How a tiny notebook full of famous signatures dating all the way back to 1882, influenced the life of a kind-hearted former world-traveling kiwi.
For the start of this story we need to rewind a little bit, back to December. I had just sold my campervan Yaya 1.0 in Cairns after driving her for over 8800 km along the south & east coast of Australia. My flight to Christchurch was booked, and the plan was start my adventure on the South Island of New Zealand while summer was still there. The cheapest flights were in the evenings and being a Dutchman I naturally had to choose the most inconvenient time to save a few dollars. After booking and while counting down the days to my flight I realized that the shuttle bus from the airport didn’t go anymore after midnight. Not wanting to spend a fortune on a taxi I wrote a post on the Facebook group ‘Backpackers in Christchurch’ to ask if anyone would be willing to shuttle me for a bit of petrol money.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t a backpacker who responded, but a local resident named Shane, who said that he didn’t sleep much anyway and would drive me to my hostel. Though happy I found a ride, I was a little sceptic as well. I didn’t know the man and mamma always said not to get into a stranger’s car. My doubts vanished though when exiting the airport and meeting him. With a big smile he welcomed me to New Zealand and a 20 minute drive later he dropped me off at my hostel. Fortunately, the accommodation left me a note with instructions seeing that reception was closed at night. I quietly walked in to my dorm and passed out on the bed. A few days of campervan-hunting went by and I realized there were no ‘good’ vans for sale in Christchurch. All the ones I liked were in Auckland, but that was on the North Island! Upon hearing I decided to fly there, Shane offered to bring me back to the airport, and after doing so our paths diverged.
During the months I spent traveling and working on the North Island we occasionally had contact online, but 6 months later we actually met again, as he offered to look after my van while I was in Asia to reunite with a special girl I met in January. 10 weeks in paradise flew by and before I knew it I was back in Christchurch to pick up my van ‘Yaya 2.0’. Having drunk a few too many cocktails I was broke, so headed straight to Wanaka to find work. Fast-forwarding to present day, Shane was actually in town this week as he kindly offered to drive a girl’s car to Wanaka as she didn’t have a full license yet. Naturally we met up and as I had planned to write a blog about his travelers life, but more importantly his research: a tiny mysterious autograph book dating back the 19th century. We met up for coffee so he could tell me the whole story of his life & the book in person.
Shane is a born & raised ‘Kiwi’ who lived his first 18 years in and around the city of Christchurch. He already developed a taste for adventure when he was young, and being away from home didn’t frighten him at all. When he was 14, he and some friends ran away from home to sneak on a boat headed to Wellington to stay there for a week. They didn’t tell anyone – that was part of the adventure. Naturally, their parents didn’t agree and upon returning the angry moms and accompanying policemen gave the boys quite a speech on responsibility (or actually irresponsibility..) Their excuse was: ‘it seemed like a fun thing to do!’.
His spirit for adventure didn’t dampen. Quite the opposite: He realized there was more in this world than just New Zealand, so at the age of 18 he flew to Australia to spend the next 7 years of his life there, only returning home once. Arriving in Sydney in the early 70’s, he found a job in a hotel bar, in the middle of the infamous Kings Cross, which was run by gangsters and corrupt police, surrounded by prostitution. Suddenly he had to grow up really quick. People went missing there, and frequently the news reported another poor fella found on the bottom of the harbor with ‘’concrete gumboots’’. Drugs were a big problem and the police were taking bribes to look away. He didn’t know anything about this upon arriving. Being slightly naïeve he looked & found a job and was excited to start earning money. Despite everything that was happening around him, he stayed in Sydney for a while.
After saving up enough money he left the city and hitchhiked all around Australia. From Cairns to Perth, from Uluru to Melbourne and up and down the coasts. Whenever he needed money he would find a job and stay there for a while. In Queensland he worked on a pineapple & tobacco farm and lived in a cabin for almost 2 years. There was electricity and running water, but the toilet was a hole in the ground. But there was more, things he had never seen in New Zealand: Poisonous spiders and snakes. When working in the field, snakes would slither across the top of the pineapples and hide under the tobacco leaves. Being a Kiwi he had never seen these things before but fortunately he was warned by his employer to be careful. It frightened him, but never scared him off.
After spending these 7 years in Kangaroo-land, he came to a point where he realized he had to make a choice. Stay in Australia or go back to New Zealand. He enjoyed the country he had been traveling & working in for so long, but it wasn’t the same as home. He missed the mountains & snow, the cold fresh air and lakes surrounded by forests. He had to make a decision on what to do next in life.
He thought long and hard about it, but decided to return to New Zealand. He found a job at Mount Cook as a wine waiter in a restaurant in the local hermitage. He lived in the staff quarters and studied everything he needed to know about wines. Eventually wanting something ‘different’, he moved to Dunedin and worked in a local pub, before moving to the largest city in the country: Auckland. There he decided to work for a cleaning company, but shortly after was laid off due to budget cuts. Still wanting to stay in Auckland and not relying on an employer, he decided to become one himself and opened up his own cleaning company. He bought a van, equipment and started cleaning houses, luxurious offices, lawyers’ offices and even had TV New Zealand as a client. His team consisted out of 3 cleaners, but occasionally he ‘may have done some private jobs’ (read: cash in hand)
Business went well and while living in Auckland he met a Japanese girl who became his girlfriend. They moved in a flat together and enjoyed the city life. However, at some point the girl’s visa ran out and had to return to Japan. She asked Shane to come with her and he decided to follow this girl. He gave away his van and equipment to someone who had nothing and flew to Japan on a working holiday visa. There the next chapter of his life was waiting for him.
Next blog: From Japan to Europe & from Fiji to the intensive care… and the acquiring of the Doctor’s autograph book!