Lost Italians and Spaniards in the Works

A couple of young Italian tourists stopped me as I strolled along the very lovely Maltravers Road in leafy Eaglemont a few months back.  I was on my daily “sanity walk”. If I don’t leave the office and undertake a daily sanity walk my mind descends into a very dark place. I begin to imagine and even design various cruel tortures I could perform on employees from a particular government agency. This is not healthy.

I noticed a car slow and pull into the gutter right next to me. A window came down and a tanned young bloke stuck his head out of the window.

“Scusi” he said.

My brilliant detective work told me he was Italian.

In very brave English he told me he and his mate were lost. Both thought being lost was hilarious. Their smiles were broader than a Queensland drawl. The map they had on their lap was the size of a dinner plate. It was devoid of any detail. Melbourne was marked by a large red dot and only two or three key roads were named. I noticed that a hand written addition to the map had been made. Somewhere that I guessed was slightly south east of Wangaratta had been plotted on the map with an “X” (I kid you not) and labelled with the word “here”.

“We go here” said my new Italian friend, pointing to the cross on the page.

If I were a master bushman like Ned Kelly I may have been able to figure out where “here” was. But I’m only an accountant.

“How we get here?” asked the happy tourist.

Given that they were about four and a half hours drive from “here” I wasn’t sure where to start.

“Is this place a town?” I asked pointing to the cross on the map, and wondering if they might be after a pirate’s treasure. “Do you know the name of the town?”

They looked at each other and burst out laughing. I checked to make sure my fly was up.

“Sorry, sorry” said one of the young blokes, “We no remember town name”. They looked at each other and laughed again.

“What does it sound like?” I asked.

“Err. Beautiful” said one of them.

I ruled out Wangaratta.


“No. No Beechwo” was the reply. “Happy” he said. “Plenty colours.”

I ruled out Myrtleford.

“Trees” said the driver. “Plenty colours”.

“Ah” I said, like Harry Hoo the famous Hawaiian detective, “You mean Bright”.

“Yes !!” they said in chorus, “We go to Bri.”

It was magnificent. Charades on the street. I made their day because I could send them on the right track, and they made my day because I was no longer thinking destructive thoughts about bureaucrats.

I grabbed their map, turned it over and drew a trail for them to follow. The first hurdle was to explain how to get across the suburbs to the Hume Highway.

“Get on the Hume Highway and drive to Wangaratta” I said. “Then look for the signs to Bright. Long way.”

“How long?” they asked.

“Four and a half hours” I said.

They looked at the rudimentary map of Victoria in front of them and tried to comprehend how anywhere could be four and a half hours away.

“Four and a half hours!” The first sign of concern appeared on their faces. A brief conversation took place in Italian. I can’t speak Italian but it sounded to me like they were saying, the trees in Bright had better be pretty bloody good!

“Yep” I said, “Four and a half hours. Long drive.”

Their smiles returned. The sense of adventure had re-emerged.

“OK” they said “Mille grazie.” They wheeled the car around and took off up the street with the car horn tooting.

I’ve thought about those young blokes a bit over the last few weeks. I wonder if they made it or if they’re adrift somewhere in the back streets of Campbellfield. I recalled a time when I was totally lost in Spain in 1987. It was midnight and I was alone on a train that I thought was taking me to Barcelona. I had been kicked out of my seat (due to the fact that I had the wrong ticket). I was sitting on the floor outside the cabins; cold, hungry, knackered. I overheard a conversation that the train had split at the previous station and that this part of the train was heading to a town I’d never heard of. At that point I gave up worrying.

A bloke wandered down the passageway and squatted in front of me. He broke into a quick fire sales pitch in Spanish about the contents of his briefcase. I had no idea what he was saying. With a flourish of his hand the locks were flicked open to reveal a vast array of gold, silver and devilish black flick knives. I started to feel uneasy. He was crowding my space. Other vagrants gathered around. Money and knives were exchanged. Blades were opened and tested with extravagant displays of bravado. Silver pieces of deadly metal were flashing in front of my face. Excited Spaniards with knives; this could only end in tears.

