Imagine traveling from England to Australia without a flight or Google Maps to direct your every step.

Imagine having no mode of communication with the people you leave back home, except for the occasional letter on those rare days you encounter the British Embassy.

Imagine having only £950 for a 4 month journey between two people, not a single cent more after selling all of your belongings.

Crazy? Yes. But this is a true story on how my dad, at 25, decided to see the world in September 1968.

Overland travel route from England to Australia


Having grown up in England all his life, Peter was itching to see the world beyond the books that he read and stories he heard from returning war veterans. The town of Ramsgate, 3 hours South-West of London, where he worked as a lab technician in Pfizer, was too small to contain his big dreams.

Peter as a young schoolboy in Kent, England in the early 1950s

Peter (sitting on the far right) picked up sailing as a hobby during his early school years

Sailing has developed Peter's sense of adventure, where he would sail to France & Belgium during the weekends. Picture taken at Ramsgate, Kent, England in the early 1950s.

Typical of the English at that century, Australia was the first destination that sprung to mind. After all isn't Australia just 'hot Britain'?

The Ten Pound Pom passage, an assisted passage migration scheme initiated by the Australian government in 1945 to boost the Australian population, subsidized the flight cost of Britons migrating from £120 to merely £10. That would have been the most sensible choice to get to Australia. But somehow, Peter knew that it wasn't sufficient to fulfill his adventurous soul.

Instead, he planned to hitchhike the entire way with the person he trusted the most, his brother John. John, a toolmaker by profession, is an experienced traveler that has hitchhiked all around Europe and North Africa.

On September 1968, exactly 3 months before Peter's 26th birthday, they set out on an adventure of a lifetime, traveling light with just a 5kg backpack, a sleeping bag and Bartholomew's map in hand.

The Davis brothers - from left; John, Bob, Peter and Paul. Pictured at Bob's wedding in 1964

 


European Leg of The Journey

 

Dover, England → Ostend, Belgium  → Frankfurt, Germany → Prague, Czechoslovakia → Budapest, Hungary → Belgrade, Serbia → Thessaloniki, Greece → Istanbul, Turkey

Saying their goodbyes to family & friends in the port of Dover, England, Peter and John boarded a ferry to Ostend, Belgium. Belgium was a preferred option to start their overland trip through Europe, as it was more difficult to hitchhike through France.

"Going through Europe was the easiest part of the journey," recalled Peter. "People were used to hitchhikers, so we didn't have any trouble getting a lift. We would just stick our thumb out, and within minutes a car/truck/lorry would pick us up. We finished all of Europe within 8 days at no cost, except for food. It was the end of summer, so we slept outdoors to save money."

They would soon realize that this wasn't the case in other parts of the world.

Hitchhikers waiting for a lift. Photo credit: Wikipedia


Entering Asia...The Shocking Awakening

 

Istanbul, Turkey → Ankara, Turkey → Tehran, Iran → Kabul, Afghanistan → Islamabad, Pakistan → New Delhi, India → Kathmandu, Nepal → Calcutta, India

As soon as they crossed the border between European Turkey into Asian Turkey, they sensed that it was no longer safe to hitchhike. Private ownership of cars gradually decreased as they traveled further East towards Iran, and diminished altogether as they reached Tehran.

They traveled through Middle East via the Ancient Silk Road. It was one of the rare moments in history where the conflict-ridden Middle East was free from wars, enabling travelers to pass through safely. The Afghans were armed to the teeth with guns, pistols, swords, any weaponry available to mankind. The sight of it scared off the brothers, but soon enough they realized that the Afghans were actually looking out for them. Later on, they learnt that according to ancient Silk Road traditions, the locals have a sense of responsibility to protect true travelers, ensuring they have a safe journey.

This leg of the journey was done through long arduous bus trips. After weeks on end traveling on busses, the duo have mastered the art of sleeping in busses. At the far end of the bus, in the aisle between the rows of bus seats, lies a small corner, just enough to fit a sleeping man. Peter and John would take turns on who gets the spot, with envious looks from the locals.

Bus in Afghanistan in 1969, Photo credit Alamy Stock Photo

Witnessing severe poverty for the first time in his life, Peter was horrified. He couldn't shake off the image of India, even 50 years later as he recounts this story.

"Growing up, I used to hear stories from the English war veterans that served in India. Oh, India sounded like paradise. Most English boys grew up dreaming about a trip to India. Imagine my shock when I eventually got there..

I woke up in New Delhi to dead bodies littering the streets. People were dying of hunger & diseases by the roadside, while passerbys would step over dead bodies as if it was a mere pebble. Later in the day, 'death trucks' would come to collect the dead bodies, pile them on to the truck, before disposing them elsewhere. While all of this was happening, the rich Indians, fat and dripping in jewelry, would carry on their days barely batting an eyelid."

