Often on this trip we have pondered the question of what makes us English and what does being English mean. As we travelled through Asia we certainly started to feel more and more English the longer we were away. And nowhere more so than Australia, where being British seems to mean you have loads of friends and relatives here. And that’s how it’s been for us. Our month in Australia has been a home from home, full of friends and family, a whirlwind of socialising. And totally marvellous and wonderful it has been for it too!
The return to the west…. and western prices
Australia showed us her benefits – and downsides – almost within minutes of landing. Pat found a buttie van – offering a bacon or ‘snags’ sandwich. We had no idea what snag was (apparently its a fairly poor sausage) but the lure of a bacon buttie was too much for a man who said what he missed most in Asia was bacon, pies and fish and chips! The excitement on his face was palatable; the crestfallen expression too much to bear when he saw the price. We were shocked beyond belief. Over £5 for the buttie; nearly £3 for a small bottle of water. Welcome to Australia!
It’s not just us who are shocked at the price of things here. We had been warned, and to be honest the Aussies are also now really questioning it. Whilst we were there it was announced on the news that Melbourne is 23% more expensive to live in than New York; Australia one of the most expensive countries in the world. Combined with the strongest Aussie dollar for years, it was clear our few pounds wouldn’t go far at all.
So we prepared for a month being very poor which was a shock as we felt poor in Asia!! But we quickly realised how richer we had been there. Money had been tight but we could afford basics – here, if we were to pay for accomodation (when we arrived we didn’t actually know if we had people to stay with for much of our visit) we basically couldn’t afford anything at all. We were as poor as the proverbial aussie church mice!
But someone, or something has totally been looking out for us. Unbelievably, we left Australia having lived within our tiny budget. We have honestly never known such kindness and generosity as people looked after us. As we were taken places, bought meals, taken out I felt like a student again – not a 44 year old woman who used to have very well paid, high profile, senior jobs. Blimey, those days are gone 🙂 But it felt so very wrong at our age to not be able to to pay our own way.
A language barrier? ….
One of the best things about leaving Asia (obviously apart from decent toilets!) has been that people can understand us. And we can have conversations. I was still, though, expecting trouble with our accents, but not so. Then I realised. Australian TV is crap so they watch so much British and American TV, including reality TV. Plus Mel B is on X-Factor here and everyone watches Downton Abbey. Yorkshire accents are very much the thing!
Once I did some research into how community organisations were being represented in local strategic planning. I’ll never forget one chief of a local strategic partnership saying the problem was that the public, private and voluntary sectors were often divided by a common language. We had a similar moment in Oz. We were staying at my Cousins and his teenage son was looking after us admirably. I made some tea and then held up the tea-bag to throw out, asking where the bin was. “In the Army” came the reply. OK I thought, I’m not getting this so again I asked. “err, where’s the bin?” . “He’s joined the army” came an equally baffled reply. I held up the tea bag. “Rubbish? Bin?” “Oh” he said, “I thought you were asking where Ben is”.
I remembered how one of my Australian friends sounds like she’s saying pig when saying my name. And I told this story to another Yorkshire lass who we stayed with in Sydney. Funny that, she said, her partner Bill (about 6″ tall) also has trouble as everyone seems to think he’s called ‘Belle’. “Even when he’s bloody standing next to me they will ask if he’s called Belle” she said with a laugh and incredulirity in her voice.
But some bits of aussie language we loved and they have stuck. Patrick is forever saying ‘fair dinkum’ even though we didn’t hear a single person say it. ‘No worries’ is very well used; Patrick was taught a different version ‘No wucking furries” which is loves.
There’s the ‘ies’ – coldies (cold beers), biggies, veggies, tiniest. And the ‘os’ – garbos (bin men)’ ambos (paramedics), arvo (afternoon), even Salvos (Salvation Army shops). And of course, despite ourselves we have started going up at the end of sentences!
There’s also the ace place names – not just ones taken from the UK (on a trip down the Great Ocean Road we obviously passed places colonised by Yorkshire folk; Skipton, Kirkstall, Shipley, Calder and Aire rivers. But hands down the winner of best place names goes to my cousin Jed who lives in a ranch he built himself on Wild Dog Road!
Old and new friends…..
