I arrived in Brisbane airport, one I am so very familiar with now, about 2 weeks ago. I was tired, and a bit hungover. I wasn’t sure what to expect – only that I was going to be suitcasing it up and down the east coast to tick boxes and fit everyone in as best I could before departing. Some I am certain I will see again, others I’m not so sure. Age plays a bit part in the uncertainty of repeat visits – but true to my word I made it back to connect with my Maltese family here in Brisbane.
Not being one to reveal myself, nor the identity and privacy of my friends, family or those I meet on my travels – It’s a little hard to express this visit in a blog.
What I wish to say though, was that leaving this part of my family after just three and a half days in their company – having met a number of people who I never knew existed – sharing stories, photographs and filling in the gaps of a bit of family history, was harder than I imagined.
I was treated like a long lost (which I suppose on one level is true) much loved member of the family. Stories were shared of my Maltese grandmother – the Aunt of the relative I was staying with – and her time here in Australia 60 years ago with my father and his father.
The three of them arrived in 1950, when my dad was just 8 months old. They arrived on a boat, as many did, as “ten pound poms”, as many did and left two years later, as some did. Their time was short, but the memories have held fast for many years. They left, but other members of my Nana’s family stayed, having permanently relocated here from Egypt. And so the Maltese side of my family set up their lives in Darra, Queensland.
I was so fortunate to be invited into this world, and welcomed so openly. I ate fabulous Maltese and Italian food (They are a Maltese-Italian family), drank homemade wine, fresh coffee, listened to Italian conversation and found a piece of myself in these people. I met a number of second cousins (My dad’s cousins), their spouses and their children and was told I had barely scratched the surface.
There are two sides of my family here in Australia. On my mother’s side there are my Grandmother’s brothers and their children. Many of these I had met from various visits over the years, and who I have happily reconnected with, as well as cousins I had heard of but not met until now.
But back in January last year, shortly after arriving from the UK after my Christmas break I’d had lunch with a cousin of my mum’s and was walking back to another cousin’s house where I was staying when it occurred to me that these weren’t the only people in my family who lived in Australia. I had no idea where my dad’s family were living, or even if they were still alive. I just felt I needed to do something – I thought it would be nice to locate the house my dad lived in as a toddler and take a photo of it, so I called him and asked if he could find the address. What do you know – the next day I had jumped on a train and was spontaneously knocking on the door of a total stranger to me, who I’d been told was my second cousin. After an understandable amount of confusion I was welcomed in for a cup of tea, and then sent to another house a few doors away to repeat the same speech to another cousin I hadn’t met before. It was a mad decision to jump on the train that day – with no notice and just arrive at someone’s door – but perhaps one of the best decisions I have made so far, as I unearthed a whole group of interesting, loving, caring souls who welcomed me as though we’d known each other for years.
It’s worth mentioning that I never came to Australia to specifically meet any of these people – I came on a mission of my own to find my own way, answer some questions and to see what I could do for myself here in Australia. Everyone that has come to me, or become part of my life here has been such a wonderful bonus that they deserve a place in my blog.
Brisbane from Mt Coot-tha where I was taken for a visit.
During my last week, I had a couple of days off and thankfully one of them was drier than the rest so I had the opportunity to wander around Perth freely rather that dodging showers.
After a very cheap lunch with a friend (a Thali curry voucher purchased from Groupon in a bid to eat as many different and interesting cuisines as I could before leaving Australia) I wandered over to the State Library for a gander. Both here and in Melbourne, The State Library has been a bit of a refuge for me. It’s a place that’s free, had air conditioning (not that that was a need of it in recent months) internet and in the case of Perth a really great range of second hand books just outside of the gift shop, and of course – nice, clean toilets. The café in Perth is particularly good, if anyone wants to check it out – coffee and a muffin for $6.90 which is pretty good value for Perth! Today I skimmed over the books I knew I couldn’t buy, but managed to find what I was looking for. A copy of the story I had enjoyed reading T & S many times when we rented it from our local library.
I bought it and went for a coffee outside – enjoying people watching, as well as glancing up at the oriental visions on the large screen. It’s akin to Fed Square (Melbourne) I suppose and a place I have often sat in for a ponder between appointments, or in the early days of Perth – just because I did not want to go back to the house I was living in.
