Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker – Newcastle, Australia & Tubbercurry, Sligo – 1995 BlogPt14

2022, raining, I read a few chapters, no, just a couple of pages, of Jungle of Stone. I had thought of working on my Minecraft world a bit while I listened to the rain. Then I thought I’d just listen to the rain and now I’m listening to the rain writing about listening to the rain.

As I head closer to my 50th birthday I don’t think I really need to leave my mark on the world. I don’t want the most Instagram likes. I haven’t even got a Tik Tok account. I doubt I’ll ever write a book, be a Hemingway, but perhaps I wouldn’t mind going to Pamplona one day. I don’t want to watch the bullfights though.

I didn’t even feel inspired to write another blog post. There was a time in my 20s when I forced myself to write. I even wrote a film script which got the interest of a well-known Australian Director and an option from a UK producer.

Some days I think I have a good idea for a story. I’ve usually forgotten them by the next day.

I don’t really want to leave much of a mark on the world now. I just hope that I contribute to making it a slightly nicer place. And hopefully not a shittier place.

I’ve started doing a Sustainability and Circular Economy course online with the University of Cambridge. I first remember getting interested in sustainability, the environment and what have you back in 1992 or 1993 maybe. It was somewhere between finishing school in 1989 and travelling to Ireland in 1995.

I was down in Newcastle visiting my best friend from high school, Christophe’s brother Luke – who had started calling himself Luka at that stage. Christophe and Tanya were in Scotland at the time and although I wasn’t great friends with Luka he’d said I should come down and check out Newcastle. He was hanging out with a bunch of hippy, druggo freaked out types. Even a couple of punks. I just remember a few of them. There was Johno who had this back goatee and was into spirituality and pentagrams and had weird eyes, smoked weed incessantly and collected two dole checks, one under his real name – which I assume was John or perhaps Johno – and one under a fictitious name. He was studying music at some music institute. There was also Pia who was going out with a guy called Canine. They were all a bit freakish. On occasions the punk dudes would come over and have a bit of smack. Pia warned me off trying it. I never did. Even those who use such dangerously addictive drugs can have the sense to warn others off going down that slippery path. I was fine with heaps of weed and the occasional mushroom and LSD trip.

These dudes, except for the punks, all lived in the same house with Luka. I forgot to mention that.

The drug scene distracted me a bit. I mean the reminiscing about the Newcastle drug scene of the early 90s. It wasn’t really ‘the drug scene’. People did other stuff besides drugs. Listening to Rage Against the Machine, the Butthole Surfers and the Pixies (plus others). Playing music – I may have had a go at like a tambourine or triangle. I wasn’t very musical and considered myself a writer or something. Sitting around talking. Occasionally getting some food. Going down the dole office. Visiting other people’s houses. Probably having sex. Though I never did during my time in Newcastle. Like with Agatha, I would have if I had the opportunity, just the opportunity never came up and wouldn’t come up until t 1994 when I met Corinne and travelled up the east coast (again this is a fictitious version of the events, see earlier posts where I explain I met her at a Hurstbridge train station in Melbourne – though much of the rest is trueish).

But back in Newcastle. It wasn’t a drug scene per se. Just everything we did tended to be done stoned.

After hanging out with Luka a bit I ended up renting a garage in a share house with Matt, Aaron, and the guy who worked at the Thai restaurant, who might have been called Rowan, or Lauren or something. I more remember that he’d bring leftover Thai for us, which was very nice of him. Matt and Aaron were going to the University of Newcastle. Rowan may have been going to uni as well but I was more interested in the Thai food.

One day we were out walking around with the guys on the way to the dole office. A few years earlier Newcastle had been hit by an Earthquake and many of the roads had cracks in them. We went past some place on a stormwater drain on the way to visiting some dudes. Possibly to hang out a bit, possibly to get some weed. Possibly to do both. Who knows? The dudes had planted this amazing guerrilla garden on the edges of the stormwater drain. I’m not sure if the drain is the right term, it was like a mini version of one of those pretty big ones like they had in the movie Grease where they were able to race cars along. A stormwater thingy?

