Topic: Australians on the Hippy Trail

Hi all,

On Radio National's "Saturday Extra" this morning, Geraldine Doogue interviewed an academic from Monash University rejoicing under the wonderful name of Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska on the subject "India and Australians on the hippie trail". The interview is at: … 203555.htm

Agnieszka's paper is available for download at:

I had to chuckle about some of the things she mentioned, like the emphasis on extreme frugality. I remember once sitting in the pudding shop, listening to two hippies feuding with each other about how they got from a to b, then b to c etc, far cheaper than the other guy had, and what opportunities to save that the other guy had missed.

Comments on the paper, anyone?

Mike McDermott

Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

A bit deep and meaningful I thought.

The professionals (crew) were a different breed than the punters.

Generally the punters were going to the other end, which in the case of Aussies and Kiwis was the UK or home. The ones who got stuck in the middle were either lost Aussies, or Europeans and Americans who did have things to run away from.

Our punters were not hippies or freaks as much as travelers. The colonials going home were a much more cynical and miserable group, as they had burned out both themselves and their wallets. The travelers to Europe were much happier, very naive, and held on to their money in case they needed to spend it before the overland trip home.

Frugality is too nice Mike, some of them were absolute tight arses, who were miserable to the point of masochism.

On the other hand most were great travelers, with an alternative way of getting from A to B.

Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

Hi Kit,

I found that there were people from all those groups who found the overland deep and meaningful. I agree with you about the punters not being hippies or freaks, and also with your choice of the word traveller ahead of tourist, because I think the difference between those two words is that a traveller travels to find deep and meaningful, and a tourist goes to be entertained.

But one can begin as a tourist and end as a traveller and, yes, vice versa.

>The professionals (crew) were a different breed than the punters.

I remember the crew were a pretty broad church, and so were the punters. Friends of mine at that time such as Hubert DeCleer, Bill Dedear, Travers Cox etc were deeply into the deep and meaningful, but other road crew weren't. I was a punter before I became crew. At the time, I think I was the only crew member that had cut his teeth on the overland; most learnt the job in Europe. You could also say that overland crew and European trip crews were different breeds as well, as were overland punters and European trip punters.

>The colonials going home were a much more cynical and miserable group, as they had burned out both themselves and their wallets. The travelers to Europe were much happier, very naive, and held on to their money in case they needed to spend it before the overland trip home.

Good point. I used to love the westbounds from that perspective. But I also found that as eastbounds progressed, some who started as you described became travellers again.

But lets face it, the only way this topic could be properly dealt with is over a bottle of Khukri at the Blue Star.

Many thanks for your response, Kit, and all the best.


Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

Reminds me of when I was in Nepal in Dec 1979  near the end of a London-Kathmandu Caravan and watching a German guy haggle with one of the local merchants over 10 cents worth of oatmeal.

Greg Sauer

Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

Hi Mike,

I agree that the Overland Crew and the European Crews were different breeds.

Arrogantly perhaps us overland crew considered that the work we did was more challenging than the European tours. Whether it was or not is irelevant as everybody grabs something to boost themselves sometimes.

I certainly enjoyed the overland more than Europe, but a teetotaler traveling in Muslim countries would say that :-)


I can recall many incidents with people haggling over a few paise, or arguing over who had more chappati than the next person.

Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

Hi Kit and Greg

In this morning's Saturday Extra, Geraldine read out some letters following up last week's programme about the hippy trail. You can listen to it by going to and clicking on "India: a Walk through Old Delhi".

The first letter read was from Liz Watson-Kumar (spelling?). She had gone to London 1972-1975, and had returned to Oz via a Swagman Eastbound. There were 36 on the coach, and none of them were hippies. She remarked "what an adventure", "the experience of a lifetime", and "certainly no holiday"! She also wrote that it still factors into her way of thinking and being after all these years.

Kit, we road crew were so lucky to be able to do it so many times. In many ways it was better than sinking into a place as you do with a long term stay (I have done that too, in London, Africa, the Pacific and elsewhere). We were able to keep our eyes and insights open and fresh that way - gaining a new layer of understanding every time, like peeling an onion.

The next letter read was from an ex hippy, who emphasised the darker side of European interactions with Indians etc. Some were  intentional, but we also can't ignore the fact that there will always be collateral damage, unintended consequences, confounding variables etc etc in intercultural exchanges - even with the best of goodwill on both sides. There were certainly some in our cases, Kit: remember Tommy?

In his case and others, alcohol played a major role. I hadn't known that you were a teetotaler; with the wisdom of hindsight, there were times that I would have been happier now if I had been teetotal then as well. But then again, there are others when, if I had not been drinking, major positive and life changing events would not have happened.

I like your comment, "everybody grabs something to boost themselves sometimes". That's true, but as I am certain you will agree there was more to the overland than that, a lot more. By taking us often way beyond our comfort zones, it gave us a lot more opportunity to be travellers than tourists, but how much we availed ourselves of that opportunity varied greatly between us. But a different breed is not necessarily better by being different. We have to ask, "better for what?", and if anyone arrogantly thought themselves superior to others by dint of that experience, then clearly they were not, and had done the overland with eyes wide shut and had entirely missed some of the major lessons that the overland could provide. I am sure that there were many major lessons out there that I missed out on but, like Liz Watson-Komar, there were some that I did not, and they still factor into my way of thinking and being after all these years, just as they do hers.

All  the Best,


Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

Speaking of collateral damage, we should never forget Manik, of the Blue Star Hotel. He was a direct casualty of Drivers Alley. But if he had been teetotal ...


Re: Australians on the Hippy Trail

As a Canadian I probably don't belong in this conversation, but what the hell. I always felt a certain kinship with the Aussies out on the so-called 'Hippie Trail,' and still do. And this is a damn good conversation. If there's a site or forum thread for Canadian overlanders, I haven't found it.

The talk about frugality makes me chuckle. I was one of those extreme cheapskates - not to the extent of haggling over a few paise, but to a degree that embarrasses me now, when I reflect on it. Insisting on third class rail travel in India, for example. How stupid that was, taking up space from desperately poor people, all in the cause of extending my time in India - which seemed desperately important to me at the time.

I was no hippie either - not that it matters now. In fact the experience of the overland trip, followed by three or four months in India and Sri Lanka had the effect of helping me realize how much I wasn't really part of that culture - certainly not the part that rejected Western values and culture and sought to embrace 'Eastern Spirituality' whatever that meant.

More later.....