INTREPID travel writer John Dwyer has recently launched his fourth book, entitled Outback Odyssey: Travels In Hidden Australia.
Based in Midleton and brought up on the Beara Peninsula, John’s two passions are travelling and writing.
For his day job, he works in IT. These days, he’s not travelling because of the pandemic and says that another reason for him not venturing abroad much is family life.
Married with two children, Grace, aged 10 and Hannah, aged eight, life at home is busy between working and homeschooling.
When he finished college, John started working in Dublin.
“That took me to Boston, where I spent five years working. I travelled around the States while I was there and then took a year off to do some serious travel in places like South Africa, Australia, China, Tibet, Nepal, India and south- east Asia.”
For as long as he can remember, John has liked writing.
“I like recording events and writing in my diaries. It’s enjoyable to read back over them. I thought it might be something that other people would enjoy reading.
“My first book was High Road To Tibet, recording my journey from China to India. That coincided with the rise of the Kindle which gave me a great boost.”
John has also written Cape Town To Kruger as well as his memoir of growing up on Beara, entitled Klondike House: Memories of an Irish Country Childhood. That book is about a way of life that’s gone now.
“It’s about cutting the turf, saving the hay, bringing water in from the well. It’s nice for me to be able to share those memories with my daughters.”
John’s father called the family home ‘Klondike House’ to honour his forebears, who went to Klondike in north-west Canada for the gold rush.
“They sent money back home and the house was built with that money.”
Travelling is in his blood, says John. He points out the strong connection between the Beara Peninsula and the city of Butte in Montana.
“At the start of the 1900s, there was a copper mining boom in Butte and people came there from all over the world. It was like the gold rush. A lot of people went there to make money, including people from Beara. They sent money back to their siblings so they could come out to Butte. It started a huge exodus from Beara.
“My great grandfather and great granduncle went there. Growing up, it was perfectly normal in our house to have pictures of Butte and things from there. Perhaps it created a curiosity in me. I haven’t been to Butte but it’s definitely on my bucket list.”
It was back in 2004 that John spent three months in Australia. He says procrastination and a busy life meant he didn’t write the book on it until recently. Is his book based on that trip not a bit out of date?
“No, because I spent most of my time there in the more rural and wilder parts of Australia which haven’t changed. Places like Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania are timeless.”
John met some Aborigines during his time in Australia. He and some other travellers had an Aboriginal guide from Kakadu.
“They’re fascinating people. But it takes a longer time than I had to understand their way of life and their deep connection to everything in nature and the earth. They do these paintings that are similar to cave paintings.”
While the Australian government “has made some gestures towards apologising for the way Aborigines have been treated, there is still a lot of racism towards them,” John said.
“They were decimated in the same way as American Indians were. There’s a lot of similarities there.”
John went to Australia to indulge himself in his love of travel.
“The book is a by-product,” he explains.
He landed in Perth, having come from South Africa.
“Perth is very Asian and is an extremely busy city. So many people from different parts of Asia have made a home there.
“You have to remember that Perth is probably geographically closer to cities in Indonesia than it is to Melbourne. It’s very isolated.
"You’re sitting there in Western Australia with nothing around you but desert. It’s probably 2,000 miles until you come to the next city. So it’s a kind of isolated outpost.”
Travelling outside of the city, John says you would be lucky to see four or five cars passing.
“You’re just trying to kill the boredom, doing silly things like driving with your feet. It’s just a straight line and there’s very little change in the countryside. You pull over to the side of the road and pitch your tent.”
One of the strongest memories that John has of Australia is the night sky.
“The sky in Australia is crowded with stars that we don’t get here.”
John visited Darwin and met up with some other travellers there.
“Then I took a bus to Alice Springs in the centre, which is an interesting town. I toured around Uluru, which used to be called Ayers Rock. It’s very sacred to the Aborigines. You have this mountain in the middle of desert. It’s stunning.”
Given the vastness of the places in Australia that John spent time in, was he ever scared?
“The only thing that scared me is the amount of dangerous and deadly animals creeping around the undergrowth.
"You’ve got salt water crocodiles which are the dangerous ones. Two weeks after my arrival in Australia, a German tourist was killed by a salt water crocodile in the same spot I had been in. Apparently, the tourist had gone swimming at night, which is a no-no. There have been reports of these crocodiles attacking boats.”
Then there are ‘suicidal kangaroos’ who, on lonely roads when dusk is coming in, jump across them to get to lower ground.
“You’re driving along. You see kangaroos and at the most inopportune moment, they jump out in the middle of the road with cars passing. You have to be really careful and slow down for these guys. If you’re driving at speed, the kangaroos will damage you and the car. That’s why a lot of vehicles in Australia are fitted with large bars.”
Would John live in Australia?
“Maybe when I was younger. There’s an incredible lifestyle there, very outdoorsy with barbecues and the beach. But I wouldn’t live there now as I’m fairly well rooted in Midleton with my family.”
John’s interest in Australia was sparked by family legend.
“The story goes that my forefathers caused trouble for the British around the 1800s and they were put on a ship, bound for the convict settlements in Australia. But a storm forced the ship to take shelter in Castletownbere where the Dwyer brothers escaped and swam ashore.
“They hid until the ship left and ultimately settled in the area and never left. I wanted to visit Australia to see what they might have missed out on.”
John’s books are available at JohnDwyerBooks.com and from all major online bookstores.