The one in Newcastle you could race a few BMX bikes along.

The dudes in the house, well maybe not a house, it was more a shed or abandoned factory type thing you could access from the stormwater drain, had marigolds growing, and some veggies. I can’t remember but I imagine some beans and maybe a zucchini, and some tomatoes. They may have had a few sunflowers growing as well. I was intrigued by the garden and asked the dudes I was visiting about it. They said it was some organic, permaculture garden thing.

I was straight into it. I think maybe after we’d gone to the dole office I went to the library, got a library card and rented out a VHS video which featured Bill Mollison, one of the creators of Permaculture, this sustainable gardening/ farming system, and watched it. It explained the general principles of Permaculture. I got inspired and went and got some beans seeds and some other veggies seeds and found a patch in the backyard and planted them. They started growing and I was amazed, but then I ran out of money and went up to Queensland for a few weeks and when I got back the grass had grown over the spot as neither Matt, Aaron or Rowan were interested in looking after veggies. They also hadn’t done any dishes since I’d been away so I did all the washing up when I got back as I can’t fucking stand piles of dirty dishes.

I felt like Neil from the TV series the Young Ones. Neil plants the seed, nature grows the seed, then we eat the seed. Except when your housemates neglect the seed altogether.

Anyway that was the start of my passion from gardening.

This post was meant to be about my trip to Sligo with Agatha and the girls in the carrot car. It’s turned into one of those ‘3 years earlier’ things TV shows always do now.


Around 3 years earlier. I had hired a video about Permaculture featuring Bill Mollison. I got into sustainable gardening. I wanted to help the planet. I wanted to be green. I started doing gardens at friends’ houses in Melbourne. I sent off to Eden Seeds for heirloom seeds. I focussed on mixing the three main types of plants in Permaculture, and sustainable gardening – legumes (things like beans and peas) which put nitrogen in the soil, heavy feeders like tomatoes and zucchinis, and root crops like carrots and potatoes. In that way you helped keep the soil healthy, without using chemicals. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs used the same method growing beans with corn and pumpkins together, to maintain the health of the soil and get greater yields from smaller spaces.

And now, in 1995, after working for a year on a farm in Nutfield, Victoria, for Bev and Peter Brock, who I met after doing some WWOOFing on a farm in Gippsland, Victoria, and a few months on the biodynamic farm of Inigislas, Wexford, I was now heading to another organic farm in Tubbercurry, Sligo, to do more to save the planet.

Oh I forgot to finish my story about my adventure with Agatha and the girls in the carrot car.

Well, we had driven from Donegal to Sligo in the carrot car. I was getting more and more annoyed at Agatha’s fresa (Mexican way of saying posh) friend who always wanted to go buy oysters from restaurants and thing like that, and who wouldn’t go skinny dipping in the Atlantic, who wouldn’t let me drive the carrot car because I didn’t have a licence, who was basically super boring.

I mean I was always going to get dropped off in Sligo to go work on the farm, but now I was super ready to be done with the carrot car and go help plant some actual carrots. I was still into Agatha mind you. We didn’t have, and would never have, a sexual relationship – sounds like a statement from former President Clinton when you put it like that –  but I did find her to be a soulmate. Someone I’d like to spend more time with and whom I’d miss having around for years to come. But her fresa friend, I was totally over her.

I can’t even remember where the carrot car dropped me off. I think I’d maybe contacted the German guys who ran the WWOOFing farm I was going to and they said they were going to be in Sligo city that day and that I could get a ride back with them. Whatever happened, I said my goodbyes and ended up on the farm in Tubbercurry which was where my Irish granny, Bridget Marron, who we just called Bee was born before coming to Australia as a 10 year-old girl with her father and uncle after her mother died.

But more on Tubbercurry next time around. I’ve been giving too much backstory in this post so I’ve run out of space.

