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!
Here are a couple of drafts that never made it onto my blog, so I’ve put them together here…
Happy New Year everyone!
As I sit in bed on January 1st, looking at the glorious sunshine out of my bedroom window, it’s hard to imagine the torrential rain yesterday that caused rivers to swell, roads to becomes rivers and puddles to become ponds. Just driving out of my village was like driving upstream yesterday which is something I don’t remember ever having to do before…
It’s nice to have a moment to contemplate where you have been and what you have achieved over the past year, and to feel inspired about how you will continue this year.
* * *
I write this as I sit on the train making my way from Taunton to Bristol, where I will meet my sister-in-law who will have a late lunch with me, drive me to Reading, where I will take the Airbus to Heathrow and later on tonight, be on my merry way to Singapore for the next phase of my journey.
2012 was a wonderful year. I decided to Live Loving and Love Living and that I did.
It was a full calendar year in Australia where my friends became my family, my adventures became my stories and my challenges became my strengths.
I fell back in love with my career: teaching English thanks to the ever-changing 18 or so students who I spent 4 hours a day with. Apart from a few personality clashes in the classroom I honestly never felt like I was going to work. Getting up every morning and knowing I was going to spend time with a group of wonderful adults never felt like work at all. In turn for improving their English, they shared their cultures, their music, their dreams and their trust in me and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I experiences Colombia, Korea, Thailand, Japan, China and Brazil all from inside my windowless classroom in Melbourne.
I had a number of opportunities to see Victoria and more from behind the wheel, from hire cars, to mini buses to motor-homes. I have driven along the Great Ocean Road, through the Grampians, down to Lakes Entrance, over to Philip Island, raced into Adelaide, got lost in Canberra, traversed a steep mountain road and driven around Queensland chasing waterfalls.
I’ve also lived the city life, lived the bush life, Lived the country life. I have taught and been taught and learnt so many lifelong lessons as I have continued to Live Loving and Love Living throughout the year.
I had the opportunity to meet family I didn’t know I had, to reconnect with friends from the past simply have a few moments to just enjoy being.
This year, I have decided will be the year to Make it Happen. I no longer have any time for useless aspirations to lose a few pounds, get a bit fitter or eat less chocolate and feel that the one goal we should all strive to achieve is to be happy. That’s all it needs to ever be.
So this is the year to Make it Happen. I achieved so much my myself last year, that I shall continue to do so and to go for the things I want. So If I want to go and lie on a white sandy beach, I will make it happen. If I want to visit a far away friend – I will make it happen. If I want to learn something new, I will make it happen. I am starting to believe that the power we have to do what we want is just endless.
So… 2013 will be the year to continue to Live Loving and Love Living, as that proved to be one of the best years I’ve and also to be the year that I Make it Happen – whatever it is!
So, who’s in? What are you going to Make happen this year? And did you have a go at Living Loving so you could Love Living? I would love to hear feedback from my readers!
Sitting through a cyclone
New Italy, Northern Rivers, NSW
Two weeks have passed since I arrived back in Australia and though I seem to have plenty to say in my head none of it is making its way out of fingers and into this blog.
I had 4 interesting days in Singapore with a good set of photos I have yet to type about, I have met up with the Maltese/Australian connection of my family and I have reinstated myself on the little farm belonging to my mum’s cousin, whilst I look for a new job and a new challenge.
All of that is a little stilted at the moment as ex tropical cyclone Oswold is traversing down the East coast of Australia and here on the little farm my second cousin, the cows, horses, dogs and the cat are waiting to see how bad it will get and what it will do when it hits us.
It’s already caused tornados up in Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast, widespread flooding throughout the East and South-East of Queensland and winds of up to 144km are pushing down into New South Wales as I type. The rain is lashing on the windows, the wind is whipping round the house, the trees are bowing and Sky news is informing us of its route and what it’s done so far.
