Somewhat odd that it takes travelling half way round the world to learn more about your home and yourself but sometimes doing stuff out of the ordinary makes you see and appreciate the obvious.
Mrs J – “Let’s go to Australia”
Me – “Are you nuts? – it’ll cost a bomb and it’s too far to go for a fortnight”
…….(discussions about finance and holidays owed etc.)……
Me – “Fair enough”
Mrs J – 🙂
And that’s how we ended up down under for three weeks in August 2013.
Now I’m a pros and cons sort of person; if the cons don’t outnumber the pros by too many then I’m in, but this one was tricky; some pretty fundamental cons to overcome. Like getting coinciding leave for more than a fortnight that didn’t clash with month end, (Mrs J is an accountant) or clash with exam/university arrangements. But we sorted it, we asked nicely! And not blowing the budget. We sorted that by arranging to stay with relatives and friends as we have 5 cousins, 2 aunts and uncles and 2 friends living in Australia. All, at some stage, have said come out and visit us. So we did. To be honest, Australia wasn’t top of my list of destinations to visit but the last couple of years have shown that life is for living and family is precious so we couldn’t not go.
After my initial hesitance I’m really glad we went. I generally like a holiday to be ‘we will plan stuff to do when we get there’, being a break from the norm of work plans, strategies, outputs and outcomes etc. This trip (I somehow couldn’t call it a holiday!) would be different as you really need an itinerary for this type of adventure. And it took some planning, we wore the internet out on a couple of occasions doing it.
Still in the back of my mind however I was thinking “so we are going to travel 20,000 miles to visit the in-laws in winter, drive for hours in automatic geared cars and risk succumbing to the most venomous (insert choice of insect/reptile) on dipping a toe in the sea or stepping off tarmac?”
Sometimes I’m wrong about stuff; like this time.
We just got back. In brief the last 3 weeks were amazing. I posted photos on Instagram under the tag #phildownunder when we had wifi access.
I realise most folk may not get the chance to visit the other side of the world and I wanted to share what it was like and what I learned about the experience. Unfortunate circumstances had made the trip possible for us and it seemed right to go and see family and friends we hadn’t seen for a while.
And we didn’t succumb to frenzied shark attacks or red backed, blue kneed, funnel web, box shaped, white spotted whatever there is that might do you some harm if you choose to poke it with a stick 27 times. Just a few mozzy bites which we coped with, mostly.
Getting there and back takes a bit of doing.
Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and largest island. It is the only island that is a continent and the only continent that is a country. It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else.
From Leeds it’s a 21,058 mile round trip and takes two days travel time each way. It’s not a long weekend sort of a trip. Eastern Australia is 9 hours in front so it messes with your head if you let it. We were lucky in that we landed in Sydney at 8pm and by the time we had got sorted it was ‘normal’ time for bed so we dodged any jetlag. Not so coming back, bodyclock is still messed up a week later. To avoid flying from a southern airport we had to go from Manchester via Munich then Singapore where you change planes. Changi airport in Singapore is a city in itself. Three interlinked terminals with gardens, city tours, cinemas, shopping and there’s even a supermarket and gym. Oddly, it is fully carpeted too. Imagine Centreparcs, your local airport and garden centre rolled into one and then 3 times as big. It handled 51 million passengers last year.
Travelling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
These are words from a 1981 song, ‘Living in a land down under’ by Men at work. They were relevant before and during the trip.
Even automatic cars are quite a pleasant experience…..once you select the non manual drive option that doesn’t require at least 5,500 revs before ‘it’ changes gear for self preservation. We (I) very nearly fried our combie until Mrs J sought the help of a local Hyundai dealership salesman who adjusted the gear stick by 9mm from manual drive to auto drive. Fortunately that was the only minor mishap we had. Obviously bad design.
Speed limits are much lower than the UK but everybody sticks to them. Motorways mostly have a top speed of 100kmh – 62.5mph and oddly petrol prices are 15% higher for a portion of the week and then go back down by 15%.
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
To be honest I thought I would find it hard having an itinerary set by needing to be in a certain place at a certain time and by others for the majority of our trip. I generally like to be in control of situations and my expectation pre-trip that I may not be, was a concern. How wrong I was, which was a good lesson for me.
Our hosts took us to places we would never have seen if we’d been on our own, they looked after us like……. family. Funny that! In my mind, I’d done them a dis-service by assuming I might not fully relax. I did and we were welcomed into people’s homes and treated really well, fed and watered as though we were royalty. We can’t thank them enough, they made the trip really special.
I said do you speak-a-my language?
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
The really good part about staying with ‘locals’ is that you learn about the way of life as well as seeing the sights. It was good to hear how family and friends had adapted to their new world. Some of our family moved out just after the war. Our friends moved out in the last decade. We did a lot of listening to family history and I found it interesting how the stories were told, adjusted and corrected to get trivial facts that didn’t actually matter to the telling of the general tale right. I find it fascinating how correcting appears important. I’ve recently noticed this back home too with family and friends. I’ve since noticed that when telling a tale, me and Mrs J don’t seem to correct each other if one of us says something happened on a Tuesday, when it actually happened on a Wednesday; it doesn’t matter. I like it this way. I never realised before.