We started our month in Oz with one of my oldest friends, Sarah, who I met on my first day of high school and was one of the biggest influences in my life from that moment. At that time we had middle schools in Leeds, not going to high school till we were 13. At middle school I’d been bullied quite badly (for being posh, and I’m sure appallingly precocious and annoying) so I chose a high school that only 2 other people were going to. Obviously I was keen to make sure the bullying didn’t carry on. Day 1 and we get given new class room but there wasn’t enough desks. Some of us had to sit on the same desk opposite another student. I was told to sit opposite this girl with a really short, bleached spiky hair do. Even though I already had a dyed auburn kind of beehive when not at school, I was more than a little intimidated and decided to smile at her inanely as much as possible to ward off any potential violence. I couldn’t have been more wrong as Sarah just wanted to make friends too. Years later, she told me that she couldn’t understand why that girl wouldn’t stop grinning stupidly at her. Needless to say, 31 years later we couldn’t stop smiling at each other as she came to meet us to take us back to her flat just by Sydney harbour.
And so started our amazing month in Oz. Sarah and her partner Dave looked after us wonderfully. Our first night we stayed in, ate home cooked food (the first for months and months) and watched British TV. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
And whilst in Oz we also were able to catch up with other old friends like Annie who I used to work with and has moved back to Oz, Helen who I knew years ago and who put us up and so we got to know each other better. And then we also made new friends; Ariane, my mates daughter who was amazingly kind and another friend of a friend who we got on famously with. Aussie hospitality and kindness never ceased to amaze us….
A return to normal…..
We spent our first 5 days in Sydney with Sarah and Dave, doing most of the sites. Sarah lives just near the bridge. We loved the Opera House, the bridge, Darling Harbour, the ferry home. We went on a day out to the magnificent Blue Mountains, just outside Sydney where the hills really do look blue due to eucalyptus leaves. We loved the city centre; I thought it was very like Leeds centre just a bit bigger (Annie said she always thought that too) but Bondi left us pretty underwhelmed. Granted it was raining when we went there – sadly it rained most of the time we were in Sydney – but it was so much less grand and less modern than I expected. I felt like I was at a south coast seaside town c1990!
Daily we marvelled at being in the other side of the world and the fact that we haven’t fallen off. (We are so stupid we keep looking at each other and saying it and feeling smug about it!). Sarah’s plug hole gives us much excitement. In Asia we endlessly discussed which way the water goes down in Australia. Honestly – we are so easily pleased these days. And we feel ridiculously tickled by how quick it gets dark compared to in the UK and we talk a lot about why, the equator, being in the southern hemisphere.
After Sydney we went to Melbourne. People had told us the two cities are very different. Sydney is all about the outdoors, the body beautiful and the like (except when it rains); Melbourne is the cultural hub. And we could see that very quickly. I have to say I loved Melbourne. It’s a cafe society beyond anything I’ve ever seen (streets just full of cafes and all of them busy), more clothes shops selling the kind of clothes I love than I’ve ever known outside of the UK, street art wherever you look.
It keeps being voted the worlds most liveable city and it’s easy to see why. Except of course, the price.
Another day, another cousin….
The best bit of all, though, was getting to know my Australian relatives. We met cousins, 1st cousins once removed and extended families in Sydney, Melbourne and beyond. Infact so many that the first family we met – my cousin Zac and his wife Liz did a crib sheet for us saying who is who! Wonderful.
And with everyone it was so easy. Not only the chat, but amazing to go to the other side of the world and meet people who look like me! Everywhere I went people said now much I look like my cousin Sarah; my cousin Saul is so like one of my brothers. But then that’s not surprising; our mothers are so alike it’s untrue. And that was exactly what I needed.
My beautiful aunt Dinny put us up for 3 weeks. She fussed over us, looked after us, took us places. We totally had a home from home, or at least my mothers home. It was just what we needed. We felt cushioned from realities like the fact that our tenant moved out (we need to rent out the house to stay on our travels) and so nice things happen. We are finally accepted to volunteer (2 weeks in New Zealand) and we win a competition (more of that to follow in the next blog).
The cousins and friends kindnesses knew no bounds and we were so touched. We we’re taken to places like a local zoo or to the country, taken out for meals (admittedly cheaper because often I wasn’t eating, trying to lose weight using food replacement packs), fed in people’s homes, ferried around and just housed. And we loved it, and will never forget the kindness we were shown. One day we will repay it – probably not to the people who helped us in Oz but back generally to other people who need it; maybe when the kids of my cousins come backpacking to Europe in the future.
Australia / Yorkshire Dales….. same thing?
Thanks to Cousin Saul and his partner Sandi we had loan of a car for 2 days and set off down the Great Ocean Road. It’s a truly amazing 150 or so miles of dramatic coastline between Melbourne and Adelaide, with the highlight being The 12 Apostles – free standing stone structures. Although there’s only about 8 left, Pat reckoned they were one of his favourite things in the world ever. The weather was really cold. Sandi sent us off with extra layers and even a spare blanket for the car.