Poverty was intense during colonial era India. Pictured is the famine in South of British India in 1876-1879, photo credit Wikipedia

Child starving to death during the Bengal famine of 1943. Photo credit Wikipedia

One day in India, Peter and John were bickering like an old married couple, on who should carry the bar of soap. That's when they realized that the journey has worn them out, physically and mentally. They decided to take a break from constant traveling, and headed over to Kathmandu for a breather. The mini vacation refreshed their tired bodies and quenched their tired souls, like only the Himalayas can.


A Sigh of Relief in South East Asia

 

Calcutta, India → Bangkok, Thailand → Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia → Penang, Malaysia → Medan, Indonesia → Palembang, Indonesia → Jakarta, Indonesia → East Timor

The duo boarded a flight from Calcutta, India to Bangkok, Thailand in order to avoid the communist insurgency in Myanmar at that time. Upon arriving in South East Asia, an air of despair that was present from South Asia was lifted.

"Yes, the people in South East Asia were still poor, but they were not desperate. They were laid-back and happy. Oh and of course, the food was amazing. I had nasi goreng (fried rice) daily and couldn't get enough of it."

Hitchhiking was safe again, so they were out sticking their thumbs from Bangkok, Thailand all the way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via the coastline. Peter distinctively remembered the well-mannered and kind-hearted ways of the Malays. Little did he know at that time, he will end up marrying a Malay lady and moving to Malaysia for good some twenty years later.

Peter and his wife pictured in front of their house in Bangi, Malaysia in 2017

They wanted to continue on to Singapore, but the intention did not materialize due to the Malaysia - Indonesia Confrontation. So they turned back to Penang, Malaysia, and hopped on a short flight to Medan, Indonesia with the aim of picking up a ship sailing off Palembang to Jakarta.

Hitchhiking through Indonesia was mainly done on rice lorries, as Indonesia is one of the world's major producers of rice. The island geography of Indonesia made it difficult to hitchhike, so they would take a flight in between the major islands.

The last stop in the South East Asian leg was East Timor. This leg was ridden with difficulties, starting with a group of army men pointing rifles to their heads, just because they didn't have the correct travel documents. Adding salt to the wound, Peter had all of his stuff stolen, including a diary where he kept meticulous details of his travels. By that time, his steel-capped boots were worn out, so he exchanged them with the locals for a pair of flip flops. He was now ready for a new life in Australia!


Howdy, mate! Welcome to Australia!

 

Timor → Darwin, Australia → Queensland, Australia

Stranded at the airport in East Timor for days, starving without any food available, they finally boarded the once a week flight from East Timor to Darwin. As soon as they were airborne and the air hostess offered them food, they woofed it down almost instantly. Having not had a proper meal in days, they licked the plate clean. With a look of surprise, the air hostess offered them another plate... It was then that they fell in love with Australia.

Landing in Darwin, they were greeted by monsoonal rain. But as soon as they left Darwin, the environment drastically changed. The dry deserts were harsh and uncompromising, Peter thought they have landed on the moon.

John and Peter in Australia, pictured with Peter's prized mini

It was in Darwin where the duo parted ways. John, a skilled toolmaker, found a job in Darwin through some locals he met in a pub. At that time, Australia was hungry for skilled labourers as it was on a trajectory growth towards rapid economic development. Peter on the other hand, continued his journey towards Queensland, where he had a job as a Research Assistant in University of Queensland, waiting for him.

The duo and a lady friend on a cruise at Sydney Harbour, pictured in front of the Sydney Opera House

Hitchhiking 3,400kms through the deserts of Australia alone, Peter said it was the hardest part of the trip. The harsh desert climate, without a single tree in sight, ridden with flies during the day and mosquitoes during the night, was not the land of milk & honey that he expected. Eight days later, he finally arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, where his other brother, Bob and wife, Pam lived. Bob & Pam moved to Australia a year before, and was the driving force on why Peter decided to move to Australia too. Like most sane people, they took the £10 flight.

Bob & Pam moved to Australia soon after getting married. Bob grew up with very sensitive lungs and was advised by the doctors to move to a hotter climate

Peter has worn a beard since moving to Australia - embracing the rugged Australian look


Lessons from A Trip of A Lifetime

 

52 years later at the age of 78, Peter still remembers his trip fondly. The overland trip from England to Australia was a formative part of his adulthood, where he developed his sense of socialism. Seeing 'how the other half lives' opened up his eyes to the injustice in this world. He has since spent his life fighting for the rights of the underprivileged, through his political work in Australian socialist parties and research work for affordable housing in Malaysia.