It doesn’t make for a very good night’s sleep when you wonder if a tornado will come, or a tree might fall on the house. Or you worry that the horses are distressed, as dear Kasimir didn’t know what to do with himself yesterday – galloping from one side of his paddock to another, bucking, rearing and farting wildly – which did make it quite amusing.
I feel thankful that we are not on the coast itself, seeing the terrible devastation this cyclone has left in its wake, knowing there are people waiting to be rescued from their roofs and seeing people whose houses are submerged up to the bedroom windows. But instead we play a waiting game. We wait and see what will happen, when the news tell us it’s “not arrived here yet”.
Maybe I will at least get some writing done, as sitting here, in the safety of a one storey, brick house, on a hill, all I can do is sit and wait to see what happens.
In total contrast to my cattle station experience is a week in organic bliss in Northern New South Wales. I sit here, almost on my last day, enjoying the cool breeze that a passing thunderstorm has left, contemplating the simpler things in life.
Although my host is currently working hard studying a degree, she is able to enjoy and appreciate some of these simple pleasures. Up with the sunrise before 6 am, her day starts when the animals are ready for breakfast, which is usually early. The Dexter cows, rescued horses, her funny looking chickens, her cattle dog Ruby who is scared of calves, Little Doggie who spins on his bottom and Sweatpea the not-so-innocent cat all have an important role to play in the daily happenings of this little farm. Each animal named, each loved, each with a personality and story of its own make up the cast of this wonderfully unique setting.
Playing with Spartacus, Venus, Poppy and Violet has become part of my daily routine since arriving here. These relatively new arrivals were in utero on my last visit and now enjoy having their chins scratched and their necks rubbed, whilst curiously licking my hands, undoing my shoelaces and bunting me to see what happens. Their adorable faces and fearless charm has had me in raptures all week, making them the subject of my camera and the highlight of my afternoon.
As well as the joy the animals bring into this welcome dwelling there are the pleasures of growing and harvesting your own fare. Something I have not experienced since setting food on this land is sharing a space and time with someone who has extensive knowledge and uncompromising enjoyment in food. I have been able to take part in this pleasure; learning this week how to make jam from the plums picked in the afternoon, sharing some Mediterranean memories by making Gazpacho from tomatoes in the garden and being able to use at least one ingredient everyday knowing it has been nurtured and cultivated with no added anythings right here on the property.
I have also enjoyed going on egg hunts to find the one egg that gets laid in a different location daily. Today’s egg was delivered on a scrap of hay on the floor of the barn. Neither in the hen house, nor any of the attractive egg laying places arranged this week, but right in the middle of the barn where Ruby the dog is free to gobble it up if she finds it first.
I have joined in on all activities regarding farm life here, which include the ride-on lawn mower, bathing/showering the dogs, putting the chickens to bed, praying for the rain to come and eating wholesomely and whole heartedly. There are also a great many cups of tea consumed, moments laughing at ridiculous animals and dealing with the odd unexpected disaster.
Before I sign off, it is also worth noting that I have, after nearly 14 months in Australia, encountered my first snake! I was cleaning the pool one hot afternoon and noticed a piece of hosepipe on the ground which I hadn’t seen before. Moving closer to pick it up, it moved provoking a reaction involving words rhyming with “duck” and a lot of shouting. I was told to keep still and get a look at it, whilst the snake, seeming unbothered by my outburst raised its head and slithered right past me. It was, on later investigation, discovered to be a yellow faced whip snake. A couple of days later I saw the same, but bigger chilling out on the grass as I was thundering towards it on the lawn mower. It seems my list of “only in Australia” experiences gets longer and longer.
What a lovely week on the organic farm leaving me nice and relaxed before my next adventure.
Having enjoyed my jaunt over to South Australia through the Grampians in a house on wheels I very much wanted to repeat the experience going in the opposite direction. Visa granted, I was heading back to the bush for a few weeks to fill the visa-shaped hole in my bank account and because I can: enjoy getting there!
