Australia. The land of eternal sunshine, overly descriptive road signs and a preposterous number of ant species. The place where it’s acceptable for men to wear short shorts, you’ll get cream with your dessert whether you like it or not, and where it’s illegal to complain about the rain. Don’t be fooled into thinking that travelling is all jet setting, partying, glamour and lounging around on the beach drinking beers. It isn’t. Being a solo traveller (did I just call myself a solo traveller?) you are faced with a whole new world of challenges that are hard to understand unless you’ve done it yourself. But I’ll give it a go. There have been many moments where it felt like the carpet was yanked from underneath my feet and when you’re 10,000 miles from home on your own you gotta deal with that shit by yourself. The nine or eleven hour time difference (daylight savings) makes it difficult and annoying to talk to those back home. My ties with the UK were slowly cut. Some I cut when I left (the corporate job, for example) but others were not my choice, and losing the connections with your home country that are the basis of much of your identity is akin to being a little paper boat bobbing haplessly in the pacific somewhere. Some people keep in touch, but many don’t. I don’t take it personally. And you discover a new world of stress when you’ve rocked up in a country needing to get a job quickly but not knowing how the job market works or having anyone to help you. I hate the cliché but much of this lonesome travel shit is ‘sink or swim’: are you going to do up your shoelaces and get to work or give up and go home? For some people going home isn’t an option and, by Zeus, if you’re one of those people you make it happen.
When I left fair England in late 2017 I knew it was going to be challenging but I hoped it would be worth it. I also didn’t know how long I would be away for. As long as it takes, I thought to myself. It been the toughest but also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. My main aim here was to improve my relationship with my Dad. I am over the moon to report that we now have a great relationship. We’re a father-daughter team. We’re like Fry and Laurie, but slightly more attractive. I also wanted to feel more confident in myself, which has always been my main hurdle in life. Hurling yourself so far from your comfort zone that it is a mere dot on the horizon is a horrible but productive way to do it. I can’t really remember the last time I felt completely, truly happy, but now I think I’m closer than ever. I’m a better version of myself than I was a year ago. Bigger, badder, better.
So; twelve months, two broken cameras, thousands of kilometres, a few major things off the bucket list, new friendships and a stratospheric level of independence later, what can I say about this country, so culturally similar yet so different from my own? Well, the 20th century bandwidth may be slower than a tortoise on ketamine and I may have seen sturdier garden sheds in the UK than the houses here but there are many things I like about this country: The word bogan. The coffee and the beer, which are always the foundation of a great nation. The beaches that absolutely deserve the reputation for being the best in the world. The humour. I like that there are no wasps here – as in those stripy European bastards that attack for no reason and try to get in your sandwich. Speaking of which, there aren’t many French people here either. I’m joking, I don’t mind the French. I like that the Aussies have taught me to be more open (we British are a terribly repressed people). And it pleases me that my favourite rum beverage – with ice and ginger beer – is called a ‘dark and stormy’. I’m impressed how easily people live ‘off the grid,’ mainly because they have to, living beyond the black stump as they do. Where I’m from is distressingly crowded and ‘off grid’ living is basically impossible, at least not legally. I like the impossibly consistent sunshine; even after a year in this place I can’t shake the English paranoia that it’s going to start raining in a minute (do Australians even own raincoats?). And how seriously they take barbequing here. I like that, if you scratch below the touristy surface, you will find a nation of people who are friendly, sociable and welcoming. That’s what I found, anyway, and I’m so grateful for the people I’ve met over here.
Oh, I’m sorry, did you come here for a Bella-style travel guide? Well I’d better stop with this reflective, sentimental crap and give you a travel guide then…
When you step off the plane in Sydney, or wherever you fly in to, watch out because there are sharks, crocs, deadly snakes, box jellyfish and spiders waiting for you in the car park. If you give them each a Great Northern they’ll leave you alone. Visit Byron Bay but then quickly leave again. If you can squeeze past the people trying to get that perfect Insta shot, you will find among the yoga centres and surf shops a place of frustrating hypocrisy where if you’re not ‘in’ you’re out. By the way, all the ‘locals’ are from Melbourne. If profanity offends you, don’t even bother… just fly on back to wherever you came from (who doesn’t love swearing though?). If you’re a resident of the United Kingdom, be prepared to be a bit disappointed at the size of your schooner of beer – I’m not saying size is everything, but when I order a beer I want a pint of it. I’m sorry to say, you will also feel let down by the inferior crumpets. Unless you’ve been into outer space nothing will prepare you for the incomprehensible distances in this country; you could set off in Queensland, drive for twenty-seven hours and still be in Queensland, and just looking at Western Australia on Google maps will make you feel dizzy. And I’m here to tell you it gets cold in Australia; like, minus seven to minus ten cold in winter (No? You still don’t believe me?).
How do I summarise such a massive place that you could spend a lifetime travelling and still not see all of it? I spent my time in rural areas so I can’t say anything about city life. And I’ve seen a lot but also hardly anything. I reckon ‘Straya’s a bit like their infamous Bundaberg rum: harsh and a bit rough around the edges but fun when you get into it and stop taking yourself so seriously. Oh, and they’re not shrimps, they’re prawns. You’re welcome Australia.