Juanito’s Travels 50-Yr-Backpacker Zen Cleaning Robot, fiestas, mas drama y thinking of moving to County Sligo 1995/2022 BlogPt11


I haven’t focussed on why I started this blog for a while, that is planning for my 50th birthday world trip. It turns out planning a 50th trip is a lot more complicated than planning a 22 year-old trip. When I was 22, in 1995 – for most of the year at least, I turned 23 in December – I didn’t think about jobs, kids, any wives, retirement savings or anything like that. I was like a bird that could just fly off and sit in a tree for a while when the desire took me. A simple life. I could just pack my blue backpack with a few things and hit the road.

Now, I research guidebooks, try and find the best time to travel to fit in with plans to move back to my hometown of the Gold Coast in Queensland, while maintaining a job here in Canberra where I’ve worked for various departments of the Australian government for the last 15 1/2 years. Thinking, should I quit my job, get a payout, travel around the world and then return and try and find another job, or should I try and keep my Canberra job, use up all my Long Service Leave and Annual leave, travel the world, visiting my wife’s family in Mexico, and having a 50th birthday party, on the way, then return to the Gold Coast and find another job, hopefully with enough savings to live off until I do.

Life was much simpler in 1995 when I was 22 and 2022 was some freakishly high number I could hardly fathom, where the Zen Cleaning Robots had taken over all the mundane jobs of the world leaving us humans to just run around having fun in free houses, rather than post-pandemic fears, rising housing prices, and, just to keep it interesting, part II of the 1850s Crimean War where Russia fought the West (and Turkey) for control of Sevastopol and other such strategic places on the Black Sea, which has also managed to drive up the price of lettuces here in Australia to $10 a head.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, people need to learn history, how often seemingly forgotten events from hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago can affect us and influence the current era.

But back to 1995.


I returned to Wexford one summer’s afternoon, after visiting Agatha, Ines and the girls in Dublin. I think for once I got the train back to Wexford, as I’d managed to save a small amount of money over the last months and I couldn’t be bothered trying to hitch. When I arrived back in Wexford I had to walk from Wexford town out to Inisglas, in The Deeps, around 14-15 kms.

About halfway back the blackest of black clouds covered the sky which, moments earlier, had been clear blue and sunny. It was a most ominous sight. It came out of nowhere. Maybe not nowhere, it seemed to be from the direction of the Irish Sea. The elements erupted. A gale started blowing. Rain started pouring from the sky. The world turned black. Black as the night’s sky. Then the lightning started. Lighting strikes came down every 3-4 steps. 1,2,3 then a thunderous thunder clap. 1,2,3 and the ground shook like an electric bomb, and then another, and then some more. So loud. Whipping down from the heavens with a crack so intense it made my spine shiver, my hands shake. So terrified. I didn’t dare look up to see where the lighting was landing. It was close. Metres away close. No gap between the light and sound. No time to count to 1. How close to death I was, any step now I thought. I walked closer to the trees hoping they might take the brunt of any lighting strike, pulling my chin to keep the rain from my chest. No escaping it though. I kept walking. 20 terrifying minutes or so later,  looking at my feet, drenched with rain. It was gone. Quiet. Just for the sounds of the water dropping from the leaves of the trees.

I can’t remember many times I felt so close to death than those 20 minutes. Apart from the time the Thai Airways’s plane’s engines had failed – twice – after coming out of Bangkok a few months earlier. Or that time Luke had boiled up a whole bag of magic mushrooms that Matt had picked on his birthday and put in the freezer in the house we shared in Newcastle and given me a whole glass without alerting me to the phenomenal mind-fucking strength he’d made it. I mean most people just put in 3 or 4 mushrooms. That’s more than enough! What psycho puts a whole fucking kilo or something in? I ended up at a pizza shop that night asking a waiter to call an ambulance because I’d OD on mushies. But as I waited I saw a dog and started feeling better and decided to follow the dog to Sydney or somewhere.

