How my Dad came to be working on a Paris péniche on the Seine… in 1976

This week on the Earful Tower podcast, it’s my own Dad sharing the story of how he came to be working on a boat in Paris in the 1970s. It’s as much the story of how he got here (overland from Australia) as it is of Paris in the seventies. And it seems to have struck a chord.

I didn’t plan to make a blog post about this podcast episode. In a way, I recorded it just as much for me as I did for you guys. But the response was huge, truly enormous. It was the biggest day of downloads in the podcast’s history.

And I got so many comments and emails, asking for further info, for pictures, for maps.

So, I asked my Dad for more. And it’s all below. Look, that’s him below.

The podcast episode

If you haven’t listened to the show yet, it is embedded below. It’s the best way to get the full story.

You can also find it on Google podcasts, iTunes, and pretty much everywhere you get podcasts. Here’s Spotify. And remember, I do a new episode every single week, so be sure to follow along.

A summary of Dad’s story

Alright, I know lots of you guys think you aren’t podcast people. So here is a summary of Dad’s first Paris story.

In 1976, he left Australia and then travelled by road from Asia to London. He was a traveller, remember, not a tourist 😉

He stopped in Arles, in southern France, and slept the night in a park. There, his backpack was stolen, which seems to have been a major turning point in the journey. After filing a police report (pictured below), the Goddess of Fortune smiled upon him. He found himself in good company in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, and got an address for another kind soul in Paris.

Look, there’s the famous orange backpack below.

Fast forward to Paris, he arrived overwhelmed, feeling “like a boy from the bush” (I read his diary). He was invited to work on a péniche called La Salamandre for 10 francs an hour, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. He stayed on Boulevard Exelmans, spent his days on the boat, and generally enjoyed life in Paris.

If you look closely at the postcard below, you can see the X marks the spot where the boat was moored. It’s right by the pedestrianized bridge the Passerelle Debilly on the north shore. (Note: This is actually a postcard he sent home to Australia at the time).

Eventually, Dad headed north to London where he met my Mum… and the rest is history. He even got the backpack back years later, empty, but in one piece.

As for the boat, who knows if it’s still around. Judging by the rust chipping stories from Dad, I don’t know how long it would have lasted. But I intend to explore the banks of the Seine to see if anything goes by the name “La Salamandre”… or if any look similar to the photos below. A new Paris mystery to solve… let’s see how I go.

OK that’s it for this week. Thanks, as always, to the Patreon members, without whom The Earful Tower wouldn’t exist. Join them here.

And here’s the episode again, in case you forgot to click play 🙂

7 thoughts on “How my Dad came to be working on a Paris péniche on the Seine… in 1976

  1. I love thepisode.We are so in the mood of the 70’s it was a real adventure to travel back then with no mobile phone no internet and less safety/ security everywhere. Nowadays such trip seems rather difficult to do as a young person with no experience.

  2. Great episode. I’m 7 years younger than your dad, so a bit young to have had his experience in 1976 but it was definitely still the era of relatively easy overland travelling. Recommend reading Paul Theroux’s “Great Railway Bazaar” (pub 1973) to get a flavour of train travel through the near, middle and far east at that time, & realise how many countries like Iran, Iraq & Afghanistan have become more or less closed to independent travellers through security fears.
    Your dad definitely looks like you, with longer hair!
    He says he lived in London for 4 years & that’s where he met your mum: parallels there with you meeting Lina in a foreign country.
    Otis’s story will be fascinating, 4th generation Australian (well, half) with close connections to Paris.
    Looking forward to 2022’s episodes.

  3. I was there in 1975, backpacking all over Europe ending up in the UK where l lived for 3 years as a little boy. Quite an adventure for a boy from Indiana with straw in his hair. Always thought I passed Rick Steves somewhere probably saw your dad.

  4. What a great episode, as usual! I’m your father’s vintage, Oliver, so I can relate to some of the things he said.

  5. Your dad and I must be around the same age..in our 20s in the 70s! The reason I went to Paris the FIRST TIME was because I had enough frequent flyer points to get my boyfriend and I there for $0.00! I had already been to a few European countries by then. Had and have lifetime wanderlust as an independent traveler. Had already seen 50 states plus lots of Canada and Mexico. FELL FOR IT then and never changed my mind! Been back a dozen times since and live it virtually now until I can get back! LOVED this episode and can so identify with your dad….backpack, no cell phones…just being adventurous with a Rick Steves “Europe through the Back Door” guidebook for we “back door” people! NO TOURS. On our own….always loved our independent traveling. Thank him and you for sharing!

  6. We really enjoyed hearing you immerse yourself in your dad’s story, both as a son and a journalist. Lovely story of another era…yet the lure of Paris is timeless.

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