paled into insignificance as an over-riding sense of contentment swept through me.
I'd done it!
I could get hit by a bus the next day and go out with a smile of my face.

*I speak about my hitchhiking journey and my profile, with testimonials, can be seen HERE.
Hitch stories...

Hitch 42

November 2, 1998

Dale Scharf, 54, from Katherine (NT)

Five hour wait (record wait), Katherine to Timber Creek, Isuzu EPV

Photo taken in truckstop

* * * * *

Dale had been living in Katherine since December 19, 1985.

I don’t know why he remembered this date – he just did.

Even in the time he’d been in Katherine he noticed that people weren’t as friendly as they used to be. When he first arrived there, someone would have a BBQ and through word of mouth it would grow and grow and soon every man/woman and his/her dog would be there.

“Now,” he reckoned, “ that doesn’t happen.”

Long before Dale drove a truck as part of his job, he was a drover and rode a horse as part of his job – as a result of riding his horse 6 miles to school each day, it was taken for granted he would become a drover.

Dale left school at age 13 1/2 (getting drunk for the first time at age 14 – on OP rum!) and after several years as a drover, it soon became apparent that there was, “Nothin’ in droving and that shit,” so he went to Mackay looking for work.

Having put in time working down mines, on the railways and in the airforce, he ended up in Katherine working as an electrical linesman.

As I’d noticed with most Territorians, he had a broader grasp on the Aboriginal situation, rather than the seemingly sanitised version fed to the city dwellers.

Having lived and worked with Aborigines for so long, he knew the ins and outs of their culture and the way they thought. Some of his views could’ve easily been construed as racist, but he was merely seeing Aborigines as humans, where skin colour didn’t come into the equation. He didn’t
dislike them – it was just that he knew what they were capable of, both good and bad.

As he told me his story he ate his lunch and, due to the fact that he ate his food with great gusto, he managed to scatter breadcrumbs throughout his huge ‘Santa Claus’ beard. I didn’t say anything because I was sure he’d been used to having his beard collect all sorts of fodder over the years.

Several years earlier, Dale’s wife had posed him the question: “What are you going to do when you’re old?”

He though about it.....and began breaking in horses.

That was about five years before we met and they now had 14 Appaloosas and a couple of Clydesdales. They’d even bought a Sydney Sulky and did shows, weddings etc.

When the Katherine floods struck at the start of 1998, they lost a couple of horses to the floodwaters, which covered most of their land. On three consecutive nights they had rainfalls of 285mm, 54mm and 254mm.

They lived on a few acres just out of Katherine and at one point their back paddock was covered by over three metres of water. The morning after the first night’s rainfall, Dale’s wife was standing at the bedroom window when he asked her how it looked. She simply replied: “You better get your arse out of bed old man!”

As well as the two horses, they lost four goats from which they made their own cheese and 500 free range chooks.

“The problem is,” I was told, “ chooks can’t swim too bloody good!”

Hitch 34

October 22, 1998

Brian Melbourne, 33, from Ararat (Vic)

No wait, Horsham to Adelaide, T601 Kenworth

Photo taken in layby outside Horsham

* * * * *

Brian had a good few tattoos and one of the first ones I noticed bore the letters AC/DC tattooed across the back of one of his hands. Being my favourite band, I thought to myself that the two of us might just get along.

Making small talk once we were in the truck I mentioned his AC/DC tattoo, so he slapped a tape into the stereo and we AC/DC-ied our way up the highway.

This mutual regard for the musical talents of Australia’s foremost hard rock band led to an instant form of respect for one another and we discussed them at length.

I settled back and soon observed that the cabin of his rig was very much his domain and he worked it like a master craftsman.

Moving between the various CB’s, his phone and the stereo, he kept one of his hands planted firmly on the steering wheel at all times while firing off bursts of conversation at me or one of the other truckies out there on the airwaves.

“This one’s a complete wanker,” or, “That one’s okay,” he would mutter sideways at me, depending on which truckie was on the air at any given point.

He swore like a trooper but it was in no way offensive – it suited him.

Just as most people tend to have a refined telephone voice compared to their normal voice, Brian went the other way when he was on the CB and his voice became noticeably rougher and coarser, as if he had been drinking a bottle of whisky every day for 15 years.

I soon learnt that Brian’s entry into life was rather inauspicious.