Inisglas was also changing. The Buddha went on about change all the time. I would hear it everyday in my Vipassana mediation courses. Change, change. Everything’s always changing. If you get attached to things without recognising they will sooner or later change, you will be miserable.

I wasn’t feeling that miserable at the time, so perhaps I wasn’t that attached. But there were certainly changes afoot.

Nora and Stuart hooked up. Because Nora and Stuart hooked up, Frankie and I were now sharing the little space above or near the flour mill near Anthony and Eve’s house as Nora had moved to the main house. Frankie wasn’t too happy about the whole thing but he accepted it with sad dignity and continued to tend to the vegetable garden, even though most of the community, including myself, weren’t pulling their weight in that respect. Mind you I did continue to help Frankie out, picking veggies, mounding up potatoes, but it was more like a part time thing.

I also kept helping Stuart with the cow milking and yoghurt and quark making from time to time. Frankie helped me once when I drank a bunch of fresh unpasteurised milk straight from the milk bucket and ended up throwing up. He was a really nice guy. I think I’d discovered that day I might have also been intolerant to milk and asked Eve whether we could buy some soy milk during the weekly shopping run. Anthony, already upset that we had a freezer full of a dead cow that nobody was eating as we always made vegetarian meals, rolled his eyes in regards to the idea of milk intolerances. He also said Plato was dead set against people eating beans because it ruined their philosophical capacity or some crap like that. Sorry, but if the Buddha and Plato were in a fight the Buddha would shit on Plato and his beans any day, even when he was in his unhealthy self-deprivation period before he found the middle path.

Nora’s hooking up with Stuart meant Stuart’s son was getting more attention and being slightly less feral and pooing on the front lawn much less. But it meant Nora’s son getting a bit upset as he obviously as less attention was being given to him.

The kids in general were like community farm kids, roaming about like free range chickens most of the day and occasionally getting into trouble. One morning they all came in screaming and yelling and us adults all sprung into action wondering what the heck was going on. After more screaming it transpired that apparently they’d all been down to the beehives and  decided to whack the sides of the beehives with sticks, which the bees objected to. They were covered in bee stings. I think the homoeopathic vet had some lotion to put on the hundreds of stings. They all survived.

The homoeopathic vet also gave a cow that had eaten too much clover, and was thus getting bloated, some plain old dishwashing detergent. She held her nostrils and poured it down her throat. You’d probably charge someone £50 for that.

Then there was Jay. Jay had bought himself a donkey, and a cart, and was making plans with Anushka, or whatever the quiet German girl’s name was, to travel around Ireland picking winkles and smoking grass, while kipping on the cart. He was going to leave in a few weeks. Just at the start of Autumn. Not that I had any idea at the time as I hadn’t read or seen Lord of the Rings, but it sounded a bit like something a hobbit would do.

Michael from Denmark was getting tired of Ireland. He was planning to go back to Denmark I think, or perhaps go work with the other Danish people at the disabled home, where, I think, his ex-girlfriend was still working, but where he’d also get a real wage, which was not forthcoming at Inisglas due to its philosophy of not really making money from the farm despite it’s great potential.

Tron was looking into some biodynamic program somewhere else in Ireland or Scotland or Norway or something, so was soon leaving the place.

Ross, being on the run from the UK police, was happy to keep low and remain in place with his chickens, baconers and porkers.

And I, well I had saved a little money, but I wanted to save more, so I started looking into WWOOFing opportunities elsewhere in Ireland where all my food and board was included, so I could save all my dole. I had found a place in my granny’s home County Sligo, in fact around the area of her home town Tubbercurry, also spelt Tobercurry on occasions. I was going there in a few weeks so I was getting ready for that.

But there would be one big event before that move happened.

Inisglas’ main manor house was in disrepair, and since the farm barely made any money, there was no way to fix it. So Stuart had the idea of organising a music festival where we could sell tickets and put the proceeds towards fixing the place.