Jumping on the tourist bus next I headed up to King’s Park to spend a couple of sunny hours before sunset. I realised I had never been to King’s Park on my own. In fact could only count 5 visits, which seemed a shame, as there was so much I hadn’t yet seen. My first was an unenthusiastic outing with the first family I worked for – then there were two dates (neither went any further) and I’d been there twice with friends who were visiting. I also realised I had always stuck to the same path which never leads anywhere new, so off I headed – quite literally taking the path less trodden, camera in hand for an almost meditative walk through the Spring offerings of the Botanical Gardens. I stopped to take photographs whenever I wanted, doubled back as many times as I felt necessary, sat down to enjoy the view a number of times to ponder over my time in Perth. I did feel, as one often does, sad to be leaving at that point. Perth has suddenly burst into bloom, and thanks to the awful amounts of rain we’d been having – moments of sunshine were really to be cherished. The perfumes and colours that were splashed across the park were stunning.
Although I was happy not to have to make awkward conversation (unsuccessful dates) and pleased I had nothing else to concentrate on other than myself, there is always that little part of me that wishes I were holding someone special’s hand.
Anyway, enough of that drivel – a good couple of hours were spent wandering around at my own pace (some of you will know how slow this is) enjoying the moment – stopping to smell the flowers and capture the moment whenever I wanted to.
Here’s a few snaps of the day.
The END of Perth
I should have posed this ages ago, and written it even longer ago, but such is life and busy I have been.
I sit here on a Queensland veranda enjoying a beer before midday, because I can, listening to the occasional kookaburra or gecko and Pumpkin the dog for company.
I left Perth just shy of two weeks ago, to begin my East coast jaunt stopping off at the all the relatives I can manage, and a coupele of friends too – some fit into both categories.
This was going to be a post based on my last few days in Perth, with some photos of Kings Park, then I was going to write about the joys of having family in different parts of the world. I had a muse in my head too about the merits of travelling alone, and whether I will be able to settle down when I arrive back in the UK. And then there were a few photographic adventures to post too…
It seems that every minute has been filled from about 3 weeks ago where I was fitting all the things in that I wanted to do in Perth: seeing as many people as I could and frantically weighing items of clothes, giving away things and throwing away as much as I could to fit everything back into 23 little kgs – 5 of which were the bloody suitcase. There were coffees, dinners, goodbyes, see you laters and more. Then I arrived on the East coast, to the open arms of family I didn’t know I had until a few months ago. I have been fed ridiculously, entertained, cooked for, driven around and just been having possibly the most pleasant, albeit stressful two weeks in Australia so far.
There is something to be said about leaving a place – of course It’s when you start to realise how much you like it. And let’s not forget the drama and the stress of fitting everyone in – giving everyone an equal allotment of your time – not wanting to overstay a welcome, nor offend by not staying long enough. Then there are the joys of getting to all these places – long bus journeys, early trains, pick-ups in unknown locations and better still the sheer ridiculousness of lugging a suitcase, backpack and computer around and not getting more than 4 nights in one bed!
There have been a few moments when I have thought about just rolling up to the airport and waiting there, or flying directly home and skipping my upcoming Balinese adventure… but then I wouldn’t have all these lovely things to write about as I make my slow, heavy-hearted departure from Australia…
Wednesday 28th August
Here’s a post I wrote on my day off about a week ago…
What is Australia for me?
It’s this: sitting in a cafe on my day off: enjoying a banana smoothie and an ocean view whilst listening to relaxed tunes and having a moment to write this.
It’s the smells that should be bottled: eucalyptus trees on a hot day, barbecues in the park, wild flowers in bloom.
It’s the sound of a kookaburra laughing about something in the distance.
It’s amazing creatures like kangaroos and koalas and cockatoos, parakeets and galahs…
It’s the taste of beer and the sound of live music.
It’s chance encounters with people from all over the world.
It’s meeting members of family you never knew you had, or old friends in sunny places.
It’s feeling very welcome, but not quite belonging.
I’ve experienced many things in Australia – yet none of them have been bad. Even finding a 6ft python lounging over my toilet gave me a (horrific) story to tell and I learnt a lesson of caution when using the toilet.