We booked a hostel in a place called Princetown before we set of, having checked Princetown out on the map first. At $30 each for bunk beds (about £22) for the night it was by far the most expensive hostel we have had on our travels, our first hostel in the west. We had high hopes.
Of course, it was a total shambles! 🙂 We arrived as it was getting dark. There was no one at the hostel. The doors were unlocked so we walked in. No lights on, no heating. We stood there wondering what to do, freezing cold. When I was a kid we used to regularly have to go on school field trips to the Yorkshire Dales, staying in freezing cold hostels. I always hated the trips (more time for the bullies) and I always suffered from the cold and damp as I feel the cold really badly. I’m immediately transported back. “How the hell” I say to Pat “can we be in a place so cold in Australia.” Australia and the Yorkshire Dales were feeling rather too similar to me at that moment.
Eventually 2 coaches pull up and a load of people come in with tour guides. They suggest we go to the pub to find out about our dorm beds.
We get to the pub which also doubles as the local take-away (flaccid, tasteless pizza, a snip at $20!). They try to get more money out of us and eventually give us a key to our room, a 2 bed dorm. There’s no towels, no tea or coffee, no breakfast, no internet at all, but we are told we can watch the DVDs in the common area.
So we go back and get sorted in our tiny room (Sandi’s car blanket coming into its own I can tell you.) The 2 coach loads of European tourists have sorted their rooms and gone to the pub for tea. Of course, no one has talked to us! I decide to eat cos I’m so cold, and as its cheaper we opt for take away and to get set up on the DVD first to watch our choice of film. Its totally bloody freezing, the doors don’t shut properly.
Flaccid pizza and fish and chips dispatched, we have purloined the one of the sofas and start watching The Colour Purple. Then in roll some young German girls and start getting out the DVDs. One says “We would like to watch a DVD now”. We respond – we have chosen a DVD thinking first come first served and all that, but we hadn’t banked on them having out a metaphorical towel on the DVD player! “We’ve just been for our meal. We decided before we went that we come back and watch a film we’ve chosen”. I was bloody furious, muttering lots under my breath, but surprise surprise, they end up watching their DVD. No discussion with us about what, they just chose. We sat and watched, the German, girls in sleeping bags it was so cold, me and Pat only slightly warmed up by my still simmering indignation. One dorm was outside, people kept coming in and leaving the door open. Those school day hostels in the Dales were starting to feel like luxury!
The next morning we get tea and coffee in the general store (of course, the owner has more than a passing resemblance to Tubbs Tattsyrup, with her catch phrase being no-worries rather than asking if we are local) and head off to the 12 apostles. As soon as we see them all our annoyance at the hostel fades away. They are truly majestic.
Change of heart when it comes to coming home …..
I don’t know if it’s the change of heart I had leaving Thailand, or just because Oz felt so familiar that I stopped dreading the thought of coming home. In Thailand, despite being very down at times, thinking about coming back early was not an option for me then. I still needed something to change. I thought it would be an external change – maybe we find somewhere we want to settle in, we find new jobs, we bump into a totally new life. One friend said reading the blogs she felt I was waiting for something to happen. She was right. But I stopped feeling that in Oz. The ‘something’ has happened; it just happened inside me. Now I’m pretty cool about going home – very que sera sera about where life might take us next. I partly have Facebook and my favourite band, Depeche Mode to thank!
A new arena is being opened in Leeds this summer; our d-day to return from this trip as always been Sept 13th as we have tickets to see the Kaiser Chiefs there. But then whilst we were away, a new Depeche Mode album was released. I managed to wedge my phone in a window-ledge overnight in a very hot and dingy Kuala Lumpar hostel such that I could get enough wifi to download the album. A few listens in and I can’t believe I ever had to live without the genius of these songs. At the end of last year it was announced they were going on tour and I had been asking the universe ever since to get me a ticket somewhere our journey and their tour would coincide – probably Canada. Afterall, I’ve been to every tour since 1986! Then it was announced. They are playing Leeds in November! I was beside myself. So the tickets go on sale, a day early to 02 customers. I get on Facebook, a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. And low and behold, from Sydney I have tickets.
It may be just a gig but to me it represented so much – that I have a big social circle back home, that I am part of something back home, that I get to do the things I love, particularly music and singing, that in the UK and Leeds and Bradford I fit in.
Next stop it’s New Zealand, one of the excepted highlights of the trip. Somehow feeling that I’m now ok about going home is just making the travels feel even better. It’s time to really go to the other side of the world……