Bad ass Australian traversed the globe landing in danger and adventure wherever he went.
Peter Pinney (1922-1992) exemplified the idea of the traveler who carries little, gets by on wits alone, and is willing to forage into the unknown despite all odds. He wrote a series of books based on his diaries, the most famous being Dust On My Shoes, detailing his odysseys around the globe. The tales may be slightly embellished, but there is no doubt that Pinney did all a rough traveler could do – his extended treks brought him through the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Arctic, and Central America in the ’50s and ’60s – a time well before established backpacker trails were laid down. Pinney was a rogue, a smuggler and a trailblazer.
After serving in WWII and fighting in the Solomon Islands, Peter Pinney forged Navy discharge papers to get work aboard a Swedish ship out of Australia bound for London. It was the beginning of his traveling career which he would partially finance by smuggling. In 1948 he found himself in Greece, near penniless, with the desire merely to see the world, a world torn asunder and left in chaos by the war:
I am just traveling. Some people like to grow crops, others to make music, or sit in small shops, like your father, selling pots. I am unsuccessful in all the things which I enjoy the most, except the one thing which I find best of all: and that is traveling. To pass through a new country is something very dear to my heart.
Pinney did his traveling with true lust for the unknown in a world whose colors are now quickly fading to a uniform gray with globalization. In his time European ancestry still held considerable status in farflung destinations, and so he was able to con his way through every situation that came his way with the local people. Unlike now, there were no hordes of youths lugging around rucksacks and no established hostels. Everywhere he went people were amazed at his disheveled appearance, worn shoes, and his lack of luggage.
Pinney would go on to traveling overland through wartorn Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Assam and Burma – nearly dying in a train bombing, escaping multiple times from arrest, entering countries without visas, working various scams, and witnessing the drowning of his companion, Marchand, in the monsoon-heightened rivers of the Burmese jungle. It was just the beginning for the intrepid Pinney, though.
Back in India he began smuggling gold and dynamite, amongst other things, with a group of pilots in Calcutta. He was arrested picking up gold illegally in Western Australia and served out a jail sentence of seven months. After bouncing around in Papua New Guinea, Kuwait, and Scandanavia he united with another Dutch companion, a woman named Anna, in 1952 and embarked on another major voyage this time through Africa. Strange and beautiful incidents followed involving hitching through the freezing Sahara, teaming up with a Creole named Chickenthief, and tramping through the Belgian Congo sporting a beard and Scottish kilt.
Pinney kept it up for years, and in 1955 he decided to give the New World a try. Soon he was living with Eskimos in the Arctic, and later he married on top of a volcano in Costa Rica. After yet another brush with death in the jungles of Central America, Pinney got back into the smuggling game – this time in the Carribean. He bought a ship and ran liquor out of Panama. The boat eventually sank, of course.
In love with the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico Pinney worked a while skippering yachts for rich Americans, the quintessential thing to do as a charismatic good-for-nothing in that part of the world. After more years he was back in Australia but he never really settled down. Remarried, he went on to a productive writing career. Rumors have it he even lived out of a VW van with his wife in Europe for a while in the ’70s. Truly a legend.
A few months before passing away he had this to say about his life:
… I’ve had the best life, and the best mates that a man could wish for, and if I could I’d have it all over again without changing anything. Or anyone.
Peter Pinney enjoys a bit of fame in Australia, a country that celebrates and rewards people for going on ‘walkabout.’ You can read more about his journeys and writing at dustonmyshoes.com.