Being unemployed and unable to enjoy it thanks to lack of funds wasn’t exactly a bad experience.
Neither was feeling used and unappreciated in my first Au Pair role a bad experience. It was incredibly unpleasant and draining but taught me what to ask for and what I deserved in my next role.
I have avoided most extreme weather situations in Australia – not had to endure many 40+ C days, nor suffered a long winter. I was relatively unaffected by the cyclones on the East coast and the bush fires didn’t come close enough to pose a real threat.
Am I sad about leaving? That’s what everyone keeps asking me. And the answer is yes and no. I knew Australia couldn’t last forever. I’ve not had any of the experiences I thought I would have, but instead had experiences I never imagined possible.
I never made it to Ayres Rock, didn’t buy a car so I could drive around the perimeter of Australia, never made it to the Northern Territory or Tasmania and have really only scratched the surface of this land of plenty.
I have been a waitress, a receptionist, a bar person, a teacher, a tutor, a farm hand, a nanny and a cleaner. I have worked for great money, no money and shit money.
I have tried new sports, new foods, learnt new skills, dropped bad habits and even managed to improve my Spanish.
So… Australia has given me so much, yet not quite enough to stay any longer. I know it’s time to leave and try something else. I am feeling a pull towards the UK, to the place I used to call home, to my family and to a culture and lifestyle I have been avoiding for many years. It’s time to see what’s coming next!
Hope it makes good blog material!
My day out in the national park on Saturday made it easy for me to get an early night once I’d arrived home.The pint of cider I’d had in Mandurah after a walk around the marina, the venetian canals and the waterfront sufficed my need for a drink that night, and so ensued a good night’s sleep. Is this an age thing? Not long ago that pint merely would’ve been the start of an evening – being tired never came into it.
Anyway, I awoke fresh faced and rested and was out of the door by just after 9 to catch the bus to Hillarys. I never used to be fond of Sundays, in fact don’t think I even existed on a Sunday morning previously. I found myself surprised at the number of people out and about enjoying breakfast or an early morning swim in the sun. Tell me British readers – is this something we do? If my all-nighters are coming to an end will there be people getting up early to meet me for breakfast on a Sunday morning?
Ponderings aside I’ll continue…
I arrived at Hillarys with quite a silly grin on my face. I was smiling because I was so pleased that I had remembered to have a good time by myself. I was smiling because today’s plan didn’t involve relying on anybody, nor were my plans hindered by anything. I had chosen to get up early and catch the ferry to Rottnest Island to explore and enjoy Rottofest. By myself. Coincidently I did know someone who would also be there and as I’d predicted – our paths didn’t cross, so I spent the day by myself.
The crossing was about 45 minutes with a slight swell. I stood at the back of the boat with my hair flying out of control admiring the bright blue Indian Ocean and wondering what my day would bring.
Wrist band slapped on. Programme and map to hand I set about getting my bearings and finding something to eat. Almost immediately I saw a little quokka. At this point I hadn’t realised they were ten to the dozen, so took some very average photos which were later replaced.
I have never been to a comedy show alone, so I shuffled into my first show, careful to sit somewhere inconspicuous. I felt relaxed and able to laugh with the crowd. Jokes can be enjoyed and shared by anyone. I saw Suns of Fred – a musical theatre trio whose songs were expertly crafted with lyrics and improve comedy.
Once back in the sun I went for a wander to check out the sights on foot. I made my way to Basin Beach, Geordie Bay and Bathhurst lighthouse and spent come time soaking up the sun whilst contemplating a few things.
I headed back to the music stage to enjoy fish and chips, a pint and Bastians Happy Flight.
Another comedy show and another beer, followed by another wander and then a bit of photography on the beach as the changing light promised a palette of interest across the sky.
I got bitten to pieces whilst waiting for the ferry home – my trousers rolled up from paddling along the shore.
And because we know I don’t have perfect days – the ferry I arrived on docked 10 minutes after my last bus home. Hillarys is a long way from my house when you consider doing it on foot. So a $17.50 taxi took me the measly 6km not even to my door because I stopped him when I saw the price on the meter!