He turned out to be quite the organiser and got a few local bands to play at the event for free. He even managed to get his friends from a band called Elephant Walk, or some name like that, a folk/ world music outfit who’d played at Glastonbury. So we had a pretty good line up. To add to that, the guys at Inisglas decide to perform a few songs ourselves. We decided on Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton, and two other songs I can’t remember. I was only singing choruses in those so I didn’t pay as much attention to them.

We decided for our performance we’d dress up like women. There was Frankie, Michael, Stuart and I, plus some googley-eyed German who’d recently arrived on the farm as a part of some farm stay thing he’d organised to learn biodynamic techniques. Tron was happy as he finally had someone on the biodynamic farm, besides Anthony and Eve who started the community, who was actually interested in biodynamics.

I liked Googly-eyed Person, but wasn’t there long enough to remember his name. He seemed like a good person.

We practised our songs for weeks and learnt all the words to Tears in Heaven which are still in my head somewhere today I’m sure. We did up posters, and put them up around town. Stuart got a spot on the local radio station to promote the event and after a few weeks, concert day was here.

It was a beautiful sunny day, though another summer storm threatened in the evening.

We decided that they Inisglas crew would start the event, so we donned our dresses like brides on a wedding day and made our way out for our big performance. Stuart had a nice slim dress which was in 1920s’ style. He even had a bit of lippy from Nora. Frankie, Michael and Googly-eyed German guy also had nice dresses. I was very happy with my dress, it was a lilac number, kind of thing you might see a Mexican woman wear on her sweet 15. I had really long hair, and the face of my great-grandmother from Sligo, so I think many in the crowd were thinking I might be the real deal, if it wasn’t for the obviously hairy legged men besides me. After Tears we had a more upbeat number and I went wild swinging my hair about. We had a ball.

The crowd was good and I think in the end we had a few hundred come along. We’d tried to get a liquor licence but were refused because we were holding the event on a Sunday, which was a harder day to get official permission to serve drinks given it was the Lord’s day. We got around the ‘law’ by having a game where you threw darts at a dart board, and if you hit a particular number we’d give you a free beer. It cost £3 to enter. After some confusion people realised the special number was any number, and even if you couldn’t hit the board we’d still give you a beer to console you. We kept making people throw the darts though as it was funny.

I’m sure if the liquor licensing people had come our whole scheme would have quickly fallen apart.

We also had sandwiches made with bread Michael and I had baked, some cheesy buns, also made at Inisglas, and home made cordial. Michael and I were the main bread makers at the time as Jay had moved more into beekeeping at that point and was prepping for his donkey-cart tour.

The rest of the real bands played throughout the evening and much craic was had by all. It did rain for a bit in the late afternoon and many of the families with young kids went off, leaving the harder core revellers. We ended up finishing up late into the evening smoking weed and drinking beers and wine by a big bonfire. It was like one of those wistful scenes at the end of some coming of age movie.

It was, really, the craic.

I decided to end on this high note, and in the days after, packed my bag and hitched up to Dublin to spend a few days with Agatha before heading to Sligo.

As it happened, Agatha had a friend who was coming to visit from Spain, so they’d organised a little trip through Northern Ireland and Donegal and were happy to drop me off at Tubbercurry, Sligo on the way back. So the universe was once again providing.

But just as change was happening at Inisglas, change was also happening at the Chaparrita in Dublin, and for me, most importantly, a change in my relationship with Agatha.

More of that in the next blog post though, I think finishing up Inisglas after a few months is also a nice spot to finish up this post.

P.s The Zen Cleaning Robot is a concept I came up with Rob Skelton at RMIT later in the nineties. I think it was for a school project on writing for the internet that started with a drunken night of wine and indoor soccer where I ended up sleeping at a house in Saint Kilda with the friend of a classmate who was growing a super awesome little weed plant grown from a seed form Holland.

I would have hoped Zen Cleaning Robots would be being manufactured by now.