The trouble with travel is that for all the countless new connections you make, there are the inevitable goodbyes. Today I bid farewell to Australia and all the friends I’ve made there. Watching the ground disappear beneath me as my Malaysia bound plane climbs to the clouds, my heart is heavy with the sadness of what I leave behind me.
Ordinarily this would be a time of excitement. Flying, while convoluted, theatrical and generally uncomfortable, still holds a certain romance and excitement for me. The magic of being transported from one place to another, catapulted from one culture to the next, still amazes me and fills me with a thrill of anticipation. But today marks the end of what has been an amazing personal journey. One that has taken me to the other side of the world, and in many ways beyond even that limit too.
Australia was the dream. For years I thought about what it would be like to live ‘down under’ where there sun always shines and everyone starts their day on a surfboard. America romanced me for more than a decade, but I always had an eye on the other side of the world. In 2009 I was finally able to set foot on Australian soil, landing with barely containable excitement in the glorious city of Sydney.
It took no more than two short visits to Australia in 2009 and 2010 to convince me that I needed leave everything in the UK and pursue that dream I’d had for so long. Sydney was my introduction but it was the art and culture of Melbourne that convinced me to buy that one way ticket.
As with most dreams, the reality was somewhat different. It wasn’t disappointing in any way, just a little more down to earth and tethered to the real world by the ties that dreams have little time for.
First off, not all Australians start their day on the beach. I knew this before I arrived, but that image of Australian sun sea and surf is so pervasive in the Northern Hemisphere that you can’t help but be a little swept up in the romance of the idea. In fact, not only is it not always sunny, but Australia can get cold, very cold as it happens.
Then there was the finincal surprise. An unusually strong Australian dollar coupled with the much higher cost of living meant that I was no longer enjoying the affluence that having British pounds in my pocket normally affords me. Suddenly I felt like a student, counting my loose change and re-evaluating my usual carefree approach to spending while abroad. After all, this was no vacation, I was living here now and I had to keep that in mind.
In fact, it’s fair to say that while I didn’t have much of a plan in the first place, nothing went to the faint plan I had sketched out ahead of my arrival. Every last detail of the dream was corrected and realigned in a series of reality adjustments that helped carve out the eventual adventure that Australia would become for me.
Melbourne was home, but the road was my constant invitation. As winter descended upon the city I bought a converted van and took to the road, heading north in search of sun and excitement. Never before had I embarked on such a lengthy or ambitious road-trip. From Melbourne to far Northern Queensland, then across to Darwin and down again through the arid desert of the so called ‘red centre’ all the way past Uluru (Ayres Rock) to Adelaide and finally back to Melbourne.
It took months to complete and spanned a distance of many many thousands of miles. And while I may have been solo for much of my time at the wheel, I was rarely alone for long. My path through Australia threaded its way through the vast landscape entwining with with locals, couchsurfers, hitchhikers, backpackers and fellow ‘rubber tramps’ like myself. Sometimes those encounters were brief, sometimes they lasted for days, but at no point did I feel alone.
And so it was that I returned home to Melbourne. Back to the cafe’s the coffee, the art and wonder of the city I had come to feel a part of. I could give tourists directions and tell them of hidden out of the way places to visit. I knew the tram lines, their numbers, and the routes many of them would take through the city. As strange as it may seem, in the relatively short time I had been there, I had come to know Melbourne better than I knew almost any city in my native England.
Maybe I just engaged with the place more, knowing that our time together would, in the end, be only fleeting. Or maybe the city engaged with me, igniting my senses and feeding my own creativity? Those new found familiarities and fine friends have given me more than I ever expected. And so it is now that Australia, and particularly Melbourne, has embossed itself upon my soul.
I’m leaving Australia today, and I don’t know when I will return, but whenever that day is part of me will simply be coming home.