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.
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!
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!
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.
Lessons from the Bush – a reflection.
Some time after leaving the bush, having had another stint in the city, I am sitting on a rainy afternoon in Northern New South Wales, taking a moment to reflect on what was gained and learnt out there.
It seems obvious to say that I learned a lot from that experience, but when you take yourself away from an existence you understand and place yourself in that of another family, another way of life, another way of seeing things: it stands to reason that you’ll start to think and feel differently about a number of things.
My attitude to that number of things has, of course, changed since being on a cattle station. My aversion to animals I don’t know, particularly dogs has changed drastically. I have never really liked dogs, perhaps because I never had one, nor really knew anyone that did when I was growing up. We were a cat family through and through. Dogs have a horrible smell, need their poo picked up and often dribble. Then there are bush dogs, who roll around in dead things, shit everywhere, live outside and eat anything. Yuk. Yet today, when I was cuddling the cattle dog where I am staying, who was sitting on my lap, frightened of the impending storm, smelling like a dog, I realised how far I had come. I never used to like touching a dog unless I knew I could wash my hands immediately afterwards. I never wanted my clothes to smell of a dog, nor to have a single hair on me that wasn’t mine. But as I was sitting in the paddock, with my arms around this dog as if she were a small child I laughed at the girl who used to hate them.
Living out in the bush, miles away from anything and anyone but the people you work for, you soon learnt to adapt your way of doing things to make life easier. I quickly had to get over the fact that I couldn’t always wash my hands when I wanted. I had to get past my food anxieties regarding use-by dates. I had to rapidly defeat my fear of what might be outside my room at nightfall.
I also stopped wearing make up, sometimes didn’t brush my hair and never did any ironing. I had to swallow my thoughts regarding safety and logic on a number of issues and try letting go of my need for logic and planning on a number of activities.
I swam in a damn that had cow shit around the edge and a number of interesting insects in or around it. I walked and jogged through the bush knowing there were snakes ready to visit. I played with dogs who smelt of dead things, or hunted pigs.
I had to learn to feel ok about a ten year old driving a car, and then that ten year old driving me in that car, and better still, that ten year old driving the 5 of us from a party in the early hours of the morning. I had to learn to let go of the idea that shoes should be warn, helmets on heads and rules should be followed.
Above all I had to learn who I was, so I could effectively live in a place that challenged some of my ideas and compromised some of my beliefs. I had to reassess what was important to me, what was necessary for me and what was acceptable for me. I adapted my eating habits, sleeping patterns and exercise routine to fit in with my surroundings. I learnt to laugh when things annoyed me. I learnt to make things simpler if they were too complicated. I learnt to trust people younger than me, and learnt what it was to be trusted too. I learnt to teach everything I know and make it a learning process. I learnt to take myself away from certain situations and give myself time out. I learnt to look at the sky and see it differently every day.
I learnt that I can make a situation that is wildly unfamiliar for me familiar and that I can make anywhere my home if I need to. I also left that cattle station for the second time, knowing that I had done my best with what I had and can absolutely definitely say that despite moments of sheer frustration at times, or confusion, or just bewilderment, I absolutely definitely wouldn’t change a moment of it.
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…