The beauty of Australia for us foreigners is perhaps its size. The sheer vastness of it means you can drive for hours then look on the map and realise you have made no progress. The frustration of this, to me at least, adds to its awe. The European concept of distance and time couldn’t be more different to that of the Australians. London is a “long way” from my house in the UK. A three hour drive! I would never just jump in the car on a whim and go there, but out in the bush you travel that far just to get to a decent supermarket!
So this time, I decided to take a campervan from Melbourne and drive to Sydney, swinging through Canberra on the way, and dropping down to the coast of southern New South Wales. This was achieved… but only just: thanks to a number of hiccups that I am not responsible for.
We arrived at the campervan place in Footscray, Melbourne. A really charming part of the city. Not. Slightly out of breath from the copious amount of luggage needed and excited to start another adventure my heart dropped out of my chest and splashed into my stomach when the manager informed me that I had cancelled my reservation. It seems too long ago now to bother with the details of the what-fors and the whys, but rest assured it was NOT my fault. Several phone calls were made and my Firm-But-Fair-I-Deserve-What-I-Paid-For voice was employed to speak to several people, some more helpful than others to resolve the situation. One of the “excuses” I was presented with was that I had called to cancel my reservation due to marital problems and the cancellation of my trip! Don’t get me started on how I responded to that one!
At 4:45pm, 7 hours after arriving, when we eventually let the handbrake off and steered out of the car park into the rush hour traffic in the 6-Berth Mercedes Sprinter, we were ridiculously happy, yet considerably weary and about at least 500km off target.
I drove until the articulated lorries overtaking me at 110kmph pissed me off more than I could muster and we started to search for a truck stop for night one. Nowhere near where we wanted to be, we pulled off the road in search of a campsite we could not find and settled for a side road just off the highway. There’s a first time for everything, and this was the first time I had “camped” on the side of a highway.
An early start the next morning to head to Canberra. Lucky I asked the nice lady in the petrol station for directions and good idea to get a second opinion in a café, and also to buy a road map. This was a sans technology route, since lack of campsite the night before had meant no electricity to charge all electrical devises we had between us. Fine by me: I grew up reading maps and asking directions and learnt to drive reading signposts.
Canberra’s arrival was much later than hoped, but then Australia is MUCH larger than most of us realise. With a shortage of time we screeched into the tourist information and told the smiling man we were just passing and probably had 30 mins to have a quick look around. The look on his face was priceless. He was visibly pained that someone would spend such little time in the capital of Australia and I felt obliged to give him a run-down of why we our schedule was so off kilter. We whizzed up to Parliament House, parked the van, ran around taking silly photos and then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get OUT of Canberra. (They clearly don’t want you to insult them by spending such little time there, so make it impossible to get off that darn roundabout). I embarrassed myself painfully at the petrol station, twice, which I blamed on my “marital problems” – running joke of the trip.
At 8:30pm… only 4.5 hours after leaving Canberra (!) we arrived at a campsite, whose destination was changed at least 4 times en route. Our descent on the Robertson pass into Kiama was coupled with the smell of brakes as I manoeuvred our HUGE automatic, rather unhappy van down its very steep hairpin bends, complete with traffic backed up behind me.
Kiama looked pleasant enough, but exhausted and a bit pissed off, we pulled into our quite-expensive-but-we-no-longer-care campsite and raced over the barbecue area to crack open the box wine and cook a semi decent meal. Easts Beach was beautiful in the morning. The hour or so we had on the beach was well worth it before hitting the highway to Sydney.
We swooped into Wollongong, struggled to find a parking spot, but my newly developed “white-van driving” skills would make my father proud as we edged into a space. Just enough time to jump out, for a picture and some sand between the toes before again hitting Highway 1 north-bound. A few more cars with surfboards strapped on the top this time passing us, we were in full holiday mode.