Transperth – or public transport in WA to be more general is NOT brilliant. In Slovakia – a country you wouldn’t expect to have a well organised or easy to use transport far trumps what Perth has to offer. In Slovakia I went on a number of adventures – weekends and day trips, and although sometimes complicated ( there are a number of posts offering examples of this in Slovakia Stories ) they were never impossible. My point being that I have found it incredibly hard – in fact impossible to have adventures that don’t require a set of wheels. Places of interest are simply not served by public transport – or at least they are but require a number of changes, lengthy transits or not enough time to meet connections or return trips. In Slovakia I travelled far and wide on a network of trains, trams and buses and never found anywhere I couldn’t get to.
So on Friday night, after pulling my hair out trying to find somewhere I could get to and spend a reasonable amount of time in – I texted a friend on the off chance they wanted to accompany me on a day out… and drive their car there and back. Fortunately the response was positive, making me very happy to set my alarm early for Saturday morning.
I needn’t have bothered as I was awoken at some antisocial hour by an incredibly loud thunderstorm, that seemed to be directly above my head, shaking my little cabin.
Two hours later, when the thunder, lightning and torrential rain had ceased chariot arrived and we set off for Serpentine Falls.
First stop was Serpentine Dam. A vast expanse of water on the Serpentine river whose catchment is one of the major supplies of drinking water for Perth. Do not quote or correct me on this please – I don’t make notes when I go exploring – I remember and recount information and openly admit to getting it wrong sometimes!
This dam was not on my do list – didn’t even know it was there. We stumbled upon it first of all, missing a turning and completely bypassing the falls. A wrong turn worth taking I believe…
Next came the falls. Entering the national park from the opposite side we pulled up into the central picnic area – a smell of sausages on the barbecues greeting us as we assessed the trail maps. There was a damp, yet pleasant smell in the air – of fresh, green plants – ready to spring into bloom. It reminded me so much of Železná studničk – Bratislava Forest Park – and a wonderful day I had spent hiking there at the beginning of Spring some time ago.
We took an alternative path to get a higher view of the Falls, only to realise that the easier, simpler route led you to a far better viewing platform – purposely built with steps into the upper pool for warmer days when the water invites you for a swim. It wasn’t particularly cold – so with a little more planning ( bikini and a towel ) I could have been persuaded to have a dip. I have had a waterfall swim already which was up near Cairns (QLD) last year, so that box had already been ticked. Thankfully.
After an ample amount of time taking in the scene and sitting on a rock that plenty of other people wanted to sit on, we headed off on another trail. A 6km, grade 4 hike up to Baldwin’s Bluff. This very much reminded me of my hiking weekend, again in Slovakia – in Terchova where the weather, climate and hiking grades were similar. Yes – it has been 2 years since I have enjoyed a good hike!
Our trail was a steep, stony path up the side of a gorge to a lookout over the waterfalls and Kitty’s Gorge. It was flanked either side with nature’s display of Spring bursting into bloom. The smell was worthy of being bottled – a fragrant reminder that Spring has sprung and Summer will be arriving fairly soon. The humidity and threat of rain enhanced the aroma and as the climb evened out, the flowers grew brighter and smelt fresher.
I could have joined the masses who stopped to photograph every flower, but I would have bored my companion to tears and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the exhilarating high I got as I sprang onwards – pain in my back or legs totally eradicated as my heightened senses absorbed everything available. I don’t get what they call Runner’s High – but what I feel when I walk or hike in a place of natural beauty is something I imagine can be equated to that feeling.
The walk down had a few slips and slides, but no injuries were obtained other than a large bite I, of course, (wouldn’t be anyone else) received right on the kneecap of my still sore ice skating knee!
I snapped away at a few views and flowers, as an excuse to catch my unfit breath but was disinterested in hiking behind my camera lens so hope the atmosphere has been sufficiently captured from my relatively spontaneous, yet wonderfully rewarding day in the park!
It seems I got a little complacent here in Perth.
I forgot to have an adventure. I just plodded along: making do, getting by and making excuses for losing my spirit. I was depressed about not earning enough, felt stunted by not having the freedom of a car and felt I hadn’t met the right group of people to be myself with.
Sometimes we forget who we are, what drives us and what makes us smile. We just get into habits, routines and doing what’s easy, or safe, or the least stressful. And sadly – the least adventurous and often the least fun.