He was born somewhere in Broadmeadows and left at the Broadmeadows babies home by his natural mother.

Adopted at seven weeks, Brian never had the inclination to search for his natural mum because he considered his adoptive parents to be his real parents.

As we barrelled up the highway he put in a call to his daughter as it was her birthday (I think she was nine).

Listening to him talk to her it was obvious he missed her more than he let on, because his usual gruff overtones took on a new softness and there was real affection in his voice.

No swearing either.

When his wife got on the phone he introduced himself as the ‘new super model of Australia’ as I’d just taken his photo (when it had come time to photograph Brian, he proved to be a natural). His wife immediately put in an order for a copy of the book.

Like horse racing, I was to learn that ‘trucking’ had a language all of its own. The term ‘a dollar’ this, or ‘a dollar’ that, kept popping up in conversation and it turned out that it was common truckie language to talk about speed in monetary value, so that ‘a dollar twenty’ equated to 120km/h, and so on.

As a thankyou I bought him dinner at Bordertown (SA/Vic border) and we sat about with a few other truckies as they also ate their dinner.

What a bunch of gossips they turned out to be! The rough and tumble image went out the window as they sat around swapping gossipy tidbits over a great big plateful of schnitzel, sausages, toast and chips (smothered in gravy), using an expletive as every other word during their discussions.

At times, even the Picture Post being passed around took a back seat, despite the ‘naked delights’ within. There was some serious gossip on offer, after all!

Hitch 18

May 26, 1998

Nick Wheatley, 48, from Brunswick Heads (NSW)

10 minute wait, Bangalow off-ramp to Brunswick Heads, 1967 Valiant Safari

Photo taken on hill behind Byron Bay

* * * * *

Originally from Cornwall in England, Nick emigrated to Australia in 1970.

His story was, for me, perfect and managed to sum up everything my journey was about in one short, to the point sentence: “In 1969 I was travelling through North Africa. I met two Aussies who said that I should go back to England, buy a ten pound ticket to Australia, get to Brisbane, buy a panel van and drive to I did!”

That was it – his life story (so far) all there in 42 words.

He’d arrived in Australia 28 years earlier with a rucksack and his surfboard, and headed for Noosa which had a population of only 300 (Tewantin-Noosa’s 1998 population: 26,000).

From Noosa he went to Byron Bay and had lived in the area ever since.

The last time he was in Britain was 1972.

Normally, when the work was there, he was a carpenter, but that night in May when he stumbled across me he was on the way home from helping his brother put his bathroom in.

He’d owned the Valiant Safari for three years and overall, in its lifetime to date, it had done 900,000km!

What a beast!

Even the name Valiant Safari was beast like!

Hitch 4

April 10, 1998

Jane Males, 26, from Sydney (NSW), and Dot Soden, 59, from Ulverstone (Tas)

Two-hour wait, Strahan to Queenstown/Burnie T-junction, early 1980s Toyota Corolla

Photo taken at Queenstown/Burnie T-junction

* * * * *

A two-hour wait brought with it the sad realisation this hitching malarky was over.

After waiting for two hours, pondering whether it was going to rain or not, I saw a car with two women, one of them holding a map, slowing down. Even from a distance they appeared to have that ‘lost tourist’ look and I thought they were going to ask me for directions.

“Strange;” I thought to myself, “Why would they ask a hitcher for directions?”

When they stopped next to me, the older of the two women leaned out and asked, “Where are you going?”

Before I knew it I was in the car with this madcap mother and daughter duo. They were great fun.

Daughter Jane and mum Dot were heading back to Dot’s house at Ulverstone after a night in Strahan.

Dot was a gem and it turned out she’d been picking up hitchhikers for years, even when on her own. She’d recently started getting her hitchers to write in a wee notebook she kept in the car at all times. When I got in the car, Dot said they’d give me a lift on the condition I wrote in her book. Not to be outdone, I retorted that I’d only write in her book if they allowed me to take their photo – and a deal was struck (at first they didn’t think I was serious).

Dot was quite adventurous and a few years earlier had taken off around Australia for nine months with a friend. She was much younger in her outlook than her years suggested and didn’t seem fazed by anything.

Jane, who lived and worked in Sydney, was visiting Dot and it soon became apparent they were great friends (they’d even been to Nepal together the year before).