He has inspired many to live a life of adventure - myself at the top of that list. I wrote this post as an honor to the man that has inspired me to be all that I am - an adventurer, traveler & social advocate. Thank you, Daddy.

Still traveling at 76 years old, Peter has passed on his traveling legacy to myself and my brother, Daniel. Pictured at The Empire State Building, New York in 2017

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Amalina Davis

Amalina Davis

Malaysian by birth, English-Australian + Malay by heritage, and world citizen by heart. I’m a full-time corporate girl & social advocate, who still manages to fit in cultural-immersive traveling in her hectic life.

7 thoughts on “Travel Overland From England to Australia with £950”

  1. Absolutely delightful Millie. I’ve heard various parts of the story from Peter, but the cultural touches and the wonderful pictures are stirring and historic. One aspect of Peter’s leaving the UK which I remember best is that he was dedicated to contributing to the discovery of cures for tropical diseases at Pfizer, but the firm changed ownership, and the new owners decided there was not enough money in tropical disease research and shut it down. That was the last straw for Peter (and a lesson in imperial thinking), and off he went to Down Under. I’ll get this to Peter’s many friends here in the US and in the Philippines
    My thanks to you — Mike Billington

    1. Thank you for the kind words Mike. It has been an absolute joy listening to Peter recount his travel stories and having the pleasure to document it. I am toying around with the idea of turning it into an e-book too. Well, aren’t I glad that Peter made the move to Down Under, otherwise he wouldn’t have met his wife and I wouldn’t have been around! Great how things turn out in the end hey~

  2. Hi Millie

    I read your dad’s true story several times. Danny passed me the link. I was aware that Peter loved travelling and knew he went on adventures with John, but I didn’t know where or when.

    A very well written and moving story. The photo of the 4 brothers in 1964 made me smile. Peter has always looked like this in my childhood memories of him.

    How lucky you and Danny are to have heard some of your adventurer dad’s experiences.

    Love Juliet xx (Paul’s daughter)

    1. Hi Juliet,

      Glad you found the story interesting. It’s a lovely family history that should be preserved, hence the digitalization was essential. I am considering turning it into an e-book too 🙂 Peter’s travel adventures has inspired both me and Danny to embark on our own adventures. May it inspire many more too.

      Send you and your family love in these tough times. Take care Juliet xxx

      Love,
      Millie

  3. Richard Sanders

    Hi Millie, Having myself travelled to Mexico from London, Ontario, Canada (summer of 1964) by first driving a “your drive it car” to Los Angeles, and then the train to Tijuana, the bus down to Guadalajara, Mexico City, Laredo, Tx and hitchhiked from there back home, all in 7 weeks, spending a total of $130.00 (including buying a guitar), I feel for where you’re coming from. I am a friend of Mike Billington’s and an admirer of Peter’s work, which we published in the magazine for which I am Associate Editor, 21st Century Science and Technology. I met Peter in person at Mikes when he visited Leesburg a few years ago. I would like to hear more of your stories, and Peter’s. Travelling is the spice of life!
    Rick Sanders, Harpers Ferry, WV

    1. Hi Richard, it’s wonderful to hear traveling stories such as yours too – hoping that when the pandemic subsides we will be able to resume traveling. I’m planning a Latin American motorcycle adventure in the next few years, much like Che Guevara did in his younger days. I passed on your comment to my dad and he was delighted to hear from you. He still remembers his trip to the US fondly, recalling the times he met his fellow comrades from 21st Century S&T 🙂

  4. Richard Sanders

    Thanks Amalita. I have an imaginary voyage for you – suppose you took a motorcycle trip, in a time machine and you arrived in Goettingen, Germany in 1828, on the occasion of a “musikabend” organized by Rebecca Mendelssohn. (I will send you a link to the article written by a friend of mine, who is a musician and a historian). Here’s an excerpt:
    Dirichlets, Mendelssohns & Plato
    The history recounted here will develop the role of Dirichlet’s wife, Rebecca Mendelssohn Dirichlet, and her Göttingen musikabenden, regarding these specific powers of the mind. Previously, this author addressed Dirichlet’s introduction into the Mendelssohn family cultural life in 1828-29, as the young Lejeune carried out sensitive magnetic measurements in Berlin, in the Mendelssohn’s backyard, while Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn rehearsed their friends for an historic re-introduction of J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion.”
    … in short, the greatest geometers, musicians and physicists in the world … other people involved were the Humboldts, Riemann, Gauss, …
    Here’s the link:
    https://r.schillerinstitute.org/music/2010/shavin_rebecca_dirichlet.pdf

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