With less than two weeks left in Perth, I realised there were still so many “unhad” adventures to be had! I realised I had wasted weekends thinking I had plenty of time left, or been waiting around for people to make plans or commit to suggestions, for the weather to improve, to have a bit more cash. So many reasons to sit on my arse and do nothing. That’s not who I am – I made a vow a couple of years ago to stop waiting for perfect and do things today…
So, realising I had unwittingly had a bit of an adventure hiatus, a few months of not making the most of the moment – I frustratingly scoured the internet looking for places to spend my last few days off in Perth. If you wait for people to be available, or for the weather to be perfect – nothing happens. As John Lennon aptly put it “Life is what happens to you whilst you are busy making plans”. And it’s true – suddenly you realise months have gone past and time is almost up.
A four day weekend… a day in a national park, a day at a comedy and music festival and two more days to fill. Not a moment to be wasted.
Here’s to making the most of it!
Very often, the focus of my blog posts is some mishap or other: some series of events that only seem to happen to me, something I have done wrong, some mini disaster, a bit of stress of just one or several of those moments.
Last Saturday was not one of those. I actually had a perfect day. Should I even write about it? I am not sure if I have a misfortune to make you laugh…
I had purchased a voucher for a Stand Up Paddle boarding lesson, as it was on my Perth bucket list. I had seen people doing it on the Swan River and thought it looked like something I would like to do.
There were two other Au Pair friends also doing it, so I wasn’t going to be on my own. I also had a lift lined up from someone who lives in the same suburb as me, so didn’t have to do battle with Perth public transport ( if you read OFF UP THE COAST you’ll know my feelings on this).
It had been raining most of the week, but I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, with a clear mind (no booze the night before) and a healthy (ish) body – ready for action. My concern was that I read wetsuits were NOT provided, and as it IS winter, I didn’t fancy falling in. Then I must remind myself that this is Perth, not Melbourne, so it’s really not THAT cold. And yes, if you haven’t thought/said it already – I do indeed come from colder climes, so yes, I should be used to the cold weather/water etc. My other concern was my left knee: still bruised from my little ice skating escapade (read LIVE A LITTLE for that disaster) and comes with a certain amount of fear of hitting or even using it. I had read up on Paddle boarding, and the first thing you do is kneel and learn to get your balance – not something I can comfortably do – and can you believe this – because of this I was considering surrendering my voucher and not even going!
Luckily I gave myself a good talking to that morning and got up and on with it. Wished I had bought a pair on board shorts – who in Australia doesn’t own a pair of boardies? Me of course!
It turned out that our lesson was just the three of us – 3 Au Pairs on paddle boards with an mean age of 28 (this is indeed unusual in my line of work!) went out on the Swan with out instructor Cristina from Germany. The water wasn’t cold, just a little “eech ouch” getting in on account of all the tiny shells on the shore.
I was given the biggest board – probably on thanks to my usual look of uncertainty. After a brief “this is how you do it” We lugged them into the water and got on. It hurt to be on my knees – bloody ice skating – so once we got some speed (literally moving, not racing) we got to our feet.
The sun was warming my back, my board was steady and I was smiling because I was paddling! I managed to turn without falling off, I coped with a wave caused by a passing boat, and didn’t fall off when I looked round at the large splash to my right when H had fallen off her board trying to get a photo of M!
The only problem I had was a cramp in my right foot (It wouldn’t have been right for it to have been THAT perfect), which I later learned was perfectly normal, although incredibly uncomfortable, as the body tries to counterbalance what the board does. Once our level of comfort was ascertained, we paddled back to shore to get different boards. This time I had a shorter, lighter, therefore faster board, which was much more fun to work with. I actually ENJOYED this outing, and found myself asking fellow British nanny friend from Torquay if this was something people did at home. Yes, apparently it’s quite popular! Show’s what I know, as the first time I had seen it was 6 months ago here in Perth.
To congratulate ourselves on a morning of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise – I want to do more of this – we went to the Matilda Bay Tea Rooms. An Idyllic setting on the river, under the trees where the parrots sit and… poo on your slice of chocolate cake. No joke. But it wouldn’t have been MY blog post without a little bit of trouble…
My day officially starts at 7:30am when I leave my “house”, that is my granny flat in the garden, and I walk about 12 steps to the back door of the house.