They were a happy pair and joked amongst themselves while I scribbled notes in the backseat. There was laughter and noise the whole time I was with them and, at times, I felt as though I was in the midst of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Dot scolded me when I hadn’t written anything in her book and it got to the point where I was having so much fun I didn’t want to leave. They laughed their way through the photo shoot and then I was on my way.

Hitch 37

October 24-26, 1998

David Partridge, 33, from Victoria

Two and a half hour wait, Por t Augusta to Erldunda, 1978 Kingswood station wagon

Photo taken on the road between Roxby Downs and Woomera

* * * * *

David was a missionary on his way to Balimor, Papua New Guinea.

His parents had been missionaries in PNG before him and he’d grown up on a mission station there after his father had been ‘saved’ while attending the Billy Graham Global Mission in 1959. Like his father, David had his first calling to be a missionary after giving his heart to Jesus at the Billy Graham Global Mission in 1995.

However, it had only been a year since David truly decided to dedicate his life to being a missionary. He had been sitting in his room reading a passage in Malachi: Malachi 3, verses 1-10 – ‘Son, just like on the cross I cancelled the debt. I’m going to do the same today: we start again’, (sic) when the Holy Spirit spoke to him and healed him from his mental disorder – an obsessive, compulsive disorder. Receiving the Holy Spirit made him aware of miracles that had been happening all around him in everyday life, and this was the catalyst for his journey to PNG.

The day he picked me up he’d planned on taking his motorbike, but when he woke up that morning God told him to take the car.

Picking me up as a result of this change of plan was, as he saw it, another miracle in his everyday life.

When he initially pulled over, I looked in the back window and saw a couple of planks of wood. “Bloody hell, he’s moving house piece by piece!” I said to myself, until I found out that the planks

were fence palings he’d made into a cross some time earlier.

To fit me in, he had to rearrange everything and this involved quite a bit of work. The car was packed to the gunwales with boxes, bags and containers of all sorts, full of his worldly possessions. Dust covered virtually everything and the interior took on the appearance of a Bazaar on wheels. I’ve no idea how he ever expected to get to PNG on a motorbike.

He moved the car over to the other side of the road and, under the shade of a big old gum tree, set about getting the old Kingswood and its contents into some form of order.

We could see the silhouette of another hitcher about 500m further up the road. David reckoned he could find room for one more, so I was dispatched to get him.

More than an hour after initially pulling over and after much reorganising, David said a prayer and we set off – at a squeeze – with me riding shotgun and David sat in the back.

Tony, the other hitcher, drove and proved to be quite a find. He had a photographic memory and we soon discovered that he’d read the Bible and could quote freely from it, having memorised it from cover to cover. Not only that, he could refer to other Scripture from within the Bible to quantify and back up any of his arguments or statements.

Tony wasn’t overtly religious like David (Tony was hitching to Roxby Downs where he worked as a geologist) and approached the whole thing in the most logical way I’d ever seen anyone do so. He understood the whole Bible and explained it as a unit, rather than trying to force it down your throat, bit by bit, like so many others I’d encountered.

Without intending to, he’d given David a gold mine of preaching quotes, arguments and philosophies. David couldn’t believe his luck and saw this as a sure sign from God that his work in PNG was much needed.

The air was punctuated by exclamations of “Praise Jesus”, “Thank you Lord” and the like – emanating from the back seat of the car as we drove along. Amidst voicing praise to the Lord above, David searched for a pen and paper with which to scribble down the lessons being ‘taught’ from the front seat.

It was kind of eerie – the missionary on his way to PNG, the silhouetted figure of a hitcher in the distance, the photographic memory, the explanation of the Bible.

I thought it was an amazing coincidence, whereas David thought it was a miracle. One man’s coincidence was another man’s miracle.

We had intended dropping Tony off at Pimba where he could hitch the remaining 90km to Roxby Downs, but David wanted to get in writing everything he’d heard.

We sat in the roadhouse at Pimba ie. in the middle of nowhere, discussing in some depth the Bible and what it meant, what it predicted – and more. I don’t think the Pimba roadhouse had ever heard a discussion like it!

We ended up driving Tony the rest of the way out to Roxby Downs and spent the night in his room watching the cricket from Pakistan, while he worked the night shift.

The next morning, Tony gave David some more notes from the Scripture and after an exchange of addresses we were on our way.

It had been one of the most interesting 18 hours of my life.