Sydney greeted us with not too much traffic and a not too difficult to find drop off point with much more time to spare than my last delivery. We rolled out of the van into the Sydney heat to begin the next leg of the journey…
I had books of rainforests when I was younger and they fascinated me. I always wanted to walk through one, and whenever I went to some attraction that had a “rainforest” in it, I would walk through the polytunnel imagining I was in the Amazon. Now I can happily say that in the space of 6 weeks I have visited two real ones here in Australia. The first being the Daintree, up in the north of Queensland, and now one of its much younger sisters: the Nightcap national park in The Terania Valley, NSW.
Again I was led through the forest by someone who used to live in the valley and has adored the area for decades. It cost me nothing: I wasn’t on a bus, nor surrounded by tourists, I was just taken on a magical walk through the chilly leafy footpaths, stopping when I wanted to observe the wildlife, take a photo, or even scramble down to the creek to taste the fresh running water.
The vividness of the flora surrounding the walk may never be captured by photos quite the way you see them. The sunlight filters through only in privileged sections and the air is fresh and wet: it’s invigorating. I found myself thinking of shower gels and shampoos I have had that claim to be Rainforest scented, yet I don’t feel it’s an aroma that can ever be captured in a bottle. Nor is it a moment that can ever be captured in a photograph. With all places where nature takes precedence: it’s up to the individual how they see it, how they experience it. And for me, this place had an air of magic and enchantment about it. I wondered if water nymphs might have been skipping along the rocks at the waterfall, or if Unicorns had ever wandered through the leaves. There was certainly something in the air that was captivating.
When we reached the “grand finale”, after steadily making our way upwards, up steps of rocks winding their way slowly to something spectacular, we were rewarded with Protester Falls. Their name is thanks to the group of protesters who bravely stood in the way of bulldozers waiting to do away with this forest, people who recognised, loved and shared its beauty. The waterfalls themselves cascaded from way up above us into a pool of green water, hidden by rocks until you reach the summit. The air was fresher, cleaner and more certain than deeper into the forest, with a breeze that comes from nowhere and makes the waterfall dance.
I feel in my relatively short time in Australia I am getting opportunities to have magical moments and experiences that make everything worthwhile. Mother Nature really did have a good time in Australia and although she also put the world’s deadliest creatures here, she put them in an incredibly beautiful country.
Tues 31st July
Byron Bay is probably the most well-known spot on the northern New South Wales coast, but preserving my happy memories of the surfed-up-hippy town I didn’t go anywhere near it on this occasion. There are many places that the Lonely planet doesn’t mention, at least in its overall Australia guide, so I spent 5 days off the beaten track being chauffeured around by a local guide keen to show me her version of NSW.
First stop was Evans Head, to a beach really only enjoyable at low tide. So perfectly timed, our walked took us along the stretch of beach, out over rock pools and out to Goanna point ( Sorry if I’ve made an error with the name).
From the lookout over the bay, we spotted a pod of dolphins who were making their way out to Goanna point too. We had the privilege of seeing these graceful creatures not once but three times. This is something that as a tourist I would usually pay for, and never be guaranteed to I was bowled over and very high pitched to see them so many times; I do tend to get very high pitched on the sighting of some animals.
Over the rock pools, which were banked with Pandana palms, we dipped in and out of pools you’d expect at an aquarium, finding blue and red starfish, crabs and fish. Further round the headland a scramble up the rocks provided the perfect look out for yet more dolphins as they slid in and out of the waves amongst the surfers and paddle boarders.
Perhaps it’s because I am Cancerian that I feel such an affinity with the sea. There is nothing that grounds me, yet enlivens me more than walking along the beach, no matter the weather, the place or the company. Hopping through rock pools, climbing rocks, walking barefoot, swimming in the surf, or just sitting are all activities I could honestly do timelessly.
Sitting on the jetty watching the dolphins with their elegance and grace effortlessly slicing through the surface of the water, I realised I could have sat there until daylight ended and not a moment would have been wasted.