On a good day I will have had time for a peaceful breakfast and might even be strolling over with a cup of tea in my hand. Yorkshire Tea, purchased recently, which makes my day start an awful lot better than Bushells.
Breakfast time consists of teamwork to get T & S dressed and fed, so T can get out of the door for school on time with Dad. It doesn’t always go smoothly – Fridays are particularly painful mornings. When the TV is switched off – my preference – the morning is a breeze. When it’s on, which it usually is – it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
After T goes to school, S and I can start our day. My morning tasks are getting S to have some breakfast, as it’s unlikely this was successful earlier, and a second attempt at dressing her. When she is pottering about with the dog, or today’s teddy, I unpack and repack the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and make a start on the laundry, make the beds and have a think about today’s plan.
If I haven’t already had a conversation about tonight’s dinner, it will be written down somewhere. Making dinner is an important and enjoyable task for me, so it needs to be factored into the day’s plan.
Very often S and I will pop to the local shop to top up on ingredients. She will go in the pushchair, and my bag will be loaded with snacks and supplies and off we go. Sometimes we pick something up and turn around and go back. Sometimes we have coffee together in the cafe. And less recently due to bad weather, we will come home via the park.
Most sunny days lunch is a picnic at the park. We sit on the picnic benches together making crow noises and discussing what dogs are doing. We lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds, sing songs on the swings or we go on an adventure to the wooded area of the huge park we live near to “see what we can see”. This is a general term I use for any journey we embark upon, as it seems to give it some purpose.
After lunch S usually has another energy spurt, so whizzes around the back yard on her bike if we are at home, and I use the opportunity to lock the dog away and make dinner. Not locking the dog away, as I very quickly learnt but surprisingly often forget, very often results in something or everything being stolen by the pesky Labrador.
S often helps me make dinner: I give her a bowl and she does “mixing” which consists of her collecting all the peelings and leftovers in her bowl – we often season it, add water and “taste” it to see what she has created.
On these recent boring rainy days I have been doing a number of little baking activities – scones, or cupcakes perhaps, which we later eat at a teddy bears’ picnic in my granny flat, sometimes under the table if it’s raining really heavily! Getting a 3 year old interested in baking isn’t difficult. I measure things out, she pours them in: complimented all the time on her great pouring skills. We can’t wait until it’s in the oven, so we can both be naughty and lick the bowl.
After a few stories and cup of tea it’s time to locate shoes (never an easy task, as they never stay on for long) and a cardigan, a book or two, some snacks for the ride, water and anything else I can think of before we head to school to collect T. Very often I have to do “fast walking” because the previous tasks took longer than I wanted them to and we race to school, nattering all the way, looking for things to point out, so S doesn’t fall asleep.
T gets a high 5 if he’s eaten all his lunch. If he hasn’t, “nasty nanny” makes him eat his sandwich before he plays footy. We hang out at school for as long as the weather and the caretakers allow, or we head to a park and we kick and pass the ball or have running races before heading home. Apparently I am “awesome” at this. I have tried to teach him “English football” (I refuse to call it soccer) but I can’t get him to stop picking the ball up!
Dinner comes round pretty quick, as I’m doing a few last minute adjustments and bringing in the washing, it all happens at once. Countdown is on: tidy up music is playing on my computer, play area is tidied, hands are washed, table is set and bottoms are on seats for a 5pm sit down. The 3 of us sit together and enjoy our dinner with silly conversations and mostly good manners. Politeness and table manners are greatly rewarded and seeing empty plates and smiling faces makes me happier than I can express. Dinner done, everything is put away and we might just have time for a story before mum gets home. Or if she’s stuck in traffic we run the bath and they hop in. To pass the time we sing songs about frogs, or tell stories.
When mum gets home, we have a debrief and the children turn from calm collected creatures to manic little monsters on their second, third of fourth wind of energy, so I bid my farewell and head to my room.
I later meet with a fellow au pair and friend and we go for a good stomp and a vent… often all the way to the shopping centre for frozen yoghurt.
Doesn’t sound bad? No, very often it’s wonderful. I adore T and S and on GOOD days they are my two best friends…
Perhaps I need to write a post on the trials and tribulations of life as an Au pair…