The people of Kangaroo Island are Australians - they're just not your typical Aussie. They live in a place which is lauded by all of the travel books for its uniqueness, a claim I found to be true in at least one sense, but we'll get to that. They present as almost mediaeval, in many respects: clannish, self-contained and, of necessity, self-reliant.
To get to K.I., you have to get a vehicular ferry from a place called Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. It costs $180 per car, plus $80 per occupant, so it's not a trip that the K.I.ers, themselves, do frequently. So in effect, they are economically, as well as physically isolated from the rest of the country. They're pretty decent people, though - as we found out after being warned of the Deliverance style lifestyle. Leigh struck up a conversation with the barmaid on the ferry (as he is wont to do - I must devote a blog episode to this mate of mine), and was asking her about the island. "Do they speak English over there?", he joked to the girl.
"Sort of", she replied, 'but they hate tourists!"
I must point out that Leigh has a long mane of strawberry blonde hair that he usually keeps in a ponytail. When he takes off the bungy cord that holds it all together, he resembles a dwarf version of Hagrid. He can be a very unusual sight, especially with several pints of the amber under his belt, and one that a good ol' boy just might take an instant dislike to.
Well, we disembarked at the ferry terminal in Penneshaw, the "gateway" village. I was immediately taken by the place. Apart from a few obvious touristy things, it was a charming little village that positively leached history. Of course, we hit the pub straight away. We were starving, and had a horrible t'irst. "Two schooners of your best, my man", I ordered from a bartender who resembled Davey Crockett, and who I was convinced had pieces of koala flesh still stuck under his fingernails.
He went away and returned with two thimblefuls of the amber. "What the fuck do you call this?", enquired Leigh in a voice that revealed that the t'irst was really starting to hurt.
"They're schooners, mate", replied Davey. "Did you mean a pint?"
"I want a drink that I can feel goin' down, pal - if this is a schooner, perhaps you'd better go out and fill up what you call a bucket!"
Sensing that caution was the better part of valour, and remaining fully cognisant of the possibility of shotguns, banjoes and rocking chairs being customary appurtenances in these parts, I guided my ravenous companion to a table, where he sat, glumly looking at the dismal offering in front of him.
"You know, Loz", he opined after the third thimble of what was, I had to admit, a great drop of beer, "I reckon I could just about eat one of these Kangaroo Island penguins."
We hit the restaurant, which wasn't so much a restaurant as just another room in the pub, adorned with all sorts of historical paraphernalia, stuffed fish and photos of K.I. football heroes. After feasting on local fresh fish, magnificently cooked and presented, and a bottle of a beautiful local shiraz, we retired, totally sated and in love with K.I., to the pool room.
Two young women, both about twenty or so, were playing pool. "Mind if we join in?" I asked.
"Sure, fellers", responded the taller of the two. We exchanged the usual niceties. They were both K.I. locals, born and bred. They told us a lot of the unofficial history of the island; how it was actually a melting-pot of old culture from Australia and New Zealand and the islands.
"The hardest thing here is that all the decent blokes are married, and all the others are dickheads", said Shona. "All got one thing on their minds."
"You bet," chimed in Stephanie, a good-looking girl with plenty of attitude. "Just want to stick it in ya, all the time. I respect my cunt a lot more than that."
"Well, that's telling it how it is," I replied. They were great girls; we had a ball, and they introduced us to everyone in the pub. We ended up sitting outside as the night sky exploded into life, swapping stories of our travels (totally exaggerated, of course) with theirs of island life. Davey (who turned out to be Ian), was one of the nicest blokes you'd ever meet (the koala flesh turned out to be a little of the fish he'd been cleaning for dinner), and told us to just camp anywhere we liked. Although it was true most islanders weren't keen on tourists, they enjoyed travellers. It was a distinction we were to become more aware of as our adventure progressed.
In the end, we did experience language difficulties with the locals, as the ferry barmaid had suggested. Except that, by about 2 a.m. outside the Penneshaw hotel, it was Leigh who was speaking a variation of Swahili, whilst I was doing my best with pidgin Icelandic.