Why the Police Came After Me in Tasmania: Customs Food Restrictions When Entering Australia

Tasmania police badge on uniform

© 2014 abc.net.au

I’ve never been in trouble with the police, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Within a couple of days of being in the Australian state of Tasmania I’d had two run-ins with the authorities, both of which could easily have been avoided with some smarts.

I had been back in Northern New South Wales for over half a year, working and settling down into some sort of normal life routine – if beaches and sunshine can ever be classed as normal life – and finally I was off to see a part of Australia that I’d heard again and again was the most beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors.

With a head full of trail and trek ideas, my mind wandered a million miles away from anything official, into a land of fresh air and unspoilt landscapes.

As I walked through the arrivals gates at Hobart Airport, then, I didn’t expect to be greeted by three police officers and a sniffer dog.

The dog was evidently interested in my bag. I saw D-man glancing at me, wondering what I might have that was of interest to the dog. I smiled and kept on walking, my heart beating faster as I realised the dog was sticking by my side. This wasn’t going away. I took a breath.

The officer stopped me. Was I carrying any fruit, she asked. Ah, fruit! Easy answer: no, of course not, but the dog persisted, sniffing at the bursting leather bag that I’d slung across my body. ‘Can I take a look through your bag?’ asked the police officer.

Full of wide-eyed innocence, I opened it for her, pulling out notepads, a t-shirt and toiletries. There, underneath everything, lay a little red apple. I cringed. Handing it over, I waited for the reprimand, but instead she rewarded the dog for a job well done and sent me on my way. No $130 on-the-spot fine, this time. Thanks Tasmania. I’ll be good next time.

A couple of days later I made my way from my friends’ house to a part of Hobart that reminded me pretty much of the industrial and rundown part of any given city. I’d booked a van, the last van in the whole of Tasmania, if online booking sites were anything to go by, and had come to pick it up.

Cleaning of all vehicles was in full swing when we arrived so D-man and I sat inside reception and waited, and waited and waited. With the usual cleaner off sick, the stand in was doing his best to get through the Monday morning returns. In holiday mode, we were forgiving, happy to not get wound up, but when half an hour turned into two hours we started to sense our day hike at Mt Field was slipping away.

We finally set off in a van equipped with pretty much everything including dried tea dribbles on the cabinets and an indoor light cover that refused to stay put, and we were on our way. Out of the city. Bring on the countryside!

It wasn’t long before we saw the lights flashing behind us, the sirens only just kicked in. I looked at D-man. What now? A police officer walked to the driver’s window.

‘The vehicle you’re driving is unregistered’. He stood stern. My jaw dropped. A costly offence, this wasn’t something we were prepared to accept. Handing over everything we could from the hire company we waited and watched vehicles driving by, faces looking at us wondering what the silly tourists had done wrong this time.

He finally returned from his vehicle. ‘You’re not in any trouble,’ he said, ‘but you need to give this to the company and return the van immediately.’ We placed the slip of paper, worth $200, on the dash and headed back to the hire car place.

The vehicle’s retracted registration was a surprise to the owners, apparently. A retracted registration, we researched, is almost always to do with the vehicle being deemed unsafe, unroadworthy, so why would they send us off into the Tasmanian wilderness in a ticking timebomb? Is the gamble worth the money? Their squirms, wine offering and half day refund wouldn’t make up for the fact we had one week to explore Tasmania and over half a day had been wasted waiting, returning and waiting some more for substandard vehicles.

Our day plans ruined, we gladly left Hobart behind in a new-to-us-yet-equally-unclean-van, but not before calling the company again due to an engine fault warning light displaying. ‘It happens on those older vans,’ they told us, ‘you’ll be fine.’ We hoped so.

So the lessons learnt? Don’t carry fruit into Australia, even between states, it would seem. I can imagine other police officers would be a whole lot less friendly. And the car hire situation? Better time management and holiday planning, maybe? Giving myself more time to book through a reputable company might have saved me half a day and a dollop of grief.

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Filed under australia, culture, expat life, food & drink, law, oceania

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