Fortunately it didn’t. They got tired of my false boredom and left me sitting on the floor heading to a town with no name. The cold was setting in. Desert cold is the worst. I grabbed my map and tried to figure out where in Spain I might be headed. Alas my map was completely inadequate. I was lost.

About half an hour later one of the flick knife blokes returned. I was on my guard.

“You come with me.” He was saying. “Come”.

“No” I said, “I’m OK here.”

He was very insistent. “No. You come.” He was motioning with his hand for me to follow him. Against all better judgement I followed. May as well get mugged on a train as anywhere else, I figured.

We walked the length of the train, past sleeping passengers comfortably tucked up in their cabins. What I wouldn’t give for a bed. We slid through some doors and padded along the plush carpet of first class. A respectable silence hung in the air. At one of the last cabins he knocked quietly on the doors. A curtain came back. One of his mates inside lifted the latch. I went in; into what I wasn’t sure. There were four or five other blokes inside. They were all smiling and laughing and taking slugs from bottles of wine. A bottle was handed to me. I took a deep slug. Wine had never tasted so good.

“We find cabin!” one of the hombres said. “No one here!”

It turned out to be one of my favourite nights in Spain. I drank, sang, ate cheese and cold cuts, and told stories to my new Spanish friends about kangaroos in the backyard and crocodiles in the Yarra River. The Spaniards mimicked my terrified face, recalling when the knives came out a few hours earlier. It’s amazing how we learn to communicate without a shared language. And when the train stopped I was in Barcelona. Don’t ask me how. These blokes were geniuses. I had not a wink of sleep, the sun was well and truly up and I was full of beans.

With handshakes and back slaps I parted with the Spaniards on the station platform. It was a night out of the box, a wonderful experience.

I love the uncertainties of life. I love where it can take us. It’s the spirit of adventure that should fill a young man.

Paul Daffey’s recent piece on the Almanac about Setanta O’hAilpin and the new Carlton recruit Ciaran Sheehan (Blues Recruit has a Rebel Heart) got me thinking about this stuff. Setanta didn’t really make it in footy and maybe Ciaran Sheehan won’t either, but their time in Australia will be part of their story; part of their adventure. It will be hard at times and great at times. I hope they look back on it fondly.

Good luck to them. Good luck to all of them.

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Great story telling Dips. We used to go from the footy season to the racing season to the cricket season.
    Now that cricket has run away to join the circus, I reckon the Almanac has gone from the footy season to the racing season to the heart season.
    Check out how many heart warming wistful reminiscences have gone up on the site this week.
    The Almanac has offered cricket a heart transplant as it now lacks one, but I fear its condition is terminal.
    Thanks to Dips, Zurbs, Daff, Neil, the Royboys, Mickey, Rod and all the other gently reflective pieces this week.
    Great reading folks.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Loved this story the variety of articles to read on this site is amazing and a tibute to the wonderful writing ability of so many thanks , Dips top shelf

  3. Phil Dimitriadis says

    “I love the uncertainties of life. I love where it can take us. It’s the spirit of adventure that should fill a young man.”

    Love it Dips, although middle-aged and older blokes need a bit of that spirit too. Just a bit.

  4. Dips,
    Like me, do you look back at those days of back-backing, and youthful dalliences, and think that it seems like another life?
    I enjoyed reading this, mate.

  5. Spot on Smoke. Some of the situations you find yourself in are pretty amazing. 22 or 23 year old blokes think they’re indestructible. My sense of adventure these days is more controlled.

  6. Love this piece.

    It’s warmth has helped defrost the ice that has slowly encapsulated me tonight at a game of junior cricket.

    And…Oh to be in Spain with the freedom and sentiment of a backpacker.

  7. David Downer says

    Dips. Brilliant.

  8. Awesome stuff. And if you never lose that spirit of adventure, you can stay young forever.

  9. Luke Reynolds says

    Loved this Dips. I haven’t even been to Bright, let alone Barcelona.

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