And he said “do you come from a land down under?”
Now we’ve all heard about the water going down the plug hole the other way when you are south of the equator but I never expected the sun would move from right to left across the sky. Of course it would if you think about it but why would you even think about it? It’s not important in our northern hemisphere way of thinking is it? I’m still wondering why this was a big thing for me. Experiencing this, and seeing tulips, hyacinths and cherry blossom in August at the same time as orange and lemon bushes fruiting was just odd, in a good way. The world is bigger and smaller and more complex than we think….if we think.
Generally the day starts much earlier in Australia than the UK, people tend to start work at 7am and seem more honest about how things are or need to be. It was interesting seeing the coverage of the upcoming election which is more about the people standing than policies. The campaign strap line from the current government is “If he wins; you lose” about opposition leader Tony Abbott. It is also compulsory to vote in Australia.
It was also interesting being there during an ashes defeat and following the GB Lions tour victory and recent rugby defeats to the Kiwis. They really really don’t like losing. There’s none of the ‘taking part’ aspect; losing is failure. TV coverage is better in some ways and worse in some. There’s definitely more adverts, and for stuff like industrial photocopiers. Why would you want to see an advert for that at home?
“Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover”
Thunder, think not. 100% wall to wall sunshine. Admittedly, a bit parky after dark, which is 5.30ish as August is the last legs of winter down under, but better weather than the two days we have had in our summer since we returned. August is the best time to travel to the East coast. Aussie summer, our winter, is the rainy season and the temperatures are just too hot.
Sydney is a great city and has much more water than I’d imagined which was clear from the ‘Sim City’ view from the plane as we left for Brisbane.
Clean and modern, Sydney was just like something you would create on Sim City when you start out. Circular Quay is at the heart of the city. Most buses end up there where ten ferry routes are serviced from four wharves. The railway also has a station there too. From Circular Quay (which isn’t remotely circular) you can walk to the Opera House, Bridge and Botanical gardens. We went on the Opera House tour, which was well worth it and really interesting. They don’t like you taking photos on the inside though!
What an architectural nightmare it was to build, but great to see and marvel at. Amazing what a late entry to a design competition leads to. We took a ferry to the Zoo, in fact we took a ferry and bus to pretty much everywhere as we got a weekly travel ticket which was well worth it even for four days. Sydney does integrated transport really well.
We saw the many ways to maim yourself while surfing on Bondi beach. Shore dump is not advised. The walk from Bondi to Coogee is great.
We also went to Darling Harbour and The Rocks, both revamped parts of the city. In fact we did everything that the people I talked to before I went said we should. They told me right, so thanks to you all. I don’t do travel books as I find buying beer and listening to people more interesting and rewarding.
Brisbane is a great city too, just over an hour’s flight from Sydney. No tulips in Brisbane though, it has a different climate even though it is on average only two degrees warmer.
Again it is clean, has ferries, a big bridge and lots of tall buildings, intermingled with older buildings.
The south bank of the Brisbane River, where they have totally redeveloped the city, is amazing. They have permanent city beaches and a promenade with restaurants and leisure facilities to bring people into the city. This was made possible from hosting World expo in 1988. Imagine this in winter.
We also went to the Gold coast, North of Brisbane and the Sunshine coast which is south. They have the best beaches I’ve ever seen. Which squeakswhen you walk on the sand. Something to do with the silicon content apparently.
Inland is known as the hinterland and has mountains, outback or bush and rain forest. It is really diverse country.
I didn’t expect to see as much wildlife as we did.
Kookaburras are everywhere, even in the cities. They don’t eat peanuts though.
The bird life is amazing too; really colourful and exceedingly noisy. Even the Magpies sing in tune unlike our squarkers. As we stayed with cousins and friends who live in the back of beyond, the wildlife came to us.
Kangaroos and koalas came into their properties. We also saw possums, bandicoots and the odd snake. Much as we looked, the platypus in the local creek never showed itself but we did manage to hear the elusive catbird. Now that is a hideous call.
It was an amazing experience, one which I will contemplate for a long time. If anyone is having doubts about whether to go, do it; the travelling is more than compensated by what lies at the other end.
I learned when I was a kid that travel broadens the mind. I now consider mine much broader.
What I learned;
- the world is a big place, nipping round the back of it takes a while
- doing stuff others want to do is a good thing and can open your eyes
- not being in control can be rewarding too, I need to not be more often
- minutia doesn’t always matter, the story does, but perhaps there are times in your life when minutia will matter, and is important to you
- compared to other places, home and abroad, my home town appears to have a lot of litter
- we still and always will miss loved ones no longer with us
- I’m half of something special.