I remember the day I was called to an interview as a driver with Autotours, a London-based tour company catering to 18-35 year olds camping through Europe. I was living the dream just to get an interview. I was the first driver from the 1986 training trip to be selected.
At the interview Rick Harper said I was going to be the driver for ‘Dorrie’ on a six-week tour. I found out later Dorrie’s proper name was Ian Haywood. Rick also said it was $50 a week, well my heart sank — at that rate I’d be out of pocket $300. I couldn’t do the trip. I was running short of money and I only had $200 left. Rick burst out laughing and said I was a ‘stupid f******g idiot’. “We pay you 50 quid a week,” he said.
I had such a good time on the training trip I thought I had to pay them for the privilege of driving the tour bus. I was set. We were going out on tour the next week. I was told to go to Hollandand pick up the bus. Then drive to Calais and meet Dorrie and the group.
As luck had it a driver was going out on the same day and I went along with him to Holland, met the guys at the bus depot. Somehow they knew it was me that wrecked their bus on the training trip. I stayed in the drivers house next to the depot. The coach they gave me for the trip was a nice Mercedes-Benz V8. I removed a couple of sets of seats at the rear of the bus to make room for my swag, which is where I planned to sleep for the trip. I got the bus out the next day and headed off through Belgium and somehow found France.
I eventually found the right wharf at Calais and where I was to meet the group and, more importantly, Dorrie. I was glad to see him. Dorrie had been a courier for four years and knew every bar, road, attraction and person we needed to know. I had fallen on my feet getting to do my first European trip with him.
I did a quick thanks to my dad for teaching me how to double the clutch in the old Bedford back on the farm at Ryan’s Brook near Kojonup. This lead me to driving road trains in the Kimberley and across Australia, then driving buses, and now I was a driver for Autotours. I was so far away from home and all alone.
I had the master teaching me the ropes; Dorrie and I got on really well, we knew what the other was thinking most of the time. I slotted into the driving role like it was made for me. We did night drives to make up extra days in places like Corfu, the Tyrol and Munich. Keeping the passengers happy was a big part of the job we had to undertake. We both did our best but the odds were against us sometimes. You just can’t please everyone!
Dorrie taught me about market shopping. We had a food kitty that all the passengers had contributed to for meals on the trip. We would shop at fresh food markets and supermarkets, then in the cook tent that night we would whip up a meal for 30 people. Breakfast in the morning and then also supply lunch. This went on for six weeks. We would also eat out in each country for that country’s national meal. It was a great way to see Europe.
Dorrie showed me how to supplement our wages. I was quiet ignorant to the fact of how ‘things’ worked. For example we would visit a leather shop in Florence, Italy. While I loaded the passengers, Dorrie would pop back into the shop to say goodbye to the owners and collect an envelope. In Venice it was a crystal piece. The list went on, we were making good extra money from commissions. My mate could sell/suggest excursions and experiences and souvenirs to the passengers, part of the art was having room to store all this extra stuff people had bought. I handled this with ease.
We cruised around Europe having a ball. The passengers paid for everything. I never bought a drink, entrance into a show, and I had enough t-shirts for a life time. Dorrie loved the fact that I could drive and we did stuff most crew would only dream of doing. Between one of the trips I borrowed a welder from the workshop and built a barbecue that we used to cook. We used this barbecue so many times, we shared dinners with other groups. It was a great addition to the tours. Nothing was too much trouble for Dorrie and I as far as the passengers went. We would suggest changes to the itinerary, discuss it with the passengers and away we would go. I made an air hose and nozzle to blowup air mattress. I would connect the line to the compressor on the engine and blow up their mattresses, it took about 45 seconds each time.
I noticed one guy on the trip not getting on with anyone and I asked if he would help me out by blowing up the mattress for everyone when we got into camp. I showed him how to start the bus and do the job. Everyone had a little minute with him at every campground. They all thanked him and he gained confidence, got on with one of the girls and ended up having a life changing tour. A very satisfying outcome.
That year Dorrie and I did three six-week tours together, we were a solid team. It was without doubt one of the best times I had ever had. Dorrie had taught me the ropes of touring central Europe. He left after that year and followed his dream of touring in America. I caught up with Dorrie a few times in later life. Sadly, Dorrie passed away a couple of years ago.
I returned to Australia for the summer, then went back overseas around Easter for another year of touring in Europe. I enjoyed touring to new places and training new couriers.